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The Price of Ecumenism

How Ecumenism Has Hurt the Orthodox Church

by Fr. John Reeves

Webmaster Note. At the time of this writing Fr. John Reeves was pastor of Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, State College, PA. A former Episcopal priest, he was ordained to the Orthodox priesthood in 1981 by Archbishop Dmitri. He works in the fields of mission and church growth for the Orthodox Church in America (O.C.A.).


Our Lord met the woman at the well. "Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews," he said. "But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him." (Jn 4:22,23)

For Our Lord Jesus, Truth was not relative. Worship and doctrine were not matters of personal opinion. He was, in fact, that Truth. There was one faith revealed to the world and one Messiah who had come to save it—the Jews first, but then ultimately Samaritans and Gentiles, disciples being made of all nations.

For the Orthodox Christian there can be no deviation from the fact that Orthodox is that very faith of the apostles which has established the Universe. For long before there were papacies and protestants, the Orthodox faithful have proclaimed what the apostles taught, what the councils have decreed. This we believe; this we confess in word and in deed and which we depict in the Holy Icons.

Truth has been revealed to mankind in Jesus Christ, not a partial truth, not a theory about truth, but truth indeed, God in the flesh reconciling the world unto himself. The repository of that truth is first and foremost the Church, the Body of Christ, wherein the Holy Spirit dwells. That Church, founded on the day of Pentecost, and forever withstanding all the assaults of hell, is the Orthodox Church. Neither denomination nor sect, neither religion nor philosophical system, she invites the entire universe to enter into to communion with her Head, even Jesus Christ. She is the Church Catholic because her teaching is full; she is Orthodox because her worship is right.


Yet in Christian religious circles outside of the Orthodox Church, there seem to be no "orthodoxies" today. [A case might be made for some Protestant fundamentalists, who have reacted against the effect of the higher criticism of the Scriptural texts.] There seem to be no orthodoxies, no fixed standards, no canons of faith, no rules of conduct. The image of God himself in Christ Jesus, His only begotten Son and our Lord is now subject to the sort of attack which would make Arius himself seem a piker.

Attack on doctrine, as indeed, the attack on the source of the Scriptural canon, is accepted as normative, not merely by the skeptic who always has done so, but now by the very ones who would purport to represent Christianity to the world. There are various paths to truth we are told, since revelation is now culturally determined. There are multiple options for morals. There even seem to be multiple deities on the horizon. And all of this may be tolerated and encouraged, in the name of diversity and inclusivity, in the name of contextual theology, and propelled by means of ecumenical convergence.

All indeed is to be tolerated and even embraced. Is it a Lesbian bishop solemnizing "gay marriages" or a "church" running abortion services as a part of pastoral ministry? Celebrate the liberation from oppressive patriarchal, homophobic, sexist institutions. Is it offering milk and honey to Sophia? Celebrate a decade of churches in solidarity with women.

Celebrate, tolerate, liberate; just do not dare criticize. In the political order it is down right risky to attack notions of radical feminism. That is one political issue not subject to debate. In matters religious the umbrella of ecumenism, and the ecumenical movement which seems the spawning ground for so much of what Orthodox Christians know to deviant, perverted is off limits from scrutiny likewise.

It is as if a cadre of theological elitists translate the political agendas of the political left into religious symbol and then become ever ready to attack those who would presume to criticize the theological new-speak. There are no old "orthodoxies" in such circles, but there certainly are new ones. If one raises an objection, ad hominem attack, distortion of position, and defaming of character are sure to follow.

This past July (95), a review of Frank Schaeffers then most recent book, Dancing Alone, appeared in a journal of quite liberal, ecumenist persuasion. Had one not read the book, one would have thought from the review that Dancing Alone was primarily about ecumenism and Orthodoxys role in it. The reviewer was most insistent on seeing such as the primary theme of the work, to the point of distortion.

Actually, ecumenism is but touched upon in some two to three pages toward the end, in the appendix. What Schaeffer states, more a conclusion, than certainly a thesis, is that ecumenism has damaged us and will continue to damage us and to divert us from our mission as Una Sancta, the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

The review is substantially as long as the "offending" passage in Schaeffers book. What seems to warrant the reviewers umbrage is that Schaeffer in two or three pages dared to suggest that the current trend in ecumenical circles, and its impact upon Orthodox evangelism and witness, warranted greater scrutiny. Yet the reviewer represents himself as within the Orthodox family, and one might conclude that his positions represent accurately what the position of Orthodoxy really is, viz-a-viz ecumenism. What is ironic is that the arena for this one sided debate was not within the "Orthodox family" so to speak, but in the context of one of the more liberal theological journals in the country. Tolerance, respect, diversity, these are the watch words of ecumenism, provided that what is tolerated, respected and diverse is consonant with ecumenist "orthodoxy", not the Tradition, with the Faith, with the Doctrine and Discipline of the Orthodox Church, down through the ages, including the decisions of all Seven of the Ecumenical Councils.[1]

Critique Dancing Alone on its basic premise, if one would. Do not attack a parenthetical remark in its appendix. Try hard to do so in the same "spirit" of charity which ecumenism seeks to foster for ideas strange and novel.

Indeed, the reviewer would have done well to attempt to refute Schaeffers assertion: "How ironic that the very elements of Protestantism, the Liberal elements that have had the most to do with ecumenism, are the very elements that have become the most secularized and which represent less and less people as their numbers dwindle, plagued by the drumbeat of Protestant doubt." [2] Yet the reviewer did not.

No. It is far better to dismiss the author, the messenger, than to take seriously his argument, follow the standard rules of engagement and debate, and to seek an Orthodox forum for the same. It is no small curiosity that a convert to the Orthodox faith would be savaged in a journal of ecumenical proclivities. If the ecumenical movement can be tolerant about so much else, why might conversion to Orthodoxy threaten it? Why indeed does it threaten some of our very own ecumenists so that a neophyte would be subjected to such vitriol? Obviously, such an attack is meant to send a message. Yet is the intended recipient merely the one who wrote the offending passage in the first place? Is this perhaps only the old phyletism, Orthodox nationalism, merely telling the newcomer to stay in his place? This is an "ethnic" church, so to speak, and we are determined to keep it that way.

Could this be an ecumenist response, a warning, to others not to contemplate the notion that Truth itself has been fully preserved in the Church of the Seven Councils?

Or, could this be a cry for help by an advocate of a movement which many believe to be morally and theologically bankrupt, no matter how noble its original intentions might have seemed to have been at the time? Could it be a combination of all three?

Did the reviewer, in fact, unwittingly make Mr. Schaeffers point that we seem preoccupied in ecumenical quarters more "with making friends than with telling the truth"?

Are there no more theological "orthodoxies"? There seems to be one left, to be sure. Do not criticize the ecumenical movement. It is the sacred cow to which much smoke is offered. Or else, the reviewer protesteth too much.


This century has seen the ecumenical movement grow from a purely Protestant, missionary one to one which includes Orthodox as well as Roman Catholics in various capacities, in various organizations, and in a multiple of dialogue roles. It would be beyond the scope of this article to detail each and every aspect of ecumenism which has developed over the past nine decades of ecumenical endeavor.

It does go without saying that the current World Council of Churches and its American cousin, the National Council of Churches are most identified with the ecumenical movement today. Perhaps it is for the simple reason that both the World and National Councils are sufficiently bureaucratized to have lasting impact and far reaching effect. Even some Orthodox Christians participate in ecumenism at the salaried level, further enabling ecumenism to reach one of its goals, to teach members of the churches how to work together ecumenically. Consequently, this article seeks to trace our beginnings in the ecumenical movement, and focuses mainly, but not entirely on the participation of the various Orthodox patriarchates in such forums as the World and National Councils. While much controversy has erupted over the years over the political actions taken by both the World and National Councils, the political issues should not be the ultimate cause for alarm. They are merely reflective of a world view upon which these councils rest , one which is not Orthodox at its core.


"To every serious student of the ecumenical movement it must be clear that at no time has the Orthodox witness (presented mainly, if not exclusively in separate Orthodox statements attached to the minutes of all major ecumenical conferences) had any significant impact on the orientations and theological development of the movement itself." [3] These words of the late Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann were written some fifty or so years after the Orthodox Church first began participating in different aspects of the ecumenical movement of this century. Now some twenty more years have passed since Father Schmemanns frank assessment. The ecumenical movement is still with us. Our impact, our "witness" is still debatable. The question remains, perhaps, now more than ever. Why do we persist? Why does our involvement in the ecumenical movement continue?

Yet first it is necessary to outline the development of the ecumenical movement itself and to look at the role which the Orthodox Churches have played in it. The origins of modern ecumenism can be traced back the establishment of the International Missionary Council at the Edinburgh Conference of 1910. It was not even pan-Protestant, but nevertheless was one three separate movements which would coalesce over time and effect the shape and direction of ecumenism. The other two were the Universal Christian Council for Life and Work (1925) and the Faith and Order Conference (1927).

"The original WCC, whose constitution was drafted in 1938, although the body was not formally inaugurated until the Amsterdam Conference of 1948, represented a union of the Faith and Order and Life and Work organizations. The International Missionary Council continued its separate existence, although in formal association with the WCC, until 1961, when it became an integral part of the the World Council."

1.) "The initial aims of the WCC were defined by the purposes of the two organizations that united to form it: the search for Christian unity and a concerted effort to relate the Christian faith to social and world problems."

2.) Immediately following World War I, the Patriarchate of Constantinople opened the first breech in the wall of Orthodox solidarity with the issuance of the Patriarchal Encyclical "Unto all the Churches of Christ, wheresoever they be..." in 1920.

3.) It proposed various steps to be taken by Christian churches "in order to face the debilitating influence of atheism on society,"

4.) and proposed a plan to lead to church unity.

5.) Thus a door was opened for Orthodox participation in the Faith and Order Conference held in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1927 with participation by nine Orthodox Churches.

6.) A second Faith and Order Conference held in Edinburgh, (1937) would be attended by representatives of nine autocephalous Churches as well.

7.) Other ecumenical conferences, too, were held during the period between the World Wars with Orthodox participation.

Thus, a hitherto Protestant movement was entered by some of the Orthodox patriarchates for the express purpose of uniting the various Christian bodies. The Roman Catholics would remain out of the process essentially until the period of the Second Vatican Council, 1962-65.

The Encyclical of 1920 cannot be seen in isolation of other actions taken by Ecumenical Patriarch Meletios IV to "re-form" the Orthodox Church herself, abolishing fasts, introducing calendar reform, and the reintroduction of married hierarchs. However, even more immediately distressing was the Patriarchs support of the Soviets Living Church Movement in Russia which sought to implement many of the same issues supported by the Patriarchate. [11] Meletios own universalist leanings at the expense of Orthodoxy becomes obvious upon examination. While it is beyond the scope of this paper to write in particular about the calendar reform issue—it being without a doubt more internally disruptive of the Orthodox Churchs life in this century than any other single issue—calendar reform, ultimately culminating in acceptance of the Western Paschalion to enable a uniform celebration of feasts ecumenically must not, however, be dismissed.

The intervening World War reduced opportunity for ecumenical contacts. At the same time, another world-wide war, fought so much and so soon on European soil quickened the desire of many leaders, political and religious, to hasten the formation of organizations designed to bring about greater understanding amongst men and nations in order to lessen the occasion for war. The United Nations, founded in 1945, was a political answer to mankinds thirsting for peace. The union of the churches would be another, since it might seem that religious bickering was a primary cause of many European conflicts. Councils of Churches: World and National

As noted, it was not until 1948 that the World Council of Churches was formed, meeting in Amsterdam, a joining together of the Faith and Order Conference with the Council for Life and Work. Membership was "composed of churches which acknowledge Jesus Christ as God and Saviour. They find their unity in Him. They have not to create their unity; it is the gift of God. But they know that it is their duty to make common cause in the search for the expression of that unity in work and in life". [12]

Furthermore, the Amsterdam Report stated that "unity arises out of the love of God in Jesus Christ which, binding the constituent churches to Him, binds them to one another ." [13] It would be Fr. Georges Florovksy who would be credited with being the father of Orthodox Participation in the Ecumenical Movement from 1948 onward. [14]

In America, the National Council of Churches would be organized in 1950, a union of several cooperative bodies, the Federal Council of Churches, the Foreign Missions Conference, and the International Council of Religious Education. It claims membership of thirty-two Protestant and Orthodox churches. It works independently but in close cooperation with the World Council. Una Sancta or E pluribus unum?

Key to understanding the difficulty for Orthodox participation in such ecumenical undertakings is the fact that the basic presupposition of these councils of churches is a Protestant one: No one constituent body possesses the fulness of truth. The "constituent churches" are deemed bound to God, not because of right doctrine or because of the fulness of faith or because of apostolic origin, and thus they are already deemed to be bound "to one another." Then too, Orthodox participation has artificially created the impression that such is not a movement of Protestants alone. Nevertheless, it is. That is, it is a Protestant movement in which the Orthodox have seen fit to take part. Its underlying rationale, is untenable from an Orthodox perspective, to believe that only in the aggregate, only in the amalgamation of the sometimes divergent confessional bodies can truth be full.

As Father Schmemann wrote:

"The important fact of Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement and in the encounter—after so many centuries of almost total separation—between the Orthodox and the West is precisely that the Orthodox were not given a choice; that from the very beginning they were assigned, not only seats but a certain place, role and function within the ecumenical movement. These assignments were based on Western theological and ecclesiological presuppositions and categories, and they reflected the purely Western origin of the ecumenical idea itself. We joined a movement, entered a debate, took part in a search whose basic terms of reference were already defined, and taken for granted. Thus, even before we could realize it, we were caught in the essentially Western dichotomies—Catholic versus Protestant, horizontal versus vertical, authority versus freedom, hierarchical versus congregational—and were made into representatives and bearers of attitudes and positions which we hardly recognized as ours and which were deeply alien to our tradition. All this, however, was due not to any Machiavellian conspiracy or ill will, but precisely to the main and all-embracing Western presupposition that Western experience, theological categories and thought forms are universal and therefore constitute the self evident framework and terms of reference for the entire ecumenical endeavor." [15]

Early Guidelines for Orthodox Participation

In the early days of Orthodox participation in the World Council, the difficulties outlined above could be evidenced by limitations placed on Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement by Constantinople itself, in 1952:

"a) Participation of the Orthodox Church in the discussions of the Faith and Order Committee was to be avoided, and the Faith of the Orthodox Church was to be explained in works written expressly for this purpose;

b) The Orthodox Church was to be represented by delegates of all the local autocephalous Orthodox Churches which were to have permanent Synodical Commissions that would concern themselves with matters pertaining to the Ecumenical Movement;

c) Orthodox clergy were enjoined to be reserved regarding their congregating with non-Orthodox in worship services since these services were antikeimenas, against the canons, which dulled the acuity of the Orthodox Confession, and as a result, the clergy were instructed to make every possible effort to conduct unadulterated Orthodox ordinaries and celebrations." [16]

Orthodox delegates to the World Councils second general assembly, Evanston, IL, 1954 would declare: "We are bound to declare our profound conviction that the Holy Orthodox Church alone has preserved in full and intact the faith once delivered to the saints." [17] (Emphasis added.)

Likewise, in 1957, delegates to the North American Faith and Order Study Conference would likewise reject the theme of the study, "The Unity We Seek" with these words: "The Unity we seek is for us a given Unity which has never been lost, and as a Divine Gift and an essential mark of Christian existence, could not have been lost...For us, this Unity is embodied in the Orthodox Church, which kept katholikes and anelleipes (Webmaster note: the second word here is a guess at what the transliteration was in the original) both the integrity of the Apostolic Faith and the integrity of the Apostolic Order." [18]

Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Archdiocese of North and South America reiterated this theme speaking to the annual meeting of the US Conference for the WCC, on April 22, 1959: "The common use of the term Orthodox to signify the Church of the East should signify to the churches of the West that the Eastern Church is committed to maintain the genuine characteristics of the one Church of Christ." [19]

The Archbishop went to state that "the Orthodox view of unity is well-known and does not need detailed explanation. The Eastern churches adhere to the belief that the real UNITY of the Church was never and can never be broken, since she is the Body of Christ, the fulness of him (Eph. 1.22-23)."

Then referring back to the Faith and Order Study Conference, the Archbishop quoted the Orthodox representatives there: "The problem of unity is for us, therefore, the problem of the return to the fulness of Faith and Order, in full faithfulness to the message of Scripture and Tradition and in the obedience to the will of God "that all be one."" [20]

In concluding his remarks, Archbishop Iakovos then reiterated the Ecumenical Patriarchs Encyclical of February 6, 1952:

"According to its own constitution, the World Council of Churches seeks only to facilitate common action by the churches, to promote cooperation in study in a Christian spirit, to strengthen ecumenical-mindedness among members of all churches, to support en even wider spreading of the holy Gospel, and finally to preserve, uplift and generally restore spiritual vales for mankind with the framework of common Christian standards...We of the Orthodox Church must participate in this pan-Christian movement because it is our duty to impart to our heterodox brethren the riches of our faith, worship, and order, and of our spiritual and ascetic experience." [21]

Of course, to maintain that the World Council of Churches was pan-Christian in fact was to overstate the case then, as it still would be today. Nevertheless, it can be maintained that the position of the Orthodox representatives to the meetings of various assemblies of the World Council portrayed fairly accurately an Orthodox ecclesiology: The Orthodox Church was and is the Una Sancta, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. It is full; it lacks not.

Accordingly, those outside the Church could be and were portrayed as "heterodox", as lacking the fulness of faith which the Orthodox Church had possessed since Pentecost itself. The condition for unity, a unity not lost by the Orthodox as the Church, was rather seen as a return to Apostolic faith and order. In short, Orthodoxy in these statements was not presented merely as one denomination, however venerable and ancient, but as the True Faith. It should be noted that membership in the World Council did not require Trinitarian belief, but at least the presumption was there on the part of the Orthodox that their own faith was indeed complete.

The Sixties: A "subtle" shift?

In 1961, at New Delhi, two important events happened in the history of the World Council. The Church of Russia was admitted into Council membership, and now a majority of the worlds Orthodox were "represented", indeed a triumph for those committed to the basic Western presuppositions underlying the Councils existence. As well, it meant that Orthodox churches in the Eastern European nations would be freer to join in ecumenical contacts and ventures as well, at a price. The application for membership of the Moscow Patriarchate in the World Council meant that the World Council of Churches would be curiously silent about the existence of religious persecution in the Soviet Union. In fact, Metropolitan Nikodim, head of the Moscow Patriarchates Foreign Relations Department and chief architect of the ecumenical programme of the Russian Church, would deny the existence of religious oppression in the U.S.S.R. [22] He later would play a prominent part in the Russian Churchs relations with the Vatican, as well.

The second event mentioned above was the merging" of the International Missionary Council with the World Council. Thus, the three primary antecedent bodies were now united officially. For the Orthodox, the former event, however, would prove more of more consequence.

However, a shift in Orthodox thinking was emerging in the presentations of some of the delegates to WCC affairs. In 1961, Professor Nikos Nissiotis opened an address to the delegates to the Third Assembly of the WCC in New Delhi with a question: " Do we not all constantly fall back into thinking and acting as though the Una Sancta were confined within the limits of our own Church or confession?" [23] Nissiotis continued, "The wind of the Holy Spirit is driving us forward with pressing urgency. And Assembly is a time for action directed towards the restoration of unity." [24]

"...Thus unity does not mean waiting for agreement to be reached between the different conceptions which are held in our churches, but imposes on us the obligation to remain in that condition in which we are recreated by the Spirit as One in the One Undivided Church. It is not only through consideration of what we believe this Church Unity to be that we hope to advance to the continuous reestablishment of reunion, but also through how we exist as Christians. It is the content seen and lived in the historical churches through the act of our faith in God the Holy Trinity." [25]

Hence Orthodox doctrine is relegated to a "conception", unity has been severed, the One Undivided Church is no more, and a continuous "reestablishment of reunion" is called for, presumably even with that multitude of denominations which did not have a unity with Orthodoxy in the first place. One can logically question what a "reestablishment of reunion" anyway.

Nissiotis continued:

"When we live by faith in the Trinity, our very existence as Christians discloses what unity is. We do not find the nature of that unity by devising subtle pseudo-theological formulas which would capture its essence in polemical concepts. No, we find it in the life of historic churches, a life which springs from the same source as the life received at Pentecost. By historic churches we mean churches which confess in terms of the Nicene Creed the whole of the Divine Economy of the Revelation in the Church of God the Holy Trinity, and which believe in the continuation of this event by the Holy Spirit in and through the Church by acts culminating in the Sacraments and the Word, administered by those set apart to do so. This is what for me is implied by the definition of unity agreed by the representatives of the churches at the Central Committee at St. Andrews in 1960. What the churches actually do as churches constitutes the authentic expression of their undivided unity, and this is far more important than the theories and declarations of individual members as to what the churches do." [26]

The position that the Orthodox Church is the Una Sancta and that those separated from her need to return to apostolic fulness is jettisoned in favor of a belief that the "One undivided historical Church" consists of those "historic churches" confessing Trinitarian belief in terms of the Nicean Creed, their undivided unity consisting in what they actually do as churches, rather than "the theories and declarations of individual members as to what the churches do." [Such words would come back to haunt us.]

Indeed, Nissiotis would continue:

"Orthodox is not the adjective or the qualification of one local church or even of all our Eastern Orthodox Churches...It is not an exclusive but an inclusive term which goes beyond the limits of the churches which call themselves Orthodox. It includes all those churches and believers who seek to offer an honest confession and achieve a life which is untouched by heresies and schisms and to arrive at the wholeness of the divine revelation in Christ." [27]

"This dynamic understanding of Orthodoxy enables us to see Church history in a new perspective. It excludes labeling movements within the Church as apostasies—thus placing them outside the Church. It is impossible to locate an ecclesiological event extra ecclesiam. Neither the Roman schism nor the Reformation which resulted from it should be described in this way. The Orthodox witness as service to unity can, by self-sacrifice, put all separations in their right place within the One Undivided Church, and share the glory of God with them. This means in practice that Orthodoxy must give up its defensive, confessional-apologetic attitude, and in the glory of the Holy Spirit, become a mighty river of life, filling the gaps, complementing opposites, overcoming enmities, and driving forward toward reunion." [28]

Professor Nissiotis would go on to say, "To use such slogans as come back to us or let us go back to the first eight centuries as though we were inviting others to deny their own traditions is unorthodox." [29]

One might suspect that more recent use of the "slogans" such as "Welcome Home" , "Coming Home", and "Bringing America to Orthodoxy" might equally suffer the approbation "unorthodox" according to this line of reasoning. Then again, what would the Professor make of the reception not merely of thousands of converts who did believe they were coming home, but to the numerous parishes themselves, converting, en masse to Orthodoxy? By Nissiotis line of reasoning, would conversion even be possible, much less desirable?

As little as two years later, in 1963, His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos would state to assembled members of the World Council in the U.S.: " It would be utterly foolish for the true believer to pretend or to insist that the whole truth has been revealed only to them, and that they alone possess. Such a claim would be both unbiblical and untheological." [30]

This was a sharp departure from what the Archbishop had said four years prior when the Archbishop stated the need for the return to the fullness of apostolic faith and practice: "the truth that should always be remembered in all ecumenical circles it that there are no churches but ONE, and that this truth is more than attested by church history. The branch theory, that is, that the true Church consists of the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican Churches, as well as the fragmentation theory, this is that there is schism within the Church, or that all existing churches are to a greater or less degree in schism, can find no ground of justification in church history. Orthodoxy, however, can perfectly see and comprehend present church realities. She knows all she needs to know in regard to the existing numerous communions, confession, denominations, groups, and sects." [31] What a difference those four years made!

By 1963, in words meant for the ears of those assembled, such belief in the fullness of faith, and more precisely that the Orthodox Church is the repository of that revelation, is shied away from by attacking however subtlety those who might hold such beliefs as being utterly foolish. To be sure the words are couched. The words are equivocal. In fact, the Orthodox indeed do not maintain that the whole truth has been revealed only to them or that they alone possess it. Yet, the Orthodox Christian can never withdraw from the position that Orthodoxy is the repository of divinely revealed truth in its fullness.

If indeed the Church is "the pillar and ground of the truth" (I Tm 3:16), and if by "Church" one means the Orthodox Church (cf. Eph 1:22,23), this is a curious shift in ecclesiology from that stated only nine years before at Evanston, which by this line of reasoning must by now have been judged to have been both "unbiblical and untheological".

What is unbiblical, what is untheological is the notion that an individual, apart from Christs body, the Church, could ever possess or could ever be in a position to appraise what is fullness of the Divine Revelation. It is precisely in the Church, the Una Sancta, which is his body, where there is the fullness of him that filleth all in all. It is not a question of whether "true believers" possess the fullness of revelation at all, but whether or not the Church does. If so, where is that Church? If not, why should anyone bother? How might anyone know when he had possessed it?

Thus, a basic, Protestant presupposition, an ecclesiology at variance with that of the Fathers, and a reduction of Truth to a set of principles was being enunciated by one who has come to be arguably American Orthodoxys most conspicuous prelate during the last three-and-one-half decades.

The Russians: A More Cautious Approach

Yet, despite this shift in emphasis, especially by those under the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Moscow Patriarchate towed a more cautious line. It is interesting to note Metropolitan Nikodims reflection on the entry of the Moscow Patriarchate to the WCC delivered during the Uppsala Assembly, in April 1969:

"For many years after the First Assembly of the WCC at Amsterdam in 1948 the Russian Orthodox Church studied the activity of this new ecumenical body in order to see what possibility might exist to collaborate with it without prejudicing the principles of Orthodoxy.

"Moreover, from the very outset it was clear to the Orthodox that collaboration with the World Council of Churches, still more membership of it, would inevitably mean plunging into the Protestant element or, if you prefer, undergoing a sort of kenosis, because the voice of Orthodox witness at ecumenical meetings and in the WCC documents would always be submerged by a chorus of diverse, but essentially Protestant, opinions.

"It is only by increasing the number of representatives of the Orthodox Churches, so as to reflect the real importance of Orthodoxy in Christendom (and at the same time to improve the quality of that representation) that a balance can be created between the two confessional groups or systems, and their forces equalized. But that does not always guarantee a maximum of mutual understanding. I must frankly say that this situation will not disappear until all the Christian Churches have attained unanimity in their confession of faith, i.e. until all the Churches belonging to the World Council of Churches hold the faith which was the faith of the ancient undivided Church...

"The fact that the Russian Orthodox Church has joined the World Council of Churches cannot be regarded as an ecclesial act in the ecclesiological sense. It is connected with those aspects of its own life and activity whose free expression does not impose direct responsibility on all the local Orthodox Churches—that responsibility which is incumbent upon every part of the sacred Body of Christ in face of the plenitude of the Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church as a whole...I repeat, the way in which the Russian Orthodox Church took the decision to join the WCC clearly indicates that this act was never considered as having an ecclesiologically obligatory meaning for the Orthodox conscience. It would be more exact not to speak of the Russian Orthodox Church "joining" the WCC, still less "being admitted" to the WCC, but rather of an agreement between the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church and those of the World Council of Churches for representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church to enter into permanent collaboration with representatives of other Churches belonging to an association called the World Council of Churches. The Assembly held at New Delhi in 1961 gave its consent to a collaboration of this kind. In speaking of the Word Council of Churches I must point out that, from the very outset, there has been a certain confusion or ambiguity in the definition of the nature of that body." [32]

Continuing his remarks, the Metropolitan went on to observe that the "Section on Unity" of the Report of that same New Delhi meeting which accepted the Russian Orthodox Church into such a "collaborative association", to paraphrase, contained

"a concept of unity which is completely Protestant. Unity is regarded as a gift from God belonging, despite the divisions, to the whole of Christendom. This unity is not always visibly manifest to the necessary extent. Christendom as such is thus considered as essentially the one, complete body of the Church of Christ. As for division, it is not understood as the destruction of inner unity and a painful crippling of certain parts of the body of the Church. It is merely regarded as an inadequate awareness (in the minds of divided Christians) of their inner health, and as a lack of courage to proclaim that health to the world through acts which manifest their unity.

"The description of unity contained in this Report can refer only to the future when—after intercession, ecumenical collaboration and seeking have come to an end—that unity has been attained.

"The sin of division consists not in insufficient awareness of allegedly existing unity, but in the destruction of that unity, thus injuring some of its parts and harming the whole body of the Church of Christ. It is true that the unity of the Church is a gift of God, but only in a well-defined sense. It is a fact that there exists now and will exist until the consummation of time a divine objective basis of ecclesial unity in Christ, i.e. the possibility of intimate communion with Him through faith and through participation in sacramental life, especially in the true Eucharist, on condition that full obedience is paid to the fullness of the divine revelation. In itself this objective aspect, outside our obedience or disobedience to the divine revelation, does not assure complete, essential unity in any part of the Christian brotherhood. Only the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, which is the full, healthy foundation of the Body of Christ, possesses the true and full unity, because it is obedient to the voice of the divine Truth. It can be incomplete, or may almost disappear. Full and perfect unity can be appropriated by the whole Oekumene not through a simple manifestation or visible expression, but solely by re-building the broken unity, by returning to complete obedience to the truth. This will enable the limits of the whole Christian brotherhood to become identified with those of the one, holy, catholic, apostolic Church." [33]

Such a relatively conservative position by Moscow through the Metropolitan is all the more interesting when one considers what an avid ecumenist Nikodim himself was, especially when it came to matters involving Roman Catholics. Yet even Metropolitan Nikodim speaks of "returning to complete obedience of the truth"; he does not accept that the "whole Christian brotherhood" is "the one Church of Christ." He makes no mention of a branch theory of historic churches which accept the Nicene Creed. Thus the positions of Professor Nissiotis and the Metropolitan differ markedly.

A Roman Holiday

In the intervening years between New Delhi and Uppsala, an ecumenical event of the greatest magnitude had occurred outside the boundaries of the WCC, but one which would have profound impact on the Orthodox, as well as others involved in the ecumenical movement, the Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church, (1962-1965).

While standing officially aloof from ecumenical work until then, the Roman Church, by establishing the Secretariat for Christian Unity, plunged into the ecumenical quest itself. Most immediate was the meeting in Jerusalem in January 1964 between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras. This meeting was described as a communion of love. [34] Thus, Orthodox-Roman Catholic ecumenism began in earnest.

Patriarch Athenagoras described his role "to cultivate friendly relations with the Roman Catholic Churches, as well as with all Christian Churches. We entertain this aim in spite of the many existing obstacles, bearing in mind the common teachings and traditions that have bound together the Churches, and that have their origin in the first ages of the One and Undivided Church of Christ."35 In words paralleling those of Professor Nissiotis at New Delhi, the Ecumenical Patriarch spoke of an ancient Undivided Church of Christ to which those with common teaching and traditions have been bound together. If the ancient Church was "undivided," and by implication the Church today is divided, then the whole of Orthodox ecclesiology was turned on its head by pronouncement of the Ecumenical Throne.

Contacts between Rome and Constantinople continued until the much celebrated "mutual lifting of the Anathemas of 1054 "was announced on December 7, 1965. 32 The schism, and the issues which effected it, remained but the anathemas were lifted as "a gesture of goodwill between the two Churches..."36, an act of linguistic legerdemain, at least, to be sure. 

The Seventies

By the mid 1970s, the seeds sown in the sixties were certainly starting to sprout, especially amongst those representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. At the Fifth Assembly (Nairobi, November 1975), speaking on "Christian Unity", Archimandrite Cyril Argenti addressed first the question, Why are we divided?:

"the things which divide people in general—conflicting economic interests, racial prejudice, nationalist feelings, class selfishness, thirst for power, rivalry for prestige, and so on—also divide Christians, which means that the particular social group—class, nation or race—to which we belong is a more important factor in determining our behavior than the Kingdom of Heaven to which we also belong. We are more intensely aware of being Greek, Irish, or Boer than being Orthodox, Catholic or Calvinist. Our confessional label serves simply as an alibi to justify, or rather to conceal, our real motives which continue to be those of the old man who still lingers in all of us." [37]

After then discussing the Body of the Risen Christ as a foundation for unity, Christian Unity and the Eucharistic Assembly and Christian Unity and Witness to the World, the speaker says,

"The Church is therefore a witnessing community because it identifies itself with the body of the Crucified and Risen Christ: this is the Church in which we confess our faith in the words of the Creed, I believe in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. It is to this goal and final objective that all our efforts for unification must be directed, and we should not confuse it with the distorted image present by our different church institutions. What defines the Church and gives it its being is what the creative word of its Lord incessantly summons it to become, not the caricature of it that its clergy too often present to us." [38]

Finally, near the end, Fr. Agenti asks,

"Does this mean that at the present time we should abandon the quest for organic union of the separated churches? On the contrary, we must prepare the framework for it by assemblies like the present, and also, on the various geographical levels, by local assemblies which will foreshadow the future of the Church...

"In conclusion, may I express the wish, or rather the prayer that:

—through the participation in the World Council by all the Christian churches, (and in particular by the very ancient and venerable Church of Rome and all the holy churches in communion with her);

—through the deeper growth in Christ of all the member churches, present and future;

—through the action of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, the unifying Spirit,

if not the 5th or 6th Assembly of the World Council of Churches, then at least the n-th Assembly will be recognized by the whole Christian people as the 8th Ecumenical Council of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of Christ." [39]

In not one instance did the speaker identify the Orthodox Church as the Una Sancta when speaking of the Church. While he says certain things about the Church and Eucharist and witness in the world which could be interpreted from an Orthodox understanding, he lays the groundwork for his conclusion—that a future assembly of the World Council be recognized as the 8th Ecumenical Council—by stating, near the beginning, that confessional labels served as alibis to conceal our real motives, that the cause of Christian disunity was ultimately the function of social and economic struggle. What of false doctrine? What of truth?

"If we are not united," Father Argenti posits, "we are not the Church." [40] In other words, we are the Church based upon our relations with other, separated Christians, not because the Church is obedient to the Truth. Hence, a Protestant ecclesiology was proclaimed by an Orthodox priest to an ecumenical gathering: The Church had ultimately ceased to be because of the separations in the Christian world. The role of ecumenism, and in particular that of the WCC was to be the vehicle of reconstituting a lost unity.

Twenty years before, the position of the Ecumenical Throne was that the Unity was already a given within the Una Sancta, the Orthodox Church. Now the position to the contrary, that of pan-Protestantism, was enunciated by a representative of the same Patriarchate.

A Path Strewn with Complexities

Only a year earlier, Patriarch Pimen of All-Russia had addressed the subject, "An Orthodox View of Contemporary Ecumenism" at the University of Ioensu (Finland) in terms different from those of the Ecumenical Throne and its representatives.

First of all, Patriarch Pimen qualifies his role:

"I do not of course consider myself as having the right to speak on behalf of all Orthodox or of presenting one, single, Orthodox view on ecumenism. Such a single, pan-Orthodox view not only does not exist among the Orthodox churches, but there is no single view or single approach within any single local Orthodox church, as there is no unanimity of approach or view on this question in other, non-Orthodox churches.

"Besides this, no one in Orthodoxy has the right to speak on or evaluate anything in name of all Orthodox, on behalf of all the Orthodox churches. Only an Ecumenical Council has the right to speak in the name of all the Orthodox communion, and then only if that Council has been accepted by all the local Orthodox churches." [41]

He went on, first to describe in brief the entrance of the Russian Church into the Ecumenical Movement, "a path strewn with complexities and hesitations between a sincere desire for brotherly relations and the achievement of full unity with our brothers outside the Orthodox church, and our traditional loyalty to the ecclesiological views of the Ancient Undivided Church..." [42]

"To this we must add the difficulties provoked by the original, not only purely Western but entirely pro-Western, character of the structure, activity and politico-social orientation of the World Council of Churches in the period of its establishment and the Cold War period... The Russian Church wanted to see in the World Council of Churches an objective and effective forum for the coming together (meeting) and dialogue of all churches and all Christians in their efforts towards rapprochement and the achievement, or rather the restoration of the unity of all Christians in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church." [43]

As well, the Patriarch stated emphatically that the World Council of Churches could not be considered, or confused with, what the Orthodox Church means when she speaks of a Church Council. "Councils are the organs of the Church," [44] he said, leaving no doubt that the Patriarch believed that the Orthodox Church was Una Sancta.

Hence, Archimandrite Argentis "prayer", to use his own words, that a future assembly of the World Council of Churches might be recognized as an Ecumenical Council displayed a variant position from that of the Patriarch of Moscow but one year earlier.

Yet even some under the jurisdiction of Moscow were using terms in the 70s which indicated that the Protestant presuppositions underlying the Councils work, to which Father Schmemann would make reference, were certainly being used when speaking to WCC agencies. For example, in a sermon in West Berlin for the WCCs Central Committee (1974), Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh spoke of the words from "the ancient liturgies of the still undivided Church." [45] He speaks then of "a unity which is lost, a oneness which is to be reconquered, but is not yet possessed." [46] Certainly this might seem to be more appropriately addressed to representatives of the Church of Rome rather than to Protestants.

This is basically the background of Orthodoxys role and evolution in the Ecumenical movement, especially in the World Council of Churches, from the 1920s until the mid 1970, when Father Schmemann wrote of the Ecumenical Agony for the Orthodox, which was quoted at the beginning of this article. While Fr. Schmemann stated quite rightly that Orthodoxys "witness" has been a marginalized one in the Ecumenical movement, it also seems obvious from the above quotations from various Orthodox ecumenists that the "witness" of the Ecumenical movement upon the Orthodox participants was not so marginal. 

A Critique

Fr. Justin Popovich would offer a critique of ecumenism. One of Orthodoxys theologians from the same period, he had known the same wars and political movements that prompted the initial concern for greater collaboration amongst the churches in Europe. Yet, Father Justins assessment is quite different, and one worthy of quoting.

"The contemporary dialogue of love, which takes the form of naked sentimentality, is in reality a denial of the salutary sanctification of the Spirit and belief in the truth (2 Thess. 2:13), that is to say the unique salutary love of the truth. (2 Thess. 2:10) The essence of love is truth; love lives and thrives as truth. Truth is the heart of each Godly virtue and therefore of love as well. And each one of these Godly virtues preaches and evangelizes about the God-man Lord Jesus as the only Person Who is the embodiment and image of Divine Truth, that is to say Pan-Truth. If truth were something other that the God-man, than Christ in other words, if it were though, an idea, a theory, mind science, philosophy, culture, man, humanity, the world, or all the worlds, or whoever or whatever or all it altogether, it would be minor, inadequate, finite, mortal. Truth, however, is a person, and yes, the person of the God-man Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity, and as such is immortal and not finite, but eternal. This is because in the Lord Jesus, Truth and Life are of the same essence: they are eternal Truth and eternal Life. (cf. John 14:6; 1:4,17) He who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ grows unceasingly through His Truth into the divine infinity. He grows with all of his being, with all of his mind, with all of this heart and his soul. People live in Christ speaking the truth in love, because only in this way we must grow up in every way into Him Who is the head, into Christ. (Eph. 4:15)

"This is always realized with all the saints, (Eph. 3:18), always in the Church and through the Church, because a person cannot grow in Him Who is the head of the body of the Church, in other words in Christ, in any other way.

"Let us not fool ourselves...Separation of and detachment of love from truth is a sign of the lack of theanthropic faith and of the loss of theanthropic balance and common sense. At any rate, this was never, nor is it the way of the Fathers. The Orthodox are rooted and founded only with all of the saints in truth, and have proclaimed in love this theanthropic life-saving love for the world and for all of the creation of God from the time of the Apostles until today. The naked moralistic, minimalistic, and humanistic pacifism of contemporary Ecumenists does only one thing: it brings to light their diseased roots, which is to say, their sick philosophy and feeble morality according to the human tradition. (Col. 2:8) They reveal the crisis of their humanistic faith, as well as their presumptuous insensitivity for the history of the Church, which is to say, for its apostolic and catholic continuation in truth and in grace. And the holy apostolic, patristic, God-mindedness, and common sense are proclaimed by the mouth of St. Maximos the Confessor in the following truth: For faith is the foundation of the things that follow, I mean hope and love, which certainly sustain the truth. (P.G. 90c. 1189A)" [47]

"Separation of and detachment of love from truth is a sign of the lack of theanthropic faith and of the loss of theanthropic balance and common sense." At any rate, this was never, nor is it the way of the Fathers. The Orthodox are rooted and founded only with all of the saints in truth, and have proclaimed in love this theanthropic life-saving love for the world and for all of the creation of God from the time of the Apostles until today. Father Justins words are worth repeating, because they offer the fit criticism not only of the ecumenical method, but also of its results. Love divorced from truth truly is sentimentality. To speak of a "communion of love" without truth, whether this is a denial of history, an obfuscation of schism, or an avoidance of basic doctrine, is a thing of feelings not of substance.

It is as if the maxims of the situational ethicists of the sixties were adopted by the ecumenists: to do the "loving thing," not the right thing, because morality is relative. For in matters ecumenical the maxim has become to say the loving thing, not that which is true. This is done, it would follow, because Truth itself, or rather, Himself is relative.

What is detailed above about Orthodox involvement in Ecumenism is dated by some two decades. In the intervening twenty years, Orthodoxys role and impact on ecumenism has continued to be debated.

In the 1980s, through the work of the Faith and Order Commission, a document entitled "Baptism, the Eucharist, and Ministry" was issued by the WCC for study by its constituent bodies. At the time of its publication, Prof. Nissiotis, referenced above was Moderator of the Commission.

Basically, the BEM document is predicated upon the Councils understanding of churches growing toward of a goal of visible unity, developing doctrinal convergence along the way. Chiefly, the document seeks to focus on "the problems of mutual recognition leading to unity." [48]

From the Preface to the ... [Webmaster note: text unclear at this point] ... we read: "...the Faith and Order Commission now present this Lima text (1982) to the churches. We do so with deep conviction, for we have become increasingly aware of our unity in the body of Christ. We have found reason to rejoice in the rediscovery of the richness of our common inheritance in the Gospel. We believe that the Holy Spirit has led us to this time, a kairos of the ecumenical movement when sadly divided churches have been enabled to arrive at substantial theological agreements. We believe that many significant advances are possible if in our churches we are sufficiently courageous and imaginative to embrace God's gift of Church unity." [49] Again, the basic, sectarian premise is stated: the many, divided churches are actually parts of the body of Christ. Not one of them is the Church.

It indeed is wonderful to note the "convergence", if not consensus on the topics of Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry contained in the document, as far as the document goes. However, mutual recognition of Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry in the various divided churches is the ultimate goal. It seems not a matter that the Holy Spirit supplies what is lacking, as we would understand it, but that theological convergence would determine that nothing has been lacking all along.

Thus baptism is described: 

"Our common baptism, which unites us to Christ in faith, is thus a basic bond of unity. We are one people and are called to confess and serve one Lord in each place and in all the world. The union with Christ which we share through baptism has important implications for Christian unity. There is...one baptism, on God and Father of us all... (Eph. 4:4-6) When baptismal unity is realized in one holy, catholic, apostolic Church, a genuine Christian witness can be made to the healing and reconciling love of God. Therefore, our one baptism into Christ constitutes a call to the churches to overcome their divisions and visibly manifest their fellowship." [50]

The commentary on this section notes: "The inability of the churches mutually to recognize their various practices of baptism as sharing in the one baptism, and their actual dividedness in spite of mutual baptismal recognition, have given dramatic visibility to the broken witness of the Church." "The readiness of the churches in some place and times to allow differences of sex, race, or social status to divide the body of Christ has further called into question genuine baptismal unity of the Christian community (Gal. 3:27-28) and has seriously compromised its witness. The need to recover baptismal unity is at the heart of the ecumenical task as its is central for the realization of genuine partnership within the Christian communities." [51]

To recognize baptism extra ecclesiam, outside of the Church, as Orthodox understand the Church to be is central to the ecumenical agenda. Orthodoxy admittedly has had, and does have, two basic practices in regard to heterodox baptism, the stricter position holding that baptism does not exist outside of the Church and the other practice of economy, declaring the rite to lack fulness and in want of the sealing of the Spirit. In effect, the latter position is similar to that taken of baptism in extremis by the laity, except that it is presumed that a lay baptism is ministered by one baptized and chrismated. In either case, the BEM document purports to see baptism as a uniting ordinance, already having incorporated all of its recipients wherever they be and whatever they believe into Christ.

Again, the section on the Eucharist refers to its being a judgment on "unjustifiable confessional oppositions with the body of Christ" [52] and yet any doctrine of Eucharistic presence, doctrine to which the Holy Fathers appealed at the Third Ecumenical Council to defend the union of the two natures—Divine and human—in one person—Jesus Christ, is omitted. Agreement about Eucharistic presence is left as a possibility for further theological "convergence." [53] Yet Eucharistic sharing is envisioned as a means to union. [54] A comment on this sections notes: 

"Since New Testament days, the Church has attached the greatest importance to the continued use of the elements of bread and wine which Jesus used at the Last Supper. In certain parts of the word, where bread and wine are not customary or obtainable, it is now sometimes held that local food and drink serve better to anchor the eucharist in everyday life. Further study is required concerning the question of which features of the Lord's Supper were unchangeably instituted by Jesus, and which features remain within the Churchs competence to decide." [55]

Whether this commentary was arrogant, or merely naive, contextualizing the eucharist, as well as other aspects of worship and faith, will be seen later in Council activities.

Finally, when the BEM statement touches on ministry, apostolic succession is not definitively resident in the person of a bishop. Thus the document, unlike the early Church, does not envision asking a church for a list of bishops to prove its relationship to the Church Catholic.

"It is increasingly recognized that a continuity in apostolic faith, worship and mission has been preserved in churches which have not retained the form of historic episcopate. This recognition finds additional support in the fact that the reality and function of the episcopal ministry have been preserved in the many of these churches, with or without the title "bishop". [56]

"Today churches, including those engaged in union negotiations, are expressing willingness to accept episcopal succession as a sign of the apostolicity of the life of the whole Church. Yet, at the same time, they cannot accept any suggestion that the ministry exercised in their own tradition should be invalid until the moment that it enters into an existing line of episcopal succession. Their acceptance of the episcopal succession will best further the unity of the whole Church if it is part of a wider process by which the episcopal churches themselves also regain their lost unity." [57]

Ultimately, the question of candidates for ordination is dealt with thus: "The discipline with regard to the conditions for ordination in one church need not be seen as universally applicable and used as grounds for not recognizing ministry in others." [58] "Churches which refuse to consider candidates for the ordained ministry on the ground of handicap or because they belong, for example, to one particular race or sociological group should re-evaluate their practices." [59] Does this mean, then that though conditions for ordination might not be universally applicable there are some universals in regard to the candidates? That is, does "sociological group" refer only to racial and ethnic division, or does it mean as well, the sex and/or the sexual preference of the candidate him/herself?

A further section address ordination of women: "Differences on this issue raise obstacles to the mutual recognition of ministries. But those obstacles must not be regarded as substantive hindrance for further efforts towards mutual recognition. Openness to each other holds the possibility that the Spirit may well speak to one church through the insights of another." [60]

Are we seriously to believe that the Orthodox position, viz-a-viz, ordination of women is going to be construed as the voice of the Spirit, speaking "to one church through the insights of another"? Future behavior by ecumenists toward the Orthodox on this point should amply demonstrate that this is not what is really meant. Mind you, two of our own ecumenists note that the "church" is to be judged by what the "church" does, not by what it says.

In sum, while not everything in the BEM should be rejected out of hand, its basic premise, that mutual recognition of Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry will aid the sadly divided churches in their quest for unity must be.

That Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry can be recognized in themselves, extra ecclesiam, for the Orthodox is impossible until agreement on the what the actual apostolic faith of the Church is. Two examples from the U.S. illustrate how far "theological convergence" has yet to go in this regard.

The National Council of Churches, in 1986, would publish a gender inclusive lectionary for the voluntary use of its member churches. "In the mid-1980s, the National Council of Churches began publishing its multi-volume Inclusive Language Lectionary...which omitted male pronouns for God and retranslated Jesuss traditional title, the Son of Man, as the Human One." [61] While the Orthodox would dissent, the influence of the inclusivist movement has continued to be felt and promoted in ecumenical circles.

To be sure the lectionary is not used by Orthodox Churches and the Orthodox dutifully delineated objections to such an approach. The lectionarys publication merely documents the deviance from traditional Christian vocabulary in which the NCC is engaged.

Yet one must ask the question, What is the value of objecting at all, if the basic presupposition undergirding ecumenical work, is a Protestant , relativistic one? The Orthodox are granted their portfolio to represent, at it were, the position, the perspective, the tradition of ancient and venerable churches of the East. Until and unless the perspective of the ancient and venerable Church of the East is accepted as true, as revealed by the Truth Himself, we can only append document after document to ecumenical studies. Yet in the long run, we shall be accepted as no more than a footnote on the blotter of the ecumenical movement.

The Nineties: Will They Be As Gay?

A glaring example of the marginalization of the Orthodox participants in ecumenism happened within this decade. For the first time in its history, the World chose to focus on the Holy Spirit as the theme for its Seventh Assembly in Canberra, (February 1991). For Orthodox Christians anywhere, it seems odd to wait forty-plus years to focus on the Holy Spirit. Do we not convene our Church Councils by invoking the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, who gathers us together? Do we not begin our prayers daily by saying "O Heavenly King? One wonders if the course of the WCC had not been different had the Holy Spirit been the focus of the World Councils work in the first place.

That such an emphasis would be so late in coming only amplifies the Orthodox conundrum of being in a organization based on non-Orthodox presuppositions about the Church, about theology, about God Himself. To expect an Orthodox outcome on such would have been hope against hope. Arguably, only Pentecostals, perhaps, and Quakers, amongst the Western Christians have had much of an emphasis on the Spirit to begin with, and yet not without difficulties in their own Christologies, as one might expect.

"Participants couldnt, of course, agree on whether the Spirit is he or she or it (not even those who read the Scriptures in the original languages and knew that ruath is feminine), and there were charges that some of the spirits invoked were pagan...Feminist theologians found the Spirit theme a congenial one, but their perspectives on the nature of the Holy Ghost sometimes antagonized more traditional masculine minds." [62]

Of course, as this reporters account revealed, all of these presentations were to be seen relatively. The feminists had a perspective; more traditional masculine minds were antagonized. Truth could count for little, since to maintain such would be to assert that some other was, in fact, wrong! In such a dialogue, how can anyone assert Truth?

Particularly offensive to the Orthodox, even to those attending, was the syncretistic presentation of a Presbyterian theologian which combined aspects of her native Koreas popular religion in a presentation of "contextual theology " and used ancestor worship " to honor the Spirits of Australias aboriginal people." Speaking of Korean gods and the need to listen to ancestral spirits to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, "she called on listeners to renounce Western, human-centered theological assumptions. This must be the time we have to reread the Bible from the perspective of birds, water, trees and mountains...Learning to think like a mountain, changing our center from human beings to all living beings, has become our responsibility in order to survive." [63] If she was right to insist upon the rejection of Western, human-centered theological assumptions—(what Orthodox theologian would not do so?)—she errs greatly, of course, to call Christians at all to "think" like mountains, impossible for a Christian-belief system, impossible since only man, who is in the image God and who most displays that image through his rational faculty, can think, period. Yet the theologian was applauded, passionately in some quarters of the assembly, [64] and ultimately defended by WCC General Secretary, Emilio Castro. [65] At the same assembly, Castro chose to attack openly Orthodox ecclesiology because of the necessity to have separate Eucharists, one Protestant and one Orthodox. (Years before, the Orthodox were guaranteed that their presence did not commit themselves to accepting other bodies as churches in the full sense of the term.) In his report as General Secretary, Castro called for Eucharistic sharing at the Assembly and used the term "hypocrisy" to describe "Christendoms divisions at the communion table. Orthodox felt they were being judged as uncharitable." [66]

Elizabeth Templeton, a Scottish theologian, spoke to the Assembly and addressed the Orthodox thus: "The brokenness of the Eucharist is not your problem. Its all our problem. I take seriously what is being said by the refusal—that I am not of the church. But I dont believe it..." [67] So much for four decades of "witness".

Fr. Leonid Kishkovsky, Orthodox priest and at that time president of the NCC "cautioned delegates that the continued involvement By Eastern and Oriental Orthodox in the WCC is fragile." [68] Yet membership continued.

That the Orthodox would be so attacked should not surprise anyone who has observed the workings of the ecumenical movement, especially that of the National and World Councils. There is to be sure an "orthodoxy" to which both of these groups subscribe in various ways. Ironically, they are very much human-centered, Western notions. To deviate from them, to insist that the very presuppositions of the movement are flawed ones provokes the wrath which once the Jesuits reserved for some Protestants. What the Orthodox experienced in Canberra can only be harbinger of things to come.

Additionally, at Canberra came a call for the acceptance of the implications of the BEM in its fulness: mutual recognition of Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry, plus a move toward accepting the faith of the Nicene Creed. Yet what could one rightly make of such a call "back" to Nicea coupled with the worship of ancestral spirits in the name of contextual theology? Again, we must judge by what the "churches" do, not by what they say.

1991 Suspension of NCC participation

Later on in 1991 after Canberra, Orthodox bodies in the U.S., following the leadership of Archbishop Iakovos suspended participation in the National Council of Churches for several months, in part because of the theological deviance of such ecumenical gatherings. Yet by the following March (1992), the Archbishop provisionally resumed the participation of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in NCC activities and the other jurisdictions which had been on hiatus did so likewise. [69]

Interestingly enough, little more than one year following the resumption of provisional participation in the National Council of Churches, Archbishop Iakovos was honored by the establishment of the "Archbishop Iakovos Endowment for Faith and Order", an effort to raise $10 million dollars, and part " a larger campaign called the Ecumenical Development Initiative," and a joint effort of both the WCC and NCC. [70]

However, evidence of continued Orthodox unease with certain forms of ecumenical involvement surfaced shortly thereafter. At a meeting in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, in August 1993, of the WCCs Commission on Faith and Order, evidence of the fragility of Orthodox relationships within the ecumenical movement surfaced once more. At one point, a message from Archbishop Iakovos was read in which the Archbishop took issue with the World Councils "theological and ethical liberalism." [71]

Orthodox delegates as well declared that they were deeply offended by some of the comments made during the meeting. Archbishop Stylianos of Australia, and chairman of the Orthodox delegation stated, "Some of the speakers allowed themselves to present their views as if they were the new prophets of the Christian era who were entitled to put all of us aside as if we were the betrayers of the Christian mandate." [72]

A WCC conference report noted that Archbishop Stylianos did not "identify specific points of contention but was apparently referring to support shown by some speakers for the ordination of women and Eucharistic sharing. Of course, this path was dutifully lined out in the BEM document, to listen to the insight of the Holy Spirit speaking "to one church through the insights of another." [73] By late 1994, the Russian Church began to deal with doubts within its own ranks, viz-a-viz ecumenism. An attempt to withdraw the Moscow Patriarchate from the World Council was fought back that December in a meeting of its Holy Synod, but the proposal was seen by some as a protest against missionary activity in Russia by non-Orthodox groups, some of which are members of the WCC.

By the mid-nineties, Orthodox participation in these forms of the ecumenical movement had grown increasingly strained, even by admission of a number of Orthodox ecumenists. The old reason given in certain quarters, namely that World Council participation enabled Orthodox behind the Iron Curtain to communicate more easily with their brethren in the free world had disappeared. The only surviving remnant of this line of thinking was to be found in crediting the World Council for providing a forum for representatives of one of the Orthodox churches of the diaspora to meet with other churches of worldwide Orthodoxy who would not otherwise be able to meet because of certain canonical questions about their own governing status.

That Orthodoxy should find itself in such tension, or that its relationship with the ecumenical movement should be so fragile had been addressed by Father Schmemann two decades ago, should his words be heeded:

"...the initial misunderstanding that has never been fully cleared, and hence the ultimate failure of that encounter in spite of the presence and efforts of many brilliant Orthodox theologians and spokesmen, and, in the last years, of the massive participation by virtually all Orthodox churches. What the Western architects of the ecumenical movement never fully understood is that for the Orthodox the ecumenical encounter, first of all and above all, means the first free and therefore truly meaningful encounter with the West as a totality, the West as the other half of the initially one Christian world, separated from Orthodoxy not by a limited number of doctrinal disagreements but primarily by a deep difference in the fundamental Christian vision itself. It is this Western vision and experience, inasmuch as the Orthodox saw in them a deviation from and a mutilation of the once common faith and tradition, that they were anxious to discuss, believing such discussion to be the self-evident and essential condition for any further step.

"Such, however, was not at all the Western presupposition. First of all, the West had long ago lost almost completely any awareness of being just half of the initial Christianitas. Its own historical and theological blooming began at the time when the Christian East, which dominated the first Christian millennium, was entering its prolonged dark age, was becoming voiceless and silent. Quite rapidly the West identified itself with Christianitas, the East slipping into a corner of its memory, mainly, alas, as the object of conversion to Rome or to Protestantism." [74]


I have been Orthodox now virtually since Fr. Schmemann first penned his words about what he so rightly termed the "ecumenical agony" for the Orthodox. I would offer the following critique of our continuance, not so much in certain ecumenical endeavors—more about that will follow—but of our continuance in organizations or institutions which with their own bureaucracies use the commendable objective of the unity of Christians as a subterfuge for pan-Protestantism.

Working together ecumenically has become the catch-phrase, the code word of a universalist movement. Orthodox positions are allowable as addenda but, and perhaps in part by the equivocation of some of the Orthodox participants over the years, the Orthodox positions are continually a marginal concern. Purposefully not included for discussion in this article are the many, questionable positions taken by the WCC, such as the support given in the 1970s for movements of political liberation in the Third World. These are known, and they are but symptomatic of the problem the Orthodox world has encountered dealing with a Pan-Protestant movement which has quite triumphalistically presumed its rather recent, Western European positions as normative. Yet even at this point, the question to be asked is the following. Do ecumenical bodies like the WCC and the NCC now even purport to speak in like terms which were originally used by its Protestant inceptors? That is, are the ground rules of discourse, and the ultimate confession that Jesus Christ is both God and Saviour, still operative in the movement, evidenced, not by what member bodies say, but by what they do? (Cf. Nissiotis and Argentis own test, cited above.) Hence, there are two areas to discuss briefly, theological re-imagining; and moral issues, specifically abortion and homosexuality. Approach to these two issues reveal rather bluntly what the churches are, wherever they may be.

LANGUAGE AND RE-IMAGINING: Advent of a New Religion

The case of inclusive language and the syncretism found in Canberra are but part of a new theology growing out a the abandonment of traditional theology. In the late forties, both East and West, Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox alike, could speak of Jesus Christ, call him God and Saviour, call him the Son of God, and call God His Father, and they would have meant it. Indeed, this was the operative condition for membership in the WCC in 1948.

Today, it is quite proper to question whether or not certain members of the World and National Councils believe in terms of faith and morals anything near what was the common presumption that they did believe. To borrow from the writings of Mr. C.S. Lewis, a belief in "mere Christianity" was a least presumed a common denominator when the ecumenical movement converged in Amsterdam. However, not only today is it common not to speak of Christ Jesus in these terms, it is much more the case to speak in terms not consonant with the Christology of the Patristic period, that of the Cappadocians, for example. On the one hand, this demonstrates what the Orthodox have known all along, that the Protestants are the inheritors of but a recent tradition, steeped in the tenets of and made possible by Western-European rationalism and humanism. For the Protestant, man, or rather now I suppose, humankind, is the measure and objective reality has been jettisoned in favor of a culturally determined reality. That the ecumenical movement has definitely played a major part in attempts to redefine and to re-imagine Christian doctrine is now beyond dispute. Two examples can be readily examined closer to home. The first is inclusive language.

Inclusive language

As noted above, "in the mid-1980s, the National Council of Churches began publishing its multi-volume Inclusive Language Lectionary...which omi4tted male pronouns for God and retranslated Jesuss traditional title, the Son of Man, as the Human One." [75] Despite the Orthodox dissent, the influence of the inclusivist movement has continued to be felt and promoted in ecumenical circles.

To be sure the lectionary is not used by Orthodox Churches and the Orthodox dutifully delineated objections to such an approach. Yet one must ask the question, What is the value of objecting at all, if the basic presupposition undergirding ecumenical work, is a Protestant , relativistic one?

The Orthodox are granted their portfolio to represent, at it were, the position, the perspective, the tradition of the ancient and venerable churches of the East. Until and unless the perspective of the ancient and venerable Church of the East is accepted as true, as revealed by the Truth Himself, we can only append document after document to ecumenical studies. In the long run, we shall be accepted as no more than a footnote on the blotter of the ecumenical movement. While might still officially see ourselves as the True Church, to the Protestant, we are but one denomination among many.

Revising the Standard

To further the impact of inclusivist theology, the National Council also chose to rework its own Revised Standard Version of the Scriptures (1952), and issued the New Revised Standard Version, seeking to incorporate inclusive language into the Scriptures as a whole, obliterating Messianic prophecies, for example in some cases, (cf. Ps. 1:1) and even trying to avoid the use of the pronoun "he" for the Lord Jesus as much as possible.

Additionally, the text is altered in many cases in the favor of the "higher" critics. What previously had been footnoted in the RSV as a variant reading, now became the text in the NRSV. Time and time again, what is canonical Scripture for Orthodox Christians the world over and the reading of the NRSV are not the same. (A curious "gloss" on one NRSV text would even supply a reading favorable to female bishops!) What the RSV began to untie theologically is unraveled almost completely in the NRSV.

Thankfully, one jurisdiction did find the changes egregious enough to warrant caution. The Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America responded, forbidding the use of the NRSV in its seminaries and for use in worship in its parishes. An "Orthodox" edition is nevertheless in the works with the approval of the ranking prelate of one of the other Orthodox jurisdictions in America.

The Advent of a New Religion?

Yet the influence of ecumenism in reformulating the language of doctrine and worship continues apace. In a book review entitled, "Three books of worship: An ecumenical convergence", Paul Westermeyer looked at three liturgical resources published by the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), the United Methodist Church, and the United Church of Christ.

The Presbyterians themselves note an "ecumenical convergence about worship...that had developed in the 19th and 20th centuries." [76] When one examines what has converged along with a common shape for Protestant worship, one finds the very ecumenical trend toward inclusive language. "All three [the UMC, Presbyterians, and the UCC] seek to use inclusive language for humanity and God. (Emphasis added.) ... The concern of inclusive language is not worked out in exactly the same way. The UCC changes Lord to God throughout. Though the Lord's Prayer usually is change to Prayer of Our Savior, it remains unchanged in several places, perhaps inadvertently. The United Methodists and the Presbyterians, though also sensitive to and careful about inclusive language, do not make this change presumably because Lord for them has a christocentric rather than a patriarchal connotation." [77]

One wonders how to render, "God is the Lord and has revealed himself unto us"? But, of course, if He has not really revealed himself, why should one bother to sing that He has. Additionally, what is one to make of the earliest creed of the Church, namely, that Jesus is Lord, by this line of reasoning?

Even more recently the United Church of Christ published a new hymnal wherein feminist, inclusivist lyrics are ever-present, including the hymn "Mothering God, You Gave Me Birth," and where one example of many attempts to give God dual-gender can be seen in a revision of the hymn "Be Thou My Vision."

I can remember singing this particular hymn in my protestant youth,

"Thou my great Father,
I thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling,
and I with thee one."

Alas, now the UCC is asking its members to sing

"Mother and Father, you are both to me
now and forever, your child I will be."

As poetry this is bad enough; as theology this is not Christian

The new hymnal is not without its critics. UCC theologian, Willis Elliott, quite accurately assesses the situation thus: "What were being asked to celebrate is the advent of a new religion." [78]

Even more recently, the U.C.C. has been cautioned to hold back lest its deviance from "traditional" modes and expression harm its ecumenical relationships. The use of a modalist formula for baptism, "In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sustainer" has gained acceptability in parts of the U.C.C. [79] In other words, "baptisms" are being performed using Sabellian formulae, which strains beyond the BEM position.

So, Willis Elliott is right. By means of certain worship forms, a new religion is coming. This is precisely the point. This is where the path of ecumenical convergence is leading. Perhaps a concern for more historic forms of worship has emerged. Yet this convergence must be seen hand in hand with a new theology, not unlike the position of pre-exilic Jews who followed old ritual forms of Yahweh worship at the same time pagan idols were erected in the Temple.

Lex orandi, lex credendi est.

The language of prayer is the language of belief. We Orthodox say that we know that quite well. So the "ecumenical convergence" about worship cannot be described otherwise as but an ecumenical "convergence" about theology, about doctrine, about Christology wherein the ancient landmarks that Jesus is Christ, that Jesus is Lord, that He is the Son of God, and that the first Person of the Holy Trinity is Father, both his and ours, are being removed by our "partners" in ecumenical endeavors.

By examining what other members of the ecumenical movement are saying when they pray, one can learn much. This situation of redefining the corpus of Christian belief did not exist to this extent when the ecumenical movement began. There were de-mythologizers then to be sure. However, now the movement is involved in what can only be described as re-mythologizing. Re-Imagining/ re-imaging

An obvious case in point was the "Re-Imagining" conference held in Minneapolis in November 1993. It celebrated the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women. [80] Charges of Sophia-worship redounded in conservative Methodist and Presbyterian circles, with those two denominations (UMC and PCUSA) being some of the chief financial backers of the conference.

A Presbyterian denominational evaluation stated, "...conference rituals attempted to discover and explore new language, not worship a new god. Just as clearly, however, conference rituals used new language in ways that imply worship of a divine manifestation distinctly different from the the one triune God whom alone we worship and serve."

"Many of the prayers voiced at the conference went beyond using wisdom as one of the metaphors appropriately employed in liturgical address of God. Wisdom/Sophia, both in frequency and formulation, became an alternative employed in distinction from the triune God. Such was clearly the case in the Ritual of the Spirit of Re-Imagining in which a corporate prayer concludes with the words, ... through the power and guidance of the spirit of wisdom whom we name Sophia. Here, Sophia is not merely the Greek word for wisdom, but a name invoked within a formulation that serves as an alternative to the living tradition of the church catholic which prays through Jesus Christ." [81]

"Consistently extravagant language in Re-Imagining rituals transformed an attribute of God into a divine image different from the one true God who has been revealed in Jesus Christ." Hence, the authors of the evaluation concluded that worship of Sophia was "both implied and encouraged by the liturgical language and forms of Re-Imagining rituals." [82]

An interesting side note is that one of the study references provided by the WCC during its decade of solidarity contained a color icon of the Holy Myrrhbearing Women on it cover, compliments of an Orthodox seminary. Excerpts from the Enkomia for Holy Saturday Matins were included inside, as well. A new openness, indeed! But we lend an air of legitimacy to such ecumenical escapades even when we do not openly participate in them. In the words of an eminent American ecumenist, "You (Orthodox) give us our integrity." [83]



On the two most contentious moral issues of the past twenty-five years, the ecumenical movement has displayed conspicuous silence. The very first position of the Church on a social issue, abortion, is nowhere to be found in the pronouncements of the National Council of Churches, for example.

That the Orthodox, by threatening to leave the NCC, stalled its attempt by it to declare publically a pro-abortion stance in the early 1970s made the news then. What did not make the news, and what most Orthodox Christians do not realize, is that the National Council of Churches is cited by Mr. Justice Blackmun, writing for the majority in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion on demand and in all three trimesters of pregnancy. [84] The court would deduce, based in part on such source material, that for Protestants abortion was deemed a personal matter, though such was not the historic Protestant position.

Much more recently, NCC General Secretary Dr. Joan Brown Campbell went on the record for the NCC in support of President Clintons health care reform proposal, in 1993, one which included abortion coverage as an integral part. Noting disagreement amongst some NCC members over aspects of the reform, she stated, "Despite the fact that we reserve the right to critique the plan to and to push for the greatest possible change, we continue to go on record in support of this presidential initiative." Both Roman Catholic Bishops and conservative Protestants did not hide their light under a bushel, however, but specifically denounced the abortion coverage provisions. [85] Since the NCC at times will state that it represents thirty-two Protestant and Orthodox churches, it is not hard to fathom where the general public, and public leaders, presume the Orthodox to be, viz-a-viz a given position.

Internationally, the World Council, for its part, more recently "protested the UNs refusal to grant accreditation for the Beijing conference (on women) to hundreds of organizations, most of them either feminist groups, pro-choice groups or support groups for women in Tibet and Taiwan." Hence, WCC General Secretary Konrad Raiser warned UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, "We may in the circumstances be constrained to review the utility of our participation." [86]

Yet, unless abortion is condemned outright as the murder that it is precisely because of the Incarnation of the Son of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary, either councils statement of belief that Jesus Christ is Lord and God is not only suspect, but disingenuous.


A second moral issue threatening the very fabric of society is of course the approbation sought by many secular forces to regard homosexuality as but an alternative life-style. Again, the council remains silent. An attempt on the part of the Metropolitan Community Church to gain council membership was stalled by Orthodox objections, along with objections from some of the predominantly Black Baptist denominational council members. According to the Rev. Jane Brown Campbell, current General Secretary of the National Council, the differing opinions on this issue, ranging from those of the Black churches and the Orthodox to that of the United Church of Christ, (which ordains openly gay and lesbian pastors), are all based in who the constituent bodies are. [87]

That is, Orthodox positions on homosexuality are viewed not as based on revealed truth but rooted in the cultures of the various member bodies. Thus, the Orthodox, like the Black Baptists, have their pigeon-hole. Keep in it, conform to the stereotypes, and we will tolerate you. We, after all, give the movement its "integrity." Our "witness" seems to be nothing more than to but a patch on the quilt of multiculturalism rather than the fabric of the apostolic faith.

Interestingly enough, last July 7, one of the leading ecumenists in the United Methodist Church admitted that she was a lesbian. Jeanne Audrey Powers, associate general secretary of the UMCs General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, was also head of the Faith and Order Commission of the National Council of Churches.

After her disclosure, a Bishop of the UMC praised "Powers role in the global ecumenical movement and the UMC." [88] One must rightly ask, Whose faith, and whose order, did she represent? Or, is it any wonder that Powers was also instrumental in planning the Re-Imagining Conference referred to above? [89] We Orthodox do have some strange bed-fellows in the ecumenical movement, do we not? The interrelatedness of inclusivist language, feminist theology, abortion and homosexuality cannot be dismissed by anyone serious enough to be alarmed about ecumenisms role in current theological debate. The ecumenical convergence, to borrow a phrase, is one now so radically different from that of those early days of the World Council. That we meet in a quasi-ecclesial setting with members of the various denominations whose basic core of beliefs are at variance with that faith once delivered to the saints, defies the imagination. Both Professor Nissiotis and Archimandrite Argenti declared that the "church" is to be judged by what the "church" does, not by what it says. What then is one to make of what the Orthodox Church does in ecumenical alliance with those whose very lifestyle and theological point of reference is not merely "divergent" from Orthodoxy but actually an attack on Orthodoxy? We will be judged on what we do, to be sure.

The Price We Have Paid: Another Western Captivity?

The ecumenical movement was born out the atmosphere of European frustration with the tribalism of the continent which saw country invade country in the name of nationalism and all too often in the name of God. First the League Nations, and later its successor, the United Nations, sought to check the outbreak of war through the mediating influence of a supranational political body of some sort.

The parallels between such and the flow of the ecumenical movement should be obvious. Yet what is arguably proper in a political context is demonstrably improper in a theological one because, at least for Orthodox Christians, theology implies belief in eternal verities which God has revealed to man in his Son, Jesus Christ.

There is a political maxim: "Between men as between nations, mutual respect is peace." [90] Such a position can go along way to limit the spread of war and hostility, whether nationalism or religion be the cause. Politically speaking, one can posit that all religious positions are equally deserving of respect. Yet in this principle of universal tolerance and respect is also the seed of ecumenical disaster if truth be sacrificed on the altar of amicability. Civil rulers in virtually every age have had no tolerance for religious debate which threatened the political stability of the realm. For some, religious debates have not made "one iota of a difference," as long as political stability of the empire be maintained.

However, as Orthodox Christians, we are committed ipso facto to the position that even "one iota" can make the difference between truth and falsehood, darkness and light, heaven and hell. When the debate centers on whether or not an issue is theologically proper, or morally permissible, those in dialogue must first of all come to terms as to what, indeed, is true.

In truth, Christ Jesus came to bring not peace but a sword, dividing the bone from the joint and the marrow from the bone. The political ideology undergirding ecumenism in the above cited instances, one of mutual respect because all positions are equally valid is simply false to begin with. All men are created equal; their religious positions are not. If one position be true, then all the others which diverge from it must somehow—to greater or lesser degree—be false.

The Immigrants Desire?

Orthodoxy must constantly fight against the old ghost of Western captivity, a curious fascination with things Western, which from time to time has dominated the Church in certain quarters theologically, (both Latin and Calvinist!), iconographically, and even architecturally, musically and liturgically. The shame of being who we are, and the judging of the same by Western, humanistic standards, rears its ugly head again and again. Pan-protestant ecumenism stokes the fires of Western captivity still burning in Orthodox self-consciousness. Thus a tension is to be found between those not only of Western birth and culture who have converted to Orthodoxy—as well as of those "cradle born" Orthodox who remain unfettered—and those whose Orthodoxy all too often is treated as but the religious expression of the nation or the tribe.

1.) For example, the immigrants desire for social acceptance in America, not unlike like that of the war-savaged Europeans desire for peace, should not be dismissed as a motivating factor for some Orthodox to pursue ecumenist endeavors. Ecumenical agencies provide at times ready access to the sources of political power in the nation. This can be quite an intoxicant, indeed, an opiate for those who might otherwise be denied such.

2.) Ecumenicity can cause to us to be more concerned by the political impact of statements than for the truth. What is one to make of an Orthodox cleric who would dodge his own faiths longstanding opposition to abortion by publicly making such an inane statement that the Church seeks to stay out of couples bedrooms? Of course, abortions tend to take place in abortuaries; it is adultery that tends to take place in bedrooms. One would wonder whether the adultery behind most abortions should not be addressed, too.

Yet, if ecumenical acceptance is paramount, then such equivocation is to be expected. Let us sacrifice truth, and unborn children, on this altar of acceptance.

3.)Yet again, what is one to make of statements of the various patriarchates which seem to equate evangelism with proselytism? Is this not merely the old tribalism in a new form, telling the Western Christians to stay in Western Europe because of historic, Orthodox claims to territory in the East? It is as if Orthodoxy is the spiritual legacy of certain ethnic groups, but not a universal faith for all mankind. If so, ecumenisms hand is at work once more

4.) Most American churches involved in the National Council of Churches are continuing to show decline in church membership, year after year. Over twenty years ago, former NCC staffer Dean Kelley published his findings in a book entitled, Why Conservative Churches are Growing. [91] He demonstrated that the lack of specificity in a belief system, common to most, and perhaps growing in all ecumenical partnerships, is chiefly to blame.

In fact, Kelley argued that it is not conservatism per se, at least in a political sense, that is attributable to the growth of churches. It is that those churches which make demands of their members in terms of morals and faith are stronger, more cohesive bodies. This is the requisite element, one which most member denominations and churches of the NCC lack. Here again, our desire to be respectable, and to be just like anyone else including in matters of faith and morals is taking its ecumenical toll on us, especially among our cradle-born.

5.) Finally, what Orthodox priest has not had to deal with the conclusions of certain parishioners that "we all believe in the same God anyway, Father"? This desire for acceptance and upward mobility is tailor-made for ecumenism.

At the same time, converts, adults and children, individuals and whole parishes, are finding Orthodoxy not to be merely a denomination but the Church, not merely an exotic option but the fullness of apostolic faith. In fact, their very presence in the Church becomes an embarrassment to the committed ecumenist, whether Orthodox or not. If Orthodox commitment to mission and evangelism remains generally confined to establishing new missions in the suburbs for the nominally churched who flee the old neighborhoods, should we wonder why?

Why Do We Yet Persist?

At the onset of this article, the question was asked, Why do we persist in the ecumenical movement? Especially, why do we continue participation in certain entities whose basic commitment to "mere Christianity" would seem hardly recognizable to those early pioneers, Orthodox, Protestant, (or Roman Catholic). If some twenty years ago, Fr. Schmemann could describe the agony wherein Orthodox participants found themselves, viz-a-viz "Orthodox witness" and its impact, [92] the agony cannot help but be all the more acute now.

Why do we remain? Why do we seem entrenched? Have we fallen victim to but another Western captivity of the Church? There is, after all, unfortunately a sense of inferiority devolving from minority status that the Orthodox in America have felt. They have preoccupied themselves with conforming to Western religious behavior and ethics. In fact, to paraphrase Fr. Schmemann, they have wanted "not only to be Americanized, but homogenized and pasteurized."93 The power structure of those in the American churches remains drawn almost exclusively from this same base of cultural self-deprecation. The majority of Orthodox hierarchs, as well as those who set policy and administer in the Americas, are either foreign-born, or are the children or grandchildren of immigrants. Unlike the original Orthodox missionaries to America, most of these clerics, or their recent ancestors, did not come to America to evangelize it. They came for religious and political freedom at times. They came seeking economic benefits in most cases. And these are not ignoble reasons. Yet, the desire to make it, to fit in, and to be seen as part of the American middle class has all too often been substituted for the Gospel imperative to go and to make disciples of all nations.

This mentality, of course, has played into the hands of those seeking an ecumenical course in America. The political influence presumed by ecumenist ventures is a heady experience for those who find themselves not totally integrated into the power structure in America. Thus a longing for upward mobility, and the power that such mobility implies, can be achieved by associating with those who appear to, and in some cases, do represent the same. That most of the Orthodox ecumenists in America come precisely from the ranks of the "cradle born" Orthodox is a point which should not be missed because of its profound sociological impact and symbolism.

This symbolism, indeed, cuts two ways. The "cradle-born" Orthodox ecumenists can rub shoulders with the power elites, a situation which might otherwise have eluded them, given their perceived social status. However, they provide, as well, an image of "Orthodoxy-confined", the heritage of the sons and daughters of Eastern European and Middle Eastern descent.

In other words, the vision of a St. Innocent of Alaska, who desired the penetration of the United States with the Orthodox faith,—a mission to be implemented by native-born American prelates and convert clergy [94],—is not consonant with that ecumenical vision found when the presence of the chief representatives in many ecumenical ventures implies "a foreign faith for foreigners." In the ecumenical world of culturally determined revelation, this is precisely the pigeon-hole that the Orthodox find themselves in.

It is hard to find converts to Orthodoxy who are very sympathetic to the aims of the ecumenical movement in the first place. Having made conscious, adult decisions to accept Orthodoxy as the true faith, as the very ark of salvation, they tend to be more than a bit perplexed by the associating with members of non-orthodox denominations at the bureaucratic level. For "average" converts, the very idea of seeking to cooperate with representatives of Protestant denominations they personally have left as the result of no small bit of soul-searching is more than curious. They would rather seek to convert the non-Orthodox than to engage in ecumenically minded mutual co-existence. As well, for the convert, for any who have wrestled existentially with the competing claims of Protestantism, or of Roman Catholicism, rather than theoretically, as is the case with ecumenical discussions, the nuances of the debate can many times seem lost on the unwary ecumenist.

Some of these Protestant presuppositions that creeds are part of historical, cultural conditioning and theological development and that "new" creeds may be drafted; that the "church" can be in a state of sin; or that the "church" has not always used Biblical language authentically or appropriately [95]; or, finally, that we must be open to new, contextual expressions of the faith, are the very operating platform of much of the ecumenical movement.

Is it therefore, any wonder, "that the thousands of Protestants who have recently converted to Orthodoxy, including numerous ministers and priests from diverse denominational backgrounds, have not come into the Orthodox Church through the actions of the Orthodox witness in ecumenism, but quite the contrary is true. The wave of recent Protestant converts have come into the Church not because of its polite efforts at dialogue, but because of its ageless, Patristic and Apostolic witness, including those portions of that witness that most forcefully claim the exclusive nature of the Orthodox Church to be the true Church." [96] Indeed, it is any wonder that the missionary zeal in America is confined? If Orthodoxy is confined by the ecumenical movement , as well as by some ecumenists themselves, to an aspect of Eastern European culture, no wonder we are "Americas best kept secret." [97]

Is it any wonder that most converts to Orthodoxy have had to find Orthodoxy on their own? Like the paralytic carried up on the roof top and let down into the Lord's presence, his friends tearing off the roof because they found the door blocked, so too have so many come to Orthodoxy, in spite of those rulers of the synagogue who would say in their hearts that this was the wrong day, or the wrong way, to do it.

It Is the Twelfth Hour

Thus the crux, the agony of future witness and evangelism depend on our determining what we are first and foremost. As long as the Orthodox themselves conform to the place reserved for them in the movement, they cannot hope to have lasting influence on it.

As Fr. Schmemann wrote: 

"The initial misunderstanding [that Western experience, theological categories and thought forms are universal] ...has never been fully cleared, and hence the ultimate failure of that encounter in spite of the presence and efforts of many brilliant Orthodox theologians and spokesmen, and, in the last years, of the massive participation by virtually all Orthodox churches." [98]

Ponder then these words of Fr. Justin (Popovich), as well:

"It is now high time—the twelfth hour—time for our Church representatives to cease being nothing but the servants of nationalism and for them to become bishops and priests of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. The mission of the Church, given by Christ and put into practice by the Holy Fathers, is this: that in the soul of our people be planted and cultivated a sense and awareness that every member of the Orthodox Church is a Catholic Person, a person who is for ever and ever, and is God-human; that each person is Christs, and is therefore a brother to every human being, a ministering servant to all men and all created things. This is the Christ-given objective of the Church. Any other is not an objective of Christ but of the Antichrist. For our local Church to be the Church of Christ, the Church Catholic, this objective must be brought about continuously among our people. And yet what are the means of accomplishing this God-human objective? Once again, the means are themselves God-human because a God-human objective can only be brought about exclusively by God-human means, never by human ones or by any others. It is on this point that the Church differs radically from anything which is human or of this earth." [99]

IS ORTHODOXY TRUE: Or is the Convert Being Lied To

An essential question must be answered. Are we, or are we not, the Church of Christ? That is, is Orthodoxy true? The response of the ecumenical movement is that it is not.

If the Orthodox Church, through a desire to work ecumenically with the separated bodies of Christendom ceases to proclaim that this is the True Faith, that this is the Church, then we are being lied to, as well as lying to ourselves. The adult convert has had to declare in public at his conversion: "I believe and confess that this Church is the Bride of Christ, and that therein is true salvation, which was in the Ark of Noah at the flood." [100] Yet such a belief is incumbent upon each Orthodox, whether adult convert or Orthodox from the age of forty days. It ultimately decides whether or not he believes this to be true. How each Orthodox Christian lives, the moral values he seeks to inculcate in his children. the vision of the future, of America, of the world, that is, of the oikoumene, that God has revealed himself unto us, that we have found the true faith, will determine how he has answered this question.

The dilemma of the European seeking political stability in part through ecumenism or the immigrant seeking acceptance in Americas sociopolitical environment must not be allowed to impede the process. Political, sociological and/or theological alliances must be seen in the light of the Gospel of the God-Man who would allow alliances with none of this fallen worlds systems, its methodologies, its techniques.

In short, God has given us the Church wherein lies the solution to the political, and sociological issues of this or any day. The vision, the ecumenical vision of the Theologian is quite simply the New Jerusalem, "coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband." (Apoc. 21:2)

To believe that the institutions of man can accomplish this, that man can in fact construct the institutions to do create such, is an idea as old as Babel and as recent as the Renaissance. In short, such will deconstruct not because of the weight of the task but because of the instability of its foundation. For unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. To presume that the house built by the Spirit on the day of Pentecost is lacking, is incomplete betrays our faith to the core.

We know what, rather, who we worship. He met a woman at the well one day. His Church was established that we all, Samaritan and Jew and Gentile, might worship His Father in Spirit and in truth. If after all of our ecumenical witness we have accomplished so little, our theological luminaries not withstanding, let us heed the call, it is high time for our bishops and our priests and our people to act like they are, "Orthodox Catholic" people—not in any sectarian sense, but in spirit and in truth and to go and make disciples, calling all mankind into the unity already existing, never severed, of the Orthodox Church with her head, even Jesus Christ our Lord.

So, let us never cease calling people to come home, even though some of our own would condemn us still. Many of us know what it is like to be orphans and then to have the joy of arriving safely home. By the waters of Baptism and and the sealing of Chrismation, God's grace, active in our heterodox lives, to be sure, was sealed; but oh, the fulness, the abundance of that grace now! It is a chalice overflowing, a source of living water. It is the fulfillment of the prophecy of a river flowing from the temple, the One True Church of Christ, into all nations, setting the captives free, and bringing them home, for ever.

The "cradle-born" Orthodox ecumenist simply does not know, cannot know what it is like not to be Orthodox. On this account, judge us not unless one has been where we have been. There was a time when we could only sing of grace, abundant, rich and free. Yet, hear us now when we cry out: We will let no man—no human institution—take our crowns.


At the same time of the incident which precipitated this article, other voices, Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox gathered to advocate a new approach to ventures ecumenical. This past summer, Rose Hill saw the meeting of advocates of what was called "the new ecumenism." Roman Catholics had met with Evangelicals before, both of whom are not WCC/NCC members. This was the first time for Orthodox participation.

That there should be a call for such is interesting itself. That those who spoke should lend credence to such a gathering, Bishop Kallistos Ware and Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon; Roman Catholics, Richard John Neuhaus and Peter Kreeft, and Evangelicals, Harold O.J. Brown and J.I. Packer, is noteworthy. That the chief Orthodox speakers were both converts to Orthodoxy says much about this new approach.

If the chief architectural flaws of the old Protestant-style ecumenical movement be avoided, and if a bureaucracy not be established to provide jobs for professional ecumenists, perhaps something more substantive can be the result. Not the least to be noted favorably is that participants in this new ecumenism state from the outset that agreement on moral issues, such as abortion, precedes further work and cooperation. For them, at least, morality is not merely rooted in who they are but in who God is. Only in that do they hope for future endeavor. [101]


* For more on the connection between Baptism and ecumenism, see the special Ecumenism Awareness sub-page: Baptism and the Reception of Converts.

** For an excellent critique of the BEM document, see "B.E.M. and Orthodox Spirituality" by Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna.

1. Guroian, Vigen. "Dancing alone—out of step with Orthodoxy." The Christian Century June 7-14, 1995.

2. Schaeffer, Frank. Dancing Alone. Holy Cross Press. p. 308.

3. Schmemann, Alexander. Church, World, Mission. St. Vladimirs Seminary Press, 1979. p. 202.

*** Webmaster Note: Unfortunately, the location of footnotes 4-10 in this essay are missing.***

4. "The World Council of Churches." Groliers Electronic Publications, Inc, 1995.CD-ROM.

5. Ibid.

6. Macris, George P. The Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Movement During the Period 1920-1969. St. Nectarios Press, 1986. p. 4.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ware, Timothy (Bishop Kallistos). The Orthodox Church.

10. Ibid.

11. Macris, pp. 4-7

12. The World Council of Churches. "Constitution." Amsterdam, 1948.

13. Ibid.

14. Patelos, Constantin G., ed. The Orthodox Church in the Ecumenical Movement: Documents and Statements 1902-1975. The World Council of Churches, Geneva, 1978. p. 172.

15. Schmemann, op cit. p. 200-201.

16. Macris, op. cit., p. 9.

17. Ibid. p. 10.

18. Ibid. p. 11

20. Koukoujis, Archbishop Iakovos. "The Contribution of Eastern Orthodoxy to the Ecumenical Movement." The Orthodox Church in the Ecumenical Movement: Documents and Statements 1902-1975. The World Council of Churches, Geneva, 1978. p. 216.

21. Ibid. p. 216.

22. Macris, op. cit., p. 37.

23. Nissiotis, Nikos. "The Witness and the Service of Eastern Orthodoxy to the One Undivided Church." The Orthodox Church in the Ecumenical Movement: Documents and Statements 1902-1975. The World Council of Churches, Geneva, 1978. p. 231.

24. Ibid. p. 231.

25. Ibid. p. 233.

26. Ibid.

27. Ibid. p. 237.

28. Ibid. p. 238.

29. Ibid.

30. Macris, op. cit., p. 42.

31. Koukoujis, op. cit., p. 212.

32. Nikodim, Metropolitan of Leningrad and Novgorod. "The Russian Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Movement." The Orthodox Church in the Ecumenical Movement:Documents and Statements 1902-1975. The World Council of Churches, Geneva, 1978. pp. 266-68.

33. Ibid. pp. 273-74.

34. Macris, op. cit. p. 53.

35. Ibid. p. 63.

36. Ibid. p. 77.

37. Argenti, Archimandrite Cyril. "Christian Unity." The Orthodox Church in the Ecumenical Movement:Documents and Statements 1902-1975. The World Council of Churches, Geneva, 1978. pp. 342-43.

38. Ibid. p. 347.

39. Ibid. p. 350-51.

40. Ibid. p. 346.

41. Pimen, Patriarch of Moscow and All-Russia. "An Orthodox View of Contemporary Ecumenism." The Orthodox Church in the Ecumenical Movement: Documents and Statements 1902-1975. The World Council of Churches, Geneva, 1978. p. 326.

42. Ibid. p. 327.

43. Ibid.

44. Ibid. p. 332.

45. Bloom, Metropolitan Anthony. "Sermon for WCC Central Committee Berlin (West), 1974." The Orthodox Church in the Ecumenical Movement: Documents and Statements 1902-1975. The World Council of Churches, Geneva, 1978. p. 338. 

46. Ibid. p. 339. 

47. Popovich, Archimandrite Justin. Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ. Institute of Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, Inc. Belmont, MA. 1994. pp. 170-72.

48. Preface. "Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry." Faith and Order Paper No. 111, World Council of Churches, Geneva, 1982. p. ix. (Hereafter, "BEM".)

49. Preface. "BEM". p. x.

50. "BEM", p. 3.

51. Ibid.

52. Ibid. p. 14.

53. Ibid. p. 12.

54. Ibid. p. 15.

55. Ibid. p. 17.

56. Ibid. p. 29.

57. Ibid.

58. Ibid. p. 32.

59. Ibid.

60. Ibid.

61. Niebuhr, R. Gustav. "The Lord's Name: Image of God as He Loses Its Sovereignty in Americas Churches." The Wall Street Journal April 27, 1992, A-4.

62. Lyles, Jean Caffey. "Moves of the Spirit: diversity or Syncretism?" The Christian Century. March 13, 1991. p. 284.

63. Ibid. p. 286.

64. Ibid.

65. Ibid.

66. Ibid. p. 285.

67. Ibid

68. Ibid. p. 286.

69. The Christian Century. Apr. 8, 1992. p. 358.

70. "Former Presidents in Ecumenical Fund Drive." The Christian Century. July 28-Aug. 4, 1993. p. 737.

71. "WCC Seeks Faith and Order." The Christian Century. Aug. 25-Sept. 1, 1993. p. 810.

72. Ibid.

73. "BEM," p. 32.

74.  Schmemann, op. cit. p. 201.

75. Viz. Niebuhr, op. cit.

76. Westermeyer, Paul. "Three Books of Worship: An Ecumenical Convergence." The Christian Century. Oct. 27, 1993. pp. 1055 ff.

77. Ibid.

78. Woodward, Kenneth L. "Hymns, Hers and Theirs." Newsweek. Feb. 12, 1996, p. 75.

79. "Debating Baptismal Language." The Christian Century. Sept. 27-Oct. 4, 1995, p. 880.

80. Heim, David. "Sophias Choice." The Christian Century. April 6, 1994, p. 339.

81. Small, Joseph D. and John P. Burgess. "Evaluating Re-Imaging". The Christian Century. April 6, 1994, p. 342-43.

82. Ibid.

83. Campbell, Dr. Joan Brown. Address. Banquet. All-America Council of the Orthodox Church in America. Chicago. July, 1995.

84. Blackmun, Mr. Justice Harry.Roe v. Wade. United States Supreme Court. Jan. 22, 1973.

85. "Religious Groups and Health Reform." The Christian Century. Oct. 6, 1993. p.

[At another time, Dr. Campbell discussed her role as spokesman for the NCC: " I try to root our statements in our theology and to make it clear we are speaking for the churches, not a secular organization." The Christian Century, Nov. 8, 1995. p. 1052 .]

86. "WCC Protests UN Plans for Womens Meetings." The Christian Century, 1995. p. 560.

87. "An Interview with Joan Brown Campbell." The Christian Century. Nov. 8, 1995. p. 1052

88. "Methodist Official Comes Out." The Christian Century. July 19-26, 1995.

89 . Ibid. p. 704.

90. Juarez, Benito. Mexican Statesman.

91. Kelley, Dean M. Why Conservative Churches Are Growing. Mercer University Press. 1988. Rose Edition.

92. Schmemann, op. cit.

93. Tarasar, Constance J. "The Little Things that Count." The Christian Century. Nov. 3, 1993. p. 1077.

94. Garrett, Paul. St. Innocent: Apostle to America. St. Vladimirs Seminary Press.p. 184.

95. Directory for Worship. PCUSA. Quoted by Small and Burgess, op. cit.

96. Schaeffer, op. cit. p. 308.

97. Saliba, Metropolitan Philip. Oft quoted remark.

98. Schmemann, op. cit. p. 201.

99. Popovich. op. cit. p. 25.

100. Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church. Trans. Isabel Florence Hapgood. Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, Englewood, NJ. 1975. 5th edition, p. 460.

101. "New Ecumenism Gathering Seeks Common Ground." Christianity Today. July 17, 1995. pp.56-57.

From The Christian Activist, Volume 9 (now defunct). Permission was given to the Orthodox Christian Information to republish on the Web.