Orthodox churches still support ecumenism, theologian says
Orthodox churches remain “fully committed” to ecumenical cooperation, despite recent disagreements with Protestants, according to a senior Orthodox theologian.
“It may appear that some Orthodox churches aren’t satisfied over moral and ethical issues, and this may bring them closer as a family of churches. But we shouldn’t necessarily see this as a form of competition.
“Although we should argue for cohesion within the ecumenical movement, we shouldn’t see our disagreements as a danger to unity. The Orthodox churches are more fully committed than ever to CEC and will be working to strengthen the Orthodox presence,” said Viorel Ionita, interim general secretary of the Conference of European Churches (CEC).
The 65-year-old Romanian theologian was speaking after chairing a Budapest consultation of CEC’s Churches in Dialogue Commission, which identified “eight points of convergence in the conception of the unity of the Church as the main goal of the ecumenical movement,” according to a June 27 report.
In an ENInews interview on June 27, he said he had been concerned that recent meetings between Orthodox and Roman Catholic representatives on moral and ethical issues could create a “parallel to CEC.”
However, he added that the Budapest consultation, which was addressed by Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Orthodox and Roman Catholic representatives, had elaborated a common understanding of key elements of church unity, and served as a reminder of the continued Orthodox commitment to ecumenical co-operation.
“The respective church traditions – Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, Protestant, Free Church – all have clear visions of church unity, but these are confessional visions and not very compatible,” said the Orthodox archpriest, who teaches church history at Bucharest University.
“Our purpose with this consultation was to gather the reflections of all European churches, looking at where we agree and where we differ. It was a useful first step – but the task is far from complete.”
Some Orthodox leaders have criticised aspects of moral and social teaching by Western Protestant denominations, leading to warnings of a possible downgrading of ties with CEC, after the withdrawal of Georgia’s Orthodox church in 1997 and a suspension of participation by the Russian Orthodox church in 2008.
However, CEC said convergence had been agreed on eight issues, including viewing church unity as a “gift of the Holy Spirit” demanding “expression in life and mission,” on the organic link “between ecclesial and Eucharistic community” and the sharing of Christian identities as “rich gifts from God,” and on the requirement of “conciliar fellowship and mutual reception of conciliar decisions” in the search for unity.
“We are Christians from a wide range of church traditions and yet we see the importance of holding together the church’s liturgy and ministry with its witness and service in the world,” said the document from CEC, which includes 120 Anglican, Orthodox, Protestant and Old Catholic churches, and 40 associated organisations.
A separate CEC statement on June 27 said the Churches in Dialogue Commission had drawn up further plans for implementing the 2001 Ecumenical Charter in Europe, as well as for “the promotion of dialogue between Orthodox churches and the other member-churches of CEC,” and for the strengthening of “ecumenical formation in Europe.”
By Jonathan Luxmoore, Ecumenical News International