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Relations between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church

Over the next eight years, the commission met five more times and adopted three common documents on foundational theological themes. In Munich in 1982, the text “The Mystery of the Church and of the Eucharist in the Light of the Mystery of the Holy Trinity” was adopted. In Bari, Italy, a document “Faith, Sacraments and the Unity of the Church” was finalized in 1987. At the Orthodox monastery at Valamo, Finland, in 1988 a third common document was adopted, entitled “The Sacrament of Order in the Sacramental Structure of the Church, with Particular Reference to the Importance of the Apostolic Succession for the Sanctification and Unity of the People of God.” At Valamo it was agreed that the next area of study would be conciliarity and authority in the Church. A draft text on this topic was later prepared for the sixth plenary, which was scheduled to be held in Freising, Germany, in June 1990.

During the two years before the Freising meeting, however, the unfolding of events prevented the commission from considering the text that would be prepared. The Valamo meeting had taken place on the eve of the 1989 collapse of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe. This event, happy as it was, caused a major crisis in Catholic-Orthodox relations because of the reemergence of Eastern Catholic Churches that had been suppressed by the communists. Ugly confrontations arose between Eastern Catholics and Orthodox over Eastern Catholic property that had been confiscated by the communist authorities decades earlier and given to the Orthodox. All this dovetailed with longstanding Orthodox grievances arising from the process leading to the creation of some Eastern Catholic Churches that the international commission refers to as “uniatism.”

In view of what was happening in Eastern Europe, the Orthodox delegation at Freising insisted that the question of the origin and present status of the Eastern Catholic Churches be the only topic of discussion. Under the circumstances it was only possible to issue a brief statement at the end of the meeting, recognizing that the problem had to be dealt with urgently, and calling for a full-scale study of the issue.

This took place at the seventh plenary session in June 1993, held at the Balamand Orthodox School of Theology in Lebanon. The dialogue commission adopted a common document entitled, “Uniatism, Method of Union in the Past, and the Present Search for Full Communion.” It hinges on two central affirmations: on one hand, “the method which has been called uniatism” is rejected because it is “opposed to the common tradition of our Churches.” And on the other hand, it unequivocally affirms that the Eastern Catholic Churches “have the right to exist and to act in response to the spiritual needs of their faithful.” It called upon Eastern Catholics to participate in the dialogue at all levels. The document also rules out all forms of proselytism between Catholics and Orthodox, affirming that salvation is available in either church.

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