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Bishop Kallistos Ware
Orthodox Church

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  • Part II: Faith and Worship
    • The Orthodox Church and The reunion of Christians
      • Orthodox relations with other communions: Opportunities and problems
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Orthodox relations with other communions: Opportunities and problems

The ‘Separated’ Eastern Churches. When they think of reunion, the Orthodox look not only

to the west, but to their neighbours in the east, the Nestorians and Monophysites. In many ways

Orthodoxy stands closer to the ‘Separated’ Eastern Churches than to any western confession.

The Nestorians are today very few in number — perhaps 50,000 — and almost entirely

lacking in theologians, so that it is difficult to enter into official negotiations with them. But a

partial union between Orthodox and Nestorian Christians has already occurred. In 1898 an Assyrian

Nestorian, Mar Ivanios, bishop of Urumia in Persia, together with his flock, was received

into communion by the Russian Church. The initiative came primarily from the Nestorian side,

and there was no pressure — political or otherwise — on the part of the Russians. In 1905 this

ex-Nestorian diocese was said to number 80 parishes and some 70,000 faithful; but between

1915 and 1918 the Assyrian Orthodox were slaughtered by the Turks in a series of unprovoked

massacres, from which a few thousand alone escaped. Even though its life was so tragically cut

short, the reconciliation of this ancient Christian community forms an encouraging precedent:

why should not the Orthodox Church today come to a similar understanding with the rest of the

Nestorian communion? (When visiting a Russian convent near New York in 1960, I had the pleasure of meeting

an Assyrian Orthodox bishop, originally from the Urumia diocese, likewise called Mar Ivanios (successor to the

original Mar Ivanios). A married priest, he had become a bishop after the death of his wife. When I asked the nuns

how old he was, I was told: ‘He says he’s 102, but his children say he must be much older than that’).

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The Monophysites, from the practical point of view, stand in a very different position from

the Nestorians, for they are still comparatively numerous — more than ten million — and possess

theologians capable of presenting and interpreting their traditional doctrinal position. A

number of western and Orthodox scholars now believe that the Monophysite teaching about the

person of Christ has in the past been seriously misunderstood, and that the difference between

those who accept and those who reject the decrees of Chalcedon is largely if not entirely verbal.

When visiting the Coptic Monophysite Church of Egypt in 1959, the Patriarch of Constantinople

spoke with great optimism: ‘In truth we are all one, we are all Orthodox Christians ... We have

the same sacraments, the same history, the same traditions. The divergence is on the level of

phraseology’ (Speech before the Institute of Higher Coptic Studies, Cairo, 10 December 1959). Of all the

‘ecumenical’ contacts of Orthodoxy, the friendship with the Monophysites seems the most hopeful

and the most likely to lead to concrete results in the near future. The question of reunion with

the Monophysites was much in the air at the Pan-Orthodox Conferences of Rhodes, and it will

certainly figure prominently on the agenda of future Pan-Orthodox Councils. During August

1964 an extremely friendly ‘Unofficial Consultation’ took place at Aarhus in Denmark between

Orthodox and Monophysite theologians. ‘All of us have learned from each other,’ the delegates

from the two sides declared in the ‘agreed statement’ issued at the end of the meeting. ‘Our inherited

misunderstandings have begun to clear up. We recognize in each other the one orthodox

faith of the Church. Fifteen centuries of alienation have not led us astray from the faith of our

Fathers.’ Further consultations met at Bristol (1967), Geneva (1970), and Addis Ababa (1971).

The Roman Catholic Church. Among western Christians, it is the Anglicans with whom Orthodoxy

has at present the most cordial relations, but it is the Roman Catholics with whom Orthodoxy

has by far the most in common. Certainly between Orthodoxy and Rome there are many

difficulties. The usual psychological barriers exist. Among Orthodox — and doubtless among

Roman Catholics as well — there are a multitude of inherited prejudices which cannot quickly

be overcome; and Orthodox do not find it easy to forget the unhappy experiences of the past —

such things as the Crusades, the ‘Union’ of Brest-Litovsk, the schism at Antioch in the eighteenth

century, or the persecution of the Orthodox Church in Poland by a Roman Catholic government

between the two World Wars. Roman Catholics do not usually realize how deep a sense

of misgiving and apprehension many devout Orthodox — educated as well as simple — still feel

when they think of the Church of Rome. More serious than these psychological barriers are the

differences in doctrine between the two sides — above all the filioque and the Papal claims.

Once again many Roman Catholics fail to appreciate how serious the theological difficulties are,

and how great an importance Orthodox attach to these two issues. Yet when all has been said

about dogmatic divergences, about differences in spirituality and in general approach, it still remains

true that there are many things which the two sides share: in their experience of the sacraments,

for example, and in their devotion to the Mother of God and the saints — to mention but

two instances out of many — Orthodox and Roman Catholics are for the most part very close

indeed.

Since the two sides have so much in common, is there perhaps some hope of a reconciliation?

At first sight one is tempted to despair, particularly when one considers the question of the

Papal claims. Orthodox find themselves unable to accept the definitions of the Vatican Council

of 1870 concerning the supreme ordinary jurisdiction and the infallibility of the Pope; but the

Roman Catholic Church reckons the Vatican Council as ecumenical and so is bound to regard its

definitions as irrevocable. Yet matters are not completely at an impasse. How far, we may ask,

have Orthodox controversialists understood the Vatican decrees aright? Perhaps the meaning at-

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tached to the definitions by most western theologians in the past ninety years is not in fact the

only possible interpretation. Furthermore it is now widely admitted by Roman Catholics that the

Vatican decrees are incomplete and one-sided: they speak only of the Pope and his prerogatives,

but say nothing about the bishops. But now that the second Vatican Council has issued a dogmatic

statement on the powers of the episcopate, the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Papal

claims has begun to appear to the Orthodox world in a somewhat different light.

And if Rome in the past has perhaps said too little about the position of bishops in the

Church, Orthodox in their turn need to take the idea of Primacy more seriously. Orthodox agree

that the Pope is first among bishops: have they asked themselves carefully and searchingly what

this really means? If the primatial see of Rome were restored once more to the Orthodox communion,

what precisely would its status be? Orthodox are not willing to ascribe to the Pope a

universal supremacy of ‘ordinary’ jurisdiction; but may it not be possible for them to ascribe to

him, as President and Primate in the college of bishops, a universal responsibility, an

all-embracing pastoral care extending over the whole Church? Recently the Orthodox Youth

Movement in the Patriarchate of Antioch suggested two formulae. ‘The Pope, among the bishops,

is the elder brother, the father being absent.’ ‘The Pope is the mouth of the Church and of

the episcopate.’ Obviously these formulae fall far short of the Vatican statements on Papal jurisdiction

and infallibility, but they can serve at any rate as a basis for constructive discussion.

Hitherto Orthodox theologians, in the heat of controversy, have too often been content simply to

attack the Roman doctrine of the Papacy (as they understand it), without attempting to go deeper

and to state in positive language what the true nature of Papal primacy is from the Orthodox

viewpoint. If Orthodox were to think and speak more in constructive and less in negative and

polemical terms, then the divergence between the two sides might no longer appear so absolute.

After long postponement the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches set up a mixed international

commission for theological discussions in 1980. Much is also being done informally

through personal contacts. Invaluable work has been done by the Roman Catholic ‘Monastery of

Union’ at Chevetogne in Belgium, originally founded at Amay-sur-Meuse in 1926. This is a

‘double rite’ monastery in which the monks worship according to both the Roman and the Byzantine

rites. The Chevetogne periodical, Irénikon, contains an accurate and most sympathetic

chronicle of current affairs in the Orthodox Church, as well as numerous scholarly articles, often

contributed by Orthodox.

Certainly one must be sober and realistic: reunion between Orthodoxy and Rome, if it ever

comes to pass, will prove a task of extraordinary difficulty. But signs of a rapprochement are increasing

year by year. Pope Paul the Sixth and Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople met

three times (Jerusalem, 1964; Constantinople and Rome, 1967); on 7 December 1965 the anathemas

of 1054 were simultaneously withdrawn by the Vatican Council in Rome and the Holy

Synod in Constantinople; in 1979 Pope John Paul the Second visited Patriarch Dimitrios.

Through such symbolic gestures mutual trust is being created.

The Old Catholics. It was only natural that the Old Catholics who separated from Rome after

the Vatican Council of 1870 should have entered into negotiations with the Orthodox. The

Old Catholics desired to recover the true faith of the ancient ‘undivided Church’ using as their

basis the Fathers and the seven Ecumenical Councils: the Orthodox claimed that this faith was

not merely a thing of the past, to be reconstructed by antiquarian research, but a present reality,

which by God’s grace they themselves had never ceased to possess. The two sides have met in a

number of conferences, in particular at Bonn in 1874 and 1875, at Rotterdam in 1894, at Bonn

again in 1931, and at Rheinfelden in 1957. A large measure of doctrinal agreement was reached

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at these gatherings, but they have not led to any practical results; although relations between Old

Catholics and Orthodox continue to be very friendly, no union has been effected. In 1975 a

full-scale theological dialogue was resumed between the two Churches, and an important series

of doctrinal statements has been issued, showing once more how much the two sides share in

common.

The Anglican Communion. As in the past, so today there are many Anglicans who regard

the Reformation Settlement in sixteenth-century England as no more than an interim arrangement,

and who appeal, like the Old Catholics, to the General Councils, the Fathers, and the Tradition

of the ‘undivided Church.’ One thinks of Bishop Pearson in the seventeenth century, with

his plea: ‘Search how it was in the beginning; go to the fountain head; look to antiquity.’ Or of

Bishop Ken, the Non-Juror, who said: ‘I die in the faith of the Catholic Church, before the disunion

of east and west.’ This appeal to antiquity has led many Anglicans to look with sympathy and

interest at the Orthodox Church, and equally it has led many Orthodox to look with interest and

sympathy at Anglicanism. As a result of pioneer work by Anglicans such as William Palmer

(1811-1879) (Received into the Roman Catholic church in 1855). J. M. Neale (1818-1866), and W. J.

Birkbeck (1859-1916), Anglo-Orthodox relations during the past hundred years have developed

and flourished in a most animated way.

There have been several official conferences between Anglican and Orthodox theologians.

In 1930 an Orthodox delegation representing ten autocephalous Churches (Constantinople, Alexandria,

Antioch, Jerusalem, Greece, Cyprus, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland) was sent to

England at the time of the Lambeth Conference, and held discussions with a committee of Anglicans;

and in the following year a Joint Anglican-Orthodox Commission met in London, with representatives

from the same Churches as in 1930 (except the Bulgarian).

Both in 1930 and in 1931 an honest attempt was made to face points of doctrinal disagreement.

Questions raised included the relation of Scripture and Tradition, the Procession of the

Holy Spirit, the doctrine of the sacraments, and the Anglican idea of authority in the Church. A

similar joint Conference was held in 1935 at Bucharest, with Anglican and Romanian delegates.

This gathering concluded its deliberations by stating: ‘A solid basis has been prepared whereby

full dogmatic agreement may be affirmed between the Orthodox and the Anglican communions.’

In retrospect these words appear over-optimistic. During the thirties the two sides seemed to be

making great progress towards full doctrinal agreement, and many — particularly on the Anglican

side — began to think that the time would soon come when the Anglican and Orthodox

Churches could enter into communion. Since 1945, however, it has become apparent that such

hopes were premature: full dogmatic agreement and communion in the sacraments are still a long

way off. The one major theological conference between Anglicans and Orthodox held since the

war, at Moscow in 1956, was much more cautious than its predecessors in the thirties. At first

sight its findings seem comparatively meager and disappointing, but actually they constitute an

important advance, for they are marked by far greater realism. In the conferences between the

wars there was a tendency to select specific points of disagreement and to consider them in isolation.

In 1956 a genuine effort was made to carry the whole question to a deeper level: not just

particular issues but the whole faith of the two Churches was discussed, so that specific points

could be seen in context against a wider background.

An official theological dialogue, involving all the Orthodox Churches and the whole Anglican

communion, was started in 1973. A crisis in the talks occurred in 1977-1978, because of the

ordination of women priests in several Anglican Churches. The conversations continue, but progress

is slow.

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In the past forty years a number of Orthodox Churches have produced statements concerning

the validity of Anglican Orders. At a first glance these statements seem to contradict one another

in a curious and extraordinary way:

1) Six Churches have made declarations which seem to recognize Anglican ordinations as

valid: Constantinople (1922), Jerusalem and Sinai (1923), Cyprus (1923), Alexandria (1930),

Romania (1936).

2) The Russian Church in Exile, at the Karlovtzy Synod of 1935, declared that Anglican

clergy who become Orthodox must be reordained. In 1948, at a large conference held in Moscow,

the Moscow Patriarchate promulgated a decree to the same effect, which was also signed

by official delegates (present at the conference) from the Churches of Alexandria, Antioch, Serbia,

Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia, and Albania.

To interpret these statements aright, it would be necessary to discuss in detail the Orthodox

view of the validity of sacraments, which is not the same as that usually held by western theologians,

and also the Orthodox concept of ‘ecclesiastical economy;’ and these matters are so intricate

and obscure that they cannot here be pursued at length. But certain points must be made.

First, the Churches which declared in favour of Anglican Orders have not apparently carried this

decision into effect. In recent years, when Anglican clergy have approached the Patriarchate of

Constantinople with a view to entering the Orthodox Church, it has been made clear to them that

they would be received as laymen, not as priests. Secondly, the favourable statements put out by

group (1) are in most cases carefully qualified and must be regarded as provisional in character.

The Ecumenical Patriarch, for example, when communicating the 1922 decision to the Archbishop

of Canterbury, said in his covering note: ‘It is plain that there is as yet no matter here of a

decree by the whole Orthodox Church. For it is necessary that the rest of the Orthodox Churches

should be found to be of the same opinion as the most holy Church of Constantinople.’ In the

third place, Orthodoxy is extremely reluctant to pass judgment upon the status of sacraments performed

by non-Orthodox. Most Anglicans understood the statements made by group (1) to

constitute a ‘recognition’ of Anglican Orders at the present moment. But in reality the Orthodox

were not trying to answer the question ‘Are Anglican Orders valid in themselves, here and now?’

They had in mind the rather different question ‘Supposing the Anglican communion were to

reach full agreement in faith with the Orthodox, would it then be necessary to reordain Anglican

clergy?’

This helps to explain why Constantinople in 1922 could declare favorably upon Anglican

Orders, and yet in practice treat them as invalid: this favorable declaration could not come properly

into effect so long as the Anglican Church was not fully Orthodox in the faith. When matters

are seen in this light, the Moscow decree of 1948 no longer appears entirely inconsistent with the

declarations of the pre-war period. Moscow based its decision on the present discrepancy between

Anglican and Orthodox belief: ‘The Orthodox Church cannot agree to recognize the rightness

of Anglican teaching on the sacraments in general, and on the sacrament of Holy Order in

particular; and so it cannot recognize Anglican ordinations as valid.’ (Note that Orthodox theology

declines to treat the question of valid orders in isolation, but considers at the same time the

faith of the Church concerned). But, so the Moscow decree continues, if in the future the Anglican

Church were to become fully Orthodox in faith, then it might be possible to reconsider the

question. While returning a negative answer at the present moment, Moscow extended a hope for

the future.

Such is the situation so far as official pronouncements are concerned. Anglican clergy who

join the Orthodox Church are reordained; but if Anglicanism and Orthodoxy were to reach full

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unity in the faith, perhaps such reordination might not be found necessary. It should be added,

however, that a number of individual Orthodox theologians hold that under no circumstances

would it be possible to recognize the validity of Anglican Orders.

Besides official negotiations between Anglican and Orthodox leaders, there have been many

constructive encounters on the more personal and informal level. Two societies in England are

specially devoted to the cause of Anglo-Orthodox reunion: the Anglican and Eastern Churches

Association (whose parent organization, the Eastern Church Association, was started in 1863,

mainly on the initiative of Neale) and the Fellowship of Saint Alban and Saint Sergius (founded

in 1928), which arranges an annual conference and has a permanent center in London, Saint

Basil’s House (52 Ladbroke Grove, W11). The Fellowship issues a valuable periodical entitled

Sobornost, which appears twice a year; in the past the Anglican and Eastern Churches Association

also published a magazine, The Christian East, now replaced by a Newsletter.

What is the chief obstacle to reunion between Anglicans and Orthodox? From the Orthodox

point of view there is one great difficulty: the comprehensiveness of Anglicanism, the extreme

ambiguity of Anglican doctrinal formularies, the wide variety of interpretations which these formularies

permit. There are individual Anglicans who stand very close to Orthodoxy, as can be

seen by anyone who reads two remarkable pamphlets: Orthodoxy and the Conversion of England,

by Derwas Chitty; and Anglicanism and Orthodoxy, by H. A. Hodges. ‘The ecumenical

problem,’ Professor Hodges concludes, is to be seen ‘as the problem of bringing back the West

... to a sound mind and a healthy life, and that means to Orthodoxy ... The Orthodox Faith, that

Faith to which the Orthodox Fathers bear witness and of which the Orthodox Church is the abiding

custodian, is the Christian Faith in its true and essential form’ (Anglicanism and Orthodoxy, PP-

46-7). Yet there are many other Anglicans who dissent sharply from this judgment, and who regard

Orthodoxy as corrupt in doctrine and heretical. The Orthodox Church, however deep its

longing for reunion, cannot enter into closer relations with the Anglican communion until Anglicans

themselves are clearer about their own beliefs. The words of General Kireev are as true today

as they were fifty years ago: ‘We Orientals sincerely desire to come to an understanding with

the great Anglican Church; but this happy result cannot be attained ... unless the Anglican

Church itself becomes homogeneous and the doctrines of its different constitutive parts become

identical’ (Le Général Alexandre Kiréeff et l’ancien-catholicisme, edited by Olga Novikoff, Berne, 1911, p. 224).

Other Protestants. Orthodox have many contacts with Protestants on the Continent, above

all in Germany and (to a lesser degree) in Sweden. The Tubingen discussions of the sixteenth

century have been reopened in the twentieth, with more positive results.

The World Council of Churches. In the Orthodox Church today there exist two different attitudes

towards the World Council of Churches and the ‘Ecumenical Movement.’ One party holds

that Orthodox should take no part in the World Council (or at the most send observers to the

meetings, but not full delegates); full participation in the Ecumenical Movement compromises

the claim of the Orthodox Church to be the one true Church of Christ, and suggests that all

‘churches’ are alike. Typical of this viewpoint is the statement made in 1938 by the Synod of the

Russian Church in Exile:

Orthodox Christians must regard the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church as the true Church of

Christ, one and unique. For this reason, the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile has forbidden

its children to take part in the Ecumenical Movement, which rests on the principle of

the equality of all religions and Christian confessions.

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But — so the second party would object — this is completely to misunderstand the nature of the

World Council of Churches. Orthodox, by participating, do not thereby imply that they regard all

Christian confessions as equal, nor do they compromise the Orthodox claim to be the true

Church. As the Toronto Declaration of 1950 (adopted by the Central Committee of the World

Council) carefully pointed out: ‘Membership in the World Council does not imply the acceptance

of a specific doctrine concerning the nature of Church unity ... Membership does not imply

that each Church must regard the other member Churches as Churches in the true and full sense

of the word.’ In view of this explicit statement (so the second party argues), Orthodox can take

part in the Ecumenical Movement without endangering their Orthodoxy. And if Orthodox can

take part, then they must do so: for since they believe the Orthodox faith to be true, it is their

duty to bear witness to that faith as widely as possible.

The existence of these two conflicting viewpoints accounts for the somewhat confused and

inconsistent policy which the Orthodox Church has followed in the past. Some Churches have

regularly sent delegations to the major conferences of the Ecumenical Movement, others have

done so spasmodically or scarcely at all. Here is a brief analysis of Orthodox representation during

1927-68:

Lausanne, 1927 (Faith and Order): Constantinople, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Greece, Cyprus,

Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland.

Edinburgh, 1937 (Faith and Order): Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem,

Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Poland, Albania.

Amsterdam, 1948 (World Council of Churches): Constantinople, Greece, Romanian Church

in America.

Lund, 1952 (Faith and Order): Constantinople, Antioch, Cyprus, North American Jurisdiction

of Russians.

Evanston, 1954 (World Council of Churches): Constantinople, Antioch, Greece, Cyprus,

North American Jurisdiction of Russians, Romanian Church in America.

New Delhi, 1961 (World Council of Churches): Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem,

Greece, Cyprus, Russia, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, North American Jurisdiction of

Russians, Romanian Church in America

Uppsala, 1968 (World Council of Churches): Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem,

Cyprus, Russia, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Georgia, Poland, North American Jurisdiction

of Russians, Romanian Church in America.

As can be seen from this summary, the Patriarchate of Constantinople has always been represented

at the conferences. From the start it has firmly supported a policy of full participation in

the Ecumenical Movement. In January 1920 the Patriarchate issued a famous letter addressed

‘To all the Churches of Christ, wheresoever they be,’ urging closer cooperation between separated

Christian bodies, and suggesting an alliance of Churches, parallel to the newly founded

League of Nations; many of the ideas in this letter anticipate later developments in the Ecumenical

Movement. But while Constantinople has adhered unwaveringly to the principles of 1920,

other Churches have been more reserved. The Church of Greece, for example, at one point declared

that it would only send laymen as delegates to the World Council, though this decision

was revoked in 1961. Some Orthodox Churches have gone even further than this: at the Moscow

Conference in 1948, a resolution was passed condemning all participation in the World Council.

This resolution stated bluntly: ‘The aims of the Ecumenical Movement ... in its present state cor-

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respond neither to the ideals of Christianity nor to the task of the Church of Christ, as understood

by the Orthodox Church.’ This explains why at Amsterdam, Lund, and Evanston the Orthodox

Churches behind the Iron Curtain were not represented at all. In 1961, however, the Moscow Patriarchate

applied for membership of the World Council and was accepted; and this has opened

the way for other Orthodox Churches in the communist world to become members as well.

Henceforward, so far as one can judge, Orthodox will play a far fuller and more effective part in

the Ecumenical Movement than they have done hitherto. But it must not be forgotten that there

are still many Orthodox — including a number of eminent bishops and theologians — who are

anxious to see their Church withdraw from the Movement.

Orthodox participation is a factor of cardinal importance for the Ecumenical Movement: it

is mainly the presence of Orthodox which prevents the World Council of Churches from appearing

to be simply a Pan-Protestant alliance and nothing more. But the Ecumenical Movement in

turn is important for Orthodoxy: it has helped to force the various Orthodox Churches out of

their comparative isolation, making them meet one another and enter into a living contact with

non-Orthodox Christians.




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