Orthodox participation in ecumenical movement: "There is no alternative to
World Council of Churches
For Immediate Use
6 June 2003
cf. Press Release, PR-03-20, of 28 May 2003
An appeal to the Bulgarian and Georgian Orthodox churches to reconsider
their return to the broad ecumenical world family was addressed by the
participants at an international academic symposium held in Thessaloniki
from 1-3 June.
The request is contained in a letter addressed to H.B. Patriarch Maximos of
Bulgaria and H.B. Catholicos Elias, Patriarch of Georgia, signed by
participants at a symposium organized by the Aristotle University of
Thessaloniki's Theological Faculty. With the blessing of H.B.
Christodoulos, Archbishop of Athens and all Greece, the symposium tackled
the theme "Orthodox Theology and Ecumenical Dialogue: Problems and
In their letter to the heads of Bulgarian and Georgian Orthodox churches,
based on "hope and Christian love", participants at the symposium "make an
appeal, out of that love and with deep respect, that your Holy Church review
and reconsider its active participation in the multilateral and bilateral
dialogues and conversations, and also its return to the broad ecumenical
Both Churches withdrew from the World Council of Churches (WCC) in 1998.
However, after the WCC Central Committee received last August the
substantial report from the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation,
there are "new possibilities for taking seriously and dealing responsibly
with Orthodox concerns", the letter said.
The letter was approved with applause by participants in the symposium,
namely professors from Thessaloniki's Theological Faculty and members of the
Steering Committee of the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in
the WCC. While those signing the letter recognize that "the path of
inter-Christian dialogue is difficult" they manifest their unanimous
agreement that "there is no alternative to dialogue".
The affirmation echoed statements made by Archbishop Christodoulos at the
event's opening. "In spite of the negative experience we have acquired all
these years, we view the future of the theological dialogues, and generally
our collaboration with our non-Orthodox brothers and sisters, with
optimism," he said. And regarding theological dialogues in particular,
Archbishop Christodoulos said "...we are not allowed to stop the dialogue
and break down the bridges of communication between Christians".
Recalling that the Church of Greece is "a founding member of the WCC of
which it remains a full member till today", the Archbishop of Athens said
work carried out by the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the
WCC is a "pleasant development" that "created hopes that as Orthodox we can
have an equal voice with the Protestants". "I think that new bases have been
created for our presence in WCC", he stated.
At the same time that he voiced his "hope that more effective contribution
of the Orthodox in the decisions and activities of WCC will take place in
the future," Archbishop Christodoulos did not shy away from self-criticism:
"If we, Orthodox, are indifferent and we voluntarily stay in the margin, or
if we are divided depending on the narrow interest of our local Church, we
must not complain for the situation in the WCC. The wrong is not always on
In his presentation, the WCC general secretary Rev. Dr. Konrad Raiser
emphasized the importance of the Orthodox contribution to the WCC during a
public lecture at the symposium's closing ceremony. The extensive summary
began with "the fundamental decision on the part of the Orthodox churches to
assume a leading role in giving shape to the modern ecumenical movement",
translated in the encyclical of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of
Constantinople that proposed the establishment of a "league (fellowship)
between the churches" for the first time in 1920.
According to Raiser, perhaps the most important Orthodox contribution to the
WCC was the "consistent _expression of the Orthodox commitment to the
ecumenical fellowship of churches, which has been re-affirmed in response to
questions and sometimes harsh criticism from within". And the "second major
Orthodox contribution to unfolding the self-understanding of the WCC" was to
establish the christocentric affirmation of its Basis (the confession of
"the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour") in a Trinitarian setting ("to
the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit").
Raiser also referred to several other Orthodox contributions, such as the
awareness of conciliarity - "the fact that the church in all times needs
assemblies to represent it and has in fact felt this need" - as "a
fundamental dimension in the understanding of the church"; the decisive
influence of Orthodox thinking in the convergence documents on Baptism,
Eucharist and Ministry, "particularly in terms of emphasis on the role of
the Holy Spirit"; and the "understanding of the missionary vocation of the
church as well as of its diaconal service".
"There is no doubt for me that the active presence of the Orthodox churches
in the WCC has been essential in shaping the understanding of our common
ecumenical calling", stated Raiser towards the end of his presentation. And
now, "the Special Commission and its recommendations have moved us to the
point where the Orthodox contribution to the life and work of the WCC can be
developed in fresh and constructive ways", he concluded.
Besides professors and members of the WCC Steering Committee, the symposium
and discussions were attended by representatives of other churches and
academic institutions, a number of Orthodox priests and students, and
several WCC staff members.
For further information, please contact the Media Relations Office,
tel: +41 (0)22 791 64 21 / 61 53
The World Council of Churches (WCC) is a fellowship of churches, now 342, in
more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian
traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works
cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly,
which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally
inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Its staff is headed by
general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.
World Council of Churches
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