Thursday, September 22, 2016

Synodality & primacy during the 1st millennium and Uniatism

September 21, 2016 ( – The 14th Plenary Session of the Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church completed its work in Chieti, Italy.

After the necessary amendments and additions, the plenary session approved a common document on Synodality and Primacy during the First Millennium: Towards a Common Understanding in Service to the Unity of the Church.

The delegation of the Georgian Church made a statement expressing disagreement with particular paragraphs of the document. This statement was included in the communique adopted by the plenary session and will be present as a footnote in the common document to be published on behalf of the Commission in the nearest future.

The meeting considered a topic to be chosen as a follow-up of the dialogue. The head of the Russian Orthodox Church delegation, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations (DECR), put forward a proposal to devote the next stage of the dialogue to the theme of synodality and primacy in the Churches of East and West in the second millennium, stressing that in the framework of this theme the Commission should complete the discussion on Uniatism as a phenomenon which arose after the 1054 schism and which still constitutes a stumbling stone in the Orthodox-Catholic relations. I'd also like to see some discussion on the so-call "Western Rite" in the Orthodox Church. Partially because it is a phenomenon still foreign to many and partially because it is often cited as "reverse Uniatism."

Metropolitan Hilarion reminded the meeting that the Joint Commission was to discuss the issue of ecclesiological and canonical consequences of Uniatism at its plenary session in Baltimore, USA, as far back as the year 2000. It was to become a continuation of the work that began in the 1990th with the document condemning Uniatism adopted in Balamand, Lebanon, in 1993, followed by a document on the same issue drafted in Ariccia in 1998. However, the work in Baltimore was not completed because of disagreements that arose both between the Catholic and Orthodox sides of the dialogue and within each of the sides.
After the Joint Commission resumed its work after a 6-years break, Metropolitan Hilarion continued, ‘it was proposed that we should start discussing the issue of primacy and synodality. Our Church agreed to this proposal on the condition that within the context of the theme of primacy and synodality the Commission will explore the canonical and ecclesiological consequences of Uniatism. However, for ten years from 2006 to 2015 the Commission has never revisited this theme. The logic of our dialogue requires that, after completing the document on primacy and synodality in the Church of the first millennium, we should move to considering synodality and primacy in the Churches of East and West in the second millennium. And here we will have to deal with the issue of the 1054 schism and also the issue of Uniatism as one of the central ones in the second millennium. I can predict that there will be many divisive issues and that we will not agree on every point. However, the aim of our dialogue is not simply to agree on the points of which we agree anyhow, but we have to explore also the points of disagreement. And the issue of Uniatism is one such extremely burning issues’.

Metropolitan Hilarion drew the attention of the Commission to the actions of leaders of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, inadmissible in Christian ethics: ‘We can hear the statements made by the UGCC Supreme Archbishop Svyatoslav Shevchuk, which go against the line of our dialogue, create obstacles on its way and sow distrust between the Orthodox and the Catholics. There was a meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in February in Havana. For our Church it was a historic event since the Pope and the Patriarch have never met before. We believe it was a very good meeting as it opened a new page in our bilateral relations. However, immediately after it finished it was heavily criticized by the Ukrainian Greek Catholics and not by some group of the faithful but the UGCC leaders themselves. It was not just criticized but there were many insults and unfair attacks. We have to understand that there are people in our Churches who create obstacles on our way, and we have to bear it in mind when we speak about the future of our dialogue’.

On his part, Archimandrite Irenaeus (Steenberg), a member of the Russian Orthodox Church delegation (soon the be made bishop, glory to God!), pointed out that in discussing the topic of primacy and synodality in the Churches of East and West in the second millennium, some points will certainly arise on which the two parts of the Commission will have serious disagreements. Nevertheless, it is necessary to discuss this topic, as well as the issue of Uniatism. He stressed that it would be difficult for the Russian Orthodox Church to continue working in the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue if the problem of ecclesiological and canonical consequences of the unia remains unsolved.

After a discussion it was agreed to leave the question of the topic for further discussion at the discretion of the Joint Commission’s coordinating committee, which is to meet during 2017.

In the communique adopted at the closing meeting, the participants in the plenary session thanked Msgr. Bruno Forte, Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto for the hospitality.

The Joint Commission also expressed solidarity with the suffering population of the Middle East and a number of countries in Europe and the world. The document makes a special mention of the Metropolitans of Aleppo kidnapped by terrorists – Paul, Patriarchate of Antioch, who is a member of the Joint Commission, and Gregory John Ibrahim, Syro-Jacobite Church.


  1. Father, how common is the Western Rite in Orthodox Churches? I know very little about it, and can't imagine an Orthodox bishop allowing anything like the Anglican or Catholic masses I've witnessed. Is "reverse Uniatism" a fair name?

  2. Western Rite Orthodoxy is an anomaly and as an Orthodox Christian I think it was the wrong move to accept it. Thank God it has not spread. If we are sincere about Ecumenical dialogue we orthodox should not be encourage Western-Rite Uniates in the Orthodox Church.

  3. I also think that the MP will soon find that the rest of the Orthodox world and also the Catholics will not be supporting the Russian interpretation of problems with Catholic Uniates in Ukraine.

    1. Thank you, Steve, for the last comment. The MP has a long way to go in terms of admitting, and healing from, it past horrible treatment of Eastern Catholics. While uniatism is not the way of the future, nor should it be, Greek Catholics have a right to exist and a right to their churches stolen by the communist with the help of the MP. The MP continues to beat the same old, unsupported, Moscow propaganda about Ukrainian Catholics. It is rather tiresome. The MP should take note of how the Antiochian Orthodox relate to their Melkite Catholic brothers.

    2. This video is very interesting and worth attending to:

  4. Матвей Касерлий,

    The Western Rite is not a common phenomenon in Orthodoxy. In the United States, there are about 20 parishes in the Antiochian Archdiocese, and about the same number in ROCOR. There are also a few Western-Rite Benedictine monasteries - I know of one in the Antiochian Archdiocese and one in ROCOR. Most parishes tend to be very small.

    In my opinion, "reverse Uniatism" is not a fair descrition of Western Rite Orthodoxy. Each Eastern Catholic Church is an entire local Church, with its own bishops and synod -- what the Catholics call sui juris and the Orthodox would call "autocephalous." But there is no Western Rite local Church in Orthodoxy, and no Western Rite bishops. There are only individual parishes under the omophorion of canonical Orthodox bishops, who have been given a blessing to serve a Western liturgy.

    can't imagine an Orthodox bishop allowing anything like the Anglican or Catholic masses I've witnessed

    Liturgically, Western Rite Orthodox are very traditional. In most cases, part of their motivation for seeking out Orthodoxy in the first place was to escape from the liturgical chaos of both Protestantism and Catholicism. In my experience, Western-Rite worship is beautiful, reverent, and fully Orthodox.


    If we are sincere about Ecumenical dialogue we orthodox should not be encourage Western-Rite Uniates in the Orthodox Church.

    I disagree. First of all, as noted above I don't think "Western-Rite Uniates" is a fair description. More importantly, I think the Orthodox Western Rite can be a witness to Western Churches of how rich and full their liturgical and sacramental life could be if they were reconciled with Orthodoxy.

  5. This is, I think, a link to the text of the document:

    but there is no footnote presenting the reservations of the Orthodox Church of Georgia.

  6. In the first millennium, a local bishop of a particular rite might have parishes of other rites under him. The proliferation of overlapping episcopal territories is a relatively new phenomenon that has only recently been accommodated with the idea of sui juris churches in the CC. In the EOC, I think the idea is still considered to be a problem.

    Chris Jones: The various unia have different histories; some are very similar to the WRO.

    1. Yes, the Orthodox still consider it canonically problematic. I'd go so far as to say that the Catholics and the Orthodox have two distinct conceptions of jurisdiction, hence different means and methods of coping with the phenomenon. The Orthodox are being weaned off of a post-imperial territorial jurisdictional paradigm, whereas among Catholics the mutual relationship between ritual and communio seems to matter more than geography. We can and should learn from Rome in this respect.

    2. weaned off of a post-imperial territorial jurisdictional paradigm

      I'm not sure that I understand what this means -- for example, why you characterize it as "post-imperial" -- but to the extent that I do understand it, I do not agree with it. The territorial principle in Orthodox ecclesiology pre-dates the association of the Church with the Empire. Indeed, I would argue that it is presupposed in the New Testamental record. So the territorial principle is not something that arose either during or after the association of the Orthodox Church with the Empire (whether Roman, Byzantine, or Russian). So it is not something that the Church needs to set aside or be "weaned off."

      The territorial principle emphasizes the unicity and universality of the Church, whereas a mutual relationship between ritual and communio, where "communio" most often means an ethnic subculture, divides the Church and was rightly condemned by the Orthodox Church as phyletism.

  7. David J. Can you please provide a link or documentation about different rites being under one local bishop before the year 1000? William Dalrympole's book "From the Holy Mountain" traces the journey of John of Moschos & Sophronius in the 6th century. While Dalrympole made his journey in 1997 he does have ample quotes from the earlier work about Greek Orthodox & Syriac Orthodox Churches for example in one city. I would like to read more about different rites being under one bishop so please provide some references to primary sources. What for example does Eusebius say?