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10th August 2001

The Blessing of the Lord!

It is entirely true to affirm "that Eastern Orthodoxy is not just a sum of liturgical peculiarities, it is an ancient and large tradition". That ancient and large tradition is entirely Catholic; there is not and never has been any authentic element of that tradition which is unacceptable to the Catholic Church. Indeed, how could there be? This tradition is based upon the common sources of Scripture and Tradition recognized by East and West: the Holy Scriptures, the decisions of the Seven Councils and the Local Councils recognized by them, the writings of the Holy Fathers, the liturgical books, the monastic teaching and practice ... none of this is alien to Catholicism.

Consider, for example, iconography: no one would deny that iconography is an essential element in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. Neither can anyone deny that throughout the iconoclast persecution, Rome stood firm in support of the Orthodox iconodules in Constantinople, nor can anyone deny that Saint Theodore the Studite, to give only one example, insisted that the East, Emperor and all, had no right to take such a decision without reference to the Bishop of Rome. At the Seventh Council, it was clear that Rome had maintained Orthodoxy and stood with the Martyrs and Confessors.

If one wants a lighter example, consider Russian liturgical music. I yield to no one in my enjoyment of Russian choral liturgical music. But who does not know that some of the most widely used Russian Orthodox composers learned their expertise in Italy? One of Bortniansky's best-loved pieces was actually written for the singing of the Pange Lingua Gloriosi. Consider the liturgical texts: it is not at all difficult to find texts in the liturgical books published by the Russian Orthodox Church which witness most eloquently to the Roman Primacy.

Nobody can "copyright" the Christian tradition, just as nobody can claim "exclusive rights" to the Saints. It is one thing to abuse someone else's tradition; that is bound to give offense - as, for example, when the League of Militant Atheists staged blasphemous parodies of the divine services, or, on a different level, when well-meaning people in Italy who do not understand the authentic tradition of iconography circulate an outrageous pseudo-icon which, to the eyes of anybody who does understand the tradition of iconography, appears to indicate that the perpetrators must think that Saint Joseph was the natural father of the Child Jesus [the people who produced this disgraceful image almost certainly do not hold to such a heresy, but their ignorance does not altogether excuse them]. But who would possibly claim that Catholics should not be "allowed" to venerate the icons of the Theotokos Odigitria, known to the West as Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and the Vladimir Theotokos, which has become very well known in recent decades? Who would forbid Catholics to venerate the Icon of the Old Testament Trinity depicted by Saint Andrew Rubliov?

I've written more on this topic, but these few thoughts will do for now!

(Archimandrite) Serge