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The Shire

September 6, 2010

The other day I was talking to a friend of mine about the schisms of the Church. Specifically we were talking about the division between East and West that has lasted the better part of a millennia. My friend was chrismated into the Roman Catholic Church several years back, and has since become Eastern Catholic. (For those that don’t know, Eastern Catholics were Eastern Orthodox that have regained communion with Rome, but under Rome’s conditions. This is WAY simplistic, as the actual history of the reunion is quite nuanced.) My friend and I were lamenting this schism. I have to admit that my friend is far more passionate about this problem than I am. After all, I am still just a catechumen awaiting full reception into the Orthodox Church. My main focus is my own spiritual preparation for being made a full member. I am, however in full agreement with my friend in hoping for a reunion of East and West as it once had been.

What does this have to do with The Shire? In relation to the above topic, I was thinking about the Hobbit mentality towards the “outside world”, and how they never liked “adventures” and that sort of thing. They rarely liked contact with the outside world, though they were hospitable enough. But as a result of their simple, quiet lives, Hobbits didn’t know much about what went on in the world at large. Even the most adventurous of them, Mr Bilbo Baggins, though he had many journeys outside The Shire, didn’t seem to grasp the full extent of goings-on in the world.

When Frodo  (who had some knowledge of outside affairs through Bilbo) heard from Gandalf that the ring he possessed needed to be taken out of the Shire, he still had no idea what he was getting into. His faithful companion Samwise, upon eavesdropping the conversation, was intrigued by the prospect of seeing elves. Merry and Pippin followed out of a sense of deep friendship to Frodo, but had never left the Shire. And so they found themselves in the middle of a world bigger and more dangerous than they imagined. Not only that, but this world was at war, and they were at the heart of that war.

Being a Fundamentalist Evangelical Protestant, I was kind of in my own world of understanding as well. Things were fairly peaceful, all the bad stuff was “out there” and I had very strong opinions about that stuff, though I didn’t really know much about it. I thought I knew a lot, but I didn’t. Like the Shire, there are a lot of great things about my Evangelical heritage, but I have to admit I feel like I have come out of something like a world-view bubble. But then add to the fact that I have come to discover the Orthodox Church. Whoa!

In the fictional world of Middle Earth, there had been centuries of war, racial divisions (Elves, Dwarves and Men) and the like. Even though the three main races were divided with one another, they fought a common enemy, but not on a united front. Much of the things that had originally divided these groups were no longer factors that existed. Many of the things that continued to divide the races were mistrust based on rumor and legend. While these groups sometimes fought amongst each other, their common enemy plotted all of their ultimate demise. This is the War of the Ring.

While this is a very imperfect example, and cannot possibly communicate all of the nuances, but it is something of a picture of the divisions of the Church. I understand that there are a lot of reasons for these divisions, too many to get into on a blog of this sort. The shear number of centuries, geopolitical circumstances, theological implications, etc, is very overwhelming to a person like myself. While there are more denominational divisions within Protestantism by shear number (over 25,ooo), they don’t compare with the division of East and West (at least in my opinion). It is truly an eye-opening experience to learn how Church history has played out over the centuries.

While I lament and pray for these divisions, let me quickly say that I truly believe that this is the One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. This is the Body of Christ, over which He is the Head. While in the current state of this world, humans will always make a mess of things, so to speak. I have to say also, that the beauty of the working of the Holy Spirit, is in His ability to weave our weakness with the strength and grace of God, and work things out for God’s glory. And this leads to my final observation.

The hobbits were thought to be stupid, soft, slow and weak by the world around them, yet they turned out to be “made of sterner stuff” than even hobbits had guessed. The 4 hobbits of the Fellowship managed to carry the Great Ring, while resisting it’s evil, rouse the Ents to war, wound the great Shelob, speak with Sauron in the Palantir and assist in killing the Witch King. In the end, they proved to have changed the course of history.

I think the influx of Protestants and such into the Orthodox Church has proven to be a good thing. Great for us who have discovered the Apostolic Tradition and origins of the Church. Also good for the Church. I think what we have brought to the Church may prove to be as valuable as what we have found in the Church. I wouldn’t presume that Protestants have had the same kind of impact on the Church as the hobbits did on the outcome of the War of the Ring, but I think the effect has been a positive one. Things seem like they are more lined up than ever for talks, counsel and possible reconciliation between the East and West. The Bishops and other leaders seem to be able to communicate better than in centuries past. While there is still a lot of work ahead, I think there is much reason for hope. I feel a great sense of optimism.

But like Gandalf told Bilbo, “You are just a little fellow in a wide world, after all.” And to that I say amen. No matter what circumstances may bring, I am grateful to have been found of Christ and have Him introduce me to His Church. Like I said before, all this other stuff is over my head at present. My focus is entering the Church, for now. However I echo the intercessory prayer when I pray, “Heal the schisms of the Church, and quench the raging of the heathen.” I not only pray for, but long for that day when we are united as one in Him.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Sean permalink
    September 7, 2010 1:15 pm

    Hmmm, I wouldn’t exactly say Hierarchs of the past were less able to establish viable communication than they are now, with only the exception of being now able to talk directly in real time while being hundreds of miles away. But I presume you speak about mentality and openess. The truth is that while the Great Schism was in progress (it is not as many believe a single event but a process that lasted about 200 years) there were brilliant people on both sides who could communicate quite well and who really maintained a good disposition towards each other. Examples: From the East, people like Archbishop Theophylact of Ohrid and Patriarch Peter of Antioch. From the West, people like Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury and Pope Urban II. The problem was not one of disposition rather than one of authority. If you are interested I would recommend one of the best books on the subject, “The Eastern Schism” by Steven Runciman, ISBN 1-59752-096-9. Runciman treats the whole affair from a rather secular perspective but I think he is quite accurate in his observations and statements.
    The problem now is, as you say above, that we have become different men. I would love to see us united again, but I think it honest to admit to myself we will never be unless there occurs a first-class miracle (well, nothing is impossible to the Lord). Orthodoxy maintains what she has received from the Ecumenical Councils – the Councils where both East and West were represented – and changed nothing. Roman Catholicism, on the other hand, has recognized many later councils as ecumenical and proclaimed new dogmas. So now, in order for the two to unite, either Orthodoxy has to accept unquestioningly doctrines for which she has never been asked her theological and pastoral opinion and papal supremacy, or Roman Catholicism has to renounce most of those doctrines and revert to the teachings of 7 Ecumenical Councils and of course accept the papal primacy within the Pentarchy, which is even more improbable than the first alternative (for in Christianity an established dogma cannot be renounced – and papal infallibility and supremacy are established, confirmed and reaffirmed dogmas in Roman Catholicism).

  2. September 7, 2010 2:59 pm

    You definitely have given a more accurate assessment of the situation than I did in the post. I think I was more trying to express the fact that having the eyes of my mind opened to the world of Tradition (specifically Orthodoxy), it is a bit staggering to the mind to learn about the various schisms, and the events leading to them. Not only that, but the theological as well as political things that contributed to the splits seem to be without number. I will admit that I treated the subject oversimplistically, but do not feel I could address it adequately.
    I also admit my hopes of reunion are a bit naive. I have heard some really brilliant experts address some of the difficulties of reunion, so I am not completely ignorant of the issues. It seems near impossible, but anything is possible with God, as you stated. Maybe the changing political dynamics of the world could allow for some kind of reconciliation.
    Again, you make very good points. I appreciate your sharing the knowledge and experience you have in Orthodoxy.

  3. Sean permalink
    September 8, 2010 9:16 am

    I have neither knowledge nor experience and my arguments are more in the nature of a secular observer than of a christian apologist, which is my shame. I was thinking yesterday about St Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians “And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing”, and I wonder whether we in all our certainty of believing the right thing, have forgotten how to love. Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople was reprimanded some decades ago for his effort to reapproach with Roman Catholics for “watering down the Orthodox faith”. He was a preacher of love and maintained that where there is love, all obstacles can, in due time, be overcome.

  4. September 8, 2010 10:06 am

    Secular or religious, I still appreciate your observations.
    I think you are right about a great part of the Orthodox Church forgetting how to love. I think Christ’s exhortation to the Ephesian Church in Revelation would apply.
    It is too bad that such a holy man as Patriarch Athenagoras was not heeded. My Eastern Catholic friend has a nearly obsessive passion for the topic of reunion (I say obsessive in jest). He points out any article, letter or the like that has to do with high level clergy on either side that speak of reunion. I hope that in this era of the rapid spread of information and ideas, that our leaders and laypeople alike will see the wisdom in reunion, hopefully without “watering down” Orthodoxy.
    One of the great paradoxes of this whole topic is the fact that we hold St Augustine to be a Father of the Church even in the East, when a lot of theologians go to great lengths to show his non-orthodox theology in many areas. If we can hold him in such esteem, yet disagree with much of his theology, why could we not do the same with Rome, granting the Pope is willing to act in a pre-schism manner of conciliarity with the East.
    Already I am getting in over my head. I am reading Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev’s book on The Faith, as part of my catechism. I have heard that he is somewhat pro-reunion in his views. I look forward to reading his material.
    I will try to share more of the catechism in the coming posts.

  5. Sean permalink
    September 8, 2010 10:59 am

    The point is that in the discourse of the whole argument on theological and ecclesiastical issues that separate Roman Catholicism from Orthodoxy people from both sides will use quotes from the same Church Fathers to oppose each other on the exact same issue (sometimes even the very same quotes or two different quotes from the same man said on different occasions). In Orthodoxy Church Fathers are not thought to be individually infallible in every specific subject but are considered to collectively express the Holy Tradition of Christianity. Thus there is a huge uproar in Orthodoxy when the infallibility of the Pope is discussed (and, let’s face it: even RCs admit there were heretical Popes – like Infallibility magically vanished. And there are so many Popes that have contradicted each other in their teachings over the centuries).

    Now the fact that there is a general tendency in Roman Catholics to be a bit more open to reunion (as – actually – they ever were) is due to the different point of view from which RCs consider the problem. Allow me to repost part of what I wrote in Father Stephen Freeman’s blog once:

    “The problem with Roman Catholics is that while we use similar – sometimes identical – arguments to support our contesting views, we understand the nature of the concept under discussion very differently. The greatest and most controversial issue between Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy is the Filioque clause and the theology behind it. Discussions between the two parts on the issue are always inconclusive, and it is more often than not the case that Catholics present the more persuasive arguments, drawing both from western Fathers, like Augustine, and eastern Fathers like Gregory of Nazianzus. They are perhaps helped even more by the very nature of their scholastic, cataphatic theology, while their orthodox counterparts are confined by their own apophatic theology. However, the issue here is not so much the wording on the procession of the Holy Spirit (which can be justified by Catholics with the argument of the difference between the greek verb “εκπορεύομαι” and the latin “procedere”). The issue is twofold: thelogical as well as ecclesiological. Thelogical because the heart of the divergency lies in the very concept of the nature and manifestation of the Holy Trinity, where the Latin concept is much less subtle and finely balanced than its Greek equivalent. Ecclesiological because the addition, whether justified or not was unilateral and thus a transgression on the prerogative of the Oecumenical Councils: it was considered an attack on the conciliar character of the Church.

    Thus, what Roman Catholics tend to consider a purely theological issue that lies on the difference of language, the Orthodox view as a fundamental divergence in Trinitarian theology, intensified by a continually evolving doctrine of papal supremacy.”

    Anyway, that’s just my own take on the subject and may not be very helpful in your effort to understand Orthodoxy and it’s history. I strongly suggest asking someone with the grace to answer such really difficult questions like your parish priest or Father Stephen Freeman.

  6. September 8, 2010 12:19 pm

    You make a good point. Again, I appreciate your insights on the matter. You definitely have a deeper background in it than I do. I simply come from a Fundamentalist Protestant background that has a paranoid phobia when it comes to Rome. Your reference to the comment you left on Fr Stephen’s blog was helpful. I must admit I still have a lot to learn. Believe it or not, just by virtue of your background in Orthodoxy, whether secular or by grace, the things you share are a part of the learning process for me. For that I thank you.

  7. September 9, 2010 11:41 am

    OK, I’m being mentioned as the Eastern Catholic friend of Jeremiah, so I figured I would respond to this discussion.

    First, there can be no ecclesiastical unity without unity in faith, unity in doctrine.

    Second, despite the historical accuracy of how things such as the filioque were received as either a) doctrinal, b) linguistic or c) both, I would not be so optimistic/hopeful if it weren’t for more recent developments in Catholicism, particularly Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Ut Unum Sint (That they may be one). I’d like to hear from either of you (or from anyone else) about this document. If you could let me know where Pope John Paul II comes short in terms of letting go of past sins between Catholics and Orthodox, on the level of laypeople, priests, or even Patriarchs, that be an important step forward in ecumenism.

    Here’s a link, in case you’ve not read it:

    In IC XC,

  8. Sean permalink
    September 9, 2010 12:30 pm


    First of all, nice to meet you (albeit virtually 🙂 )

    I have read both “Ut Unum Sint” and the earlier “Unitatis Redintegratio” in the past.

    I currently do not have to time to post a long reply (which would also require some more study) but just let me say that while letting go of past sins and transgressions is a big step towards reconciliation, it is sadly not enough to bring unity on its own. Both East and West played their part on that sad story called the Great Schism and we both have a lot to repent about and ask forgiveness for, things of the past and even of the present. Yet, in the millenium that separates Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism we have developed an entirely divergent theology and ecclesiology, that cannot be combined in any way. In “Ut Unum Sint”, if I remember correctly, is mentioned the liturgical, monastic and theological tradition of the East as a potent source of invigoration for the West should the churches unite, however there is little evidence of how different that tradition is from RC norms. Indeed, there can be no compromise or agreement between the Scholasticism of Aquinas and the Hesychasm of Palamas, and these schools of theology are not some two schools of theology, they are THE schools that formed Western and Eastern theological development and defined the corresponding mentality from the middle ages onward. Even more radically divergent is the concept of ecclesiastical authority. A lot can be said on this matter without ever reaching a conclusion. It is, though, more than certain that never would Orthodox Bishops agree to submit to unrestrained papal jurisdiction, for that would be the end of Orthodox theology and tradition together. Those two are living entities nourished by the conciliar nature of the Church. A submission to the absolute doctrinal authority of Rome would make them no more that reminiscent relics of the past. Ut unum sint largely treats Orthodoxy as an antique version of Roman Catholicism whose only apparent flaw is the lack of communion with Rome, but fails to note that the very nature of the robust spirituality of the east lies on the concepts that Orthodoxy defends by resisting to RC claims – both theological and ecclesiastical.

    The case was from the beginning such: Rome did not object to the usages and teachings of the East (for Rome knew it was she that had really introduced the novelties) but merely asked for submission to papal authority as the only requirement for union. The East would not have that because (A) a submission to papal arbitration would lead eventually to the convergence of – at least – dogma without the possibility of conciliar solutions as they occurred in the first millenium (B) communion means sharing the same faith, and Rome had – in eastern eyes – diverted from that faith.

    Anyway, it’s late over here and I have failed admirably in covering the subject adequately. Point is: East and West consider the schism’s nature differently.

  9. September 9, 2010 1:16 pm

    You are right-but I would only ask that you include Eastern Catholics in the “East” which views the schism differently. As an Eastern Catholic, there are many times where I find myself more in the perspective of an Orthodox Christian with whom I am not in communion, vs. a Roman Catholic Christian with whom I am in communion. To quote from Ut Unum Sint,

    “With regard to the Eastern Catholic Churches in communion with the Catholic Church, the Council expressed its esteem in these terms: “While thanking God that many Eastern sons of the Catholic Church … are already living in full communion with their brethren who follow the tradition of the West, this sacred Synod declares that this entire heritage of spirituality and liturgy, of discipline and theology, in their various traditions, belongs to the full catholic and apostolic character of the Church”.100 Certainly the Eastern Catholic Churches, in the spirit of the Decree on Ecumenism, will play a constructive role in the dialogue of love and in the theological dialogue at both the local and international levels, and thus contribute to mutual understanding and the continuing pursuit of full unity.101″

    Also, regarding my request to look at Ut Unum Sint, perhaps I should have brought up the point that is of most interest to me in this discussion.

    95. All this however must always be done in communion. When the Catholic Church affirms that the office of the Bishop of Rome corresponds to the will of Christ, she does not separate this office from the mission entrusted to the whole body of Bishops, who are also “vicars and ambassadors of Christ”.153 The Bishop of Rome is a member of the “College”, and the Bishops are his brothers in the ministry.

    Whatever relates to the unity of all Christian communities clearly forms part of the concerns of the primacy. As Bishop of Rome I am fully aware, as I have reaffirmed in the present Encyclical Letter, that Christ ardently desires the full and visible communion of all those Communities in which, by virtue of God’s faithfulness, his Spirit dwells. I am convinced that I have a particular responsibility in this regard, above all in acknowledging the ecumenical aspirations of the majority of the Christian Communities and in heeding the request made of me to find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation. For a whole millennium Christians were united in “a brotherly fraternal communion of faith and sacramental life … If disagreements in belief and discipline arose among them, the Roman See acted by common consent as moderator”.154

    In this way the primacy exercised its office of unity. When addressing the Ecumenical Patriarch His Holiness Dimitrios I, I acknowledged my awareness that “for a great variety of reasons, and against the will of all concerned, what should have been a service sometimes manifested itself in a very different light. But … it is out of a desire to obey the will of Christ truly that I recognize that as Bishop of Rome I am called to exercise that ministry … I insistently pray the Holy Spirit to shine his light upon us, enlightening all the Pastors and theologians of our Churches, that we may seek—together, of course—the forms in which this ministry may accomplish a service of love recognized by all concerned”.155

    Here I note two things:
    1) The Pope recognizing his role as primus inter pares as one that is not qualitatively distinct from the other bishops–he is a brother.

    2) He is open to input from his brother bishops to find a way to exercise that primacy.

    So the idea that Rome is waiting for Orthodox to change as some passive arbiter, strikes me as incomplete. And I pray that the work of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church will, together with our prayers, answer Pope John Paul II’s call for such input that allows primacy to be exercised throughout Christendom.


  10. September 11, 2010 6:29 pm

    P.S. I just watched a cool video about Eastern Catholic Churches, and a Protodeacon in the interview pointed out this letter that is from Pope Benedict XVI to the Ecumenical Patriarch, which is from under a year ago. It emphasizes that Catholics want Orthodox to work with us together to find how the Primacy of Peter should be exercised via his successor, the Bishop of Rome. And it also states that the Joint International Commission is a great vehicle for such change. Here’s a link to the full document, but if you don’t have time to read it all see below for an important section:

    Thus, as my venerable predecessor the Servant of God Pope John Paul II wrote and I reiterated on the occasion of my visit to the Phanar in November 2006, it is a question of seeking together, inspired by the model of the first millennium, the forms in which the ministry of the Bishop of Rome may accomplish a service of love recognized by one and all (cf. Ut Unum Sint, 95). Let us therefore ask God to bless us and may the Holy Spirit guide us along this difficult yet promising path.


  11. September 16, 2010 12:52 pm

    I like this post, and was happy to find your blog, for I am a recent convert to Orthodoxy from Protestantism. On that note, I always will appreciate someone who uses LOTR to explain their point. I would have to agree with your assessment that Protestants coming into the Church is shaping up to be a good addition. I think there are aspects that Protestants can bring that will be beneficial, one being the knowledge of Scripture, and as you pointed out, it seems as if reconciliation is occurring between differing bodies. I look forward to following your blog.

    • September 30, 2010 3:32 pm

      Thank you for posting a comment. Glad to hear your perspective. I found your blog interesting too. I hope to hear from you more in the future.

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