It's interesting to see the Catholic view of differences in position among Orthodox patriarchates. This article, entitled "Divisions in the Orthodox Church are holding up ecumenical dialogue," sees these differences as an impediment to the end of the Schism. I, on the other hand, see this as the way the Church works. We work by consensus, by conciliarity, and not by top-down fiats. It does take a long time and is certainly not as "clean" as a papal bull, but it has vouchsafed the Church and Tradition for millennia.
(Vatican Insider) - The Russian Orthodox Church’s Metropolitan Hilarion has put certain conditions on theological dialogue and rifts between the Patriarchates of Moscow and Constantinople are to blame for this. They are having to open their eyes to the pastoral conversion suggested by Pope Francis.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the reason why dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches has been proceeding at baby step pace with long stand-by phases is to be found in the Orthodox playing field, characterised by reservations and divisions. Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk head of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Department for External Church Relations confirmed this yet again in a recent interview with KNA news agency. During the interview, Metropolitan Hilarion clearly aired his dissatisfaction at the work being done by the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church – the body in charge of appeasing the two Churches on the pressing question of primacy and the exercise of authority in the Church. Metropolitan Hilarion is the top representative of the Patriarchate of Moscow in the commission and yet the tone of distance he has got across in some statements, has not gone unnoticed. “We are wrong to try to present the theological traditions of our Churches as united at the highest level,” he said. Theological dialogue must not conceal but highlight the differences between Christian denominations. More particularly (and positively) he has stated that Orthodoxy can join its voice with the Roman Church on a whole host of moral issues. The thinking is that to ignore or diminish the importance of our differences and pretend that more harmony exists than is actually present is a recipe for disaster. You cannot build a house on a poor foundation. Rome and Orthodoxy can form a strong unified voice on war, end of life issues, abortion, the proper place of the Church in the world, etc. but they should not push for a finish out of the edifice when the concrete has not even been poured.
Hilarion’s remarks are further proof of the low opinion Moscow has of the joint Commission for theological dialogue. In the first plenary assembly he attended on the subject of primacy and authority in the Church, held in Ravenna in 2007, the representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church walked out in protest against the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople’s decision to invite representatives of the Estonian Church to join the Orthodox delegation. The Estonian Church left Moscow’s jurisdiction after the fall of the Soviet Union. Last November a meeting held by the Commission’s small committee in Paris, ended without an agreement being reached, after representatives of the Patriarchate of Moscow refused to sign a document that dealt with the issue of primacy in a more theological and less historical–ecclesiological light.
The current adversities in theological dialogue are largely a side-effect of underlying conflicts that have always existed in the Orthodox Church. The politically and numerically preponderant Patriarchate of Moscow has persistently encouraged an alliance with the Catholic Church on ethical issues but has shown little interest in engaging in dialogue over theological questions. According to the Russians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, would like to play Orthodox “pope”, gaining jurisdictional powers that are not in line with the ecclesiological concept of Eastern Christianity. Meanwhile, Russia’s revival as a super power is reigniting “imperialist” sentiment in the Patriarchate of Moscow. No. The issues are substantive and exist beyond just Russia. Constantinople meeting with Rome is not world Orthodoxy minus Moscow meeting with Rome.
But the dispute within the Orthodox Church will have to face the new season of change introduced by Francis’ Catholic Church sooner or later. Says who? A single patriarch can do what he wills, but that forces the hand of no other patriarch. Anything he does, says, or puts on paper only speaks for him and not for Antioch, Jerusalem, Moscow, Syosset, etc. Reality is not changed by a patriarch's touring schedule. Bartholomew I’s presence at the Bishop of Rome’s inauguration mass and his invitation to Francis to visit Jerusalem in memory of Paul VI’s visit to Patriarch Athenagoras 50 years ago were highly symbolic gestures. The modus operandi of Peter’s current successor could help heal a mistrust that goes back generations. Francis’ reference to Russia’s literary great, Dostoevkij on the flight back from Rio did not go unnoticed in Russia. “When one reads Dostoevskij, you get a feel for Russia’s spirit, the Eastern spirit. This will do us a lot of good. We need this renewal, this breath of fresh air from the East, this light from the East,” The Pope had said. With his sensus Ecclesiae and his seductive apostolic fervour, Pope Francis could find new words to speak to the hearts of the Catholic Church’s Eastern brothers. In doing so he would bring primacy issues into perspective and show everyone that the only way to achieve unity is to embrace the mission Christ entrusted his Church with, as brothers. Using words like "seductive" and "fervor" are not going to help allay Orthodox concerns one bit.