The work of the Special Commission on Orthodox participation in the World Council of Churches (WCC) "will result in many positive decisions that will benefit not only the Orthodox churches but many other member churches of the WCC which have voiced similar concerns".
H.B. Christodoulos, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, made these remarks in an address to a delegation of WCC representatives headed by its general secretary, Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser. The archbishop's comments referred to problems that led to the establishment of a Special Commission of the WCC to examine concerns raised by some of its member churches.
The 21-24 March WCC visit came nine years after a first visit in 1993. Dr Raiser was accompanied by the WCC's deputy general secretary, Mr Georges Lemopoulos, and its executive secretary for Church and Ecumenical Relations, Ms Teny Pirri-Simonian.
During the audience and in the presence of several leading hierarchs of the Church of Greece, H.B. Christodoulos recalled a 1920 Ecumenical Patriarchate encyclical, and affirmed that the church cannot "close its eyes to the current every-day problems faced by its faithful and the society in which they live". It was these concerns, he said, that led the Orthodox Church of Greece to become a founding member of the WCC and to participate actively in its life. This had enabled it to benefit from involvement in a forum "from which to speak out on matters of common concern", he said.
The president of a Synodal Committee on Inter-Orthodox and Inter-Church Relations, H.E. Metropolitan Amvrosios of Kalavryta, expressed similar interest in closer collaboration. He observed that the Orthodox Church of Greece is facing new problems today in the context of rapid globalization. "Many... problems and challenges can no longer be met and dealt with individually and in isolation. Concerted and coordinated efforts are needed since most of these challenges... affect all the churches collectively." Inter-religious encounter and dialogue in particular are a source of concern for many in the Church of Greece and therefore need careful ecumenical consideration, Metropolitan Amvrosios said.
Welcoming the WCC group towards the end of its visit, H.E. Dionysios, Metropolitan of Neapolis, affirmed that the Orthodox Church "has always been and is open to our fellow human beings, to the world, to the oikoumene; (she) prays and works for the peace and progress of the whole creation". He concluded with a prayer "that the Council's work be beneficial to the whole world, contributing to the resolution of conflicts... and leading us out of our egotistic self-sufficiency".
The WCC visit programme included meetings with faculty members and students of the School of Theology of the University of Athens as well as of the Theological Faculty of Aristotle University at Thessaloniki, and a visit to the Church of Greece's Centre for Bio-Ethics. The delegation met with the leadership of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Greece and of the Greek Evangelical Church. In Thessaloniki, the delegation participated in a meeting of clergy from local churches and communities considering forms of closer ecumenical collaboration.
On his return to Geneva, Raiser offered a positive assessment of the visit. Noting a new spirit of openness for ecumenical collaboration, he said: "The Church of Greece is conscious of its tradition going back to the times of the Apostles and of the witness of those who defended the faith in times of persecution and oppression. However, it is also aware of the new context of globalization and European unification that obliges the church to seek ways of witnessing and acting together with other Christian churches. While remaining critical of tendencies that could weaken the principles and the ecclesiological identity of the Church of Greece, her leading hierarchs have clearly affirmed their will to continue her active participation in the WCC. This opens new possibilities for ecumenical collaboration."