Christians Of Europe Sign Ecumenical Charter
- CHRISTIANS OF EUROPE SIGN ECUMENICAL CHARTER
Blagovest-info/Sobornost, 26 April 2001
An unprecedented ecumenical meeting concluded in Strasbourg last Sunday
with the solemn signing of the Ecumenical Charter (Charta Oecumenica). The
ceremony of signing of the Ecumenical Charter was held 22 April in the St.
Thomas Lutheran church.
The document was signed by the president of the Conference of European
Churches (CEC), Orthodox Metropolitan Jeremiah (of the Constantinople
patriarchate) and the president of the Catholic Council of Bishops'
Conferences of Europe (CBCE), Archbishop Cardinal Miloslav Vlk of Prague.
After signing the charter the presidents of the two largest Christian
associations of Europe invited all European churches and bishops'
conferences "to adopt and adapt" this document to the specific conditions
of each society. After prayer, which was delivered by Metropolitan
Jeremiah, and reading of the Bible, which Cardinal Vlk did, both bishops
distributed to all present copies of the charter in English, French,
German, and Italian.
The signing of the charter was preceded by an ecumenical worship service in
the same church of St. Thomas, which was led by a woman Lutheran pastor
from Germany, Ruth Rohrandt, vice president of CEC, and the French Cardinal
Roger Etchegaray, who headed the Vatican's organizing committee for conduct
of the jubilee year 2000, who previously had been the chairman of the papal
council "Justice and Peace."
The Ecumenical Charter defines a policy of cooperation of Christian
churches from Europe of twelve denominations. This includes striving for
the achievement of "visible unity" of the church, evangelistic activity in
Europe, support for the processes of integration on the continent, activity
aimed at gaining for women equal rights with men "in all spheres of life,"
struggle for preserving the environment, resistance to antisemitism, as
well as dialogue with other religions, particularly Islam. The charter was
composed as the outcome of a two-year-long consultation that began some
time after the ecumenical meeting in Graz, Austria, in 1997.
The final text was approved in January of this year at a session of the
joint committee of representatives of CEC and CBCE, although, as leaders of
both these organizations noted, the charter "does not have a confessional
or doctrinal character nor does it have binding force within canon law. Its
authority will depend on the voluntary obligations of European churches and
At the same time a number of European churches, including the Russian
Orthodox church, expressed reservations regarding a number of provisions of
this document. On the eve of signing the charter a worker of the Department
of External Church Relations of the Moscow patriarchate (OVSTs MP), Deacon
Andrei Yliseev, stated in an interview with ENI, the news agency of the
World Council of Churches, that this document can turn out to be "harmful
and unproductive" for ecumenical dialogue and, besides, lead to "new
divisions" among Christians. Andrei Yeliseev told reporters that he
informed the central committee of CEC of the position of his church,
expressing its disagreement "with both form and contents" of the Ecumenical
Charter. RPTs expresses special concern, in Fr Andrei's words, with
paragraphs of the charter which speak of a movement for achieving "visible
unity of the Church of Jesus Christ in a united faith." According to the
deacon, this passage contradicts the declaration on principles of
interchurch relations adopted by the bishops' council of RPTs in August of
In the opinion of OVTsS MP, the second version of the draft contains "many
ideas and practical and theological positions which do not take into
account the current state of the ecumenical movement and inter-Christian
dialogue." Moreover, the Moscow patriarchate thinks, the text of the
charter can evoke serious criticism within a number of churches and thus
bring harm to cooperation of Christians in future.
In light of all that has been said, RPTs views the signing of the charter
by Metropolitan Jeremiah and Cardinal Vlk solely as an "act of their own
personal volition and convictions and not as the position of their churches
as a whole and the Russian Orthodox church in particular."
In commenting on the position of his church, Fr Andrei Yeliseev stressed
that the Moscow patriarchate by no means disapproves of the idea of the
charter as such, but advocates further clarification of a number of its
Among protestant confessions expressing reservations about the Ecumenical
Charter is the Evangelical Lutheran church of Denmark.
(tr. by PDS, posted at http://www.stetson.edu/~psteeves/relnews/ on
28 April 2001)