Ecumenist "Double Speak"

The Ecclesiological Schizophrenia of the Orthodox Ecumenists

by Patrick Barnes

Judged By Their Own Words They Are Shown to Affirm the Branch Theory


Orthodox ecumenists have publicly and officially stated that their participation in the ecumenical movement has never involved a violation of Holy Tradition. Moreover, they often charge those who criticize their involvement with misrepresenting the facts and distorting the truth. Characteristic of the remarks contained in the numerous communiqués emerging from the meetings of Orthodox ecumenists are the following from the Thessaloniki Summit (April 29 to May 2, 1998):

4. The delegates unanimously denounced those groups of schismatics, as well as certain extremist groups within the local Orthodox Churches themselves, that are using the theme of ecumenism in order to criticize the Church leadership and undermine its authority, thus attempting to create divisions and schisms within the Church. They also use non-factual material and misinformation in order to support their unjust criticism.

5. The delegates also emphasized that the Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement has always been based on Orthodox tradition, on the decisions of the Holy Synods of the local Orthodox Churches, and on Pan-Orthodox meetings, such as the Third Pre-Conciliar Conference of 1986 and the meeting of the Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches in 1992....

11.  During the Orthodox participation of many decades in the ecumenical movement, Orthodox has never been betrayed by any representative of a local Orthodox Church. On the contrary, these representatives have always been completely faithful and obedient to their respective Church authorities, acted in complete agreement with the canonical rules, the Teaching of the Ecumenical Councils, the Church Fathers and the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church.

Similar charges were made in the statement on ecumenism generated by the Orthodox Theological Society in America (OTSA), which met at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology only one month after the Thessaloniki Summit:

5. Criticism of the World Council of Churches (WCC) by the Orthodox has fallen into roughly two categories. On the one hand there are those who spread untruths about the WCC. Either through being misinformed themselves, or in the deliberate intention to misinform others, some extremist groups within or on the fringes of the Orthodox Church, hold that membership in the Council is a heresy in itself. On the other hand, however, there are critics of the WCC who, on the basis of their intense commitment to and involvement with the Council, are deeply disappointed with the directions that it is taking. Just as much as the propaganda of the former groups is to be repudiated or ignored, the criticism of the latter needs to be listened to with care.

While it is possible that certain anti-ecumenists are spreading misinformation (and we have yet to see evidence of this), there is a plethora of articles and books that draw from official documents and speeches. [1] They leave no doubt in the reader's mind that the claims made in point 11 of the Thessaloniki Statement are at best distortions of the actual record. Furthermore, a number of anti-ecumenical videos, well known to Orthodox ecumenists and anti-ecumenists alike, clearly show, urbi et orbi, the great fall of the Orthodox ecumenists. These resources consist almost exclusively of actual WCC footage itself. Misrepresentation—were this even a desirable or God-pleasing tactic for those resisting the bacterium of ecumenism—is wholly unnecessary. It is easy to judge the ecumenists by their own words.

What many of those Orthodox Christians trying to make sense of the ecumenical movement do not realize is that the ecumenists—much like today's politicians—speak out of both sides of their mouths. The ecclesiological language of the ecumenical movement is highly contradictory: often what is given out with one hand is taken back two- or even ten-fold with the other. In this way they are frequently able to convince those who are not well-grounded in the Orthodox faith or who have only superficially studied the ecumenical movement that their words and deeds are not a violation of Holy Tradition—especially when Tradition as they understand it includes such wholly un-Orthodox pronouncements as the infamous Patriarchal Encyclical of 1920, by which the Church of Constantinople entered the ecumenical movement.

This article sets two goals. First, it attempts to expose the deceptive ecclesiological schizophrenia that is evident in the more important statements emerging from the ecumenical movement. Second, it essays to demonstrate that, despite the assertions of various Orthodox ecumenists, the underlying ecclesiological presupposition of this movement and its Orthodox participants is the heretical Branch Theory of the Church.

Our brief study will focus almost exclusively on the official communiqués written by Orthodox ecumenists or cited favorably by them. We have purposely avoided the citation of any particular ecumenist, in order to drive home the point that supposed "misrepresentation" and "the distortion of facts" in fairly and justly criticizing the leaders of Churches involved in ecumenism are unnecessary. In the final analysis it is the ecumenists, not those resisting ecumenism, who have created "divisions and schisms within the Church" by fostering a false and rival ecclesiology that must be quarantined and, God willing, eradicated by the True Orthodox Hierarchs at a forthcoming Œcumenical Synod.

Review of Key Documents

We begin our critique with an examination of Section III of the report of the Third Preconciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference in Chambesy (1986):

6. The Orthodox Church, however, faithful to her ecclesiology, to the identity of her internal structure and to the teaching of the undivided Church, while participating in the WCC, does not accept the idea of the "equality of confessions" and cannot consider Church unity as an inter-confessional adjustment. In this spirit, the unity which is sought within the WCC cannot simply be the product of theological agreements alone. God calls every Christian to the unity of faith which is lived in the sacraments and the tradition, as experienced in the Orthodox Church.

This sounds quite Orthodox. Nevertheless, this point is immediately followed by:

7. The Orthodox member Churches of the WCC, accept its Constitutional Basis, as well as its aims and goals. They firmly believe that the ecclesiological presuppositions of the Toronto Statement (1950) on "The Church, the Churches and the World Council of Churches" are of paramount importance for the Orthodox participation in the Council. It is therefore self-understood that the WCC is not and must never become a "super-Church". "The purpose of the WCC is not to negotiate unions between Churches, which can only be done by the Churches themselves, acting on their own initiatives, but to bring the Churches into living contact with each other and to promote the study and discussion of the issues of Church unity" (Toronto Statement, 2).

In order to recognize the vacuity of point 6 in the light of point 7, one should examine what is contained in the Constitutional Basis and the Toronto Statement. The former reads thus:

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the Scriptures and therefore seek to fulfil together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

An Orthodox Christian who understands the Church’s traditional ecclesiology will immediately sense that something here is not right. First, there is an acknowledgement of "churches" other than the Orthodox Church—and ones with which we supposedly have a "common calling"! This may be fine for the WCC but when official Orthodox communiqués state without qualification that this Constitutional Basis is accepted and continually reaffirmed by Orthodox member churches, already we see a serious departure from Patristic Tradition. Of course, one could argue that "church" needs to be defined; it might not mean in this text a "church" in the sense of a true ecclesial entity in Christ. For example, the "Report of the Inter-Orthodox Consultation of Orthodox WCC Member Churches at Chambesy (1991)" contains the following statement: "Nevertheless, membership [in the WCC] does not imply that each church must regard the other member churches as churches in the true and full sense of the word." Aside from the fact that there is a marked difference between "church" as a sociological entity with no ecclesial reality—i.e., a mere gathering of like-minded believers in Christ—and "church" in the "true and full sense of the word," one searches in vain for  a Patristic description of a true "church" in official documents issued by Orthodox ecumenists; and in the context of the rest of the 1991 Report and other communiqués, the foregoing superficially Orthodox statement is rendered utterly meaninglessness. It is yet another example of ecumenist "double speak."

Anyone familiar with the Patriarchal Encyclical of 1920—the charter document for Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement—will quickly realize that much more is implied in the Constitutional Basis than a sociological entity. This Encyclical is addressed "To the Churches of Christ Everywhere." Reference is continually made to the "Christian body." At one point we read:

Secondly, that above all love should be rekindled and strengthened among the churches, so that they should no more consider one another as strangers and foreigners, but as relatives, and as being a part of the household of Christ and "fellow heirs, members of the same body and partakers of the promise of God in Christ" (Eph. 3:6)....

Such a sincere and close contact between the churches will be all the more useful and profitable for the whole body of the Church, because manifold dangers threaten not only particular churches, but all of them. These dangers attack the very foundations of the Christian faith and the essence of Christian life and society.

The Encyclical closes with an appeal—in unquestionably "organic language" —to all "churches" to respond to this ecumenical invitation. The Patriarchate hopes that

we may proceed together to its realization, and thus "speaking the truth in love; may grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ; from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love." (Eph.4:15,16).

There can be no doubt that the 1986 Chambesy Statement, in its affirmation of the WCC Basis, has in mind the same concept of "churches" as the 1920 Encyclical. We must therefore ask how the claims in point 6—that the Orthodox churches (or rather their ecumenical diplomats) have remained "faithful to her ecclesiology"—can be true?

As if this were not enough, consider these remarks from the 1991 Chambesy Report:

[F]or the Orthodox, the ultimate goal and justification of the ecumenical movement in general, and for their participation in the WCC in particular, is the full ecclesial unity of Christians. It is thus an urgent task for the meaning of Church unity to be clearly articulated and frequently repeated in the deliberations and work of the WCC....

This sounds acceptable per se. However, do these "Orthodox" ecumenists—the document was written jointly by representatives of the "Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches," the latter being the term coined by the ecumenical movement for the Non-Chalcedonian heterodox "churches"—cite the wholly Orthodox Oberlin Statement on the nature of Christian unity? No. Instead they appeal to the aforementioned Basis in order to clarify the meaning of "Church unity"!

The Orthodox confirm [the Basis] and insist on its centrality for the Christian churches gathered in fellowship for the purpose of working toward uniting all Christians. The Basis should be repeatedly displayed and frequently re-affirmed in the undertakings of the WCC so that all involved in its work and activities are constantly reminded of its contents.

They then reaffirm that "Orthodox Churches participate in the WCC's life and activities only on the understanding that the WCC 'is a council of churches' (koinonia/fellowship/conseil).... We together with other churches seek '...a conciliar fellowship of local churches which are themselves truly united...' and aim '...at maintaining sustained and sustaining relationships with [their] sister churches...." There is nothing Orthodox whatsoever about these remarks. Moreover, we see the use of the term "sister churches" (the members of which are commonly referred to as our "brothers and sisters")—an appellation that was never applied to heretical confessions prior to the ecumenical movement, its having been traditionally applied solely to Orthodox churches. However, the worst is yet to come.

The 1991 Chambesy Report also appeals to the Toronto Statement:

10. The WCC describes itself, its ecclesial nature and significance by means of its Basis and with the safeguard of the Toronto Statement of the Central Committee on "The Church, the Churches and the World Council of Churches" (1950). There it is clearly affirmed that the member Churches of the WCC consider the relationship of the 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."

11. Our understanding of this statement is that the member churches of the WCC, and the Orthodox churches in particular, respect the sovereignty of each other's ecclesiological teachings. The council has no ecclesiological position of its own.

12. The Orthodox perceive that the WCC is drifting away from the Toronto Statement through some of its programmes and methodologies. For us the Toronto Statement remains an essential criterion for our participation and membership in the WCC. Any eventual re-assessment of the Toronto Statement in the light of the experience of the forty years in the ecumenical movement should not undermine or contradict this fundamental criterion.

Here is another prime example of "double speak": a series of points that have an air of truth as such, but which, when taken in the light of other statements, evince the schizophrenia of Orthodox ecumenists. On the surface this appears to be an attempt to guard the Orthodox Church’s ecclesial self-identity. But is this really the case?

Let us keep in mind the importance of the Toronto Statement for Orthodox ecumenists. Recall what was stated in the 1986 Chambesy Statement: "[T]he ecclesiological presuppositions of the Toronto Statement (1950)…are of paramount importance for the Orthodox participation in the Council." Although only the "negations" in Section III of the Toronto Statement ("What the World Council of Churches Is Not") are usually mentioned, the entire text of the Toronto Statement is affirmed by the Orthodox ecumenists. To the best of our knowledge, this text has never been officially cited with qualifications or reservations regarding the "assumptions" in Section IV ("The Assumptions Underlying the World Council of Churches"). We might also point out that these assumptions merely echo what can be found in other Orthodox ecumenical communiqués.

What is the import of these "negations"? Do they absolve the Orthodox ecumenists of the accusation of deviating from the Church's established ecclesiology? The answer is clearly "no." The negations may be summed up as follows:

  • The WCC is not a "super-Church" or the Church in the ninth article of the Nicene Creed.
  • The WCC does not exist to negotiate unions between churches but only to facilitate dialogue towards that end.
  • The WCC does not hold to any particular ecclesiology. All ecclesiological positions are welcome in the ongoing discussions.
  • "Ecumenical theory" cannot be tied to any particular theological notion of unity. Moreover, "Membership in the WCC does not imply the acceptance of a specific doctrine concerning the nature of Church unity." All "unity theories" are welcome to enter into "dynamic relations with each other."

There is nothing in these negations that rescues the Orthodox ecumenists from the accusation of apostasy. Moreover, when one examines the text of Section IV, the "double speak" becomes readily apparent: "We must now try to define the positive assumptions which underlie the World Council of Churches and the ecclesiological implications of membership in it" (emphasis ours). With this remark they effectively cancel out—in typical schizophrenic fashion—the final cited point above concerning the implications of membership! Let us turn now to an examination of Section IV. We will not concern ourselves with everything in this section but only the most important ecclesiological points.

The first principle enumerated in this section clearly states that the WCC member churches are under the Headship of Christ in the One Body. What further evidence is needed that the Orthodox ecumenists affirm the Branch Theory!?

1) The member Churches of the Council believe that conversation, cooperation, and common witness of the Churches must be based on the common recognition that Christ is the Divine Head of the Body.

The Basis of the World Council is the acknowledgment of the central fact that "other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, even Jesus Christ." It is the expression of the conviction that the Lord of the Church is God-among us Who continues to gather His children and to build His Church Himself. Therefore, no relationship between the Churches can have any substance or promise unless it starts with the common submission of the Churches to the Headship of Jesus Christ in His Church. From different points of view Churches ask "How can men with opposite convictions belong to one and the same federation of the faithful?" A clear answer to that question was given by the Orthodox delegates in Edinburgh 1937 when they said: "In spite of all our differences, our common Master and Lord is one—Jesus Christ who will lead us to a more and more close collaboration for the edifying of the Body of Christ." [From statement by Archb. Germanos on behalf of the Orthodox delegates.] The fact of Christ's Headship over His people compels all those who acknowledge Him to enter into real and close relationships with each other—even though they differ in many important points.

This shockingly heretical set of principles—which merely reinforce the implications of the WCC Basis—is, to our knowledge, nowhere criticized by the Orthodox ecumenists. However, in the "Memorandum on Orthodox desiderata in relation to the WCC, from the Ecumenical Patriarchate" (n.d.) we do find an apparent allusion to the inadequacy of this assumption. In Section C of the memorandum in question ("Requests concerning the nature of the WCC and the trend of its development") we read:

9) A special, extensive study on the sacrament of baptism which is so essential to the Churches and the WCC. Baptism must be considered as one of the absolute conditions for the recognition of a Church as a true church. Consequently, the sacrament of baptism should be explicitly linked both with the Basis of the WCC as contained in its Constitution, modified and expanded to this effect by appropriate procedures, and with the whole procedure for the admission of  new member churches.

This request by the Ecumenical Patriarchate only serves to impugn further the position of the Orthodox ecumenists in the light of Holy Tradition. It assumes wrongly that Holy Baptism exists outside of the Orthodox Church. This is their new "'Baptismal theology,' which maintains that baptism—Orthodox or heterodox—supposedly delimits the Church, establishing the so-called 'baptismal boundaries' of the Church, and that, in this way, She includes Orthodox and heterodox, who are held togther by the 'baptismal unity' of the Church." [2] On the basis of this assumption, the Patriarchate proposes that the WCC use as a criterion for the admission of prospective churches into that body, their adherence to a system of denominational or confessional membership by baptism. This is a request wholly irrelevant to the proper maintenance of Orthodox ecclesiology, built as it is on a false premise. The significance of the affirmation that heterodox Mysteries (Sacraments) are spiritually efficacious—specifically, that the "baptisms" of the heterodox unite them to Christ—becomes even more apparent when we examine the third assumption in Section IV:

3) The member Churches recognize that the membership of the Church of Christ is more inclusive than the membership of their own Church body. They seek, therefore, to enter into living contact with those outside their own ranks who confess the Lordship of Christ.

All the Christian Churches, including the Church of Rome, hold that there is no complete identity between the membership of the Church Universal and the membership of their own Church. They recognize that there are Church members extra muros, that these belong aliquo modo to the Church, or even that there is an ecclesia extra ecclesiam. This recognition finds expression in the fact that with very few exceptions the Christian Churches accept the baptism administered by other Churches as valid.

But the question arises what consequences are to be drawn from this teaching. Most often in Church history the Churches have only drawn the negative consequence that they should have no dealings with those outside their membership. The underlying assumption of the ecumenical movement is that each Church has a positive task to fulfill in this realm. That task is to seek fellowship with all those who, while not members of the same visible body, belong together as members of the mystical body. And the ecumenical movement is the place where this search and discovery take place.

The position of the Orthodox ecumenists is well known. It is made manifest in numerous ecumenical documents, the most notorious of which is the Balamand Agreement (1993), which concerns the Roman Catholics, but also in the September 1997 WCC Statement, "Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the World Council of Churches" (CUV):

The New Delhi Assembly (1961) not only enlarged the christological Basis from a trinitarian perspective but also acknowledged the "common calling" of the churches, which was tangibly expressed by the integration of the International Missionary Council into the WCC. The same Assembly also saw the entry of several large Orthodox churches into the fellowship of the WCC and accepted the first formal statement on "the church's unity": "We believe that the unity which is both God's will and his gift to his church is being made visible as all in each place who are baptized into Jesus Christ and confess him as Lord and Saviour are brought by the Holy Spirit into a fully committed fellowship..." (Section 1.13).

It is obvious that the Orthodox ecumenists do not represent those unnamed churches that have as their current official position the non-acceptance of baptisms other than their own.

In the aforementioned statement, the notion of a "Church Universal" which is not visibly united but rather mystically one—both in terms of individual believers and "churches" is restated. The "double speak" evident in this statement becomes crystal clear when we juxtapose it to the following negations from Section III:

Membership in the World Council does not imply the acceptance of a specific doctrine concerning the nature of Church unity…. In particular, membership in the World Council does not imply acceptance or rejection of the doctrine that the unity of the Church consists in the unity of the invisible Church. Thus the statement in the Encyclical Mystici Corporis concerning what it considers the error of a spiritualized conception of unity does not apply to the World Council.

Orthodox ecumenists will undoubtedly point to the fourth assumption here to vindicate themselves: "[M]embership does not imply that each Church must regard the other member Churches as Churches in the true and full sense of the word." However, as we pointed out earlier, this language is soft and ultimately meaningless, when taken in context. Orthodox ecumenists may not affirm that all member churches of the WCC are legitimate, but this does not absolve them of the charge of affirming the Branch Theory—so clearly deducible from their other statements, as well as in the following in Section IV:

8) The member Churches enter into spiritual relationships through which they seek to learn from each other and to give help to each other in order that the Body of Christ may be built up and that the life of the Churches may be renewed.

[T]he life of the Church, as it expresses itself in its witness to its own members and to the world, needs constant renewal…. [W]hatever insight has been received by one or more Churches is to be made available to all the Churches for the sake of the "building up of the Body of Christ."

Despite the fact that these assumptions run completely counter to Orthodox ecclesiology, as expressed in Holy Tradition—the Sacred Scriptures, the Canons and decrees of the various Synods, and the writings of the Holy Fathers—, we find in the concluding remarks of the Toronto Statement this amazing assertion:

None of these positive assumptions, implied in the existence of the World Council, is in conflict with the teachings of the member Churches. We believe therefore that no Church need fear that by entering into the World Council it is in danger of denying its heritage.

What further evidence is needed to demonstrate the great fall of the schizophrenic Orthodox ecumenists and the nature of their misleading "double speak"? Should not these ecumenists fully denounce the Toronto Statement as heretical? Yet not only do they fail to refute it wholeheartedly, but they deepen their error by going so far as to affirm this Statement—with little or no qualification—, leading many into ecumenical delusion and confusion concerning the nature of the Church. Gone for now are the days when the Ecumenical Patriarchate—as in its famous Encyclicals of 1848 and 1895—answered so forcefully and in a Patristic manner the overtures for union made by Rome. These earlier answers should serve as models, in our recent times, for how true Hierarchs of the Church should protect the Flock of Christ from error. [3]

Further Remarks on the Branch Theory

Given all that has been said, we are astonished at the blindness of those who would avow that ecumenism and the Branch Theory are not concomitant ideologies. We are astounded and filled with sorrow that some of our Orthodox brothers and sisters have fallen to the heresy of ecumenism. For example, on one popular Internet website (the "Orthodox Peace Fellowship"), we read the following:

Ecumenism is not a heresy—or at least the "ecumenism" that is derided as "heresy" in some people's estimation, and the "ecumenism" that is actually practiced by the Orthodox who participate in ecumenical organizations are two different things. If one looks at the anathemas which some have written about ecumenism, it is clear that what is being anathematized is the so-called "Branch Theory", something which is not held by Orthodox "ecumenists".

The anathema in question here is that issued by the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad in 1983. It reads:

To those who attack the Church of Christ by teaching that Christ's Church is divided into so-called "branches" which differ in doctrine and way of life, or that the Church does not exist visibly, but will be formed in the future when all "branches" or sects or denominations, and even religions will be united into one body; and who do not distinguish the Priesthood and Mysteries of the Church from those of the heretics, but say that the baptism and eucharist of heretics is effectual for salvation; therefore, to those who knowingly have communion with these aforementioned heretics or who advocate, disseminate, or defend their heresy of ecumenism under the pretext of brotherly love or the supposed unification of separated Christians, Anathema!

We note once again the close relationship between the acknowledgement of Mysteries outside of the Church and the implications of this acknowledgement for ecclesiology. Concerning the Roman Catholics, St. Hilarion the Holy Russian New-Martyr writes the following. His comments help clarify the relationship to which we refer:

If the mysteries are valid outside the one Church of Christ, if the fullness of the ecclesiastical life in grace is not limited to the boundaries of the Church, then there exist several churches and not semi-churches, then the ninth article of our Creed ["...and in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church..."] should be dropped. There can be no semi-churches of any kind.... If the recognition of the beneficence of the Latin hierarchy and its religious rites does not contradict the truth of Church unity, then I must, bound by my conscience, enter into unity with the Latins at once.... No, the truth of ecclesiastical unity does not recognize the grace of the mysteries administered within extra-ecclesiastical communities. It is impossible to reconcile Church unity with the validity of extra-ecclesiastical sacraments. [4]

The Holy Mysteries—being the means by which the Divine Grace (Energies) of God are imparted through His Body, the Church—are all essentially interrelated. St. Justin (Popovich) of Chelije has written eloquently on this matter:

Immersed in the God-man, [the Church] is first and foremost a theanthropic organism, and only then a theanthropic organization. In her, everything is theanthropic: nature, faith, love, baptism, the Eucharist, all the holy mysteries and all the holy virtues, her teaching, her entire life, her immortality, her eternity, and her structure. Yes, yes, yes; in her, everything is theanthropically integral and indivisible Christification, sanctification, deification, Trinitarianism, salvation. In her everything is fused organically and by grace into a single theanthropic body, under a single Head—the God-man, the Lord Christ. All her members, though as persons always whole and inviolate, yet united by the same grace of the Holy Spirit through the holy mysteries and the holy virtues into an organic unity, comprise one body and confess the one faith, which unites them to each other and to the Lord Christ. [5]

Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos also comments on this subject, though more generally, in his recent book The Mind of the Orthodox Church:

It is usually said that the Church has seven Sacraments. Without denying this fact, I would like to emphasise that this is a later statement and that in any case there is variation in the history of the number of Sacraments. The holy Fathers think chiefly of three Sacraments, those of Baptism, Chrismation and the divine Eucharist. The Sacrament of Baptism is called an introductory Sacrament, because it introduces us into the new life, into the Body of Christ. Holy Chrismation is the so-called Baptism of the Spirit, giving us the possibility for the grace of Baptism to work within us. And the Sacrament of the divine Eucharist deifies a person through his reception of the Body and Blood of Christ. All the other Sacraments (priesthood, marriage, unction, confession) are closely connected with these three, presupposing the Sacraments of Baptism and Chrismation and being completed in the Sacrament of the divine Eucharist. [6]

There is no question that to acknowledge the spiritual validity of heterodox baptism is, by a theologically consistent extension, to acknowledge that they have all of the Mysteries. This is simply a disguised form of the Branch Theory.

In light of this fact, we find lamentable the following remarks made by Peter Bouteneff, an Orthodox laymen now serving as the Executive Secretary of the Faith and Order Commission of the WCC, in a personal letter (1997) to the present author that accompanied many of the materials cited in this critique:

On the whole, in assembling these [documents], I was looking for texts which would indicate simply that Orthodox participation in the WCC does not constitute an uncritical acceptance of every WCC text and situation, nor does it by nature imply a compromise.

I suppose that one current which is particularly imprecise in a lot of the anti-ecumenical literature, and in the "Ecumenism and the New Age" video, is to the identification of "ecumenism" with "the Branch Theory," and thereby to assume that all participants in the ecumenical movement hold to that false ecclesiology. If we do use it to refer to the idea that all the Christian bodies are in some way "parts" or "branches" of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, then I, and any Orthodox I’ve met at so-called ecumenical meetings, agree that "ecumenism" is a heresy, because we agree that the Branch Theory, which indeed is held by many Protestants, is simply wrong.

We can only assume the full sincerity and honesty of these remarks, thus fueling our amazement even more. How can it be that one who is seminary trained (Mr. Bouteneff was educated at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, NY) and who agrees that the Branch Theory is a heresy, cannot see that the undoubted position of the Orthodox ecumenists is one which it purports to decry—as evidenced by the very documents that he sent in order to prove his assertion!

We can only conclude that both Mr. Bouteneff and Mr. Forest (the webmaster of the "Orthodox Peace Fellowship" website) are wholly unfamiliar with Orthodox ecclesiology, that they are unable to reason in a theologically consistent manner, and that their definition of the Branch Theory is, at best, far too narrow in scope. Could it possibly be the case that the Branch Theory is evident only when a person uses overt "trunk and branches" language?

There is still another possibility—one of which the Holy Fathers speak often. Dr. Constantine Cavarnos, in his succinct and insightful work on the heresy of ecumenism, reminds us of the dulling of the Orthodox conscience that accompanies frequent dialogue and interaction with the heterodox:

Those Orthodox who know well the history of their Church and the origin and evolution of the other forms of Christianity, and its diachronic relations with them, are quite aware of the great dangers in which Orthodox hierarchs involve the Church when they engage in "Ecumenical dialogues."

A very important fact to be noted...is that exposure again and again through dialogues to this minimalistic, relativistic mentality [of typical modern dialogue] has a blunting effect on the Orthodox phronema or mindset. One becomes infected by the virus—or venom (ois) as the Orthodox Church Fathers call it—of heresy.

The reason why St. Paul and the other holy men whom I have mentioned advise avoiding repeated religious dialogues with the heterodox is clearly the danger of being infected spiritually by heretical ideas—it is not to teach hatred towards the heterodox. Such ideas are compared to poison, the venom of snakes, causing spiritual death. [7]

We find surprising and worthy of tears the claims of these seemingly sincere ecumenical activists. We can only hope and pray that they will come to their senses, renounce their ecumenist ecclesiological delusion, and return to the correct profession of the Orthodox Faith.


By way of review, let me list the numerous official Orthodox ecumenical texts on ecumenism cited herein. They are, in order, by date:

  • Memorandum on Orthodox desiderata in relation to the WCC, from the Ecumenical Patriarchate (n.d.)
  • The Patriarchal Encyclical of 1920: "To the Churches of Christ Everywhere"
  • The Toronto Statement (1950)
  • Consultation on Orthodox Involvement in the WCC (Sofia, 1981)
  • Decisions of the Third Preconciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference (Chambesy, 1986)
  • Report of an Inter-Orthodox Consultation of Orthodox WCC Member Churches: "The Orthodox Churches and the World Council of Churches" (Chambesy, Switzerland, 1991)
  • Reflections of Orthodox Participants (Official Report of the Canberra Assembly, 1991)
  • Message of the Primates of the Most Holy Orthodox Churches (Phanar, 1992)
  • The Ecumenical Movement, The Churches, and the WCC: An Orthodox Contribution (Ecumenical Consultation held in Chambesy, June 24, 1995)
  • The Thessaloniki Summit (1998)
  • Statement on the Relationship of the Orthodox Church to the World Council of Churches (Orthodox Theological Society of America, Holy Cross School of Theology, 1998)

To be sure, many of these documents make reference to "a great number of underlying uncertainties" concerning Orthodox involvement in the ecumenical movement. But such objections are either couched in characteristically vague "ecumi-speak"—of the kind that would make excellent fodder for a sequel to George Orwell's famous essay, "Politics and the English Language"—, or they are effectively negated by other statements within the same document. Thus we note with great dismay that statements comprising a traditional Orthodox ecclesiology can be found nowhere in these documents. In fact, we find quite the opposite: many of them approvingly cite the Toronto Statement, and all without any criticism of its ecclesiological assumptions. The only negative comment concerning the Toronto Statement of which we are aware is contained in the Sofia Consultation (1981): "Although it was recognized that the Toronto Declaration would need development or correction, its text was seen as an essential factor in the continuation of Orthodox membership in the World Council of Churches." Such a correction of the text, whatever that might be, is absent from any of the documents mentioned above. In fact, the Statement of the Orthodox Theological Society of America purports to have carefully studied numerous documents, including the aforementioned WCC Policy Statement (CUV, 1997). In this Policy Statement we read: "[The Toronto Statement is the] Council's fullest statement of self-definition. It continues to exist after fifty years." Moreover, we find the following extremely disturbing remarks, none of which is criticized in the OTSA Statement:

To the extent that the member churches share the one baptism and the confession of Jesus Christ as God and Saviour, it can even be said (using the words of the Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council) that a "real, even though imperfect communion" exists between them already now (3.3).

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 the 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 (3.4).

The following affirmations may contribute to such a clarification:

The mutual commitment which the churches have established with one another through the WCC is rooted in the recognition that they are related to one another thanks to actions of God in Jesus Christ which are prior to any decisions they may make. As the message from the Amsterdam Assembly put it, "Christ has made us his own, and he is not divided..." (3.5.1).

The churches within the fellowship of the WCC recognize that the other members belong to Christ, that membership in the church of Christ is more inclusive than the membership of their own church and that the others possess at the very least "elements of the true church" (Toronto). Thus every member church is treated as an equally valued participant in the life of the WCC, for what it brings to this fellowship is a function not of its size and resources but of its being in Christ (3.5.5).

Despite all of the reports of late that ecumenism is waning, one should know that the Orthodox involvement in the ecumenical movement shows no significant signs of abating. As the Thessaloniki Statement affirmed:

6.  The participants are unanimous in their understanding of the necessity for continuing their participation in various forms of inter-Orthodox activity.

7.  We have no right to withdraw from the mission laid upon us by our Lord Jesus Christ, the mission of witnessing the Truth before the non-Orthodox world. We must not interrupt relations with Christians of other confessions who are prepared to work together with us.

Moreover, despite the strong stance that various Orthodox member churches have recently taken on a number of issues—even to the point of the Russian Orthodox Church restricting its delegation to partial participation at the Eighth Assembly of the WCC in Harare, Zimbabwe (December, 1998)—, none of these issues have anything to do with the core ecclesiological ones that have wrought numerous internal divisions within Holy Orthodoxy. Orthodox ecumenists protest about inclusive language, homosexual agendas, and poor structure in the WCC that limits their voting power; but they offer not a word about the underlying ecclesiological assumptions that have been so much a part of the ecumenical movement from its beginning, and which the Orthodox ecumenists have clearly embraced. Even in the oft-cited "Orthodox protest document" following the Canberra, Australia fiasco in 1991, we find a reaffirmation of an heretical ecumenist ecclesiology!: "The Orthodox churches want to emphasize that for them, the main aim of the WCC must be the restoration of the unity of the church" (point 1). The Canberra report also reaffirms the Toronto Statement, noting that this document describes "the very nature and identity of the Council,..." (Section 8).

We should point out that it makes no difference that these ecumenists sometimes draw the line in the sand of ecumenism at intercommunion, or that they meaninglessly maintain that "full unity" is not yet a reality owing to disagreements in matters of faith—as if these positions absolved them of heresy. The boundaries that have been set in stone by Holy Tradition were long ago crossed by these betrayers of the faith. The claims of the Orthodox ecumenists notwithstanding, the ecclesiological position stated in their official Orthodox communiqués clearly affirms a form of the Branch Theory. They speak of the "Churches of Christ Everywhere" and insist that Mysteries exist outside of the Church. Among other wholly un-Orthodox concepts these documents speak of "partial unity," "a oneness of the Church in Christ which has yet to be fully revealed," and churches that exist but that may not be "churches in the true and full sense of the word."

In conclusion, let us briefly sum up the Orthodox Church's teaching on the Church. Without question She believes that She is the Una Sancta of the Nicene Creed; that the Church is not and never has been divided; that the invisible portion of the Church is not at all the same as the Protestant idea of a "true invisible Church" but is, rather, the Heavenly Sphere of the Church, united without confusion to Her Earthly Sphere; that there is no unity whatsoever with heretical bodies; that the Holy Mysteries exist only within Her; and that without the Mystery of Baptism, the seal of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit through Chrismation, and the partaking of Christ’s Divine Body and Blood, a person is not joined to Christ or a member of His Church. In affirming this teaching of the Holy Fathers, we do not condemn heterodox Christians but leave them to the mercy of God and willingly share with them through evangelization our Holy Orthodox Faith. Such is the way of true ecumenism: speaking the truth in love, that repentance might follow in the One True Church.


1. See especially the multi-volumed series entitled Contributions to a Theology of Anti-Ecumenism. English editions of these works are published by the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies.

2. Archimandrite Cyprian Agiokyprianites, trans. Hiermonk Patapios and Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna, Orthodoxy and the Ecumenical Movement (Etna, CA: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1997), p. 17.

3. Another example of how true Hierarchs rise up in defense of sound doctrine is the Synod of Jerusalem (1672)—with the corresponding Confession of Patriarch Dositheus,  written in response to the so-called Calvinist Confession of Patriarch Cyril Lucaris.

4. The Unity of the Church and the World Conference of Christian Communities (Montreal: Monastery Press, 1975), pp. 27-28.

5. "The Attributes of the Church," Orthodox Life, Vol. 31, No. 1, p. 28.

6. (Levadia, Greece: Holy Monastery of the Birth of the Theotokos, 1998), p. 42.

7. Ecumenism Examined (Belmont, MA: Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, 1996), pp. 45, 47-48, 52. See also the many pointed remarks on the problems of "ecumenical dialogue" in Bishop Angelos, trans. Hiermonk Patapios and Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna, Ecumenism: A Movement for Union of a Syncretistic Heresy? (Etna, CA: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1998).