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Fe­bru­ary 12, 2016:

To Con­tem­plate in Read­ing this Short Com­men­tary

Tra­di­tion: “Now I com­mend you be­cause you re­mem­ber me in ev­ery­thing and
main­tain the tra­di­tions even as I de­liv­ered them to you” (I Cor­in­thi­ans 11:2).

The au­thor­i­ty of the Fathers: “For though ye have ten thou­sand in­struc­tors
in Christ, yet [have ye] not many fa­thers” (I Corinthi­ans 4:15).

The goal of Chris­tian­i­ty: “For we are made par­tak­ers of Christ” (He­brews 3:14).
“Where­by are giv­en un­to us ex­ceed­ing great and pre­cious promis­es: that
by these ye might be par­tak­ers of the di­vine na­ture” (II St. Peter 1:4).

28 Jan­uary 2016 (Old Style)
Sts. Isaac and Ephraim the Syr­i­ans

Dear Cler­gy, Faith­ful, and Friends:

Εὐλογία Κυρίου. May the Lord bless you.

The present com­men­tary is my re­sponse to a re­quest from two of our cler­gy in Europe, the Rev­erend Dr. Father Jiří (Ge­orge) Ján (a mar­ried Czech Pri­est liv­ing in Greece) and The Rev­erend Father An­ders Åk­er­ström (a mar­ried Pri­est in Swe­den), who sent me a rather out­ré ar­ti­cle, ask­ing that I write a few words about it. I thank them for their trust in my mea­gre abil­i­ties to do so, ask­ing not on­ly for their for­give­ness for any deficits in my re­flec­tions, but for the pa­tience of those to whom I am dis­tribut­ing them.

Please see, be­low my com­men­tary on it, the ar­ti­cle in ques­tion, en­ti­tled (some­what cu­ri­ous­ly), “The Fu­ture Pan-Ortho­dox Coun­cil on Re­la­tions with the Non-Ortho­dox Other: A Mea­sured De­fense of Chris­tian Uni­ty against those Who Con­sid­er Ec­u­menism a Heresy.” Its au­thor is Paul L. Gavri­lyuk. Pro­fes­sor Gavri­lyuk holds the Aquinas Chair in The­ol­o­gy and Phi­los­o­phy at the Univer­si­ty of St. Thomas, a Ro­man Catholic Univer­si­ty in St. Paul, Min­neso­ta, as­so­ci­at­ed with the An­gelicum in Rome. After study­ing physics in Moscow, he came to the U.S., where he re­ceived a doc­tor­ate in Pa­tris­tics from the Reli­gious Stud­ies pro­gram at South­ern Methodist Univer­si­ty.

Dr. Gavri­lyuk’s writ­ings, which are ex­pan­sive, in­clude an in­ter­est­ing vol­ume on Father Ge­orges Florovsky (Ge­orges Florovsky and the Rus­sian Reli­gious Revo­lu­tion), pub­lished by the Ox­ford Univer­si­ty Press. In ad­di­tion to his teach­ing post in Min­neso­ta, he has taught in vis­it­ing posts at Calvin Col­lege, the Pon­tif­i­cal Univer­si­ty of St. Thomas Aquinas (the An­gelicum), and the Ukraini­an Catholic Univer­si­ty in Lviv, Ukraine. Ortho­dox by faith, he is an avid ec­u­menist and sup­port­er of the Ortho­dox Church’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the World Coun­cil of Church­es (WCC).

I should note that, though one would nev­er con­clude such from his ap­pear­ance, Father Gavri­lyuk is an Ortho­dox Dea­con un­der the ju­ris­dic­tion of the Ortho­dox Church in Amer­i­ca (OCA). In re­fer­ring to him as though he were a lay­man, rather than an Ortho­dox cler­gy­man, I mean no dis­re­spect. I am sim­ply fol­low­ing what is ap­par­ent­ly his pre­ferred style of self-pre­sen­ta­tion, one that he shares with an in­creas­ing num­ber of mod­ernist Ortho­dox cler­gy.]

In this ar­ti­cle, which con­cerns the up­com­ing “Great and Holy Syn­od” [or “Coun­cil,” to use the west­ern term which is used ubiq­ui­tous­ly now, even among Ortho­dox] that is to be held in Crete from June 16-27, 2016 (New Style), he makes the fol­low­ing ten­den­tious com­ment about a state­ment is­sued dur­ing the fi­nal prepara­to­ry meet­ing for the syn­od; i.e., the pre-syn­odal con­dem­na­tion of the an­ti-ec­u­meni­cal Old Cal­en­darist Ortho­dox in Greece, Ro­ma­nia, Bul­gar­ia, Rus­sia, and, in small­er pop­u­la­tions, among Ortho­dox liv­ing in the West. I would like to cen­ter my re­flec­tions on this com­ment in par­tic­u­lar: 

Ad­dress­ing an in­ter­nal prob­lem, “the Ortho­dox Church be­lieves that any ef­forts to di­vide the uni­ty of the Church, which are un­der­tak­en by per­sons or groups un­der the pre­text of the pro­tec­tion or de­fense of true Ortho­doxy, must be con­demned.” …This state­ment is a con­dem­na­tion of cer­tain in­flu­en­tial fringe el­e­ments with­in the Church, who of­ten style them­selves “tra­di­tion­al­ists” re­ject­ing any en­gage­ment in ec­u­meni­cal di­a­logue as a heresy that dam­ages the “pu­ri­ty of Ortho­doxy.” While some Ortho­dox lead­ers have crit­i­cized such a stance, this is the first glob­al pan-Ortho­dox con­dem­na­tion of fa­nati­cism, ob­scu­ran­tism, and tra­di­tion­al­ism.

One can­not but ex­press sur­prise at such in­dis­crim­i­nate words, and es­pe­cial­ly from a com­pe­tent and re­spect­ed schol­ar, an Ortho­dox Chris­tian, and, para­dox­i­cal­ly, giv­en its far from irenic or rec­on­cil­ia­to­ry tone, an ec­u­menist.

Pro­fes­sor Gavri­lyuk’s com­ments seem in­con­gru­ent with a re­spon­si­ble or tra­di­tion­al call for uni­ty from Ortho­dox Hier­ar­chs, since Ortho­dox uni­ty is ul­ti­mate­ly root­ed in a com­mon Bap­tism and a com­mon Con­fes­sion­al (Credal) and Mys­te­ri­o­log­i­cal life (or “Sacra­men­tal life,” to use west­ern nomen­cla­ture again). I do not re­call see­ing a bap­tismal, con­fes­sion­al, credal, or Mys­te­ri­o­log­i­cal ref­er­ence to ec­u­menism or mem­ber­ship in the WCC as re­quire­ments for uni­ty among Ortho­dox be­liev­ers. Sim­i­lar­ly, ar­gu­ing that faith­ful who pur­port to pro­tect the faith, whether with jus­ti­fi­ca­tion or as a “pre­text” for di­vid­ing the Church, should be con­demned pri­ma fa­cie, with­out ex­am­in­ing their mo­ti­va­tions, their ar­gu­ments, and their po­si­tions, is quite a nov­el­ty in Church his­to­ry. I do not re­call such an overt and ag­gres­sive­ly bi­ased ac­tion by any le­git­i­mate syn­od of Ortho­dox Bish­ops faith­ful to the re­li­gion that they are sworn at Con­se­cra­tion to up­hold.

One would ex­pect any de­fense of the Faith to res­onate with those who—if they are do­ing what an Ortho­dox syn­od and Ortho­dox Bish­ops are sup­posed to do—wish to pro­tect the Faith from wrong doc­trine and teach­ing. After all, ev­ery syn­od that the Ortho­dox con­sid­er oe­c­u­meni­cal, whether the sev­en cit­ed by con­ven­tion or the eight or nine that many feel qual­i­fy for the ap­pel­la­tion “oe­c­u­meni­cal,” has con­vened to ex­am­ine what seems to be heresy and to reaf­firm, af­ter such an ex­am­i­na­tion, what is “pleas­ing to the Holy Spir­it” and con­sis­tent with what the Church has al­ways taught ev­ery­where and at all times. In so do­ing, those in at­ten­dance, what­ev­er their stance, were ob­vi­ous­ly at­tempt­ing to unite the Church, whether through the tri­umph of er­ror (in false syn­ods) or truth (in gen­uine Ortho­dox syn­ods). Yet this pro­posed syn­od has de­clared that we, with whom it has had no di­a­logue and whom it has called to no tri­bunal, are en­e­mies of uni­ty and wor­thy of con­dem­na­tion in ad­vance on ac­count of our op­po­si­tion to ec­u­menism.

How, in­deed, does one as­sess the wrong­ness of those whose teach­ings are con­sid­ered ques­tion­able with­out hear­ing their de­fense? How is any syn­od oe­c­u­meni­cal when it con­demns a group of faith­ful with­out al­low­ing them to be present at its de­lib­er­a­tions? And why should a syn­od con­vene to con­demn heresy and reaf­firm the faith if it de­clares per ter­ram per mare, be­fore the fact, that those in ques­tion—in­flu­en­tial fringe el­e­ments, as they call us—are al­ready mis­cre­ants and, by virtue of be­ing a mi­nor­i­ty out­side the cir­cles of the Bish­ops who are meet­ing, have no voice? Fur­ther­more, one won­ders pre­cise­ly who, with­out a sin­gle di­a­logue with us, de­ter­mined that we are mo­ti­vat­ed by a de­sire to di­vide the Church (an as­tound­ing as­sump­tion) and are, be­fore judg­ment, guilty of fa­nati­cism, ob­scu­ran­tism, and tra­di­tion­al­ism?

Grant­ed that fa­nati­cism and ob­scu­ran­tism may be con­trary to the Pa­tris­tic ethos, how in the world can one con­demn Ortho­dox who be­lieve in Holy Tra­di­tion, one of the cor­ner­stones of our Faith, for tra­di­tion­al­ism, sum­mar­i­ly dis­miss­ing them, as well, for their con­vic­tion that the syn­cretism and ec­cle­si­o­log­i­cal rel­a­tivism of the con­tem­po­rary ec­u­meni­cal move­ment dam­ages the “pu­ri­ty” of Ortho­doxy? Can this be done with­out al­low­ing us to de­fine our terms, with­out even ad­dress­ing the is­sue of what we mean by our pro­nounce­ments against ec­u­menism? Is it not, once more, specif­i­cal­ly out of a con­cern for the “pu­ri­ty” of Ortho­doxy that the syn­ods which the Ortho­dox tra­di­tion­al­ly rec­og­nize as oe­c­u­meni­cal were con­vened?

Quite ob­vi­ous­ly, the good pro­fes­sor has not ad­e­quate­ly thought about what he is en­dors­ing. Equal­ly pel­lu­cid is the fact that, whether or not we “tra­di­tonal­ist an­ti-ec­u­menists” are cor­rect in our crit­i­cism of the Ortho­dox ec­u­menists, the con­vo­ca­tion of a syn­od that rests its de­lib­er­a­tions on the dis­missal of dis­senters and mi­nori­ties is in deep trou­ble with re­gard to its sta­tus as a valid gath­er­ing.

At any rate, it be­hooves me, be­yond these gen­er­al ob­ser­va­tions, to note first that with re­gard to the ac­cu­sa­tion of fa­nati­cism, our op­po­si­tion to ec­u­menism is not based on ex­trem­ism, re­li­gious in­tol­er­ance, a dis­re­gard for co­op­er­a­tion with those who may have re­li­gious dif­fer­ences with us, or a lack of sen­si­tiv­i­ty for uni­ty among all Chris­tians. We are not ad­vo­cat­ing big­otry. We are putting forth our sin­cere be­lief that uni­ty lies in a re­turn to the cri­te­ri­on of Chris­tian­i­ty that we be­lieve we have pre­served from the ear­li­est Chris­tian cen­turies and that we have pro­tect­ed and guard­ed as the source of uni­ty for all Chris­tians. Calling us big­ots for hold­ing this view is tan­ta­mount to mak­ing ex­act­ly the same charge against Ro­man Catholics for claim­ing to be the Una Sanc­ta, a sen­si­tiv­i­ty that has sur­vived in all church bod­ies that turn to the ear­ly Church as their source and ad­here to a the­o­ry of valid con­ti­nu­ity from the Ear­ly Church.

Our in­sis­tence is that uni­ty in the Church—and let me em­pha­size, as I con­stant­ly do, that the great­est spir­i­tu­al tragedy for us Ortho­dox is not cen­tered on our sep­a­ra­tion from one an­oth­er, but is Theo­cen­tric and fo­cused on our sep­a­ra­tion from God—lies in Holy Tra­di­tion. Tra­di­tion has al­ways been for the Ortho­dox the lit­mus test for pure Faith. St. John Chrysos­to­mos prais­es tra­di­tion with­out re­straint: “It is tra­di­tion, ask noth­ing else.” More­over, the Apos­tle Paul ad­mon­ish­es us, as a rule of faith, to hold fast to the tra­di­tions hand­ed down to us. If the ec­u­menists say that our tra­di­tion­al doc­trines and dog­mas are walls that do not reach up to Heav­en, I would re­spond, in Ortho­dox fash­ion, that they are the wa­ter of life, pour­ing down over us from Heav­en like rain, con­sol­ing our thirsty, parched souls.

Th­ese tra­di­tion­al doc­trines and dog­mas and our ad­her­ence to them are, for Ortho­dox Chris­tians, the source of our uni­ty, the foot­prints in which we tread in im­i­tat­ing the Apos­tles, and liv­ing ev­i­dence of our con­fes­sion of Christ as the Son of God and the liv­ing Body of the Church, the Rock on which St. Peter built the Church, which we find with­in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apos­tolic Church. The κριτήριον τῆς ἀληθείας, or the very mea­sure of Truth, is what has been “hand­ed down to us,” the mean­ing of the Greek word for tra­di­tion (παράδοσις), and it is to it that we turn in jus­ti­fy­ing our claims to pri­ma­cy in Chris­tian­i­ty, and not to some ar­ro­gant, sec­tar­i­an de­sire to den­i­grate those of oth­er re­li­gions. Thus, to call us tra­di­tion­al­ists, along with such no­table con­tem­po­rary crit­ics of ec­u­menism as St. Justin of Ser­bia, St. Seraphim of Sofia, and Father Ge­orges Florosvky (a founder of the WCC and a bril­liant man who tried to rec­on­cile tra­di­tion­al­ism with ec­u­menism—and ques­tioned the pos­si­bil­i­ty quite open­ly as he grew old­er), is not an in­sult. What is in­com­pre­hen­si­ble, how­ev­er, is to imag­ine that we should be con­demned by an Ortho­dox Syn­od, in ad­vance of its con­vo­ca­tion, for such tra­di­tion­al­ism! Such a trav­es­ty bor­ders on lu­na­cy.

Fi­nal­ly, Pro­fes­sor Gavri­lyuk notes that we an­ti-ec­u­meni­cal Ortho­dox are ob­scu­ran­tists. I will not pre­tend to un­der­stand with sure­ty what he means by that ep­i­thet, but I can guess. As Ortho­dox tra­di­tion­al­ists, we be­lieve that the tra­di­tions of our Faith (in­clud­ing the fes­tal cal­en­dar that was es­tab­lished by a de­lib­er­ate at­tempt at uni­for­mi­ty in the ear­ly Church and which held firm in the whole of Ortho­doxy un­til the 1920s) are sa­cred, in­spired by the Holy Spir­it, ba­sic to our self-iden­ti­ty, and con­sti­tute a path to union with Christ (θέωσις) by way of a life of mys­ti­cal “oth­er-world­li­ness.” By prayer, fast­ing, in­ner trans­for­ma­tion, and pu­ri­ty of life, we ac­quire the Holy Spir­it, a cleans­ing of the heart, the en­light­en­ment of the mind, and sal­va­tion (restora­tion to what God cre­at­ed us to be be­fore the Fall). This method is ful­ly ex­pressed in the Hesy­chas­tic tra­di­tion of the Church, which St. Gre­go­ry Pala­mas cham­pi­oned in the four­teenth cen­tu­ry and which we hold to be the pure teach­ing of Chris­tian life that traces to Christ and His Dis­ci­ples, the Fathers, and the Saints. It is the sum of Holy Tra­di­tion and the teach­ing that uni­fies Chris­tian­i­ty.

Hesy­chasm and the mys­ti­cal teach­ings of the Church have of­ten been dis­missed in the West, and in west­ern­ized Ortho­dox cir­cles (and fla­grant­ly so in Rus­sia and Ukraine dur­ing their pe­ri­ods of west­ern­iza­tion), as ob­scu­ran­tist, as a de­vi­a­tion from the Scholas­tic and Re­formed teach­ings that have dom­i­nat­ed west­ern Chris­tian aca­dem­ic the­ol­o­gy (stan­dards not fair­ly ap­plied to Ortho­doxy), and as quasi-Chris­tian in ori­gin. Some un­wise and self-loathing Ortho­dox the­o­log­i­cal voic­es have even tried to link the strict “oth­er-world­ly” el­e­ments in Hesy­chasm (shock­ing­ly enough) with me­dieval Gnos­ti­cism and Bo­gomil­ism. Notwith­stand­ing the fact that to be Ortho­dox is to em­brace Hesy­chasm, which is ba­sic to Ὀρθοπραξία, or the prac­tice and liv­ing of the Ortho­dox Faith and Holy Tra­di­tion, with­out which, ac­cord­ing to Scrip­ture and by Pa­tris­tic con­sen­sus, Ortho­doxy (cor­rect­ness of be­lief) it­self re­mains in­fe­cund, there are Ortho­dox to­day who wish the Church to be in­volved in the world, to be rel­e­vant to the world, and to com­ple­ment, rather than chal­lenge, the het­ero­dox con­fes­sions. Th­ese in­di­vid­u­als com­prise the vast ma­jor­i­ty of the ec­u­menists in con­tem­po­rary Ortho­doxy and in their cir­cles Hesy­chasm and its pre­cepts are fre­quent­ly la­belled as “ob­scu­ran­tist.” I am dis­mayed that these el­e­ments would con­demn a pri­ori, in the name of an ill-ad­vised and would-be “pan-Ortho­dox” or “oe­c­u­meni­cal” syn­od, the foun­da­tions of Ortho­dox spir­i­tu­al­i­ty.

There are het­ero­dox Chris­tians who look to Ortho­doxy as a bas­tion of tra­di­tion­al­ism, mys­ti­cal the­ol­o­gy, and spir­i­tu­al lofti­ness. To them, whether or not they ad­here to our dec­la­ra­tion of the pri­ma­cy of Ortho­doxy as the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apos­tolic Church, as the very in­her­i­tor of what Je­sus Christ taught, the Apos­tles preached, and the Fathers pre­served, Ortho­doxy has of­ten served as a bright star and dis­tant aim. Many se­ri­ous spir­i­tu­al seek­ers, and es­pe­cial­ly those who main­tain some un­der­stand­ing of Chris­tian­i­ty in the light of its con­tin­u­ous wit­ness to an an­cient way to hu­man trans­for­ma­tion, look pos­i­tive­ly to Ortho­doxy as a lux ex Ori­ente: an abid­ing spir­i­tu­al lega­cy of the spir­i­tu­al rev­e­la­tion of Christ, which so trans­formed the world and which is so re­viled by our con­tem­po­rary fool­ish so­ci­eties. Ec­u­menism has un­ques­tion­ably un­der­mined this vi­sion of the “pure” Faith that we “tra­di­tion­al­ists” and “ob­scu­ran­tists” have sed­u­lous­ly at­tempt­ed to pre­serve and per­pet­u­ate, and it has thus con­tribut­ed, wit­ting­ly or oth­er­wise, to the an­ti-Chris­tian spir­it of our day, where rel­a­tivism and syn­cretism stand in op­po­si­tion to spir­i­tu­al ab­so­lutes and uni­ver­sal (in­deed, tru­ly ec­u­meni­cal) Truth. This fact alone jus­ti­fies our wit­ness and our ef­forts to re­vive Ortho­doxy from the sleep of spir­i­tu­al and ec­cle­si­o­log­i­cal rel­a­tivism and syn­cretism. In ob­serv­ing this, I must won­der what jus­ti­fies the ec­u­meni­cal Ortho­dox who:

1) have made ec­u­menism a cri­te­ri­on of Ortho­doxy;
2) have con­demned us Gen­uine Ortho­dox apol­o­gists as “tra­di­tion­al­ists,” “ob­scu­ran­tists,” and as “fringe el­e­ments”;
3) have, de­spite main­tain­ing that mi­nor­i­ty voic­es would be heard at their forth­com­ing “pan-Ortho­dox” syn­od, con­demned us with­out di­a­logue, with­out sum­mon­ing us to be heard, and be­fore their syn­od has even been con­vened;
and
4) have ad­mit­ted that we are wor­thy of their un­just con­dem­na­tions and their ug­ly ep­i­thets be­cause of the “in­flu­ence” that we ex­er­cise, in our strug­gles for True Ortho­doxy and Holy Tra­di­tion as uni­fy­ing prin­ci­ples, as threat­en­ing the uni­ty of the Church!

As I said above, I am afraid that Pro­fes­sor Gavri­lyuk has not care­ful­ly thought about his com­ments re­gard­ing the up­com­ing syn­od, its de­vi­a­tions from Ortho­dox so­bri­ety, and the rather un­fair, per­haps crude, and inar­guably in­ap­pro­pri­ate ep­i­thets that have been used, by dic­ta­to­ri­al fi­at, to ex­clude us—these ec­u­menists who cham­pi­on in­clu­sive­ness—from their de­lib­er­a­tions and to de­clare us—these ec­u­menists who nonethe­less de­cry such words and de­clare all church­es sis­ters—mis­cre­ants, schis­mat­ics, heretics, and out­side the Church. That they seem to glo­ry in see­ing us de­per­son­al­ized, a sup­posed taboo for the ec­u­meni­cal move­ment, in a “glob­al pan-Ortho­dox” con­dem­na­tion of sup­posed fa­nati­cism, tra­di­tion­al­ism, and ob­scu­ran­tism—this I find ab­hor­rent, fa­nat­ic tra­di­tion­al­ist and ob­scu­ran­tist though I may be.

What­ev­er we may be, and what­ev­er our faults, are the ec­u­menists and those who sup­port them not some­how, in some small way, ashamed of their be­hav­iors and self-as­sumed spir­i­tu­al au­thor­i­ty? 

The Fu­ture Pan-Ortho­dox Coun­cil on Re­la­tions with the Non-Ortho­dox Other:
A Mea­sured De­fense of Chris­tian Uni­ty against
those Who Con­sid­er Ec­u­menism a Heresy

Paul L. Gavri­lyuk

At the re­cent­ly con­clud­ed Sy­nax­is, the heads of the self-gov­ern­ing Ortho­dox Church­es re­solved to as­sem­ble the Great and Holy Coun­cil of the Ortho­dox Church in Crete on 16–27 June 2016. As the drafts of the doc­u­ments to be pro­mul­gat­ed by the Coun­cil be­come pub­licly avail­able, Ortho­dox faith­ful and oth­er Chris­tians around the world will par­tic­i­pate in the pro­cess of their re­cep­tion. Below I will dis­cuss the main mes­sage, se­lect is­sues, and po­ten­tial im­pact of the draft doc­u­ment ti­tled “The Re­la­tions of the Ortho­dox Church with the Rest of the Chris­tian World,” adopt­ed at the Fifth Pan-Ortho­dox Pre­lim­i­nary Meet­ing in Cham­bésy, 10–17 Oc­to­ber 2015. All ref­er­ences are to the para­graphs num­bered in the doc­u­ment. 

The main mes­sage of the doc­u­ment is to af­firm a ro­bust pan-Ortho­dox com­mit­ment to the pur­suit of Chris­tian uni­ty through mul­ti-lev­el ec­u­meni­cal di­a­logues. The doc­u­ment ad­um­brates the the­o­log­i­cal foun­da­tions of Chris­tian uni­ty and pro­vides the guide­lines for en­gag­ing in such di­a­logues. The uni­ty of the Ortho­dox Church “can­not be vi­o­lat­ed” (6) and “is ex­pressed in the apos­tolic suc­ces­sion and the pa­tris­tic tra­di­tion” (2), es­pe­cial­ly “in the teach­ing of the sev­en Ec­u­meni­cal Coun­cils” (18, cf. 3). The Ortho­dox Church re­jects the idea of the “equal­i­ty of con­fes­sions” (18) and holds that there is a “hi­er­ar­chy of dif­fi­cul­ties” on the way to Chris­tian uni­ty. 

Ad­dress­ing an in­ter­nal prob­lem, “the Ortho­dox Church be­lieves that any ef­forts to di­vide the uni­ty of the Church, which are un­der­tak­en by per­sons or groups un­der the pre­text of the pro­tec­tion or de­fense of true Ortho­doxy, must be con­demned” (22). This state­ment is a con­dem­na­tion of cer­tain in­flu­en­tial fringe el­e­ments with­in the Church, who of­ten style them­selves “tra­di­tion­al­ists” re­ject­ing any en­gage­ment in ec­u­meni­cal di­a­logue as a heresy that dam­ages the “pu­ri­ty of Ortho­doxy.” While some Ortho­dox lead­ers have crit­i­cized such a stance, this is the first glob­al pan-Ortho­dox con­dem­na­tion of fa­nati­cism, ob­scu­ran­tism, and tra­di­tion­al­ism. 

The guide­lines for en­gag­ing in ec­u­meni­cal di­a­logue in­clude “the ef­forts to co­or­di­nate the work of dif­fer­ent pan-Ortho­dox the­o­log­i­cal com­mis­sions” (13). The doc­u­ment spec­i­fies that if the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of a par­tic­u­lar self-gov­ern­ing Ortho­dox Church de­cide to ab­sent them­selves from a bi­lat­er­al meet­ing, the di­a­logue con­tin­ues with­out in­ter­rup­tion (9). If this par­tic­u­lar Church has strong grounds for dis­con­tin­u­ing its par­tic­i­pa­tion in a par­tic­u­lar di­a­logue, this Church should in­form the Ec­u­meni­cal Pa­tri­ar­chate and oth­er lo­cal Church­es in writ­ing (10). This pro­vi­sion was in­tro­duced to pre­vent the prac­tice of aban­don­ing the floor of the meet­ing in protest, as did the del­e­ga­tion of the Rus­sian Ortho­dox Church dur­ing a meet­ing of a joint Ortho­dox-Catholic In­ter­na­tion­al Com­mis­sion in Raven­na in 2007, re­act­ing against Con­stantino­ple’s pol­i­cy vis-à-vis the Ortho­dox Church of Es­to­nia. 

The doc­u­ment notes the par­tic­i­pa­tion of the Ortho­dox Church in the work of the World Coun­cil of Church­es (WCC) from its foun­da­tion and en­dors­es the Toron­to State­ment (1950) “The Church, the Church­es, and the World Coun­cil of Church­es” as a ba­sis of the Ortho­dox par­tic­i­pa­tion in WCC (20), es­pe­cial­ly high­light­ing the work of the Faith and Order Com­mis­sion (21). The doc­u­ment al­so points out that the Ge­or­gian Ortho­dox Church and the Bul­gar­i­an Ortho­dox Church re­signed from the WCC, in­di­cat­ing that these lo­cal church­es have a “spe­cial opin­ion” re­gard­ing the work of the WCC (16). By call­ing at­ten­tion to the “spe­cial opin­ion” of a dis­sent­ing mi­nor­i­ty (Ge­or­gia and Bul­gar­ia) and in­di­cat­ing a strong con­sen­sus of a broad ma­jor­i­ty of the Ortho­dox Church­es, the doc­u­ment sets a pat­tern for ap­ply­ing the “con­sen­sus rule” to the con­cil­iar pro­cess. 

In this doc­u­ment, the Coun­cil Fathers send a strong mes­sage that the quest for Chris­tian uni­ty is at the core of the Ortho­dox Church’s mis­sion. The guide­lines for en­gag­ing in the di­a­logue are ad­um­brat­ed and the ob­scu­ran­tists who re­ject ec­u­menism as “heresy” are con­demned. 

Ro­man Catholics will find many parts of this doc­u­ment con­ge­nial. For ex­am­ple, the con­cept of the “hi­er­ar­chy of dif­fi­cul­ties” (12) echoes the lan­guage of the “hi­er­ar­chy of truths” that was adopt­ed by Vat­i­can II’s de­cree on ec­u­menism, Uni­tatis Red­in­te­gra­tio. It should be not­ed that Uni­tatis Red­in­te­gra­tio spells out the com­mon fea­tures of Ortho­doxy and Catholi­cism, where­as the doc­u­ment un­der dis­cus­sion is silent on the mat­ter. 

There is present­ly some talk about the meet­ing be­tween pope Fran­cis and pa­tri­arch Kir­ill of Moscow “un­der the trop­i­cal skies” of Cen­tral Amer­i­ca in mid-Fe­bru­ary this year. Will the pa­tri­arch in­vite the pope to the Great and Holy Coun­cil? Un­like­ly, but a lim­it­ed num­ber of Catholic ob­servers will be in­vit­ed. Let’s hope that their par­tic­i­pa­tion bears as much fruit as the Ortho­dox par­tic­i­pa­tion at the Vat­i­can II did. 

28 Jan­uary 2016 

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