February 2, 2004
ELCA, Orthodox Leaders Discuss Wide Range of Issues
ISTANBUL, Turkey (ELCA) -- Relationships domestically and
internationally between Lutherans and Orthodox Christians were
described as "very good" by Lutheran and Orthodox Christian leaders who met
here Jan. 27. The Lutheran delegation included
leaders of the Chicago-based Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), based in
The Lutherans visited here Jan. 26-30 with a variety of international
leaders and theologians of Orthodox Christians. The Rev. Mark S. Hanson,
ELCA presiding bishop and LWF president, and the Rev. Ishmael Noko, LWF
general secretary, headed the 14-member joint ELCA-LWF delegation. Members
of the ELCA delegation were to have visited here in March 2003, but
postponed the trip because of security concerns related to the start of the
U.S.-led war with Iraq.
In a meeting that covered a wide range of topics, the Lutherans met
with Orthodox leaders at the offices of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, home of
the international leadership for Orthodox Christians worldwide. In the 3
1/2 hour meeting the church leaders had a frank discussion on such topics as
Lutheran-Orthodox dialogues, Lutheran Church relationships in the United
States, ELCA full-communion relationships, and the ordination of women and
people who are gay and lesbian in committed relationships.
His Eminence Metropolitan Athanassios of Helioupolis and Theira, noted
that Hanson's visit here continued a tradition in which ELCA presiding
bishops have visited world Orthodox leaders in Istanbul. Athanassios is
president of the Orthodox Inter-Church Affairs Synodical Commission.
"We thank you for these regular visits to the Patriarchate," he said.
This meeting was the first in which both the LWF
president and general secretary visited Istanbul together, Athanassios
"It is an honor to greet you on behalf of the ELCA and also on behalf
of the LWF," Hanson said. "We come here to express
gratitude to God for the deepening unity we experience in the body of
Christ. We come grateful to God for progress in the U.S.
and international Lutheran-Orthodox dialogues."
The ELCA-LWF visit is in keeping with the historic tradition of the
church, Noko said. Lutherans and Orthodox Christians
should greet one another as a sign of unity, he added. Good relations
between Lutherans and Orthodox Christians are possible
because the churches respect one another and one has never "condemned" the
other, Noko said. The good relationships "give
us a unique ecumenical opportunity," he said.
In North America an ELCA theological dialogue with Orthodox Christians
is approaching the end of its third round, said the
Rev. Randall R. Lee, director of the ELCA Department for Ecumenical Affairs.
The two churches have been exploring the Holy Trinity and the "mystery" of
the Christian Church, he said.
In June, the dialogue participants hope to publish a common statement
and a guidebook for congregations of both religious
traditions to use in conversation, and to encourage common prayer services,
Lee said. Lee said he was grateful to the Rev. Donald
G. McCoid, co-chair of the U.S. dialogue with Metropolitan Maximos. McCoid
is bishop of the ELCA Southwestern Pennsylvania
Synod, Pittsburgh. Maximos is bishop of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of
In addition to the North American dialogue, there is an international
Lutheran-Orthodox theological dialogue. His
Eminence Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima, a member of the Orthodox
Inter-Church Affairs Synodical Commission, suggested
there should be better "coordination" of the two dialogues.Gennadios said
such an idea was discussed several years ago, but
has not been discussed much in recent years.
Hanson pledged there would be a "continuity of topics" in both
dialogues. "I hope my presidency of the LWF will facilitate
the integration of the dialogues and not any unilateral action by the ELCA,"
he said in response. "I hope you hear that
Athanassios asked the ELCA delegation specifically about the status of
the ELCA's full communion relationship with the
Episcopal Church in the wake of its consecration of Bishop Gene V. Robinson,
who is gay and in a committed homosexual
relationship. Under present policy, the ELCA expects that its pastors
refrain from any sexual activity outside of marriage.
The ELCA is in a study process, examining whether or not to ordain
clergy who are gay or lesbian and in committed homosexual
relationships, and whether it should have a policy on blessing same-sex
relationships. The church has no formal policy about
blessing of same-sex relationships, though its bishops have advised the
church they do not approve of such ceremonies.
Hanson told the Orthodox leaders that the full communion agreement --
"Called to Common Mission" -- states clearly that
each church maintains its own clergy standards. "We do not change our
standards for ordination because the Episcopal Church
consecrated a gay bishop," Hanson responded.
"The ELCA is now in a period of study and we are very mindful that we
do not carry out that study in isolation," Hanson
said. "We are mindful that study and any recommendations from it impact our
global and ecumenical relationships."
The ELCA and Orthodox leaders briefly discussed the ordination of
women. The ELCA and its predecessor church bodies
have ordained women for more than 30 years; Orthodox churches do not.
Gennadios said some Orthodox churches are studying the
issue, mostly in response to questions from other church bodies.
"There is no request from inside our church for this (ordination of
women)," he said. "We respond to questions from
outside the church. The role of women is very different in the United
States compared to Turkey and Greece."
Other subjects discussed in the meeting were the status of other ELCA
full communion relationships and church-to-church
theological dialogues; relationships between the ELCA and Lutheran
Church-Missouri Synod, Middle East concerns; National
Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and World Council of Churches
relationships; and the possibility of a single, common
date for the celebration of Easter by Western and Orthodox churches.
Accompanying Hanson, his wife Ione, and Lee on the visit to Istanbul
were: the Rev. Lowell G. Almen, ELCA secretary; the Rev.
David E. Jensen, Ascension Lutheran Church, Minocqua, Wis. and ELCA Church
Council member; Kathy J. Magnus, regional officer for
North America, Lutheran World Federation, Chicago; Arthur Norman, Spanish
Fort, Ala.; the Rev. Fred S. Opalinski, Trinity Lutheran
Church, Reading, Pa.; the Rev. Karen S. Parker, assistant to the bishop,
ELCA Pacifica Synod, Yorba Linda, Calif.; the Rev. Paul
A. Schreck, executive assistant, ELCA Office of the Secretary and associate
for bilateral dialogues, ELCA Department for Ecumenical
Representing the LWF were the Rev. Ishmael Noko, general secretary;
Karin Achtelstetter, director, Office for
Communication Services; and Archbishop Georg Kretschmar, co-president,
Lutheran/Orthodox Joint International Commission, St.
Reporting on the trip were Achtelstetter and John R. Brooks, director
for news and media production, ELCA Department for
-- -- --
Information about Lutheran-Orthodox dialogues can be found on the
Department for Ecumenical Affairs home page at
on the ELCA Web site.
For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or news@...