Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"Bishop" of Rome: Sign to the Eastern Church

Like everything else Pope Francis has shown us, since his election - his humility, his avoidance of pomp or extravagance, his demeanor of compassion, mercy, and love -  the Papal Installation in St. Peter's Square carried a message of hope, a breath of fresh air, evidence of a return to Gospel values, and a powerful plea for unity and collegiality within the church at large.

In his role as Fisherman, it seems, Pope Francis is clearly angling for a reunion of East and West, the two lungs of Christ he calls them, insisting that they need to breathe together.

Small but potent signs of this plea for unity continue to pile up.  From his first moments as Pope onward, Francis has kept reiterating his role and title as Bishop.  Of Rome.  This is a key signal, a clarion call to the Eastern churches - since, for the Orthodox, the Pope is viewed, not as a ruler, not as an authoritative deliverer of infallible statements - but as first among equalsThis status was clearly evident during Francis' first official act of the Installation - when he descended to pray and venerate the tomb of St. Peter - flanked  by a flock of Eastern Patriarchs (and no one else!) lining the entrance to the tomb.   Even the Ecumenical Patriarch was present, someone who has not attended a Papal Investiture for a thousand years, coinciding with the great rift between East and West.

The significance of this gesture on the part of Pope Francis and the Eastern Patriarchs cannot be underestimated.  Nor can the presence of the Ecumenical Patriarch, considered first among equals in the Eastern churches, where collegiality has never been abandoned, not even when it led to schism from a Roman church that demanded obedience to the pope - rather than fraternal unity, to which the East has always been open.

Note as well that the Gospel Book (given the Pope on this occasion) was carried, from start to finish by a Deacon of the Eastern Rite, wearing Eastern rite robe and stole.  Using eastern rite gestures for reverencing the Gospel Book and eastern rite chanting - in Greek - of the Gospel itself.  Given that the Gospels were originally written in Greek and the Ecumenical Patriarch always comes from the Greek Orthodox tradition, this powerful gesture is another clear sign offered to the Eastern Churches.

Additionally, an Eastern Rite choir sang the chants surrounding the the Gospel - using Orthodox chant style. Another clear signal:  That Francis intends to continue reaching out to the East as Pope, similar to his role in Argentina, where he exercised authority both as bishop in the Roman tradition and as patriarch of the eastern church there.

All of this falls like spring rain on the ground of Eastern Orthodoxy.  On the potential for Christian unity.

We are witnessing a time of great hopeMay we all be one.  May this springtime be fruitful.


Alan said...

I have been watching the pontificating around the new papacy with some interest - and a bit of amusement at times. So many want to see so much in this, and how often commenters fail to grasp the context.

Seeing a Jesuit elevated is a source of much joy. I am Jesuit-educated (high school) and though I can at best be described as a lapsed Catholic, my respect for the order has never faltered. How can it? Jesuits are about frontline service to the people, and to the same degree, about scholarship, for themselves and everyone else who will. This can only be a double positive, in a hierarchy too long and too often mired in pomp and pomposity.

All that said, we can not overlook the system, the structure, that gave rise to Francis. Those seeking dramatic turns in many arenas will not find them.

The changes I do hope to see are to first, deal once and for all time with the child abuse problem that has beset Catholicism for far too long. If it takes a massive purge of everyone who perpetrated, abetted, concealed, or simply ignored it, so be it.

Second, return to a service orientation, heavy on the social justice concerns he seems well aware of, and let the politicking go, at least for now.

I don't expect a vocal commitment to marriage equality, nor the ordination of women, and likely not even a quick end to a celibate priesthood. Would I like to see these? Of course. Will we? No!

To those who decry this, I'd offer a reminder: Had he advocated these changes, he would never have risen even to the level of Jesuit provincial.

In those areas, I suspect the best we can hope for is that the Vatican does not absorb and digest his simplicity, and turn him into another theatrical figure covering the proverbial multitude of sins.

TheraP said...

Your sentiments equal mine, Alan, dear friend! I have modest hopes that at the very least this man keeps his Jesuit values and continues to reach out to all people, particularly the most vulnerable, all of whom he enumerated so well this morning. (I've added a link to his sermon near the end of the post.) And, yes, I completely agree that we won't be seeing the huge changes most Americans would prefer to see.

Nevertheless I rejoice in all the positive signs he is clearly telegraphing. With his every appearance!

Blessings upon you. And I hope your life has continued to blossom with lovely surprises!