In the Apostolic Churches, one might consider a connection to the Apostles to be the ultimate criterion for possessing the Truth, given the fact that these Churches are called Apostolic. However, this would be an oversimplification. The Apostles also had successors who made up many of the “Early Church Fathers”. In later Church History there were more Fathers and saints, and in our present day there are spiritual fathers who still walk among us. One could ask whether these different fathers comprise different groups; e.g., the Ante-Nicene, Post-Nicene, etc.? If so, how should one view the relationship between them? How are they connected to the Apostles and their teachings, for that matter? In his neo-patristic synthesis, Fr. Georges Florovsky wrote about the importance of an Orthodox mindset that was not merely Apostolic in the sense of focusing on the Apostles or their earliest successors. It is a view that does not consider these groups as hermetically sealed off from each other, or from us. Instead, his view of the Church and theology was that the Church is Apostolic because it is ultimately Patristic, listening to the voice of the Fathers throughout the ages (Florovsky, 107). For Florovsky, the mind of the Fathers is something not to be connected to based on its antiquity, for many heresies could lay claim to being quite old (Florovsky, 105-106). Rather, Florovsky argued that the mind of the Fathers is something that could be seen from the life of the early Church, and continues on to the present day (Florovsky 101-103). Instead of viewing Orthodoxy as being tied to antiquity per se, the neo-patristic synthesis sees a harmony throughout the ages, wherein the Holy Spirit guides the Church. Therefore, the clarion call to finding the mind of the Fathers is not to go “to the Fathers” in a bygone age, but is instead to go “with the Fathers” into all ages, including our own (Florovsky 109-112).
This perspective that the Fathers are not merely an ancient and lost class can be borne out in an Eastern Catholic context in two critical ways that are the focus on this essay. First, the mind of the Fathers is something that should be considered from a negative perspective, as something that has been lost or weakened in our Churches. So often, Eastern Catholics look at the dogmas issued in councils (both pre- and post-Schism) as determinative of what it means to be a good Catholic, Byzantine or otherwise. Accepting dogmas is truly important, but there is more to the faith than dogma. We must bear in mind as Eastern Christians, our venerable ancestral traditions have been neglected at times, (as noted in Orientalium Ecclesiarum 6, and elsewhere).
The Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation from Pope Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini, points out two concrete areas where this is especially important for our future as Byzantine Catholics. First, there is the matter of taking faith and not making it focused on the bare minima that are required to please the Lord. Instead, our traditions of praying the divine praises leads us to a higher set of services beyond Sunday Divine Liturgy, through services such as Saturday Evening Vespers – unfortunately, in many Eastern Catholic parishes, Saturday Evening Vespers which usher in Sunday tend to be eclipsed by Vesperal Divine Liturgies, which can separate congregations based on who attends Saturday night vs. Sunday morning. This practice also deprives the faithful of the fullness of each service. In Verbum Domini we hear a call to increase the practice of praying Vespers fully, as the whole service is not prayed in a Vesperal Divine Liturgy (Verbum Domini, 62). Through praying Vespers, and through increasing other services such as Matins, Eastern Catholics can move away from a minimalistic faith practice and move ever closer to the mind of the Fathers. Secondly, when reflecting upon Marian prayer, Verbum Domini calls for all Catholics to embrace Eastern Christian prayers such as the Akathist (Verbum Domini, 88). While the Rosary is a beautiful and venerable way to Pray to the Mother of God, if Eastern Catholics are not praying the Akathist and other Eastern hymns, why will Latin Rite Catholics pray these prayers? That some Eastern Catholic parishes may pray the Rosary corporately is not a negative thing per se, but when it is done to the exclusion of our own patrimony, this absence of fervent and authentic Eastern prayer life is a negative for the whole Church.
This reemphasizes the importance of documents such as Orientale Lumen, which stress that the Light of the East shines to the whole world (Orientale Lumen, 1). It highlights that Eastern Catholics need to embrace their particular genius and share it with the whole world. Rather than pointing to our faith as that of bygone days that have nothing to do with today, we as Eastern Catholics must shine with our own light that is the same light as those of our Holy Fathers and give the message of the Gospel to all peoples. All of this points to the fact that our liturgical life and praxis constitutes a unique mindset. Moving beyond the older views that all Christians must be identical in expressing the faith through one theology, the Catholic Church teaches that a multiplicity of genuine theologies is to be expected, as this multiplicity reflects of the multi-faceted harmony of truth (ITC, Ch1, #5). This kind of thinking inspired Blessed Pope John Paul II to use the metaphor of the East and the West as lungs in the Church, as the diversity of theologies and perspectives represent multiple points of view (UUS, 54). Despite having a past where Eastern Catholics have imitated their Latin Rite Brethren, our answering the call to walk with the Fathers will include a more genuine life living according to our own patrimony.
Just as Fr. Florovsky calls upon the Orthodox to walk “with” the Fathers (Florovsky 101-103), as Eastern Catholics we also need to ask ourselves how we are cultivating the mind of the Fathers positively in our parish life, and beyond. As noted in Orientale Lumen, one great genius of the East is its embracing of monasticism (OL, 9). An important question that considers the neo-patristic synthesis from a positive angle is whether we are positively fostering monasticism (and all vocations in general) in our Churches (OL, 27). Through an increase in seeing our vocations as a gift from God where we offer ourselves to Him, and through moving away from spirituality that is not genuinely ours, may the Holy Spirit guide and grow our Eastern Catholic Churches through Christ, who is our Light.
Florovsky, Georges. The Authority of the Ancient Councils and the Tradition of the Fathers. The Collected Works of Georges Florovsky, Vol. I, Bible, Church, Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View. 1987 pp. 93-103. Print.
Florovsky Georges. St. Gregory Palamas and the Tradition of the Fathers. The Collected Works of Georges Florovsky, Vol. I, Bible, Church, Tradition: An Eastern Orthodox View. 1987 pp. 105-120.
International Theological Commission. Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles and Criteria. 2012 Web.
Orientale Lumen (The Light of the East) 1995. Web.
Orientalium Ecclesiarum 1964. Web.
Ut Unum Sint 1995. Web.
Verbum Domini 2010. Web.