Tuesday 29 November 2022

Synodality of Catholic Church and Eastern Churches: European Perspective


Enlarge the space of your tent Is 54:2


The tent is a space of communion, participation and mission.

Europe as a continent is the cradle of many Eastern Churches, especially of the Greek tradition. Many Eastern Churches of Syriac origin are also prominently present in Europe as migrants either due to war and persecution or from economic perspectives. Syro Malabar Church in Europe is an example of a Syriac Church that migrated to Europe from an economic perspective in terms of quality of life, economic stability, and educational and job opportunities.

The native Church in Europe always welcomed the Eastern Churches. The Catholic Church through its numerous magisterial documents and exhortations appreciated the importance of Eastern Churches and their heritage especially the richness of their liturgico theological rituals and rubrics.

For Catholic Church, enlarging the space of the tent is widening the acceptance, appreciation and promotion of Eastern Churches in Europe to contribute, complement and collaborate. Through this collaboration, the revealed mysteries in different perspectives manifested in different individual particular churches complement together to make the Catholic Church more Catholic.

Catholic- Universal inclusiveness.

The term Catholic was first used by Saint Ignatius of Rome who was a disciple of Saint John, the Evangelist. Saint Ignatius of Rome in his Epistles to Smyrneans wrote in AD 110 that the Catholic Church is the Universal Church[1]. In a letter of the Church of Smyrna on the occasion of the martyrdom of Saint Polycarp (69-155 AD) the term ‘catholic’ again appears with a meaning that the catholic church is the aggregation of all local churches and congregations[2]. Saint Cyril of Jerusalem of the fourth century wrote ‘the Church is Catholic not just because it spread all over the World, but it teaches all the doctrines completely and without defect[3]. The term Catholic is not just the universal presence of the Church but the universal inclusiveness of all traditions and cultures.

In this perspective, the Synodality of the Catholic Church is a synodality of all Christian traditions. People of God of all traditions should walk together contributing and complementing the revealed mysteries of salvation. Therefore, this synodality should be aimed at supporting and promoting the Eastern Churches. There needs to be a lot of formation needed for both the native Churches of Europe and the migrant churches in Europe. There have to be efforts to create an increased awareness among the native churches about the different streams of Christianity, different traditions and rituals and their theological base. Similarly, there have to be efforts to increase the awareness of the rich liturgical traditions and spirituality of Eastern Churches, their contributory role and the importance of preserving and promoting them among the migrant eastern Churches.  Most of the rituals and traditions manifested in Eastern Churches are ancient and apostolic and sub-apostolic in origin and therefore they are more Fidel to the Church in its origins and sources of salvation[4]. There are eastern Churches in communion with Rome and their respective counterparts not in communion with Rome cohabiting in Europe. The cohabitation and promotion of these individual churches in Catholic communion and out of Catholic communion in Europe should be taken in principle, supporting and respecting each other and also hampering any activities widening the separation between them. Therefore, any parallel or hybrid spirituality evolving in the Catholic Eastern Churches due to their long-term relations with Rome should be prohibited to allow reconciliation with their non-catholic counterparts.

A synodality without accepting and respecting the non-catholic Eastern Churches in Europe is a counter-witness of Jesus Christ. The existence of non-catholic Eastern Churches is a scandal for the Synodality of the Catholic Church. Catholic Church should do all efforts to reconcile with the Eastern Churches to widen the tent. It is actually

 (….)making room for their diversity. It entails a willingness to die to self out of love, finding oneself again in and through a relationship with Christ(….)[5].

This action needs a mentality of Christ as seen in Phil 2:5-7 as narrated in the Anaphora of Theodore of the Syro Malabar Qurbana.

(….) though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness[6].

The dignity of Eastern Churches and Ecumenism.

The Catholic Church historically chipped some of the members of the Eastern Churches into the communion in an Imperial way creating parallel churches and they are the Eastern Catholic Churches. This action created division in those churches and they are not walking together. These Eastern Catholic Churches tried to become carbon copies of the Roman Church[7]. They are considered junior partners in Catholic communion. Some of the heads of these Churches were given membership in the College of Cardinals. In fact, as heads of these Eastern Catholic Churches, they have much higher dignity than mere membership in the council of the Roman Church. They should be considered equal to the head of the Roman Church in the Catholic communion with the Pope of Rome as primus inter pares. There has to be an upper council in the Catholic communion above the college of Cardinals consisting of the Pope of Rome and the 23 heads of the Eastern Catholic Churches to uphold the dignity of the Eastern Catholic Churches.  This compromise of the dignity of the Eastern Catholic Churches could be the reason their counterparts would not want to join the Catholic communion. The catholic church should empty her imperial face and ‘take the form of a servant as Jesus did, to reconcile with those Eastern Churches in Europe to make the Synodality a walking together of all people of God in different traditions and heritage. As all Apostles walked together with Jesus, all these Churches should walk together in Christ.

[1] J H Srawley The Epistles of saint Ignatius, London 1900, online version accessed on 22/7/22 p 97 foot note 1 http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/srawley/index.html

St Igantius argues that the Bishop is the centre of each individual church as Jesus Christ is the centre of the Universal Church.

[2]   H B Swete, The Apostolic creed, its relation to primitive Christianity, 1894 p 75

[3] J H Srawley The Epistles of saint Ignatius, London 1900, online version accessed on 22/7/22 p 97 foot note 1 http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/srawley/index.html

[4] Instructions for applying the Liturgical principles for the code of canons of the Eastern Churches No 9

[5] Enlarge the space of your tent, Working document or the continental stage, Secretaria Generalis  Synod,  No  28

[6] Enlarge the space of your tent, Working document or the continental stage, Secretaria Generalis  Synod,  No  28

[7]   Xavier Koodapuzha, Congregation for the Eastern Churches Instructions, in Antony G Kollamparampil, Joseph Perumthottam, (Eds) Bride at the feet of the bridegroom, HIRS Publications, 1997, p 17