Orthodox church leaders note concerns ahead of worldAthens' rally
- Ecumenical News International / 02 May 2005
Orthodox church leaders note concerns ahead of world Athens' rally
By Maria Antoniadou
Athens, 2 May (ENI)--Orthodox church leaders in Greece are
attempting to allay fears about a world church conference, to
begin in Athens on 9 May, amid concern the gathering might
aggravate tensions in their denomination about relations with
The conference is being organized by the World Council of
Churches and will bring 500 participants to the Greek capital
from many Christian churches, including from Evangelical,
Pentecostal and Roman Catholic traditions which do not belong
to the Geneva-based WCC.
The (Orthodox) Church of Greece is reported to have received
hundreds of letters protesting about the conference which is on
the theme of mission and evangelism, or Christians sharing their
faith with others.
Many Orthodox Christians in Greece and elsewhere are suspicious
of mission by other denominations in traditionally Orthodox
countries such as those in eastern Europe or the Middle East.
They denounce as proselytism what they see as an attempt to win
converts among Orthodox believers.
Still, the WCC is on record as opposing proselytism, noted
Orthodox leaders from around the world who met in Athens
recently. The world church grouping has in the past urged "those
involved in proselytism to recognise its disastrous effects on
church unity, relationships among Christians, and the credibility
of the Gospel".
The WCC says the main aim of the Athens conference is "to provide
a space for Christians and churches to exchange their experience
and think together about priorities in mission and the future of
Christian witness". The theme is "Come Holy Spirit, Heal and
Says the Rev. Ruth Bottoms, a Baptist pastor from Britain who is
to moderate the gathering, "In our globalised and fragmented
world, filled with much division and conflict, the gospel message
of healing and reconciliation is vital."
Still, Greek Bishop Ioannis of Thermopilon, a member of the local
organizing committee for the conference, said he was concerned
about the reaction of what are seen as conservative clerics who
are professors at the theological schools in Athens and
Prior to the conference there had been some tensions in the WCC
between its Orthodox and non-Orthodox member churches over issues
including worship rituals involving Christians from different
The Orthodox church leaders who met before the conference said
they would not be taking part in joint ecumenical worship
services during the Athens conference, but that prayers would be
organized by each separate church tradition.
Earlier this year, the head of the Orthodox Church of Greece,
Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens, welcomed plans to hold the
mission gathering in Greece.
"This is an opportunity to present an image of a modern church
and manifest the true values of our faith and culture," he said
in a statement. "We shall set aside the fears of the last century
and look forward to new relationships with other churches."
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