Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Encounters: Cultural Exchange or Real Ecumenism?

blog alexander miller roc and german bishop conferenceAlexander B. Miller
A Blog of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University

History exists as much in our imaginations as in the archeology of the past, and the potency of the imaginative depends upon our ability to recreate sensory or visceral experiences. The doctrinal exchanges between the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches in recent years are unlikely to make history, but accompanying cultic exchanges may make a lasting impression and lend significance to the work of theological commissions.

Communion and relationship
The July week in 1054 that witnessed the mutual excommunications of Humbert of Silva Candida and Michael Keroularios is rich with drama and outrage for Orthodox and Catholic Christians. This narrative is deeply satisfying for our imaginations, affirming a sense of historical offense as a foundation of our ecclesial identities. However, historians tell us that this was not the earth-shattering event that we make it out to be. In reality, few Christians felt this division in 1054 — if they were even aware that it had taken place — because ordinary Christians in East and West had no substantial relationship with each other. Greek had long ceased to be understood in the West, even among the educated, and the East never considered Latin to be an adequate language for the finer points of theology. Politically, the coronation of a Germanic Holy Roman Emperor undermined the Byzantine Emperor in the West. To the extent that Eastern or Western Christians thought of each other, it was conditioned by centuries of polemic that hardly afforded the other the dignity of the Christian name. 1054 merely set a seal upon the creeping de-Christianization and dehumanization of the Other. When crusaders sacked Constantinople, did they really think that such atrocities were committed against fellow Christians, or could they excuse themselves knowing that their victims were heretics? When politicians and churchmen brokered reunion councils, could Eastern Christians really be expected to accept communion with the heretical Other?

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