Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Richmond, Virginia is absolutely beautiful, and, on Malvern Avenue just off Cary Street, it’s not too far from me. I wish I could have had the opportunity to visit the sanctuary of the building, which is from the outside aptly-described by the old trope “gleaming ediface.” Stark and with a design smacking of art deco, it’s a modern building housing that ancient faith, a sort of anchor for Orthodoxy in the staunchy Baptist stretch of central Virginia, a state once known for its firm Episcopalianism. I, in fact, live within four blocks of a Baptist church, an Episcopal church, a Reform synagogue, and the Cathedral seat of the Catholic Diocese of Richmond; if I up the ante to ten blocks, I can add no few than six houses of worship to that number. Long a city of churches, their number, order, and type have only increased.
What was I doing at Sts. Constantine and Helen? Engaging in some down-home, grassroots, full-on practical ecumenism. I’ve long felt that the various Christian bodies need to engage with each other on the practical level of you-and-me, people on the streeting meeting and knowing each other, not only in high-level bodies hammering out agreements on justification. But too often, that vision of low-level meeting simply becomes inter-church picnics, wherein the messy issues are avoided, so we can all meet and be friends. This is absolutely necessary and good and proper; we need to do it more, so that we can actually come to see each other as members of the one body of Christ. But the issues that separate us need to be understood and engaged as best we can.
So, my friend Patrick Hedley invited me to attend the Sts. Cyril and Methodius group, a discussion group that meets once a month consisting of both Catholic and Orthodox participants, in which we can both meet and know each other, and actually discuss to whatever extent we’re capable the problems that keep us apart and how they might be resolved, not so that we might formally end the schism — nobody is expecting a phone call from the pope or the ecumenical patriarch saying “Hey, you guys did it!” — but so that at least the healing process might start to occur in this long and painful wound.
The group is unfortunately getting pretty long in the teeth, and they want to infuse it with new blood so that it might continue; as passionate as I am about the issue, I’m unfortunately not going to be in Richmond long enough to really become a part of it. I hope there are groups in New York I might take my place in, or that I might be able to help establish one. Our Heroine, I’m looking in your direction!
But it was productive, at least insofar as it got us introduced to the existing group, got us talking and engaging with each other on, oddly enough, my pet issue: intercommunion. What, I have long wondered, can we expect to achieve if we can’t even share communion? If we can’t all take a place together at the one table? The Orthodox theologian-in-residence explained the reasoning, that I had it completely backwards and unity in faith must precede intercommunion. But I can go and receive communion at some blindly heterodox Catholic parish where some bizarre teaching is proclaimed, and its not even an issue. Why should it be between an orthodox Catholic and an orthodox Orthodox?