Three Part Series “An Introduction to the Dogmas and Methods of Ecumenism”
by Presbyter Peter Heers
These podcasts were originally recorded for Ancient Faith Radio, but due to policy changes they were not included among the “Postcards from Greece”, a podcast which Fr. Peter hosts there. We are posting them here for our readers’ edification.
Parts Two and Three will be uploaded in the near future
Part Two: The Dogmas of Ecumenism in relation to The World’s Religions
Part Three: The Methods of Ecumenism
Fr. Peter Alban Heers is the founder and first to serve as editor of Divine Ascent, A Journal of Orthodox Faith, and the founder and current head of Uncut Mountain Press. He is a Ph.D. candidate at the Theological School of the University of Thessalonica, where he has also completed his undergraduate studies and Masters degree in Dogmatic Theology. He is the rector of the parish of the Holy Prophet Elias in Petrokerasa, a small village in the mountains outside of Thessalonica, Greece. Source.
Ecumenism in Praxis: in Theology and Asceticism
by Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos) of Nafpaktos
As is well known, the Orthodox Church is and is called ecumenical (universal), because it extends throughout the world and transcends racism and nationalism. The term ‘ecumenical’ is linked with the term ‘catholic’, since, as we confess in the Creed, the Church is ‘One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church’.
The term ‘ecumenical’ is not, however, the same as ‘ecumenistic’, so an ecumenical Church is very different from an ecumenisticChurch, since the latter is characterised by the principles of ecumenism.
Before we proceed to the main issue of ecumenism in praxis, that is to say, in theology and asceticism, we should briefly define what exactly we mean by the term ‘ecumenism’.1. The Basic Theories of Ecumenism
Ecumenism is the name given to a movement that has developed in recent centuries and finds expression through certain general ‘ec-clesiological’ theories concerning the Church. We shall refer to five of these.
The first includes the ‘branch theory’. According to this theory all the Christian Confessions, together and separately, represent thebranches of the one single tree of Christianity, and, by extension, all these Confessions, including the Orthodox Church, are seeking the whole truth, which naturally they do not possess on their own, since each one has a part of the truth.
Another parallel theory to this is the ‘two lungs theory’, according to which the Church, the Body of Christ, breathes with two lungs: Eastern and Western Christianity.
These two theories relativise the revelatory truth possessed by the Orthodox Church, and recognise elements of truth and life in other non-Orthodox Confessions as well. This cannot be accepted by theOrthodox Church, as expressed by the holy Fathers of the Church.
Ecumenism’s second ecclesiological theory is the so-called ‘baptismal theology’. According to this theory,“wherever baptism is performed in the name of the Holy Trinity, there the true Church exists, with even non-Orthodox included in it.” Of course this is said hypo-thetically, because the problem lies in the fact that, although in some Confessions the Triune God is mentioned, they nevertheless have a different theology concerning the persons of the Holy Trinity, and concerning the essence and uncreated energies of God.
Professor Andreas Theodorou writes: “Baptismal theology becomes suspect and unacceptable when, overstepping confessionalboundaries, it aims to naturalise heretics and non-Orthodox as canonical members of the one, catholic and apostolic Church, purely and simply because they perform baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity, irrespective of the rest of their ecclesiastical identity, and thewrong beliefs, heresy and error which afflict them”1.
The third theological and ecclesiological theory is that of so-called ‘inclusiveness’. This is the fundamental theory of Anglicanism, which asserts that the members of the Church can co-exist while professingcontradictory beliefs, without causing problems for the unity of the Church. Such a theory, however, cannot be regarded as Orthodox, as it casts doubt on the truth of the Church and aims at what is termed ‘the unity of the Churches’, as if this unity were the unification of various Christian associations, and did not depend on the revelatory truth that Christ delivered to the Apostles, and that the Fathers of the Church lived and confessed. Besides, as Christ says, “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:19)2.
The fourth theological theory is referred to as ‘Inter-Christian Dogmatic Syncretism’. This represents some people’s view that dogmatic differences between various non-Orthodox traditions are simplyconventional traditions of each ‘Church’, which have come about in the course of the centuries due to the effect of certain local circumstances, and that we ought to find a way round these traditions in order to see the unity of the Church, which can be expressed through a variety of different forms and voices. This is another theory that cannot stand up from the Orthodox point of view, because a clear distinction exists between tradition in the sense of revelatory truth, and traditions referring to particular and external aspects of ecclesiastical life.
Lastly, the fifth ‘theological’ theory is known as ‘Inter-Faith Syncretism’. This is a point of view cultivated by certain ‘Orthodox theologians’ outside Greece, according to which we should look at thecommon theological elements observable in all the great monotheistic faiths, and work on them in order to build worldwide religious unity. Naturally this theory cannot withstand serious criticism, because the common elements in the outward expression of dogmas cannot do away with the serious differences in the dogmas themselves. It is the different context and different theology, rather than the common elements, that express the truth.
It is clear that the aim of ‘theological and ecclesiological’ theories of this sort is the creation of an ecumenistic Church. They actually represent dogmatic minimalism and an attempt to relativize the Orthodox faith. In fact they do away with the revelatory truth of Christ, which remains within the Orthodox Church, the true Body of Christ.
1. Professor Andreas Theodorou in the periodical Orthodoxi Martina – Orthodox Witness, Vol. 69, Winter 2003, p. 98ff. – in Greek
2. Ibid. p. 80