Here is an important policy statement on ecumenism from the Eastern Orthodox Churches at their Inter-Orthodox Meeting in Thessaloniki in 1998. This statement provides both an authoritative resource and a springboard for our discussion.Read it on the web at
Thessaloniki/Greece, 29 April - 2 May 1998 FINAL DOCUMENT
1. We, delegates of all the canonical Orthodox Churches, by the power of the Risen Christ, gathered at the historical city of Thessaloniki/Greece, from 29 April to 2 May 1998, after an invitation of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, responding to the initiative of the Russian and Serbian Churches and because of the withdrawal of the Georgian Church from the World Council of Churches. The meeting was hosted by the Organization of "Thessaloniki - Cultural Capital of Europe 97" and under the generous hospitality of the Metropolitanate of Thessaloniki.
2. The meeting was presided over by Chrysostomos, the Senior Metropolitan of the See of Ephesus (Ecumenical Patriarchate) and the sessions were held in a spirit of Christian love, fraternal fellowship and common understanding. The delegates expressed and asked the prayers and blessings of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and all other Venerable Primates of the Orthodox Churches. The participants received telegrams of congratulations from all the Primates. They also expressed their best wishes to His Beatitude Chrystodoulos, the new Archbishop of Athens and of all Greece, for his election.
3. Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Ephesus presented an introductory paper on the theme of the meeting, followed by a presentation from all the delegates on the one hand describing their relations to the ecumenical movement and to the WCC in particular and on the other hand evaluating the critical problems they are facing. The discussions analyzed the participation of the Orthodox Churches in the decision-making bodies of the WCC.
4. The delegates unanimously denounced those groups of schismatics, as well as certain extremist groups within the local Orthodox Churches themselves, that are using the theme of ecumenism in order to criticize the Church leadership and undermine its authority, thus attempting to create divisions and schisms within the Church. They also use non-factual material and misinformation in order to support their unjust criticism.
5. The delegates also emphasized that the Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement has always been based on Orthodox tradition, on the decisions of the Holy Synods of the local Orthodox Churches, and on Pan-Orthodox meetings, such as the Third Pre-Conciliar Conference of 1986 and the meeting of the Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches in 1992.
6. The participants are unanimous in their understanding of the necessity for continuing their participation in various forms of inter-Orthodox activity.
7. We have no right to withdraw from the mission laid upon us by our Lord Jesus Christ, the mission of witnessing the Truth before the non-Orthodox world. We must not interrupt relations with Christians of other confessions who are prepared to work together with us.
8. Indeed the WCC has been a forum where the faith of the Orthodox Church, its mission and its views on a number of issues such as peace, justice, development, and ecology were made more widely known to the non-Orthodox world. A fruitful collaboration was established with the other members of the Council in response to the challenges of modern civilization. Proselytism has been denounced and help extended to Orthodox Churches in difficult situations to enable them to carry forward their mission. Orthodox interests were often defended, especially where the Orthodox as minorities were discriminated against. Orthodox views in the process of political, economic and cultural integration were expressed and Orthodox contributions were made in the relations with other faiths. Schismatic groups and so-called renewal groups within Protestantism were not admitted to membership of the Council at Orthodox request.
9. However at the same time there are certain developments within some Protestant members of the Council that are reflected in the debates of the WCC and are regarded as unacceptable by the Orthodox. At many WCC meetings the Orthodox were obliged to be involved in the discussion of questions entirely alien to their tradition. At the VII Assembly of Canberra in 1991 and during the meetings of the Central Committee after the year 1992 the Orthodox delegates have taken a vigorous stand against intercommunion with non-Orthodox, against inclusive language, ordination of women, the rights of sexual minorities and certain tendencies relating to religious syncretism. Their statements on these subjects were always considered as minority statements and as such could not influence the procedures and ethos of the WCC.
10. After a century of Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement, and fifty years in the WCC in particular, we do not perceive sufficient progress in the multilateral theological discussions between Christians. On the contrary, the gap between the Orthodox and the Protestants is becoming wider as the aforementioned tendencies within certain Protestant denominations are becoming stronger.
11. During the Orthodox participation of many decades in the ecumenical movement, Orthodox has never been betrayed by any representative of a local Orthodox Church. On the contrary, these representatives have always been completely faithful and obedient to their respective Church authorities, acted in complete agreement with the canonical rules, the Teaching of the Ecumenical Councils, the Church Fathers and the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church.
12. We therefore come to the suggestion that the WCC must be radically restructures in order to allow more adequate orthodox participation. Many Orthodox Churches raise questions as to what are the final criteria of the inclusion of a Church in a wider organization such as the WCC. The same questions exist for the inclusion of the Orthodox Church in the Council. Nevertheless, the theme of the criteria for the inclusion is and will remain a fundamental request of Orthodoxy.
13. All the Orthodox Churches are requested to send official delegates to the VIII Assembly of the WCC with the aim of expressing their concerns as follows:
a) Orthodox delegates participating in Harare will present in common this Statement of the Thessaloniki Inter-Orthodox Meeting.
b) Orthodox delegates will not participate in ecumenical services, common prayers, worship and other religious ceremonies at the Assembly.
c) Orthodox delegates will not take part in the voting procedure except in certain cases that concern the Orthodox and by unanimous agreement. If it is needed, in the plenary and group discussions they will present the Orthodox views and positions.
d) These mandates will be maintained until a radical restructuring of the WCC is accomplished to allow adequate Orthodox participation.
14. Thus we state that we are no longer satisfied with the present forms of Orthodox membership in the WCC. If the structures of the WCC are not radically changed, other Orthodox Churches will also withdraw from the WCC, as has the Georgian Orthodox. In addition the Orthodox delegates at the VIIIth General Assembly of WCC in Harare, December 1998, will be forced to protest if the representatives of sexual minorities are admitted to participation structurally in the Assembly.
15. Finally the delegates underline that major decisions concerning participation of the Orthodox Churches in the ecumenical movement must be in accordance with the Pan-Orthodox decisions and must be taken by each local Orthodox Church in consultation with all the other local Orthodox Churches.
16. The delegates also strongly suggested that a Mixed Theological Commission be created with Orthodox members appointed by their own respective Churches and from WCC nominees. The Mixed Commission will begin its work after the Harare Assembly by discussing the acceptable forms of Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement and the radical restructuring of the WCC.
17. May the Risen Lord guide our steps towards the accomplishment of His will and the glory of His Divine name.
At Thessaloniki, 1st of May 1998