I wrote this in response to a question emailed me regarding the recent Catholic/Orthodox Joint International Theological Committees statement on ecclesiology. I offer this for your consideration and, as always, I welcome your comments. The complete text of the Ravenna statement can be found on my blog: http://palamas.blogspot.com/search?q=ravenna.
Reading through the Ravenna statement on ecclesiology, I find it to be well balanced and consistent with an Orthodox understanding of the Church. Rightly understood, and the document addresses this, there is not a single primacy in the Church, but rather primacies. Moving from the “bottom up,” each primacy becomes part of a synod with its own primate, who in terms is in another, more expansive synod with its own primate, etc. Moving from the “top down,” these different levels of primacy nest in each other—each primate having a responsibility to care for the primacy of those in the “lower” level.
For example, in our own spiritual lives, we have primacy—we are autonomous (we are NOT isolated from one another; autonomy does not negate our mutual dependence on one another). Self-rule for persons and Churches is what makes it possible our free participate in every larger community: the family, the parish, the diocese, the universal Church. On each level, there is a primacy, the family, the husband; the parish, the pastor; the diocese, the bishop; the national church, the patriarch. In the Ravenna document, the Bishop of Rome (assuming reconciliation between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches) is primate within the synod of the Pentarchy (the Five Patriarchs of Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandra and Jerusalem).
Moving from the more universal to the more particular, each primate is called upon to both lead and protect those among whom he is first: the person for his or her own spiritual life, the husband/father for his wife and children, the priest for his parishioners, the bishop for his diocese, the patriarch to his synod of bishops, the Pope of Rome (again, assuming reconciliation) for the Patriarchal Synod.
What makes this particular document interesting is (1) this is the first time the Orthodox have been willing to discuss the question of papal primacy AND (2) this is the first time the Roman Catholic Church has been willing to discuss the question of papal primacy within an explicitly synodal structure.
How seriously ought we to take all of this? It really depends on what we mean by “serious.”
Certainly there is much more to be discussed between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches so the Orthodox ought not to receive Holy Communion from Roman Catholic priests, nor should Catholics approach the Holy Chalice in Orthodox parishes. Everybody ought to go to his or her own Church this weekend please!
But, Ravenna does represent a significant convergence of East and West that, if God so wills, can bear the short-term fruit of better understanding of Catholics and Orthodox.
As I have said in other venues, before the Great Schism can be healed we—Orthodox Christians and Catholics—must desire reconciliation. For that desire to be born in our hearts we need at least some mutual understanding or sympathy for each other’s ecclesiology. On that score, I think, the Ravenna document represents a significant advance in Catholic/Orthodox ecumenical relations.
And as for the future, well that belongs to God and He will bring about the end of the Schism in His time and according to His good plans and purposes.