Relations between the Orthodox Church and other Christian churches, on the basis of pan-orthodox decisions – 2

23 December 2015


In this progress towards the final application of the above points in the Text, as well as for a creative contribution and witness on the part of the Orthodox Church, it is stated that the W.C.C. as a whole should be run on the basis of the Apostolic Tradition and faith (cf. §12).

Similar efforts have been made for the participation of the Orthodox Church within the framework of the ‘Faith and Order’ Committee, where the Orthodox Churches have to seek ways to coordinate the efforts of the Orthodox regarding the ecclesiological criteria for participation in the continuing multilateral theological dialogue. In order to achieve all the above, it was decided on a Pan-Orthodox basis, to promote the Sofia desiderata (1981) and the texts of the Special Commission (2002), which contain the ‘desiderata’ of the Orthodox Churches to the W.C.C. and their participation in it[1].

So the desiderata of Sofia and the Special Commission[2] are necessary updates and additions, positions which, on the one hand have been recognized by all the Orthodox and have unanimous approval, and on the other reflect completely the principles of ecclesiological identity and self-awareness of Orthodoxy, particularly as regards its participation in these inter-confessional, international organizations. As for the present ‘desiderata’:

a) A re-evaluation was agreed of the institutional framework for the participation of the Orthodox Church in the W.C.C., on the basis of Orthodox proposals regarding decision-making by consensus, particularly on social and ethical issues. There was recognition of the special ecclesiological identity of Orthodoxy in the modern ecumenical dialogue, particularly as regards the theological and ecclesiological differences which set it apart from the various Christian traditions and confessions. It was emphasized that any form of common prayer should be avoided and the manner of the participation of the Orthodox Members in decision-making processes was determined.

b) In the second text, ‘Relations between the Orthodox Church and the Rest of the Christian World’ emphasis was placed on the positive attitude of the Orthodox Churches towards the dialogue on the unity of the Christian world, on the basis of the common tradition of the Ancient Church (§3). Two paragraphs of the Text (6 and 7) describe the general methodological principles on the basis of which bilateral theological discussions might be conducted.

In particular, it was emphasized that in the course of theological discussions, the methodology followed aims at resolving the long-standing theological differences or any new modifications and at seeking the points in common of the Christian faith, with the assumption that the members of the Church will be kept informed of the developments arising in the discussions.

Should it prove impossible to overcome some particular theological difference, the theological dialogue will continue, once the disagreement on the particular issue has been recorded and this disagreement has been made known to all the local Orthodox Churches, so that all is as it should be. It was noted that, should the need arise, because of the nature of specific theological problems in any bilateral discussion, the relevant methodology can be changed. It is clear, then, that in the conduct of the theological discussions, the common aim is the final restoration of unity in the right faith and in love. It is true, however, that the theological and ecclesiological differences which exist allow for a certain order of precedence as to the difficulties involved in achieving this stated aim in Orthodoxy as a whole. The disparity of the problems in each bilateral discussion requires modifications to the methodology being observed, but not any alteration in the aim, since this is one and the same in all the dialogues.

Further to the above two paragraphs, as a sub-unit, there follows a description of the corresponding discussions with the Anglicans, Old Catholics, Ancient Eastern Churches (or Anti-Chalcedonian), Roman Catholics, Lutherans and Reformed and the particular theological problems are emphasized, as are the specific elements which caused the difficulties and problems during the course of the proceedings of each of them.

In the present Text, there is a particularly sensitive appraisal of, on the one hand, the ecclesiastical evaluation of the future course of the dialogues, and, on the other, the prospects for them. The prospects for theological dialogue with the Anglicans have already receded[3], following their decision on the ordination of women as priests and bishops (1977, 2013 and 2014), while the evaluation of the theological work of the dialogue with the Old Catholics has been halted[4], following the ordination of women in some local Old Catholic communities and the adoption of intercommunion without the necessary condition of ‘communion in the faith’. The dialogue with the Anti-Chalcedonian Ancient Eastern Churches is at the stage of critical evaluation of the pastoral and liturgical issues[5], while that with the Roman Catholics[6] is being overshadowed both by the proselytizing activities of the Uniates, as well as difficulties in understanding the function and application of primacy within the contexts of the Synod and Church structures.

Finally, the dialogues with the Lutherans[7] and Reformed churches[8] had opened new prospects for a reconsideration of their fundamental theological positions on the Church and sacred Mysteries, but the introduction of the ordination of women to their particular form of holy orders has downgraded the prospects for this particular dialogue, despite the significant theological convergence in the common theological texts, in the light of the Patristic tradition.

From 29 September to 4 October 2014, the 1st Meeting of the Special Inter-Orthodox Commission to Review the Tests of the Pre-Synod Pan-Orthodox Conference was held in the Orthodox Centre of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in Chambésy, Geneva, and dealt with the revision of the above two Texts.

Within the context of the updating of the views and positions, it was decided that the two Texts would be better merged, and two paragraphs from previous Texts were not included. These dealt with the actions and activities of certain organs, particularly the World Council of Churches and with a description of the course of the various Bilateral Theological Dialogues.

These paragraphs were omitted because it was felt that they were now no more than historical references which offered nothing of importance to the future consideration and evaluation of the new Text by the Orthodox as a whole.

In the new, unified Text, which was approved and signed at the 5th Pre-Synod, Pan-Orthodox Conference (10-17 October 2015), the same ecclesiological and theological pre-conditions prevailed, and an effort was made to reflect the whole procedure of the participation of the local Orthodox Churches in the Ecumenical Movement and the Bilateral Theological Dialogues as a unanimous decision and expression of the universal conscience of the Orthodox Church and a manifestation of Pan-Orthodox unity.

[1] Cf. Saben Todor, The Sofia Consultation-Orthodox Involvement in the World Council of Churches, Genova, 1982. Metropolitan Amvrosios of Kalavryta and Aigialeia – G. Galitis, «Ἔκθεσις τοῦ ἐν Γενεύῃ ἀπό 26ης Αὐγούστου ἕως 3ης Σεπτεμβρίου συνελθούσης Συνελεύσεως τῆς Κεντρικῆς Ἐπιτροπῆς τοῦ Παγκοσμίου Συμβουλίου Ἐκκλησιῶν», ἐν ΕΚΚΛΗΣΙΑ   Π΄ (2003), pp. 6-10. Protopresbyter Stefanos Avramidis, «Οἱ ἀξιώσεις (desiderata) τῆς Ὀρθοδόξου Ἐκκλησίας ἔναντι τοῦ Παγκοσμίου Συμβουλίου Ἐκκλησιῶν», ἐν ΠΒ΄ ΕΚΚΛΗΣΙΑ (2005), pp. 302-12. A. Vasileiadou, συμμετοχή τῶν Ὀρθοδόξων στό ΠΣΕ ὑπό τό φῶς τῶν Ἀποφάσεων τῆς Εἰδικῆς Ἐπιτροπῆς. Τό ἱστορικό καί ἡ θεματολογία τῆς Εἰδικῆς Ἐπιτροπῆς γιά τή συμμετοχή τῶν Ὀρθοδόξων στό ΠΣΕ, Θεσσαλονίκη 2005. On the work of the Special Commission, βλ. Great Protopresbyter Georgios Tsetsis, «Εἰσαγωγή στή “Special Commission”. Οἱ ἀπαρχές καί τό ἔργο τῆς Εἰδικῆς Ἐπιτροπῆς γιά τήν Ὀρθόδοξη συμμετοχή στό Παγκόσμιο Συμβούλιο Ἐκκλησιῶν», in Θεολογικές Σπουδές καί Οἰκουμένη, μέ εἰδική ἀναφορά στή συμμετοχή τῆς Ὀρθόδοξης Ἐκκλησίας στούς διαχριστιανικούς διαλόγους καί τό μέλλον τους (ed. V. Stathokosta), Athens 2003, pp. 63-70. Georgios Laimopolos, «Εἰδική Ἐπιτροπή (Special Commission) γιά τήν Ὀρθόδοξη συμμετοχή στό Παγκόσμιο Συμβούλιο Ἐκκλησιῶν: Mία θεολογική ἐκτίμηση τῶν ἐπιμέρους ζητημάτων της», ibid., pp. 94-107.

[2] For the final text of the Special Commission regarding the participation of the Orthodox in the W.C.C. (in Greek), see Ὀρθόδοξη Θεολογία καί Οἰκουμενικός Διάλογος, ed. P. Vasileiadis, pubd. by Apostoliki Diakonia, Athens 2005, pp. 207-70.

[3] See V. Stathokosta,  «Ὁ θεολογικός διάλογος Ὀρθοδόξων καί Ἀγγλικανῶν στόν 20ό αἰῶνα. Ἀφορμή γιά προβληματισμό γιά τό παρόν καί τό μέλλον τῶν διμερῶν θεολογικῶν διαλόγων τῆς Ὀρθοδοξίας», in Ἐπιστημονική Ἐπετηρίς Θεολογικῆς Σχολῆς τοῦ Πανεπιστημίου Ἀθηνῶν ΜΕ΄ (2010), pp. 443-63. Idem, «Relations between the Orthodox and the Anglicans in the Twentieth century : A Reason to Consider the Present and the Future of the Theological Dialogue», in Ecclesiology 8 (2012), pp. 350-74.

[4] G. Liantas, Ὁ διμερής θεολογικός διάλογος Ὀρθοδόξων καί Παλαιοκαθολικῶν, Thessaloniki, 2000.

[5] Cf. Christodoulos Konstantinidis, «Ἀξιολογήσεις καί προοπτικαί τοῦ διαλόγου μεταξύ τῆς Ὀρθοδόξου Ἐκκλησίας καί τῶν Ἀρχαίων Ἀνατολικῶν Ἐκκλησιῶν», in ΘΕΟΛΟΓΙΑ 51 (1980), pp.. 22-48, 222-47; A. Papavasileiou, Κριτική ἀποτίμηση τοῦ Θεολογικοῦ Διαλόγου μέ τούς Ἀντιχαλκηδόνιους, Lefkosia 2015.

[6] G. Konidaris, «Περί τήν Διορθόδοξον Ἐπιτροπήν τῆς Γενεύης (1968) καί τάς προϋποθέσεις τοῦ Θεολογικοῦ Διαλόγου τῆς Ἀληθείας μεταξύ τῆς Καθολικῆς Ὀρθοδόξου καί τῆς Ρωμαιοκαθολικῆς Ἐκκλησίας [Ἡ μεθόδευσις τοῦ Θεολογικοῦ Διαλόγου μετ’ ἀνεκδότων ἐγγράφων]», in Ἐπιστημονική Ἐπετηρίς τῆς Θεολογικῆς Σχολῆς τοῦ Πανεπιστημίου Ἀθηνῶν Κ΄ (1975), pp.. 329-402. Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Peristeri, Ὀρθοδοξία καί Ρωμαιοκαθολικισμός. Ὁ ἀρξάμενος θεολογικός διάλογος, Athens 1981. G. Liantas, Διορθόδοξος Διακονία τοῦ Οἰκουμενικοῦ Πατριαρχείου καί τῆς Ἐκκλησίας τῆς Ἑλλάδος καί ἡ συμβολή τῶν δύο Ἐκκλησιῶν στούς διμερεῖς θεολογικούς διαλόγους μέ τή Ρωμαιοκαθολική Ἐκκλησία καί τήν Ἐκκλησία τῶν Παλαιοκαθολικῶν, Thessaloniki 2005. Metropolitan Chrysostomos (Savvatos) of Messinia, «Θεολογική προσέγγιση τοῦ Κειμένου τῆς Ραβέννας», in ΕΚΚΛΗΣΙΑ ΠΣΤ΄(2009), pp. 544-8.  Archimandrite Apostolos Kavaliotis, Ὁ διμερής Οἰκουμενικός Διάλογος Ὀρθοδόξων καί Ρωμαιοκαθολικῶν ὑπό τήν πραγματικότητα τῶν δυσχερειῶν τῆς οὐνίας καί τοῦ πρωτείου, Athens 2014.

[7] Deacon Theodoros Meïmaris, «Ἀξιολόγησις καί προοπτικαί τοῦ 30ετοῦς Διεθνοῦς Θεολογικοῦ Διαλόγου Ὀρθοδόξων καί Λουθηρανῶν (1981-2011)» in ΘΕΟΛΟΓΙΑ 83 (2013), pp. 185-222.

[8] Cf. Metropolitan Chrysostomos (Kalaïtzis) of Myra, Περί τάς διμερεῖς θεολογικάς συναντήσεις μεταξύ θεολόγων τοῦ Οἰκ. Πατριαρχείου καί τῆς Εὐαγγελικῆς Ἐκκλησίας τῆς Γερμανίας ἐν ὄψει τῆς Ζ΄ ἀναλόγου συναντήσεως, Ἐν Καβάλᾳ 3-11 Ὀκτωβρίου 1984, Athens 1986.

Paper delivered at the Symposium entitled: ‘Orthodoxy and the World II. Towards the Holy and Great Synod’, which was organized jointly by the Holy, Royal and Patriarchal Monastery of the Vlatades, the Patriarchal Institute of Patristic Studies and the Theological School of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. (Holy Monastery of the Vlatades, 3-5 December, 2015).