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Eucharistic Ecumenism


If, as the Fathers of the Church teach, we are united in the Eucharist, what is wrong with sharing it? And if this leads to a unity of confession between the Orthodox and other Christians, what is wrong with that? These are the questions that I pose to you in response to your anti-ecumenical efforts. (N.A., WI)

The Fathers of the Orthodox Church teach that we are united in a common Baptism, a common confession, and the common mind of Christ. This is a wholly Scriptural idea (see Ephesians 4:5) and is supported by the Patristic consensus. The Holy Eucharist is the Medicine of Immortality by which we are restored to spiritual health, deified, and united to Christ. It is by virtue of the spiritually therapeutic efficacy of the Church’s Mysteries, then, that we are united to others, and these express and reify our common Baptism, confession, and mind. If Baptism were not enlightenment, if confession were not something noumenal rather than merely intellectual, and if the attainment of the mind of Christ were just an image and not a matter of actual deification and glorification (theosis), then one might argue that Holy Communion might be the very tool for uniting the heterodox to the Orthodox Faith. But this is not the case. The Medicine of Immortality is applied to those who have entered into the Divine hospital of the Church, who are under the care of its certified therapists (Priests and Bishops), and it facilitates and effects their Divine cure, in which they are restored to the image of Perfect Man which is found in Christ. It cannot be separated from the place in which it is administered, which is, once more, defined by the one Baptism, one Faith, and one Lord of the Orthodox Church.

Owing to the intolerance of ecumenists in the face of the notion of an Orthodox primacy in the Christian Faith, some Orthodox have succumbed to the un-Orthodox idea that, if we all commune together, we will belong to the same Church, as though the Church derives from the Eucharist, rather than the Eucharist from the Church. It is for this reason that many contemporary Orthodox theologians so vehemently oppose the "medical" model of the Eucharist found in many Church Fathers, attributing, rather, an essentially un-Orthodox idea—that of unity in the Eucharist independent of a common Faith—to the Patristic consensus. And knowing that this attribution is spurious, they bristle at anyone who calls for a broader understanding of the relationship between the Eucharist and the very tenets and foundational elements of Orthodoxy. Moreover, since it is impossible for an Orthodox Christian to believe that the Eucharist is the cause, rather than the result, of unity, they avoid any discussion of this pivotal issue in Orthodox ecclesiology. Hence the simplistic ideas that you have been taught and about which you have asked us.

From Orthodox Tradition, Vol. XV, No. 1, 22-23.

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Consider also these comments by Bishop Kallistos Ware in the 1963 edition of his The Orthodox Church, pp. 318-319:

Yet there is one field in which diversity cannot be permitted. Orthodoxy insists upon unity in matters of the faith. Before there can be reunion among Christians, there must first be full agreement in faith: this is a basic principle for Orthodox in all their ecumenical relations. It is unity in the faith that matters, not organizational unity; and to secure unity of organization at the price of a compromise in dogma is like throwing away the kernel of a nut and keeping the shell. Orthodox are not willing to take part in a 'minimal' reunion scheme, which secures agreement on a few points and leaves everything else to private opinion. There can be only one basis for union—the fullness of the faith; for Orthodoxy looks on the faith as a united and organic whole. Speaking of the Anglo Russian Theological Conference at Moscow in 1956, the present Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Michael Ramsey, expressed the Orthodox viewpoint exactly:

The Orthodox said in effect: " ... The 'tradition is a concrete fact. There it is, in its totality. Do you Anglicans accept it, or do you reject it?' The Tradition is for the Orthodox one indivisible whole: the entire life of the Church in its fullness of belief and custom down the ages, including Mariology and the veneration of icons. Faced with this challenge, the typically Anglican reply is: 'We would not regard veneration of icons or Mariology as inadmissible, provided that in determining what is necessary to salvation, we confine ourselves to Holy Scripture.' But this reply only throws into relief the contrast between the Anglican appeal to what is deemed necessary to salvation and the Orthodox appeal to the one indivisible organism of Tradition, to tamper with any part of which is to spoil the whole, in the sort of way that a single splodge on a picture can mar its beauty." ['The Moscow Conference in Retrospect', in Sobornost, series 3, no. 23, 1958, pp. 562-3.]

In the words of another Anglican writer: "It has been said that the faith is like a network rather than an assemblage of discrete dogmas; cut one strand and the whole pattern loses its meaning.' [T. M. Parker, 'Devotion to the Mother of God', in The Mother of God, edited by E. L. Mascall, p. 74.] Orthodox, then, ask of other Christians that they accept Tradition as a whole; but it must be remembered that there is a difference between Tradition and traditions. Many beliefs held by Orthodox are not a part of the one Tradition, but are simply theologoumena, theological opinions; and there can be no question of imposing mere matters of opinion on other Christians. Men can possess full unity in the faith, and yet hold divergent theological opinions in certain fields. This basic principle—no reunion without unity in the faith—has an important corollary: until unity in the faith has been achieved, there can be no communion in the sacraments. Communion at the Lord's Table (most Orthodox believe) cannot be used to secure unity in the faith, but must come as the consequence and crown of a unity already attained. Orthodoxy rejects the whole concept of 'intercommunion' between separated Christian bodies, and admits no form of sacramental fellowship short of full communion. Either Churches are in communion with one another, or they are not: there can be no half-way house.