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Barriers to Unity

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From “Common heritage, divided communion : the declines and advances of inter-Orthodox relations from Chalcedon to Chambesy” by Fr. Kenneth F. Yossa

Antipaty and Ennui

It must be considered that for the better part of devout Orthodox who belong to one or other communion—particularly those living in a multicultural environment—would in all likelihood not stop to consider their neighbors of the other “heretical” in any real fashion. Indeed, short of the name “Orthodox” in their respective institutional tides, it might be said that most Orthodox faithful outside one communion know little or nothing of the other, except perhaps the fact that a fracture of communion exists (particularly in regard to acceptance of the general councils) and that the manner of worship is different.

There are, at the same time, Orthodox faithful and clergy who not only consider the “other side” as heretical and even know much of the history of the “Chalcedonian schism” but (in varying degrees) deny outright the progress made in inter-Orthodox dialogue. As a consequence, they sometimes openly brand faithful from outside their own communion as schismatics or heretics in an archaic, “medieval” fashion. Perhaps the most vociferous of these are found among those identified earlier as hypertraditionalist Orthodox believers.

Such proponents are found particularly in Eastern Orthodox communities and commonly hold that members of the “other” communion of churches (i.e., Oriental Orthodox) are definitely schismatic and probably, at best, heretical. In other words, they are considered members of churches which do not represent the authentic heritage and institutions of Orthodoxy. Such opinions are frequendy accompanied by a firm and sometimes vehement opposition to Orthodox involvement with ecumenical activity in general.

SOURCE: Fr. Kenneth F. Yossa. “Common heritage, divided communion : the declines and advances of inter-Orthodox relations from Chalcedon to Chambesy” (New Jersey: Gorgias Press, 2009) 187-188.


Nationalism, Ethnocentrism and Thinking in Terms of “Diaspora”


The great patriarchal sees of the Old World, although significantly more fluid and more expansive than would have been the case in the medieval period, still bear the deep imprint of national, ethnic or regional identification. This is not to be disparaged of itself, since such identities have become an integral part of world Orthodoxy’s ethos. In fact, this can be one of the most positive aspects of Eastern Christianity.

“The Church,” as Metropolitan John of Korce notes, “does not deny ethnicity, because to deny it would be to deny the mystery of personhood and the particularity of each individual; instead the Church transcends ethnicity.” At the same time, Orthodoxy must guard against various eccentric and incidental elements in church life, leading to isolationism or parochialism.

Many Orthodox Churches are unable to take a critical stance with regard to culture, because in several cases a local Orthodox Church may be too closely identified with the original culture in which it grew up. When this identification becomes exclusively ethnocentric or nationalist, it may weaken the church in its prophetic, renewing and reshaping role with regard to society and culture in general.

Armenian Catholicos Aram has further identified sources of tension which foment difficulties currently found in general ecumenism, what he terms the “de-institutionalization of the ecumenical movement.” Of the several he cited, two are especially applicable here, namely,

1) the fears which arise from globalization are causing churches to “strongly affirm their identity” in the face of multiculturalism which is viewed as potentially dangerous and,

2) a type of insecurity created by ecumenical priorities which, “conditioned by missiological and ecclesiological self-understandings, often clash rather than intersect.”

SOURCE: Fr. Kenneth F. Yossa. “Common heritage, divided communion : the declines and advances of inter-Orthodox relations from Chalcedon to Chambesy” (New Jersey: Gorgias Press, 2009) 210-211.

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