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Orthodox Pre-Assembly Report

of the Inter-Orthodox Pre-Assembly Consultation which brought together representatives of Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches to prepare for the WCC 10th Assembly.

08 March 2013

Inter-Orthodox Pre-Assembly Consultation


1. At the initiative of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and under invitation of H.A.H. the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and with the gracious auspices of H. E. Metropolitan Nathanael of Kos and Nisyros, as representatives of Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches we met in the island of Kos, Greece, from 11-17 October, 2012, to reflect on the theme of the 10th WCC Assembly, to prepare ourselves for the assembly, and to provide our churches’ theological contribution to the WCC assembly in 2013. The consultation was moderated jointly by H. E. Metropolitan Prof Dr. Gennadios of Sassima on behalf of the Eastern Orthodox Church and H. E. Metropolitan Mor Eustathius Matta Roham on behalf of the Oriental Orthodox Church.

2. It has been a custom for the last thirty years in the World Council of Churches to convene an Inter-Orthodox consultation prior to its Assemblies. The main purpose of the meeting was to study, discuss and reflect on the main theme and the sub-themes of the next assembly from an Orthodox perspective in order to serve as preparation for all participants in Busan and to express our expectations of the next WCC assembly and beyond. Numbering thirty seven hierarchs, priests, university professors, lay men and women and youth, we were warmly welcomed by. H. E. Metropolitan Nathanael of Kos and Nisyros at the opening session with the inauguration of a new hotel chapel in which all delegates participated, as well as local clergy, together with lay and local authorities. After an introduction of the aim of the consultation and theological reflections on the theme, concerns and hopes for the future by H. E. Metropolitan Prof. Dr. Gennadios of Sassima (Ecumenical Patriarchate) and a short introduction of all the participants, our group devoted numerous sessions to hearing from participants about the themes and sub-themes of the upcoming assembly in Busan, “God of life, lead us to justice and peace.” The themes raised in these presentations are summarized in the following sections of this statement.

3. Each working day started with prayer in the newly inaugurated chapel. A special moment of prayer took place on Saturday, October 13 by H. G. Bishop Hovagim Manoogian (Armenian Apostolic Church, Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin) at the announcement of the passing away of the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem Archbishop Torgom Manoogian. The fact that the meeting took place in Greece gave us the opportunity to visit local congregations and thus to have direct contact with the Greek people who are facing a deep economic crisis. We prayed for Greece and expressed our hope that the economic crisis will soon be overcome. Members of our consultation coming from the Middle East informed us about new developments in the region. All participants in the consultation, expressing our deep concern for the escalation of violence in the region, especially in Syria, prayed for peace in the Middle East, expressing our hope that God of life will lead the region and the entire world to peace and justice.

Theological Reflections on the Assembly Theme

4. In Orthodox spiritual experience and according to patristic tradition,

The Godhead is very life, and the Only-begotten God is God, and life, and truth, and every conceivable thing that is lofty and divine, while the creation draws from Him its supply of good, it may hence be evident that if it is in life by partaking of life, it will surely, if it ceases from this participation, cease from life also.

Thus, the Divine Life means the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

5. Humankind is created free, according to the image and likeness of God, in order to reach godliness and glorification through a life-giving relation with God. The misuse of our freedom, however, led to the disruption of the communion with our Creator, and therefore to death. Sin, according to patristic teaching, consists precisely of this break. From that point, disruption is experienced at all levels of human life and it extends to the rest of creation. After the fall, our relationship with ourselves, with the other, and with creation became antagonistic and controlled by the flesh. This leads then to all kinds of discrimination, injustice and conflict, to the exploitation of the weak by the powerful, as well as environmental consequences.

6. The tragic effects on human nature and all creation after the separation from the God of life are overturned in Jesus Christ: "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." In Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God, the uncreated was united with the created. Transcending His transcendence, God entered human life and history, healed human nature corrupted by sin, and renewed the relationships between God and humanity, among human beings, and between humanity and the created world. He accomplished this through His passion, crucifixion, resurrection from the dead, and ascension to heaven. And following the event of Pentecost, Christ remains present with us through the Holy Spirit in the Church. In Christ's salvific work, unity, righteousness, justice, and peace were achieved. Thus the Gospel of salvation is the word of reconciliation.

7. Baptism, as the sharing in the death and resurrection of Christ, introduces every Christian into the life of Christ, into communion with God and with all humanity that is created according to His image. The baptismal formula recalls the Trinitarian life itself, the Father is the Source of life, the Son is the Principle of life, and the Holy Spirit is the One who vivifies. This communion is maintained through our sharing in the Eucharistic body and blood of Christ. Thus, Christian communion is not a mere abstraction or simply social awareness, but is by God’s grace a sharing in the very life of Christ, which begins for us at Baptism and is maintained through our Eucharistic life in the Church.

8. In the light of the incarnation, justice and peace are understood not as subjective conditions, but are experienced as gifts of the Holy Spirit by those who accept the grace of God. Justice leads to peace, and vice versa. Justice and peace are therefore interrelated realities; both exist together and express our relation to God (peace with God), to ourselves (peace with one's conscience), to others (peace with one's neighbour), and to the created world (responsible stewardship over creation). Justice and peace, founded, following Christ’s example, on unconditional love and self-sacrifice, rise above their common social meaning and become an expression of transfigured life in Christ, beyond human wisdom, human passions, ambitions, and selfishness.

9. The Lord, in His final prayer before His passion, prayed for unity, peace, and justice (Jn 17.21), and this remains our calling today. Nevertheless, due to our weakness and our failure to respond to the life in Christ, to transfigure our hearts and minds in the light of His truth, we both experience and, at times, cause divisions, wars, injustice, and the degradation of our physical environment.

10. Responding to Christ's words, "in the same way, let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven" (Mt 5.16), Christians are called to work together for the restoration of justice, peace and unity on the basis of Christ's message and God's love for humanity. In this perspective it is imperative to transcend both passivity and violence by finding a third way: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all” (Rom 12.17).

11. Our work together within the WCC for justice and peace will contribute to the unity of Christian mission and make the churches more credible in the eyes of the societies in which we live. This work for justice and peace may be carried out with secular agencies that promote human rights, though for Christians, our basis comes from the Gospel, which affirms the absolute value and dignity both of humanity and of creation, and not from a secular, human rights agenda. Working on healing and peace-building with all people of good will is an appropriate way for Christians to seek justice and peace in our fragmented and suffering world. All people on earth need our charity, prayers, and solidarity.

12. In the life of the Orthodox churches, we pray ceaselessly for unity, justice and peace. The Divine Liturgy, from the opening litany to the conclusion of the anaphora, contains numerous prayers for the unity of the Church and the world, and the service concludes with the command to “Go in peace,” instructing the faithful to bring God’s peace to their homes and to the world around them. Christians are thus called to work for the transformation of the world, bringing about God’s justice and peace wherever they happen to be.

13. The theme of the assembly, “God of Life, Lead Us to Justice and Peace,” challenges us and our churches to work together to realize this vision of unity, justice, and peace in its rich eschatological perspective, as described by the Prophet Isaiah:

He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nations shall not lift sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (Is 2.4)

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them,.. the nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den. (Is 11.6-9)

This is the vision of the New Heaven and Earth, where Christ will “fill all in all” (Eph. 1.22).

Porto Alegre to Busan

14. Our consultation reviewed the work of the WCC since the Porto Alegre Assembly. We did so with the awareness of the challenges facing the ecumenical movement today. These challenges include the world financial crisis, which has had a strong impact on our churches and on the WCC. We noted as well the multiplicity of local, regional, and international ecumenical organizations, which leads of necessity to a constant reconsideration of the ways in which the WCC can best fulfil its mission of calling for Christian unity.

15. We reviewed the participation of the Orthodox in the activities of the WCC during this period, noting particularly our active participation in the work of the Commissions (Faith and Order, Mission and Evangelism, and the Church Commission for International Affairs), of the Joint Working Groups (with the Roman Catholic Church, with the Pentecostal churches), of the Assembly Planning Committee, as well as of the on-going WCC governance review, which seeks to implement the recommendations of the Special Commission in the day-to-day operations of the WCC. We noted as well the active participation of our two Orthodox families of churches in hosting important strategic and programmatic events. Similarly, there was significant Orthodox participation in various ecumenical events as members of WCC delegations. There was also a concerted effort to increase the participation of Orthodox women and youth, an effort that needs to be continued and strengthened.

16. The multiple visits to many of our churches by the WCC general secretary provided further evidence of our close connection to the WCC. We note also the significant presence of Orthodox staff in Geneva, including in leadership positions, which ensures that the Orthodox presence is consistent in all the activities of the central offices of the WCC. We hope that this presence will be even further enhanced.

17. In particular, we wish to note a number of important international inter-Orthodox consultations that were held, several with significant financial contributions from the host churches:

18. The first, held in Sibiu, Romania, on 9-12 November 2010, addressed the issue of “The Ecumenical Movement in Theological Education and in the Life of Orthodox Churches.” The consultation stressed the critical role of our educational institutions in raising awareness about the ecumenical movement, and especially in preparing both faculty and students, in a responsible and critical fashion, to face the challenges and questions posed to us in a religiously pluralistic world.

19. The second, held in Aghia Napa, Cyprus, on 2-9 March 2011, prepared a common Orthodox response to the Faith and Order Study, “The Nature and Mission of the Church.” The assembled group addressed the many ecclesiological problems and challenges raised by the statement and made substantial suggestions for sharpening and clarifying the text. Subsequently, these and other suggestions have been incorporated in a new statement on unity that will be presented at the assembly in Busan.

20. Additional events took place in July 2009 in Bucharest, Romania, in September 2009 in Leros, Greece, and in October 2010 in Damascus, Syria – these were convened to prepare Orthodox delegates for the International Peace Convocation held in Kingston, Jamaica, in May 2011, and also assisted the Orthodox in articulating an Orthodox approach to peace with justice.

Expectations for Busan and Beyond

21. As Orthodox churches we are aware of our imperatives and challenges, as well as of the critical issues that Christian churches are facing today in the world:

22. Orthodox churches – both Eastern and Oriental – call for a stronger focus in the WCC on the search for Christian Unity. We often hear comments about the crisis in the ecumenical movement and about the lack of interest in unity or the lack of a clear vision about the nature of this unity. To a great extent, this is a consequence of the fact that the idea of visible unity is seen as unrealistic by many ecumenical partners, the Orthodox among them. We see this as a consequence of the developments taking place in some member churches over the last forty years (e.g., the ordination of women, different approaches to moral and ethical issues, etc.). The gap between member churches is thus growing wider. On the other hand, the growing participation in the ecumenical movement of churches which are not members of the WCC and which bring to the dialogue new ecclesiological considerations and new understandings of unity as mission, adds new challenges to the search for unity, particularly when such churches apply for WCC membership.

23. The most appropriate way to resolve this situation would be to go back to the theological and moral teachings and practices of the early Church, moving to a patristic understanding of the Holy Scriptures and ethical values. A re-reading together of the patristic heritage would enable us all to find common ground, and this will give the churches in the WCC the ability to move forward and to revitalize the whole ecumenical movement. It is our hope that the Faith and Order Commission will continue with such an approach.

24. In Busan and beyond, we will be meeting and discussing together in the spirit of a fellowship of churches. In doing so, we should all give due attention to the observance of the Consensus procedure and the preservation of its ethos, especially in taking decisions on membership matters.

25. In our deliberations, we have realized the importance of a number of policy statements and other documents which are very important for our participation in the WCC. We would therefore urge both our churches and the WCC to develop serious ecumenical formation, particularly for the younger generation, based on such statements (particularly the Toronto Statement; the Policy Statement on CUV; the Report of the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC; etc.).

26. As Orthodox churches – which identify both their history and their present with the mystery of the Cross, the suffering and resurrection of the Lord – we are deeply concerned with the conflicts, human rights violations, terrorist actions and persecutions taking place in different parts of the world. We are particularly concerned with the situations in the Middle East and Asia. We believe that conflicts must be solved only through peaceful means and dialogue, and not through military action. We call and pray for the immediate cessation of violence in these areas, as in all places where conflict is occurring, and for the universal observance of self-determination and good governance.

27. We believe strongly that we, together with all member churches, should continue – now more than ever – to promote inter-religious dialogue on issues concerning peace and reconciliation in the world. New and effective dialogue strategies are needed to prevent extremism and to ensure that religion is not used as a dangerous instrument of disorder and to justify violence. We believe that peace and reconciliation cannot be achieved without a respect for human rights and without the promotion of fundamental spiritual values – especially among the youth. Thus we call on the WCC to expand its peace-making efforts.

28. We encourage the WCC to help churches in the work of strengthening their mission of evangelization, but at the same time we condemn proselytism, which we consider to be a major obstacle for our common witness and unity in mission. The Orthodox churches, both Eastern and Oriental, have, through their dynamic theology and their living witness in places of suffering and human need, contributed in a substantial way to the missionary tasks of the WCC; and they are ready to meet the new challenges in today’s world, taking into account the constantly increasing and alarming human needs in places of conflict and persecution, as well as in the ever more secular “developed” world that rejects or ignores Christianity and Christian values.

29. We deeply acknowledge our common responsibility for spreading the message of the protection of nature and the environment. We urge the WCC to continue its work and find more strategic partners in the work of eco-justice and sustainable development. All humankind is responsible for the condition of the world and God's creation. Resource depletion, environmental pollution, as well as the increase in the world’s population, all urgently require joint efforts by all nations to preserve the variety and quality of life. Guided by God's commandment about being good stewards over the created world (Gen 2.15), the Orthodox churches call on the WCC to engage in visible actions aiming at protection of nature and the environment.

30. We appreciate the initiative of the general secretary of the WCC to appoint a working group to propose a statement on unity to be presented at the next assembly. Such a statement will emphasize the primary purpose of the fellowship of churches to seek the full visible unity of the Church. A draft of the Unity Statement was presented to our gathering and we were given to opportunity to comment on the text. We noted that diversity should not be celebrated in cases where diversity leads to division and disunity. On the issue of the unity of all creation, we suggest that the statement might draw on the existing work of our churches on the theology of creation and on ecology. We urge greater clarity in the ecclesial language of the text, a richer theological content, as well as an articulation of the doctrinal divisions that separate us.

31. “Blessed are those who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times” (Ps 106.3)