Dialogue of Love: Breaking the Silence of Centuries

Feast of St Maximus the Confessor
Dialogue of Love: Breaking the Silence of Centuries edited by John Chryssavgis with contributions by Brian E. Daley, S.J., and Georges Florovsky

Dialogue_of_Love_Square.jpegECUMENICAL Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI boldly instigated a “pilgrimage toward unity” when they embraced at a historic meeting in Jerusalem on January 5-6, 1964. As the subtitle of this short but extremely important book indicates, this act literally broke the silence of a millennium that was characterized by mistrust, theological polemic and estrangement between Catholic and Orthodox Christians.

Archdeacon John Chryssavgis opens by examining the correspondence between Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI to provide a history of their relationship, an improbable story of how these leaders of the two great traditions of the Church—a Pope and a Patriarch—could end up embracing in the Holy Land.

Brian E. Daley, S.J., a Professor of Theology who specializes in the early church, continues this history by telling the story of the fruit of that embrace. For that 1964 meeting in the Holy Land was only the beginning of a long “dialogue of love and truth” that included the formation of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation. This Consultation has since released an impressive array of joint statements, including documents on the Eucharist, Marriage, Filioque, Conciliarity and Primacy in the Church, and among others, the 2010 publication of “Steps Towards a Reunited Church: A Sketch of an Orthodox-Catholic Vision for the Future.”

In the concluding essay, introduced and translated by the late Fr. Matthew Baker, the great Orthodox (and ecumenical) theologian Fr. Georges Florovsky offers his own reflections on the 1964 meeting of the Pope and the Patriarch. Florovsky believes the task of union is not only possible but absolutely necessary. But he warns against the sin of “ecumenical hastiness” which “always leads toward a simplification of problems.” According to Florovsky, an authentic theological dialogue of love must be “based on the Word of God and the ancient Tradition of the Church, and conducted in a spirit of mutual respect and love. One must not expect such a dialogue to be easy and lead to quick resolution of all differences and doubts. On the contrary, one must anticipate that it will be lengthy and difficult, if only it can manage to be honest and deep. But this is not a sufficient reason to refrain from dialogue, or to avoid it. The main obstacle to ecumenical progress has always been ecumenical impatience and ecumenical hastiness.”

In May of 2014, at the fiftieth anniversary of the original 1964 meeting, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis met in the Holy Land and embraced once again. This meeting was a symbolic gesture to indicate the commitment of both sides to continue the “pilgrimage toward unity.” To reach the end of this pilgrimage, however, to see an answer to Christ’s prayer that the Church would be one, as Florovsky suggests, requires the Church, both laity and clergy of both Rome and Constantinople, to realize the depth and reality of our schism. We must experience the acute pain and sorrow over our separation in order to muster the courage and determination and patience to finally see East and West embracing in full communion.

Despite its brevity (a mere three chapters in 75 pages), the Florovsky essay alone makes this book worth its price. Moreover, it is an absolute must-read for every Catholic and Orthodox Christian who has ever experienced an acute pain and sorrow over a scandalous, millennium-long separation that has lasted far too long.

75 pp. cloth $24.00

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