Yet again there is talk of an imminent reunion between Rome and the Russian Orthodox Church. This time, it is TAC bishop John Hepworth, who says, “they’re probably apocryphal, but we do know that the Russian Orthodox Church is very close to achieving unity with Rome.” Many Catholics are speculating that the recent overtures of Rome to the Anglicans will be looked at as a possible model for this potential East-West reunion.
I want to be clear in my next statement which is directed towards my fellow Catholics about this possible “reunion”:
IT IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.
I don’t want to be spoil-sport, and I don’t want to discount the possibility of a miracle from the Holy Spirit. Of course a miracle could occur and a reunion could happen, but the miracle would not be some announcement of reunion by hierarchs, it would be the acceptance of that announcement by millions and millions of the faithful. As I’ve mentioned before, there is little grassroots support in the East for reunion at this time, and so any premature announcement would be doomed for failure.
I also think the comparisons between the Anglican situation and the Russian Orthodox are faulty; they are completely different realities. For one thing, Anglo-Catholics belong to an ecclesial community which has been headed for self-destruction the past 50 years. It is a sinking ship and the Pope is mercifully throwing its remaining traditional members a life-line. This is not the case with the Russian Orthodox Church; it is a vital Church with over 1,000 years of history behind it. Its origins predate the East-West schism and they have no external “need” for reunion with Rome.
The Anglican outreach by Pope Benedict cannot be a model for the Church’s work for reunion with the East, and I’m sure the Pope realizes that. With the Anglicans you have a community that has a rich and beautiful spirituality, but it is essentially a variant of Roman Catholicism. They are very Western and the Anglo-Catholics being courted are very close to Rome on many theological fronts. But the Russian Orthodox Church, unlike the Anglicans, have a theological outlook that is quite different from the Western view; the differences between the East and the West are very deep and will need a long time to sort out. A “personal ordinariate” is a wonderful construct for returning Anglicans, but it would be an insult to Orthodox believers, as it would turn their true Church into just a “spirituality” within the Roman (Western) Church.
I pray daily for the reunion of the apostolic Churches of the East and the West and I hope that much progress is made in my lifetime towards that end. However, I am under no illusions about the barriers to union that currently exist. Like any persistent sin, our divisions will only be overcome by a whole lot of prayer, penance and hard work. Let us look to those three tasks rather than some “quicky” solution.