World Council of Churches

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

Appendix II, Report of sub-committee II

01 August 2000

by Fr. Ioan Sauca

in Report of sub-committee II
Special Commission on Orthodox participation in the WCC
(Vilemov, Czech Republic, August, 2000)

[See responses to this paper below]

Although the theme assigned to our group seems, at a first look, quite simple and easy to deal with, is, in my opinion, one of the most difficult and sensitive issues that the Mixed Commission is being faced with. One should not forget that among the four requests of the famous Thessaloniki Report (29 April - 2 May 1998)1 one asked the Orthodox participants at the Harare Assembly "not to participate in ecumenical services, common prayers, worship and other religious ceremonies at the Assembly". The meeting of Thessaloniki could be considered a climax, an event where the "new" realities were acknowledged and clearly articulated: in fact, from the 1990s onwards, during certain ecumenical gatherings, there were Orthodox delegates who already started to abstain from participating at the ecumenical services.

Attempting to describe the reasons behind the contemporary ecumenical crisis, in particular concerning the relationship of the Orthodox with the WCC, many scenarios and facts were named: the aggressive proselytism of some Christian groups from the West on the Orthodox faithful from the former Communist contexts; the search for new identity within the vacuum created by the collapse of the Marxist ideology; the ongoing tension between Eastern and Western Christianity etc. I would not deny all of these, but I would stress that behind the above-mentioned crisis apart from social, cultural or political reasons are also reasons of a profound theological nature.

Anti ecumenical attitudes, some even of extremist nature, were present always among some Orthodox schismatic groups or even among some fundamentalist faithful within the Orthodox local Churches. Their voices were not listened by and their impact on the Orthodox people was very limited. In recent years however, the situation has drastically changed. In Eastern Europe, after the period of enforced Marxist atheism, people are returning in great numbers to the Church. Former fervent Marxists get baptized and become overnight fervent Christians; many enroll in theological schools. The vocations to priesthood are constantly growing; the monasteries are being filled with young monks and nuns, many of them being highly intellectually qualified. In Western Europe, the context is totally different but a similar phenomenon with that from Eastern Europe can be identified: a good number of people convert to the Orthodox Church from other Christian groups, Churches or even from agnostics and atheists. Interestingly enough, some of the most virulent antiecumenists from within the Orthodox Churches today belong to these two groups. Searching for a clear Orthodox identity in an over against the other approach, these people unite their efforts together with the Orthodox schismatic groups in combating the Ecumenical Movement and in particular the Orthodox official involvement in it. Books are written, translated in different languages and disseminated among the people. In the internet, many web sites propose extremely documented antiecumenical literature and documents. Ecumenism is commonly described as the "panheresy" of our time and the Orthodox ecumenists as traitors of the faith, of the Holy Tradition, of the Canons and of the teachings of the Ecumenical Councils and of the Fathers of the Church2 . In this context, should be placed and understood the paragraph from the Thessaloniki Statement which, in an apologetic manner, says: "During the Orthodox participation of many decades in the ecumenical movement, Orthodoxy has never been betrayed by any representatives 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".

I tried to make this broader introduction in order to place our discussions within its more realistic context. The crisis exists. Some of its aspects could be at times extremely painful, shocking and disturbing. Nevertheless, if we really want to solve a crisis and to advance towards a more responsible ecumenical fellowship, I think that we must have the courage to go beyond slogans and nice sentences, to face the realities as they are and to name the problems very clearly. Partially the present crisis is related to the WCC itself, its present structure, decision-making procedures, establishing the agenda etc. But it should be stated from the very beginning that in its major aspects it is an internal Orthodox problem which has to be dealt with and solved by the Orthodox themselves before entering into a serious dialogue with the others for a possible desired restructure of the WCC.

1. Orthodox identity in the ecumenical movement: the ecclesiological problem

Ecclesiology was from the very beginning of the Ecumenical movement one of the most central, delicate and sensitive issues. The Toronto Statement of 1950 was a necessity to assure the member Churches that entering the WCC none will loose or diminish its identity, none will be obliged to recognize the ecclesiality of another church and that the WCC is not and will not become a super-Church. The clear affirmations of ecclesial neutrality opened the way for the Orthodox Churches to become WCC members in particular after 1961. Despite it however, two ecclesiological approaches, one Orthodox and the other one more general Protestant could be identified behind different WCC documents issued since then, in particular those referring to the issue of Christian unity. The General Assembly in New Delhi made such a first statement on unity. The Orthodox participants, however, wrote a response to that statement and expressed the Orthodox position concerning Christian unity. The response identify the two approaches which despite efforts could be traced in all the documents dealing with such topics until today: "The ecumenical problem, as it is understood in the current ecumenical movement, is primarily a problem of the Protestant world. The main question, in this setting, is that of "Denominationalism". Accordingly, the problem of Christian unity, or of Christian Reunion, is usually regarded in terms of an interdenominational agreement or Reconciliation. In the Protestant Universe of discourse such approach is quite natural. But for the Orthodox it is uncongenial. For the Orthodox, the basic ecumenical problem is that of schism. The Orthodox cannot accept the idea of a "parity of denomination" and cannot visualize Christian Reunion just as an interdenominational adjustment. The unity has been broken and must be recovered. The Orthodox Church is not a confession, one of many, one among the many. For the Orthodox, the Orthodox Church is just the church. The Orthodox Church is aware and conscious of the identity of her inner structure and teaching with the apostolic message (kerygma) and the tradition of the ancient undivided Church. She finds herself in an unbroken and continuous succession of sacramental ministry, sacramental life, and faith. Indeed, for the Orthodox the apostolic succession of episcopacy and sacramental priesthood is an essential and constitutive, and therefore obligatory element of the church's very existence. The Orthodox Church, by her inner conviction and consciousness, has a special and exceptional position in the divided Christendom, as the bearer of, and the witness to, the tradition of the ancient undivided Church, from which all existing denominations stem, by the way of reduction and separation. From the Orthodox point of view, the current ecumenical endeavour can be characterized as "ecumenism in space", aiming at agreement between various denominations, as they exist at present"3 .

The core of this self-definition of Orthodox identity has been repeated on many occasions4 .

The two parallel ecclesiological approaches created strange situations. On the one hand, the Orthodox delegates fully participated in the discussions during the great ecumenical gatherings, and brought their comments and inputs which were included in the final documents. One could trace very easily the Orthodox contributions in different documents. The problem that emerged was linked to ecclesiology: the term Church was used in such final documents as a generic, inclusive term. In other words, it implied also the inclusion of the Orthodox into that reality that together with all the other members of the WCC formed the Body of Christ - the church. Seen from that very perspective, the Orthodox felt reduced to the level of a denomination among other denominations, included in the theological system of the branch theory that they strongly rejected. For such a primary reason among others, one should understand why at almost all the major ecumenical meetings, the Orthodox came in the end with a separate statement.

On the other hand, the documents which tried to integrate the two ecclesiological perspectives, came out as contradictory and most confusing, as some paragraphs seemed to contradict other paragraphs of the same document. Such situations led some of the non experienced Orthodox, but involved in antiecumenical campaign to speak about "ecumenist double speak: the ecclesiological schizophrenia of the Orthodox ecumenists" or about "ecumenism as an ecclesiological heresy". Such united efforts produced great divisions and confusions in some local Orthodox Churches. As a result, some came out of the WCC. Others are under pressure from their own faithful to go out as well. It must be stressed again: it is not necessarily WCC's fault for its structure or agenda, although those have contributes as well to such decisions. The main problem is an ecclesiological one: how can be a church which confesses to be the Una Sancta be also an equal member with other denominations in a fellowship of Churches? For many, such a membership is a contradiction in terms, a denial of the authentic Orthodox Ecclesiology. I might be wrong, but this is my reading. Due to such internal pressures, I understand why some Orthodox Churches were eagerly proposing other forms of participating in the WCC without necessarily being a member as in the present model.

Conclusion: While the time has not yet come to go beyond the ecclesiological neutrality of Toronto, efforts should be made for the discovery of a more coherent ecclesiological approach in particular when dealing with Church unity. The Orthodox answer to the Report in New Delhi proposed that the "ecumenism in space" be completed by "ecumenism in time": "The common ground, or rather the common background of existing denominations, can be found, and must be sought, in the past in their common history, in that common ancient and apostolic tradition, from which all of them derive their existence. This kind of ecumenical endeavour can be properly denoted as "ecumenism in time". The report of Faith and Order itself mentions "agreement in faith with all ages" as one of the prerequisites of unity. Orthodox theologians suggest this new method of ecumenical enquiry, and this new criterion of ecumenical evaluation, as a kingly rock, with the hope that unity may be recovered by the divided denominations by their return to their common past". Following that proposal, some attempts in this direction were made but not in a consistent and coherent form.

Proposal: that the issue of Tradition as hermeneutical principle for both the Bible and the faith of the Church throughout ages, with particular view on Christian unity be undertaken in a more serious and diligent way. That efforts to develop an ecumenical ecclesiological approach that integrate both space and time be made.

2. Prayer, faith, church - a holistic reality

Prayer and worship is a constitutive part of the very being of Christianity. It is not by chance that even the name of the Orthodox Church is related rather to doxa, glory, worship than to pistis (faith). Worship and prayer is a holistic reality that comprehends in itself the faith, the doctrine of the Church. It is the living expression of the faith of the Church. For such a reason, in the Early Church the worship was determinative for the faith: lex orandi, lex est credendi.

Through worship the Church is breathing the life of the Holy Spirit. Through prayers, epiclesis, the Spirit comes in unceasing way continuously building up (oikodome) the church as a historical institution, as a glimpse here and now of the kingdom which is still to come.

In the communion of prayer, the members of the Church meet as one Body around their common Head, Christ Jesus. In the communion of prayer and love, the earthly members of the Church meet the heavenly hosts and join the communion of saints in praising God. For this reason, the worship, but in particular the eucharistic liturgy is described as "heaven on earth".

From this perspective, it comes clear that such a worship belongs intimately to the very being of the Church and expresses it. Consequently, as it refers to a very specific "communion" that it entails, it is meant for the members of the Church. Only looked at in this way, one could understand the strict prescriptions concerning prayer as mentioned in some of the canons of the Early Church in a time when the Church, while trying to clearly articulate its identity, was drastically confronted with schisms, divisions and heresies 5 .

Unfortunately, the fundamentalist antiecumenical Orthodox groups, without any critical analysis of the concrete situations in the Early Church when certain canons were issued, are just repeating and applying today the canons referring to the "heretics" and "schismatics" of those times. Such canons and other Patristic references which speak about situations of the past are quoted and largely disseminated among Orthodox faithful today by the "apostles" of antiecumenism. Who are the heretics that the canons refer to? Anybody who does not belong to the Orthodox Church, they would reply...

Therefore, it must be clear: is not the structure of the ecumenical worships or their content that is necessarily taken into question, but the very praying together with others. Photographs and videos of bishops and Orthodox clergy participating in ecumenical worships are distributed and accusations of betrayal of Orthodoxy by the "orthodox ecumenists" are being made.

How could one get out of such an impasse? In my opinion, this very issue is entirely in the responsibility of the Orthodox themselves. Efforts to educate the faithful, to move the ecumenical involvement from the head to the grassroots, to explain people what is ecumenism all about and what is its goal. On the other hand, this crisis should be seen as a challenge but also as a chance to further develop and reflect on a theological issue which has remained for a long period of time untouched. How would the Orthodox define ecclesiologically their relationship with Christians who do not belong to their Church? In other words, what would be the ecclesial status of those who do not belong to the Orthodox Church? The Early Church was confronted with such issues and reacted at least in three ways:

  1. St Cyprian within the African situation took a very rigid line, applying strictly the rule of akrivia. He said the famous formula:"Extra ecclesia nulla salus" and considered invalid the sacraments performed outside the Church. He asked the rebaptism of whoever wanted to join his Church either he/she was baptized before or not.

  2. Augustine took a more flexible line, speaking about the charismatic borders of the Church, recognizing signs of ecclesiality even outside the Church.

  3. St Basil the Great took a more balanced line. He did not put in the same basket of heretics all those outside the Church but did not recognize the signs of ecclesiality to anybody called Christian outside the Church either. He divided the separated ones from the Church in many categories. To many of those groups would recognize their baptisms but to heretics not "for the question is one involving a difference of faith in God itself" (Canon 1). Generally speaking, the Orthodox Church followed the line of St Basil the Great, although it very much depended on the historical, political and religious circumstances from a certain contexts. When the relationships with the other Christians who had the baptism in the name of the Trinity were good, those who wished to join the Orthodox Church were received through Chrismation (myron). On the contrary, if the relationships were bad and tensed, the Orthodox Church asked for rebaptism. It is up to this day that there is not consensus on this matter among Orthodox Churches and almost every local church has its own practice.

Closer to our times, it was Fr Georges Florovsky who dared to take up this subject as a matter of reflection after so many centuries in an article published in 1933 on the limits of the Church. More recently, other attempts on this issue were done by Prof. John Erickson from the St Vladimir's Theological seminary in New York. It was a good start, but the research and reflection should continue. A Church which has at its heart the prayer to the Holy Spirit who "is everywhere present and fills all things", who offer the eucharist "kata panta kai dia panta" - for the whole cosmos and prays at every service for the "unity of all", has tremendous resources for developing the theology of relationship with the non Orthodox Christian World.

In the WCC, the member Churches come together on a common platform at least in what concern the nature of the Trinitarian God, of the divinity and humanity of Christ, our God and Saviour according to the Scripture. Some are even pushing further that Baptism be included in the basis, as well. Could anyone responsibly say that those central elements of faith that we are witnessing together create no mystical and spiritual bond of Christian unity among the WCC member churches, however that "link" may be considered? Can we not say together "Our Father" since our understanding of God is a common one?

Proposal: The Orthodox Churches should be encouraged to continue the study on the issue of the relationship with the Christians outside their own Church and the meaning of praying together with them. Examples of prayer with the participation of Orthodox are evident in the history of the Orthodox Church (the envoys of Prince Vladimir to Constantinople; the Testament of St Innocent Veniaminov to the missionaries in Alaska about letting the non Christian alaskans to attend the services in the Church etc.)

3. Discerning together the will of God

One of the marks of the Church is catholicity. Ethimologically, this word is a combination of two Greek words kata+holon which means according to all. In other words, it means fullness, plenitude. Fullness, however, according to this description cannot be achieved or experienced in solitude, in separation but in the event of koinonia6 . The Orthodox Church is sometime described as the Church of the Seven Ecumenical Councils. Often the question comes back: why only of the seven ecumenical councils; did the history stop there? Of course it did not stop there. Theology and life of the Church continued and developed even after, other councils took place, some of the with pan-orthodox character. None of those, however, were considered ecumenical. The visible unity of the Church was broken; real "ecumenical" involves the healing, the reconciliation, the whole and wholeness. There were many creeds in the Church of the East during the early Christian times; yet none of them entered the liturgical life of the Church except the Niceo-Constantinopolitan Creed. This is so not because others are less Orthodox than this one, but because that one has the mark of ecumenicity, the articulation of faith as expressed and received by the Church as a whole.

Full Catholicity will still remain for us member Churches of the WCC a theological desiderata. On the way to full communion, however, the link of mutual respect and love, and the commitment to stay always together being mutually accountable to one another, could contribute enormously in the process of coming closer to one another.

Out of such convictions should be understood the Orthodox often expressed frustrations concerning the issues of ordination of women and that of homosexuality. Authentic discernment is the work of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is by excellence "communion". Authentic discernment can be done only in the process of dialogue and remaining together. Unilateral decisions and actions can deepen even further the gap between the divided Christians. To the extent that is possible, such actions should be avoided in future.

I would like to end with an optimistic tone. I am convinced that the work for Christian unity, mission and discipleship within the World Council of Churches is according to God's wish and under God's leadership. If the present structures of the WCC are no longer transparent and leave no space for God to work, then these will dye. The struggle for unity, however, I am convinced that will continue.

I am convinced about that, because the examples from the history of the Church converge in that direction. Around 519, the church was strongly challenged and divided by the Donatists, a puritan group who denied the presence of Grace in the work of unworthy ministers and faithful. The bishops of the Church assembled in the council of Cartage. After analysing the situations, they decided to send a letter to the separated one saying: "We call you brothers because you are our brothers... If you think that you are right, do not stop yourself to say it boldly...". Then the council proposed a mixed commission with representatives from the two groups in order to discuss and solve the problem...

Numerous examples prove that dialogue and encounter is a healing and reconciling tool. Even when at times we may feel exhausted, or the dialogue in impasse lets continue it. The truth cannot be lived and experienced but in the kata+holon, in the "according to all" perspective.

Notes:  

  1. The full text of the report is in Turn to God Rejoice in Hope. Orthodox Refections on the Way to Harare, edited by Thomas FitzGerald and Peter Bouteneff, WCC, Geneva 1998, pp. 136-138
  2. As example, I will mention just some of the many titles that could be easily found in the internet: The Heresy of Ecumenism and the Patristic Stand of the Orthodox; Ecumenism as an ecclesiological heresy; An ecclesiological Position Paper for Orthodox Opposed to the Pan-Heresy of Ecumenism; Ecumenist "double speak": The Ecclesiological Schizophrenia of the Orthodox Ecumenists; The price of Ecumenism: How ecumenism has hurt the Orthodox Church; Orthodoxy and Fundamentalism: the fundamentalism of the Orthodox Ecumenists; Holy Canons and Patristic Quotes related to Ecumenism. Books of this kind, have been translated and spread among Orthodox people in the countries of Eastern Europe in particular.
  3. Cf. Orthodox Visions of Ecumenism. Statements, messages and reports on the Ecumenical Movement 1902-1992, compiled by Gennadios Limouris, WCC, Geneva, 1994, pp.30-31
  4. Consultation on Orthodox Involvement in the World Council of Churches, Sofia 1981; Decisions of the Third Preconciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference on the Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Movement, Chambesy 1986; InterOrthodox Consultation of Orthodox WCC Member Churches on The Orthodox Churches and the World Council of Churches, Chambesy 1991 and most recently at the meeting in Thessaloniki, 1998.
  5. For example: Canon 45 of the Holy Apostles: "Let any Bishop, or Presbyter, or deacon that merely joins in prayer with heretics be suspended, but if he had permitted them to perform any service as Clergymen, let him be deposed... if any clergymen, or laymen, enter a synagogue of Jews, or of heretics, to pray, let him be both deposed and excommunicated". Or Canon 33 of Laodicia: "One must not join in prayer with heretics and schismatics".
  6. For an interesting development and agreement on this issue in the Ecumenical framework, see in particular section 4 of the Report from the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism held in Salvador Bahia, Brazil, December 1996.

 


 

Response to the paper of Fr Ioan Sauca
by Archbishop Michael Peers

As this reading aloud of Fr Sauca's paper is the first time I have seen it, my response will be somewhat scattered and not very profound.

I am impressed, even excited, by the candid and courageous way Fr. Sauca sets before us so many of the challenges facing Orthodox churches, leaders and people these days. The theological depth and breadth of the paper are wonderfully strengthened by the directness of the description of the issues and by the openness to hear of the realities, even the painful ones, of the present situation. All these qualities make the paper an excellent beginning for our dialogue.

The references to the anti-ecumenical attitudes which have arisen in recent years among Orthodox evoke two responses of recognition in me.

First, even before the collapse of Communism I recall the invitation of the Greek Orthodox Archbishop to the Canadian Council of Churches (of which the Greek church is a member) to attend vespers in his cathedral in Montreal. From some parishioners there were very hostile remarks to us as visitors and the Archbishop felt obliged publicly to rebuke those people.

Second, I recognize the comment that some of the recent converts to Orthodoxy are among the most anti-ecumenical. I know that many of the Anglicans who have converted to Orthodoxy are on a search for rigidity rather than for mystery.

I acknowledge with gratitude the observation that "in its major aspects it is an internal Orthodox problem". We sometimes have the impression that some Orthodox want to place all the blame on outsiders as if we were all proselytisers, and this acknowledgement is very helpful. For those of us who care deeply for the Orthodox Church, it poses the question of how we can best help. Is it best if we remain silent about the issue? Does it help or hinder if we support Orthodox ecumenists?

I appreciate the way in which the ecclesiological issues are raised and the proposal about Tradition as a hermeneutical principle. The statement of the problem "how can a Church which confesses to be the Una Sancta be also an equal member with other denominations...?" raises the question for others as to what is the ecclesiological status, if any, of non-Orthodox churches, especially those of us who are members of the WCC. The language sounds reminiscent of pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic statements about other Christians.

The proposal around the issue of "Tradition" as hermeneutical principle is full of promise, not only for the resolution of issues within Orthodox churches but also as a gift for the rest of us. Western fundamentalism, present in many of our churches, would make a separation between Scripture and Tradition so radical as to render Tradition either meaningless or worthless. The question is important for us all.

The principle "lex orandi, lex credendi" is a vital one which many of the non-Orthodox traditions have learned to value, especially those of us from traditions not dependent on a confession from the Reformation era. We echo the interconnectedness of prayer and belief. I would affirm the statement about worship as determinative for the faith, though I would want to amplify it to recognize the nature of worship as giving voice to our faith as well as shaping it. The two phrases "lex orandi" and "lex credendi" are juxtaposed, but without an indication that one is only cause and the other only effect.

The challenging quotes form ancient canons about the treatment of heretics and schismatics raise memories in our own history where some of our traditions have spoken with similar strictness, and even invoked civil authority against "heretics", but to little avail in the long term.

The appeal to education, to mature reflection on the ways Orthodoxy has related to others throughout history, is an appeal to a long term solution which, I believe, will eventually bear fruit, though the short term may still be internally stressful for Orthodox churches.

The examples of prayers with non-Orthodox raise the question of "means" and "end". Is common prayer with non-Orthodox only to be reserved for a future time when Christians are united, or does it have a place as a means of fostering unity? Many of the rest of us experience the same tension in the parallel issue of prayer with persons of other faiths.

In response to Fr. Sauca's wish to end on an optimistic tone, I am reminded of a comment by Archbishop Desmond Tutu during the severest days of apartheid. He was asked if he was optimistic about the future. He answered, "I am not optimistic, I am hopeful". I pray that our work together will be a sign of hope for Orthodox and non-Orthodox, and ultimately for the whole world.


Response to the paper of Fr Ioan Sauca
by Rev. Ofelia Ortega

It was very interesting to find in the background material that was sent to us for the preparation of our work in Vilemov a report called:"Orthodox Liturgical Renewal and Visible Unity" (from a meeting held at New Skete Monastery, Cambridge, New York, U.S.A., 26 May - 1 June 1998) some of the fundamental principles for Christian Worship.

I will comment just on those that are very much related with the presentation of Rev. Ioan Sauca.

  1. The true worship is at once theocentric and dialogical. I think that we need to explore together this affirmation: What is the meaning of a dialogical worship? Let's go back to our experience yesterday at the Orthodox cathedral in Prague.

    At the beginning of the service we had the impression that the whole service was a dialogue between the choir and the worship leaders without too much participation of the community of believers. Afterwards, we saw the presence and movements of a small child (9-10 years old), in charge of lighting off the small candles. Then we began to see the movement of the people in the congregation. It was a free coming in towards the icons.

    I saw a movement of the bodies, a kind of a non-verbal dialogue throughout the liturgy.

    During the Eucharistic sharing a mother with a six months baby on her arms came and opened the mouth of her child like a little bird, to allow him to receive communion.

    Then, sounds, symbols, incense, colour and movements were an integral part of the liturgy.

    Can it be possible for us to go deeper in our understanding of this fundamental dialogical principle?

  2. I agreed on the importance of the eschatological dimension in our worship and theological reflection. Before the"culture of hopelessness" that today seems to permeate our societies due to the present economic constraints, the cry of the excluded is calling us to search new biblical paradigms that will help us to practice a hope that is rooted in God's own hope, that must be informed by the reality of the world but the reality of the world but that is, in the end, unfettered by the world's fearfulness and anxiety. It is an open question whether the Church can be, or become unfettered to face the present summons of the Gospel, given its careless, long-standing enmeshment in the fearfulness and anxiety of the world.

    This eschatological dimension suggests a deep and defining contrast between action in hope and action in despair. It invites reflection upon Christian hope.

    • The world from chaos to a new creation
    • The people of God from weariness to glad obedience
    • The human person from death to life.

  3. We could affirm together that worship is formative, it is a transformative and healing experience.

    We would like to take the biblical paradigm of Ezechiel 47: 1-12 as the healing river that needs to flow from the temple to the east, south, north and west"giving every living creature that swarms the right to live ... and everything will live where the river goes ... on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing".

    And we need to go deeper in this healing water ("ankle-deep, knee-deep up to the waist and swim in" - verses 3-5) to be part of the healing process of the whole of creation (a holistic understanding).

    It is really necessary to see the liturgy as a healing and holistic experience that will bring this stream of water outdoors to heal the nations (it is the liturgy after liturgy).

  4. This healing worship experience will guide us to see the entire creation as sacrament.

  5. We need to insist in our worship on the confession of sins. This need has to be an essential element in our search for the Church unity. We need to repent again and again. Our confession of sins and the call for a true repentance for the divisions that we have been creating between people, churches and nations.

  6. On our part of the world the transculturation of liturgies limited for centuries our imagination and creativity. We need to analyze this very carefully because in some countries liturgies have had a close relationship with their cultures; in others the imposition of liturgies by dominant cultures has been a limitation for the proper inculturation of the Gospel.

  7. The use of inclusive language referred to God is also difficult for many of our protestant congregations. Nevertheless, this does not limit us to use inclusive language in our liturgies that reinforce our relationship as men and women members of our congregations.

    At the same time, we could use in our own liturgies many of the biblical images of God that are very inclusive as an essential part of our biblical revelation and tradition.

  8. The report of the"Evangelical Perspectives from Canberra" (WCC Seventh Assembly) expressed their concern about syncretism in the following way:
    "We have been challenged to pursue the examination of our experience and expression of the syncretism between Christianity and cultural traditions. We cannot address the change of syncretism to the religious experience of people in the two-thirds world without at the same time explaining afresh the degree to which Christianity in the Western world has easily assimilated aspects of its own culture such as rationalism and individualism".
    This is an issue that we need to analyze carefully because we need to see that the popular religion of the people is the space for a very deep spiritual and holistic dimension that confronts the rationalism and individualism of Christianity in the western culture.

    Could we have a dialogue not only with the world religions but also with other religious experiences of people in the two-thirds world?

  9. We need to know each other better. This is going to be a requirement for a better ecumenical formation.

    Recently one of the church members of the National Council of Churches of Cuba presented its resignation from this Ecumenical Institution. The main argument was the mention of Mary in the ecumenical liturgies.

    However, in the context of popular religiosity of our Latin America and Caribbean societies, the image of Mary constitutes a central element in the piety and devotion of the people. What does this mean for us? Do we have to forbid any reference to Mary in our liturgies? By no means. Rather, the opposite is true -- we have to rediscover her liberating presence in the everyday life of our people. Undoubtedly all communities are confronted at one moment or another with very different questions, which are the source for conflicts. The easiest way to eliminate conflicts is to write rules or norms. The Law seems to be the guarantee that allows a community to face situations of crisis. But this is not the Apostle Paul's opinion. On the contrary, he thinks that such adherence to the law is a temptation against which Christian communities have to defend themselves, if they want to remain faithful to the freedom Christ has given to all those who believe in him (Galatians 3: 2-5).

  10. All our churches are confronted today with the raise of strong forces of fundamentalism that are producing divisions among us.

    This needs to be a very important issue for our dialogue, because all our churches are suffering this impact.

    How to deal with it in a way that does not damage our relationship?

    In our dialogue once again the question of the ecclesial status of the churches has emerged, confronting us with the need to continue our reflection together about which are the essential elements that would allow us to fully recognize each other's ecclesiological realities.

  11. We need to analyze carefully the whole concept of the pre-conciliar ecumenical fellowship, since it has not yet reached consensus on apostolic faith on the one hand and eucharist community on the other.

    The three terms used by H. H. Catholicos Aram I of Cilicia in one of the background papers ("Conciliar Fellowship") could be a good guide for our future reflection: the conciliar fellowship as the communion of local churches is manifested through a special:

    • mode of relationships
    • quality of life
    • form of unity (where"reconciled diversity" and mutual accountability are given crucial importance)

    A word of thanks to the Rev. Ioan Sauca for his openness to present a paper that gave us the opportunity to think together in mutual challenges for the near future in the area of worship and spirituality.

    We hope that the words of the evangelicals present at Canberra could be a word of hope in our dialogue:

    "We need to discover each other not as antagonists but as believers together".