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Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary, World Council of Churches

Response to the Address of HAH the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I

The Ecumenical Centre, 24 April 2017

Your All Holiness, first of all I express our gratitude for this significant contribution to our understanding of what the divine call to be one means - today. You have clearly shown that the call for the Church to be one is a call to search the truth in love. The call to be one is of the highest relevance for the service of the Church in a polarized and divided world. You elaborated what it means in a world of many challenges and sufferings, injustices and threats to our life together on our planet Earth. Your personal history and reflections carry the essence of what the ecumenical movement is at large and what the 70 years of the World Council of Churches have brought to you and your Church.

You have explained what it means for the Orthodox Churches to share this vision and calling to unity, as it has been elaborated in the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Churches in June 2016. Furthermore, you have reflected on the basic call and purpose of the World Council of Churches in relation to significant dimensions of our work in our time. You are truly challenging all churches by your convincing reflections for why the churches must again and again call one another to be one, through dialogue and sharing, and why they again and again together must address the threats to our world and to the one humanity. This they must do to be faithful to the truth we have received.

Your All Holiness, in your leadership, you have given many examples of how this faithfulness to Tradition must be expressed in responses to the challenges of today and tomorrow. Your own ecumenical journey, as you describe it, and your understanding of the Church and how its unity is serving the world, have given a model for integration of the many dimensions of our ecumenical calling. The way you address some of the issues on our agenda, is a great motivation for us who are working for the World Council of Churches in our time. You also share insights and perspectives of great value for our self-understanding as we approach the 70th anniversary of our fellowship and organization.

However, in different ways you help us to move our attention away from a preoccupation of what restricts our attention to what is relevant for our self-assertion or our self-interest, even if they might be interesting to discuss. This is indeed the motivation for us as well as the outcome of the ecumenical dialogue. We learn that there is more, more to be shared, more to be learned, more to be done together. Indeed, we see what you have learned and what you have to teach us from the wisdom of the late Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras: “Come let us look one another in the eyes, and let us then see what we have to say to one another.”

I find that this quote - as well as your entire presentation - illustrated that the ecumenical dialogue between churches has a great and not yet exhausted relevance for the churches. This is also expressed in your continued support to the work of “Faith and Order”.

You also have shown that precisely the dialogue between the churches - as it is pursued in the ecumenical movement - does represent a special contribution with an added value to the wider humanitarian dialogue for justice and peace in the world. The way you connect these two dimensions of dialogue and cooperation between the churches can make many of us curious: Why is our theological dialogue also a dialogue relevant for the wider human family?

This is a question that leads us to the heart of the rationale and work of the World Council of Churches, but it is relevant far beyond that. Why has what we do in this house and in these organizations inspired by the call to be one as churches an added value for the human family?

This question is somehow answered in the guiding theme of the World Council of Churches at the moment.  We engage both in deep theological dialogues, and address many contexts where we work for just peace together with the churches locally. When we define our work as a World Council of Churches today as being “Together on a pilgrimage of justice and peace”, we are seeking exactly this kind of openness in dialogue between churches, inviting also “all people of good will” to join us on our pilgrimage. We do this so that we can better find the way forward, together, in our common witness and service for a better world, for a better future.

As churches together we are guided by what is given to us in the Holy Scripture interpreted through the Tradition of the Church. We believe that the Holy Spirit continues to guide our understanding. Your All Holiness emphasises that we can be helped to be faithful to the truth given to us by being part of the ongoing dialogue, not by retreating from it.  This is indeed a significant encouragement to all churches to continue the dialogue among them, particularly when we have different or diverging positions.

This is something more than searching for compromises among us. It is a search for the truth of the will of God. This is a search for the truth – in love. Therefore, this search for the truth is also a search for the truth about the reality, sometimes the harsh and ugly reality, in which we and others live. You have showed through different examples how this has been done and must be done in the search for the truth about the environment, about the threats to access for clean and drinkable water, about the truth of the lives of children in our time. This joint search for the truth is based on the truth that is given to us in the Gospel about the grace of God, the will of God, the love of God, applied into the search for the truth in love with the oppressed, the marginalized, the suffering, the poor.

You also know a lot about the suffering of Christian sisters and brothers, and the quest for the survival of the churches particularly in the Middle East. Calling for accountability means that states must stop the crimes of terror. In our inter-faith dialogues, which you strongly support, we must call for accountability to the shared values of care for life, the principle of shared citizenship, and mutual respect for one another. Violence in the name of religion cannot be done without violating the values of religion. Violence in the name of God towards those who are created in the image of God becomes violence against God. We are from the beginning to the end accountable to God.

The ecumenical dialogue is a search for the truth that we owe each other as churches. We have insights into the truth that are to be shared, to be elaborated and explained. We have insights to the truth that we share in dialogue because we need to see also other expressions and dimensions to the truth in one another. This is why we again and again have “to see one another in the eye”, this is why dialogue is not only a business for a while to achieve consensus. It is the modus of life together.

This requires that the dialogue is conducted with the relevant ecumenical attitude of being mutually accountable to one another. Your All Holiness, you elaborate in your address what that means and why it is necessary for the churches. Let me mention some examples:

You offer a highly interesting and illuminating reflection about the process leading to the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church. These last days we have celebrated the 50 years of the Orthodox Centre of The Ecumenical Patriarchate in Chambésy.  I had the privilege to invite you and the other Primates of the Orthodox churches for dinner in Bossey as you met here for the last Synaxis in January 2016. In your exposé, you describe the meaning and the challenge of being in council with one another as churches. You describe the potential tension between, on the one hand, the independence of Autocephalous churches as they search for and define their positions in relation to their traditions and contexts; and on the other hand, the need for a common, conciliar process and assessment of what is the true Orthodox common way forward.

This tension is present in all churches and in all church families, and you illustrate why the conciliar approach is also so relevant for all churches.

Furthermore, you show why this shared and mutual accountability is necessary for the future of the life together today and tomorrow as human beings created to live in fellowship in our common home.

Being accountable to God the creator of all and of all things means that we have to pay attention to where our common life as humanity and our creation is under threat. It is well deserved that Your Holiness has been granted the title “The Green Patriarch”, and you have given many church leaders and faithful Christians a new perspective on the Christian call to care for Creation.

We are mutually accountable, not only to one another as the church leaders or political leaders in a country or internationally, but we are accountable to the most vulnerable among us in a very profound way. This is our accountability to God the creator. The children can call us to accountability and they will call us to accountability for what we did for their protection, for their well-being, for how we nourished their bodies and minds, for how we cared for their basic needs of love and care, for how we cared for the environment in which they shall live and already live. We have to search the truth about their lives and the threats to their lives now, as many of them are suffering from violence, migration, war, but also from being led into slavery or being deprived of their rights to proper education and health services. We have to search for the truth about the life of children even in our church contexts and in the families themselves. Domestic violence is the most common expression of violence against children.

Searching the truth in mutual accountability under God the Creator means also that we are calling for accountability to the joint agreements to protect our planet earth. The call to be accountable and implement the Paris agreement is a very concrete expression of how the search for the truth and the mutually accountable relations go together.

Your All Holiness, let me express how I as a Lutheran theologian and pastor and leader in the ecumenical movement am greatly indebted to you and your way of being accountable to our one Christian Tradition and to the ecumenical dialogue. Being a Lutheran, I see particularly the relevance of your call to search the truth in dialogue as an affirmation of the lasting value and relevance of what we now commemorate as Reformation. The Reformation was in its origin a call to be accountable to one another by being honest with God, through accountability to the Holy Scripture and the way we practice our spiritual lives. The repentance must be done in mutual accountability to one another, not as a method of buying us out of our responsibilities.

You make in your address the expression of “sin” relevant in many issues and contexts of our time. You thereby contribute to this attitude of accountability: Let us be honest and see what we have done when we contribute to violence against others or against nature. Let us acknowledge that it is sin. It is not according to the will of God. However, the cross is not the end. The resurrection of Christ shows us another way.

This way of being mutually accountable in our commitment to dialogue can lead us to liberation and help us to find sustainable new ways forward. The ecumenical dialogue can serve the world as a way of both the cross and the resurrection. Our shared faith in Jesus Christ is in its essence: hope.

Thank you, again, Your All Holiness, for your inspiration to continue our pilgrimage of justice and peace, as people of faith and hope and love. In your leadership these 25 years you have affirmed the significance of the ecumenical dialogue for the churches and for the world. Today we give thanks for the way you have offered a role model for many leaders in the Church, as well as for leaders in other positions to be leading with the attitudes of accountability and love. May God grant you many years of health and strength to continue this ministry among us!