World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Thessaloniki statement

01 May 1998

Thessaloniki, Greece, May 1998

The Thessaloniki Statement has had various interpretations, yet its two major thrusts are clear: it is strongly affirmative of ecumenism as such, and at the same time it expresses serious reservations about the ways in which the WCC works towards ecumenical goals. It focuses upon structural concerns and their effect upon the programmatic work, the agenda and priorities of the WCC, mentioning three times the need for "radical restructuring". The Thessaloniki Statement is also where the first request is made for a "Mixed Theological Commission", which has taken shape now in the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC.

Evaluation of new facts in the relations of Orthodoxy and the ecumenical movement

1. We delegates of all the canonical Orthodox Churches, by the power of the Risen Christ, gathered at the historical city of Thessaloniki, Greece from 29 April to 2 May 1998, after an invitation of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, responding to the initiative of the Russian and Serbian Churches and because of the withdrawal of the Georgian Church from the World Council of Churches. The meeting was hosted by the Organization of "Thessaloniki - Cultural Capital of Europe 97" and under the generous hospitality of His Eminence Metropolitan Panteleimon of Thessaloniki.

2. The meeting was presided over by Chrysostomos, the Senior Metropolitan of the See of Ephesus (Ecumenical Patriarchate) and the sessions were held in a spirit of Christian love, fraternal fellowship and common understanding. The delegates expressed and asked the prayers and blessings of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and all other Venerable Primates of the Orthodox Churches. The participants received telegrams of congratulations from all the Primates. They expressed also their best wishes to His Beatitude Chrystodoulos, the new Archbishop of Athens and of all Greece for his election.

3. Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Ephesus presented an introductory paper on the theme of the meeting, followed by a presentation from all the delegates on the one hand describing their relations to the ecumenical movement and to the WCC in particular and on the other hand evaluating the critical problems they are facing. The discussions analyzed the participation of the Orthodox Churches in the decision-making bodies of the WCC.

4. The delegates unanimously denounced those groups of schismatics, as well as certain extremist groups within the local Orthodox Churches themselves, that are using the theme of ecumenism in order to criticize the Church leadership and undermine its authority, thus attempting to create divisions and schisms within the Church. They also use non-factual material and misinformation in order to support their unjust criticism.

5. The delegates also emphasized that Orthodox participation in the ecumenical merit has always been based on Orthodox Tradition, on the decisions of the Synods of the local Orthodox Churches, and on Pan-Orthodox meetings, such Third Pre-Conciliar Conference of 1986 and the meeting of the Primates of Local Orthodox Churches in 1992.

6. The participants are unanimous in their understanding of the necessity for continuing their participation in various forms of Inter-Christian activity.

7. We have no right to withdraw from the mission laid upon us by our Lord Jesus Christ, the mission of witnessing the Truth before the non-Orthodox world. We t not interrupt relations with Christians of other Confessions who are prepared to work together with us.

8. Indeed the WCC has been a forum where the faith of the Orthodox Church, its mission and its views on a number of issues such as peace, justice, development, ecology were made more widely known to the non-Orthodox world. A fruitful collaboration was established with the other members of the Council in response to challenges of modern civilization. Proselytism has been denounced and help extended to Orthodox Churches in difficult situations to enable them to carry forward their mission. Orthodox interests were often defended, especially where the Orthodox minorities were discriminated against. Orthodox views in the process of political, economic and cultural integration were expressed and Orthodox contributions were made in the relations with other faiths. Schismatic groups and so-called renewal groups within Protestantism were not admitted to membership of the Council at Orthodox request.

9. However at the same time there are certain developments within some Protestant members of the Council that are reflected in the debates of the WCC and are regarded as unacceptable by the Orthodox. At many WCC meetings the Orthodox were obliged to be involved in the discussion of questions entirely alien to their tradition. At the VII Assembly of the WCC in Canberra in 1991, and during the Central Committee meetings from 1992 onwards, the Orthodox delegates have take a vigorous stand against intercommunion with non-Orthodox, against inclusive language, ordination of women, the rights of sexual minorities and certain tendencies relating to religious syncretism. Their statements on these subjects were always considered as minority statements and as such could not influence the general trend and ethos of the WCC.

10. After a century of Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement, and years in the WCC in particular, we do not perceive sufficient progress in the multilateral theological discussions between Christians. On the contrary, the gap en the Orthodox and the Protestants is becoming wider as the aforementioned tendencies within certain Protestant denominations are becoming stronger.

11. During the Orthodox participation of many decades in the ecumenical movement, Orthodoxy has never been betrayed by any representative of a local Orthodox Church. On the contrary, these representatives have always been completely faithful and obedient to their respective Church authorities, acted in complete agreement with the canonical rules, the Teaching of the Ecumenical Councils, the Church Fathers and the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church. 12. We therefore come to the suggestion that the WCC must be radically restructured in order to allow more adequate Orthodox participation. Many Orthodox Churches raise questions as to what are the final criteria of the inclusion of a Church in a wider organization such as the WCC. The same questions exist for the inclusion of the Orthodox Church in the Council. Nevertheless, the theme of the criteria for inclusion is and will remain a fundamental request of Orthodoxy.

13. All the Orthodox Churches are requested to send official delegates to the VIII Assembly of the WCC in Harare, December 1998, with the aim of expressing their concerns as follows:

  1. Orthodox delegates participating at Harare will present in common this Statement of the Thessaloniki Pan-Orthodox Meeting.
  2. Orthodox delegates will not participate in ecumenical services, common prayers, worship and other religious ceremonies at the Assembly.
  3. Orthodox delegates generally will not take part in the voting procedure except in certain cases that concern the Orthodox and by unanimous agreement. If it is needed, in the plenary and group discussions, they will present the Orthodox views and positions.
  4. These mandates will be maintained until a radical restructuring of the WCC is accomplished to allow adequate Orthodox participation.

14. Thus we state that we are no longer satisfied with the present forms of Orthodox membership in the WCC. If the structures of the WCC arc not radically changed, other Orthodox Churches will also withdraw from the WCC, as has the church of Georgia. In addition the Orthodox delegates at the VIII Assembly will be forced to protest if the representatives of sexual minorities are admitted to participation structurally in the Assembly.

15. Finally, the delegates underline that major decisions concerning the participation of the Orthodox Churches in the ecumenical movement must be in accordance with pan-Orthodox decisions and must be taken by each local Orthodox Church in consultation with all the other local Orthodox Churches.

16. The delegates also strongly suggested that a Mixed Theological Commission be created with Orthodox members appointed by their own respective Churches and from WCC nominees. The Mixed Commission will being its work after the Harare Assembly by discussing the acceptable forms of Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement and the radical restructuring of the WCC.

17. May the Risen Lord guide our steps towards the accomplishment of His will and the glory of His divine name.

At Thessaloniki, 1 May 1998