Patriarchs not "Eastern popes", Orthodox bishop tells Rome

Only a full dialogue on papal primacy will reveal whether Catholic and Orthodox conceptions are compatible, says a Vienna-based Russian Orthodox bishop, adding that in the meantime the Vatican should not impose its ecclesiological model on the Orthodox Church.

"Whether the two ecclesiological models, namely, the Catholic one oriented at Rome as the centre of the universal church unity, and the Orthodox one that is not oriented at any single centre are compatible, only a full dialogue on the primacy between the Catholic and the Orthodox Churches could reveal," the bishop said, according to an Interfax report.

There has been no such model of papal primacy in the Orthodox Church, Bishop Hilarion said, adding that a pan-Orthodox council is required and the consent of all local Orthodox churches before it could be established.

"Until a convocation of this council, and as long as the Orthodox teaching on the church remains as it has been for many centuries, no delegate is entitled to make alterations," Bishop Hilarion said, and "the position of the Moscow Patriarchate will remain hard-line".

His comments followed the Catholic-Orthodox international dialogue commission which met in September in Belgrade, Serbia-Montenegro, for the first time since 2000 when talks were broken off over tensions between the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches in the former communist Eastern Europe.

Such a dialogue, the bishop said, will be possible only if "an ecclesiological model in which the patriarch of Constantinople occupies the place of an 'Eastern pope' is not imposed on the Orthodox Church".

Earlier he voiced his protest to Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, who put a document on the authority of the ecumenical council to the vote at the Joint Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church held in Belgrade.

He said that in the Orthodox tradition "communion with the See of Constantinople" has been never perceived as binding like "communion with the See of Rome" was perceived by the Western churches.

Cardinal Kasper expressed his surprise that the representative of the Russian church "dwelt on only one issue under discussion which is assumed to include many other issues of great importance and difficulty".

Bishop Hilarion said he believes that Cardinal Kasper "is absolutely right in that it was an issue on which the Orthodox participants in the dialogue are not unanimous".

However, he added, it is even more amazing that the Catholic cardinal put this issue to the vote and that "the Orthodox had to vote in the presence of the Catholics".

"The problems of Orthodox ecclesiology (the teaching on the church), its dogmatic teaching and canonical order cannot be resolved by voting. The only way is to seek consensus within Orthodoxy and after it, if possible, between Orthodoxy and Catholicism," the patriarchate's representative said.

The Orthodox Church has no universal primate, or "supreme pontiff", as it did in the person of the Pope before the schism of 1054, the bishop said, noting that the patriarch of Constantinople has been seen as Orthodox primate afterwards de facto.

He stressed, though, that the Orthodox churches vary in their understanding of the patriarch of Constantinople's role and primacy. "Some rather regard this primacy as purely honorable, while others give certain coordinating functions to the patriarch of Constantinople and see him as highest court," Bishop Hilarion said.

Orthodox rep urges Vatican not to 'impose' patriarch as an 'Eastern pope' (Catholic Online, 4/10/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Bishop Hilarion Alfayev biography (Orthodoxia)
Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity

Papal primacy still stumbling block in Orthodox talks (CathNews, 26/9/06)
Catholic-Orthodox talks restart after six years (CathNews, 20/9/06)
Pope says Catholics, Orthodox must work for unity (19/12/05)
Cardinal Kasper sees ecumenical progress with Orthodox churches (CathNews, 21/2/03)

5 Oct 2006