World Council of Churches Press Release / For Immediate Use /
10 June 1997

Moscow, Russia: The Orthodox Church in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia has decided to leave the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Conference of European Churches (CEC), both based in Geneva. The decision was taken at an emergency meeting of the Holy Synod of the Church on 20 May, following strong pressure from Georgia's leading monasteries against further participation in the ecumenical movement. According to the Geneva-based Ecumenical News International, the emergency meeting followed the publication in early May of an open letter to His Holiness, Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II by Archimandrite George of the influential Shio-Mgvima Monastery, stating that his monastery was halting "communion with Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II because of his ecumenical heresy." Leaders of other main monasteries expressed similar concerns, while a group of parish clergy met with the Patriarch on 19 May and called upon him to withdraw from the WCC. The sudden decision of the Synod came as a surprise even to those who had campaigned against the Church's membership in the WCC. The Moscow-based Metaphrasis news agency reported that the Georgian Synod cited the "WCC leadership's continued efforts to endow the organisation with unified ecclesiological functions" and the WCC's alleged "failure to take interests of Orthodox churches fully into account" as reasons for its decision. The Georgian Orthodox Church joined the WCC in 1962. Its present leader, His Holiness, Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II, served as one of the WCC's presidents from 1979 to 1983. Besides the decision to withdraw from the WCC, the Synod also imposed sanctions on those who had led the anti-WCC campaign for their "attempt to split the Church." The protesting clergy, including Archimandrite George and the leaders of the other main monasteries, were suspended from celebrating the Eucharist and laymen from taking communion, according to Metaphrasis. Other sources report that opposition to the Holy Synod's decision to withdraw exists, although it had not yet been expressed officially. The autocephalous Georgian Orthodox Church dates back to the first half of the fourth century when Christianity was adopted in Georgia as a state religion. The vast majority of Georgians identify themselves as Orthodox Christians.

An Open Letter to Patriarch Ilia II of Georgia From the Brotherhood of the Monastery of Saint Shio of Mghvime

"Christ the Lord called that Church the Catholic Church which maintains the true and saving confession of the Faith. It was for this confession that He called Peter blessed when He declared '...upon this rock [i.e., of right faith] I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it' (Matt. 16:18)'."
Saint Maximus the Confessor (Migne PG 90, 132 A)

"We are orphans and fatherless..."
Lamentations of Jeremiah 5:3.

"Whoso readeth, let him understand."
Matt. 24:15

In ancient Sodom there lived the righteous Lot and his family. Our long-suffering God awaiting the conversion the change of heart of the Sodomites bestowed upon them all that they needed: air water food... life itself. Lot was for them a certain example of righteousness, a model for their correction. But in vain. The measure of lawlessness and sin overflowed; the Lord brought out the family of Lot and destroyed the city of Sodom by fire thus taking away that life which He Himself had granted.

Like unto Sodom becomes that church in which the abomination of heretieal doctrines finds itself a lodging place. Long-suffering and merciful is the Lord and just as the destruction of Sodom was delayed for the sake of righteous Lot; so too for the sake of His righteous servants f'or the time being He shall not withdraw the grace of the Holy Spirit from that church which is deviating into the heretical gloom so offensive to Him. But for how long? Where is that boundary beyond which lawlessness exceeds His longsuffering and mercy? If the time for an exodus like Lot's is come then such a time is the termination of the period [allowed for repentance], it is the time for the execution of the judgments of God, the time of righteous anger, the time for the taking away of the very Spirit of Life. The going forth from the midst of sin by the true children of the Church serves as an indication of the spiritual death of the hierarchy of a Local Church. And only then when the Lord shall have Ied forth all of them, all those faithful to Him-His true Church-will the grace of His Holy Spirit completely abandon the assembly of those who have remained behind.

Lot forewarned his sons-in-law of the approaching judgment but was mocked by them. And his sons-in-law were burned together with all the Sodomites.

We also have the example of Nineveh. The Ninevites repented and the judgment of God was suspended. But what of Sodom? Was Sodom capable of changing? Sodom, in which there was not even a consciousness of the need for amendment?

1) Ecumenism is heresy! That is quite clear. Moreover, it is the heresy of heresies.

2) Of all the errors which the so-called "Ecumenism" comprises, the most fundamental and profound is its error concerning the very nature of the Church itself. This is an ecclesiological heresy. It is contrary to the Nicean-Constantinopolitan confession of faith, for it asserts that there is no "One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church".

3) The so-called "World Council of Churches" already in its very name contains this contradiction of the Orthodox Christian doctrine concerning the Church. And in its "Branch Theory" it totally rejects this dogma. And the "Council" endeavors to accomplish this fundamental rejection by its militant practice of "religious pluralism".

4) The Orthodox Church, by participating in the activities of the aforementioned "World Council of Churches", declares her agreement with all its [the WCC's] teachings and activities. By this very means she becomes a party to all the falsehood and errors of the Council. She becomes heretical to the degree that the Council itself is heretical.

5) This heresy is introduced even more deeply into the body of the Church by the participation of her hierarchy in the various forms of liturgical concelebrations conducted by the institutions of the Council in the course of its routine activities.

6) The Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC) has been an active member of the WCC for a considerable time (since 1962). This lively participation, manifested in the activities of her senior hierarchs, is the patll of falling away into heresy, or rather, it is essentially already heresy.

7) Both in their numerous public appearances, and also ex cathedra, the senior hierarchs of the GOC have shown themselves to be apologists and preachers of the heresy of Ecumenism. At the Local Council in 1995 participation in this movement was recorded in the official documents and confirmed by the ecclesiastical authority. By this means this heresy was definitively implanted into thc body of the Local Georgian Church.

8) When the Church begins in any degree to accept heretical teachings, then saving grace wanes in her. Once the Church as a whole accepts a heresy, then saving grace departs from this community, since salvation for its members has become impossible, even if they were to lay down their lives for their convictions.

9) There are only two routes of escape from the situation which has arisen in the GOC: either the Church renounces its error, or else those seeking salvation quit the assembly of the unfaithful.

10) The Church's rejection of the heresy of Ecumenism must be expressed by its departure from the WCC. There is no other way.

11) This can be done only by the senior hierarchs of the GOC-this is their prerogative. But the hierarchs refuse to do this.

12) Some of the hierarchs consider such a step inconsistent with the contemporary processes of global integration. Subordinating, in their own conceptions, the life of the Church to the mere laws by which society functions, they threaten the Christians with economic difficulties, political, religious, and cultural isolation, and a like multitude of imagined horrors.

13) Such a way of thinking is based on a lack of faith in the providential care for the Church by her Creator and Founder. This is unbelief, this is real atheism which captivates the mind and conscience. They do not realize that the Lord does not abandon His true servants. His eye slumbereth not; and mighty is His right hand.

14) Other of the hierarehs, not possessing a true Christian consciousness and not wishing to comprehend the very essence of the dogmas of the Churdh of Christ, consider that membership in the WCC is not so very significant a sin. Such as these seek by means of various compromises to deceive both God and themselves.

15) So what then remains for an Orthodox Christian seeking salvation to do, who is certain that this very salvation is not possible without a true faith free of heretical abomination?

16) "...and they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name." Acts 5:41.

"...But as for those who...sever themselves from communion with their president, that is, because he publicly preaches heresy and with bared head teaches it in the Church, such persons are not only not subject to canonical penalty..., but are worthy of due honor among the Orthodox. For not bishops, but false bishops and false teachers have they condemned, and they have not fragmented the Church's unity with schism, but from schisms and divisions have they earnestly sought to deliver the Church."
(Canon XV of the First-Second Council of Constantinople)

In his commentary on Canon XIV of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, Zonar writes: "Those are also hereties who even partly disagree with the teaching of the Church or who only slightly distort it."

The Monastery of our Righteous Father Shio of Mghvime (the Cave-dweller) severs eucharistic communion with Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II because of his heresy of Ecumenism.
Archimandrite George, Abbot of the monastery
Archimandrite John
Hieromonk Nicholas
Monk Kyrion
Novice Bessarion
Novice Guram

April 14/27 1997

The Abbot of the Lavra of the Righteous David of Garedzhe, Archimandrite Gregory, severs eucharistic communion with Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II because of his heresy of Ecumenism, and resigns from the office of abbot.
Archimandrite Gregory

April 17/30, 1997

Betania Monastery severs liturgical communion with Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II because of his heresy of Ecumenism.
Abbot of the Monastery, Hieromonk Haggai
Monk Eutyches
Monk Gabriel

April 18 / May 1, 1997

The Abbot of the Zarzma Monastery, Archimandrite George, severs eucharistic communion with Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II and Bishop Sergius of Akhaltsikhe on account of their having fallen into the heresy of ecumenism.
Archimandrite George May 2/15, 1997


Following the decision of the Holy Synod of the Georgian Orthodox Church to leave the World Council of Churches (WCC), Dr Konrad Raiser, WCC General Secretary, has written to His Holiness Elia II, Catholicos Patriarch of All Georgia.

In a 9 June letter, Dr Raiser says the decision is "a very serious development but it does not represent an exceptional situation. Similar conflicts have arisen in many other churches representing the whole spectrum of Christian traditions." Dr Raiser adds, "We consider this as an almost natural consequence of the fact that the ecumenical movement raises questions and poses challenges for the churches."

The Georgian Patriarch informed Dr Raiser in a 22 May letter of the synod s decision, explaining that a "negative attitude towards the ecumenical movement" had grown up in the Georgian Orthodox Church and threatened to divide it. The patriarch said the Holy Synod felt the WCC did not consider Orthodox interests enough; it was also critical of what it saw as attempts "to confer the WCC with an ecclesiological character".

In his reply, Dr Raiser acknowledges the WCC "must be prepared to listen to the critical questions which member churches address to it". However , he adds the WCC sincerely regrets "that in some situations - and the Georgian Orthodox Church may not constitute an exception - legitimate differences of assessment regarding the ecumenical movement are being so linked with other internal conflicts that the impression is created as if the ecumenical movement was a cause of division in the church".

Dr Raiser assures the Patriarch there is no intention to turn the WCC into any kind of church, i.e. give it an ecclesiological character. He further stresses that the WCC is also willing to discuss the Georgian anxiety that Orthodox concerns are not properly considered by the WCC, although he believes the WCC already tries to listen to what Orthodox churches have to say. The WCC General Secretary tells the Patriarch that the WCC Officers at their regular meeting last week considered the Georgian decision to leave the WCC "with deep sorrow and regret". Dr Raiser concludes with a word of gratitude that the Patriarch and other leaders in his church are "widely appreciated partners in the ecumenical movement and co-workers in the search for Christian unity" and this "sustains us in our hope for the future".

Dr Raiser also tells the Patriarch: " In this very unfortunate situation we want, above all, to assure you of our continuing solidarity. It is our prayer that we may be led by the Holy Spirit to find the ways which permit us to reaffirm our ecumenical fellowship."

Ecumenical News International
ENI News Service, 11 June 1997

By Stephen Brown

Geneva, 11 June (ENI)--The general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Dr Konrad Raiser, said this week that he hopes that consultations between Orthodox churches will help resolve a crisis in the Georgian Orthodox Church which resulted in a decision by the Georgian church to leave the WCC.

The decision by the Georgian church to leave the WCC followed strong pressure from Georgia's leading monasteries against further participation in the international ecumenical movement, and attacks from within the church on the church s leader, Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II, because of his ecumenical commitment. (Patriarch Ilia was a WCC president from 1979 to 1983.) The Georgian church's synod cited the "WCC leadership s continued efforts of endow the organisation with unified ecclesiological functions" and the WCC s alleged "failure to take interests of Orthodox churches fully into account" as reasons for its decision, according to press reports.

In a letter sent on 9 June to Patriarch Ilia, Dr Raiser referred to a pan-Orthodox conference in 1986 which had said that "the Orthodox Church is a fully fledged and equal member of the WCC and with all the means at her disposal, contributes to the progress and success of all WCC activities". He said that he hoped that "further consultations with Orthodox sister churches will show ways of responding to the crisis which has arisen in the Georgian Orthodox Church".

The anti-ecumenical attitude which had grown up in the Georgian Orthodox Church and a number of Orthodox churches was a "serious development", but did not represent an "exceptional situation", Dr Raiser said, pointing out that "similar conflicts have arisen in many other churches representing the whole spectrum of Christian traditions". But he said that he particularly regretted the fact that in some situations, which could include the Georgian church, "legitimate" differences concerning the ecumenical movement were being "so linked with other internal conflicts that the impression is created as if the ecumenical movement was a cause of division in the church". Responding to criticisms by the synod of the Georgian church that Orthodox church interests were not being taken into consideration by the WCC, Raiser listed a number of WCC initiatives, such as Orthodox preparatory meetings before every major ecumenical gathering, ad hoc Orthodox meetings and consultations with the heads of Orthodox churches. These were "examples illustrating the willingness and the commitment of the WCC to take into consideration Orthodox concerns", he said, but added that the WCC was ready to engage in further discussions if it was felt that these efforts had not been sufficient. Raiser also denied that a "wide-ranging" discussion on the character of the WCC as a "fellowship of churches" was intended "to confer to the WCC an ecclesiological character".

The Euro-Asiatic Federation of the Unions of Evangelical Christians- Baptists, based in Moscow, has informed the WCC that it is not a WCC member church. The federation, which is the main Baptist church organisation in the former Soviet Union, replaced the former union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists in the USSR after the break up of the Soviet Union. Observers do not believe there is any direct connection with the decision of the Georgian Orthodox Church to leave the WCC. According to the WCC, the new federation decided in 1992 not to continueWC the membership of its predecessor body in the WCC, but failed to inform the WCC in writing of this decision until last month. The Euro-Asiatic federation had earlier informed the WCC orally of its decision, but the WCC had decided to leave the federation on its membership list in the hope that "with time they might want to clarify their relationship with the WCC".

A WCC spokesperson told ENI today that following the announcement of the Euro-Asiatic Federation and the decision of the Georgian Orthodox Church regarding their membership of the WCC, the WCC now has 330 member churches around the world. [646 words]


To the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, Ilia II, And to the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Georgian Orthodox Church

Your Holiness; Most-reverend Bishops:

We humbly wish to inform you that with the blessing of the ruling bishop of the Shemokmedi diocese, Kyr Joseph, a meeting of the clergy of the Guria region was held on May 6/19 of this year. At this meeting we considered the situation which has arisen in the bosom of the Mother Church, in particular, the declarations of the brotherhoods of the St. Shio of Mghvime, Betania, and St. David of Garedzhe monasteries. We most humbly beg you not to rend the robe of the Church of Christ by schism.

For love's sake, resolve to leave the World Council of Churches.

Otherwise we shall subscribe to the decision of the aforementioned brotherhoods and shall sever eucharistic communion with you.

1 ) Abbot of the Shemokmedi Monastery of St. Nicholas, Archimandrite Nicholas
2) Spiritual Father of the Dzhikheti Convent, Archimandrite Andrew
3) Rector of the Shemokmedi Cathedral, Protopriest Basil
4) Rector of the Church of SS. Julitta and Cyriacus, Priest Matthew
5) Rector of the Church of St. George in Dvabchu, Priest Constantine
6) Deacon of the Shemokmedi Cathedral, Fr. Cyriacus