1. If the question “Is Christian Ecumenism a model?” is raised in relation to the developments within Christianity and relations among Christian churches, then my answer is “yes”. Christian ecumenism is a model for Christian communities that find themselves in relationships of indifference, conflict or competition with each other.
I speak about Christian ecumenism as a model, indeed as an imperative for Christians and churches, because according to the Scriptures, this is God’s will in Christ for the unity and reconciliation of ALL (Colossians 1,20; Ephesians 1,10). Furthermore, Christ Himself, before crucifixion, prayed “that they all may be one, that the world may believe” (John 17, 21).
Ecumenism is therefore not a choice but an imperative for the churches despite – or because of – the counter-witness of their longstanding divisions. Churches have lived for centuries in isolation, or in conflict. Only in the last century have many of them agreed to begin addressing together the causes of their separation. Divisions among Christians impact negatively their witness to the world and the very credibility of the Churches. But we still have a long way to go on the ecumenical road.
Theological agreements have been achieved on many of the age-old sensitive topics; yet, work has to continue on other topics which still need reflection and debate on the way towards full unity in faith. However, since the last WCC Assembly in Busan, a new ecumenical paradigm has been adopted and this has been embraced by the majority of the Churches: the common pilgrimage. That is, despite of the fact that we did not agree theologically on everything, we have committed ourselves to walk, pray and work together rather than alone and in separation. And on the way, moving together, there is more chance to better know one another and grow into fellowship and understanding.
2. If the question “Is Christian Ecumenism a model?” is raised in relation to other faiths such as Islam, for instance, then my answer is “no”.
First, because Christian ecumenism emerges in response to ecclesial division within Christianity or to other forms of division that affect the churches. The fact that other faiths exhibit within themselves a diversity of streams or traditions or even conflicts, comparable to those that characterise Christianity, does not mean necessarily that they should address their relationships in the same way as Christianity does through ecumenical dialogue.
We are called to witness with courage and humility to our faith and let God do God’s mission in the world. God is the only one who can change hearts; God is the Source; God is the Great Teacher. Therefore, in deep humility, we have to intentionally refrain from arrogantly prescribing to others the medicine of unity that we did not fully reach for ourselves.
3. If the question “Is Christian Ecumenism a model?” is raised in a practical way in relation to the central theme of this year’s G20 Interfaith Forum, namely “A Time to Heal”, then it is possible to say that the values, virtues and principles that undergird Christian ecumenism are shared by other faiths and should be the basis for interfaith solidarity with the sick, the vulnerable and the oppressed regardless of their religious belonging.
One year ago, the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue published together, ecumenically, a timely and meaningful response to the pandemic, calling for interreligious solidarity in the service of a wounded world. (Cf. Serving a Wounded World in Interreligious Solidarity, Rome and Geneva, PCID/WCC, 2020). This call was followed, in December 2020, by a joint initiative with the World Jewish Congress, in which we jointly invited religious leaders of all traditions and places to reflect on and engage the ethical issues related to global vaccine distribution.
In a global context in which the pandemic has catalysed inequalities and injustices, our Christian faith calls us to interreligious solidarity in this time of healing - a solidarity sustained by hope nurtured by widely shared ethical and spiritual values such as the unity of the human family, and guided by principles such as humility and vulnerability; respect; community, compassion and common good; dialogue and mutual learning; repentance and renewal; gratitude and generosity, and love.
The ecumenical calling extends to encompass our economic relations with each other, as well as - of vital importance in this time of climate emergency - our relations with the environment, God’s creation, of which we are all part.
Semantically, ecumenism shares a common root with economics and ecology – the ancient Greek notion of the household, oikos. All three disciplines are concerned with the ordering of the ‘household’ and its resources – financial, environmental, and moral and spiritual. The economic, the ecological and the moral are deeply intertwined and cannot be considered separately.
The ‘Season of Creation’, which we celebrate on 1 September to 4 October, is an important ecumenical milestone for hope and healing. In 1989, Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I declared 1 September as a day of prayer for the care of creation, and today many churches from a wide variety of traditions observe the Season of Creation in joint prayer, reflection, and action. Aptly, the theme for this year is: “A Home for All: Renewing the Oikos of God.”
The pandemic, rising levels of poverty and inequality, and the climate crisis teach us vividly of the global dimensions of the oikos, of our shared vulnerability - and shared fate - as one humanity. We now feel more keenly the fragility of human life - indeed, of all life on this planet. These global challenges have revealed or reinforced not only our shared vulnerability but also our fundamental community as humans, our solidarity across divides and borders, and our capacity for empathy, understanding, and sacrifice. And increasingly, we find that our shared faith commitment – however differently conceived – and shared values draw us to closer ties and collaboration with other religious traditions in cooperative work for urgent climate action, for economic justice and for basic human rights.
The ecumenical impulse is fundamentally to seek common ground among various perspectives and traditions. It is an impulse that addresses the need for Christians and churches to grow in their real though imperfect koinonia and, at the same time, engages Christianity side by side with other faiths, in the path of healing and reconciliation, with each other and with Creation.