Why We Orthodox Won’t Take Up The Suggestion Of Adam’s Joint Forgiveness Vespers Idea

In the last post, Adam DeVille suggested that Orthodox and Roman Catholics serve Forgiveness Vespers together.  Would that we would!  It is a suggestion that makes sense on so many levels.  So, why won’t it happen?  Well, it’s simple, and again, brings me back to my point that it is largely the Orthodox who are at fault in sinking ecumenical ships.  I think in many places our Catholic neighbors WOULD be so inclined and interested were we willing simply to propose such an idea.

We won’t see bishops (on our side) with the guts to do this anytime soon because we fear the canon against “praying with heretics” as though that canon were intended to be applied in such a fearful, anti-ecumenical way in the twenty-first century.  Here, one sees just how relevant Inga Leonova’s last post was as well.  Likewise, I doubt we have many, if any, priests with the guts to do this because of the fear that the bishop would come down on them, based on this canon (all the while bishops will sometimes ignore other canons).  Really, it’s that simple.  Of course, said bishops have all sorts of Orthodox priests and laity who would support such an application of the canon.  That’s part of the problem, too, but really, hierarchy (bishops and priests both) should be brave enough to stand up against such fundamentalism.  We don’t.  We lack courage.  Frankly, I think we lack courage because we might lack love.

21 Responses

  1. Maurice

    Father bless.

    Thank you for this blog and the last few posts on Forgiveness Sunday.

    It is truly fascinating how the “praying with heretics” canon is used sometimes with such vehemence to accuse others of the ‘pan-heresy of ecumenism’…and the irony that very few make a point of addressing our lack of adherence to Canon LXX of Nicea (“Houses of hospitality must be built for the poor in every city of every diocese”) (From the captions of the Arabic Canons).

    Lord have mercy on us.

    Forgive me a sinner.

  2. We won’t see bishops (on our side) with the guts to do this anytime soon because we fear the canon against “praying with heretics” as though that canon were intended to be applied in such a fearful, anti-ecumenical way in the twenty-first century.

    What is your limiting principle, given this approach to application of the canons?

    1. Well to stay on point the essay supported a Forgiveness vespers. Slippery slope arguments to the contrary are slippery slopes arguments. A service that does not share sacraments and is centered on Forgiveness should be a first step. I think an Akhathis or vespers at other times could also be established.

        1. Inga Leonova

          This will not constitute a joint service, simply a permission for the Orthodox to serve the Akathist in Notre Dame, which is hardly a revolutionary event. The sticking point about concelebrating with “the heretics” remains unresolved in the Orthodox world, again, out of our greatly misplaced fear to “question the tradition”.

  3. Nicholas Denysenko

    Organizing and publicizing such an event would create a conversation among those who do not want to pray with “schismatics.’ A more informal approach (not checking denominational ID cards at the door) inevitably allows one to conclude that almost anyone could participate in the Vespers, even if the rite of exchanging forgiveness was not performed in a circle (let’s not assume that this practice is universal within Orthodoxy – it is not). The truth is that imposing such a prohibition would violate Christ’s simple commandment to forgive one another read in the Gospel at liturgy on Cheesefare Sunday and prayed every day by Christians worldwide. These suggestions are wise and you know I support them – I would also like to see an ecumenical celebration of the Great blessing of waters. But the first step to praying with another is to love them for who they are, which means that we are not secretly hoping that they will become Orthodox; and the second step is to check one’s pride and hypocrisy at the door. The entire cycle of Lenten offices is a rehearsal of these steps: worry about your own sin; forgive the other; love the other for who they are. These posts are evidence of how hard it is to be Christian. We’ll fight very hard to exclude others with all kinds of prooftexts, but it’s hard to get inclusion on the Church’s agenda.

  4. Unworthy

    Just as we’re going to be eating and drinking with the “least of these” in the Kingdom of Heaven, we’re also going to be praying with all sorts of non-Orthodox in the Kingdom. We might as well get used to it now and interact with both groups. But, yes, the question is do we even care?

  5. Greg

    I’m not sure sure this isn’t “doable”, at least as long as one excludes literal “co-serving”. I’m also inclined to wonder why this particular combination would be a priority. It seems to me if the idea is for Orthodox to seriously pursue Christian unity, the right starting place would be with the Oriental Orthodox, with whom there is infinitely more in common. For all intents and purposes we already Commune their laity (I know this to be true in ROCOR, OCA and Greek parishes). A few years ago I organized a joint Coptic-OCA Molieben to St Anthony for the Christians of the middleeast with the blessing of my Bishop.

    In fact, as I am thinking things through a bit – it seems to me the right first step is pan Orthodox Vespers in many geographies (Denver area does this I believe). The divisions in Orthodoxy itself are a scandal and I see no reason we shouldn’t be putting all our energies into a bottom up attempt to resolve this.

    All of that aside, I am troubled by the idea that a priest should seek to act in defiance of what he already believes to be the guidelines of his Bishop. That seems frankly wrong – in the moral sense of the word.

    1. Unworthy

      The Oriental Orthodox are fine to begin with. However, they’re not the ones in our backyard. We accept baptisms in the Roman Catholic Church. But we can’t pray with them?

  6. Andrew Cuff

    I encourage any priest who reads this blog to make a priority out of celebrating non-eucharistic services with other Orthodox jurisdictions, Oriental Orthodox, and Catholics. The extent to which Orthodox are marked primarily by exclusivism is a scandal. Our unwillingness to reach out beyond our tiny domed communities is a denial of the gospel. The need for these outreach services is urgent and crucial.

    Pull the trigger. Schedule one, put it in the bulletin, announce it from the pulpit, and if your bishop wants you to put a stop to it, he will surely let you know.

  7. steve

    As a Roman Catholic who is investigating Orthodoxy I’m all in favor of Orthodox and Catholics joining together for Forgiveness Vespers. Honestly though, I don’t have any Catholic friends for whom unity with the Orthodox is a priority. Those who have even thought about it at all would be happy if the Orthodox became Catholic (preferably Latin Rite) but unity between the two isn’t really important to the Catholics I know personally.

      1. A Reader

        Most Catholics are actually simply unaware of even the very existence of the Orthodox (not to mention, Eastern Catholics). It’s not surprising that most wouldn’t particularly care about unity with them.

        1. You make a good point and given who I am, I am likely to know more RC priests and religiously educated laity than most probably do. So I think you’re right that a fair amount of education within RCism must also happen.

  8. M. Woerl

    a novel approach! I might add that unity between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics is neither a priority, or even desired, by most Orthodox I know; the Catholics I know could care less! It seems to be of greatest concern only to hierarchs who hold geopolitical concerns utmost.
    Any of Oriental Orthodox background communing in ROCOR parishes have been received into the Orthodox Church, or, if not, the priest doing so is in for problems. No mater where one stands on that question -‘they’re Monophysites!’ to ‘No! It was all a big misunderstanding!’ also need realize the O.O. have refused to adhere to the 4th through 7th Ecumenical Councils. Which, hopefully, requires no further explanation. Possibly-these, too, were not “intended for the 21st century?”
    A few years back, a local OCA parish communed some of the Copts who lived in the area before they were able to start a parish. When these Copts did get their own parish, a group from the OCA parish went to the Coptic Liturgy. Several of them lined up to receive communion. The Coptic priest refused them … and told them they would have to be baptized in the Coptic church to receive communion. From what I understand, this is not a “rarity.” Nor “discouraged” by Coptic bishops. Which only goes to enforce the conviction that relying on incidents of aberration do not show any situation with clarity. Even though the “aberrations” might be widespread.

    1. I like your last point about being careful with “aberrations.” This is part of the reason I find Adam’s suggestion helpful. It would mean hierarchs are getting together and doing this. In addition, I would say we also need to refuse to be held captive by fears or repercussions. Otherwise, no progress of any kind would be made. Oh, and I do like that you raise the issue of Oriental Orthodox. I think there is much that needs to be explored there, too.

  9. steve

    Yes, I think most Latin Rite laypersons are simply ignorant about eastern Christianity. I know that is true for me. To my shame, for 25 years I regularly drove past a golden domed Byzantine Catholic Church and wondered “what in the heck kind of church is that ?”. So yes, I agree the RCC has a fair amount of educating to do.

    It is interesting to me that my local EWTN Catholic radio station, probably the most influential Catholic media source among conservative/orthodox Catholics in the country, has only one 1/2 hour program dedicated to Eastern Rite Catholics during a week of 24/7 broadcasting.

    I’ve also noticed that most of the Catholic websites that are concerned with RC-EO unity are by those with ties to Eastern Rite Catholicism. I just think the history, issues and concerns of eastern Christians fly below the radar of most western Christians.

    As I’ve thought about EO’s and RC’s celebrating Forgiveness Vespers together I’ve wondered if Catholic clergy wouldn’t have concerns about proselytizing or even just exposing their parishioners to historical and doctrinal issues they may be currently unaware of. It seems to me that, even if the Orthodox bishops did have the guts to make the invitation, the Catholic heirarchs would not welcome it.

    1. Fr. James

      I don’t think we would approach it out of fear, although if the Orthodox viewed it as an opportunity to proselytize it might be a different story. I think most priests would welcome the chance to pray with our Orthodox brethren. Oh, and most Catholics don’t desire to convert the Orthodox into Latins.

  10. Isaac

    Such garbage and nonsense, Father! Is Orthodoxy the Church, or isn’t it? Is Orthodox teaching right, or is it incomplete? Are the saints who died opposing the Latins as heretics and schismatics mistaken? Are the canons of the holy fathers to be disregarded on a whim?

    You remind me of this fantastic essay on Modernism, by Fr. Yury Maximov, here: http://orthodoxengland.org.uk/modernists.htm. We must believe rightly and obey the Church if we wish to be saved. Those who think we’ve got it all sown up no matter what we do or think are basically Eastern-Rite Methodists. I’m so sick of the leftist boomers in the Church with such massive egos that they want to do these hippy-freak-out ecumenical services because at heart they are half-converted relativists. Thank God this mentality is largely limited in its influence to the West and not to the places where the heart of Orthodoxy still beats– Russia, Georgia, Jerusalem, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Mt. Athos. Save us from these wolves, O Lord!

    “If you love me, keep my commandments.” “What accord hath Christ with Belial?”

    1. Thanks for commenting Isaac. I don’t think it’s all demonic outside the Orthodox Church and I think with Oriental Orthodox and Catholics there are steps we could take to help foster better relations and maybe even one day unity.

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