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An Orthodox Understanding of Ecumenism and Unity

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  • George C. Thomas, Kuwait
    What does ecumenism really mean? In its best sense, it hopes to express the universal message of the Gospel and the capacity of the Christian Faith to be
    Message 1 of 6 , Apr 10, 2012
      What does "ecumenism" really mean? In its best sense, it hopes to express the universal message of the Gospel and the capacity of the Christian Faith to be accepted by the whole world, regardless of race or language. In this sense, it is very close to Eastern Orthodoxy, and is the primary reason the Byzantine Empire and the Patriarch of Constantinople were referred to as "Ecumenical." However, there is another form of "ecumenism" today which wants to gloss over all differences in faith and practice, into what could be only be characterized as "pretending" to be unified. This is an unacceptable model for Orthodox participation. There must be an understanding that there can only be one Truth, one incarnate Logos revealed to the world, not many, conflicting, equally valid ideas about Truth. In a recent speech on the topic of Ecumenism, Petros VII, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria and Africa states:

      The Orthodox Church of Christ seeks and desires dialogue with all other heterodox Churches, based on equal conditions and provided it be conducted in the fear of God and the witness of the One Divine Truth ... The Church does not hold a part of the Truth, but the whole Truth; because Christ, who is the Head of the Church, is the Truth."

      Paraskeve (Eve) Tibbs, Doctoral Student, Fuller Theological Seminary

      to be contd.,

      George C. Thomas
      Kuwait
    • George C. Thomas, Kuwait
      Because the word ecumenical can be ambiguous, Father Schmemann prefers instead to use the admittedly slightly outmoded term mission. It is the mission
      Message 2 of 6 , Apr 13, 2012
        Because the word "ecumenical" can be ambiguous, Father Schmemann prefers instead to use the admittedly "slightly outmoded" term "mission." It is the "mission" of the Church, he says, to "make Orthodoxy known, understood and, with God's help, accepted in the West." This missionary task must be guided by two equally important and interdependent imperatives: "to emphasize Truth as the only genuine ground of all 'ecumenical' concern, and a real openness to Western Christian values."

        The late Father Georges Florovsky (1893-1979), a pioneer in bringing the Orthodox Church into the ecumenical movement had in mind that the Orthodox Church would be the standard of Christianity reaching out beyond its own perimeters to touch the heterodox religious world. The ultimate desire of the Orthodox is the reconciliation of all Christians to Orthodoxy, but not as subject to jurisdiction or center of power she merely "wishes to make each one understand."

        Diversity is necessary for there to be true catholicity, and although Orthodoxy may encompass different cultural patterns, many different ways of worship, and even varying outward polity, it cannot permit diversity in "matters of faith." In the words of Bishop Kallistos Ware, and consistent with the majority (if not all) contemporary Orthodox theologians involved in ecumenical dialogue, "before there can be reunion among Christians, there must first be full agreement in faith: this is a basic principle for Orthodox in all their ecumenical relations."

        The Church as the body of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit can only be one. Quoting Bishop Ware again, "The Orthodox Church in all humility believes itself to be the 'one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church', of which the Creed speaks. There are divisions among Christians, but the Church itself is not divided nor can it ever be." Throughout the history of the Church every division has been viewed as a separation from Christ's Body. There have always been schisms in the life of the Church, but the Church always emphasized unity and advanced canons safeguarding such. In the third century, those who separated themselves from the communion of the una sancta , were, according to Cyprian, entirely excluded from grace. Cyprian's teaching: outside the Church there is no salvation meant that God's saving power is mediated to humans in his Body, the Church. For Bishop Ware, this is a tautology, because salvation is the Church.

        -Paraskeve (Eve) Tibbs, Doctoral Student, Fuller Theological Seminary

        …to be contd,
        George C. Thomas, Kuwait
      • Lawrence
        I think the word ecumenism means the whole inhabited earth , the world God created and the humans who bears God s image. In that sense, people who are
        Message 3 of 6 , Apr 14, 2012
          I think the word "ecumenism" means 'the whole inhabited earth', the world God created and the humans who bears God's image. In that sense, people who are willing to engage in ecumenical dialogue should be ready to have conversation with anyone without any precondition. If one is willing to have conversation with only those who completely believe what one believes, it is not ecumenism, but something else. If you already set conditions and closed the door to others, then there is no possibility for meaningful conversation. Jesus Christ said our God is much greater than the way we define, the One who give rain and sunlight, and all the blessings to all people irrespective of their faith or no faith.

          Lawrence

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        • george_cthomas
          The Beginnings of Orthodox Ecumenism The beginning of Orthodox ecumenical outreach dates back to the early twentieth century with two encyclicals from the
          Message 4 of 6 , Apr 15, 2012
            The Beginnings of Orthodox Ecumenism

            The beginning of Orthodox ecumenical outreach dates back to the early twentieth century with two encyclicals from the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The first, in 1902 urged the Orthodox churches to dialogue with the Oriental Orthodox churches as well as the "Western Church and the Churches of the protestants." The second, in 1920, was a call to all the churches to form a league of churches in fellowship for common action and witness, in order to see one another not 'as strangers and foreigners, but as relatives, as being part of the household of Christ, members of the same body and partakers of the promise of God in Christ.' (Eph 3.6)".[4] Father Emmanuel Clapsis, Dean of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, believes this 1920 encyclical continues to be relevant for understanding the Orthodox because it wisely recognizes that unity demands not simply overcoming doctrinal differences, but "demands interchurch diakonia and common witness of God's love for the life of the world." This is a lovely thought and a worthy goal, but however much Christians work side by side in diakonia, (and they do!) it is ultimately the doctrinal differences which separate them.

            One of the greatest concerns of Orthodox ecumenical involvement, especially in the World Council of Churches, is the issue of ecclesiology. Those Orthodox who believe that there should be no Orthodox participation in the WCC cite concerns that this "fellowship of churches" is becoming a super-church or world church, compromising the ecclesiological claims of Orthodoxy. But many cite the Toronto Statement of 1950 as providing an acceptable framework to allow the Orthodox churches to participate fully in the WCC. The Toronto Statement asserted that "… membership [in the WCC] does not imply that each church must regard the other member churches as churches in the true and full sense of the word." Metropolitan John Zizioulas states unequivocally that the WCC has never been, and will never be a church with the marks of the una sancta, but that it still has ecclesiological significance for the building up of the Church, as a privileged instrument of God's reconciling grace

            George C. Thomas, Kuwait
          • George C. Thomas, Kuwait
            Although the Church never refuted Cyprian s teaching on this issue, the practice of the Church has spoken otherwise. Father Georges Florovsky points out that
            Message 5 of 6 , Apr 21, 2012
              Although the Church never refuted Cyprian's teaching on this issue, the practice of the Church has spoken otherwise. Father Georges Florovsky points out that there are occasions when "by her very actions, the Church gives one to understand that the sacraments of sectarians – and even heretics – are valid, that the sacraments can be celebrated outside the strict canonical limits of the Church."

              By this he means that in her practice, the Church has received adherents from sects by chrismation (without re-baptism) by which an ecclesiological judgment is made about the validity of the sacramental life of those other churches. Father Florovsky speaks of the "mystical territory" of the Church extending beyond "her canonical borders." He describes certain bonds, such as "right belief, sincere devotion, the word of God, and above all the grace of God" which are still unbroken, even though there is schism. For Father Florovsky, there is something of God connecting every schismatic and heretical community with the life of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. What is valid in the sects, he says, is that which is in them from the Church.

              In this understanding, Bishop Ware agrees. He notes that by God's grace, the Orthodox Church possesses the fullness of truth but many people may be members of the Church who are not visibly so. Despite outward separation, there may be invisible bonds[27]. Russian Orthodox theologian, Alexei Khomiakov (1804-1860), in his influential ecclesiological essay, The Church is One also refers to individuals connected to the Church by the "ties which God has not willed to reveal to her" and insists that the Orthodox Church should not stand in judgment of others – she acts and knows only within her own limits – and "only looks upon those as excluded, that is to say, not belonging to her, who exclude themselves."

              Most contemporary Orthodox theologians teach unequivocally that the Orthodox Church is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, but few are so quick to call other Christian churches void of God's salvific presence and action. Stated another way by Father Clapsis, "the communal consciousness of the Church never accepted the equation of its canonical limits with its charismatic boundaries."

              Irenaeus, the second century bishop of Lyons, said that where the Spirit is, there is the Church. Since the Holy Spirit blows where it wants, Bishop Ware insists that we can know where the Church is, but we cannot be sure where it is not. One who is not visibly within the Orthodox Church is not necessarily damned, as not everyone who is visibly within the Church is necessarily saved.

              What are the limits of the Church? Metropolitan John Zizioulas writes that Orthodox theology does not yet have a solution to the problem of the limits of the Church. Even in his painstakingly complete treatment of Eucharistic ecclesiology, he suggests that it is baptism that creates the limits, and that "within this baptismal limit it is conceivable that there may be division, but any division within these limits is not the same as the division between the Church and those outside the baptismal limit."

              -Paraskeve (Eve) Tibbs, Doctoral Student, Fuller Theological Seminary

              …to be contd,

              George C. Thomas, Kuwait
            • george_cthomas
              Orthodox Church Participation in the Ecumenist movement We need to confess that a significant push towards the creation of the Ecumenist Movement was also
              Message 6 of 6 , Jan 31, 2013
                Orthodox Church Participation in the Ecumenist movement

                We need to confess that a significant push towards the creation of the Ecumenist Movement was also given by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople; specifically, with its Proclamation of 1920, which –as became evident- also constituted the basis for the "Charter" pertaining to the participation of the Orthodox in the Ecumenical Movement.

                This Proclamation was something entirely unprecedented in the history of the Church; it was the first time that an official orthodox document had characterized all the heterodox Communities of the West as "Churches"; as "related and intimate in Christ, co-inheritors and a common body in the promise of God." With this, it overthrew orthodox ecclesiology. And, to avoid any references to much older times, it suffices to remember that several years earlier (1895), this same Patriarchate in one of its circulars had removed Papism from the Church, because it had introduced "heretical teachings and innovations". This was the reason that Western Christians were called upon to return to the bosom of the one Church, i.e., Orthodoxy.

                With the "Charter of Nations" as its model, the 1920 Proclamation proposed the formation of a "cohesion and communion between the Churches", its principal aims being a) the re-examination of dogmatic differences with a predisposition for compromise, b) the acknowledgement of a uniform calendar (the partial implementation of which, unfortunately brought about an inter-orthodox rift with regard to the celebration of feast-days) and c) the convening of pan-Christian assemblies.

                With the exception of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, nearly all of the Orthodox Churches gradually asked to become –and did become- accepted as members of the W.C.C. However, some of them were compelled later on to recant and depart, as they noticed with dismay its degeneration on the one hand, and on the other, they were being pressured by the intense anti-ecumenist reactions of their fold. It was therefore understandable for a question to be raised: How is it possible for Orthodoxy to be "incorporated", to become a "member" of "something", when Orthodoxy itself constitutes the "whole", the very Body of Christ Himself, Who calls upon everyone to become His members?

                Besides, the presence of the Orthodox Churches in the Assemblies of the W.C.C. was always meager, ineffective and decorative, because of the way the W.C.C. is composed and operates. Its decisions were shaped exclusively by the quantitative superiority of Protestant votes. Of course, up until 1961, the Orthodox would submit separate statements (some of which comprise monumental confessional texts), as representatives of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

                With regard to the Vatican's ecumenist opening, the response by Orthodoxy was a positive one, its main adherent being the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras. The Patriarch met with Pope Paul VI in Jerusalem (1964); he proceeded to lift the anathemas of the 1054 Schism together with him, and he confirmed his support of the "dialogue of love", thus promoting the aims of the 2nd Vatican Synod.


                Source: http://www.oodegr.com


                George C. Thomas, Kuwait
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