Ways to Church Reunion (III)

Part III and conclusion to Ways to Church Reunion

There still remains another point, namely, that of the canonical nature of any Reunion achieved through Eucharistic fellowship. There is a firm conviction that Reunion can only be the act of higher ecclesiastical authority. Possibly this may be true as regards complete Reunion of entire Church bodies, a reunion which is as yet outside historical relaity. Even so, such a Reunion from above, a so-called diplomatic Reunion, would have to acquire sanction from the body of Church people, which may even refuse to accept it. Generally speaking, the above point of view can only be accepted logically to the Roman Catholic Church, in which one can say that the voice of the Pope is the voice of the Church, but otherwise such a theory is quite out of place both for the Orthodox and the Anglican hierarchy. Within the same Church we find different sections and people, who even differ from one another dogmatically (as in the Anglican “comprehensiveness”). Even to a greater extent is this true of theological thought and cultural level. To expect, therefore, complete uniformity before Reunion is possible would be completely fruitless and unnecessary. Why cannot separate parts or groups belonging to the different Church bodies – Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican – unite in Intercommunion, if this actually expresses their true dogmatic and Church relationship?

One more objection might be raised here which has become stereotyped in the course of centuries and has trned into a real superstition – viz., that Eucharistic fellowship with the non-Orthodox impairs the priesthood and Sacraments of the entire Church, if any members of that Church enter into such communion. This would be even more true in a case of communion say with the Anglo-Catholics, for through them the Orthodox would enter into communion with Evangelicals and the Modernists, in so far as all the members of the Anglican Church are in communion with one another. Therefore, it is argued, such Intercommunion woud be impossible for the Orthodox. We feel that such prejudice is exaggerated if not absolutely incorrect. Actually the entire Christian world in a certain sense is in communion in so far as this concerns the Sacrament of baptism, which is recognized by all. Nevertheless, through this its priesthood is not impaired. One must interpret the power of priesthood in a much deeper and bolder way, so as not to be able to fear its being impaired through Eucharistric intercommunionwith those of the non-Orthodox who can truly participate in it sacramentally. Therefore group or partial intercommunion does not threaten the integrity of the priesthood in the participants, as it never impaired the priesthood of the Orthodox, who remained in intercommunion with the Roman Catholics for a long time after the schism of 1054. But this type of communion can only be canonically justified through the consent and blessing of the appropriate ruling bishop, for the fulness of the sacraments is concentrated in the bishop, and no priest can celebrate the Sacraments who has severed the link with his bishop. Actually the Church is a union of bishoprics, but every ‘cell,’ that is diocese, lives also with its own special life, though in contact with the others. Consequently, it is all a question of fact. Will a diocese be found in which the corresponding groups of persons could enter into Eucharistic Communion, within the realm of Orthodoxy and Anglicanism, and also of Roman Catholicism? It is a question of the limits of Church centralism. Do the bishops form independent centres, though ones which are co-ordinated with one another? Or, is there only one centre, the episcopus episcoporum, the Pope, who may be one person, or a collective? (The last two alternatives are the same for our particular problem.) A partial, or local union of different Church bodies in the Eucharist, their organic merging, might serve as a mystical and religious foundation for the Reunion of the Churches, which is vainly expected along the paths of canonical and dogmatic Church diplomacy alone. Meanwhile it is important to make a beginning with Church Reunion in those points where it is possible, and so ultimately to carry the problem forward beyond the existing deadlock which our sinful fear and indifference has produced.

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