Today, the Orthodox Church maintains cordial relations with other Christian churches and communities and participates in joint efforts with them to recover the visible unity of all God’s people. While most of the Orthodox faithful perceive the Church’s involvement in this joint quest for unity to be guided by the Holy Spirit, others express fear that the faith of the Church is somehow compromised for the sake of a unity not always grounded in truth. Why has the Orthodox Church decided to be involved in the ecumenical movement? How does this involvement relate to her claim to be the embodiment of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church?
In an encyclical addressed to all Orthodox churches in 1902, the Ecumenical Patriarchate invited the Orthodox churches to move towards more dynamic inner communion, conciliarity, and cooperation to work with other Christian churches and communities towards visible unity. In 1920, the Ecumenical Patriarchate issued a second encyclical addressed to all Christian churches suggesting the formation of a “league of churches” for common witness and action. It stated that the Orthodox Church “holds that rapprochement (προσέγγισις) between the various Christian churches and fellowship (κοινωνία) between them is not excluded by the doctrinal differences which exist between them.” The Ecumenical Patriarchate had hoped that the churches could move towards greater unity if they could overcome their mutual mistrust and bitterness by rekindling and strengthening the evangelical love. This could lead them to see one another not as strangers and foreigners, but as being part of the household of Christ, “fellow heirs, members of the same body and partakers of the promise of God in Christ” (Eph. 3:6). In 1986 the Third Preconciliar Pan-Orthodox conference unequivocally stated that the “Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement does not run counter to the Orthodox Church’s nature and history. It constitutes the consistent expression of the Apostolic faith within new historical conditions.”Continue reading