World Council of Churches

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

Report of sub-committee II

03 August 2000

Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC
(Vilemov, Czech Republic, August, 2000)

The style and ethos of our life together in the WCC

This is the report of Sub-committee II which met in Vilémov u Litovle, Czech Republic from 29 July to 3 August 2000

The mandate

The Sub-Committee II of the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the World Council of Churches, under the invitation of the Orthodox Church in Czech Lands and Slovakia, held its meeting, at the Orthodox Academy in Vilémov, Czech Republic, from 29 July to 3 August 2000.

The Sub-Committee began its work by hearing and discussing papers according to the recommendations followed by the Special Commission meeting in Morges, Switzerland, December 1999. The Commission had asked the Orthodox to present papers and the Protestants to respond and react accordingly. Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima presented an introductory paper on the proposed theme offering thoughts and reflections for general discussion. Papers also presented according to the given mandate: Rev. Ioan Sauca presented a paper on What is the meaning of staying together in prayer, worship and discernment of the will of God? and Archbishop Michael Peers and Rev. Ofelia Ortega offered a response. Mr Gabriel Habib presented a paper on How do we open space in our institutional life for sharing freely and fully our theological and ethical convictions with one another? Bishop Hans Gerny and Rev. Yadessa Daba responded accordingly. Metropolitan Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim spoke on By what means do we select, approve, monitor and own the agenda for the WCC's programmes, activities and concerns and Rev. Ofelia Ortega and Rev. Eugene Turner reacted on it.

The Committee after reflection and discussion on the presented papers identified issues as follows:

1. Orthodox identity in the Ecumenical Movement: Ecclesiology, Conciliar Fellowship and the Church as Communion

Orthodox and Protestants both consider that a certain self-criticism in relation to their participation in the life of WCC is necessary as a precondition of every discussion in common. There were mentioned extensively the positive and the negative sides of their participation and involvement from their very beginning in the ecumenical movement and in WCC life in particular.

Ecclesiology was from the very beginning of the Ecumenical movement and of the World Council of Churches in particular, one of the most central, delicate and sensitive issues. For this reason the Toronto Statement (1950) was a necessity to assure the member Churches that by participating in the Council's life they are not losing or diminishing their ecclesial and ecclesiological identity nor are they obliged to recognize the ecclesiality of another member Church.

The Nairobi Statement underlines that all local Churches need to form one fellowship across local, national, ethnic and linguistic boundaries. They share in the same faith and need to recognize each other as Churches belonging to Christ. The term Conciliar fellowship presupposes not a static but a dynamic understanding of unity. The Church is a living human-divine organism in which the Holy Spirit enables all its members to remain faithful by proclaiming and confessing the one apostolic faith, and to experience it by taking part in the eucharistic communion of the body and blood of Christ, who is the Church. The goal of Conciliar fellowship lies still in the future.

Today in our ecumenical discussions there is an emphasis on the Church as Communion. This communion/koinonia derives not from sociological experience, nor from ethics, but rather from faith. We are not called to koinonia because it is good for us and for the Church, but because we believe in a God whose very being is communion. Communion is decisive also in our understanding of the person of Christ. The Church is the Body of Christ because he was born and exists in the Koinonia of the Spirit.

Therefore the following questions are raised:

Can we now raise the ecclesiological question on that basis within our theological discussions? If the very being of God in whom we believe is koinonia, and if the person of Christ, in whose name we, human beings, and the whole creation are saved, is also in his very being koinonia, what consequences does this faith entail for our understanding of the Church?

How does the notion of communion affect the Church's identity, its structure and its ministry in the world where we live?

How can this understanding of the Church as communion-koinonia affect our efforts towards visible unity and the overcoming of the scandal of division?

How can the understanding of the Church as communion affect its mission in the present world, including its relation with the entire creation?

Due to the fact that some Churches questioned the ecclesial status (p.x. the practice of rebaptism) of other Churches, we strongly recommend that this delicate issue needs more study.

We affirmed that there can be no full communion without communion in the sacramental life of the Church, and above all in the Eucharist. Full communion means in the first place eucharistic communion, since the eucharist is the recapitulation of the entire economy of salvation in which past, present and future are united, and in which communion with the Holy Trinity and with the rest of the Churches as well as with creation takes place.

Koinonia can add also a quality of life and existential relevance to Church unity. The Church is a relational entity: it is the Church of God, but exists as the Church in a certain place (Cf. I Cor 1:2). Churches today have to see the Christian view of communion which is inseparably linked with the communion of sufferings (cf. I Pet. 4:12-19) for God's world. The love of God the Father and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ cannot be separated from the koinonia of the Holy Spirit; they form one reality.

2. Worship and prayer together: As a healing experience

We affirmed that: Worship became the essential part of life of the ecumenical movement, bringing people from various Church traditions together in prayer and in one communion/koinonia of faith in the life of Christ. Worship is also considered the sacred and holy heart of every Christian Church and community, because Christian liberty and virtue arise out of the fertile soil of the Church's memory of the salvific events in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. This fundamental fact was recognized by all the participants that integrate the work of our Sub-Committee.

Nevertheless, a pervasive influence of secularism in Western culture has constricted the Christian imagination and invention of new things and forms. The experience of the eschatological future is being lost and the moral, formative and spiritually transformative power of the liturgy is diminishing. Thus Orthodox tradition holds that the remembrance (or anamnesis) of the Kingdom in eucharistic worship remains the substantial soil from which grows all that belongs singularly to Christian ethics and style of the life in Christ.

The group recognized the need to continue the dialogue around the following issues:

The Theocentric and dialogical meaning of the true worship in the different Church traditions.

The importance of the eschatological dimension of our liturgies in the middle of the process of secularization and the culture of hopelessness that are very much present in our societies.

The cosmic dimension in our liturgies seeing the entire creation as sacrament.

The Confession of sins that will include our continued prayer for the painful situation of our divisions that do not allow us to enter into the fullness of our Conciliar fellowship.

The meaning of the liturgy after liturgy that will guide us to a continued practice of ethical values in our societies.

The healing dimension of our liturgies (Ez 47:1-14).

The formative and transformative character of our liturgies.

Efforts have been made to find liturgical forms where the different traditions could feel represented, but in this attempt we need to acknowledge that sometimes we are not totally successful in this process.

For this reason we recommend:

To go much deeper in the analysis of the meaning of ecumenical worship, and to explore more the use of various Church liturgies with ecumenical participation.

3. Orthodox-Protestant dialogue within the WCC: style, ethos, ecumenical formation and methodology

The questions style and ethos of life in the WCC involve a host of potentially controversial issues of understanding. Our intention was not to solve or to determine or even discern the pro and contra of issues themselves. However we have realized that together have identified areas that still need to be explored and studied further in order that Orthodox and Protestant feel comfortable enabling them to live together, to worship together and to act and witness together according to their ecclesial traditions.

Meanwhile ethos presupposes a mutual respect and Christian love among us and comprehensiveness of each other tradition. The ethos with its dimensions affects the whole life of the Churches' participation in the life of the Council and the search for Church unity in particular.

In connection with the Orthodox-Protestant encounter and the resulting ethos within the WCC, we express the following concerns:

  1. We identify an urgent need to help Orthodox and Protestants to cease to consider each other as monolithic groups and to liberate their dialogue in a concrete way within the WCC from all misconceptions, in order to revive it as a genuine search for the divine faith.

    This will also challenge the people involved to recognize the diversity of the WCC constituency as well as have the courage to avoid compromise, to undertake self-criticism and promote mutual challenges with mutual love and respect.

  2. We have to raise the question and to discern what kind of unity is sought? How is the Church both local and at the same time Catholic and universal? What does it mean to belong to a Council of Churches? And what is the implication for the recognition of each other's Baptism?

  3. We remind ourselves that a major concern of Orthodox-Protestant dialogue within the WCC, is for the Protestants to be willing to better understand and appreciate the significance and the values of tradition as understood by the Orthodox and for the Orthodox to understand the Protestant concept of history, thus leading to different hermeneutical principles and world views. In this respect, it is important to remind ourselves that the old, the present and the future are one, since the Church, as the mystical body of Christ, is according to St. Paul "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and for ever" (Hb 13:8), and he is the Alpha and Omega of our history (Cf. Rev. 21:6).

Meanwhile there exist bilateral dialogues which have reached considerable agreements either between various Christian Churches or between Orthodox Churches and Protestants. We underline the significance and the importance of these common agreements and we are asking to what extent their results effect the work and programmes of WCC, and if they are taken seriously by the Churches in order to proceed to the reception process locally.

We felt that there is a need for further ecumenical formation both among our Churches and among Staff in WCC in order to know each other better. This implies an ecumenical formation on various issues relating with the tradition, the culture, the history and the social ethical issues that our Churches deal with today according to their ecclesial reality. We consider that the complete or partial ignorance of each other tradition as one of the main factors in our difficulties in participating together in the life of WCC today.

Therefore, we realized that efforts have to be made for a clear clarification on the style of work and methodology used by Staff in WCC that some times tends to impose their decisions on the member Churches carrying out a form of bureaucratic relationship with them, which affects the ethos of the whole ecumenical life of the Churches.

4. Gospel and culture; Gospel and ethnicity

During our discussion it was realized that the issues Gospel and Culture and Gospel and Ethnicity have a significant place in our ecumenical dialogue because they affect the ethos and our fellowship.

Gospel and Culture are intimately related. Even the revealed word of God used human language and Culture in order to communicate to humans.

Different cultures and specific local situations had also great impacts on the interpretation of the Gospel throughout time, creating different schools or hermeneutical trends. For this reason, in the dialogue within the ecumenical movement, cultural elements should be considered together with the Biblical and theological issues. At times, it has been proved that divisions among Christians were not necessarily due to theological differences but rather to cultural factors and misunderstandings.

Cultural components play an important role in understanding the ethical issues and the daily life of Christians in different parts of the world. Therefore, when confronted with divergences of opinions on certain ethical contemporary issues, it is necessary to develop criteria of discernment and to see to what extent those are due to real theological reasons or to cultural and social factors.

We recommend that among various studies done by WCC programmes it is necessary to select those that deal with Orthodox and Protestant relations, and to explore new areas for further development.

To be fully effective, the Gospel of the Incarnated Christ has to be witnessed and incarnated to concrete people and contexts. It has to be conveyed "to all nations" (Mt 28,19).

The descent of the Holy Spirit in the day of Pentecost made the Apostles speak about the Good News in all the languages of the people present at that event, showing that all the languages and cultures are equally able to convey and to make meaningful the Gospel.

Ethnicity is therefore a reality. Even in the eschatological Kingdom "the nations will bring their glory" (Rev. 21:21).

Consequently, ethnicity has two implications:

    • The Gospel of Christ has to be fully incarnated and inculturated. By the values of the Gospel, the culture itself will be transformed and transfigured through an inner process.

5. Difficult issues: Ordination of Women, Homosexuality and the use of inclusive language

Churches serve in cultural context which in time challenge long held views. Many who represent their Churches in the WCC will bring to it challenging social and cultural issues for resolution. Often times, the member Churches should resolve issues internally and not transpose them to the WCC, a non ecclesial policy making body. Some illustrations of these issues are the ordination of women, homosexuality and language about God.

In most instances, issues which test member Churches self-understanding of their respective ecclesiologies should not be presented to the WCC for action, given the Toronto Statement on the nature of the WCC as an ecumenical Council. The WCC can not be a place to change the ecclesial self-understanding of a member Church's description of itself. One of the main concerns for various Churches is homosexuality in ministry. Ministry is always considered contextual. The WCC has not always shown appropriate judgments about the subject presented to it in light of established agreements.

Surely all member Churches should be informed of issues with which another member Church is struggling. This kind of reporting serves to inform the WCC about ministry within a member Church while offering the possibility for growth in comprehending the contextual life of a member Church.

The three issues selected to illustrate this point are the Ordination of women, homosexuality, and language about God. The WCC can not bring resolution to such issues, nor can the WCC be judgmental about how the member Church handles difficult issues.

The democratic process invites individual representatives to broaden their approach in addressing both the frustration and pain caused when within a member Church, the issues are not resolved to the satisfaction of those bringing them.

Therefore, we recommend that all difficult social issues be evaluated on the basis of the appropriateness of the issue for the WCC agenda. This could be implemented by having a small study group to review the subject items intended to be processed through the WCC procedures.

We thank and praise the Triune God who enabled us to be together and to work in a spirit of love and Christian friendship and fellowship. Our experience together proves once more, that where there is the invocation of the Holy Spirit people from different Church traditions can meet, share and discuss openly and with a language of truth issues and concerns that divide them, having different ecclesial lives but experiencing and confessing the same one faith in Christ.