Saturday, March 26, 2005

Sergius Bulgakov on Church Unity

I actually haven't read that many Eastern Orthodox writers. But last summer I discovered Fr. Alexander Schmemann (1921-1883) and Fr. Sergius Bulgakov (1871-1944). These men are divine gifts for the whole catholic Church, and have much to say to all those who are burdened by the divided state of the visible Church.

Fr. Bulgakov stands in a tradition of Russo-Christian philosophers that had to cope with the destruction of Holy Russia in the Bolshevik Revolution. It became his task to reinterpret Orthodoxy apart from a nationalistic dependent mode, a problem that still bedevills the majority of Orthodox.

An excellent on-line resource for Bulgakov may be found at the Sergius Bulgakov Society.

The following is an excerpt from Fr. Bulgakov's essay "By Jacob's Well":

"There is no such priesthood in Protestantism, but the people of the Church, the 'royal priesthood', remains there, and the potential power of Holy Baptism is fulfilled and revealed there in other ways, in certain devout rites and prayers instead of in effective sacraments. But if these are ineffective, can we say that they are nothing? One cannot say this, for the priesthood is not a magical apparatus for the celebration of the sacraments but a ministration of the Church which exists in the Church and for the Church...

"A more direct and true communion in sacramraments with the Protestant world is hindered by the presence of a rightly ordained priesthood: this is the threshold over which Protestantism must pass, the re-establishement of an apostolically ordained hierarchy.

"These barriers do not exist, however, for those sections of the divided Church which have retained this succession and have therefore a correctly ordained priesthood. Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism belong to this category, together with the ancient Eastern Churches (as well as the Episcopal Church in Protestantism and Anglicanism, in particular in the case of a positive solution of the question of Anglican ordination). The Priesthood of Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy are mutually uncanonical owing to the existing schism, but this does not prevent their mutually recognizing each other.

"The following conclusion of the utmost importance follows from this: Churches which have preserved their priesthood, although they happen to be separated, are not actually divided in their sacramental life. Strictly speaking, a reunion of the Church is not even necessary here, although generally this is hardly realized. The Churches which have preserved such a unity in sacraments are now divided canonically in the sense of jurisdiction, and dogmatically, through a whole range of differences; but these are powerless to destroy the efficacy of the sacraments.

"What is required for complete communion, and where do we start? The predominant formula runs: sacramental fellowship must be preceded by a preliminary doctrinal agreement. But is this axiom so indisputable as it appears? Here on one scale of the balance we have a difference in certain Christian dogmas and theological opinions, and an estrangement which has been formed through centuries; on the other we have the unity of sacramental life. May it not be that a unity in the sacrament will be the only way towards overcoming this difference? Why should we not seek to surmount a heresy in teaching through superseding a heresy of life such as division? May it not be that Christians sin now by not heeding the common eucharistic call?

"...[T]he way towards the reunion of East and West does not lie through tournaments between the theologians of the East and West, but through a reunion before the Altar. The priesthood of the East and West must realize itself as one priesthood, celebrating the one Eucharist, and, if the minds of the priests could become aflame with this idea, all barriers would fall...

"A realization of our unity as something given and at the same time of our disunity as a fact which we cannot ignore is present as a vital antithesis in the soul of the modern Christian. This antinomy cannot leave him in peace. He cannot remain indifferent to it, for he must seek its resolution."

I think Fr. Bulgakov's words speak for themselves. They arise from a living faith in the reality of Christ's Church and Holy Sacraments. Part of my purpose here at UO is to provide resources that help us think "outside the box." All that lies between us and the blessed future is the dead weight of our sinful unbelief, an unbelief that says God is unable--the sacraments are insufficient--to achieve the unity for which Christ prayed in John 17.

"The liturgy is heaven on earth." -- Fr. Sergius Bulgakov

1 comment:

Joseph Smith, jr. said...

Interesting blog. Enjoyed reading it.


Joseph Smith Jr.
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