Category Archives: Ecumenical

Some Reflections on the Approaching Great and Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church

by Rev. Dr. Andrew Louth

It seems to me of paramount importance that the Synod, as His All-Holiness asserts, should show that the Orthodox Church wants genuinely to communicate with the world. We have treasures to share, in the Gospel, and the wisdom acquired through many centuries of believers following in our Lord’s footsteps and living in the grace of the Resurrection. It is also true that many in the West want to hear our voice, what we have to tell them of Christ. It will be a betrayal of everything we hold dear if the result of the Synod is that the world perceives the Orthodox apparently concerned solely with themselves in a fearful and introspective way.

Nevertheless, like many people, I have some reservations about the synod.  First, eleven days seems minuscule in comparison with the 1200 and more years we have to make up.  Secondly, the preparatory documents have been unavailable until very recently, and seem to have been prepared by a small circle of people, mostly (or exclusively?) associated with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, whereas one would have expected widespread consultation beforehand.  Thirdly, the ecclesiology of voting by patriarchates is unprecedented and unsustainable, apparently overriding the duty laid on each bishop ‘rightly to discern the word of your truth’, as we pray in the anaphora of the Divine Liturgy, citing 2 Tim 2:15.  Nevertheless, we need to recognize that the only voice that counts at the synod is that of the Holy Spirit, so, despite all the fumbling of human preparation, it is important that we should earnestly pray that the fathers of the synod will hear and attend to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Although the preparatory statements tend too much towards blandness, they seem to be on the right lines, with some reservations mentioned below. The emphasis on the Church’s concern for the world in which we live today is vital, and the presentation of the life of the Church as springing from the Eucharist is expressed well.  So too the emphasis on ecumenism and a readiness to work and pray together with our fellow Christians, especially those whose baptism we recognize: all that is important. Although I can well understand the logic of the position of those who deny that there are other Christians than the Orthodox—since we, as Orthodox, hold that the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church that we confess in the Symbol of Faith is identical with the Orthodox Church—it seems to me that it is a logic isolated from life.  We must (and in practice do) recognize that there are Christians who find their ecclesial identity in other communions than the Orthodox Church. Do any of us really believe, for example, that Catholics are not Christians, and that the see of Rome is vacant, Pope Francis being no more than an unbaptized pagan? It makes nonsense of our behaviour: one Sunday recently I worshipped in San Teodoro in Rome, a church given to the Greeks by the pope some years ago. Should we have refused this gift? When we look at the history of the Church, we are deceiving ourselves if we think that there is one community completely innocent, namely the Orthodox Church, and that division is simply the result of the sins of others: Catholics, Protestants, or whoever.  The principle of ecumenism lies in repentance, expressed clearly in the words of his elder brother, recalled by the Elder Zosima in Dostoevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov: ‘each of us is guilty in everything before everyone, and I most of all’.

Some of the preparatory statements could have been more radical. The statement on fasting is banal; it would have been useful in the context of understanding fasting in a non-Mediterranean world—the point raised by the statement—to have been reminded of the way fasting is justified by the Fathers: commitment to greater simplicity in our eating, an exercise in detachment, an opportunity to greater commitment to almsgiving. The statement on marriage fails to address any of the burning pastoral issues: what later commitment to marriage demands of young people; how marriage is to cope with a society in which men and women are much more equal; the challenges of the capacity to control pregnancy for the practice of sexuality. The section on War and Peace is all right as far as it goes, but makes no mention of conscientious objection to participation in war.

Finally, the statements on the diaspora and autonomy seem to me to ignore the changes in political society between the world of the Mediterranean in late antiquity and the world in which we live today. The ideal of one bishop leading the Eucharistic community in a city reflected the world of the early Christian centuries. The world today is very different, but the statements simply see the diaspora as a passing phase, leading to a worldwide network of autonomous/autocephalous ‘local’ churches. That, on the one hand, ignores the way in which the experience of diaspora enabled many to realize the Pauline sense of Christians as essentially aliens in this world, ‘every foreign country is theirs and every country foreign’, as the epistle to Diognetos put it, and, on the other hands, ignores the way in which many people, not least Christians, move from country to country, as well as the way in which ‘cities’ nowadays are vast amalgams of communities, so that the Christian community in a modern city is really, at best, an imagined community, made up of real communities without necessarily any territorial base. We need an ecclesiology to measure up to that, not an attempt to restore an ancient ecclesiology that no longer corresponds to the social reality in which we live.

 Andrew Louth is Emeritus Professor of Patristic and Byzantine Studies at Durham University.

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A Christian perspective on Islam

Not much time has passed since Europe was last in danger of being overrun by Islam. In 1453, Constantinople, the Eastern bulwark of Christianity, was captured by the Ottomans. In1529 and again in 1683 the Turks stood at the gates of Vienna. The struggle to free Belgrade lasted almost 200 years, and it was only a short time before the First World War that the last Balkan countries were able to free themselves from the Ottoman rule. It is naive, however, to assume that Islam and Christianity were wrestling with each other in that region for six hundred years. The fact is that empires are not built on any religion but on economic and military powers. Christianity and Islam both became servants of empire, the first of the Roman Empire and the second of the Ottoman Empire.

Many Christians have forgotten that Syria and North Africa were once the heartland of the Christian world, but were overrun and fell under Arab control during the first Islamic invasions between 632 and 732 AD. Arab armies swept into Europe and stood within 200 kilometers south of Paris, and near Geneva, too. If Charles Martel had not stood firm, we might all be Muslims today.

Again many Christians are pondering the questions: What is Islam? Who is Allah? What relationship does Allah have to Jesus Christ and his Church?

Allah in the Thought and Lives of Muslims

A Muslim’s relationship to Allah can be seen in the five daily prayers, which belong to the five pillars of Islam. “Islam” means surrender, submission or subjugation.

If it were possible to watch from space, we could see the prayer ritual of Islam sweeping across our globe like a mighty wave five times a day, as millions of Muslims bow to the ground in worship. At dawn, as soon as one can distinguish between a white and a black thread, the prayer of the Muslim begins in the Philippines. The first wave of worship surges over Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, India, then Iran and Turkey. Finally it reaches Europe, at which time the second wave of worship begins at noon for the Muslims in China. This new wave will have reached India and the forty-five million Muslims in Central Asia just as a third wave will have started at 3 p.m. for afternoon prayers in the Far East. These three waves of worship follow each other successively, molding and determining life under the Islamic culture. Then, as dawn is breaking on the East Coast of America with its Morning Prayer, Muslims in the Nile Valley are bowing down in the heat of noon prayer and in Pakistan men are gathering in their mosques for afternoon prayer. When the final wave of the Muslim night prayer begins in the Far East two hours after sunset, the rays of the setting sun touch the worshipers in the Ganges Delta, while pilgrims in Mecca bow down for afternoon prayer before the black stone in the Ka’ba. At that moment the second prayer wave has already reached faithful Muslims in the high Atlas Mountains in Morocco, while the first wave breaks with the early morning dawn in the Rocky Mountains of America.

These five waves of prayer unite millions of Muslims in worship. Many Muslims pray earnestly, disciplining themselves by repeating their prayers 17 times a day. Early in the morning, the Muezzins call from the minarets: “Arise to prayer! Arise to success! Prayer is better then sleep!” Everyone who serves Allah hopes to receive a reward from him. Muslims thank Allah because he has already granted faith, which leads them to pray and keep the law in order to have the goodwill of Allah bestowed upon them.

Islam, then, is a religion based on keeping the Law of God. Prayer is an obligation. In Saudi Arabia a visitor may observe policemen forcing passers-by into mosques during the prayer times, so that the wrath of Allah may not descend on the country because of neglected prayer.

There is also in Islam a deep longing for purity. Before each prayer time, every Muslim performs a compulsory ablution — the washing of hands, arms, feet, mouth, face and hair. Those who know something of Judaism will see the parallel with the Pharisaic ablutions. Everyone must be clean before entering Allah’s presence to pray.

A sentence from the al-Fatiha in the main prayer for all Muslims reads, “Guide us in the straight path, the path of those whom thou hast blessed, not of those against whom thou art wrathful, nor of those who are astray,” a cry expressing the desire for guidance and a total dependence on Allah. A Christian cannot deny the faithful intent of Muslims to serve God. On the contrary, their discipline, sincerity and consistency in praying can be an example to us. Without a doubt, every true Muslim desires to serve God with all his heart. He calls on Allah in his prayers; he wants to honor him; he fights for him and submits his entire being to him.

The Beautiful Names of Allah

“Allah” is the Semitic name of God which comes originally from El, Eloh and Elohem. What is the Muslim concept of Allah? Whom do they worship? In his struggle against polytheism, Muhammad waged a merciless campaign against all gods, idols and images. His outcry was: “Allah is One! All other gods are nothing!” He had accepted the basic monotheistic faith of the Jews who were living in the Arabian Peninsula after being exiled from their homeland by the Romans. Influenced by them, Muhammad freed the Arab world from idolatry. The first half of the Islamic creed makes a sharp distinction between the Oneness of God and the claims of religions and magical cults which teach that other gods exist. Millions of Muslims confess daily, “There is no god save Allah!” as the core of the Islamic faith. Any theological assertion that contradicts this is rejected without question.

Muhammad not only testified to Allah’s uniqueness, but described him with many names:. Islamic theologians have systematized all his statements into “the 99 most beautiful names of Allah”. Sorting through these names of Allah according to their significance and frequency, moves us closer to the heart of Islam. Allah is the Omniscient One with infinite wisdom who hears all and sees all, understands all and encompasses everything. He both builds up and destroys. He is the exalted one above everything, great and immeasurable, magnificent and almighty, without equal. He is the living one, ever-existing, unending, everlasting, the first and the last, the one and the only one, the incomparably beautiful one. He is praiseworthy and excellent, the holy one, light and peace. He is the true reality and the foundation of everything, who created everything out of nothing by the strength of his word. He brought everything into being, and to him we shall all return. He creates life and causes death (Sura al-A`raf 7:44; note that Eastern Christianity does not accept that God created death). He will raise the dead and unite the universe. Allah is the sovereign lord and king to whom the universe belongs. He saves whom he wills and condemns whom he wishes. Above all, Allah is called the compassionate and merciful one, and yet he is also the avenger. He has recorded everything and will be the incorruptible and indisputable witness on the day of judgement.

The authority of Allah may open the door to success or lock it. Nothing takes place without his will. He has no need of any mediator. Everything depends directly on him. He is also benevolent and patient, faithful and kind to Muslims, the giver of all gifts. From him alone comes provision for all mankind. He who possesses everything makes people wealthy and protects all who glorify him. He is guardian over all who worship him. Allah acknowledges those who repent, and forgives because he is the forgiving one. He is gracious toward Muslims.

Often, the names of Allah are ascribed to him in a spirit of wishful thinking rather than confident faith. The more oppressive attributes create fear and drive people to do everything possible to keep the law. Poverty and illness are regarded as signs of Allah’s wrath for secret sins. By the same token, riches, success and esteem in Muslim society are taken as indications of favor. Some Muslims say, “Because we have remained faithful to Allah for 1300 years, he has rewarded us with the oil.”

The wealth of the divine names of God can be discovered only in Sufism. Ordinary Muslims accept that Allah cannot be proved to exist, or described. One can only sense him through experience. A pious Muslim confirms his faith that God is beyond our understanding by the common words, “Allahu akbar! God is great!” This statement, repeated millions of times each day, is an abridged form of the Islamic creed. With this testimony Khomeini’s revolutionary guards ran blindly into mine fields knowing they would be torn to shreds. Yet it is not a complete sentence. Its literal meaning is “Allah is greater!” Every listener should complete the thought: Allah is wiser than all philosophers, more beautiful than the most fascinating view, stronger than all atomic and hydrogen bombs together, and greater than anything we know. Allah is the unique, and inexplicable one — the remote, vast and unknown God. Everything we may think about him is incomplete, if not wrong. Allah cannot be comprehended. He comprehends us. We are slaves who have only the privilege to worship him in fear.

Islam stands for renunciation of the rationalism that prevails in Europe and America. For a long time it was the characteristic of Islamic theology that Allah could not be described philosophically. Understanding this brings us to a crucial statement expressed by the Islamic theologian al-Ghazali, who meditated at length on the ninety-nine excellent names of God. He wrote that these names can mean everything and yet nothing. One name of Allah can negate another and the content of one may be included in the next. No one can understand Allah, so devout believers can only worship this unknown God and live before him in fear and reverence, observing all his laws in strict obedience.

Islam — a theocentric culture

What are the practical consequences of such an understanding for the daily life of a Muslim? The image of a great, all-embracing Lord has conditioned the home, education, work and politics. “Show me your God and I will explain to you why you live as you do.” Similarly Genesis tells us, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him.” (1:27 ) This means that the concept of God is the pattern and measure of the culture associated with it.

In Islam, the father of the family is not an equal partner with his wife, but the patriarch of the house, holding all rights and authority. The children belong to him alone. He supplies provisions and grants no insight into his financial situation. His wife is not necessarily a life-time companion with equal rights, but often just a means of satisfying his physical desires, sometimes merely a baby factory. There are exceptions, of course, where noble and sensitive Arabs open themselves to the influence of world-wide humanism or where some resolute wives exert influence over their husbands. Christendom has also influenced Arab customs to some extent. In general, however, Islam is a man’s world where women must stay in the background, not seen in mosques, coffee bars, or public life. Khomeini in particular used the resurgence of Islam to reduce women to medieval subjection.

In schools, too, until a few years ago, the teacher gave instruction like a patriarch, ruling over his pupils and forcing the lessons down their throats. Any pupil who could not fully repeat the subject matter was punished. The main goals of education in many Islamic schools are not understanding, individual thinking and development of character, but acceptance and conformity. This is closely associated with the concept of thought in the Islamic religion, since a Muslim is forbidden to think critically about the Qur’an. He must accept it and memorize it. Being thus filled with the spirit of Islam, he walks in accordance with Allah’s law in his daily life. (How many Christians know even one of the Gospels by heart? Yet many Muslims have mastered the whole of the Qur’an.)

The forms of educational instruction and thought in Islam are based upon the picture of Allah given by Muhammad. A person is not guided to become active and responsible, but to submit himself passively to his fate. This is why Muslim emotions often flare up uncontrollably, for their entire education amounts to a submission of will and integration into an Allah-centered society. Again, in politics, democracy does not appear as the best model for social organization. Rather Allah, the king and lord over all, is the unconscious pattern for many sultans and dictators. The strong man who swept away corruption with an iron hand, who brought renown to Islam, has always been admired. (In Arab schools one can find children with such unusual first names as Bismarck, Stalin, de Gaulle and Nasser, because the parents wish and hope that there will be a glorious future for their offspring in the spirit of such historic personalities.) Complaisance and compromise mean weakness and incompetence.

It is not surprising, then, that Nasser and Khomeini were the dominating figures in the Near East. While Nasser attempted to combine an Arab socialism with Islam in order to meet the attack of atheistic communism, Khomeini trod a still more radical path by attempting to establish the kingdom of Allah on earth in Shi’ite countries. The ultimate aim of Khomeini’s revolution was not merely the removal of the shah or the elimination of Christian, capitalistic or communistic principles from among his people, but the reinstatement of an Islamic theocracy in which Allah prevailed in every area of life. This brought a “mullah state” into existence, where more people were killed in a few years in the name of Allah and Islam than during the long reign of the shah. Enemies of the Islamic revolution were no longer even regarded as people. Khomeini himself declared, “In Persia no people have been killed so far — only beasts!”

As the Islamic spirit cannot tolerate any other gods beside Allah, Islam will find no rest until all people have become Muslims. This mission-consciousness is based on the Islamic confession of faith which states that “there is no God except Allah.” Thus there can be no real peace on earth except through Islam.

We must confess, however, that Christians Crusaders who came to the Near East left behind them a trail of blood, engraving on the consciousness of Muslims the image of Christians as aggressive militants. Yet all “holy wars” are in direct conflict with the teaching of Jesus, who said, “Do not resist evil! Put your sword away! Love your enemies!” Christ never commanded his followers to fight in religious wars; rather, he forbade them any demonstration of violence. Muhammad, on the other hand, repeatedly fought in person alongside his fighters until they conquered Mecca and the whole of the Arabian Peninsula. The spread of Islam is based on the sword, holy war being considered a direct command of Allah. This is why there is still in Islam the potential for holy war. (Sura al-Baqara 2:245). In Islam, there is no separation between throne and altar, between politics and religion. Mosques are often the starting point for political upheaval. Friday sermons are not confined to the fostering of faith and spiritual life, but may stir up the people for political conflict in the name of Allah.

According to the Islamic portrayal of Allah, nothing exists outside the province of his omnipotence, and anyone not surrendering voluntarily must be brought into subjection either by cunning strategy, economic persuasion or revolutionary force. Islam demands surrender of all areas of life to Allah’s spirit and the Qur’an’s control over all thought and conduct. Bedouin tribes once said to Muhammad, “We believe in Allah ” But he replied, “You have not believed until you say, ‘We have submitted ‘”

Islam cannot compromise with any “isms” for any period of time. As its history unfolded, strong impulses repeatedly flowed out of the Qur’an, which overcame ideas and concepts that had penetrated the Islamic culture from Europe, Persia and India, resulting in an all-pervading legalistic religion. The ultimate aim was nothing less than the establishment of Allah’s kingdom on our earth.

Allah in the Light of the Christian Faith

Islam has recovered much ground and expanded in the last ten years, making a substantial thrust into the cultures of Christianity, Hinduism, communism and the African cults. When we as Christians meet Muslims and try to understand them, we should not forget that many of them are genuine worshipers who serve their God with dedication. We Christians should never despise their deep aspirations, but should love and respect every Muslim who sincerely worships Allah.

This, however, does not absolve us from the obligation to seek the truth about Islam. Our respect for Muslims leads us to compare the Qur’an and the New Testament, which for us is the only standard of truth. If one compares the 99 names of Allah in Islam with the names of God in the Bible, one must acknowledge that the Allah of the Muslims is not in harmony with our God. If someone says, “Your God and Islam’s God are the same,” he does not understand who Allah and Christ really are, or glosses over the deeply rooted differences.

Allah — No Trinity

In the Arabic language, the name Allah can be understood as a sentence: al-el-hu. ‘El’ is an old Semitic name for God meaning ‘the strong and mighty’. The Islamic name, Allah, corresponds to the Hebrew name Elohim. Although the Hebrew name contains the possibility of a plural (hum), the name of Allah (hu) can only be singular. Thus, Allah in Islam is always only one and never a unity of three. It is unthinkable for a Muslim to believe in the existence of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the New Testament sense. Consequently, the Islamic confession of faith not only declares the uniqueness of Allah but at the same time firmly rejects the divinity of Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Allah — No Father

The name ‘Father’, the revelation of God’s innermost reality, is an indispensable element of the Christian faith. God has bound himself to us as our eternal Father. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God.” (1 John 3:1) In dialogue with Muslims and Jews, we must scrutinize anew statements of Jesus in the New Testament concerning the name “Father” for God. This name is mentioned at least 164 times in the Gospels. Christ did not preach about a distant God whom no one can know or comprehend, nor did he teach us to approach him with a trembling fear as the unapproachable holy Judge. Instead he gently moved the veil from before the God of the Old Testament and revealed him to us as the Father. He did not teach us to pray to Elohim, Yahweh, or the holy Trinity, but placed on our lips the loving name — “our Father.” Christ thus shared his own privilege with us, the unworthy ones. Through him we have become children of God, a relationship which Muhammad emphatically rejects (Sura al-Ma’ida 5:18).

If we compare the occasions when Christ used the name “God” with the occasions when he used the name “Father,” we are in for a surprise. Speaking to outsiders, demons or his enemies, Jesus spoke of the hidden God, the great and powerful Lord. But when he prayed or talked in the intimate circle of his followers, he revealed the innermost secret of God — his Fatherhood. For this claim Jesus was convicted of blasphemy when the high priest Caiaphas asked him, “I adjure you by the living God, that you tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” (Mt 26:63) For Caiaphas to refer to God as “Father” would have been scandalous to the Jews, so he asked Jesus if he considered himself the “Son of God,” implying God’s Fatherhood. Christ confirmed his confession. His first words on the cross were, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” But as the Father veiled his face the Son cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Yet the crucified One held on to the reality of God’s Fatherhood in the midst of his suffering and died with the words: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

The author, a member of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship living in Britain, prefers to remain anonymous. His homeland is a country with a Muslim majority.

Orthodox Ecumenism

A Contradiction in Terms?

by Peter Bouteneff

Just this past May, the Georgian Orthodox Church took an important step in its life and in the life of the global Orthodox Church. Under pressure from monastic groups who were threatening schism, the church’s Holy Synod arrived at the decision, which surprised members across the entire spectrum of “liberal” and “conservative” views, to withdraw from the World Council of Churches (WCC) and from the Conference of European Churches (CEC).

At his visit to the WCC last year, the Catholicos and Patriarch of All Georgia, Elia II, a wise and irenic man and a past president of the WCC, voiced his support for the Council and his gratitude for the help which his Church receives from and through it. In addition, in conversation with Orthodox colleagues on the staff of the Council, he spoke of the intense need in his church and in the wider Orthodox world for literature — pamphlets, books, etc. — which would explain simply, pastorally and unpolemically the rationale, or even the necessity, for Orthodox involvement in the ecumenical movement. He noted that while there was a substantial amount of material angrily disparaging what it called “ecumenism,” there was virtually nothing available to explain in a balanced way what the Orthodox are attempting to achieve in their involvement with bodies such as the WCC.

The tensions within the Georgian Church are certainly not unique to that locality. Last February I attended a special meeting of the Theological Commission of the Russian Orthodox Church, as it prepared its recommendations to the Synod of Bishops meeting later that month. There I experienced first hand the acute split felt within that Church (thanks be to God that it is not, at least for the moment, a formal split or schism) between those who were in favor of the continued encounter with non-Orthodox churches through national and international bodies, and those who were against. Churches throughout the Orthodox world are facing the same questions and, to a great variety of degrees, the same “pro and contra” division. Nearly everywhere the imbalance is the same: numerous pamphlets, books and videotapes attacking the “heresy of ecumenism,” and virtually nothing to explain why ecumenism, as properly defined, is not only unheretical but a necessary task of the Church.

The conclusions of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Theological Commission as well as its Bishop’s Synod, both of which contain members of pro- and anti-ecumenical leanings, were in favor for the time being of remaining full members of the WCC and the CEC. Significantly, both the Commission and the Synod made a specific point of saying that decisions of how and whether to take part in ecumenical organizations must be taken on a pan-Orthodox level. A similar resolution has just been taken by the Serbian Orthodox Church: to remain for now, and to take the final decision together with the other Orthodox Churches. This is of course immensely appropriate in that (a) relations between Orthodox and non-Orthodox are clearly a matter of reflection for the whole Orthodox Church, (b) all canonical Orthodox Churches, with the recent exception of Georgia, are in fact full members of the WCC, and (c) ecumenical involvement has been explicitly affirmed in the Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conferences as well as other high-level pan-Orthodox fora. As all the Orthodox Churches necessarily come to reflect upon questions of ecumenical involvement, it is useful to gain some perspective on the literature and views of those who oppose it.

The character and sources of anti-ecumenical arguments

The Orthodox Church sees itself as the very One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church we confess in the creed. It represents the Church in unbroken continuity with the Church of the Apostles; the Church from which, for doctrinal and political reasons, other bodies have broken away over time. This is how the Orthodox Church understands itself.

While many Orthodox see that these facts do not preclude but rather necessitate some form of continued contact with non-Orthodox Christians, others feel that our formal and informal encounters with the non-Orthodox represent a dilution of our purity, a compromise of doctrine, a sell-out. Hence, the driving force behind much of the anti-ecumenical literature is a kind of ecclesiological isolationism. In some cases — in Russia, for example — this can derive from and breed on a parallel sense of national isolationism and self-sufficiency. A representative quotation from a recent article in the Russian journal, Moskva:

…we all must learn to defend the holy things of Orthodoxy not only from external enemies, the overt enemies of God and Russophobes, but also from enemies within who are undermining the religious foundation of the Russian national consciousness while imagining themselves to be “reformers” of our church life.

Any Orthodox who is involved in the ecumenical movement knows that ecumenism as practiced today is by no means a problem-free endeavor, and it benefits from constructive, honest criticism. But this serious prophetic opportunity is missed when it is obscured by a crude polemicism, exaggeration, misrepresentation of facts, and by finger-pointing. The literature under discussion tends to be selective in its approach to Church history and doctrine, ignoring the notable attempts in history to reconcile ecclesiastical divisions, to maintain contact with the severed brethren. Significantly, it emanates most often from groups who have placed themselves out of communion with the canonical Orthodox Church. These self-proclaimed “churches in resistance,” together with some of the monastic communities in the canonical Orthodox Church, are the source of the large majority of the material which is published and disseminated in opposition to Orthodox ecumenical involvement. The sometimes frenzied spirit of these materials is contagious; particularly in Russia it finds its way into the popular media, generally that of the right wing. It is also characteristic of isolated groups within all of our Churches.

“Ecumenism” as heresy

Interestingly, much of the logic presented for calling “ecumenism” a heresy rests upon a consistent and serious oversight. “Ecumenism,” as it is defined by its detractors (I draw below from a brochure), consists in the view that:

…the full truth is not to be found in any one single Church but partially in all the Churches. A little bit of it is to be found in the Orthodox Church, a little bit in the Protestant Churches… Now if we put all these Churches together and create an Ecumenical Church we also unite all the pieces of the faith and the truth, and come up with the whole truth of Christ. The Ecumenical Church, the Ecumenists claim, is a tree with many branches. This is the way they try to deceive the simple-minded.

The “heresy” of ecumenism, therefore, in the definition of such literature, is co-equal with the heresy of the branch theory of the Church. It is by no coincidence that the letters from the Georgian monasteries to their Patriarch threatening schism say exactly the same thing about ecumenism:

Ecumenism is heresy! Moreover, it is the heresy of heresies. Of all the errors which the so-called “ecumenism” comprises, the most fundamental and profound is its error concerning the very nature of the Church itself… The so-called “World Council of Churches” already in its very name contains this contradiction of the Orthodox Christian doctrine concerning the Church. And in its “Branch Theory” it totally rejects this dogma… By participating in its activities, the Orthodox Church declares her agreement with all its teachings.

The logic is plain: Orthodox participants in ecumenical organizations are “ecumenist heretics,” as they are all adherents of “ecumenism,” meaning the branch theory of the churches.

If the authors of such materials cared to examine the foundational documents of the WCC (e.g., the Toronto Statement of 1950), they would find explicit safeguards against association of the Council with any ecclesiology, notably the Branch Theory. It was precisely such safeguards which enabled the Orthodox to continue or initiate participation in the Council, which itself constitutes nothing more than a federation of ecclesiastical bodies, with no “teachings” of its own and no policy-making authority over any church. To my knowledge, no Orthodox participant in ecumenical activities holds any kind of “branch”-style ecclesiology.

Yet whether through carelessness or through deliberate misinformation, most anti-ecumenical literature consistently fails to distinguish between the “branch” ecclesiology, which has always been foreign to the Orthodox Church, and inter-Christian dialogue and cooperation. The decided approach of such literature is to hold on to “ecumenism” as an Orthodox swear word, and to consign all Orthodox participants in the ecumenical movement to “heretics,” whether these be laypersons, clergy, or the Ecumenical Patriarch.

If the authors of anti-ecumenical literature could concede on the basis of sheer fact that the branch theory is one thing, and Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement is another, might there be the possibility of some kind of reconciliation between “pro” and “contra”? If those who decry ecumenism on the basis of one particular definition of it would be willing to see it rather as many others do — namely as meaning the encounter of Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christians, where possible and appropriate, through dialogue, cooperative relief efforts, and even through periodic shared (non-sacramental) prayers — might they then see “ecumenism” as unheretical? Surely this would be a start in healing an ever-growing rift within our Church’s life.

Unfortunately, while defining our terms carefully is always useful, it does not, in this case, address all the disagreements between us. For there are those who believe that they are most faithful to the canons, councils and Fathers of the Church in spurning any and all relations with non-Orthodox, branch theory or no branch theory. There are those who believe that all non-Orthodox are in the patristic category of “heretics” (a category which in fact has no fully consistent definition in Church history) and dwell in an undifferentiated state of gracelessness. The canons which forbid “prayer with the heretics,” therefore, are interpreted as referring not to the Gnostics or Manichaeans, but to Roman Catholics and Protestants, and therefore if an Orthodox so much as recites the Lord’s Prayer with a Lutheran he is seen to have disobeyed the canons. Inspired by the Fathers at their most polemical and largely forgetting them at their most irenic and inclusive, treating the Church’s canons in a monolithic and homogeneous way, seeing them not as living tradition but as a dead letter, some Orthodox do not acknowledge grace and salvation outside the canonical borders of the Orthodox Church. To the adherents of such views, ecumenism by anyone’s definition is heresy.

Two starting points

Aside from the misunderstandings about what the word “ecumenism” actually means and about what the World Council of Churches actually is, the disagreement between pro- and anti-ecumenism rests in the difference between two approaches, or starting points, with regard to the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox. One place to start is the exclusiveness of the Orthodox Church. Here one defines the Church and its life by what it is not and looks at the other with suspicion, noting almost exclusively what is wrong in his faith and practice. The other starting point is to consider the inclusiveness of the Orthodox Church. It is the True Church, and here one rejoices in all truth found outside its canonical fold. Here one looks at the other to see what is right and true in another’s belief despite his formation in a confession which is not fully orthodox, and seeks also to work constructively on what is untrue there.

The difference also comes down to how one perceives the limits of the Church, and here Fr. Georges Florovsky’s article, “The Limits of the Church” (Church Quarterly Review, Oct. 1933), is as timely as ever. Florovsky acknowledges both a strictness to the Church’s boundaries as well as a certain permeability, notably in his recognizing the existence of truth and sacramental reality outside those boundaries, by the grace of God. Anti-ecumenical literature tends to treat the Orthodox Church in an all-or-nothing way. One is either in it or out of it. Being out of it means no access to the saving sacramental grace. Being in it means responsibility for guarding intact the untainted treasure we are handed down, keeping it untainted from soiled hands. To cite again from the recent Moskva article:

…the gracious core of the Russian church is being eaten away (alas, with the support of some of the bishops) by two destructive diseases, two insidious heresies: renovationism and ecumenism. They, of course, have not yet fully penetrated the church organism, but if we do not take urgent precautions and energetic measures of collective prevention, in time terrible destruction and disorders, schisms and troubles, await the church’s life.

Orthodox ecumenism

Once again, if one equates “ecumenism” with the branch theory, then “Orthodox ecumenism” is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. To strive for an “ecumenical world church” under the WCC composed of all the different “branches” as they exist today is obviously not Orthodox. Is there no option lying between the untenable “Ecumenical World Church of Many Branches” idea and an equally untenable option of complete abstention from Orthodox conversation and collaboration with non-Orthodox? Must one choose between sheer relativism and a xenophobic “island mentality”? Finding this middle ground is surely an Orthodox pursuit, if not simply common sense. The Orthodox have always talked with the non-Orthodox; the Fathers engaged in constructive dialogue concerning matters of faith and Church order. Even St. Mark of Ephesus, often raised up as a hero of the anti-ecumenical cause for his refusal to consent to the proposals of the Council of Florence-Ferrara, was present at that council and fully engaged in its proceedings. In this way he was able to provide an invaluable witness there, rejecting, as must we all, any union which relied on unrealistic principles. This too was the approach of the most significant Orthodox witnesses in modern ecumenism, such as Frs. Florovsky, Meyendorff and Romanides, to mention only a few, who not only participated in dialog but also sat on the governing bodies of the WCC (Romanides is currently on its Central Committee). These are some examples of “Orthodox ecumenism,” something we need to ponder further.

Orthodox ecumenism rests on the understanding of the Orthodox Church as the one, holy catholic and apostolic Church. From this belief, Orthodox ecumenism is acutely aware of the tragedy of the divisions within Christendom, some of which are the result of political and cultural factors, some the result of real doctrinal differences. It sees the encounter with the non-Orthodox as an opportunity to witness to Orthodox truth, and perhaps also learn something from aspects of the life of the non-Orthodox. Orthodox ecumenism does not limit the activity of the Holy Spirit to the canonical boundaries of the Orthodox Church, and it rejoices in seeing anything that is true, that is of Christ, wherever it is to be found. It rejoices in the work of the Holy Spirit everywhere, by no means accepting everything uncritically or ignoring differences, but acknowledging them honestly.

In speaking this way of “Orthodox ecumenism,” clearly I am trying to portray “the Orthodox ecumenist,” or more accurately, the ideal to which an “Orthodox ecumenist” strives in the face of the real difficulties and serious problems of today’s ecumenical endeavor. The realities of the contemporary ecumenical movement are such that Orthodox find themselves in a minority and often have difficulty in being heard.

Particularly in the WCC but also in regional ecumenical organizations, the majority is generally made up of people who have spent their entire lives as Protestants, and come from generations of Protestantism. Orthodox witness in the ecumenical movement is under a strain, one that is added to by the all-too-visible internal squabbles within Orthodoxy which mar the effectiveness of our contribution.

As suggested above, the World Council of Churches has stated officially again and again, from its very inception as a council, that it is not and never should become a church, a “super church” or “The World Church.”

Yet it is true that many Protestants do indeed adhere to the “branch” theory and some even have ecclesiastical aspirations for the WCC. This is one good reason why the Orthodox need to be present, constantly to remind people of the commitment not to impose the branch ecclesiology on the member churches of the WCC, or onto the Council itself. Once again, however, the opportunity for constructive, prophetic criticism of the WCC and modern ecumenism is generally lost in the hysteria that infects so much anti-ecumenical writing.

It is a sobering fact that this literature is gaining converts and has an effect on the life of the Orthodox Church, particularly some jurisdictions. The Church of Georgia is the most dramatic example, in its withdrawal from the WCC and the CEC. The action of that church will surely result in a redoubled effort on the part of the authors of anti-ecumenical texts to sway Orthodox people and churches into increasing isolation. How we all respond to such pressures will be a critical factor in the life of the Orthodox Church in the approaching decades.

[from In Communion issue 9 / July 1997 / © 1997 by Peter Bouteneff]

Peter Bouteneff is Executive Secretary of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches. He received a degree in music from the New England Conservatory in Boston. Following two years in Japan where he taught English and served in the Osaka Orthodox parish, he traveled through Asia and visited monastic communities in Greece. He received a master of divinity degree from St. Vladimir’s Seminary and a doctor of philosophy degree from Oxford University under the direction of Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia. He is editor of Daily Readings in Orthodox Spirituality (Templegate, Springfield, IL).

Note: Read also responses published in the October 1997 In Communion. Essay posted July 14, 1997, author note corrected August 11, 1997, links updated October 1, 1997

A Family Disagreement

Orthodox complaints are just a ‘family disagreement’, says Catholicos Aram

Ecumenical News International

ENI News Service / 10 June 1998

by Cedric Pulford

London, 10 June (ENI)–Difficulties between Orthodox churches and other members of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva are just “family disagreements”, according to Catholicos Aram I, moderator of the WCC’s central committee.

He added that these difficulties were being actively tackled by the WCC.

His comments, in an interview in London with ENI, follow growing criticism by some Orthodox churches, particularly the Russian and Serbian churches, of the WCC’s priorities and a recommendation by a recent Orthodox meeting that Orthodox churches attending the WCC’s assembly in Harare next December do not participate in ecumenical worship. Some Orthodox officials have suggested that their churches should not participate at all and attend only as observers. At the same time one Orthodox leader has accused Protestant churches in the WCC of being too worldly and too concerned with feminist and sexual issues.

However, Catholicos Aram told ENI that he had a “firm expectation” that the Orthodox churches would be present at the Harare assembly not as observers but as full participants.

Aram, who is head of the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia, in Lebanon, disclosed that a “mixed theological meeting” of Orthodox and other WCC member churches would be held near Geneva on 22 June. He told ENI that a majority of the 23 patriarchs (Eastern and Oriental) whom he had contacted had responded “very positively” and would send official representatives to the meeting.

“Some [Orthodox] concerns are legitimate,” the Catholicos said. “As head of an Orthodox church, I myself can identify with [them].

“What we are going to do in the coming consultations is to initiate a process. I don’t know how long that process will take. The timetable is not so important. What is important is that the Orthodox churches expose their views, their concerns, their expressions as comprehensively, as clearly, as realistically as possible.

“For many years the Orthodox churches in the World Council of Churches felt themselves a bit isolated, on the margin of the World Council of Churches’ life and work,” he said. “They issued separate Orthodox statements on important occasions … I believe that this is the time that we bring the Orthodox churches out of that psychological, political or theological situation, and make them an integral part of the one fellowship of the World Council of Churches.”

Although he made clear that “family” differences between the Orthodox churches and the Protestant churches – which make up the majority of the WCC’s 332 members – have a long history, those differences have grown recently. Aram I was speaking to ENI at Lambeth Palace at the end of a three-day visit to England as the guest of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, spiritual head of the Anglican Communion.

On 8 June the two leaders issued a joint declaration focusing on the Middle East and declaring that “the active participation of all the churches and faith communities of the Middle East is vital for the nation-building process in this region. We affirm the need to straighten Christian-Muslim dialogue and to find ways of collaborating on ethical and social issues, and on matters relating to justice, peace and the establishment of human rights.

“The unity of the Church is needed if we are to give credible witness and effective service both in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world. To this end we pledge ourselves to give a new vitality and a more organised expression to the theological dialogue between the Anglican Communion and the family of the Oriental Orthodox Churches within the context of the Anglican-Oriental Orthodox International Forum.”

Speaking to ENI, Catholicos Aram stressed the importance of the Anglican Communion’s “bridging role” between the world’s churches. He told ENI: “As a student of church history I learnt that this has been the historical vocation of the Anglican Church … Within the broader context of ecumenical fellowship, I have come to reaffirm what I have learnt about the Anglican Church. It has to play that bridging role that I believe is very important.”

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posted June 10, 1998

Unto the Churches of Christ Everywhere

Encyclical of the Ecumenical Patriarchate 1920

“Love one another earnestly from the heart”

–1 Peter 1:22

Our own church holds that rapprochement between the various Christian churches and fellowship among them is not excluded by the doctrinal differences which exist among them. In our opinion such a rapprochement is highly desirable and necessary. It would be useful in many ways for the real interest of each particular church and of the whole Christian body, and also for the preparation and advancement of that blessed union which will be completed in the future in accordance with the will of God. We therefore consider that the present time is most favourable for bringing forward this important question and studying it together.

Even if in this case, owing to antiquated prejudices, practices or pretensions, the difficulties which have so often jeopardized attempts at reunion in the past may arise or be brought up, nevertheless, in our view, since we are concerned at this initial stage only with contacts and rapprochement, these difficulties are of less importance. If there is good will and intention, they cannot and should not create an invincible and insuperable obstacle.

Wherefore, considering such an endeavour to be both possible and timely, especially in view of the hopeful establishment of the League of Nations, we venture to express below in brief our thoughts and our opinion regarding the way in which we understand this rapprochement and contact and how we consider it to be realizable; we earnestly ask and invite the judgment and the opinion of the other sister churches in the East and of the venerable Christian churches in the West and everywhere in the world.

We believe that the two following measures would greatly contribute to the rapprochement which is so much to be desired and which would be so useful, and we believe that they would be both successful and fruitful:

First, we consider as necessary and indispensable the removal and abolition of all the mutual mistrust and bitterness among the different churches which arise from the tendency of some of them to entice and proselytize adherents of other confessions. For nobody ignores what is unfortunately happening today in many places, disturbing the internal peace of the churches, especially in the East. So many troubles and sufferings are caused by other Christians and great hatred and enmity are aroused, with such insignificant results, by this tendency of some to proselytize and entice the followers of other Christian confessions.

After this essential re-establishment of sincerity and confidence among the churches, we consider, Secondly, that above all, love should be rekindled and strengthened among the churches, so that they should no more consider one another as strangers and foreigners, but as relatives, and as being a part of the household of Christ and “fellow heirs, members of the same body and partakers of the promise of God in Christ” (Eph. 3:6). For if the different churches are inspired by love, and place it before everything else in their judgments of others and their relationships with them, instead of increasing and widening the existing dissensions, they should be enabled to reduce and diminish them.

By stirring up a right brotherly interest in the condition, the well-being and stability of the other churches; by readiness to take an interest in what is happening in those churches and to obtain a better knowledge of them, and by willingness to offer mutual aid and help, many good things will be achieved for the glory and the benefit both of themselves and of the Christian body. In our opinion, such a friendship and kindly disposition towards each other can be shown and demonstrated particularly in the following ways:

  1. By the acceptance of a uniform calendar for the celebration of the great Christian feasts at the same time by all the churches.
  2. By the exchange of brotherly letters on the occasion of the great feasts of the churches’ year as is customary, and on other exceptional occasions.
  3. By close relationships between the representatives of all churches wherever they may be.
  4. By relationships between the theological schools and the professors of theology; by the exchange of theological and ecclesiastical reviews, and of other works published in each church.
  5. By exchanging students for further training among the seminaries of the different churches.
  6. By convoking pan-Christian conferences in order to examine questions of common interest to all the churches.
  7. By impartial and deeper historical study of doctrinal differences both by the seminaries and in books.
  8. By mutual respect for the customs and practices in different churches.
  9. By allowing each other the use of chapels and cemeteries for the funerals and burials of believers of other confessions dying in foreign lands.
  10. By the settlement of the question of mixed marriages among the confessions.
  11. Lastly, by wholehearted mutual assistance for the churches in their endeavours for religious advancement, charity and so on.

Such a sincere and close contact among the churches will be all the more useful and profitable for the whole body of the Church, because manifold dangers threaten not only particular churches, but all of them. These dangers attack the very foundations of the Christian faith and the essence of Christian life and society. For the terrible world war which has just finished brought to light many unhealthy symptoms in the life of the Christian peoples, and often revealed great lack of respect even for the elementary principles of justice and charity. Thus it worsened already existing wounds and opened other new ones of a more material kind, which demand the attention and care of all the churches. Alcoholism, which is increasing daily; the increase of unnecessary luxury under the pretext of bettering life and enjoying it; the voluptuousness and lust hardly covered by the cloak of freedom and emancipation of the flesh; the prevailing unchecked licentiousness and indecency in literature, painting, the theatre, and in music, under the respectable name of the development of good taste and cultivation of fine art; the deification of wealth and the contempt of higher ideals; all these and the like, as they threaten the very essence of Christian societies, are also timely topics requiring and indeed necessitating common study and cooperation by the Christian churches. Finally, it is the duty of the churches which bear the sacred name of Christ not to forget or neglect any longer his new and great commandment of love. Nor should they continue to fall piteously behind the political authorities, who, truly applying the spirit of the Gospel and the teaching of Christ, have under happy auspices already set up the so-called League of Nations in order to defend justice and cultivate charity and agreement among the nations.

For all these reasons, being ourselves convinced of the necessity for establishing a contact and league (fellowship) among the churches and believing that the other churches share our conviction as stated above, at least as a beginning we request each one of them to send us in reply a statement of its own judgment and opinion on this matter so that, common agreement or resolution having been reached, we may proceed together to its realization, and thus “speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ; from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Eph. 4:15-16).

In the Patriarchate of Constantinople the month of January in the year of salvation 1920

posted March 31, 1997

Orthodoxy and Ecumenism

The involvement of the Orthodox Church in the World Council of Churches and other ecumenical bodies has become a matter of bitter debate among Orthodox Christians. The discussion can often take a harsh, polemical quality. Sometimes it is unclear what “ecumenism” even is.

The purpose of this web page is to post some of the texts which provide the foundation for Orthodox involvement in the ecumenical movement, as well as essays which introduce into the discussion the perspectives of Orthodox who are actually involved in it.

The essays come from a variety of sources. Their authors cannot readily be categorized as “liberal” or “conservative”, “traditionalist” or “modernist” (as useful as these terms may or may not be). But there are three perceptions which emerge from all of them without exception:

Ecumenism is not a heresy — or at least the “ecumenism” that is derided as “heresy” in some people’s estimation, and the “ecumenism” that is actually practiced by the Orthodox who participate in ecumenical organizations are two different things. If one looks at the anathemas which some have written about ecumenism, it is clear that what is being anathematized is the so-called “Branch Theory”, something which is not held by Orthodox “ecumenists”.

Orthodox involvement in ecumenism is a missionary responsibility. As in any missionary situation, a person’s actual conversion to Orthodoxy is left up to God, but the responsibility lies with Orthodox to be present and witness to their apostolic faith, to teach, and also to learn from the encounter.

Orthodox involvement in today’s ecumenical institutions merits serious examination. Orthodox Christians need to remain critical of problematic tendencies within institutionalized ecumenism. They also need to reflect seriously among themselves about the nature and purpose of their involvement with it.

It is hoped that the texts and essays on this site can help to balance the discussion on ecumenism and the Orthodox Church’s participation.

— Peter Bouteneff

Basic Texts

Encyclical of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of 1920. “Above all, love should be rekindled and strengthened among the churches, so that they should no more consider one another as strangers and foreigners, but as relatives, and as being a part of the household of Christ and ‘fellow heirs, members of the same body and partakers of the promise of God in Christ’. (Eph. 3:6)”

Report of the III Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference of 1986. “It is essential to create within the World Council of Churches, the Conference of European Churches and other inter-Christian organizations, the necessary conditions which will enable the Orthodox Churches to act on an equal footing with the other members of the above-mentioned organizations.”

Report of the inter-Orthodox consultation of Orthodox WCC member churches in 1991. “It is our belief that the Orthodox have much to contribute in the ecumenical movement. It is therefore highly desirable that they develop more and more a witnessing, missionary mentality.”

“The World Council of Churches is not and must never become a Super-Church” — so declared a the “Toronto Statement” received by the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches in 1950. Here are the highlights plus the full text of that declaration.

A summary history of Orthodox involvement in the ecumenical movement by Protobresbyter Georges Tsetsis, representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch to the World Council of Churches. “Unity is to be understood as a conciliar life, not in any juridical sense, but in the sense of a real communion. Unity is a harmony in Christ among members within the Church and also among Churches. And it is precisely the achievement of this harmony which should be at the center of any ecumenical debate.”

Orthodox complaints are a ‘family disagreement’, says Catholicos Aram I: For many years the Orthodox churches in the World Council of Churches felt themselves a bit isolated, on the margin of the World Council of Churches’ life and work. They issued separate Orthodox statements on important occasions … I believe that this is the time that we bring the Orthodox churches out of that psychological, political or theological situation, and make them an integral part of the one fellowship of the World Council of Churches. Catholicos Aram announced that a “mixed theological meeting” of representatives of Orthodox and other WCC member churches would be held near Geneva on 22 June.

Statement on the Relationship of the Orthodox Church to the World Council of Churches issued by the Orthodox Theological Society in America at its annual meeting held at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline Massachusetts on June 4-5, 1998. The Society urged continuity in the Orthodox participation in the WCC, at the same time calling for changes in the WCC.

Essays

Essays on Orthodoxy and Ecumenism by Fr. John Meyendorff. Fr. John (+1992), one of this century’s greatest Orthodox theologians and historians, was an active participant in the ecumenical movement. In the seven editorials we reproduce here, he writes with clarity, sobriety and conviction about the problems, opportunities and responsibilities of ecumenism for Orthodox Christians.

The Church, the Seminary and the Ecumenical Movement by Fr. Thomas Hopko, former Dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, wrote this brief but penetrating essay for friends and supporters of the Seminary in order to clarify the nature and purpose of participation in the ecumenical movement.

Orthodox Ecumenism: A Contradiction in Terms? by Peter Bouteneff. The author is Executive Secretary of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches and author of Daily Readings in Orthodox Spirituality (Templegate, Springfield, IL). There is also a link to responses published in the October In Communion and Peter Bouteneff’s reply to those letters.

An essay by Peter Bouteneff — “The Orthodox Churches, the WCC, and the Upcoming WCC Assembly“.

Excerpts from an article by Metropolitan Isaiah printed in the Denver Diocesan Newsletter of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. The author cautions against misunderstanding the terminology of “the pan-heresy of ecumenism” and against carelessly calling people “heretics” on the basis of this definition. He addresses the issue of resurgent Donatism in church life today.

Report of a meeting between the Georgian and Russian Orthodox Churches’ respective Departments for External Church Relations. It highlights the distinction between constructive criticism of the ecumenical movement, and criticism whose purpose is to undermine the structures of canonical Orthodox churches. It reflects the desire to re-examine ways in which Orthodox can participate in ecumenism today.

Interview with Fr. Vassily Kobahidze, press secretary of the Georgian Orthodox Church. Fr. Vassily discusses the tensions and the breakaway groups which prompted the withdrawal of his church from the World Council of Churches.

Interview with Archpriest Vladislav Tsypin, professor at the Moscow Theological Academy and a leading specialist on canon law in the Russian Orthodox Church. Deconstructing the “ecumenism as heresy” position, Fr. Vladislav discusses the political motives which lie behind many anti-ecumenical arguments.

Towards a New Ecumenism” by Christos Yannaras. There are many ways to react to the encounter with Christians of traditions other than one’s own. Some will be satisfied with dialogue; others will want more, writes Christos Yannaras, a well-known theologian who is Professor of Philosophy at Pantion University of Social and Political Sciences, Athens, Greece. He has written many books, among them Freedom of Morality and Person and Eros.

“The reaction against ecumenism [in Russia] at the moment of freedom was as inevitable as the economic stratification of the population after the liberalization of prices, writes Vladimir Zelinsky in his essay on “Rebuilding Russian Orthodoxy: the Ecumenical Issue“.

The WCC’s World Assembly in Harare: a report by Peter Bouteneff

Orthodox Contributions to Ecumenical Ecclesiology” [PDF] — an essay by Nicholas A. Jesson.

For numerous documents critical of Orthodox participation in ecumenical organizations, see the “Ecumenism Awareness Page” maintained by Patrick Barnes. This site includes the text of two Orthodox encyclicals: The Encyclical of 1848 (a reply to the Epistle of Pope Pius IX, “to the Easterns”) and The Encyclical of 1895 (a reply to the Papal Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on Reunion).

Will the Ecumenical Ship Sink? — re Orthodox participation in the World Council of Churches; an interview with Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev of the Moscow Patriarchate published in April 2006.

updated April 23, 2006