Letter from the Orthodox to the Federatio Internationalis Una Voce
Dear Mr. President,
You will, we hope, understand that it is not the intention of the Orthodox Church to interfere in matters which pertain to the Bishop of Rome. Insofar as the Sacred Liturgy is the public prayer of the Church by and in which the Most Holy Redeemer continues to pray and offer Himself to the Eternal Father in a fitting sacrifice, the Orthodox Church admires the goal of the Foederatio Internationalis Una Voce. No doubt the sensus fidelium moves you to promote the “extraordinary form” of the Roman Rite for the proven spiritual welfare of today’s Catholics of the Roman Church, as it was for countless saints.
We must admit that several points cause many Orthodox to be perplexed and not a little worried. First, contrary to popular belief, liturgical changes are not inconceivable in the Orthodox Church. However, since liturgical change must always allow Our Lord to pray in His Church ‘in spirit and in truth’ and therefore in a manner that is befitting, liturgical changes must always be an organic flow from the spiritual and intellectual (intus leggere) richness and vitality of a see (local or universal) which makes the changes. One cannot, therefore, ‘plan’ liturgical changes, otherwise they would risk bearing more the dubious mark of the genius temporis, rather than the will of the Son to pray in and through His Church to the Eternal Father in spiritu et veritate.
Second, the general theological and particular pastoral ethos underlying the traditional form of the Roman Rite is identical to that which ‘informs’ the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church. Therefore, many Orthodox fear that they will be considered ‘extraordinary’ when full communion will be established between the two Churches. No matter how one interprets the term ‘extraordinary’, with its common or canonical meaning, the Orthodox Church is not aware that her public prayer is extraordinary. Therefore, the Orthodox Church appreciates the selfless efforts of Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinals Cañizares Llovera and Castrillón Hoyos, Archbishop Ranjith and you, Mr. President, to promote a form of ‘ecumenism’ in the profoundest sense of the word.
As you know, in recent decades the West in particular has been undergoing one of the gravest cultural crises in ages. When cultural crisis and a paucity of really great theologians, such as the Fathers of the Church, converge as a single phenomenon, the Church, historically, has been reluctant to make changes that vary from her proven course. Indeed during these periods of crisis, the Lord raises up great saints, popes, local bishops, lesser clerics, religious and laypersons in His Church who propose renewed spiritual vitality through special institutions and ecclesial structures to support the Church through the crisis.
The Orthodox Church has satisfactorily addressed her own problems of a liturgical nature. Perhaps some of the more practical solutions which were used could be of help for the Catholic Church as well.