Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Uzhorod, Balamand, and Beyond: A "Uniate" Looks to the Millennium

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Uzhorod, Balamand, and Beyond: A "Uniate" Looks to the Millennium

Article excerpt

In 1996, the Ruthenian Byzantine Catholic Church marked the 350th anniversary of the Union of Uzhorod, by which it came into existence as a particular church in communion with the See of Rome.(1) The fruits of this union are to be found today in the European eparchies of Mukacevo (Ukraine), Presov (Slovakia), Prague (Czech Republic), Krizevci (Croatia, with a large percentage of its faithful living in Serbia), and Hajdudorog (Hungary), as well as in five eparchies embracing more than 200,000 faithful in the United States and Canada. The relatively recent emergence of Byzantine Catholics from the catacombs in Ukraine and Romania and the restoration of their full liberty in Slovakia should make this celebration all the more joyous. By the same token, Pope John Paul II's repeated appeals to a universality that embraces the Eastern churches as equal and integral partners with the Latin West should invite the whole church to share our joy. However, the Joint Statement issued by the International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church at Balamand, Lebanon, in June, 1993, suggests that our milestone may well be another's millstone or stumbling block. Looking back to Uzhorod in light of Balamand demands that Byzantine Catholics reexamine both the historical past and the ecclesial future.

The Union of Uzhorod represents an approach to Christian unity that the Balamand Statement terms "uniatism" (Balamand 2).(2) In the commission's vision, "it must be recognized that the re-establishment of unity between the Church of the East and the Church of the West was not achieved and that division remains, embittered by these attempts" (Balamand 9). In fact, the introduction to the Joint Statement speaks even more strongly: "[W]e reject it [uniatism] as a method for the search for unity because it is opposed to the common tradition of our Churches." At the same time, the Introduction affirms that "Eastern Catholic Churches... as part of the Catholic Communion, have the right to exist and to act in response to the spiritual needs of their faithful."

Clearly, these statements have serious implications for the identity of the Byzantine Catholic Church born at Uzhorod. This essay will address these implications from two standpoints. We will first challenge the static, historical model that has dominated discussions of "uniatism." In an attempt to move beyond that model, the second part of this essay will propose an alternative vision, with particular application to the mission of the Byzantine Catholic Church in the U.S.A. in the last years of the second Christian millennium.

I. Historical Fallacies


It is odd that the Balamand Statement never clearly defines the "uniatism" it repudiates.(3) Assembling scattered details from paragraphs 8 and 10 of the Joint Statement, "uniatism" appears as a complex of forces, both ecclesial (even conciliar) and civil (with a strong note of coercion), whereby groups of "Eastern" Christians accepted Roman primacy at the price of breaking communion with their own "mother churches." In a recent article, "What Is a Uniate?"(4) George Every has shown this view to be historically oversimplified. He took issue with the global presumption that the unions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were motivated by political and economic opportunism. He further demonstrated that not every "uniate" church is the product of such a union at all. Maronites, for example, or the Greeks and Albanians of Italy have had very different histories of communion with Rome. It must, in fact, be admitted that the papacy has had immediate jurisdiction over particular churches of the Byzantine Rite in Italy for most of its history.

It is clear that acceptance of Roman authority is neither simply nor universally a rupture in communion with a "Mother Church of the East" (Balamand 8). In cases where the legitimately elected patriarch of an Eastern church participated in the union, authentic communion on the level of the particular church endured in and only in the union, even if communion with the other patriarchates of the East was impaired. …

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