INTERCOMMUNION / COMMUNION
We Pray For The Reunion of The Church
Unity of Faith
Dearly beloved in Christ Jesus our Lord, our Savior and our God. It is our wish to address the problems surrounding the attempts in the Church today to establish bridges of intercommunion leading to the eventual reunion of many branches of the apostolic church.
There is a tendency within many churches today, to attempt to overlook and deny the very grave differences that exist between many branches of the apostolic church, in terms of what they have adopted theologically, since the great schism in 1051 and innovations often surround theological opinion in their zeal to reunite the Church of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is somehow proposed, that by simply declaring or by signing a "Deed of Intercommunion," that the church can somehow overlook or deny the very real differences that separate so much of the church Today. It is very sad that these differences exist. However to pretend that the church is already re-united simply by declaring open Communion does not really heal the wounds of the Church and in point of fact, in actuality, weaken it beyond measure.
Perhaps as never before within the history of the apostolic church, is there the realization, within our day and age, that the Holy Eucharist is the "True Essence" of the Church. In that understanding, it is that Holy Mystery/Sacrament which fulfills itself both visibly and invisibly, in both time and space and is that life-giving action that holds the Church in unity. It is when the Church offers the Holy Eucharist that it truly becomes what it is, what it celebrates, what it offers.
In this day and ages in which we find ourselves living, we need an absolute return to the essentials of our apostolic Faith and Heritage. Our Lord Jesus Christ in leaving us His Holy Eucharist, gave us the very essence and core of His Divine presence in our midst until His second coming.
Unity within the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ, is, has been, and will always be, enshrined, perpetuated and extended from generation to generation, within the Holy Eucharist. True unity, then, can not be fully understood from a juridical point of view, but indeed from, and within, Eucharistic terms. Unity cannot be imposed from above by some hierarch or group of hierarch with administrative or jurisdictional powers. Unity is created from within, by and via, the celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy.
1Cor. 10: 16-17:
"The cup of blessing [of wine at the Lord's Supper]upon which we ask [God's] blessing, does it not mean [that in drinking it] we participate in and share fellowship [Communion] in the Blood of Christ [The Messiah]? The Bread which we break, does it not mean [that in eating it] we participate in and share a fellowship [a Communion] in the Body of Christ? For we [no matter how] numerous we are, are one body, because we all partake of the one Bread [the One Whom the Communion bread represents]."To say the least, intercommunion is an volatile topic. Profound feelings are involved, and convictions are deeply divided. This is so because it touches the mysterious heart of the Church's life and the Church's unity. It touches the heart of our divisions also, in a way that we can feel, see and experience. We need on either side, to respect deeply the consciences of those who differ from us. And we must all resist the temptation to accuse others of a lack of seriousness or of an insufficiency of love.
To the early Church there were, and we might add, still is contained within the Apostolic Tradition of the Church, the knowledge that there are indeed three kinds of the one and the same unity that all within the Church seek today.
These vital three forms of unity, from the early Church onward, were and have always been: oneness of, and within the Eucharistic Communion, Dogmatic or Faith oneness, and oneness as gathered round the Bishop.
Real unity, dear brothers and sisters in our Lord Jesus Christ, pre-supposes, in the first place, Unity in Faith. Sadly, mere brotherly feeling and affection is not enough. It would be oh so easy if it were!
There can be no true oneness in sacramental life for those who are not one in Faith. However, we must also be clear that unity in faith is not the same as total agreement in theological opinions. There has always been room in the Church on earth, and will be until the Second Coming for a diversity of "theologoumena." The real problem, of course, is that it is never easy to draw the line between dogma and private opinion, between essential and the non-essential. That is where our efforts must be directed to bring resolution to the seeming differences that are serving to divide us at the present time.
However, it is also very important for us to realize that unity in Faith is what is required when we meet around the Eucharistic Table/Altar, nothing more then this and yet nothing less.
It is for that reason, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that we who are worshipping within either the Divine Eucharistic Liturgy of the East, of the Tridentine Liturgy of the West or perhaps the Gallican format which combines the liturgical heritage of East and West, or other established liturgies - that we all recite the Creed together. The order in liturgical worship is most important and significant. None of us first receive communion and then affirm our unity in Faith, No our affirmation of our mutual and joint Faith comes first -- we proclaim it, we confess it and based upon our mutual Confession of our Joint and Mutual Faith, by claiming as our own together, our acceptance of the doctrines as explicitly mentioned in the Creed, and also the whole Catholic Faith in its fullness as outlined in the Creed -- then go to Communion at God's Holy Altar.
It is within our Eucharistic understanding, dear brothers in Christ, that unity also presupposes in the second place, unity in the Bishop. It is the "episcopal president" at the Eucharist that acts as the sign and sacrament of our ecclesial unity. We only have to remember the words of St. Ignatius who draws for us that line and connection:
"Let that Eucharist be considered valid, only, which is celebrated by the bishop, or by one whom he appoints."It is for that very reason, dear brothers, that each priest when presiding/celebrating the Holy Eucharist remembers / commemorates the name of his or her bishop -- not as some gesture of courtesy, but as an ecclesiological necessity; and that is why, in the Byzantine rite, for instance, the priest cannot celebrate the Holy Eucharist unless the priest has on the altar an "antiminsion" bearing the Bishops signature and seal.
"Let no one do any of the things that concern the Church without the Bishop."
Our Eucharistic understanding, our ecclesiology, if you would, implies to us all a very basic threefold unity.
1. Eucharistic unity, that is, unity in the One Loaf and the One Cup of Holy Communion.These three things together form a Core of Unity, in our humble estimation, for the future of the Church for which we must all strive with the very being of our capabilities and efforts forts.
2. Unity in Faith and
3. Unity as centered around each local bishop and the bishops joining together in unity of faith, eucharist and collegial synodical unity.
Let's be frank, our separation at the Lord's Table/Holy Altar is a contradiction of the Church's very essence. Eucharistic division strikes at the very heart of the Church's life.
It needs to also be noted that when we approach the concept and thought of intercommunion -- that it implies "a sharing" in the sacraments on an "occasional or even a regular basis," by christians belonging to Eucharistic Communities that are still officially separated by seeming differences in Faith.
That may indeed be a beginning, but it can never be an end in itself. For unity based on Faith, the Holy Eucharist and ancient apostolic episcopal structure "IS COMMUNION," and where those three cords of understanding are present, there also is the Unity of the Church. If there is agreement within this context there also is union and communion merely becomes the outward and visible sign of the inward and invisible agreement as Eucharistic Communities join together to receive Communion at each others Holy Altar when the opportunity arises. There then is no different, no separation, regardless of the Ancient Rite that is being used to celebrate it.
How can we admit someone to communion and thereby "also not say" that they are members incorporate in our own eucharistic communities. In the early church admitting one to communion and church membership were identical.
One of the many arguments of today is that there exists today situations within the church that are without precedent. We forget that the Church Fathers were also concerned with disunity and reconciliation throughout their lives.
Satan will always be in our midst right along with us in our deliberations, our sharing, our arguments, our misunderstandings to assist us, all to often with very little work, to blame, accuse or bring with great ease the thoughts to bare that dis-unity is actually helping the Church because our part of the church is right and of course, yours is wrong. Our problem here is that we all to often do not, cannot distinguish between, as said before, ancient principles of the Apostolic Faith and personally held and believed opinions about the faith.
Sadly, dear brothers and sisters, communion together within the Holy Eucharist, will not bring us to the Oneness of Faith and apostolic practice as outlined within the undivided Church. Oneness of faith, will, however, will bring us to union within the Eucharist.
How can we share in Communion if we cannot acknowledge union within the validity of the episcopate?. We cannot say that the Eucharist is Christ's, not the Bishop's. For Christ has entrusted His sacraments, His Holy Mysteries as a visible reality existing locally, centered around the bishop as the president of the Eucharistic Assembly/Community.
We must never allow ourselves to be gather around a false unity, a feeling, a thought that Christendom has already been reunited. That somehow Christendom is already some giant fellowship and that because of this fellowship we also already have union, sadly, we do not.
Fellowship and sharing are wonderful tools of understanding and provide consensual occasions which can allow us all, as Christians to work on those areas of mutual concern. However we also need to understand that Fellowship or Ecumenical sharing and/or conferences are primarily a fellowship in search. It is an adventure, not an achievement. It is a path, a way, but not the goal.
Let's bring things down to a core understanding. The members of one Church, who receive the sacraments from another Church -- to what Church do they belong? Of what spiritual reality do they form a part? They no longer belong completely to their own Church, since they receive Holy Communion from another Church; nor do they belong to the other Church in which they occasionally receive the Eucharist, since they do not hold the faith of that other Church. Is this confusing to you? Well you are right, it is confusing, and it is confusing because this whole problem does not exist "if" Eucharistic Communities are of the same Faith and belief.
We of The Evangelical Orthodox Catholic Church are eager for that day when we shall all be able to stand before God's Holy Altar to partake of His Body and His Blood together, but that Unity must be based on a Unity of Faith and belief. When we can come together with each other over the agreement of and on, the Faith we will have Communion together automatically as a consequence of our joint agreement on the Faith that we hold in common together from the Apostolic Following of those who have gone before us in the Faith as once delivered unto the early Church of ancient apostolic times.
Dear brothers and sisters, there must be a return to the "essentials" of our One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Faith as agreed upon by the First Seven Ecumenical Councils while the Church was still one. We of The Evangelical Orthodox Catholic Church wish to call for a continuous effort to discuss, extend understanding, increase of fellowship, a willingness to sit down and share the principles of Faith that we hold mutually with many of our brothers and sisters within the independent Catholic and Orthodox Churches and jurisdictions within this country.
Let us join in prayer, in consultation, in discussion, in conference, but let us not join together inadequately, falsely, or without full understanding that it is our Faith that brings us into Communion with one another. That it is what we believe about the Sacramental Life of the Church and all those aspects that have always and everywhere been the guiding principles for Eucharistic Communities joining together, banding together, bonding together. In this great effort there can be no failure until we stop trying. There can be no mistakes, until we stop reaching outward to address our seeming differences, resolve them, unify them, Heal Them, and restore thereby the ancient understandings that have always been the foundation for the ancient apostolic Church.
We need to discover and realize the differences between theological opinion and dogma, The Faith. We also need to address certain aspects of the church which seem to separate us as devotional, but not dogmatic as necessary for salvation, or for the maintenance of the Apostolic Faith as given to us by those who have gone before us.
If after reading this, You feel called to contact us to open a line or two of communication -- saying in your heart, these brothers and sisters are right, we must agree on the Faith to bring us the Holy Altar of God within His Most Holy Communion -- then write to us, contact us, for we are always open to hearing from those who also maintain ancient and apostolic Faith of the Church as defined by the First Seven Ecumenical Councils.
It is, dear brothers and sisters, a return to "essentials." A return to our roots within the ancient understanding of the unifying principles of apostolic Eucharistic Communities of the three fold Unity. We wait to hear from you; we pray for the re-union of the Church based on a mutual agreement in and ON THE FAITH of the undivided Church. Nothing more is needed, nothing less will accomplish our task.
Peace and blessings to each of you who have visited and read these words of deepest feeling and prayerful consideration. Will you join us in that prayer of unity that opened this statement, we pray you will.
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