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The Thessaloniki Summit

May 1998

The following excerpts, published with the blessing of His Eminence, Archbishop Mark, a Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, are taken from Vestnik (No. 3, 1998), official journal of the Diocese of Berlin, Germany, and Great Britain. We are indebted to Serge Nedelsky for his translation from the Russian text. We have taken some license in rendering quotations cited from documents issued by the World Council of Churches, which are consistently poorly written and replete with the curious "double-talk" that we have come to call "ecumenese." The official communiquées from the Orthodox ecumenists, moreover, have appeared in several different or in expurgated forms. We have tried to use the fuller texts, when available.

FROM APRIL 29 TO MAY 2 [1998], a summit dedicated to the matter of [Orthodox] participation in the ecumenical movement—a theme which today concerns many, not only in the Russian Church, but also in many other local Orthodox Churches—was convened in Thessaloniki, Greece. Delegates from the local Orthodox Churches met in Thessaloniki at the invitation of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, in response to initiatives of the Russian and Serbian Orthodox Churches in connection with the departure of the Georgian Orthodox Church from the World Council of Churches. The opening address, on the theme of the summit, was given by Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Ephesus [cumenical Patriarchate].

Representatives and consultants from each local Orthodox Church took part in the meeting; from the Russian Orthodox Church, these were: Metropolitan Kyrill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, and Hieromonk Hilarion (Alfeyev), the DECR’s Secretary for Inter-Christian Relations. During the meeting, the delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church proposed that only observers, and not an official delegation, be sent to the Eighth Assembly of the World Council of Churches, which is to meet in December, 1998, in Harare, Zimbabwe. Following a prolonged discussion of this proposal, a compromise was reached: each local Orthodox Church will send delegates to the Assembly in Harare, though "not to participate in the essential work of the Assembly, but only to testify before the non-Orthodox participants about Orthodox concerns for the direction which the WCC is taking and to demand the restructuring of the WCC."

The participants in the meeting adopted a communiquée, the text of which we reproduce below:

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

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

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

However, at the same time, there are certain developments within some Protestant members of the Council that are reflected in the debates of the WCC and are regarded as unacceptable by the Orthodox. At many WCC meetings, the Orthodox were obliged to be involved in the discussion of questions entirely alien to their tradition. At the Seventh Assembly in Canberra, in 1991, and in the meetings of the Central Committee since 1992, the Orthodox delegates have taken a vigorous stand against intercommunion with non-Orthodox, against inclusive language, the ordination of women, the rights of sexual minorities and certain tendencies related to religious syncretism. Their statements on these subjects were always considered minority statements, and as such could not influence the procedure and ethos of the WCC."

In the concluding part of the communiquée a request is put forward to all Orthodox Churches to send official delegates to the Eighth Assembly of the WCC "with the aim of expressing their concerns as follows":

a) Orthodox delegates will not participate in ecumenical services, common prayers, worship, and other religious ceremonies at the Assembly.

b) Orthodox delegates will not take part in the voting procedure, except in certain cases that concern the Orthodox and then by unanimous agreement. If necessary, in the plenary and group discussions they will present the Orthodox views and positions.

c) These mandates will be maintained until a radical restructuring of the WCC is accomplished, to allow adequate Orthodox participation. The delegates also strongly suggest that a Joint Theological Commission be created, with Orthodox members appointed by their own respective Churches and with WCC nominees. The Joint Commission will begin its work at the Harare Assembly by discussing the acceptable forms of Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement and the radical restructuring of the WCC.

Thessaloniki, May 1, 1998.

One need not be an expert in ecclesiastical politics to understand that this document is the fruit of clear inconsistency, if not cunning. It is clear that the concluding part of the communiquée, in which the summit participants suggest sending delegations to the Assembly in Harare with the understanding that "Orthodox delegates will not participate in ecumenical services, common prayers, worship, and other religious ceremonies at the Assembly" or vote (which is precisely what they did earlier, namely, participating in WCC activities in a manner which is forbidden by the Church canons and which has upset defenders of the purity of Orthodoxy in every local Church, even bringing about the departure of one of them—the Church of Georgia—from the WCC), in no way follows from the central part of the communiquée.  In the core of the communiquée, the delegates "unanimously" denounced "those groups of schismatics, as well as certain extremist groups, within the local Orthodox Churches themselves, that are using the theme of ecumenism in order to criticize the Church’s leadership and to undermine its authority," in order to "create divisions and schisms within the Church." The communiquée asserts that to "support their unjust criticism," the extremists and schismatics, unhappy with the ecumenical activities of Orthodox Hierarchs, "use non-factual material and misinformation." This paragraph describes a reality "in its exact reverse." It is the supposed "extremists" and "schismatics" who are guarding the purity of Orthodoxy; and the divisions and schisms in the Church have been created by those who, trying to preserve their own "authority," are not ashamed to turn to lies and misinformation.

How, if not by misinformation, could one assert that "Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement has always been based on Orthodox tradition"? Not only Orthodox Tradition (rightly assuming that documents such as those from the Thessaloniki summit are not part of Orthodox Tradition), but also Church canons clearly forbid, under the threat of the very strictest censures, much of what the Orthodox champions of ecumenism have agreed to, and still agree to, in their dealings with the heterodox—something confirmed by documents, the authenticity of which is indisputable.

The statement that "certain developments within some Protestant members of the Council" are "unacceptable by the Orthodox" is, at the very least, naïve. One is given the impression that somehow these developments surfaced only recently, taking the Orthodox by surprise, as though, for some reason, they have forgotten that these developments among the Protestant members of the WCC were always there, from the very conception of Protestantism in the maternal womb of the Roman Catholic Church. It may be that the wide publicity given to such "developments" as the ordination of women or same-sex marriages has more shock value than the much earlier distortions of the dogmas of the Orthodox Church—the rejection of Holy Tradition, of the veneration of the Mother of God, of holy Icons, and of the holy Saints—; however, these new "developments" are nothing less than the consequences of this original corruption and apostasy.

The passage in the communiquée indicating that the Orthodox "were obliged to be involved in the discussions of questions entirely alien to their tradition" and could not "influence the procedure and ethos of the WCC," since they were a minority, is wholly ridiculous. "Obliged?" By what? By torture? By dismemberment? By the threat of bodily harm, or of being cast into a red-hot furnace? Tradition provides innumerable examples of how the Orthodox have acted when confronted with what was "alien to their tradition." Such people are called Martyrs; they are the glory of Christ’s Church.  Thessaloniki, incidentally, is the birthplace of the holy Great Martyr Demetrios, the place of his heroic sufferings and his martyric end. Martyr in Greek is "martys," meaning "witness." The Lord Jesus Christ Himself, preparing His Disciples for martyrdom, said that all that they would endure would be "for a testimony" (St. Luke 21:13). This is how the word "witness" is understood in Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition. What then, in such a context, is meant by the continual pronouncements of the ecumenists in the local Orthodox Churches, that they meet with the heterodox in ecumenical organizations in order to "witness to them"?

With regard to how the Orthodox ecumenists should act, even when in the minority, the participants at the meeting in Thessaloniki might take as an example, not only Saint Demetrios, but also another inhabitant of Thessaloniki, the relics of whom are to be found to this day in that city. For twenty-three years, St. Gregory Palamas fearlessly fought the heresies of Barlaam and Akindynos, not fearing to rise up against the authority of the then Primate of Constantinople, Patriarch John XIV Kalekas, who supported the heretics and who was acknowledged by Saint Gregory to be the initiator of every sort of ecclesiastical disturbance and disorder. This God-Pleaser, St. Gregory, who for four years was confined in a dark prison, was glorified even during his lifetime by wondrous miracles; and he undoubtedly influenced the "ethos" not only of the society of his time, but also of the following generations of Christians in all countries where Holy Orthodoxy flourished. On the contrary, Patriarch John of Constantinople, despite all of his "authority," called down on himself Divine displeasure; he fell into heresy himself and, as a heretic, was deposed from his throne and from the communion of the Church.

It is obvious that the purported rejection of common services with the heterodox in the Thessaloniki communiquée represents a step back on that dangerous course on which the "Orthodox ecumenists" have been so far bent—until their direction met with resistance from those whom they call "extremists" and "schismatics." Another point is also clear: this step by the ecumenists was dictated, not by a rejection of the errors of the past, but simply by the fear of losing their tenuous authority. Their thinking has remained the same, and this thinking continues to generate decisions and projects which will in no way please those who are defending Orthodoxy from any admixture with "the spirit of this age." What is meant, for instance, by "the radical restructuring of the WCC" and "acceptable forms of Orthodox participation"? Indeed, we opponents of ecumenism are not concerned about the structure of the WCC or the insufficiency of the democratic procedures now in place; we are concerned about far more essential things, the strength of which makes the participation of the Orthodox in this organization unacceptable. Lastly, why should the "acceptable form of Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement" not be guided by Church canons and Orthodox Tradition, rather than a "Joint Theological Commission"—one joined to the heterodox?

From Orthodox Tradition, Vol. XV, No. 4, pp. 66-69.

ECUMENICAL HYPOCRISY

The following comments are taken from an article in Ecumenical News International, May 4, 1998, by Edward Doogue: “Orthodox churches warn of dangerous division in ecumenical movement.” They give us some clear insight into the nature of the ecumenical movement and the Orthodox representatives to the WCC:

 The World Council of Churches (WCC), which has recently been criticised over plans for its next assembly, to be held in Zimbabwe in December, is also likely to face a partial boycott by some major churches of the assembly’s worship services and of voting during most of the debates. A meeting of high-level representatives of the 15 Eastern Orthodox self-governing churches, held in Thessaloniki in Greece from 29 April to 2 May, has recommended that the Orthodox churches take part in the assembly but ‘express their concerns’ about the WCC by not joining in various aspects of the assembly, including worship services and common prayers.

 ...The meeting ‘strongly suggested’ that after the Harare assembly a commission be set up—including representatives of the Orthodox churches and of the WCC—to discuss ‘acceptable forms of Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement and the radical restructuring of the WCC.’

 However the Thessaloniki communiquée is highly critical of the arch-conservative factions within Orthodox churches, most notably in Russia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Georgia, who want all links cut with the ecumenical movement.

 [Great Protopresbyter George] Tsetsis [chief representative of the Œcumenical Patriarchate to the WCC] told ENI that the meeting ‘unanimously denounced those schismatic and extremist groups within the Orthodox churches that are using the theme of ecumenism to criticise the Orthodox leadership, and undermine its authority by deliberately misinforming the faithful, thus attempting to create divisions within the Orthodox churches.’

Let us comment on the hypocrisy contained in this report, which was widely cited in the Greek press (see, for example, a brief article in the major daily Kathemerine, May 5, 1998, p. 6):

First, let us consider how this sudden concern for the integrity of Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement came about. Did it come from among the ecumenists themselves? Hardly. In fact, it is the result of the attention which we so-called “arch-conservative factions within [the] Orthodox churches” have for a number of years directed at excesses and canonical violations which the Orthodox ecumenists have not only hidden but which, by their own admission, they have feared the simple Faithful would not fully understand. Indeed, if there has been any “deliberate misinformation,” it has come from Orthodox ecumenists within the WCC, who even now try to misrepresent their participation in decidedly unacceptable ecumenical activities—joint prayer and worship, not only with the heterodox, but with non-Christians, as well—by accusing us anti-ecumenical Orthodox of trying to “create divisions” within the Church by exposing their improper actions.

The videocassettes produced by our Mother Monastery in Fili, Greece, the Holy Monastery of Sts. Cyprian and Justina, have been distributed worldwide and have, indeed, exposed the dirty underbelly of Orthodox ecumenism. Professional Orthodox ecumenists have obviously found these balanced and incisive materials compromising, since, from among the “schismatic and extremist groups” whom Father Tsetsis condemns (including the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad, as well as the Old Calendarist Churches of Romania and Bulgaria), it is our Synod of Bishops, under Metropolitan Cyprian, which was directly condemned for its “divisive” work. Our Church’s work, in the final analysis, has helped to enlighten the Orthodox Faithful and has forced the Orthodox ecumenists to admit to their excesses and to address them. It was not the ecumenists who policed themselves and created this crisis. We sincere Orthodox traditionalists accomplished this. And it is for this reason that the Orthodox ecumenists speak so hatefully of us.

Second, if ecumenism is about removing words like “schismatic” from Christian parlance and is about the creation of an atmosphere of toleration and openness in Christianity, why is it that the Orthodox ecumenists are so assiduous in their desire to reach out to the heterodox, yet flatly condemn us traditionalists as “schismatics” (or, at times, “heretics”)? Does their love only extend to those who reject the tenets of Orthodoxy, but not to those who confess the wholeness and primacy of Orthodoxy? If so, what kind of love is this? Repeatedly, our Bishops have offered to meet with the ecumenists at any time and in any place to debate the issue of ecumenism and its related ills in an open forum. We have asked only that we be treated politely and that our physical safety be guaranteed. Has there ever been a response to this call for such “ecumenism at home”? Never. And this “never” speaks for itself.

Since it is ecumenism which has caused a division among the Orthodox, why is it that we who are opposed to ecumenism are accused of divisiveness? If there is nothing wrong with the Orthodox Church’s present ecumenical activities, why has anyone listened to us? How could we possibly, if there is nothing at issue, have caused division? And since we are schismatics in the eyes of the Orthodox ecumenists, and play no rôle in the ecumenical movement, how is it that we are the cause of division among the ecumenists themselves? Or is it simply that we blew the horn on the ecumenists, informed the Faithful of their excesses, and now suffer the consequences of being honest and faithful to the Church? Obviously, it is only the latter explanation which stands. And the resentment of the ecumenists at our truthfulness accounts for their penchant for accusing us of misrepresenting the truth. What accounts for the added slander, hatred, and nastiness? Hypocrisy is a word which, unfortunately, immediately comes to mind.

 Epithets like “schismatics” and “fundamentalists” not withstanding, we Orthodox anti-ecumenists have convicted our Orthodox brothers in the ecumenical movement of violating the precepts of our Faith, the Canons of the Church, and the love which true Christians should have for their brothers. With love and concern for the Faith, we have called attention to the errors of the Orthodox ecumenists and have tried to help them correct their errors.  In response, they have accused us of insincerity and of lying. And ratherthan attempting to correct what they perceive as errors in us, they have—while obviously acknowledging their own errors by responding to our protests—reviled us, dismissed us with vile language, insulted us personally, questioned our motives, and relegated us to a position outside the Church. Love, dialogue, teaching, entreaty, and simple personal contact they have made impossible. Is this Christianity? Is this what ecumenism really is? Or is this not, again regrettably so, simple hypocrisy?

 No one need ask how the Orthodox ecumenists will reply to what I have written. They will, as always, bring out the insults and epithets which the ecumenical movement, ironically enough, claims to eschew. And they will repeat what they have said before about us: that we are stupid and, to quote Father Tsetsis, “peasants in the garb of clerics.” What a sad commentary on men who claim to be champions of love and tolerance and who, when caught doing what they are forced to disavow, attack and depersonalize those very individuals who exposed their improper actions. A strange brand of Christianity spawned by ecumenism.

From Orthodox Tradition, Vol. XV, Nos. 2&3, pp. 35-37.

Inter-Orthodox Meeting on...

Evaluation of New Facts in the Relations of Orthodoxy and the Ecumenical Movement

Thessaloniki/Greece, 29 April - 2 May 1998 FINAL DOCUMENT

1. We, delegates of all the canonical Orthodox Churches, by the power of the Risen Christ, gathered at the historical city of Thessaloniki/Greece, from 29 April to 2 May 1998, after an invitation of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, responding to the initiative of the Russian and Serbian Churches and because of the withdrawal of the Georgian Church from the World Council of Churches. The meeting was hosted by the Organization of "Thessaloniki - Cultural Capital of Europe 97" and under the generous hospitality of the Metropolitanate of Thessaloniki. 

2. The meeting was presided over by Chrysostomos, the Senior Metropolitan of the See of Ephesus (Ecumenical Patriarchate) and the sessions were held in a spirit of Christian love, fraternal fellowship and common understanding. The delegates expressed and asked the prayers and blessings of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and all other Venerable Primates of the Orthodox Churches. The participants received telegrams of congratulations from all the Primates. They also expressed their best wishes to His Beatitude Chrystodoulos, the new Archbishop of Athens and of all Greece, for his election.

3. Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Ephesus presented an introductory paper on the theme of the meeting, followed by a presentation from all the delegates on the one hand describing their relations to the ecumenical movement and to the WCC in particular and on the other hand evaluating the critical problems they are facing. The discussions analyzed the participation of the Orthodox Churches in the decision-making bodies of the WCC.

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

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

6.  The participants are unanimous in their understanding of the necessity for continuing their participation in various forms of inter-Orthodox activity.
 
7.  We have no right to withdraw from the mission laid upon us by our Lord Jesus Christ, the mission of witnessing the Truth before the non-Orthodox world. We must not interrupt relations with Christians of other confessions who are prepared to work together with us.
 
8.  Indeed the WCC has been a forum where the faith of the Orthodox Church, its mission and its views on a number of issues such as peace, justice, development, and ecology were made more widely known to the non-Orthodox world. A fruitful collaboration was established with the other members of the Council in response to the challenges of modern civilization. Proselytism has been denounced and help extended to Orthodox Churches in difficult situations to enable them to carry forward their mission. Orthodox interests were often defended, especially where the Orthodox as minorities were discriminated against. Orthodox views in the process of political, economic and cultural integration were expressed and Orthodox contributions were made in the relations with other faiths. Schismatic groups and so-called renewal groups within Protestantism were not admitted to membership of the Council at Orthodox request.

9.  However at the same time there are certain developments within some Protestant members of the Council that are reflected in the debates of the WCC and are regarded as unacceptable by the Orthodox. At many WCC meetings the Orthodox were obliged to be involved in the discussion of questions entirely alien to their tradition. At the VII Assembly of Canberra in 1991 and during the meetings of the Central Committee after the year 1992 the Orthodox delegates have taken a vigorous stand against intercommunion with non-Orthodox, against inclusive language, ordination of women, the rights of sexual minorities and certain tendencies relating to religious syncretism. Their statements on these subjects were always considered as minority statements and as such could not influence the procedures and ethos of the WCC.

10.  After a century of Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement, and fifty years in the WCC in particular, we do not perceive sufficient progress in the multilateral theological discussions between Christians. On the contrary, the gap between the Orthodox and the Protestants is becoming wider as the aforementioned tendencies within certain Protestant denominations are becoming stronger.
 
11.  During the Orthodox participation of many decades in the ecumenical movement, Orthodox has never been betrayed by any representative of a local Orthodox Church. On the contrary, these representatives have always been completely faithful and obedient to their respective Church authorities, acted in complete agreement with the canonical rules, the Teaching of the Ecumenical Councils, the Church Fathers and the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church.

12. We therefore come to the suggestion that the WCC must be radically restructures in order to allow more adequate orthodox participation. Many Orthodox Churches raise questions as to what are the final criteria of the inclusion of a Church in a wider organization such as the WCC. The same questions exist for the inclusion of the Orthodox Church in the Council. Nevertheless, the theme of the criteria for the inclusion is and will remain a fundamental request of Orthodoxy.

13.  All the Orthodox Churches are requested to send official delegates to the VIII Assembly of the WCC with the aim of expressing their concerns as follows:

a) Orthodox delegates participating in Harare will present in common this Statement of the Thessaloniki Inter-Orthodox Meeting.

b) Orthodox delegates will not participate in ecumenical services, common prayers, worship and other religious ceremonies at the Assembly.

c) Orthodox delegates will not take part in the voting procedure except in certain cases that concern the Orthodox and by unanimous agreement. If it is needed, in the plenary and group discussions they will present the Orthodox views and positions.

d) These mandates will be maintained until a radical restructuring of the WCC is accomplished to allow adequate Orthodox participation.

14. Thus we state that we are no longer satisfied with the present forms of Orthodox membership in the WCC. If the structures of the WCC are not radically changed, other Orthodox Churches will also withdraw from the WCC, as has the Georgian Orthodox. In addition the Orthodox delegates at the VIIIth General Assembly of WCC in Harare, December 1998, will be forced to protest if the representatives of sexual minorities are admitted to participation structurally in the Assembly.

15. Finally the delegates underline that major decisions concerning participation of the Orthodox Churches in the ecumenical movement must be in accordance with the Pan-Orthodox decisions and must be taken by each local Orthodox Church in consultation with all the other local Orthodox Churches.

16.  The delegates also strongly suggested that a Mixed Theological Commission be created with Orthodox members appointed by their own respective Churches and from WCC nominees. The Mixed Commission will begin its work after the Harare Assembly by discussing the acceptable forms of Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement and the radical restructuring of the WCC. 

17.  May the Risen Lord guide our steps towards the accomplishment of His will and the glory of His Divine name.

At Thessaloniki, 1st of May 1998

+ + +

From a Report of the Harare Assembly by Peter Bouteneff, Executive Secretary of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches:

The size and nature of church representation varied widely: for example, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church sent large official delegations that included their respective primates, while the Russian Orthodox Church, which had the right to send twenty-five delegates, sent just five — none of whom were hierarchs. The representatives from the churches of Bulgaria and Georgia were not official delegates but were under the category of "advisors". But, significantly, all of the canonical Orthodox churches without exception were represented at Harare, including the two who had withdrawn membership from the WCC.

The character of Orthodox participation at Harare testified to what was a markedly uneven reception of the Thessaloniki Statement. The closing recommendations of that document, which suggested that delegates participate in a reduced way at Harare (for example by not attending worship services), were an attempt at voicing Orthodox dissatisfaction with the WCC in a united, pan-Orthodox way. What happened in fact was that a handful of churches chose to obey the recommendations more-or-less to the letter, while the rest felt that the most constructive means of effecting the desired changes in the WCC was to participate more fully, particularly in view of the fact that the WCC itself had been signaling a willingness to act on Orthodox concerns as never before. Add to this picture that the "Oriental" or "Non-Chalcedonian" Orthodox churches had not been invited to the Thessaloniki meeting, with the result that these churches, while sympathetic to the ideas of the Statement, did not feel particularly bound by the recommendations.

The result of the mixed approaches to Thessaloniki was that the Orthodox boycott of ecumenical worship services was only partial, and a sizeable proportion of Orthodox participants (indeed, often the ones with the most visible headgear) were present at the major worship services. Orthodox absence from worship as, for that matter, from the voting procedure, went largely unnoticed by the assembly, or was ascribed to apathy.