Fr Georges Florovsky: Can East & West Remember Their Original Kinship?

Feast of Sts Cleopas & Artemas of the 70

Florovsky_Square_3.jpgFOR MANY centuries, the Eastern and Western Churches lived in almost complete separation from one another. Yet this separation is always to be understood in the light of the complementary truth that these differing blocks of insights and convictions grew out of what was originally a common mind. The East and the West can only meet and find one another only if they remember their original kinship and the unity of their common past. 

Christian unity was not long maintained, or rather has never been fully realized. Yet there is justification for speaking of the undivided Church of the first millennium. Throughout that period, there was a wide consensus of belief, a common mind such as has not existed at any later date. Men were convinced that the conflicting groups still belonged to the same Church, and that conflict was no more than estrangement caused by some grievous misunderstanding. The disruption of the Church was abhorred by all concerned, and division, when it came, was accepted with grief and reluctance. 

Permanent separation between East and West was preceded by the decay of the common mind and of the sense of mutual responsibility within the one Body. When unity was finally broken, this was not so much because agreement could not be reached on certain doctrinal issues, as because the universe of discourse had already been disrupted. The East and the West had always been different, but the differences had prevented neither Jerome from being at home in Palestine nor Athanasius in western exile. But gradually the point was reached at which the memories of the common past were obliterated and faded away, and Christians came to live contentedly in their own particular and partial worlds, mistaking them for the Catholic whole. 

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This separation was partly geographical, a matter literally of east and west. It was also in part a matter of language. Greek had been the universal language of the Mediterranean world, the common tongue of civilization, as of Christian thought and expression. But this factor of unity grew weaker, as Greek came to be generally forgotten in the west. Even Augustine knew it only imperfectly. Translations of Greek Christian classics into Latin were rare, of Latin classics into Greek even rarer. When the new barbarian nations came on the scene, they were unable to assimilate more than a small part of the traditions of the classical past. When the cultural recovery of the West at last arrived, very little of the Greek heritage was saved, and living continuity with the common past of the Church universal was broken. There were now two worlds, almost closed to one another. 

The division also involved a conflict between the old and the new. Byzantium continued in the old ways. The West, as it recovered its intellectual vigour, developed a new method and a new technique of thought; under the influence of the great philosophical development of the thirteenth century, Western Christian doctrine took its definitive shape. Between the old patristic and the new scholastic approach there is a great gulf fixed. To the Eastern, union presented itself as the imposition of Byzantinism on the West; to the Western, as the Latinization of the East. Each world chose to go on its own way; the Westerns neglecting the Greek patristic tradition, which came more and more to be forgotten; the Greeks taking no account of anything that had happened in the West since the separation. In all ecumenical conversations today, the greatest difficulty of all is the recovery of the common universe of discourse.

~Fr Georges Florovsky, “The Orthodox Churches and the Ecumenical Movement Prior to 1910”

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  • Rick Carter
    commented 2017-10-30 10:11:36 -0500
    Vladimir Solovyov, a late 1800’s Russian philosopher and close personnel friend of Dostoevsky, wrote and delivered his “Twelve Lectures on Godmanhood” along with other writings trying to show the why and the how this rift could and should be healed. He wanted to bring back unity with Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant believers and also some day the Jews. Interesting and needful idea.