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Orthodox participation in the Ecumenist movement

We need to confess that a significant push towards the creation of the Ecumenist Movement was also given by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople; specifically, with its Proclamation of 1920, which –as became evident- also constituted the basis for the “Charter” pertaining to the participation of the Orthodox in the Ecumenical Movement.

            This Proclamation was something entirely unprecedented in the history of the Church; it was the first time that an official orthodox document had characterized all the heterodox Communities of the West as “Churches”; as “related and intimate in Christ, co-inheritors and a common body in the promise of God.”  With this, it overthrew orthodox ecclesiology. And, to avoid any references to much older times, it suffices to remember that several years earlier (1895), this same Patriarchate in one of its circulars had removed Papism from the Church, because it had introduced “heretical teachings and innovations”. This was the reason that Western Christians were called upon to return to the bosom of the one Church, i.e., Orthodoxy.

            With the “Charter of Nations” as its model, the 1920 Proclamation proposed the formation of a “cohesion and communion between the Churches”, its principal aims being a) the re-examination of dogmatic differences with a predisposition for compromise, b) the acknowledgement of a uniform calendar (the partial implementation of which, unfortunately brought about an inter-orthodox rift with regard to the celebration of feast-days ) and c) the convening of pan-Christian assemblies.

            With the exception of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, nearly all of the Orthodox Churches gradually asked to become –and did become- accepted as members of the W.C.C.. However, some of them were compelled later on to recant and depart, as they noticed with dismay its degeneration on the one hand, and on the other, they were being pressured by the intense anti-ecumenist reactions of their fold.  It was therefore understandable for a question to be raised:  How is it possible for Orthodoxy to be “incorporated”, to become a “member” of “something”, when Orthodoxy itself constitutes the “whole”, the very Body of Christ Himself, Who calls upon everyone to become His members?

            Besides, the presence of the Orthodox Churches in the Assemblies of the W.C.C. was always meager, ineffective and decorative, because of the way the W.C.C. is composed and operates.  Its decisions were shaped exclusively by the quantitative superiority of Protestant votes.  Of course, up until 1961, the Orthodox would submit separate statements (some of which comprise monumental confessional texts), as representatives of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

            With regard to the Vatican’s ecumenist opening, the response by Orthodoxy was a positive one, its main adherent being the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras. The Patriarch met with Pope Paul VI in Jerusalem (1964); he proceeded to lift the anathemas of the 1054 Schism together with him, and he confirmed his support of the “dialogue of love”, thus promoting the aims of the 2nd Vatican Synod.


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Page created: 16-3-2006.

Last update: 16-3-2006.