The Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco recently posted the keynote speech that Metropolitan Gerasimos delivered in April for the National Workshop on Christian Unity in Phoenix. It is a lengthy speech so we will post only a few excerpts here.
Our task as Christians is to keep the Body of Christ united and where we find division, we must become agents of healing and reconciliation. Dialogue in all its manifestations – bilateral, multilateral and other exchanges – is still the most critical pathway to reconciliation. Christians have been explaining their doctrine and theology to one another since the beginning of the Church, in order to maintain the integrity of the Body of Christ and to restore unity when divisions occurred. We can find examples of this from the earliest days of Christianity. The language of orthodoxy and heresy, lapsed and restored all emerged from the continual efforts of Church leaders – in those days usually the bishops – to maintain and pursue the unity of the Church.
Today’s ecumenical dialogues are heirs of this concern. Of course the context has changed and the actors are different, but the concerns are the same. Like in the past, we are all concerned about who we understand Jesus Christ to be and what we understand His Church to be. The Orthodox Churches have been involved since the beginnings of the modern ecumenical movement of the last century. It has not always been an easy journey for us, but who among us can honestly say that a pilgrimage through the desert was easy?
Nevertheless, as we look back, all of us have benefited tremendously from our ecumenical journey thus far. We have offered and received the treasures of our respective heritages from one another. We Orthodox have shared our gift of conciliar decision making; the gift of liturgy, the gift of over a millennium of theological reflection in our patristic literature. While we believe we have offered much and our theological claim is that we lack nothing, we must also humbly acknowledge the gifts that we have received from others: the gift of biblical foundations; the gift of coming to clarity and precision in theological matters; the gift of social justice and action, to name a few. And as we have been recipients of these gifts, it has challenged us to recognize their existence within ourselves, just as the gifts we have offered we hope have challenged you to retrieve them from within yourself. Let me be clearer: the Orthodox church has always been a biblical church, but through our ecumenical work, we have become increasingly cognizant of our biblical roots. Other churches have begun quoting their liturgical hymns as often as their biblical passages. As the poet R. D. Laing said, “because we fail to notice that we fail to notice there is little we can do to change until we notice how we have failed to notice.”
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For us, we have two ecumenical challenges. The first is our dialogue with the Oriental Orthodox, which our Ecumenical Patriarchate has continually ranked as the most important. This dialogue, not even fifty years old, has rebuilt bridges that had been damaged for nearly 1400 years. As their joint commission has repeatedly concluded: “there is complete agreement between us on the Christological dogma (at the roots of the division) as well as the faith of the early church transmitted by the Apostles.” There is still work to do before Eucharistic communion is restored, but there is optimism that the divides can be overcome and soon. Second, within Orthodoxy itself we face another ecumenical challenge – the very strong voices of those within our Church who are against ecumenical activity. They are prolific creators of blogs and websites; some are within the canonical boundaries of Orthodox Churches; others are Orthodox in form but outside the boundaries. In both cases they reject this work.
For me, these two challenges are instructive for the greater ecumenical task. The first challenge should remind us that our ecumenical focus should perhaps first be with those in our religious “backyards,” church bodies that we share the greatest similarity, common history and tradition, similar theological presuppositions and teachings. Reaching across the very large divides between some of our communions is needed, but will take a great deal of time. Reaching across the smaller divides to our neighbor may be more fruitful in the short run and in the long run open additional pathways for the more distant neighbors.
The second challenge should remind us that there are those within our ecclesial families who do not agree with us. We cannot ignore a voice because we don’t like its message. We should not turn ecumenical dialogue into a self-referencing body of the like minded. Part of our ecumenical task is to share our common experience of life and work together with those who have thus far refused to walk with us or with those who have misunderstood our journey we share.
In our increasingly fragmented world, there are no monopolies of ideas. Anyone with a laser printer and an account at a copy center can publish a book. Anyone with the right hardware and software can publish that book with Amazon.com, create a website or blog, post a video on you tube, or start a new interest group on Facebook. What was once the “Ecumenical Movement,” directed from Geneva, Riverside Drive, or church bureaucracies, has become a network of movements, dialogues, and official and unofficial engagements. They include Christians on the left and right on most issues, Christians who focus on their creeds and those who focus on their deeds, Churches with hierarchies and Churches of democracies. While God Himself will ultimately decide, I suspect the fullness of the Body of Christ will somehow include them all.