In a letter of condolence to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, WCC general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay expressed deep sadness.
“His theology of communion and his research on conciliarity will continue to guide the work of Faith and Order and of the World Council of Churches in general as we are preparing for the celebration of the first ecumenical council of Nicaea in 2025,” wrote Pillay. “Metropolitan Zizioulas remains in the prayerful memory of many Christians across the globe as one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century.”
Pillay offered prayers on behalf of the global fellowship for the rest of the soul of Elder Metropolitan John of Pergamon. “On behalf of the World Council of Churches, I extend our profound condolences to Your All Holiness and to the entire Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate,” wrote Pillay. “May his memory be eternal!”
Rev. Dr Susan Durber, moderator of the WCC Faith and Order Commission, said that, for many people among the Protestant churches, Elder Metropolitan Zizioulas was someone who revealed the wonder of Orthodox theology, in ways that were deeply compelling and attractive.
“His influential book ‘Being as Communion’ gave us a profoundly theological way to resist the individualism that can sometimes distort Western culture, as well as a renewed vision of the church,” said Durber. “His writings, his presence, and his voice profoundly impacted the work of Faith and Order in the WCC and his work continues to be celebrated and debated among all the churches. For me personally, his writing opened ways of understanding the divine that I have learned to appreciate and love.”
Rev. Dr Kuzipa Nalwamba, WCC programme director of Unity, Mission, and Ecumenical Formation, reflected on his deep contributions to the ecumenical movement.
“Elder Metropolitan Zizioulas was an astute theologian and a prolific writer who has left a legacy of his reflections for posterity in the ecumenical movement,” said Nalwamba. “His reflections on the unity of the church and the role of the bishop in Orthodoxy took the content of the ‘Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry’ study document further, nuancing it to bring the Orthodox position into dialogue with, and for mutual enrichment within, the ecumenical movement.”
Dr Andrej Jeftić, WCC director of the Commission on Faith and Order, said Elder Metropolitan Zizioulas will be remembered as a grand theological figure whose work critically shaped the landscape of Orthodox theology through previous decades.
“However, the depth of his thought and creative writing style, enabled his work to be spread across the confessional borders and, moreover, impact the ecumenical movement in general,” said Jeftić. “His ecclesiological insights provided a critical impetus to the work of the Faith and Order Commission on ecclesiology which would lead to the publication of the convergence document 'The Church: Towards a Common Vision.’ ”
Jeftić also reflected that the metropolitan’s well-developed theological relational ontology provided foundation for the understanding of church as koinonia, which became one of the key concepts describing the nature of fellowship of the churches in the World Council of Churches.
“The passing of Metropolitan John is a great loss for the Orthodox Church, but also for the whole Christian world,” said Jeftić. “We remain grateful to him for all the gifts he brought to the Christian oikoumene and pray that God keeps his memory eternal.”
Elder Metropolitan Zizioulas first studied at the Theological School of the University of Thessaloniki for two years and then at the Theological School of the University of Athens, from which he graduated in 1955.
After completing his postgraduate studies abroad, he submitted a doctoral thesis at the Theological School of the University of Athens.
He taught Dogmatic Theology at the University of Edinburgh and was a professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Glasgow as well as a professor of Dogmatic Theology at the University of Thessaloniki, of which he was professor emeritus.
He was also a visiting professor of the Universities of London, Geneva, and Gregorian of Rome, as well as an honorary professor of the Theological School of the University of Athens. He was invited to lecture at many foreign universities. He participated in many scientific conferences internationally and had represented the Ecumenical Patriarchate for many years in international ecclesiastical organizations.
He served as the Orthodox co-chairman of the International Committee of the Official Orthodox-Anglican Theological Dialogue and the similar Committee of the Theological Dialogue between Orthodox and Roman Catholics, and chaired the Fourth and Fifth Pre-Council Pan-Orthodox Conferences in Chambésy, Geneva.
Author of numerous scientific studies in many languages, he was honored with academic distinctions. In 1986 he was elected by the Ecumenical Patriarchate as Metropolitan of Pergamon, and in 2014 he was elevated to Elder Metropolitan.