We are sharing Father Alexander Schmemann’s brief 1966 commentary as a springboard for frank, brotherly dialogue between Roman Catholics, Eastern Catholics, and Orthodox. What relevance do his remarks continue to have, or not, more than half a century later? How do we respond, in particular, to the ongoing concerns of the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Churches on these complex issues?
Language that some may find offensive or outdated should be considered from the vantage of the era in which this response was written.
It is not easy for an Orthodox to express his views on this particular Decree for the simple yet important reason that the very existence of the “Uniate” Eastern Catholic Churches has always been considered by the Orthodox as one of the major obstacles to any sincere theological confrontation with the Roman Catholic Church.
The Orthodox appreciate, to be sure, the efforts made in these last years by some spiritual leaders of these communities to represent and voice within the Roman Catholic Church the Eastern tradition as a whole, efforts which were especially obvious at the Council itself and which no doubt greatly contributed to the basic orientation of the present Decree. But for the sake of true ecumenical understanding, it must be stressed that for the Orthodox there remains in this whole question of uniatism a deep ambiguity, to which all Orthodox are extremely sensitive and which must have a high priority on the ecumenical agenda of the future.
There can be no doubt as to the positive, irenic, and constructive intentions of the Decree as a whole. It is one more step, and a decisive one, toward the recognition of the Eastern tradition as “equal in dignity” to that of the West. Of utmost importance is its emphasis on the temporary character of its provisions— “until such time as the Catholic Church and the separated Eastern Churches come together into complete unity.” This seems to indicate a rather significant shift in the very understanding of the function of the Eastern Catholic communities called now to serve as bridges to, rather than substitutes for, the Orthodox East. Read More