Thursday, July 24, 2008
This week I do not have a lecture to give, so I take this opportunity to recharge myself and contribute a little word to the mission of Christianity. Here is how I see Christianity in the enormous battles of the day including past, present and future. This is just an opinion and I may very well be wrong and stand to be corrected. The shining star rose from the East. The Sun, that is Jesus Christ, rose from the East, the son of Abraham. The East is what we call today the Middle East. And from the same East rose also Islam, thought by Eastern Christians at the time, that it is simply a deviation or a sect of Christianity. This is partly why it was accepted in the Middle East by the Christians of its day. What happened to the Eastern Churches was providential. They fell to Islam one after the other so that in one century all the Middle East was swallowed by Islam. The Byzantine Church was the last to fall in 1453. Why did it fall? It is also providential, so that no one can speak out the word of Christ other than the West, centered in Rome. Over the past 5 centuries since the fall of Constantinople, the flourishing Christian West (starting with the Renaissance and humanism, going into the Reformation and Anti-Reformation, and in the 19th century with the Enlightenment, Modernism , and now Post-modernism), has developed a civilization that conquered everywhere: The Americas and Australia, and even the Middle East again. The Catholic Church expanded everywhere except east of the Middle East. There are now over a billion Catholics worldwide. But is this enough? No. It is not enough, for the Sun must also shine in the Far East. The 20th century brought with it what we know as the Ecumenical Movement for Christian unity. The Catholic Church entered that movement with the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and with this movement she moved into an open dialogue with every philosophy, religion, and atheist thought including Buddhism and Hinduism, among others. The dialogue had hardly started when nations from East and West started another dialogue: communication in the information age climaxed with the internet, and economically, what came to be called globalization. The world now is a global village. Socially speaking, there is no more East and West. Meanwhile, the advances in modern Biblical scholarship coupled with the challenges of contemporary science swamped the Christian West. The Holy See of Rome had to face the challenges by establishing and enlarging scholarly and academic organizations in the two pressing dialogues with modern Biblical scholarship and contemporary sciences. The dialogue now is on multiple fronts: Orthodox Churches and Protestant communions for Christian unity (note that the Catholic Church recognizes the fundamental validity of the Eastern Churches); other world religions especially the monotheist Judaism and Islam but also Buddhism and Hinduism (note here the increasing understanding between the Catholic Church and Judaism as well as more dialogue with Muslim Ulamaa or scholars); atheist ideologies all over the world; modern Biblical scholarship (note here the recognition of new methods for interpreting Scriptures while staying faithful to the deposit of faith); and contemporary natural and social sciences (note here the 6 academic conferences sponsored byRome in the past 20 years and this year too). In other words, the Church is in dialogue with everyone in the world. To refocus our direction here, we can grasp a bit more detail from the past decade or two: John Paul the Great (d. 2005) made it his mission to re-evangelize the nations, and put in motion a renewal of the entire Western civilization. Pope Benedict XVI, continuing his predecessor’s policy, realized that the mission of the Church is global and so, while continuing the dialogue with mainstream Islam, he confronted the tide of Islamic Fundamentalism head-on. John Paul II went to the Middle East and with him the Catholic Church. Benedict went further, spiritually, to the East to seek the Sun that rose from there. In his recent writings he re-emphasized the old tradition of facing the East in the liturgy. This emphasis reminds me of the great tradition of the Eastern Churches, both Orthodox and Catholic. Above all, it reminds me of the vital role that the Melkite Catholic Church, to whom I belong, must play in the mission of Catholic-Orthodox full unity. The Church must go to the East. As the Sun, the Son, rose from the East, so from there must he come again. The Church went from the East to the West and must come back to the East, and from there go to the Far East before the Second Coming of the Christ. This is a great mystery, (to echo the Apostle to the nations, Paul, to whom this year is dedicated). Peter the Great, according to the prophecy of St. Malachy, is probably already here. But God only knows. Let us pray the Lord’s prayer “Our Father… Thy kingdom come. Thy Will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.” And let us finish this word with the prophetic word "Maran Atha" Come Lord! (Revelation).