EXTERNAL CHURCH RELATIONS

For Immediate Release, May 5, 1998

AN INTER-ORTHODOX MEETING ON RELATIONS WITH THE ECUMENICAL MOVEMENT

A pan-Orthodox conference that took place from April 29 to May 2, 1998, at Thessaloniki, Greece, was devoted to relations between Orthodoxy and the ecumenical movement - a topic which has caused concern among very many people not only in the Russian but also other Local Orthodox Churches.

The conference was initiated by the Russian and Serbian Orthodox Churches. Each Local Orthodox Church sent one representative and one consultant to it. From the Russian Orthodox Church they were Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, chairman of the Department for External Church Relations. And Hieromonk Hilarion Alfeyev, DECR secretary for inter-Christian relations.

During the conference, the delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church made a proposal that only observers rather than official delegations should be sent to the 8th Assembly of the World Council of Churches to take place in December 1998 in Harare, Zimbabwe. After a prolonged discussion a compromise was reached whereby each Local Orthodox Church will send delegates for the Assembly in Harare not to participate in the essential work of the Assembly but only to testify before the non-Orthodox participants to their concern for the processes taking place in the WCC and to demand its restructuring. Nor the Orthodox delegates will participate in prayers and other religious celebrations or voting and discussions (except specially fixed occasions).

The participants adopted a communique the text of which is given below.

The full text of the Final Document will be issued on May 8.

Inter-Orthodox meeting on "Evaluation of New Facts in the Relations of Orthodoxy and the Ecumenical Movement"

Thessaloniki/Greece, 29 April - 2 May 1998

COMMUNIQUE We delegates of all the canonical Orthodox Churches, by the power of the Risen Christ, gathered at the historical city of Thessaloniki/Greece, from 29 April to 2 May 1998, after an invitation of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, responding to the initiative of the Russian and Serbian Churches and because of the withdrawal of the Georgian Church from the World Council of Churches. The meeting was hosted by the Organization of "Thessaloniki - Cultural Capital of Europe 97" and under the generous hospitality of H. E. Metropolitan Panteleimon of Thessaloniki.

The meeting was presided over by Chrysostomos, the Senior Metropolitan of the See of Ephesus (Ecumenical Patriarchate) and the sessions were held in a spirit of Christian love, fraternal fellowship and common understanding. The delegates expressed and asked the prayers and blessings of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and all other Venerable Primates of the Orthodox Churches. The participants received telegrams of congratulations from all the Primates. They also expressed their best wishes to His Beatitude Chrystodoulos, the new Archbishop of Athens and of all Greece, for his election.

Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Ephesus presented an introductory paper on the theme of the meeting, followed by a presentation from all the delegates on the one hand describing their relations to the ecumenical movement and to the WCC in particular and on the other hand evaluating the critical problems they are facing. The discussions analyzed the participation of the Orthodox Churches in the decision-making bodies of the WCC.

The delegates unanimously denounced those groups of schismatics, as well as certain extremist groups within the local Orthodox Churches themselves, that are using the theme of ecumenism in order to criticize the Church leadership and undermine its authority, thus attempting to create divisions and schisms within the Church. They also use non-factual material and misinformation in order to support their unjust criticism.

The delegates also emphasized that the Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement has always been based on Orthodox tradition, on the decisions of the Holy Synods of the local Orthodox Churches, and on Pan-Orthodox meetings, such as the Third Pre-Conciliar Conference of 1986 and the meeting of the Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches in 1992.

The participants are unanimous in their understanding of the necessity for continuing their participation in various forms of inter-Orthodox activity.

However at the same time there are certain developments within some Protestant members of the Council that are reflected in the debates of the WCC and are regarded as unacceptable by the Orthodox. At many WCC meetings the Orthodox were obliged to be involved in the discussion of questions entirely alien to their tradition. At the VII Assembly of Canberra in 1991 and during the meetings of the Central Committee after the year 1992 the Orthodox delegates have taken a vigorous stand against intercommunion with non-Orthodox, against inclusive language, ordination of women, the rights of sexual minorities and certain tendencies relating to religious syncretism. Their statements on these subjects were always considered as minority statements and as such could not influence the procedures and ethos of the WCC.

All the Orthodox Churches are requested to send official delegates to the VIII Assembly of the WCC with the aim of expressing their concerns as follows:

a) Orthodox delegates participating in Harare will present in common this Statement of the Thessaloniki Inter-Orthodox Meeting.

b) Orthodox delegates will not participate in ecumenical services, common prayers, worship and other religious ceremonies at the Assembly.

c) Orthodox delegates will not take part in the voting procedure except in certain cases that concern the Orthodox and by unanimous agreement. If it is needed, in the plenary and group discussions they will present the Orthodox views and positions.

d) These mandates will be maintained until a radical restructuring of the WCC is accomplished to allow adequate Orthodox participation.

The delegates also strongly suggested that a Mixed Theological Commission be created with Orthodox members appointed by their own respective Churches and from WCC nominees. The Mixed Commission will begin its work after the Harare Assembly by discussing the acceptable forms of Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement and the radical restructuring of the WCC.

At Thessaloniki, 1st of May 1998

Original at Moscow patriarchate