Relations between the Orthodox Church and other Christian churches, on the basis of pan-orthodox decisions – Final27 December 2015
At this point I would like to refer briefly to some of the revisions which have taken place: the acceptance of Cyril’s interpretation and teaching on the general Christological issue in the dialogue with the Pre-Chalcedon Churches; the adoption of Eucharistic ecclesiology as the basis for the theological and ecclesiological understanding of the items in the dialogue with the Roman Catholics (the text of Munich, New Valaam and Ravenna); the recognition on the part of the W.C.C. of Trinitarian and Christological teaching as a requirement for membership of the organization and the adoption of the Nicene/Constantinopolitan Creed, without the filioque, as the basis for confessional rapprochement; and, finally, the understanding of the charismatic mysteries and Eucharistic limits of the Church by certain Protestant confessions cannot be considered in a positive light, nor can it go unnoticed.
For the Orthodox Church, dialogue has always been, and remains, an essential and inaliable feature both of its soteriological mission, to the end of achieving the return of the schismatics and heretics to its bosom, and also of its pastoral responsibility, which is why it firmly confesses and declares that it is its self-awareness which makes it the authentic continuation of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and the ark of salvation for those who are close and those who are far away.
This expression of ecclesiological composure as the main criterion for each and any dialogue also defines, on the one hand, the limits of theological responsibility of the members appointed by the local Orthodox Churches to the Joint Theological Committees and multilateral Theological Dialogues, within the framework of the modern Ecumenical Movement. On the other, it demonstrates the undiminished concern which must be shown by the local Orthodox Churches regarding the monitoring and evaluation of the aforementioned dialogues, indeed, with special critical intent, not only at the level of the synodal organs responsible in each local Church, but also of the Pan-Orthodox Conferences, since the issue of bilateral and multilateral Theological Dialogues was included in the agenda of the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Catholic Church which is to take place in the future. At this point it should be emphasized that ‘Orthodoxy’ as an attribute of the Church is not a matter for isolated individuals, nor is it to be placed outside or above the Church, as a regulatory rule for its life and thought. It is, in fact, identical to the Church itself, a constituent part of its identity. This is why it can be experienced only in communion with the Church, which means, in this instance, the complete acceptance of decisions taken on a Pan-Orthodox level on behalf of the Orthodox faithful. Otherwise, the danger of disorder and schism lurks within the Church, and these are capable of mortally wounding its unity. Because of its self-awareness, the Orthodox Church is to be identified with the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church rather than with a notion of institutional or organizational exclusivity or ideological imposition. Because, as Professor Georgios Martzelos has so aptly pointed out, on the basis of the present ecclesiological foundations, those, be they clergy or laity, taking part in the Theological Dialogues and the Ecumenical Movement in the name of the local Orthodox Churches, do so not as individuals, but at the direction of their Churches, expressing, the Church’s views, not their own. As regards participation, the Church’s views have been and are expressed on the basis of Pan-Orthodox decisions and on the basis of tradition as regards the content of teaching. This is why they update the local orthodox Churches on the progress of the Theological Dialogues and their future prospects, submitting the Common Texts which have been drawn up and agreed by the Joint Committees, within the framework of the Theological Dialogues, to the Synods of the local Churches they represent for ratification. Because these alone are responsible for deciding whether the dialogues should continue or be called off. Without the approval or decision the Synods of the local Orthodox Churches, no theological text and no decision of those taking part in the Theological Dialogues in the name of these Churches has any ecclesiastical validity.
Apart from the problems, difficulties and issues already mentioned in each of the dialogues, the concern and witness, which the Orthodox Church is duty bound to exercise, makes it necessary to point out more recent deviations which further increase the seriousness of the theological differences which already exist between the various Christian traditions and confessions, quite apart from the wounding experiences of their historical relations.
The confessional introversion of many years, in the way inter-Christian relations have been ordered, is expressed by a significant lack of information both to the clergy of all ranks and also to the flock and this has, unfortunately not led to a sober evaluation of the positive consequences of this promotion of the Orthodox tradition to those who are near and far. The aim of this effort has been to right the confessional deviations and aberrations of the various traditions of the Christian world in the West, as well as to confirm of the enduring prestige of the Orthodox tradition. This is why there are occasional protests, objections, suspicions and reactions concerning the proper or improper course of the discussions and even the need for the bilateral Theological Discussion at all.
But even in this sense, the Orthodox Church has not been damaged. Rather, its presence has been strengthened and its contribution recognized, while the timely and untimely, isolated criticism which has been expressed has not, taken as a whole, tarnished the pastoral responsibility of the Church hierarchy nor has it been accepted by the Orthodox ecclesiastical conscience in general. This is why the local Orthodox Churches continue to participate in the activities and events within the sphere of the Ecumenical Movement and in the bipartite theological talks: because only the Dialogue of Truth, in the context of love, will free us and bring us to the real communion of the Christian Churches and the unity of the Christian world.
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).