Monday, July 1, 2013

Should the Orthodox Church be in the Ecumenical Movement?

Many have argued, since the beginning of the Ecumenical Movement, whether the Orthodox Church should or shouldn’t be in the Ecumenical Movement. They argue that Orthodoxy will lose its identity, that the Protestants will try and proselytise Orthodox and alter the latter’s dogmas and traditions. Nevertheless, there are those who believe that the Ecumenical Movement is a positive move in order to achieve a future unity of all the Christians. Fr. Sergius Bulgakov explains his position on this massive issue which has troubled many during the 20th century:

“The Orthodox Church takes part in the inter-confessional, ‘ecumenical’ movement of our day…The participation of Orthodoxy in this movement does not all signify that it can renounce any portion whatever of its tradition or that it can accept a compromise or reconsideration. On the other hand, relations with heterodox confessions may aid the Orthodox Church to attain greater plenitude and breadth. Orthodoxy is present at such conferences to testify to the truth. These conferences are not councils, they are only preliminary assemblies, they are ‘conciliation’. There are no reasons why Orthodoxy should avoid conferences. On the contrary, Christian love demands that the faith be testified to, that one be ‘all things to all men’, as the Apostle said, ‘in order that by all means I might save some’ (I Cor. 9:22). Orthodoxy is not separated from the rest of the Christian world by a wall of absolute power, the papacy, whose preliminary recognition is imposed. Since this obstacle does not exist for Orthodoxy, it can enter into relations, in all liberty and sincerity, with the whole Christian world, remaining always that which it is itself. The Orthodox Church does not put its hope on human efforts and the missionary zeal of its members, but it hopes in the power of the Spirit of God, Who lives in the Church and Who is leading the peoples toward unity. This unity may be found only in Orthodoxy. The Christian peoples of the world are now seeking Orthodoxy, often without knowing it. And they will find it, for it is said: ‘Seek and ye shall find’[1].
On the other hand, Metropolitan Kallistos also argues this topic claiming:
“At the beginning of each celebration of the Divine Liturgy, the Orthodox Christians pray ’for the peace of the whole world…and the unity of everyone’. Another Orthodox prayer states, ‘O Christ, You have bound Your Apostles in a union of love, and have bound us Your believing servants to You with the same bond: grant us in all sincerity to fulfil Your commandments and to love one another…’. This commitment to unity and mutual love has led many Orthodox to participate actively in the World Council of Churches (WCC) and in other expressions of the Ecumenical Movement. But the attitude of Orthodoxy towards ecumenism remains ambivalent. Although at present almost all the Orthodox Churches are full members of the WCC, within each local Church there are full members of the WCC, within each local Church there are some who feel strongly that any such membership comprises the claim of Orthodoxy to be the one true Church of Christ. In the opinion of the minority – which is large enough to be significant – it would be best for the Orthodox to withdraw altogether from the World Council, or at least to participate only as observers.
…the Ecumenical Movement In turn is important for Orthodoxy: it has helped to force the various Orthodox Churches out of their comparative isolation, making them meet one another and enter into a living contact with non-Orthodox Christians. We Orthodox are there, not simply to bear witness to what we ourselves believe, but also to listen to what others have to say”[2].  

[1] Sergius Bulgakov, The Orthodox Church, (New York, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1988), p. 191-192
[2] Ware, Timothy, The Orthodox Church, (London, Penguin Books, 1997), p. 322, 324

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