I recently read an article posted on the blog of the Monks of Holy Resurrection Romanian Greek Catholic Monastery. I am pleased to say that I am a novice Monastic Associate of the Monastery.
The article was entitled “Because our love has grown cold.” It was the story of a small monastery in Romanian. This post, written by Hieromonk Maximos, brought to light something that is not often thought of when speaking of the Orthodox/Roman Catholic divide. Sure, we all know the standards; Papal jurisdiction, the understanding of the Primacy of Peter, the Immaculate Conception of the Theotokos, unleavened v. leavened bread for the Eucharist, the filioque clause to the creed. But Father Maximos brought to light something much deeper than different understandings of the Apostolic faith. We are divided argues Fr. Maximos (and Metropolitan Kallistos and an unnamed Orthodox bishop from the time of the Council of Florence) “because our love has grown cold” for one another. It is love or really the lack thereof that keeps us separated.
This concept blew my mind. It is love that will unite the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. It is love that holds together the unity of Christ’s Church. The Primacy of St. Peter is nothing more or less than the Primacy of Love. Love will over come the differences between Greek East and Latin West. Genuine Christian love by Catholics for Orthodox and Orthodox for Catholics will heal the division.
What is needed then is a rekindling of that cold love that has been lost by centuries of polemics and estrangement. This Love needs to spread through all levels of the Church, from the Pope and Patriarchs all the way down to the average layperson. It needs to be a grassroots effort by dedicated Christians of all Apostolic Traditions.
Our Christian love for each other will allow us to see that our divisions are not as wide as we think. It will break down the walls of all the polemics (on both sides), misunderstanding, centuries of indifference, and outright hostilities by some towards their fellow Christians. God, to put it simply, is Love. He loves the world beyond our understanding. The perfect example of this love is that the Father sent His only Son to die on the cross and rise three days later out of love for all mankind. Our imitating his love will unite His Church.
Here is the article that I mention by Fr. Maximos and also the link to the Monks blog on practical ecumenism. The article was originally posted in the Romanian Greek Catholic eparchial newsletter Unirea Canton from the year 2010.
This past June , during my travels in Romania, I found myself in a car between the regions of Bukovina and Maramure? driving across the Rodna Mountains, along the winding road between the towns of Cârlibaba to the east and Bor?a to the west. As the car I was riding in rounded another hairpin bend, I saw what looked at first sight to be a fairy-tale castle rising from the green meadows ahead. In fact those pointed towers turned out to be the partially finished roof of a new monastery located on the Prislop Pass.
We stopped at the monastery and looked around. I had a polite conversation with the monk on duty in the church, me in my extremely bad Romanian, he in his slightly better English. I told him I was a Greek Catholic, he happily sold me some postcards. All in all, the encounter was positive.
It was only later that I learned that this particular monastery has a strained relationship with the Greek Catholic community in that part of Maramure?. The full details of the dispute remain unclear to me. But at one point, as I understand it from conversations with local Greek Catholics, the monks, or at least some of them, were actually planning to make the monastery a Catholic one. When they decided instead to become Orthodox an argument ensued. The whole thing was very messy, with a lawsuit and plenty of bad feelings all round.
The last thing I want to do is make a judgment about the rights and wrongs of that particular property dispute. Instead, I want to use the monastery on the Prislop Pass to make a more general point about the relationship between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
At the recent Orientale Lumen conference in Istanbul, Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) gave a remarkable paper on the Council of Florence. This was the council that, meeting around 1439, attempted to produce re-union between the Latin West and the Greek East. On paper it succeeded. On paper. Almost all the Orthodox representatives signed off on the re-union, as did the Pope and the Western delegates. But the union proved to be as flimsy as the parchment on which it was written.
No sooner had they retuned to Constantinople (in some cases as soon as they walked off their ships!) many of the Orthodox bishops renounced the union they had agreed to in Florence. Why? Their people were opposed to it. Why was there so much opposition? Certainly there were theological disputes over such things as the filioque, the use of leavened or unleavened bread, belief in purgatory, the role of the pope. But in the end there was an even more basic problem. This is best expressed in a remark made by an Orthodox bishop of the time and which Metropolitan Kallistos quoted in his paper. The Greeks and the Latins were divided, said this bishop, “because our love has grown cold.”
The dispute over the monastery on the Prislop Pass makes it pretty clear that, six hundred years later, our love remains cool on both sides of the Catholic/Orthodox divide. And what is happening on that rugged mountain pass is only one among hundreds of quarrels that quench the love that struggles to rise between the Catholic and Orthodox communities all through much of Eastern Europe, especially in Romania and western Ukraine.
But this is not at all bad news. I firmly believe that, if the real problem lies not so much in theological principles as in the loss of love, then the only road back to true union lies not so much across pleasant plains of academic discourse, but rather the rocky deserts and rugged mountains of human hearts.
If love is the answer, then the condition to the rekindling of love is that people should once again get to know one another. The long, agonizingly long and difficult process of resolving disputes like that on the Prislop Pass is not a distraction from the ecumenical work at hand. It is the work! It is, in fact, far more important than the deliberations of theological commissions. These talk about ideas. On the Prisop Pass it’s people that matter. Love can only be rekindled the hearts of people; ideas cannot love. The Council of Florence failed largely because its supporters forgot this truth.
If this is so, then perhaps my brief encounter with the monk of that monastery, the kind words, the tiny gesture of financial support, perhaps this little moment is a small twig thrown on the pile of fuel that might, one day, set alight the fire of love that we need to reunite East and West. We need so many more such moments.
Of course, theological discussions are important. In my view, though, whatever solutions the experts in theological ecumenism can devise, the work of practical ecumenism will take at least a generation or two longer.
And there are signs of hope. I stayed for several days in a small monastery of nuns in Bucharest known as Stavropoleos. There I encountered strong women of faith who treated Father Moses and myself with great friendship respect without in any way compromising their own Orthodoxy. We could pray together, eat together, even laugh together, even though we knew we knew we could not yet commune together.
To the experts in ecumenism places like Romania might seem like the problem: all those fights and all that unpleasantness. I disagree. I think these quarrels may be just those sparks needed to ignite that love without which we are doomed only to artificial unions, false starts.