Some Brief Words on the “Orthodox in Communion with Rome” Phenomenon

It’s probably not worth dwelling too much on the phenomenon known as “Orthodox in Communion with Rome” (OICWR), an initially well-intentioned reorientation of how Greek Catholics understand their relationship with Rome which has—at least in certain online forums—degenerated into a cafeteria ecclesiology. Although there are several variants of OICWR, the most extreme (and seemingly most vocal) wing takes the position that the Greek Catholic churches need not treat as ecumenical or binding any “Roman council” held between the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Nicaea II) and the Second Vatican Council. Not even Florence, which transpired with the participation of the Greek Church, is seen as binding due to its eventual repudiation by the Orthodox. By radical OICWR reckoning, Purgatory, the Immaculate Conception, and Papal Infallibility are not settled dogmas for the universal Church but rather Latin doctrines that amount to little more than theological opinions which can, and perhaps ought to be, critiqued in the light of the Byzantine theological tradition. Instead of seeking a shared understanding on the perennial truths of the Catholic Faith, the OICWR extremists revel in the apparent divisions that allegedly separate East from West. And, like all good ideologies, these individuals are quick to disparage their critics, including their Greek Catholic critics, as “Latinized” or “Uniates.”

Needless to say, the OICWR—moderate and extreme alike—claim to take their bearings from the Vatican II declaration Orientalium Ecclesiarum despite the fact that no less an authority on things Orthodox than Fr. Alexander Schmemann, an observer at the Council, found the document unsatisfactory in certain respects. The extremists also point to the “sister churches” ecclesiology promoted by Vatican II, albeit in splendid isolation of the 2000 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Note on the Expression Sister Churches.” Moreover, for reasons that remain vague and underdeveloped, the far reaches of the OICWR seem to believe that the perilous project of “reclaiming their tradition” (as if the historic Greek Church only had a single tradition) means imitating the theology, spirituality, and liturgy of the contemporary Orthodox Church, as if it that communion, both before and after the “Great Schism” of 1054 A.D., was monolithic and without change. The pursuit of a “magic moment” of “purity” in the fog of history often results in pick-and-choose “reconstruction” which, in the end, bears little resemblance to how things ever were.

None of this is to say that the Greek Catholic churches (Ukrainian, Ruthenian, Melkite, etc.) shouldn’t take proper and prudent steps to remove accretions from their liturgy that undermine its integrity nor ignore the rich Eastern theological patrimony in favor of Thomism. Greek Catholics have been rightly encouraged to maintain their identity in recent decades. However, there is a wide gulf between maintaining one’s identity and taking up positions that are openly hostile to the Catholic Faith. It seems that the fringes of the OICWR movement are more interested in appeasing the worst circles of Orthodoxy rather than standing firm for true catholicity, that is, particularity within universality. No one today should seriously buy into the shopworn prejudice that “to be Catholic” is “to be Latin.” Still, that is not a warrant for rank doctrinal dissent and schism mongering.



  1. Peregrinus
    December 20, 2016

    These “OICWR” folks have always seemed to me to be lazy theodicists, with an allergy to any cognitive dissonance resulting from full membership on either side of an intractable divide.

    1. Gabriel Sanchez
      December 20, 2016

      Well, the extreme fringe — which hangs around the Byz Cath forum — takes up positions more radical than the Orthodox sometimes. I think part of it is due to a gross inferiority complex, and it doesn’t surprise me at all that some of the loudest mouths are converts. So it goes.

  2. […] previous post, “Some Brief Words on the ‘Orthodox in Communion with Rome’ Phenomenon,” along with a recent unedifying discussion with certain extremists from that camp, prompted […]

  3. Bernard Brandt
    December 20, 2016

    As an Eastern Catholic, I long ago considered, and rejected, the way of the Orthodox in Union with Rome, a phrase I consider on a par with kosher bacon, halal pork, military intelligence, and Mexican cuisine.

    Likewise, I decided long ago not to frequent the ByzCath weblink, as I found the denizens there to generate a good deal more smoke and heat than light.

    As a Russian Catholic, I long ago decided to pursue the path trod by Solovyov and Sheptytsky toward figuring out what would be involved in maintaining the fullness of Orthodox tradition while being in union with Rome. At present, I am concerning myself with a better understanding of the first millennium of union between East and West. If I am still alive after completing that set of studies, I may start looking at the doctrines that presently divide East from West. In the meantime, to paraphrase the words of the fifth canon of the Union of Brest-Litovsk, ‘We shall not debate about purgatory (or other such doctrines), but we entrust ourselves to the teaching of the Holy Church.’

    1. Gabriel Sanchez
      December 21, 2016

      I think that’s a healthy approach to take. And I second your endeavor of looking back to the first millennium because there will is a serious gap in the knowledge of most Catholics and Orthodox of how Rome and the East “got along” (or not) during that time. If they know anything, it’s something superficial about the Photian schism.

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