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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
      • Learning from one another
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Learning from one another

Khomiakov, seeking to describe the Orthodox attitude to other Christians, in one of his letters

makes use of a parable. A master departed, leaving his teaching to his three disciples. The

eldest faithfully repeated what his master had taught him, changing nothing. Of the two younger,

one added to the teaching, the other took away from it. At his return the master, without being

angry with anyone, said to the younger: ‘Thank your elder brother; without him you would not

have preserved the truth which I handed over to you.’ Then he said to the elder: ‘Thank your

younger brothers; without them you would not have understood the truth which I entrusted to


Orthodox in all humility see themselves as in the position of the elder brother. They believe

that by God’s grace they have been enabled to preserve the true faith unimpaired, ‘neither adding

any thing, nor taking any thing away.’ They claim a living continuity with the ancient Church,

with the Tradition of the Apostles and the Fathers, and they believe that in a divided and bewildered

Christendom it is their duty to bear witness to this primitive and unchanging Tradition.

Today in the west there are many, both on the Catholic and on the Protestant side, who are trying

to shake themselves free of the ‘crystallizations and fossilizations of the sixteenth century,’ and

who desire to ‘get behind the Reformation and the Middle Ages.’ It is precisely here that the Orthodox

can help. Orthodoxy stands outside the circle of ideas in which western Christians have

moved for the past eight centuries; it has undergone no Scholastic revolution, no Reformation

and Counter-Reformation, but lives still in that older Tradition of the Fathers which so many in

the west now desire to recover. This, then, is the ecumenical role of Orthodoxy: to question the

accepted formulae of the Latin west, of the Middle Ages and the Reformation.

And yet, if Orthodox are to fulfil this role properly, they must understand their own Tradition

better than they have done in the past; and it is the west in its turn which can help them to do

this. Orthodox must thank their younger brothers, for through contact with Christians of the west

Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Calvinist, Quaker — they are being enabled to acquire

a new vision of Orthodoxy.

The two sides are only just beginning to discover one another, and each has much that it can

learn. Just as in the past the separation of east and west has proved a great tragedy for both parties

and a cause of grievous mutual impoverishment, so today the renewal of contact between


east and west is already proving for both a source of mutual enrichment. The west, with its critical

standards, with its Biblical and Patristic scholarship, can enable Orthodox to understand the

historical background of Scripture in new ways and to read the Fathers with increased accuracy

and discrimination. The Orthodox in turn can bring western Christians to a renewed awareness of

the inner meaning of Tradition, assisting them to look on the Fathers as a living reality. (The

Romanian edition of the Philokalia shows how profitably western critical standards and traditional

Orthodox spirituality can be combined). As Orthodox strive to recover frequent communion,

the example of western Christians acts as an encouragement to them; many western Christians

in turn have found their own prayer and worship incomparably deepened by an acquaintance

with such things as the art of the Orthodox icon, the Jesus Prayer, and the Byzantine Liturgy.

When the Orthodox Church behind the Iron Curtain is able to function more freely, perhaps

western experience and experiments will help it as it tackles the problems of Christian witness

within a secularized and industrial society. Meanwhile the persecuted Orthodox Church

serves as a reminder to the west of the importance of martyrdom, and constitutes a living testimony

to the value of suffering in the Christian life.

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