Pope: Catholics and Eastern Orthodox should consider more sacramental sharing


ROME – Theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches has reached a point where it seems appropriate to consider expanding the possibilities for the faithful of one of the Churches to receive the sacraments from each other when they are not available in their own community, Pope Francis said.

“On the basis of the theological consensus noted by your commission, would it not be possible to extend and multiply such pastoral arrangements, particularly in contexts where our faithful are in a situation of minority and diaspora? the pope asked the members of the International Joint Commission for theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches.

In welcoming the commission members on June 23, Pope Francis said that “ecumenism always has a pastoral character” and is not simply about theological ideas.

“Among our churches, which share the apostolic succession, the broad consensus revealed by your commission not only on baptism, but also on the other sacraments, should encourage us to deepen a ‘pastoral ecumenism,’” he said.

In 1984, Saint John Paul II and the head of the Syriac Orthodox Church signed a declaration which “authorizes in certain circumstances the faithful to receive the sacraments of penance, the Eucharist and the anointing of the sick from one or the other community,” Pope Francis noted. And a 1994 agreement allowed Catholics and members of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Malankara to receive the sacrament of marriage from either church.

“This was made possible by looking at the concrete reality of the members of the people of God and their good, which is superior to historical ideas and differences,” the pope said. The agreements focus on “the importance that no one be left without the means of grace”.

The commission is completing what Pope Francis has described as “an important study on the sacraments, a document which demonstrates the existence of a broad consensus and, with God’s help, can mark a new step forward towards the full Communion”.

The Eastern Orthodox Churches participating in the international dialogue with the Catholic Church are: the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church and the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo.

The Eastern Orthodox Churches, which are in communion with each other, have their origins in the Christian communities which did not accept the wording of the definition of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 that Christ was fully human and fully divine. Between 1971 and 1996, the Catholic Church and the various Eastern Orthodox churches resolved their differences over the Chalcedon Declaration.

Pope Francis insisted during the audience that for pastors of all churches, the good of souls is more important than historical ideas or controversies.

“Jesus Christ became incarnate, he became man, a member of the faithful people of God,” he said. “It didn’t become an idea, no; he became a man. And we must always seek the good of the men and women and of God’s faithful people.

Pope Francis has also insisted that the “ecumenism of everyday life” experienced by the faithful in the churches must be taken seriously in theological discussions and recognized as a place where God is at work.

Especially in the Middle East, he said, Christians often experience more unity than the theology of their churches would convey, especially through “the ecumenism of suffering, common witness in the name of Christ, sometimes even at the cost of their lives”.

Thus, the pope said, theologians’ reflection should focus “not only on the dogmatic differences that have arisen in the past, but also on the current experience of our faithful.”

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