Quo Vadis, Domine…
At least, the Roman Catholic Church does speak Latin. The Bishop of Rome resigned in the official language of the Church that is still a bit disapearing here in Jerusalem and the Holy Land. It is too often replaced by Arabic or English with the aim to ascertain a local Church specificity in an embattled Middle-Eastern context. The Near and Middle-Eastern region is shaken by different cultural, historical and religious shocks that boomerang back inside a group of societies that has a long experience of changes, stability imposed from outside, wars, conflicts, mood variations and spiritual swaying.
The declaration in Latin recalled that the Bishop of Rome is rooted in the last place of the Petrine presence and martyrdom. Pope Benedict XVI undoubtedly explained his decisions in the tongue and cultural way that track back to the very existence of the Church that he had the task to lead on the path of the Redeemer. The “universality” of the See of Rome has always been challenged by the process of immense apostolic efforts – i.e. dynamic and proclaiming of redemption to begin with, not only “missionary”. These are efforts conveyed by the various local Churches, from the Churches of the Pentarchy till all new sets of local Churches scattered and connected throughout the continents.
The modus operandi used by Pope Benedict XVI is also a signal that he acts as the one in charge of his particular local Church. His decision complies with his understanding of the true service of the Body of Christ.
There is a religious or spiritual straight line of reference to Christian Revelation and Kerygma that showed up from Jerusalem and irrigated into diversified directions. As Paul of Tarsus stated, “he preached first to the Jews, then to the Greeks” – basically meaning the Gentiles of his time (Acts àf the Apostles 19:10). But the long presence of Jews from the East (Mesopotamia till Caucasus, the Fertile Crescent, Arab Peninsula and Egypt, also till Ukraine and the West, Africa, Egypt, Ethiopia) strongly backed the proclamation of the Kingdom. This is why there is a Strip Line that goes from Caucasus down to the Turkey, Kurdistan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestinian Territories, Sinai, Egypt, Ethiopia (Erythrea) that witnesses to a special original presence of the Christianity from the very first beginning of the spreading of the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
At the present, this zone is submitted to several socio-cultural developments and still cling to invariant fundamentals. By all means, this “axis” is like a long lively and at times shaking part of the world due to the earth-quaking Syrian-Phoenician Rift. The whole of the region got the culture of different peoples, but mainly inherited the message and mental perception of the Sumerian civilization on the one hand and of the Ancient Egyptian Weltanschauung.
The emergence of the Christian faith inside of the Jewish realm and long-age Tradition of multi-faceted monotheism led to progressive announcement of a specific opening to the Gentile world that was still very sensitive for the Jewish identity. Most of the major Jewish festivals draw the attention of readings that aim at underscoring the role of the non-Jews or Gentiles for a correct testimony of the Jewish revelation to the world: Qohelet-קהלת/Ecclesiasticus on Sukkot-סוכות/Feast of the Booths, Jonah-יונה (Yom HaKippurim for the Day of Expiations, pardon, and proclamation of the Reign of God), Ruth-רות (Shavuot/Feast of the Booths), Esther-אסתר (Purim and mainly the Providential salvation of the Jews as witnesses to Divine Presence), Eycha-איכה/Lamentations (Destruction of all the Temples, not only the Second Temple traditionally linked to Jesus of Nazareth who mentioned its collapse cf. John 2:19 – Matthew 26:61).
As a rule, the Churches of the Pentarchy – even maybe to some extent the very Church of Jerusalem – is in position of “exile” in their relationships to the heart of the proclamation of Faith. From Jerusalem till the ends of the Ecumene (known world), the Churches have brought the Message of unity and salvation in a way that is segmented, definitely not unified and still on ways to splitting from one denomination to multitudes of various breache and failures to keep the unity of life-giving Words and Sacraments.
The role of the Bishop of Rome has been “over-evaluated”. Nonetheless, this has been a consequence of the different combats that had to be led among the territories supposedly conquered by the Church. The question is real whether to determine if a Church owns a territory, a local impact for “always and ever’ or if the grace of God just entrusts any location on earth as possibly throughout any place in the universe to a group of faithful that are called to act in the name of the Resurrected. Appropriation has caused much damages along the past centuries and since the installation of Christianity as an official, firstly tolerated then authorized, recognized and powerful governing body.
We are seemingly far away from the idealistic image of the Early Jerusalem Church that also had some sorts of splits generated by the multi-cultural aspects of the basic Community (Acts of the Apostles 2: 42-46; 4:32-34; ons segmentation: 6:1-7 and the institution of the Seven to deal with those of Hebrew and non-Jewish origin ).
On the other hand, the Church spread through the Mediterranean Sea, but not solely. This is rarely taken into consideration, especially by those who focus on the See of Rome. Peter went to Antioch and built their a community. The community of Mark at alexandria is highly significant. Byzantium/Byzance, also named Nova Roma (New Rome) when chosen by the Roman Emperor Constantine I (ca. 300 A.D.) as his “capital”. The Church of the East expanded with much courage to Asia, India, China while Antioch and the Armenian See amplified till now to the North, via Caucasus and Persia.
THIS YEAR, THE CHURCH – as born from the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ of Nazareth – commemorates the 1700th anniversary of the Edict of tolerance taken toward the Chrisitans at Milan in 313 A.D. It should be noted that the Church born from the very Early Community of Jerusalem are upon present renewal: Armenia was the first Christian State (from 301 A.D.). This perception is not widely regarded as a factor that allows a correction appreciation of Church development from within its birthplace.
Pope Benedict XVI resigned on a special day for the Catholic Church: the 155th anniversary of the first Marian apparitions at Lourdes to the young fourteen year-old Bernadette Soubirous. Yesterday was the first day that reminds the Catholics on the specific grace received by the young Bernadette on February 11, 1858.
It is also a day dedicated to the sick, the handicapped. The young Bernadette was a very simple girl and the Lady finally talked to her in the local dialect of the Southern French langue d’Oc patois. It is certainly not a hazard if former Cardinal Josef Ratzinger decided to publish his decision on such a special date. It is difficult to make any supposition, but it “strenghtens” the way he took to humble himself as a true servant of the Church. Pope Benedict XVI visited Lourdes and commemorated the 150th anniversary of the apparitions in September 2008. Thus, five years later, on 11 February 2013, the feast day of “Our Lady of Lourdes” (Latin calendar), he announced his decision, unprecedented in modern times, to resign from the papacy. Incidentally, he was born on St. Bernadette Soubirous” feast day 16 April in 1927.
On the same day, as it is the custom in the Eastern Orthodox Tradition and according to the Julian calendar, the Church of Jerusalem and those following the old style calendar entered in the afternoon at Vespers into the feast of the Three Hierarchs that are traditionally celebrated by the Church in January, thus also beginning of February: Sts. Basil the Great, John Chrysostomos and Gregorios the Theologian. They are the “pillars” of the teaching of the Early Church that progressively grew from their understanding of the reality of the Church as the “Body of the Risen Christ”.
February 11 also corresponds this year to the first day of the month of Adar 5773 when the Jewish tradition enters more deeply into a reflection on Revelation, the sense and goal of life, in particulaar within seven days with the remembrance of Moses’ birth and passing away.
This can be bot hconsidered as hazard and Providence, dedication to this special service of the Church in which the head of the Roman Church has been involved throughout his life.
It also means that Josef Ratzinger, Bishop of Rome and Pope Benedict XVI di not think of himself when he took such a decision. The Churches show the necessity to switch to times ahead of their history, walk ahead toward the future. This deeply relates to handing over the heritage received from inside of the spiritual experience and understanding of the Church. It deals with the veracity of the Sacraments, in particular with the Eucharist.
The Church cannot be broken down or split and still this is the image we have of it in our generation. The Second Council of the Vatican has thus showed to be a real call for rediscovering the meaning of unity of the Body of Christ. It also meant and continues to display a sort of silent and unheard cry of solitude and “geeting away” of the common Body of the Resurrected though always present in faith and truth in the Sacraments so far they are accepted to the full by the major part of the faithful or those who are sacramentally related to the One Church.
The Second Council of the Vatican relied upon strong intuitions that the Roman Church has drifted aside and got “estranged” from the whole “Corpus Unum” and the “conciliarity/соборность” of the other Churches, in particular the Oriental Traditions, born of Zion and Jerusalem. They are “consubtantial” to the faith that cannot accept any disrupture with the Mount Moriah’s revelation.
Many Catholic hierarchs have felt by the time of the Council the profound isolation of the Catholic Church. This may sound as a paradox. There is some sort of Catholic pride if not arrogance in considering its Petrine calling to all human beings. The generation of the Pope who will step down on forthcoming February 28th has experienced the price of a profound disorder that had increased from the time of the Great Schism (1054) between East and West, subsequently with the Protestant and Anglican breaches. The See of Rome is far more “quarantined” that it ever could fathom and the faithful hardly get to the point because Catholicism does seem powerful and influential.
The launching of the Second Vatican Council led the Catholic Church to rediscover the richness of the Ecumene. It has always been present in its midst, but indeed, as Emperor Constantine had felt, Rome is located at the limes/limits, borders of the Empire. Event if the Roman Church did expand throughout the continents, it also destroyed some other Eastern communities in India, China, Mandchuria. It has been too imposing along the centuries. In the 20th century, the breakthrough of the Orthodox Church after a long winter onyl showed 20 years ago. By the time of the Council that does not refer to the whole of the Eastern Churches because they had left from the first to the seventh Councils, the Roman Church did search for some reconnection. It appeared with the personality of the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople. Surprisingly, by the end of the Vatican Council, the other Eastern Orthodox Churches could not participate or decide anything dealing with faith and rules of the relationships among the Churches. The lifting of the Anathema is a typical example. The Orthodox Churches have kept them, which is not known to the Catholic faithful and at times hierarchy.
Similarly, though little is known about this, Nostra Aetate is considered as a huge move toward the openness of the Church. It means a lot for the Catholic Church. With regards to the attitude toward the Jews, things are not that clear. Indeed, the document of the Vatican Council in which Archbishop Josef Ratzinger has participated paved the way to a dialogue that had never existed between the Jews and the Roman Church (cf. Hans Urs von Balthasar “Einsame Zwiesprache mit Buber”). It does not concern the Eastern Catholic Churches that did not confirm the decision of the Council by the required canonical vote of their local Synods. No Eastern Orthodox Church has taken any step to update the Orthodox position toward Israel, Jewishness and Judaism.
Since the last common Ecumenical Council is the one known as the Second Council of Nicea II in 787, it should be noted that its regulations and decisions dealt with who could be considered as true members of the Church. The Fathers of this last common council strictly excluded the Jews from the Church. No other council of any Church can correct the decisions taken during this common Ecumenical Council, except if the Church are able to correct their positions throughout history, without making any difference among the concerned Churches thus acting at the same level. We are far from such a position, though it may be envisioned as a possible development for the Mystery of the Church.
This year, we see many new patriarchs and hierarchs of new generations. The major point is that the march of the Church along time and space requires to heal the wounds and prepare new reconsiderations. The unity of the Roman Empire is no more a reality for the superpowers, also for the civilizations and for the Church. The Edict of Milan is unnoticed this year. It sounds easier for each denomination to count their “battalions” and faithful, if any rather than to get to the tremendous self-combat about how to cure dis-union within the Body of Christ.
Quo Vadis, Domine…
av aleksandr (Winogradsky Frenkel)
February 12/January 31, 2013 – Adar 2, 5773, Jerusalem, ארץ ישראל