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.  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.
Misrepresentationwere this even a desirable or God-pleasing tactic for
those resisting the bacterium of ecumenismis 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 ecumenistsmuch like today's politiciansspeak 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 Traditionespecially when Tradition as they understand it
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 cumenical 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 Churchs
traditional ecclesiology will immediately sense that
something here is not right. First, there is an acknowledgement of "churches"
other than the Orthodox Churchand 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 realityi.e., a mere gathering
of like-minded believers in Christand "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 1920the charter document for Orthodox participation
ecumenical movementwill 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 appealin 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 6that the Orthodox churches (or rather
their ecumenical diplomats) have remained "faithful to her ecclesiology"can be
As if this were not enough, consider these remarks from the 1991 Chambesy
[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
This sounds acceptable per se. However, do these "Orthodox"
ecumeniststhe 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
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
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 Churchs ecclesial self-identity. But is this really the
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
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
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 outin typical
schizophrenic fashionthe 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
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 oneJesus 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 othereven though they differ in many important points.
This shockingly heretical set of principleswhich merely reinforce the implications of
the WCC Basisis, 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 baptismOrthodox or heterodoxsupposedly 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."  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 efficaciousspecifically, that the
"baptisms" of the heterodox unite them to Christbecomes 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
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
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
In the aforementioned statement, the notion of a
"Church Universal" which is not visibly united but rather mystically
oneboth 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 Theoryso 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 Traditionthe 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 Statementwith 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 Patriarchateas
in its famous Encyclicals of
1848 and 1895answered 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. 
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 heresyor 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. 
The Holy Mysteriesbeing the means by which the Divine Grace (Energies) of God are
imparted through His Body, the Churchare 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
Headthe 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. 
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. 
There is no question that to acknowledge the spiritual validity of heterodox
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
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 Ive 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 decryas 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 possibilityone of which the Holy Fathers speak often. Dr.
Constantine Cavarnos, in his succinct and insightful work on the heresy of
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
virusor venom (ois) as the Orthodox Church Fathers call itof
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 ideasit is not to teach hatred towards the
heterodox. Such ideas are compared to poison, the venom of snakes, causing spiritual
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
- 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
- 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
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 issueseven 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,..."
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 faithas 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
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 Christs 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.
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,