The Patristic Position and the Witness of Archimandrite Justin (Popovich) Regarding
The World Council of Churches: A Visible Expression of the Una Sancta?
1. In 1971, the then Patriarch of Serbia, German, as one of the Presidents of the "World Council of Churches
(WCC)," co-signed the following "Message" of this ecumenical
organization in Geneva:
And the powerful Breath of renewal will blow into
the mighty arena of the Church, as well as into each of her communities; for these are not
simple administrative units, but they all constitute a part of the one great Christian
This is a clear formulation of the ecclesiological heresy
known as the Branch Theory: that the one and great Christian Church is comprised of its
constituent Christian communities.
The Church of Serbia entered the WCC in 1965 (2);
thereafter, as Patriarch German began to participate actively in the ecumenical
movementin fact, immediately after his aforementioned declaration, the
ever-memorable dogmatist, Archimandrite Justin (Popovich), ceased to consider him an
Orthodox Hierarch and ceased his canonical commemoration, as well as all ecclesiastical
relations with him. (1)
It is hence noteworthy that the Patriarch did not attend
the funeral of Father Justin (March 25, 1979)
The prestige and authority of Father Justin, this stalwart
contemporary Patristic figure, are well known:
His repute as a universal Father
and Teacher of the Church, who cleaved unremittingly to the Cross of his witness and
who bore the marks of Christ, transcended the boundaries of Serbia and spread to the whole
world (4); Fr. Justin did not speak as an individual, but as the mouth
of the Church; he expressed the conscience of the Church, the Faith of the
Church; The preaching of Fr. Justin is a continuation of the preaching of
the Holy Fathers of our Church and especially of the last great Father, St. Gregory
Palamas. (5) (6)
2. We consider it worthwhile, given this reference to the
Patristic stature and witness of Father Justin (Popovich), but also in view of recent
events, to deal once more, in brief, with the nature and work of the WCC.
A well-known ecumenist sets forth in the form of a
question the prevailing set of problems at issue within the bosom of this ecumenical
organization in Geneva:
Is the WCC the instrument by which the
Christian Churches express their unity in God, or is it that instrument by which the
divided Churches attempt to restore the unity of their faith, structures and witness? (7)
One faction of the members of the
WCC sees the Council as a visible expression of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic
Church (Una Sancta), while another part regards it as a simple ancillary tool for
the attainment of unity:
The Orthodox Churches took part already at
the inception of the Council, because they firmly believed that they were dealing with a
First and foremost, we must strongly
emphasize the falsity of this view that "the Orthodox Churches took part...at the
inception of the Council."
The truth is that there was no
Pan-Orthodox participation in the first and founding General Assembly of the WCC [emphasis
that of the translators] in Amsterdam, Holland (August 22-September 4, 1948):
"Only the cumenical Patriarchate, the Church of Cyprus, and the Church of Greece
And not only was the Orthodox Church not fully
represented, but precisely one month earlier it expressed strong protestvirtually
Pan-Orthodox in characterthereto: ten leaders and representatives of the
Autocephalous Churches of Alexandria, Antioch, Russia, Serbia, Romania, Georgia, Bulgaria,
Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Albania, at the Congress of Moscow (July 8-18, 1948), refused
to take part in the ecumenical movement, since they saw the WCC as aiming towards the
creation of an "Ecumenical Church." (9)
Their view was proved indisputably true by the subsequent
course of this ecumenical organization in Geneva.
3. The WCC has never ceased to feel and to act
explicitly as though it were a super-church, and this has all along been, together with
many other factors, the source of various misgivings regarding the multifaceted outlook of
Some twenty years ago, a veteran ecumenist summarized the
Orthodox critique of the World Council of Churches as follows:
But such extremes and deviations and
modernist ideas, the polarization and secularization of the World Council of Churches, as
well as the tendency of theological dialogue to skirt the truth itself, dispose the
Orthodox Church towards a critical attitude towards it. Thus, competent Orthodox judge
that the Orthodox Church should rethink her decision to participate in the World
Council of Churches, if it does not overcome its present crisis and the impending danger
of secularization and horizontalism [a preoccupation with worldly issuesTrs.],
and if it does not return to its original, purely ecclesiastical purpose. Others, again,
maintain the same opinion from a theological standpoint also, that this Council, as it
was shaped and acts ecclesiastically, without being a Church, poses a great
ecclesiological problem that is difficult to solve, a problem which the Orthodox
Church will eventually be forced to confront. (10)
This most profound crisis of the WCC, with regard to
its ecclesiological identity and bearings, something pointed out even before its
inception, has certainly not been solved, and the WCC is keenly preoccupied with it, as
evidenced by two recent consultations in Geneva. The first (June 1995) dealt at length
with the theme, "A Common Understanding and Vision of the World Council of
Churches," and had as its goal the "total reappraisal of the ecumenical
commitment of the Orthodox Churches and the removal of specific uncertainties over their
relations with the WCC". (11)
The second (September 1995) dealt with a text of the
General Secretary about the "meaning of being a member of the WCC" and
ultimately resolved that study "concerning the future orientation of the WCC"
should be continued. (12)
Quite correct, then, is the observation that
This non-existence of an essential
(ecclesiological) identity creates unlimited room for confusion, disagreements, and
arbitrariness in every instance of a decision that involves the orientation and the
basic goals of the WCC. (13)
4. Perhaps, however, the Orthodox
anti-ecumenists exaggerate in maintaining that the WCC is possessed, apart from other
things, by a super-church syndrome and the tendency to manifest itself as a kind of
supreme authority supra Ecclesiam.
To prove our point, let us cite, apart from the foregoing
"Message" in 1971, that in 1991, the then General Secretary of the WCC stated
- We believe that the WCC has a mission to embrace
all of the churches, members or not. All of our programs are designed for all
Christians, not only for those within our member churches...! (14)
In 1993, the eight-member Presidency of the WCC, in its
Pentecost "Message," which is addressed to its member "churches" and
which was signed by Patriarch Parthenios of Alexandria, wrote the following:
- We can, as the Church, affirm our solidarity with
In 1994, again in their Pentecost "Message" the
Presidents wrote similar, and even worse, things, and it was signed by the same Patriarch:
- Our world has become very different since we sent
you our last Pentecost message. Changes have come about that have wide repercussions. The
Church is obligated by her calling to provide spiritual reserves and examples of virtuous
human behavior, in a world that is so persistent in its search for the values of life....
Let us, then, be vigilant and courageous, as members of the body of Christ, as we build
our faith in the family anew, in the context of the search for a new world order! (16)
These few testimonies are sufficient to prove the
paternalistic syndrome of the WCC, to the extent that they have unquestionable
ecclesiological weight, and the criticism of those Orthodox opposed to ecumenism
focuses primarily on this point, in asserting that the ecumenical movement constitutes an
5. The one theme to which we constantly return is that the
Orthodox members of the WCC sin very gravely becauseapart from other
considerations, in their participation in the organization, their joint prayer,
their coöperation, and their co-signing of its pronouncements, they help this
confederation in Geneva to cultivate its consciousness as an "Ecumenical Church"
and its tendency to project itself as a visible expression of the Una Sancta.
In vain do veteran Orthodox ecumenists state emphatically
that "the Orthodox will never recognize the WCC as an ecclesiastical body, with
the traits of the Una Sancta." (17)
In vain do Orthodox ecumenists formulate "a whole
series of desiderata for a more profitable and more fruitful participation of the
Orthodox Churches" in the WCC. (18)
In vain, finally, do they refer to the "positive and
useful services which" the WCC "has offered and continues to offer" on a
social and philanthropic level "to its member Churches." (18)
And we underscore the word "in vain," since none
of the foregoing can dissuade us from a purely theological and ecclesiological evaluation
of the ecumenical movement (and of the WCC), which genuinely constitutes "a tragic
alienation from the actuality of the Church." (19)
The resolute stand of the ever-memorable Father Justin
(Popovich) points us in the right direction, and the facts underline the dire necessity
and "the duty of Orthodoxy to withdraw from the WCC" (20)
We repeat, that the Orthodox ecumenists sin very gravely,
- because the very fact of their participation in a
man-made confederation constitutes de facto a withdrawal from an Orthodox
ecclesiology and an alteration and corruption of the truth of the Church;
- because, by their participation in the WCC, they
diminish beyond measure the prestige of the One (and Only) Holy Orthodox Church,
"accepting like mendicants yearly economic assistance on the part of the Protestant
Council of Churches" (21) and finding themselves linked together in various ways as
"organic members" of a chain of heterodox communities, "each one of which
(is) spiritual death"; (22)
- because they contribute irrevocably to the
realization of the syncretistic dreams of the WCC, on an inter-Christian and
inter-religious level, in that it has been admitted that "attempts" are
being made, "chiefly by certain Third World theologians[,] to broaden the scope of
the WCC, by embracing other religions, with the assertion that the term oikoumene
suggests the whole inhabited earth, and not only the Christian part of it";
- because, finally, they fully confirm the accurate
contention that the ecumenical movement, as was otherwise expected, has "long since
degenerated, and aims towards being a kind of pan-religion." (21)
In conclusion, once again we address an anguished
question, stemming from brotherly love, to the ecumenists among us Orthodox:
"Quo vadite, Orthodoxi Oecumenisti?"
"Whither go ye, O Orthodox ecumenists?"
(1) Orthodoxos Typos, No.
144/June 15, 1971, p. 4, abstract of the text.
(2) At the Assembly of the Central Committee of the
in Enungu, Nigeria, January 12-21, 1965 (see Vasilios T. Stavrides, History of the
Ecumenical Movement, Analekta Vlatadon 47, pp. 150 and 157, Thessaloniki, 1984).
(3) We have before us the relevant accounts by living
Serbian spiritual children of Father Justin. See also Tasos Michalas, Ten Days with the
Orthodox Serbs, p. 37, "Heptalophos" Publications, Athens, 1983, where there
is a reference to this event, naturally without any mention of the reasons. The recent
Orthodox position paper by Bishop Artemije of Rashka-Prizren confirms the attitude of the
Serbian Confessor. Bishop Artemije, who is of Father Justins stature, submitted to
the Serbian Synod this memorandum, entitled, "The Serbian
Orthodox Church and the World Council of Churches" (November 17, 1994), in which
he declares that ecumenism constitutes an ecclesiological heresy, cites the
Patristic position of his Elder at length, and proposes that the Serbs withdraw from the
WCC, whichaccording to the memorandumis a gathering of heretics (see the
English text in Orthodox Tradition, Vol. XIII, No. 2 Tr.).
(4) Father Vasilios Voloudakis, "Before the Grave of
Fr. Justin," in Orthodoxos Typos, No. 356/May 11, 1979, p. 2 (emphasis ours).
(5) Archimandrite George, Abbot of the Holy Monastery of
St. Gregory (Mt. Athos), "Memorial Address in Honor of the Blessed Father Justin
Popovich on His Forty-Day Memorial Service," in Ho Hosios Gregorios, No.
5/1980, pp. 45-47 (emphasis ours).
(6) We remind [our readers] that the ever-memorable Father
Justin, in his historic Memorandum to the Serbian Synod (November 13/26, 1974),
characterized the WCC as a heretical, humanistic, man-made, man-worshipping
association; regarded the position of the Orthodox towards the ecumenical movement and the
WCC as deplorably and hideously at odds with Holy Tradition, slavishly degrading the
Holy Church; and finally, emphatically underscored that the decision (a Pan-Orthodox one!)
that the Orthodox Church should be an organic member of the WCC was apocalyptically
atrocious in its un-Orthodoxy and anti-Orthodoxy and a monstrous indignity and
unprecedented betrayal! (See the full text of the Memorandum in Koinonia, March-April
1975, pp. 95-101; also in Orthodoxos Typos, No. 235/June 1, 1975, and in Orthodoxos
Enstasis kai Martyria, Nos. 18-21/January-December 1990, pp. 166-173.)
(7) Prof. Father Emmanuel Clapsis, "What the
Spirit is Saying to the Churches/ Missionary Implications of the 7th General
Assembly of the WCC," in the collective volume of G.N. Laimopoulos, The 7th
General Assembly of the World Council of ChurchesCanberra, February
1991Chronicle, Texts, Evaluations, p. 247, "Tertios" Publications,
(8) V.T. Stavrides, History of the Ecumenical Movement,
op. cit., p. 113. Especially noteworthy is the fact that the few participating
Orthodox representatives, "chosen at the last moment" and "not knowing that
they would be voting on the first charter" of the WCC, which passed itself off as
"a fellowship of Churches jure profano [according to secular law], in
accordance with Article 66 of the Swiss Civil Code," were divided; "a debate was
provoked" and "a disagreement arose," and finally "separate reports
were submitted to the Holy Synod (of Greece), and a war of words between the members of
the delegation was brought to pass"! (See Gerasimos J. Konidaris,
"Amsterdam," entry in the Threskevtike kai Ethike Enkyklopaideia, Vol. 2,
cols. 395-396, Athens, 1963.)
(9) V.T. Stavrides, ibid., pp. 111-112. It should
be noted that in Amsterdam the Dutch General Secretary, Visser t Hooft cited, among
other things, the following characteristics, which express the self-awareness of the
WCC at its creation: "(1) we are building a type of inter-church community, for
which there is no prior model in the history of the Church; (2) the Ecumenical Council,
without substituting for the Churches, constitutes above all a fellowship (Gemeinschaft),
which attempts to express the unity in Christ of the 147 Churches (i.e., those
which took part in the 1st General Assemblyour note), among which are the
historic Holy Orthodox and other Churches; (3)
the sole purpose, which
deserves the attention of the Council of Churches, is the manifestation of the one
undivided Church." (See G.J. Konidaris, op. cit., emphasis ours.)
(10) John Karmiris, The Orthodox Church in Dialogue
with the Heterodox Churches, pp. 79-80 (emphasis ours), in V.T.
p. 204. Cf. Nicholas A. Matsoukas, The Ecumenical Movement/History-Theology,
Philosophical and Theological Library, No. 4, p. 278, n. 67, "P. Pournaras"
Publications, Thessaloniki, 1991. See also, Vasilios Stavrides, "Orthodox
coöperation in the Ecumenical Movement," Episkepsis, No. 205/ March 1, 1979,
(11) Episkepsis, No. 519/June 30, 1995, p. 24. The
"Meeting" took place following an invitation from the General Secretary of the
WCC at the "Orthodox Center of the cumenical Patriarchate" in
Geneva, and Orthodox, Non-Chalcedonians, and senior executives of the Council participated
in it (June 19-24, 1995). See a detailed report in Enimerosis (Geneva),
11-1995/7-8, pp. 3-5: "The Future Course of the World Council of Churches[:] the
Subject of a Consultation of Its Leadership with the Orthodox and Ancient Oriental
Christians," and pp. 10-12: "Orthodox and the World Council of Churchesthe
Difference between Responsible Criticism and Malicious Misinformation"
("Note" by Protopresbyter George Tsetsis) (reprinted in Ekklesiastike
Aletheia, No. 401/September 1-16, 1995, p. 10). Cf. "Response by Mr.
Nicholas Psaroudakis" in Orthodoxos Typos, No. 1144/October 13, 1995, pp. 1
and 3, No. 1145/ October 20, 1995, pp. 1 and 3. While certainly not agreeing with the
"Note" of Father G. Tsetsis and his severe characterizations of those who react
against ecumenism, it is impossible for us to agree with the "Response" of Mr.
Psaroudakis, which expresses a purely fundamentalist spirit in both its tone and essence.
(12) Enimerosis, 11-1995/9, p. 2: "World
Council of Churchesthe 46th Regular Meeting of the Central Committee."
(13) Chrestos Yannaras, The Truth and Unity of the
Church, chapter 4, "The Problem of Unity Today," 10,
"Confederational Unity," p. 206, "Gregore" Publications, Athens, 1977
(14) One World, No. 168/August-September 1991, p.
17: "A Mirror of DiversityA Conversation with Emilio Castro" (emphasis
(15) Ecumenical Press Service, No. 10/93.04.15:
"Pentecost Message from the WCC".
(16) Ecumenical Press Service, No. 9/94.04.36:
"Pentecost Message from the WCC Presidents."
(17) Enimerosis, 11-1995/7-8, p. 4. This statement
is that of Metropolitan John of Pergamon, who spoke at the aforementioned Consultation in
Geneva (see footnote 11) on the subject of "The Self-Understanding of the Orthodox
and the Participation of the Orthodox Churches in the Ecumenical Movement."
(18) Protopresbyter George Tsetsis, "Orthodox and the
World Council of Churchesthe Difference between Responsible Criticism and Malicious
Misinformation," in Enimerosis, 11-1995/7-8, pp. 10-12.
(19) Yannaras, op. cit., p. 216.
(20) V.T. Stavrides, op. cit., p. 216. See also Episkepsis,
No. 205/March 1, 1979, p. 13.
(21) Archimandrite Spyridon Bilalis, Orthodoxy and
Papism, Vol. 1: Critique of Papism, pp. 376 and 377, "Orthodoxos
Typos" Publications, Athens, 1969.
(22) Archimandrite Justin (Popovich), Memorandum (see
(23) Enimerosis 9-1993, p. 8 (emphasis ours):
"An Orthodox Self-Examination of the Ecumenical Movement Today: Topic of an Address
in the Context of Presentations in Memory of Georges Florovsky." Protopresbyter
George Tsetsis lectured on this topic, as the keynote speaker, in Boston in May of 1993.
Translated from the Greek by Hieromonk Patapios and
Archbishop Chrysostomos from the periodical Hagios Kyprianos, Nos. 267-268
(July-October, 1995), pp. 67-72. This appeared in Orthodox Tradition, Vol. XIII,
Nos. 3&4, pp. 4-10.