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