ON RESTORING THE SPIRITUAL UNITY OF EUROPE
For a long time the ecumenical movement was dominated by the 'three branches theory', which asserted that Protestantism, Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy are all three equal branches of the same Church. However, this mainly Protestant theory is now generally seen as old-fashioned. For the most part, it is discredited among both Orthodox and Roman Catholics, who know that Protestantism is exactly what it says, merely a protest by a myriad of ex-Catholic groups against Catholicism, and not a Church in itself.
For this reason the present Pope John Paul II has spoken rather of the 'two-lung theory', an idea which has much appeal to a Pope from Eastern Europe who lives in Western Europe. He seems to have used this expression for the first time in his Apostolic Letter Euntes in mundum in 1988 on the millennium of the Baptism of Ancient Russia: 'Europe has two lungs, it will never breathe easily until it uses both of them'. This metaphor has since often been used by his speechwriters, such as the French philosopher Olivier Clement, who frequents both Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. However attractive the idea of uniting East and West, Orthodoxy and Catholicism, just as two lungs are united in one body, this theory is unacceptable to the vast majority of Orthodox and also to more than a few Roman Catholics.
Firstly, it is unacceptable because it presents the Church as having two parts, a Western part, Catholicism, and an Eastern part, Orthodoxy. It presents therefore a territorialist concept, that Orthodoxy is only for Easterners, and that Catholicism is only for Westerners. Church unity is all a mere matter of geography and culture. This is obviously not the case, since there are Easterners who at present find a spiritual home in Catholicism, and Westerners who find a spiritual home in Orthodoxy.
Secondly, the metaphor is untrue because the Church is not composed of parts of a body, two lungs, but of a single body, in fact, the Church is the Body of Christ, as the Apostle Paul called it in the first century. If the Church were two lungs, what would the heart or the stomach or the legs or the brain or any other organs or members represent? Either the Church is Roman Catholicism or else it is Orthodoxy. People make their choice according to their experience.
From an Orthodox viewpoint, there is only one Church, that is the Orthodox Church. However, that does not mean that everything can be seen in terms of black and white, Church people being 'sinless' and all those outside it being 'sinful'. It is quite untrue to say that there is nothing outside the Orthodox Church. There are Roman Catholics closer to Orthodoxy than some Orthodox, although, of course, if they were actually Orthodox, then they would be closer still! In fact, Catholicism, which is only now entering the third millennium, is the heir to a first millennium of Orthodoxy. When Catholicism was formed by Western people falling away from the Orthodox Church, they took with them a huge chunk of the Orthodox Christian Tradition of Western Europe.
We can say therefore that Catholicism is half-Orthodox. And Roman Catholics are the unconscious (and sometimes conscious) descendants of Orthodox. Most of them, for example, believe in the Holy Trinity (albeit not in the Orthodox way), most of then believe in the Divinity of Christ, in the Incarnation and in the Virgin-Birth. Some are very close to Orthodoxy. The real question for Orthodox as regards spiritual unity in Europe is therefore: How can Orthodox help restore the fullness of Orthodoxy to the half-Orthodoxy of Catholicism? There has always been, and there still is, only one answer to this question. But it is composed of two steps.
The first step is for the Orthodox Church to set up the ecclesiastical infrastructure in Western Europe (in Western Europe, because Catholicism in other parts of the world will follow its lead) in order to restore the possibility for Western Europeans to become Orthodox. It is vital that this Church infrastructure should be free of both Eastern European State interference and nationalisms. If not, this new Church will never gain the confidence of Western people and will never be able to refute the charge that the Orthodox Church is only 'Cesaropapist' or 'Eastern', i.e. controlled by secular and foreign States. In other words, it must be independent and also value and respect the historic native traditions and centres of Western European Orthodoxy, the blood of its martyrs and the struggles of its confessors.
The second step in the restoration of Western Orthodoxy is that Roman Catholicism abandon in an act of repentance the exclusivist claims of Papism by returning to the theology and ecclesiology of the first millennnium. In other words this means that Catholicism abandon 'Papocesarism', i.e, the control of States by the Papacy with all its political meddling and consequent self-secularization. In order to do this, it would first have to abandon the theological justification for this Papocesarist, 'Grand Inquisitor' ideology. This originates in the 'filioque', the concept that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the fallen human nature of the 'Vicars of Christ', i.e. the Popes of Rome, and thence, by centuries of progressive secularization, from all Western culture. The return to the Creed of the first millennium and the Faith of the Seven Councils is therefore essential.
At the same time, it would abandon all the consequent ramifications and accretions of the Middle Ages, restoring the Orthodox understanding of the Holy Trinity and the Holy Spirit. Then would disappear such inventions as indulgences and Purgatory, the false saints of the Middle Ages and the whole of Catholic pietism and philosophy and the ethnocentric Western arrogance of the Crusades, the spirit of which so utterly separates the Roman Catholic world from the Orthodox Christian spirit of the Church. It would be to abandon ethnic Western pride and return to the humility of Christ. It would be to abandon that fantasy which imagines that Christ came from Western Europe, and not from the Middle East, the fantasy that Christianity is Western and not Eastern. It would be to abandon the Papal structures of Catholicism and embrace the Orthodox structures of Western Europe, thus returning to the spiritual roots of the West.
The abandonment of the Papal deformations of the Middle Ages might also at last persuade at least some Protestants to return to the Church. There they would find again the unity of Orthodox Europe as opposed to the dead-end opposition of a Protestant-Catholic Europe, doomed to disunity because torn asunder from the unity of Orthodox Europe.
This would in turn lead to the break-up of the global structures of Roman Catholicism, allowing the formations of two new Local Orthodox Churches, one for the Americas and the other for Australasia, and allowing Roman Catholics in Africa and Asia to fall into their natural, canonical jurisdictions under the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch respectively. Who knows, perhaps one day there will be a Kenyan Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa, residing mainly in Nairobi, and an Indian Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, residing mainly in New Delhi.
But frankly, is either of these steps to the restoration of Orthodoxy in the West at all likely?
Until a few years ago, we would have said that neither was at all likely. However, the long-awaited call from Patriarch Alexis for the establishment of an Orthodox Metropolia in Western Europe and his recognition that this Metropolia must be self-governing and local, using Western European languages etc, represents such a colossal advance that we can now say that the first step in the advance towards the spiritual unity of East and West is now approaching. Here one fact is not to be overlooked. Patriarch Alexis (Ridiger) is himself by origin a Baltic German, raised in the Russian emigration in Estonia. As a youth, the Patriarch served as a faithful acolyte to a much-respected priest who has for over fifty years been among the clergy of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia in Switzerland. This Patriarch may be one who has an understanding of Western Europe greater than any other Orthodox Patriarch in history.
However, our cautious optimism goes further than this. At the present time, the monolith of Roman Catholicism is headed by an elderly and dying Pope. For nearly twenty-five years he has gallantly held together an organization which is riven by friction and disputes. It seems almost certain to us that Roman Catholicism as it has developed since its break with the Orthodox Church at the beginning of the second millennium, is unlikely to last much longer. The question of compulsory clerical celibacy is destroying it, together with a whole gamut of questions about its history and practices all over the world.
In the next few decades it seems certain that Catholicism is going to go through a serious of revolutionary reforms and changes. Of course some of these will lead to groups breaking away from it, protestantizing themselves and many will lose their faith altogether in modernist, charismatic and New Age movements which are fundamentally not Christian. However, there are others who will wish to return to the spiritual roots of Christian Orthodoxy, to the practices of the first millennium, to the lives of the Western saints. Could this not be the second step in the restoration of the Orthodox Church in Western Europe and its spiritual unity?
What we have written so far may seem to many to be over-optimistic. And it is true that in order to balance this, we must sound notes of great caution and even pessimism. The fact is that we need to remember that all of this has to be seen in an eschatological perspective. In other words, we must clearly realize that the possible restoration of Orthodoxy in the West is coming in the end part of human history. It is coming at a time of incredible spiritual decadence, religious indifference and faithlessness. In this present dechristianized West, the 'little flock' of Orthodox Christians will have only two ways of life, either 'confessordom' or else 'martyrdom'.
In this context of the Second Coming, we cannot help thinking of the little-known second line of a poem by the secular English poet, Rudyard Kipling, writing a century ago of another context:
Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet
And these apocalyptic words perhaps remind us too of the writing of a non-secular author, the holy Apostle Luke the Evangelist:
Unity is at hand, but only inasmuch as the End of the World is at hand, perhaps even within our own lives:
Watch and pray (Matt. 26, 41)
Fr Andrew Phillips
Agapitus, Pope of Rome