Thursday, July 14, 2011

Orthodox Ecumenism

From Father Lawrence:
Orthodox Ecumenism
             Recently an Anglican friend of mine was speaking with me about the possibility of opening a west coast chapter of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, an Anglican-Orthodox group, and this started me thinking about our Orthodox involvement in Christian ecumenism.  Orthodox have been involved in this work of witness since the beginning of what would become the World Council of Churches in the 1920s.  It has always been a delicate balancing act for us Orthodox, balancing our desire to cooperate with our Christian brethren, and our commitment to the truth that Orthodoxy is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church confessed in the Creed.  In this ongoing ecumenical work, we have many partners and friends.
            Perhaps our closest friends are in the Coptic, Armenian and Ethiopian Orthodox Churches—the so-called “non-Chalcedonians”, who accept the first three Ecumenical Councils of Nicea, Constantinople and Ephesus, but reject the Council of Chalcedon, asserting that it is Nestorian (an assertion we Orthodox reject).  Theologians from all our churches have recently reached agreements about Christology (the original cause of the schism in the fifth century), but other problems remain.  Despite tremendous good will between (for example) Copts and Orthodox such as the O.C.A., we remain out of communion, so that Orthodox may not partake of Communion in Coptic churches.  This, however, does not hinder a warm fellowship between us.
            Next come our Roman Catholic friends, and the Orthodox maintain a warm but unofficial dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church.  Virtual agreement has been reached about the historically-contentious filioque clause of the western Nicene Creed (basically, they have now agreed with us), but the problem of the papal primacy remains the largest stumbling block.  As long as the Bishop of Rome continues to insist on the right of universal ordinary jurisdiction throughout the world (i.e. the right of governing every single episcopal see), no real further progress is possible toward sacramental communion.  As with our Coptic friends, we remain out of communion with them until this is resolved.
            Our Protestant friendships are also important, especially our long-standing and warm relationship with the Anglican Communion.  The Anglican insistence upon ordaining women and their current decisions to bless same-sex marriage have chilled these historic relations considerably.  Our dialogue with Anglicans especially is made problematic by the current de facto schisms in that Communion.  As Anglicans themselves continue to sort out what they believe, Orthodox will respond accordingly.
            What can we at St. Herman’s do in the meanwhile?  First of all, we can pray for our Christian brothers and sisters, that all who love Christ our God will be united in the truth (i.e. in the fullness of the Orthodox Faith).  Also, we can continue to talk with them, and work together in whatever social causes we can.  Finally, we must be patient, and not jump ahead of where we are.  Former attempts at prematurely establishing inter-communion (such as promoted by the Orthodox Sergius Bulgakov) did not bear fruit, and were in retrospect seen to do more harm than good.  Perhaps the difficulties of persecution, when it comes, will do more than previous ecumenical strivings.

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