Vassula's Answers the CDF through Fr. Prospero Grech
Question 2. My relationship as Orthodox Christian to the Roman Catholic Church.
You belong to the Orthodox Church and often exhort priests and bishops of that faith to acknowledge the Pope and to make peace with the Roman Church. For this, unfortunately, you are not welcome in some countries of your own persuasion. Why do you take up this mission? What is your idea of the Bishop of Rome and how do you foresee the future of Christian unity? One sometimes gets the impression in reading your works, however, that you stand above both churches without being committed to either. For example, it seems that you receive communion in both catholic and orthodox churches, but in your marital status you follow the custom of oikonomia. As I have said already, these observations are not meant as a personal censure as we have absolutely no right to adjudicate your conscience, but you understand our concern about the Catholic followers who may interpret these attitudes in a relativistic manner and are tempted to disregard the disciplines of their own church.
Motivations for taking up this work of unity.
I do not believe I would have ever had the courage or the zeal to face the Orthodoxy to bring them to understand the reconciliation our Lord desires from them if I had not experienced our Lord's presence, neither would I have endured the oppositions, the criticisms and the persecutions being done on me by them. In the very beginning of God's intervention I was totally confused and feared I was being deluded; this uncertainty was truly the biggest cross, since I never heard in my life before that God can indeed express Himself to people in our own times and had no one to ask about it. Because of this, I tried to fight it away, but the experience would not leave and later on, slowly, with time, I became reassured and confident that all of this was only God's work, because I started to see God's hand in it. This is why I stopped fearing to face opposition and criticism and have total confidence in our Lord, knowing that where I lack He will always fill, in spite of my insufficiency, and His works will end up always glorious.
Approaching the Orthodox priests, monks and bishops to acknowledge the Pope and to reconcile with sincerity with the Roman Church is not an easy task as our Lord says in one of the messages; it is like trying to swim in the opposite direction of a strong current, but after having seen how our Lord suffers in our division I could not refuse our Lord's request when asked to carry this cross; therefore, I have accepted this mission, yet not without having gone through (and still going through) many fires.
You have asked: "Why do you take up this mission?" My answer is, because I was called by God, I believed and I answered Him; therefore, I want to do God's will. One of Christ's first words were: "Which house is more important, your house or My House?" I answered, "Your House Lord." He said: "Revive My House, embellish My House and unite it."
Some of the Greek Orthodox hierarchy totally reject me, first because they do not believe me 4 , secondly because I am a woman and thirdly because a woman should not speak. Some of the monks are suspicious of me saying that I am probably a Trojan horse sent and paid by the Pope, or that I am even a Uniate. Many do not want to hear of reconciliation or ecumenism. They consider it heresy if I pray with the Roman Catholics. That is where they see it as standing above both churches without being committed to either. I am full and wholly committed to my church but it is not heresy nor a sin if I live ecumenically and pray with other Christians to promote unity. The key to unity though, according to our Lord in the writings, is humility and love. Many of the people of the churches do not have this key yet. Many of the Greek Orthodox lay people but as well as the simple priest around the corner, up to the monk in a remote monastery would call the Roman Catholic Church to this day heretic and dangerous; they are taught to believe this since their birth and it is wrong. Yet, I believe that in their rigidity they can change through a metanoia and the power of the Holy Spirit who will make them bend and through the prayers of the faithful. In our gatherings we pray to God for this change of heart.
Nevertheless, it is not a question of them alone bending. Everyone must bend in humility and love. The people of each church should be willing to die to their ego and to their rigidity and then through this act of humility and obedience to the truth, Christ's presence will be shining in them. I believe that through this act of humility, the churches' past and present failures will be washed away and unity will be accomplished. I never lose hope to approach the Orthodox and this is why I always keep returning to them to give them my testimony. My testimony is given reminding them of our Lord's words: "may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me," (Jn 17:21). In this manner, despite the obstacles, a few ecumenical prayer groups were formed in Athens and in Rhodes with Orthodox priests included in them. All these prayer groups start by praying the Rosary, then other prayers. Nevertheless, it is not only rejection I get from the Orthodox hierarchy because of the reasons I mentioned above, but our Lord has provided me with a good number of Greek Orthodox clergy friends as well.
The Bishop of Rome.
Our Lord gave me an interior vision of three iron bars symbolizing the three major Christian bodies, Catholics, Orthodox and Protestant Christians, calling their heads to meet by bending, so that they meet, but to meet they have to bend. This passage speaks of the attitude that is needed to arrive at the unity the Lord has been longing for since his prayer to his Father - "that all may be one". This passage of the TLIG messages does not pretend to speak of unity on an ontological level, indicating that there should be no differences in which extent the various Christian groups have retained the truth Christ conferred to his church. And it is not true I claim that this calling to humility amongst Christian brothers should imply a pan-Christian approach to unity and that unity should be advanced through a bargain of truth, (like a trader, selling and buying) leading to a levelling and a relativism of truth. On the contrary, I have often spoken on the importance of remaining faithful to the truth, and even more than my speaking, the message is nothing but a calling to live by the truth of the Gospel in the One Revelation of Christ, as expressed above. The writings contain many warnings against the contrary attitude, to the point of portraying a "false ecumenism" as a Trojan horse of introducing a lifeless image of Christ:
The figure daubed with assorted colours, this figure these traders are trying to make you revere to and follow is not me - it is an invention of perverted human skill to degrade the concept of My Holiness and My Divinity; it is a false ecumenism; it is a defiance of all that is holy. I suffer because of the sins of these traders (22.10.1990).
Many messages on unity keep together these two vital aspects of ecumenism: The spiritual attitude implying humility and love towards other Christians together with the un-compromised quest for the truth of Christ. One example is a passage where the Virgin Mary speaks of the fabrics of unity:
The Kingdom of God is not just words on the lips, the Kingdom of God is love, peace, unity and faith in the heart. It is the Lord's Church united in One inside your heart. The Keys to Unity are: Love and Humility. Jesus never urged you to divide yourselves - this division in His Church was no desire of His (23.09.1991).
Further down in the same passage, Jesus speaks of the truth: "Always defend to death the truth. Scathed you shall be from time to time, but I shall allow it just enough to keep your soul pure and docile" (reiterated on 05.06.1992, 25.09.1997, 22.06.1998, etc.)
I have had a few meetings with Catholic clergy in the United States, Holland and Switzerland in particular who are very liberal and very much against the Pope. I had to defend the Chair of Peter and explain it to them as well as I could through powerful messages that came from Christ, showing them how confused their minds were. In the end many of these priests came to tell me how they appreciated these clarifications. I had one or two though who did not agree telling me that I am "more Catholic than the Catholics" Although there are many unity passages that regard the unity between the churches, there are also quite a number that especially are written for a lot of Catholic clergy who are rebelling against the Pope to bring them back to faithfulness to him. Here is one early example:
I the Lord do not want any divisions in My Church. You will, for My sake, unite and under My Name love Me, follow Me and bear witness for Me. You will love one another as I love you; you will unite and become one flock under one Shepherd 5. I have, as you all know, selected Peter - giving him the authority. I have, as you all know, given him the keys of the kingdom of heaven. I have asked Peter to feed My lambs and sheep - looking after them. 6 This authority was given by Me. I have not desired you to alter My wish (19.03.1988)
Another message speaking of the future of unity puts it even clearer:
I will then place into Peter's hand an iron sceptre with which he will guard My sheep, and for those who do not know and still ask themselves 'why is it that we have to have a guide?' I tell you this - "have you ever seen or known of any flock of sheep without a shepherd? I am your Heavenly Shepherd and I have chosen Peter to keep My lambs until My return. I have given him the responsibility, so why all these disputes, why all these futile arguments? And for all those who still do not know My words, I tell you to read them in the Scriptures - they are to be found in the testimony of John, My disciple 7. I will then unite My Church and encircle you with My arms into one fold for today; as it is you are all scattered, developing too many communities, split sections. My Body you have torn apart and this CANNOT BE. I will unite you all (16.05.1988).
Other messages speak of the Pope as the Vicar of Christ or the Vicar of the Church. Here is one example:
Pray for the whole Church. Be the incense of My Church and by this I mean that you pray for all those who are proclaiming My Word, from the Vicar who is representing Me to the apostles and prophets of your days, from the sacerdotal souls and religious souls to the laymen, so that they may be ready to understand that all of you whom I mentioned are part of One Body, My Body (10.01.1990). More references in 01.06.1989, 02.03.1990, 10.10.1990, 18.03.1991, 20.04.1993, 20.12.1993, 15.04.1996, 22.10.1996, 20.12.1996).
The writings contain no references to how the role of Peter will relate to the roles of the various patriarchal sees, and so I cannot speak about this. But I am aware that the Pope himself in the Encyclical "Ut unum sint" does open up for a discussion of this sort:
It is nonetheless significant and encouraging that the question of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome has now become a subject of study that is already under way or will be in the near future. It is likewise significant and encouraging that this question appears as an essential theme not only in the theological dialogues in which the Catholic Church is engaging with other Churches and Ecclesial Communities, but also more generally in the ecumenical movement as a whole. Recently the delegates to the Fifth World Assembly of the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches, held in Santiago de Compostela, recommended that the Commission "begin a new study of the question of a universal ministry of Christian unity". After centuries of bitter controversies, the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities are more and more taking a fresh look at this ministry of unity. 8
The same encyclical confirms the necessity of East and West reuniting, allowing differences between the two communions while being in full communion:
In view of all this, the Catholic Church desires nothing less than full communion between East and West. She finds inspiration for this in the experience of the first millennium. In that period, indeed, "the development of different experiences of ecclesial life did not prevent Christians, through mutual relations, from continuing to feel certain that they were at home in any Church, because praise of the one Father, through Christ in the Holy Spirit, rose from them all, in a marvellous variety of languages and melodies; all were gathered together to celebrate the Eucharist, the heart and model for the community regarding not only spirituality and the moral life, but also the Church's very structure, in the variety of ministries and services under the leadership of the Bishop, successor of the Apostles. The first Councils are an eloquent witness to this enduring unity in diversity". 9
Although the writings do not speak of structural issues regarding East and West, there are many references to the importance of the Eastern Church. Thereby, the un-compromised underlining of the importance of the role of Peter is paired in later messages by an insight that spiritual renewal very well could be inspired by the Eastern Church. Thereby it becomes even more evident why the Body of Christ needs to breathe with both its lungs - that of the western and eastern presence of the Church:
House of the West, you have realized, through the Light of My Spirit, that a body needs its two lungs to breath freely, and that My Body is imperfect with one lung; pray that My vivifying Spirit will join you together, but what have I to suffer before! 10 (27.11.1996)
And another similar message:
pray for the house of the east and the west to join together, like two hands when joined in prayer; a pair of hands, similar, and in beauty when joined together, pointing towards heaven, when in prayer. Let those two hands, belonging to the same body, work together and share their capacity and resources with each other... let those two hands lift Me together... (15.06.1995).
Another message speaks of the role of the East in bringing the two houses together again, unifying the Body of Christ:
Listen and write: glory will shine from the Eastern bank - that is why I say to the House of the West: turn your eyes towards the East. Do not weep bitterly over the Apostasy and the destruction of your House; do not panic, for tomorrow you will eat and drink together with My shoot from the Eastern bank - My Spirit will bring you together. Have you not heard that the East and West will be one kingdom? Have you not heard that I shall settle for one date? 11
I am going to reach out My Hand and carve on a stick the words: West bank, House of Peter and all those who are loyal to him; then, on another stick I will carve: East bank, House of Paul, together with all those who are loyal to him. And when the members of the two Houses will say: "Lord, tell us what you mean now", I will say to them: "I will take the stick on which I carved Paul's name together with all those who are loyal to him and put the stick of Peter and his loyal ones, as one. I shall make one stick out of the two and I shall hold them as one; I shall bind them together with My New Name; this will be the bridge between the West and the East. My Holy Name will bind the bridge, so that you will exchange your possessions across this bridge - they will no longer practice alone, but together, and I shall reign over them all.
What I have planned shall happen, and should men say to you daughter that these signs are not from Me, tell them: "do not fear - have you not heard that He is the Sanctuary and the stumbling stone as well? The Rock that can bring down the two Houses but raise them up again as one single House?" (24.10.1994).
Again, this message takes nothing away from the role and authority of Peter, but it highlights the importance of having the eastern and western parts of the Body of Christ united so that the World may believe.
The Future of Christian Unity.
Although the message confirms the primacy of Peter, the Bishop of Rome, known in both Orthodox and Catholic tradition, it does not speak of questions of jurisdiction. I believe I have not been called to speak on this issue and so I refrain from doing so in any way.
My calling is to confirm the Pope's importance and defend his Chair against all those who tend to disobey him and rebel against him, while inspiring the construction and strengthening of the interior fabrics of unity. My primary approach to unity is that of unity through spirituality. The message is a calling for unity both intra nos and extra nos - a calling to strengthen the spiritual dynamics of unity both within the particular churches and between them.
I do not know what the future structures of the unified church will look like, as the Lord has chosen not to speak on this nor did He favour me to give me any light on this, but I believe it will come through spirituality; and I believe I have been granted a foretaste of the grace of that future unity in various ecumenical gatherings.
In March 2000, for instance, the Lord permitted our prayer groups to gather in his birthplace, Bethlehem. 450 people came from far and wide; yes, from more than 55 countries and from 12 different churches to an international meeting of prayer for peace and unity. We gathered as one single family. With us we had 75 clergy also from 12 different churches that came, but also other clergy from the Holy Land, who, hearing of this prayer meeting joined us as well. This ecumenical event was co-ordinated by some Jews and Palestinians who were touched by the writings of "True Life in God". They believed in the redemption of Christ and of his saving plan in our days and volunteered to organize this meeting. When one knows how in our days, Palestinians and Jews are fighting against each other, their reconciliation is a sign of the power of the Holy Spirit who joined those two nations to work for a meeting for peace between the divided Christians. As Scriptures say: "Peacemakers, when they work for peace, sow the seeds which will bear fruit in holiness" (Jm 3:18). This is a lesson for all of us.
We lived and had a foretaste of what unity will be like one day between Christians. We had speeches given to us from clergy of different churches on unity. Their speech resounded like they came from one voice and one mind. We sensed the great desire of all of us being one, during their talks. We saw and we watched the thirst of the laity and the clergy, they have for unity. But we sensed at the same time the great external wounds our division has produced on the Mystical Body of Christ.
The majority of us are tired of this division, because it is not according to our Lord's law of love. Christ is even more tired of seeing us divided. The cheers and acclamations of joy of all these nations who were bonded together, appealing for a complete unity among Christians exposed that this division is not only a sin but an anti-testimony as well. Yet, the biggest sin against unity is to have the dates of Easter separated. How good it will be when we all cry out together: "Christos Anesti" in one voice all in one day. We all say, "Thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven..." Jesus Christ united us together by his Blood, so how can one deny this unity? "He is the peace between us, and has made the Gentile and the Jew into one and broken down the barrier which used to keep them apart, actual destroying in his own person the hostility caused by the rules and decrees of the Law." (Ep 2:14-15). How can we say "no" to God, if He wants us to unite? Could it be because our hearts have hardened? Have we forgotten the Holy Father's words when he said: "The elements that unite us are far greater than those that divide us"? So we should take up those elements and use them to smoothen up the way to a complete unity.
The Holy Eucharist and eucharistic sharing.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church it is said with reference to St. Augustine regarding the Eucharist:
Before the greatness of this mystery [the Holy Eucharist] St Augustine exclaims: 'O sacrament of devotion! O sign of unity! O bond of charity!' The more painful the experience of the divisions in the church which break the common participation in the table of the Lord, the more urgent are our prayers to the Lord that the time of complete unity among all who believe in him may return (CCC 1398).
The Lord urges us to reconcile and reunite. As a well-known Catholic cardinal said recently to an Orthodox priest friend of mine from New York who attended the cardinal's mass in Rome, so it is my conviction that it must be possible to obtain again that union around the Lord's table between Catholics and Orthodox, as we share the same sacraments and have virtually the same faith, albeit clothed in different expressions of faith and worship. I have come to experience from the flaming love of Our Lord the depths of his desire for the perfect union of his Body and believe He is in pain over our lack of love and communion. Therefore, I have no bigger desire than to see his Body reunited and I am convinced that we, Christians, if we really love Jesus Christ, must do all that is in our power to work for the reconciliation of the separated members of Christ's body.
Meanwhile, I know this union will not come easy but only through a miracle of Our Lord. Although we must do all we can to advance unity, He has promised to give us that union that will be the Holy Spirit's work for, as I once said back in 1992, it will come as sudden as the fall of the Berlin wall: "Mercy and Justice is working with such wonders as has never happened among many generations, and Unity shall come upon you like Dawn and as sudden as the fall of communism - it shall come from God and your nations shall name it the Great Miracle, the Blessed Day in your history" (10.01.1990).
The Church of Christ is one in the sense that Christ is one and only has one Holy Body. It is the people of the church who are divided. If Christians are able to go beyond the negative obstacles that separate them, obstacles that according to Scriptures are against the fulfilment of the unity of faith, love and worship among us, the Father will hear the prayer expressed already of his Divine Son, when he said: "may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me" (Jn 17: 27).
While waiting for this grace I follow as good I can the principles in the present state of affairs and am convinced not to infringe on the conscience of the members of any church. In the question, it says the following, "one sometimes gets the impression in reading your works, however, that you stand above both churches without being committed to either..." There is no ground in the written work to get the impression that I stand above both churches. As you write it, it seems that it is more on the practical level.
As to the way I practice my faith, I am an Orthodox and am committed fully to my church. Whenever there is an Orthodox church nearby I never fail to follow its Sunday Mass, unless of course there is none, like in Dhaka, Bangladesh where I lived. Just before coming to Rome, where I live now, I lived 11 years in Switzerland. Every Sunday I went to our Orthodox Church and the Greek priest of Lausanne, Fr. Alexander Iossifides is my witness as well as the faithful who were in the church and saw me regularly, unless of course I travelled. Abroad, during my travels when a program has been set-up for me to follow and give my witness, sometimes, and I would add, rather rarely, it could happen that the Catholic priests or Bishops of the place who invited me to speak, have programmed a public Holy Mass to follow in the same place where I spoke; I then remain with the people for the Mass as it is in the program and receive Holy Communion there.
Here in Rome I live out from the centre and quite far from my Greek Orthodox Church which is in the centre of Rome. There is a Slavic Orthodox church at the Tre Fontane, which I attended but I do not understand the language. And so I allow myself once in a while, since half of the time I am away, to receive Holy Communion in the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Divino Amore which is 3 km from my place. I believe the Second Vatican Council allows me to do this when, as reiterated in the Catechism of the Catholic church says: "a certain communion in sacris, and so in the Eucharist, "given suitable circumstances and the approval of church authority, is not merely possible but is encouraged" (CCC 1399).
In the Decree Orientalium Ecclesiarum of Vatican II it states: "When Eastern Christians separated in good faith from the Catholic church, request of their own accord and are rightly disposed, they may be admitted to the Sacraments of Penance, Eucharist and Anointing..."
The Catholic Code of Canon Law states:
Catholic Ministers may lawfully administer the Sacraments of Penance, Eucharist, and Anointing of the Sick to members of the Eastern (Oriental) churches which do not have full Communion with the Catholic church, if they ask on their own for the Sacraments and are properly disposed. This holds also for members of other churches, which in the judgement of the Apostolic See are in the same condition as the Oriental churches as far as the Sacraments are concerned (Canon 844.3).
Pope John Paul II's encyclical letter "Ut unum sint" continues these assertions with reference to Orientalium Ecclesiarum:
By reason of the very close sacramental bonds between the Catholic church and the Orthodox churches, the Decree on Eastern Catholic churches Orientalium Ecclesiarum has stated: "Pastoral experience clearly shows that with respect to our Eastern brethren there should and can be taken into consideration various circumstances affecting individuals, wherein the unity of the church is not jeopardized nor are intolerable risks involved, but in which salvation itself and the spiritual profit of souls are urgently at issue. Hence, in view of special circumstances of time, place and personage, the Catholic church has often adopted and now adopts a milder policy, offering to all the means of salvation and an example of charity among Christians through participation in the Sacraments and in other sacred functions and objects". 12
As to the relationship to the churches of the Reformation things are a bit more complex. Many people of Protestant upbringing who read TLIG became Catholics due to their free choice, mainly due to the issues around the Eucharist. Jesus does not speak in the messages of the validity of their sacraments, but he urges Protestants once again to love the Mother of Jesus and to recognize the role of Peter:
Vassula, the time has come to unite My Church. Come together again beloved, come and rebuild these ancient ruins; rebuild My old foundation, a foundation established by My own Hand. Honour My Mother as I, who am The Word, and above all honour her. Would I then not desire you, who are dust and ashes, recognize Her as Queen of Heaven - honouring Her? My grief of today is to see how little My creation know of Her importance. Most of My devoted ones who are under the name of Luther and who have isolated themselves entirely, must return to Peter (22.12.1987).
In another message, Christ reprimands those Christians who fail to see the greatness of the mystery of the Eucharist and Christ's Divine Presence therein:
... so I tell those churches whose clergy have not accepted My Mystery: "come to your senses and seek Me earnestly. Master you resentment, as well, against My Mother. May every race know that My flesh and My blood come from My Mother. Yes, My Body comes from the most Holy Virgin, from pure blood; blessed be Her Name! To save all the humble of the earth who receive Me and to give them imperishable life I became Bread to give Myself to you; and through this Communion I sanctify all who receive Me, deifying them to become the flesh of My Flesh, the bones of My Bones (...) through My Divinity I deify men (...) now I am judged by men; the Garment 13 that can cover you, adorning you majestically, giving you a metamorphosis, divinizing you, is rejected by those churches who cannot comprehend My Mystery...today again I cry out from heaven: "Brothers, why are you undermining My Divinity? If you claim that you are the ones who know what is right, then why is your spirit plundering My Church? (...) I am inviting you to celebrate Mass and partake of the Divine Mystery in the manner I truly instituted (...) They affirm My might, proclaiming My fearful power, singing their praises to Me, acknowledging My Omnipotence and My mighty wonders, but I become a stumbling stone when it comes to measure the magnificence of My Divinity and of My Presence in the Eucharist (16.10.2000).
Further down in your question, you say about me receiving Holy Communion sometimes in the Roman Catholic church: "our concern about the Catholic followers who may interpret these attitudes in a relativistic manner and are tempted to disregard the disciplines of their own church." If according to the Canon Law which I have quoted above proves that I am in total concordance with the Catholic Church's canon Law, I see no reason for the Catholic people to react relativistically.
I am not in favour of divorce and am not seeking to promote the doctrine among Catholic Christians that remarriage of divorced people should be permitted. My divorce and civil remarriage was prior to my conversion. After my conversion under the light of the TLIG-messages I discovered that my marital situation was not regular. However, nobody knew about this situation except myself and it was again by myself that I deplored it publicly. I have denounced my own situation when in fact nobody knew anything about it. Having realized my mistake, I approached my church authorities in Lausanne and went through a process of having everything cleared according to Orthodox marital regulations. I am thus an Orthodox Christian at peace with my Church and its regulations as any other Orthodox Christian and as such am allowed to receive the Eucharist in my own Church and in the Catholic Church according to the principles mentioned above. I in no way disregard the marriage regulations of the Catholic Church. For your information, I attach my Marriage Certificate with this document (Attachment 1).
4 Although in our book of the doctrine of the Orthodox Church, Book I, published in 1997 by Mr. Trembelas, on p. 79 it reads: "Revelations are defined as an act taken by God by which He notifies His reasonable creatures about the mysteries of His existence, nature and will, according to their limited intellectual capacity?"