Memorandum on the Participation of the Orthodox Church in the World Council of Churches
18 February, 2007
The Theological Committee of the Sacred Community of Mount Athos
Conclusions and Proposals*
The Theological Committee of the Sacred Community of Mount Athos worked out a study on the adopted documents of the 9th General Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC); the goal being to discern if the participation of the Orthodox Local Churches to this inter-confessional organization is beneficial for them from a theological point of view. The Conclusions and the Proposals of the Theological Committee’s study are the following.
1. The WCC is proved to be an organization whose goal is to achieve the unity of the Christian Churches and denominations in two ways: a) as a common commitment for mutual recognition, mutual accountability, staying together, cooperation and common witness; and b) as a call for unity in one Faith, one Eucharist and common life of the undivided Church. It is obvious that neither the first kind of unity is a true unity nor is the second kind attainable because the Protestant denominations do not recognize that the Apostolic Faith is the very teaching of today’s existing, concrete and historical Eastern Orthodox Church.
2. In the current form of “unity” the member churches of the WCC are oriented towards the mutual recognition of their baptisms. Unfortunately some Local Orthodox Churches have already recognized the baptism of the Anti-Chalcedonians, as well as of the Protestant denominations of Germany. However this recognition of the baptism of heterodox Christians without previous dogmatic unity is not in accordance with the ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church. The Protestant churches preserve all the heretical teachings which Orthodox Patriarchs and theologians since the 16th century have pointed out.
3. The common prayers and the participation of the Orthodox in liturgical gatherings were a standard practice in the ecumenical assemblies of the WCC. After the protests of the Orthodox in 1998 (Thessaloniki, Greece) an amendment was scheduled, but this has not changed the status of the common prayers, which are forbidden by the Holy Canons of the Orthodox Church, and must cease.
4. The goal of the WCC for a visual unity of all Christians is based on Protestant ecclesiology concerning the “invisible” One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and its visible historical forms, none of which are supposed to have the completeness of the Apostolic Faith, Catholicity and life in Grace. For this reason, the goal of the WCC for visible Christian unity is meaningless for Orthodox people, who acknowledge in the Orthodox Church the fullness of the Apostolic Faith and the life in Grace. From the Orthodox point of view, the unity of Christendom is understood as a return to the Orthodox Faith, and thereby to the communion of the Orthodox Church, which is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
5. In the WCC a tendency exists for a union with non-Christian religions. This is embodied in the claim that God-given salvation is destined for all people, and that the ways in which God expresses His philanthropy are unknown to us. The Orthodox Church considers this unity entirely unacceptable. God of course, offers salvation to all people; but people reject salvation, walking in ways which are not conducive to its acceptance.
6. Some Protestant groups in the WCC ask for recognition of extreme anti-evangelical moral volitions (homosexuality, etc.), which these Protestants find acceptable. At present the WCC does not consent. There are, however, indications that in the name of human rights the dialogue will proceed and the recognition of all moral tendencies will be demanded. The Orthodox Church cannot ignore its evangelical teaching and align itself with iniquity. The fact that many Protestant churches ordain women is also a serious indication that the Apostolic Tradition of the Church is greatly violated.
7. The witness of the Orthodox Church has not been accepted as a whole by the Protestant churches of the WCC. This is evident from the sixty-year-long history of the WCC and the longer history of the Orthodox-Protestant contacts. What the WCC seeks is the homogenization of its member churches through a long-lasting mishmash.
8. The attrition of the Orthodox theologians participating in the WCC endangers the future course of the Orthodox Church in the contemporary world. A danger of intra-Orthodox schisms also exists.
9. Under the influence of the WCC, the Orthodox and the Anti-Chalcedonians are mutually recognized as Orthodox, sitting together as the Orthodox party in the WCC. The same spirit of mutual recognition led the Orthodox and the Anti-Chalcedonians during their unofficial Consultations (1964-1971), as well as during the official Dialogue of the Orthodox Church with the Anti-Chalcedonian churches, to declare the Agreed Statements which are unacceptable by the Orthodox.
10. The perspectives of the WCC for the future, such as proposals for a common celebration of Easter and the convocation of an Ecumenical Assembly without any dogmatic unity, are not promising, and thus require great caution and alertness.
11. The break in relations between the Orthodox Churches and the WCC is a permanent question to this today because the Protestant member churches do not dissociate from their ecclesiological presuppositions. With their participation in the WCC the Orthodox Churches indicate a relinquishment of their ecclesiological identity. In regard to this point the Roman Catholics, who are not formally participating in the WCC, are more consistent in their ecclesiology than we Orthodox are in our own.
12. We Orthodox do not gain anything from our participation in the WCC; on the contrary, damage and attrition are the result. The Orthodox witness to the heterodox is not furthered because Protestants in the WCC are not inclined to accept Orthodoxy in its own right. Rather, they wish to coexist with the Orthodox as fully recognized churches. This orientation is in agreement with Protestant ecclesiology. Can we, however, participate in the WCC—whose establishment, structure and operation are based on Protestant ecclesiology—without this participation causing us to relinquish our own ecclesiology?
As a result of the above outlined theological positions the following proposals are suggested:
a) Orthodox participation in the WCC does not serve the interests of the Orthodox Church or that of the heterodox, neither does it serve the proposed union of all Christians in the Apostolic Faith of the Church of the first Christian era. Therefore, is it time that the Orthodox Churches cut their relations with the WCC?
b) If for the noblest reasons (that are well-intended and God-loving; see Pedalion, ed. 1982, p. 56) certain Orthodox Churches deem a certain form of co-operation with the WCC, or regard participation necessary for the purpose of gathering information; firstly it must be demanded that the WCC change its name to the World Christian Council; and secondly that the Orthodox keep a loose relationship with it, i.e. by simply sending observers, without commitments and obligations which would be counter to the ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church.
c) In such a relationship common prayers and services must not take place, so that the Orthodox participation will have a purely academic character. The Orthodox theological positions must be declared as especial statements, as practiced up until the 3rd General Assembly in New Delhi, 1961. So that the desired union would not be the result of a mishmash but rather the fruit of prayer and fidelity to our Orthodox self-consciousness; especially it would be a gift of the Most-Merciful God.
* This translation is of the pages 50-54 of the MEMORANDUM ON THE PARTICIPATION OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH IN THE WORLD CΟUNCIL OF CHURCHES, which the Theological Committee of the Sacred Community of Mount Athos worked out in 2007. The title of the Greek original text: «ΥΠΟΜΝΗΜΑ ΠΕΡΙ ΤΗΣ ΣΥΜΜΕΤΟΧΗΣ ΤΗΣ ΟΡΘΟ∆ΟΞΟΥ ΕΚΚΛΗΣΙΑΣ ΣΤΟ ΠΑΓΚΟΣΜΙΟ ΣΥΜΒΟΥΛΙΟ ΕΚΚΛΗΣΙΩΝ» (Ἅγιον Ὄρος, Φεβρουάριος 2007).