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Orthodox church leaders note concerns ahead of worldAthens' rally

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  • Fr John Brian
    Ecumenical News International / 02 May 2005 Orthodox church leaders note concerns ahead of world Athens rally By Maria Antoniadou Athens, 2 May
    Message 1 of 1 , May 3, 2005
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      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
      other churches.

      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
      Reconcile".

      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
      Thessaloniki.

      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
      church traditions.

      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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