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In this way the commission attempted to respond to concerns expressed by both sides. Since many Orthodox feared that a reemergence of the Greek Catholic churches in Central and Eastern Europe was evidence of the continuation of a Catholic policy of proselytism among the Orthodox through the use of Orthodox rituals and traditions, that former policy (which is what the commission means by the term “uniatism”) is specifically rejected.

Since many Greek Catholics feared that rejection of uniatism as a policy called into question the very existence of their churches, the document states without equivocation that they do have a right to exist and to care for their faithful. Indeed, the document also calls for Greek Catholics to be integrated into the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue at all levels.

The document, therefore, rests on two important principles. The first is religious freedom. Greek Catholics have a right to be Greek Catholics, Orthodox have a right to be Orthodox. The second principle is that Catholic-Orthodox relations must be based on what the commission calls “a sister-church ecclesiology.” Insofar as Catholics and Orthodox recognize each other as sister churches, each possesses the means of salvation. Thus missionary activity by one church among the faithful of the other is ruled out.

Balamand also offers a series of practical rules to help improve relations between Greek Catholics and Orthodox. Both sides are admonished to:

• Avoid seeking the passage of faithful from one church to another.

• Avoid using the suffering of martyrs as a way of making accusations against other Christians.

• Adhere to the principles of freedom of conscience and expression and to apply these principles when undertaking pastoral projects.

• Seek joint resolution of concrete problems through dialogue and, when possible, through local joint commissions.

• Avoid all physical, verbal and moral violence.

• Respect the liturgical celebrations of the other church.

• Foster ecumenical formation of future priests (especially in what concerns the apostolic succession and valid sacraments of the other church).

• Strive for a common reading of the history of the two churches and their relations.

• Avoid recourse to civil courts to solve concrete problems.

• Initiate fraternal dialogue.

• Avoid tendentious use of the mass media and honor all those who suffered persecution, regardless of church affiliation.

The document ends with an expression of the hope that since all proselytism by Catholics at the expense of the Orthodox has been excluded, the obstacles that prevented certain autocephalous Orthodox churches from attending the dialogue will have been overcome and that the work “already so happily begun” might continue.

The document, then, represents a major step forward in the dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Given the depth of suspicion and mutual mistrust between Catholics and Orthodox in Eastern and Central Europe, the success of the Balamand meeting is a testament to the vibrancy of the drive of these two ancient churches toward full communion.

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Tags: Ecumenism Catholic Eastern Christianity Orthodox Church Catholic-Orthodox relations