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But there were deeper issues that exacerbated the problem. The region’s Greek Catholics had been isolated from the rest of the Catholic Church during Vatican II and its aftermath. They had not experienced the conciliar reforms or the new relationship with the Orthodox that developed outside the communist world during the persecutions. This explains why it was very difficult for many Greek Catholics to accept these new realities. Some accused the local Orthodox churches of collaborating willingly with the communist persecutors. Others continued to support pre-Vatican II notions according to which Eastern Catholics would try to attract Orthodox faithful away from their churches and into the Catholic fold. Today, however, the Holy See forbids Catholics to engage in such proselytistic activity among the Orthodox.

Many Orthodox, however, question the legitimacy of the Eastern Catholic churches and even their right to exist. They are convinced that since some Eastern Catholic churches had split from the Orthodox long ago (as a result of Catholic missionary activity), they are proselytistic in their very essence. For them, the reemergence of the Greek Catholic churches in Central and Eastern Europe is evidence, in spite of the Holy See’s declarations to the contrary, of the Catholic Church’s desire to expand at the expense of the Orthodox Church. Moreover many of these Orthodox say that as Byzantine Christians these Catholics properly belong in their Orthodox mother churches; therefore, the Holy See must take action to dissolve the Eastern Catholic churches. All this explains why, when the international commission for dialogue met at its sixth plenary session at Freising, West Germany, in June 1990, the Orthodox delegation insisted that the theological agenda be set aside and that exclusive attention be given to an analysis of the existence and activity of the Eastern Catholic churches. If the dialogue was to continue, the Catholic side had no choice but to agree to this request. A preliminary statement was released in view of a fuller elaboration of the problem that was to take place at the seventh plenary session scheduled for June 1992.

The 1992 session was delayed for a year. It finally met in June 1993 at the Orthodox monastery at Balamand, Lebanon, under the auspices of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch. The Orthodox delegation, however, was incomplete. For various reasons, the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Orthodox churches of Georgia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece and the Czech and Slovak republics were not present. Nevertheless the commission was able to finish work on a new text entitled, “Uniatism, Method of Union in the Past, and the Present Search for Full Communion.”

Now known as “The Balamand Document,” this text makes two main affirmations. The former method of uniatism is rejected. It is opposed to the common tradition of the two churches. Yet the document unequivocally affirms that the Eastern Catholic churches “have the right to exist and to act in response to the spiritual needs of their faithful.”

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Tags: Ecumenism Catholic Eastern Christianity Orthodox Church Catholic-Orthodox relations