Public lecture by Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser at an
international symposium on "Orthodox theology and the future of ecumenical dialogue: perspectives and problems"

Thessaloniki, Greece, 1-3 June 2003

This is the second time that I am invited to give a public lecture in Thessaloniki and I am sincerely grateful for this invitation. The first occasion was at the very beginning of my mandate as General Secretary in the context of an official visit to the Church of Greece. Almost ten years later, I am in the final months of my service in this special responsibility. We have passed through a critical phase in the relationships between the Orthodox churches and the World Council of Churches during these last five years. Five years ago, a pan-Orthodox consultation took place in Thessaloniki which formulated a strong challenge to the WCC from the side of the Orthodox churches. The World Council, through its assembly at Harare, responded to the challenge by establishing the "Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC". Last year, the Special Commission presented its report to the Central Committee of the WCC, and we have now entered the period of implementing the decisions which the Central Committee took in response to the recommendations by the Special Commission. It is my conviction that the Special Commission has offered us the opportunity to transform the challenge into a new and constructive phase of Orthodox participation in the WCC. It is against this background that I accepted the formulation of the topic which has been suggested for my lecture.

When I began to prepare myself for this lecture, I wondered whether I had perhaps agreed to the topic too quickly. In 1959, Archbishop Iakovos, who was then one of the Presidents of the WCC, was asked to give a lecture with the title "The Contribution of Eastern Orthodoxy to the Ecumenical Movement". I sympathize with the feelings he expressed at the beginning of his lecture: "Whoever suggested that this topic should be assigned to me is not my friend, since I am placed in the difficult position of analyzing a subject that no Orthodox can handle with absolute objectivity. However, since I accepted to speak on this topic, the originator of the title may relax, for the responsibility is now mine alone. I shall make every effort, therefore, to be as positive, and as accurate and as objective as possible." 1 If already for an Orthodox ecumenical leader of the stature of Archbishop Iakovos it was a difficult assignment to speak positively and objectively about the contribution of Eastern Orthodoxy to the ecumenical movement, how much more difficult is this task for somebody like me who, while having actively accompanied the Orthodox participation in the WCC, cannot claim to be able to approach the subject with absolute objectivity. As General Secretary, I shall however, like Archbishop Iakovos, "make every effort … to be as positive, and as accurate and as objective as possible".

1. Any reflection about the importance of the Orthodox contribution to the WCC must begin with the fundamental decision on the part of the Orthodox churches to assume a leading role in giving shape to the modern ecumenical movement. When Dr Willem A. Visser 't Hooft composed his account of "The Genesis and Formation of the World Council of Churches" (1982), he began with an analysis of the great encyclical issued by the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1920 "Unto the Churches of Christ Everywhere". This encyclical has indeed remained one of the foundational documents of the ecumenical movement and of the World Council of Churches in particular, because it was here that the proposal to establish a "league (fellowship) between the churches" was formulated for the first time. As we know, it took more than a quarter century until the World Council of Churches could be established, and the leading role of the Orthodox churches in shaping this Council remained an initiative which met with reserve and even resistance in many of the Orthodox churches. It is all the more important to recall the arguments formulated by one of the eminent Orthodox ecumenical pioneers, Fr Georges Florovsky, when he wrote about "The Orthodox Contribution to the Ecumenical Movement" a year after the Amsterdam assembly: "I understand the act of taking part in the ecumenical movement as an act of participation in ecumenical conversation or colloquium, and I consider such a participation as not only allowed and possible for all Orthodox people, but furthermore as a direct obligation which stems from the very essence of Orthodox consciousness…" And he continues to say: "Faith in Christ as God and Saviour truly unites those who keep and confess it; it does so in a psychological manner but also at a depth which goes beyond psychology and is incomprehensible. We cannot express this unity in a single logical adequate formula; the very fact of unity is beyond doubt and protest."2

Almost thirty years later, an inter-Orthodox consultation at the New Valamo Monastery in Finland reflected about "the ecumenical nature of Orthodox witness". In its report, the consultation had this to say: "In the first place it must be stressed that the participation of the Orthodox in the ecumenical movement of today is not, in principle, a revolution in the history of Orthodoxy, but it is a natural consequence of the constant prayer of the church 'for the union of all'. It constitutes another attempt, like those made in the patristic period, to apply the apostolic faith to new historical situations and existential demands. What is in a sense new today, is the fact that this attempt is being made together with other Christian bodies with whom there is no full unity. It is here that the difficulties arise, but it is precisely here that there also are many signs of real hope for growing fellowship, understanding and cooperation."3 Ten years later, the Third Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference issued its statement on "The Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Movement". The conference declared officially: "The Orthodox Church, in her profound conviction and ecclesiastical consciousness of being the bearer of and witness to the faith and tradition of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, firmly believes that she occupies a central place in matters relating to the promotion of Christian unity within the contemporary world. … The Orthodox Church, which unceasingly prays 'for the union of all', has taken part in the ecumenical movement since its inception and has contributed to its formation and further development. In fact, the Orthodox Church, due to the ecumenical spirit by which she is distinguished, has, through the history, fought for the restoration of Christian unity. Therefore, the Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement does not run counter to the nature and history of the Orthodox Church. It constitutes the consistent expression of the apostolic faith within new historical conditions, in order to respond to new existential demands."4 This consistent expression of the Orthodox commitment to the ecumenical fellowship of churches, which has been re-affirmed in response to questions and sometimes harsh criticism from within, is perhaps the most important Orthodox contribution to the WCC. Few other member churches of the Council have been as explicit about the fundamental theological reasons for their participation.

2. It must be acknowledged immediately, however, that the theological and in particular ecclesiological convictions on which Orthodox participation in the WCC is based was again and again put to the test. The first such occasion was the discussion of the Central Committee of the WCC at Toronto in 1950 about a basic policy statement on "The Church, the Churches, and the World Council of Churches". The statement had been prepared in order to respond to questions and concerns regarding "the ecclesiological significance of the World Council of Churches". In his book "The Genesis and Formation of the World Council of Churches", the first General Secretary of the WCC, Dr Visser 't Hooft, describes the discussions leading up to the formulation of the statement and the debate at the Central Committee itself. Conversations with both Roman Catholic and Orthodox partners had made Dr Visser 't Hooft aware of the ambiguous status of the Council from the perspective of Catholic and Orthodox ecclesiology. In the draft statement, he had suggested the formulation "the World Council exists in order to deal in a provisional way with an abnormal situation". This descriptive formulation was sharply criticized by those who considered the formation of the World Council as a definitive step for the restoration of fellowship among the churches. But the discussion became even more heated around the question of the mutual recognition of churches participating in the fellowship of the WCC. The draft statement included the following sentence: "The member churches do not necessarily recognize each other as true, healthy or complete churches, but they consider the relationship of other churches to the Una Sancta as a question for mutual recognition." This formulation was sharply criticized on the ground that one could not speak of the Council as a fellowship of churches when some members regarded others as "untrue, unhealthy and incomplete".

Dr Visser 't Hooft then recalls that it was an intervention by Fr Georges Florovsky which helped to open the way forward. In his account, Visser 't Hooft says: "At this point Fr Georges Florovsky of the Russian Orthodox Church in emigration spoke with deep feeling, making an impressive appeal to fellow committee members. The issue, he said, was not simply the formulation of some sentences in a document; much more was at stake. His church regarded the other churches as essentially incomplete. If, as was possible, this tradition represented a viewpoint too difficult for some, it might be time to part. In the World Council, representatives of a high doctrine of the church were in a minority, but it was better to satisfy such a minority."5 Following this passionate appeal which found an echo in contributions from other members of the committee, the respective sentence was reformulated and adopted as follows: "The member churches of the World Council consider the relationship of other churches to the Holy Catholic Church which the creeds profess as a subject for mutual consideration. Nevertheless, membership does not imply that each church must regard the other member churches as churches in the true and full sense of the word."6

It is well known that the so-called "Toronto Statement" has been regarded by the Orthodox churches as the basic charter for their continued participation in the Council. It has to be acknowledged at the same time that the intervention by Fr Georges Florovsky and its impact constitute one of the important Orthodox contributions to the life of the WCC. It has enabled and obliged the World Council to struggle with the fundamental "ecclesiological challenge" which is inscribed into its very raison d'être. This has been acknowledged more recently in the policy statement "Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the World Council of Churches" which says: "The existence of the World Council of Churches as a fellowship of churches thus poses to its member churches what the Ecumenical Patriarchate has called an 'ecclesiological challenge': to clarify the meaning and extent of the fellowship they experience in the Council, as well as the ecclesiological significance of koinonia which is the purpose and aim of the WCC but not yet a given reality."7

3. The second major Orthodox contribution to unfolding the self-understanding of the World Council of Churches has been made in the context of discussions about a revision of the Basis of the WCC prior to the third assembly of the Council in New Delhi in 1961. Again the first General Secretary of the Council, Dr Visser 't Hooft, is our main witness for appreciating the Orthodox contribution. In an article on "The Basis: Its History and Significance", contributed to the Ecumenical Review in 1985, Dr Visser 't Hooft recalled the origins of the Basis as well as the discussions following the first assembly at Amsterdam where the original formulation of the Basis had been adopted as part of the Constitution of the WCC. Among the proposals to expand the Basis was also the request to include in the Basis an explicit reference to the Trinity. This demand had come especially from Eastern Orthodox churches. Dr Visser 't Hooft recalls: "At first it was not clear in which way the Trinitarian dimension was to be incorporated. But, at a memorable breakfast in Leningrad during the visit of the World Council of Churches' delegation to the USSR in 1959, the Russian and Greek Orthodox participants made it clear that they did not expect that the Basis should contain a description of the Trinity, but that it should set the christocentric affirmation in a Trinitarian setting. So I took the breakfast menu and wrote on it the doxological formula: 'to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit'. This proved to be acceptable to all who were present."8

This enlargement of the original WCC Basis by adding a Trinitarian doxological conclusion was not directed against the christocentric orientation of the Basis, which was strongly affirmed by the Orthodox churches. But by placing the confession of "the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour" in its Trinitarian setting, the assembly wanted to affirm the fullness of the apostolic tradition. A much more developed exposition of this Trinitarian approach was found in the plenary presentation to the assembly by Prof. Nikos Nissiotis on "The Witness and the Service of Eastern Orthodoxy to the One Undivided Church". Nissiotis stated: "Unity among men in the church is the result, the reflection of the event of the Father's union with Christ by his Spirit realized in the historical church on the day of Pentecost."9 Nissiotis' presentation - the first by an Orthodox theologian at a WCC assembly - marks the official beginning of the full Orthodox impact on ecumenical thought, underscored at New Delhi through the entry of the Russian Orthodox Church into the membership of the WCC.

4. The New Delhi assembly marked the beginning of a new phase of Orthodox participation in the WCC with the entry into membership of the Russian Orthodox Church and subsequently of the remaining Eastern Orthodox churches in Central and Eastern Europe. Recognizing the central importance given in the Orthodox tradition to the conciliar process in the church of the early centuries, the assembly recommended that a study be undertaken of the councils of the early church and their significance for the ecumenical movement. The study was entrusted to the Commission on Faith and Order which initiated the study process in 1964 and submitted a report at the meeting of the commission in Bristol in 1967. Already prior to this particular study, the Faith and Order Commission following the New Delhi assembly had turned its attention to a new study of the patristic period. A study group was formed in 1962 and decided to give particular attention to the text of Basil of Caesarea on the Holy Spirit. In presenting its report to the Faith and Order Commission at Bristol in 1967, the group says in its introduction: "All churches share the common foundation of the Fathers. But they are not accorded the same authority by all the churches, and patristics study is carried on by various methods and with unequal intensity. Therefore it is of great importance for the further development of the ecumenical movement that we come to a common understanding of the Fathers. The problem appeared early in the ecumenical movement. Its urgency has become especially clear, however, since the family of Orthodox churches began to participate fully in the World Council of Churches. … In view of the special significance of the problem for the relationships between Orthodox and Western member churches, the group was to be composed of an equal number of participants from East and West."10 The report, apart from a special interpretation of the essay on the Holy Spirit by Basil of Caesarea, deals with the significance of patristic study for the ecumenical discussion and reflects on the significance and the message of patristic texts for today. Unfortunately, this creative ecumenical approach to a common study of the patristic period has not been continued further in the work of the Faith and Order Commission.

However, as was pointed out before, a parallel study was undertaken by the commission during the same period on "The Importance of the Conciliar Process in the Ancient Church for the Ecumenical Movement". This study received its special significance by the fact that it introduced the notion of "conciliarity" into ecumenical discussion and explored in particular the importance of conciliarity for the unity of the church. The report explains: "If we are rightly to understand the importance of synods and councils for the life of the church, it is wise to begin with the general notion of 'conciliarity'. By conciliarity we mean the fact that the church in all times needs assemblies to represent it and has in fact felt this need. These assemblies may differ greatly from one another; however, conciliarity, the necessity that they take place, is a constant structure of the church, a dimension which belongs to its nature. As the church itself is 'an assembly' and appears as assembly both in worship and many other expressions of its life, so it needs both at the local and on all other possible levels representative assemblies in order to answer the questions which it faces."11 The report underlines the close relationship between the conciliar process and the unity of the church by pointing to the fact that all councils were rooted in the eucharistic life of the church and were intended to strengthen the life of the church as the eucharistic assembly. Recognizing the fact that contemporary church assemblies composed of representatives of churches which do not live in eucharistic fellowship cannot be properly designated as a council, the commission was nevertheless convinced that they can "contribute towards creating the conditions which will enable all churches to participate in a truly ecumenical council".12

This study which was later continued with a follow-up study on "The Council of Chalcedon and its Significance for the Ecumenical Movement" became the source of inspiration for the wide-ranging and influential ecumenical discussion on conciliarity and the perspective of "a genuinely universal council", beginning with the references in the section report at the Uppsala assembly in 1968 on "The Holy Spirit and the Catholicity of the Church" through the document by the Faith and Order Commission at its meeting in Louvain in 1971 on "Conciliarity and the Future of the Ecumenical Movement" up to the description of the Nairobi assembly in 1975 of the unity of the church as "a conciliar fellowship of local churches truly united". While this ecumenical discussion has moved far beyond the Orthodox understanding of conciliarity and of the fundamental significance of the early ecumenical councils, it must be recognized as one of the important Orthodox contributions to the WCC that conciliarity has been acknowledged once again as a fundamental dimension in the understanding of the church.

5. In the years leading up to the Uppsala assembly in 1968, the discussions in the World Council of Churches began to respond increasingly to the "agenda of the world" marked by the struggles for justice and liberation. Also the search for the unity of the church was placed in the broader context of the quest for the unity of humankind. In messages on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the WCC in 1973, the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Russian Orthodox Church expressed their concern about this new orientation in the work of the WCC.13 The Officers of the WCC formulated detailed replies to these messages and took initiatives to strengthen the involvement of the Orthodox churches and their contribution to the programmes of the WCC. In the period between the Nairobi and Vancouver assemblies alone, twelve consultations with Orthodox theologians were organized by or in cooperation with the WCC Orthodox Task Force and by several sub-units, particularly the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism, on a variety of theological, missiological and social issues which were part of the WCC agenda during that period. Fr Georges Tsetsis, the Moderator of the Orthodox Task Force, who edited a volume documenting the reports of these consultations, says in his foreword: "These gatherings made it possible for an impressive number of Orthodox bishops, priests, theologians, sociologists and educationalists to meet together in prayer and meditation and to try to respond to the challenges and questions posed to the Orthodox Church by developments in the world and the ecumenical movement. While the findings of these meetings do not represent the official position of the Orthodox churches, they nevertheless point to new expressions of the Orthodox tradition within an ecumenical context and indicate new trends and developments within Orthodox theological thought."14

Each of these consultations constitutes an important Orthodox contribution to the work of the WCC. Not all of them have had a lasting impact; the distribution and response to these reflections within the Orthodox churches themselves for most of them has remained limited. Some of them, however, have continued to influence ecumenical discussion, as I will show in greater detail in a moment with regard to two important issues. At this point, attention should be drawn in particular to the pan-Orthodox consultation at New Valamo on "The Ecumenical Nature of the Orthodox Witness".15 According to the report, the purpose of the consultation was to respond to certain ecumenical priorities which have emerged since the fifth assembly of the WCC in Nairobi and to bring some Orthodox insights to bear on issues and programmes as these affect the life and activities both of the WCC and of the churches themselves. The consultation dealt with three specific items on today's ecumenical agenda, namely: 'the Local Church', 'the Proclamation and Articulation of our Faith', and 'the Churches' Responsibility in the World Today'." The most important contribution of the consultation was to bring into full perspective the eucharistic ecclesiology which was considered to be the centre of the Orthodox witness. The report says: "The Orthodox understand the Church in the light of the Eucharist. The whole life of the Church, the word and the sacraments, stem from and find their fulfilment in the Holy Eucharist. Thus the Eucharist is not just a 'sacrament' but the great mystery of our participation in the life of the Holy Trinity, the recapitulation of the entire history of salvation in Christ, and the foretaste of the Kingdom to come. In the Eucharist, therefore, the Church is placed in the very centre of history, sanctifying and transforming the world, by being a new creation, creating a new mode of life. At the same time, she is placed at the end of history as a sign of the Kingdom, judging the world in the light of the eschatological realities of which the Eucharist is a manifestation."16 The praxis of organizing special Orthodox consultations on particular issues in ecumenical discussion was continued beyond the Vancouver assembly. The documentary volume edited by Metr. Gennadios Limouris includes ten further reports of inter-Orthodox consultations in the period up to the assembly at Canberra in 1991.

6. This brings me in my survey to the point where, from an Orthodox perspective, the important contribution made by Orthodox churches has become most clearly visible: the so-called Lima texts, i.e. the convergence documents on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry. Already in 1967, the Commission on Faith and Order of the WCC had begun a process of assembling the emerging agreements on these central aspects of the life of the church. Initial draft texts were circulated to the churches for response after the commission meeting in 1974. At the Nairobi assembly in 1975, Prof. Nikos Nissiotis was elected Moderator of the Commission on Faith and Order. It was under his leadership that the revision and final formulation of the three convergence documents was carried forward to the point that the Faith and Order Commission at its meeting in Lima in 1982 could declare that these texts had now reached the level of maturity that they could be sent to the churches with the request for an official response at the highest competent level of authority. It would go beyond the framework of this lecture to enter into a detailed examination of these texts and to trace the influence of Orthodox and in particular the patristic tradition on their formulation. There can be no doubt, however, about the decisive influence of Orthodox thinking in all three texts, particularly in terms of the emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit both in baptism and the eucharist (epiklesis) and the emphasis on the ecclesiological and eschatological dimension of both baptism and the eucharist.

The great significance which is being attributed to the Lima documents by the Orthodox churches has been underlined in the report of an inter-Orthodox symposion on "Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry", held at Boston in 1985. The report of this symposion has this to say: "It appears to us that we, as Orthodox, should welcome the Lima document as an experience of a new stage in the history of the ecumenical movement. After centuries of estrangement, hostility and mutual ignorance, divided Christians are seeking to speak together on essential aspects of ecclesial life, namely baptism, eucharist and ministry. This process is unique in terms of the wide attention which the Lima document is receiving in all the churches. We rejoice in the fact that Orthodox theologians have played a significant part in the formulation of this document. In general we see BEM as a remarkable ecumenical document of doctrinal convergence. It is, therefore, to be highly recommended for its serious attempt to bring to light and express today 'the faith of the church through the ages'." The report acknowledges that in many sections the faith of the church is clearly expressed on the basis of traditional biblical and patristic theology. In other sections there are formulations which the Orthodox cannot accept. But while some of the terminology is unfamiliar to the Orthodox, they can nevertheless in many cases discover meaning that is in fact close to the traditional faith. The report therefore feels that the Orthodox churches should respond to these documents: "because here we are concerned with a matter of faith - and it has been the insistence of the Orthodox churches for some time that the World Council of Churches should focus its attention especially on questions of faith and unity; (and) because the Orthodox have fully participated in the preparation of the text from the beginning and made a substantial contribution to it."17

The Lima documents, and in particular the text on the eucharist, had a decisive influence on the Vancouver assembly of the WCC in 1983. It was here that the so-called "Lima liturgy" was used for the first time as the liturgy for a eucharistic service presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury, a fact which was welcomed at the time by many Orthodox participants because it manifested the central significance of the celebration of the eucharist in the life of the church. Protopresbyter Vitaly Borovoy of the Russian Orthodox Church gave an address under the sub-theme "Life in Unity" in which he expounded the significance of the Eucharist for the faith, self-understanding, corporate life and the social witness of the church. In the same session, a meditation on Andrei Rublov's famous 15th century icon of the Trinity placed special emphasis on the eucharist as the symbol of the divine communion. The issue group on "Taking Steps towards Unity" referred specifically to the Lima texts, highlighting their significance for the understanding of the unity of the church. "Peace and justice, on the one hand, baptism, eucharist and ministry, on the other, have claimed our attention. They belong together. Indeed the aspect of Christian unity which has been most striking to us here in Vancouver is that of a eucharistic vision. Christ - the life of the world - unites heaven and earth, God and world, spiritual and secular. His body and blood, given in the elements of bread and wine, integrate liturgy and diaconate, proclamation and acts of healing. … Our eucharistic vision thus encompasses the whole reality of Christian worship, life and witness, and tends - when truly discovered - to shed new light on Christian unity in its full richness of diversity."18

7. A little earlier, I had pointed out that the Orthodox contribution had become particularly important in two areas of central concern for the work of the World Council, i.e. in the understanding of the missionary vocation of the church as well as of its diaconical service. In the first of these two areas particular attention was given to the Orthodox contribution by establishing within the staff team of the Council's Commission on World Mission and Evangelism a position for research and relations with Orthodox churches. All four Orthodox theologians who have held this position so far have made significant contributions to the work of the Council as a whole and particularly to the area of mission and evangelism. This is especially true for Prof. Ion Bria who held this position for almost ten years from 1973. It was through his initiative that a large number of specialized consultations on the missionary witness of the Orthodox churches were organized by the World Council. One of the first of these consultations was held at Etchmiadzin in Armenia in 1975, shortly before the Nairobi assembly, under the theme "Confessing Christ through the Liturgical Life of the Church Today". The consultation underlined in its report that the liturgical celebration in the church had to be continued in the life of the faithful in all dimensions of life. Prof. Bria then developed this insight and conviction further in a famous article under the title "The Liturgy after the Liturgy", published in 1978.19 Prof. Bria starts from the strong emphasis which is placed in Orthodox ecclesiology on the eucharistic understanding of the church. However, the eucharistic liturgy cannot be understood as a self-centred service and action, but is a service for the building of the one body of Christ. According to him, there is a double movement in the liturgy: on the one hand, the assembling of the people of God, and on the other hand, the sending out of the members of the church to be authentic witnesses in the world. The mission of the church, he says, rests upon "the radiating and transforming power of the liturgy". He is therefore convinced that the liturgy constitutes a permanent missionary impulse and determines the evangelistic witness of every Christian.

He then goes on to spell out this notion of the "liturgy after the liturgy" which, according to him, has to include the following elements: 

This brief article which, almost twenty years later, was developed into a small book on mission and witness from an Orthodox perspective22 has had a profound influence not only in the Orthodox churches, but on the wider ecumenical discussion by underlining the inner unity between the liturgy, mission, witness and social diaconia of the church. Bria concludes his article by saying: "Thus, through 'liturgy after the liturgy', the church, witnessing to the cosmic dimension of the salvation event, puts into practice, daily and existentially, its missionary vocation."23

8. The second area where the Orthodox contribution has been of particular significance concerns the effort to develop a deeper theological understanding of the diaconical ministry of the churches. Fr Georges Tsetsis, then Deputy Director of the WCC Commission on Interchurch Aid, Refugee and World Service, took the initiative to invite thirty representatives of Orthodox member churches of the WCC to a consultation in Crete to reflect on "the Orthodox approach to diaconia".24 The keynote address at this consultation was given by Dr Alexandros Papaderos under the title "Liturgical Diaconia".25 Papaderos begins by referring to the assessment in several Orthodox declarations that the ecumenical movement was in crisis, and that in particular the "horizontal", i.e. the social and political, activities of the WCC, were beginning to marginalize the "vertical", i.e. ecclesial and theological, dimensions of its task. He interprets this as an expression of the lack of agreement among the churches of different tradition about how to respond to the challenges arising in contemporary society. "In view of the cultural differences which exist it is doubtful whether Orthodoxy itself is able today to offer a single common answer to modern social questions. The only thing we can say with safety is that the entire body of Orthodoxy is permeated and the Orthodox communion shaped and held together as a single unity of life and meaning by one formative principle which constitutes a unifying factor." He identifies this formal principle as the 'liturgical principle'. "I would like to retain this description here, convinced as I am that I express the quintessence of the Orthodox awareness of itself, of humanity and the world. … I believe we can use this term 'liturgical' to show why and in what sense every Christian diaconia to the world, to culture, to politics, to human beings, must be a liturgical diaconia. By 'liturgy' I do not simply mean any specific cultic act but a definite lifestyle which, while certainly rooted and focused in the eucharistic liturgy, also embraces the whole life of the person."26 This then leads him to the main thesis of his address, responding directly to the sense of a crisis of the ecumenical movement: "In the context of the churches' liturgical understanding of humanity, world, society and history, any division between verticalism and horizontalism is not merely absurd but actually heretical! It is just as absurd and heretical as the distinction (in the sense of divorce) between salvation history and world history, between the cross and resurrection, between the divine and human nature of Christ or of the church, or between faith and works. It is high time we stopped playing the one off against the other! This is a game in which there are only losers!"27

It is obvious that this concept of a "liturgical diaconia" is very closely related to Bria's notion of the "liturgy after the liturgy", and there is a direct line leading from these insights to the formulation of the Vancouver assembly when it spoke of the "eucharistic vision". Papaderos believes that this basic principle of the "liturgical diaconia" is deeply rooted in the witness of the Greek Fathers. And on this basis he then develops a very detailed exposition of the micro-dimensional and macro-dimensional forms of diaconia. The macro-dimensional diaconia he explains in three directions: "as the development of a fellowship of solidarity; as a mission with a diaconical dimension; and as a commitment to social justice and liberation".28
In this way Papaderos succeeds to demonstrate the significance of these Orthodox considerations for clarifying the theological foundations of ecumenical diaconia.

The consultation itself took up the impulse of the keynote address when in the theological section of its report it says: "Christian diaconia also flows from the divine liturgy in which our offerings are sanctified by Christ's offering and require our active cooperation (synergeia) with God in the exercise of our free will which is rooted in our common agreement (symphonia) (Mt 18:19). Diaconia is therefore an expression of the unity of the church as the body of Christ. Each local celebration of the eucharist is complete and universal, involving the whole of creation, and is offered for the material and spiritual needs of the whole world. Christian diakonia is not an optional action, duty or moral stance in relation to the needy, additional to our community in Christ, but an indispensable expression of that community, which has its source in the eucharistic and liturgical life of the church. It is a 'liturgy after the liturgy', and it is in this sense that diaconia is described as a judgement upon our history (Mt 25:31-46)."29

9. This brings me to the end my survey of particular contexts in the life of the World Council of Churches where the Orthodox contribution has been visibly manifested and has had an important impact. There is no doubt for me that the active presence of the Orthodox churches in the World Council of Churches has been essential in shaping the understanding of our common ecumenical calling. On repeated occasions, Orthodox representatives have declared that the principal purpose of their presence in the World Council of Churches is to witness to the true apostolic tradition as it has been received and transmitted in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. They do not participate in order to discuss the faith or to work out agreements with the representatives of churches from other traditions. What I have reported in this lecture are different examples of how the witness of the Orthodox churches has been received and has shaped the understanding of our ecumenical vocation. It has also allowed the Orthodox tradition to be enriched and articulated afresh in response to contemporary questions and challenges.

The Special Commission which was established after the Harare assembly has given attention to critical questions which have arisen regarding the theological and in particular ecclesiological basis of Orthodox participation in the life of the WCC. The commission has tried to address once again the basic "ecclesiological challenge" which is implied in Orthodox participation in the WCC. This was articulated clearly at the time of the discussion of the Toronto Declaration by Fr Georges Florovsky and we do not seem to have moved much beyond the point of stating an open question for which an acceptable answer or solution has not yet been found.

The Orthodox churches should at least be credited for the fact that they have continued to insist that it is of central importance for the World Council of Churches to struggle with this question. The report of the Special Commission states: "Joining a World Council of Churches entails accepting the challenge to give an account to each other of what it means to be church; to articulate what is meant by 'the visible unity of the church'; and how the member churches understand the nature of the life and witness they share together now through their membership in the WCC. This is the question of how the church relates to the churches." (para. 13) And in sharpening this challenge the Special Commission invites the two main groupings in the membership of the World Council of Churches to pose to one another the following questions: "To the Orthodox: 'Is there space for other churches in Orthodox ecclesiology? How would this space and its limits be described?' To the churches within the tradition of the Reformation: 'How does your church understand, maintain and express your belonging to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church?'" (para. 16)

Already at the Eastern Orthodox-WCC consultation on "Orthodox Involvement in the World Council of Churches" at Sofia in 1981, the Orthodox representatives suggested that it would be desirable that "a reference to baptism should be included in the Basis of the Council or at least in the criteria for admission of new members".30 The Special Commission comes back to this proposal when it adds: "Exploring these questions would lead to a greater clarity of how churches belonging to the fellowship of the WCC relate to each other and to the World Council. It would also invite them to reflect on the implications of including baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as a criterion for membership in the Council." (para. 17) The Special Commission then identifies a number of issues which will need to be explored further, believing that addressing these issues would strengthen the Orthodox contribution to the WCC.

The Special Commission and its recommendations have moved us to the point where the Orthodox contribution to the life and work of the WCC can be developed in fresh and constructive ways. It is my hope that we will seize this opportunity and thus strengthen the participation of Orthodox churches in the ecumenical movement and in the WCC.


1 Archbishop Iakovos, The Contribution of Eastern Orthodoxy to the Ecumenical Movement, in: Constantin G. Patelos (ed.), The Orthodox Church in the Ecumenical Movement, Geneva 1978, 209f.

2 Fr Georges Florovsky, The Orthodox Contribution to the Ecumenical Movement, in: Ecumenism I, A Doctrinal Approach. Collected works, Vol. 13, Vaduz 1989, 160ff.

<3 The Ecumenical Nature of Orthodox Witness, in: Gennadios Limouris (ed.), Orthodox Visions of Ecumenism, Geneva 1994, 68

4 The Orthodox Church in the Ecumenical Movement, in: loc.cit. 112

5 W.A. Visser 't Hooft, The Genesis and Formation of the World Council of Churches, Geneva 1982, 78f.

6 see Visser 't Hooft, op.cit. Appendix 5, IV.4

7 Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the World Council of Churches. A Policy Statement, Geneva 1997, para. 3.4; for this whole context see also the important essay by Fr Vitaly Borovoy, The Ecclesiastical Significance of the WCC: The Legacy and Promise of Toronto, in: Gennadios Limouris (ed.), op.cit. 199ff.

<8 W.A. Visser 't Hooft, The Basis: Its History and Significance, in: The Ecumenical Review, Vol. XXXVII, No. 2, April 1985, 173

<9 Nikos Nissiotis, The Witness and the Service of Eastern Orthodoxy to the One Undivided Church, in: Constantin Patelos (ed.), The Orthodox Church in the Ecumenical Movement, Geneva 1978, 231f.

10 New Directions in Faith and Order, Bristol 1967, Geneva 1968, 41f.

11 The Importance of the Conciliar Process in the Ancient Church for the Ecumenical Movement, in: New Directions in Faith and Order, loc.cit. 50

12 loc.cit. 58

13 For the text of these messages, see Constantin Patelos (ed.), op.cit. 47ff. and 57ff.

14 Georges Tsetsis (ed.), Orthodox Thought. Reports of Orthodox Consultations organized by the World Council of Churches 1975-1982, Geneva 1983, 1

<15 The New Valamo Consultation. The Ecumenical Nature of the Orthodox Witness, Geneva 1978

16 The New Valamo Report, loc.cit. 17

<17 Report of an Inter-Orthodox Symposion "Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry", in: Gennadios Limouris (ed.), op.cit. 106

18 see David Gill (ed.), Gathered for Life. Official Report of the Sixth Assembly of the World Council of Churches, Geneva 1983, 44f.

19 Ion Bria, The Liturgy after the Liturgy, in: Gennadios Limouris (ed.), op.cit. 216ff.

20 Ion Bria, op.cit. 219

<21 op.cit. 219

22 see Ion Bria, The Liturgy after the Liturgy. Mission and Witness from an Orthodox Perspective, Geneva 1996

23 loc.cit.

24 The Orthodox Approach to Diaconia. Consultation on Church and Service. Orthodox Academy of Crete, November 1978, Geneva 1980. The consultation report is also reprinted in: Gennadios Limouris (ed.), op.cit. 70ff.

25 see Alexandros Papaderos, Liturgical Diaconia, in: An Orthodox Approach to Diaconia, op.cit. 17ff.

26 op.cit. 22

27 op.cit. 23

28 op.cit. 24

29 An Orthodox Approach to Diaconia, op.cit. 11f.

30 Orthodox Involvement in the World Council of Churches, in: Gennadios Limouris (ed.), op.cit. 91

  • An ongoing re-affirmation of the true Christian identity.
  • Enlarging the space for witness by creating a new Christian milieu in the family, society, office, factory, etc.
  • An opening up of the Christian life nurtured by the liturgy for the public and political realm. "The church has to struggle for the fulfilment of that justice and freedom which was promised by God to all men. It has constantly to give account of how the kingdom of heaven is or is not within it. It has to ask itself if by the conservativism of its worship it may appear to support the violation of human rights inside and outside the Christian community." 20
  • Equipping the members of the church to become builders of true community. Bria recalls the emphasis of St. John Chrysostom on the 'sacrament of the brother', i.e. "the spiritual sacrifice, the philanthropy and service which Christians have to offer outside the worship, in public places, on the altar of their neighbour's heart". 21