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Family Reunions

by Msgr. Robert L. Stern

“My son is dead,” the father said, though the son was actually very much alive. The young man was raised in an Orthodox Jewish household. From the moment he decided to embrace Christianity, his father never looked on his countenance or spoke to him for the rest of his life.

What pain for both. What a price to be paid by each for fidelity to his religious convictions. The father saw his son as not only abandoning the traditions that were the fathers very lifeblood but also as rejecting the commandments and very truth of God. The son saw his father as so locked into his customs and practices that they overrode his understanding and love.

Throughout the centuries, Christians too have often read whole Christian communities out of the Church and acted as though they no longer existed. In effect, this is what the first ecumenical councils of the Church – its “family reunions” – did in confronting doctrinal controversies.

In 324 at Nicaea, the Arians were condemned. In 381 at Constantinople, the followers of Macedonius. In 431 at Ephesus, the Nestorians. This led to the estrangement of the Assyrian Church of the East from the rest of the Church.

The teachings of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 were rejected by many of the subject Christian peoples of the Byzantine Empire. As a result the Universal Church no longer counted the churches of Armenia, Egypt (with Ethiopia) and Syria as part of the world-wide Christian communion.

In 553 and 680 at Constantinople and in 787 at Nicaea, councils still wrestled with problems of doctrinal orthodoxy.

A sad result of the council held in Constantinople in 869 was the condemnation of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Photius. This aggravated the growing estrangement between the East and West. By 1054, the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople solemnly read each other out of full communion with the Church.

Ecumenical councils were convoked in the West in 1123, 1139, 1179 and 1215 in Rome; in 1245 and 1274 in Lyons; and in 1311-13 (Vienne), 1414-18 (Constance), 1431-39 (Basle-Ferrara-Florence), 1512-17 (Rome), 1545-63 (Trent), 1869-70 (Rome) and 1962-65 (Rome).

At the councils of Lyons and Basle-Ferrara-Florence there were short-lived attempts at dialogue and reconciliation with the Orthodox Church, but even so the schism between the East and West continued unabated.

A great change of heart came with the Second Vatican Council in 1962. The Catholic Church invited all the Christian churches of the world to send observers to the council. It recognized them as still living parts of the one Church of Christ, even though not in full communion with Rome.

For the first time in centuries, in spite of existing important differences, all Christians were considered as one great family, and bold steps were taken towards achieving a complete family reunion.

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Msgr. Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA



Tags: Christianity