The Ecumenical Dilemma

Fr. John Meyendorff on Ecumenism, 3

The Orthodox Church has participated in the ecumenical movement since its very inception at the beginning of this century. The reason for this participation was not -- as some negativists pretend -- to water down Orthodox witness, to accept a Protestant view of Christianity and to drop the claim of Orthodoxy to be the true Church of Christ. Quite to the contrary, the Orthodox participants simply considered it their duty, and the duty of the Orthodox Church itself, to be present wherever unity in Christ was sought. It is precisely because the Orthodox Church is the true Church, i.e., the Church for all, that it could not escape the responsibility -- and the opportunity -- which was offered to it to be heard and understood.

In recent years, however, a new spirit has engulfed the ecumenical activities of at least some ecumenical agencies. This new spirit consists of the belief that Christian unity will not be found in the search for a doctrinal consensus, but in the joint social and political involvement in a variety of causes and ideological struggles for " justice" and "liberation." While some of these causes may be quite worthy of a Christian concern, they are not conducive, as such, to Christian unity. The dangers inherent in this new trend is described in detail in the "Encyclical Letter on Christian Unity and Ecumenism," published in May 1973 by the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America. Fortunately, the highest authorities in the Orthodox world -- our patriarchs themselves -- took cognizance, however belatedly, of these developments and published appropriate statements, manifesting a rare Orthodox unanimity on the matter.

Let us hope that these voices will be heard. Much too often Orthodox officials have acted as passive observers at ecumenical assemblies and failed to speak their true mind, to the despair of those few theologians who were constantly aware of the necessity for articulate statements by the Orthodox hierarchy. It is not yet time to despair about the future of ecumenism, or to preach total withdrawal from the dialogue: a candid check of opinions must occur first, in a spirit of mutual respect and openness. This check will be welcome by all those who are aware that if the Orthodox witness is to have any meaning, it needs to be fully Orthodox charitable and informed.

(November, 1973)

posted April 21, 1998