The Eucharist and Unity Among Christians

by Rev. A. Edward Siecienski

[Spring-Summer, 2000]

   Beginning with the traditional Moleben to the Holy Spirit, Orientale Lumen IV opened on June 19th with its theme, "Eucharist: A Prayer for Unity." The one week gathering of Orthodox, Eastern Catholics and Roman Catholics, held in Washington DC, has become an annual opportunity to discuss important ecumenical issues in an atmosphere of trust and true fraternal charity. Jointly sponsored by the Society of St. John Chrysostom and the Catholic University of America, previous conferences have hosted such speakers as Archbishop Peter of New York, Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver and Edward Cardinal Cassidy of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

   This yearís presenters were asked to speak on some aspect of the Eucharist, focusing on those issues which unite (or divide) Eastern and Western Christians. After a divine liturgy served by Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia and Archbishop Vsevolod of Scopelos (both frequent participants in OL Conferences), Archimandrite Robert Taft of the Pontifical Oriental Institute spoke on the role of the Holy Spirit in the Byzantine tradition. In his typically frank manner, Father Taft challenged participants to examine their respective traditions and re-discover some long-forgotten truths about the nature of liturgy. Later that evening, at St. Nicholas Cathedral, Bishop Kallistos presented a paper, "The Liturgy: who offers what to whom?" Drawing on the fathers and the Byzantine liturgy itself, Bishop Kallistos reminded listeners that the Eucharistic sacrifice must be understood chiefly as that place where we offer God "Thine of thine own, in behalf of all and for all."

   The next day, Mar Bawai Soro (of the Assyrian Church of the East) gave the most controversial presentation, suggesting that intercommunion between separated churches may be an appropriate way of deepening unity. Although this view was not shared by other speakers (Catholic and Orthodox), Mar Bawai felt that "among brothers" differing views could be shared without recrimination. That afternoon Rev. Raymond Collins and Chorbishop John Faris, both of the Catholic University, shared insights on Eucharist from the New Testament and the Canon Law of the Eastern Churches. The following day, prior to the conclusion of the conference, Rev. Thomas FitzGerald of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary reviewed the Orthodox and Catholic dialogues on the Eucharist, and the hopes for future rapprochement.

   However, it would be a mistake to reduce Orientale Lumen IV to merely a set of presentations, excellent though they were. Visits from Metropolitan Theodosius and William Cardinal Keeler, added to the written greetings of so many others (including the Vatican and Ecumenical Patriarchate), showed the deep pastoral interest that hierarchs from both churches take in such encounters. The liturgical services, including the Divine Liturgy (served by the Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Melkites in turn) and the Akathist Hymn, reinforced the fact that this conference was more than an academic exercise. The pain of being unable to receive the Eucharist at each otherís liturgies (a pain expressed so beautifully in the prayer of Sergius Bulgakov used by Bishop Kallistos) seemed to make the quest for restored communion all the more urgent.

   Yet despite that pain, the mood of the conference was optimistic and manifested a true spirit of Christian fraternity. It was particularly gratifying to witness the warm relationship enjoyed by Eastern Catholics and Orthodox Christians, especially when the situation in Eastern Europe remains so contentious. For many other participants, several of whom were previous OL Conference attendees, the experience was merely a foretaste of the future unity which we all desired so deeply. As the week came to a close and we prepared to leave, another Orientale Lumen Conference already scheduled for next year, the prayer of Christ once again became our own: "That they may all be one." (John 17:21)

Rev. A. Edward Siecienski, SS is a Roman Catholic priest and former faculty member at St. Patrickís Seminary in Menlo Park California. He is currently doing graduate studies at Catholic University of America in Washington DC.


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