ECUMENISM — THE MOVEMENT OF LOVE
When I was ordained a Bishop some two years ago, His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos charged me that my ministry as a bishop should be characterized as a Christian revolution whereby the rebirth of the American soul will be realized. It is my firm conviction that such a religious revolution can find its fullest expression and reality within the Ecumenical Movement and in none other. Why you might ask is this the case? In the first place, Ecumenism is a dialogue about the same Lord, the same faith and the same Church. It is a dialogue, as opposed to being a confrontation. Therefore, there can be no gap of any shape or form, even though there are differences amongst the participants. It is a presentation of views, and not a presentation of demands. It is a movement of love, and not a movement of hate.
The Ecumenical Movement presupposes that the Holy Spirit abides in the whole body of the Church and restores the Apostolic Tradition after every temporary human failure. The division of Christiandom, with its hundreds of denominations, is a human failure, a human error and the greatest of all human follies.
The Greek Orthodox Church’s commitment and role in the Ecumenical Movement is not one of recent times. Rather, it is said that the Synodical Encyclical of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to all the Churches of Christ throughout the World in 1920 marked the genesis of this religious movement. That the Ecumenical Throne of Constantinople in 1920 should be so motivated is only in keeping with her view of divided Christianity as an ecumenical scandal. The Orthodox Church is deeply disturbed with the so-called ‘status quo’ of divided Christianity. Evidence of this ‘status quo’, which is even a greater evil, is that many Christians have come to look upon divisions as natural and necessary and as inherent in the nature of the Christian Church. Whereas, Jesus Christ never intended to have His Church divided. Christ was not the founder of Churches, but rather Christ was the founder of the One Church. Christ established on earth one visible community, and since this community belongs to Him, it cannot be divided. It is essentially and by nature one. Christ expressed His intention that the Christian Church should be one when He promised to gather His people as a shepherd gathers his sheep, “so there shall be one flock, one Shepherd.” (St. John 10:16). The division of the Christian Church is man’s doing and man’s doing alone. However, in the end, God’s will, will prevail. This above all, divided Christianity is a luxury which the Christian community can no longer afford. The instrument that has brought Churches together as a KOINONIA TON ECCLESION is the World Council of Churches, which in itself is neither a Church nor does it have an ecclesiology of its own. On the other hand, the World Council of Churches has had an ecclesiological impact on the Churches as is evidenced by the occasion of their praying together, revealing in action an already existing sign of unity, and by inter-church social action revealing an expression of common Diakonia for all. The Orthodox Church, which represents that Christian tradition which has completely by-passed in her historial development the Middle Ages and the Reformation, feels compelled officially that she should play a prominent role in the reconciliation of Christians and the Christian Church. This reconciliation the Orthodox Church seeks to bring about by stressing the common heritage and legacy of all Christians, and by stimulating oneness in action, thereby solving some of the many moral and social problems which plague today’s man and world. The Greek Orthodox Church asks us to cease being hypocrites with one another, and to begin being honest, sincere Christians, by truly loving one another, so that we may confess the one common faith in concord, and not merely be content in praying for the ‘reunion of all Churches.’ Today, as never before in the past 9 centuries, Christians are drawing closer together.
The tragic fact is that the Christian Churches were largely unconcerned about Christian unity until this century. Rather than being a unified force, the Christian Church has been a divisive force, having very little impact on our modern world. Today, ecumenism has brought about renewal within the Christian family of Churches, wherein once again it is experiencing a revitalization from within.
The unity which we seek as Christians is 1) unity in preaching together the One Common Gospel, 2) unity in presenting One Common Witness to the world, and 3) unity in celebrating One Common Eucharist. In a word, the unity we seek is unity in Christ. The unity we seek is to be that referred in John 17:21 — “that they all may be one; as Thou, Father, are in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in us”. Further on John states in 17:23 — “I in them and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one”; St. Paul declared that unity is based upon common sacramental worship, for he wrote, “Because there is one loaf, we who are many are on body, for we all partake of the same loaf.” (I Cor. 10:16) Yet today, the Holy Altar is precisely the place where disunity is most tragically dramatized, because all Christians cannot receive Holy Communion from the one Common Chalice. The creeds recited by many Christians profess belief in the One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. But the same creeds are pronounced in various churches which barely recognize one another. True, the ecumenical dialogue is not always the easiest thing in the world. Actually, at times, it is most frustrating and agonizing for all parties concerned.
The role of the Orthodox Church in the Ecumenical Movement is to bear witness and to enlighten. This the Orthodox Church does when she says ‘let us go back to the 7 Ecumenical Councils of the One Undivided Christian Church’. This does not mean that one must return to this historic period per se, but rather simply means that the historic Christian Church of the different Christian denominations have to see their common origin in this undivided Church, which can be used as a norm of our common forward movement to restoring this unity which exited during the first 8 centuries of Christianity. Furthermore, the Orthodox Church cannot see the visible and invisible Church of Christ as one and yet at the same time the visible historic Church of Christ divided as an institution of Churches. Consequently, the Ecumenical Movement for the Orthodox Church is a movement towards creating a Charismatic community of believers engaged in a common faith and diakonia. You might ask to what does one contribute the historic sign post of the 20th century along the road to Christian unity? In a word, it is the spirit of love which has consumed the ecumenists that has moved one to the other and together as brothers and sisters for one common purpose — the reconciliation of the Christian Church to be experienced in the concelebration of the One Common Chalice. God has come again to speak to His people in the 20th century and He is doing so in the workings of the Ecumenical Movement.