Deacon Nikolai Savchenko (St. Petersburg)
Introductory Speech at the Round Table on Ecumenism
Nyack, NY 8-12 December 2003Ecumenism is dangerous not only in that it strives to distort Orthodoxy, but that it also divides the Orthodox people. On one hand, ecumenism continues to poison the life of the Orthodox Church, and on the other, the enemies of ecumenism find themselves split into many groups, or so-called "jurisdictions," and with every year there are more of them. Division arises among the Orthodox. This is also one of the fruits of ecumenism. This is also apostasy. This image of overall fragmentation is no less dangerous than that of the membership of the Orthodox Church in the WCC. Both one and the other threaten the Orthodox teaching of the unity of the Church.
Probably everyone without exception desires that both parts of the Russian Church, the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, find communion in Truth. There is hope for this, for over the last few years, the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate has taken a notable stride away from ecumenism. Still, complete emancipation from ecumenism has not yet occurred and obstacles to our communion remain. In all fairness, one cannot say now that the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate as a whole preaches ecumenism. Individual representatives preach it, but the overwhelming majority of the people and clergy decisively reject its false teaching. Now it is even difficult to imagine that books defending ecumenism could be offered in churches in Russia. All of monasticism is directly opposed to ecumenism. Demands for withdrawal from the WCC have weakened somewhat because the leadership of the MP convinced the monastics and laity that the attitude towards the WCC underwent essential changes and now there are no more joint ecumenical prayers and ceremonies, and that representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate are simply observers in the WCC.
The leadership of the MP also convinced the people and clergy that the Balamand and Chambesy documents were not approved by the church leadership and so there is no need for alarm, although we note that these documents were also not rejected or even evaluated properly. Ecumenical prayers have almost ceased, having previously been held regularly in the largest cathedrals. Still, we notice that as before, they are still allowed with the blessing of the ruling bishop. There are changes noticed in the pages of the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate (JMP). Before, one could find one or two references to ecumenical and even interfaith prayers in every issue of the JMP. It is difficult to find even one such mention today. The official journal of the Moscow Patriarchate now contains almost no reports of ecumenical activities. At one time there were instances when all the members of the Synod of the MP, headed by the Patriarch, participated in silent prayer together with Hindus and Buddhists at interfaith congresses in Moscow (1987-1988). Now this does not occur, although there has not been a proper evaluation of this manifestation. There are many such laypersons and clergymen in Russia today who are convinced, based on their own experience, that ecumenism no longer exists, that it has died. Such religious people as a rule are genuinely baffled as to why the ROCOR even now does not withdraw its rebukes towards the MP for its ecumenism. In their eyes, we are unwillingly and unwittingly unfair. This must also be taken into account. The opinion is widespread in Russia that our Church ostensibly calls for complete exclusion of any contact with the heterodox. It is felt that we call any conversation or dialog with those of other faiths ecumenism and demand complete so-called "isolation." Over the last two years, Patriarch Alexy said several times in the media that the Russian Orthodox Church cannot be isolated, and for this reason will continue its membership in the WCC. These views are also widely held in Russia. Now, when conversations have begun with the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, we must calmly consider all the questions of the ecumenical movement and membership in the WCC. We must peacefully and with sound arguments show that our communion is hindered by the matter of ecumenism, and, first of all, in the question of membership in the WCC.
There are two levels of participation in inter-confessional activities. One is the participation with the rights of a simple observer, that is, not as a member, but as a bystander. The other is full membership in an ecumenical organization. Unfortunately, the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate today participates in the work of the WCC as a full member of the Council. It is this problem, I feel, upon which we must concentrate. For it is this membership of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate in the WCC that more than anything contradicts the canons of the Orthodox Church, which intentionally or not threatens its very teachings and so remains as an obstacle to our communion. One can list the reasons why membership in the WCC becomes such a problem:
1. The first important reason is that the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate today remains a member of the higher leadership of the WCC and participates in the administration, planning and financing of the entire operation of the WCC.
Official representatives of the ROC MP are in the Central Committee of the WCC. The Central Committee is the administrative organ of the WCC. It determines the policies of the WCC, makes official statements of a faith-teaching nature, and makes moral evaluations of various phenomena of contemporary life in those areas presented to it by member churches. The membership of the latest CC of the WCC was selected at the assembly of the WCC in Harare in 1998. The official list of members of the CC of the WCC shows that there are 5 people from the MP in the Central Committee, headed by Bishop Illarion (Alfeev). There are some 150 members of the CC overall, including 9 women priests, according to the official list. The last session of the CC of the WCC with the participation of the members of the ROC MP was held at the end of August 2003.
Besides participation in the CC, representatives of the MP are also members of the Executive Committee of the WCC, the aims of which are the direct supervision of the entire operation of the WCC and the organization of all activities. The official list of members of the Executive Committee consists of 24 persons, including the representative of the MP, Bishop Illarion (Alfeev). Besides him, the Executive Committee includes representatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Rumanian Patriarchate and the Orthodox Church of America. The last session of the Executive Committee with the participation of the representatives of the MP was held in August 2003. At this session, a new "Committee on Prayer" was formed with the aim of preparing the text and rite of ecumenical prayer. There are 10 persons on this Committee, including a representative of the MP, Fr. Andrei Eliseev. At the same time, the Vice President of the "Committee on Prayer" is a Protestant woman priest.
Based on the participation of the ROC MP in the higher leadership of the WCC, in the guidance, planning and financing of the work of the Council, one can conclude that the ROC MP is in fact responsible for all the decisions of the WCC, which contradict the dogmatic and moral teaching of the Orthodox Church.
2. The second reason for the incompatibility of membership in the WCC with the laws of the Church is that the Constitution of the WCC considers membership not of individual representatives, but specifically of the entire Local Church in its fullness. Every Local Church in the WCC is considered a full member, that is, a part of a heterodox association.
In accordance with the "Basis of the WCC," it is a "fellowship of Churches." In this definition lies the essential difference from its original formulation proposed by the committee called "Faith and Order" in 1937, when the future WCC was offered as a "community of representatives of Churches." The difference is significant. A community of churches themselves is not the same thing as a community of representatives of churches, as had been stated earlier. In the present situation it turns out that the Orthodox Church is considered a part of some wider fellowship under the name of the WCC. The Council is not a simple association of churches. The founding documents provide that it is a "body" possessing "ecclesiological significance," as the heading of the Toronto Statement says.
The understanding of membership in the WCC as a membership of the entire Orthodox Church exists in documents of the Local Churches. As an example, the following citation from the document entitled "The Orthodox Church and the World Council of Churches."
This document was adopted at a session of inter-Orthodox consultation in Chambesy in 1991. Point 4 states: "The Orthodox Churches participate in the WCC's life and activities only on the understanding that the WCC ‘is a council of churches’ and not a council of individuals, groups, movements or religious bodies which are involved in the Council's goal, tasks and vision." (JMP No. 1, 1992, p. 62).
Membership in the WCC is not simply the observation of the activities of the Council. Membership means actually becoming a part of the ecumenical fellowship. The ROC MP cannot be a member of the WCC, since this means becoming a part of the ecumenical fellowship.
3. The third reason why membership in the WCC contradicts Orthodoxy is that membership necessarily signifies agreement with the constitutional principles of the WCC and its rules. For example, the Constitution of the WCC (part III) states that the Council was formed by member churches to serve the one ecumenical movement. Does this mean that the member churches should or must completely serve the ecumenical movement? By all appearances, yes. Further, the Constitution (part III) uses the following words to describe the duties of the churches joining the Council: In seeking koinonia [fellowship—ed.] in faith and life, witness and service, the churches through the Council will facilitate common witness in each place and in all places-ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬â€œand nurture the growth of an ecumenical consciousness."
One other important constitutional document is the declaration "Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the World Council of Churches." This document was adopted by the Central Committee in 1997 with the participation of representatives of the Local Churches. It also contains views inconsistent with Orthodox teaching on the Church. First of all this concerns how to properly understand the cornerstone term of the "Basis of the WCC," that the Council is a "fellowship of Churches." It follows from this that the member churches of the WCC are considered to have entered into an organic ecclesiastical communion with other members of the WCC with all their ills and heresies. The document "Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the World Council of Churches," point 3.5.3, directly spreads this ecclesiastical communion over the entire Orthodox Church with all her people.
The main document of the WCC possessing constitutional significance, continues to be the Toronto document "The Church, the Churches and the World Council of Churches." It was on the basis of this document that the Local Churches joined the WCC in the 1960’s. It also contains clearly-defined principles which at their root contradict Orthodoxy. For instance, point 4.8 of the Toronto document states: "The member Churches enter into spiritual relationships through which they seek to learn from each other and to give help to each other, in order that the Body of Christ may be built up and that the life of the Churches may be renewed." It is obvious that the principle of "building up the Body of Christ" contradicts Orthodox teaching of the Church, yet it is prescribed in the founding document of the WCC and has remained unchanged.
From the above, we can conclude that membership in the WCC presupposes consent with its constitutional principles, which contradict Orthodoxy. The ROC MP should not be a member of an organization the constitutional principles of which contradict Orthodoxy.
The All-Orthodox Conference of 1998 in Thessaloniki decreed that it is necessary to reform the WCC. In December 1998, a "Special Committee" was established on Orthodox membership in the WCC. Half of this committee consisted of representatives of the Local Churches and half of the heterodox. The goal of the Committee was to clarify the problems of Orthodox participation and to designate ways to resolve them. It was even assumed that the activity of the Committee would result in such changes that would not contradict the laws of the Orthodox Church.
The "Final Report of the Committee" contains ideas that preach the branch theory. "The Commission envisions a Council that will hold churches together in an ecumenical space where churches through dialogue continue to break down the barriers that prevent them from recognizing each other as churches that confess the one faith, celebrate one baptism and administer the one eucharist" (section A, point 11). This citation on the removal of barriers hindering the attainment of unity clearly reflects the branch theory in a document signed by representatives of the Local [Orthodox] Churches.
In addition, the "Report," in point 30, section A, calls for the all to remain members of the WCC to "renew the commitment to stay together," and in point 39 states directly that the member churches of the WCC "experienced progress towards unity."
The final documents do not give any hope for reforming the WCC. At one time, the Office of External Church Affairs of the MP made a proposal to divide the structure of the WCC into several parts, reserving one for the so-called traditional churches. Yet the WCC rejected outright the proposal of its own fragmentation. The General Secretary of the WCC, Konrad Reiser, in his report during the next-to-last session of the Central Committee spoke of the need to reform the WCC, but in his opinion this reform is needed because of the problems of globalization, both social and economical, while the desires of the Orthodox he only briefly mentioned somewhere in his seventh point.
The final documents also give no hope for the cessation of ecumenical prayers. The report does not state anywhere that Orthodox may not participate in joint prayers with the heterodox. It speaks only of the need to differentiate between "confessional" and "inter-confessional" prayer. The document does not reject in principle joint prayers with women priests or adherents of unnatural sins. In the matter of the priesthood of women, these two final documents speak roughly the same thing that the Damascus document of June 1998 does, where it was declared that questions of agreement or disagreement with the priesthood of women, abortion and unnatural sins should not separate members of the WCC.
There is no need to speak at length about the contemporary ecumenical movement. Its spirit is well known to us all. But we must speak of, and effectuate the departure from it, the need to cease to be its member or participant. Now the choice is clear for participants in the ecumenical movement. With whom do they stand? With us, Orthodox, or with the ecumenical movement? With the overwhelming majority of people and clergymen in Russia and abroad or with Protestants who are alien to us? Can there be true peace in the Russian Church if this choice is not made? Can there be true unity in the Truth without this choice? But if, the Lord help us, this choice is made correctly, then true peace will return to the Church, which we desire and for which we pray before the Holy Gifts at every liturgy.
Deacon Nikolai Savchenko