Sunday, April 02, 2006

Searching for Peter

It has been a vicarious delight to silently hover over the happenings of the online denizens of St. Herman's Orthodox Church and their brethren on the Island and elsewhere, to hear news of the work of God in their midst and their joy in discovering and living the Orthodox faith.

Why, therefore, do I feel no call to such a vigorous fellowship? Why, recognizing that both Orthodoxy and Catholicism have preserved the sacraments for twenty centuries, did I enter one and not the other?

Certainly, some typical concerns played a major role. A desire for unity drove my search for the Church of the Apostles- the hierarchical structure of Catholicism seems to provide a more visibly evident unity. The oft-repeated concern about caesaropapism had an effect. And the national structure of much of Orthodoxy seemed to me to restrict Orthodoxy's emphasis on missions & evangelism. Whether fair or not, these concerns caused me to look on Catholicism as more plausible; though there are undoubtedly historical and other considerations which cause others to look on Catholicism as similarly implausible. The current liturgical aimlessness and mediocrity in Catholicism is one such.

But I did not join the "more likely" Church. I confessed all that the Catholic Church teaches. And what was decisive for me was the way we read Scripture- as Apostolic Christians, both Catholics and Orthodox see in passages like John 20:22-23 a clear reference to sacramental confession: "And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.'"

Likewise, we read about the Anointing of the Sick: "Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord." (James 5:14). Both the Gospel of John ("For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.") and Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians ("For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself") clearly testify to the reality of the Real Presence. Just as we see the sacraments testified to in Scripture, sacraments that remain in the Church, so too do we discern the structure of the Church from scripture- unlike Protestants, we recognize that episkopos, presbyteros and diaconos denote three separate priestly offices. We recognize in the Apostles the first bishops. And we see in the Council of Jerusalem at least the model for the Ecumenical Councils of the Church. In short, Apostolic Christians see in the New Testament writings indications of the sacraments given to the Church and evidence of the divine structure of the Church.

Yet the passages which show the particular role of Peter are given no effect in the Church in Orthodox interpretation. Jesus renames Simon (echoes of Abraham) and says "You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church." Of course, Peter is given the threefold questioning and commissioning in John 21. Moreover, Peter speaks for the Apostles both on Pentecost and at the Council of Jerusalem, confirming his role among the Apostles. The Apostles are even referred to by Luke as "Peter and the Eleven." And thus the difficulty arises: by what principle can we retain the scriptural witness to the sacraments and to the apostolic governance of the Church into the present day, and refuse to do so for the role of Peter?

John Paul II was fond of saying that the Church must breathe with both lungs, East & West. There is no doubt the Petrine office has been abused at times in the past, and perhaps in part due to the Great Schism, has probably taken on an inappropriate weight in the Latin Church. In John Paul II's Encyclical Ut Unum Sint, he showed his willingness to accept a new operation of the primatial role (para. 95). Benedict XVI once wrote that "Rome must not require more from the East with respect to the doctrine of primacy than had been formulated and was lived in the first millennium." Christ himself prayed for the unity of the Church, and we cannot ignore His word to us. But Christ does not desire a unity of homogeneity or a unity of indifference. We must confront our differences with an attitude of humility- a principle which I hope I have not egregiously violated here.

New Update: For a reference post to the entire debate go here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting point about Peter's role.

Just an interesting, tangental thought: History says to us that Peter was first the Bishop of Constantinople before he was Bishop of Rome -- briefly.

April 06, 2006 10:49 PM  
Blogger gabriel said...

nearly- Antioch rather than Constantinople. There is also apparently some traditional association with Alexandria, which I don't know if there's a historical basis for.

April 07, 2006 9:42 AM  

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