11 October 2011

Utrecht Old Catholics and the Orthodox Church: Meeting on Crete

Last year, a delegation of eleven representatives of the Union of Utrecht visited Crete to meet with various representatives of the Orthodox Church. The meeting was planned by the Orthodox-Old Catholic Working Group as a way of building on the successful work of the joint commission in 1987 and deepening ties further.

The German Old Catholic diocesan website has an interesting report in German about the visit. I will summarize it here for those of you not up on your Goethe and Brecht, while adding some thoughts of my own.

The host, Crete's local Orthodox church, is semi-autonomous, formally belonging to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople. The Old Catholic visitors noted how well received and respected they were by their hosts. One of the most arresting signs of this was when the Orthodox bishop of Kisamos and Selinon invited the attendees to a service that Sunday, where both Orthodox and Old Catholics were included in commemorative prayers -- an act that is normally only done for Christians in communion. The Archbishop of Crete also attended to his guests in such a way that the reporter is reminded of Mark 10:43 -- whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.

During the meetings, it was repeatedly and clearly emphasized that the Ecumenical Patriarch himself has a strong interest in continuing and deepening dialog and relations with the Union of Utrecht, regardless of the differences and problems that still exist that may seem to make full communion difficult if not impossible. Interestingly, the ordination of women is expressly not the central issue -- Orthodox theologians have said that women's ordination is not dogmatically impossible -- but rather the expression of communion on differing levels. That is in reference to Old Catholics having a relatively low bar for agreeing to communion and inviting to partake in the Eucharist, specifically to the agreements the Old Catholics have with us Anglicans (full communion) and the German mainline Protestant church, the EKD (invitation to members to partake in Eucharist, without full communion). From an Orthodox perspective, these agreements simply could not exist under their standards for full communion or sharing in the Eucharist, and indeed the Bonn Agreement is remarkable for how little it defines or declares.

Overall, the study trip was well received by all participants and gave the visiting Old Catholic students a much deeper appreciation of the Orthodox Church.

Kyrie eleison. :)

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