number 8, december 12, 1998

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Unmasking Orthodox claims

By Hans-Georg Link

Some unmasking happened at the padare hearing with six orthodox representatives at the assembly on Wednesday afternoon.

While debating criteria for church renewal, a young Serbian priest could only point to his own Orthodox tradition and Holy liturgy. The work on Scripture and Tradition done by the WCC Commission on Faith and Order, which led to a breakthrough at its 4th World-Conference in 1963 in Montreal, was completely unknown to all panelists.

A simple explanation was given for this: "Today we live in another time, there is a new situation, a new generation". The old tradition within the WCC including Orthodox participants seems to be forgotten at all terms.

It became even worse, when an Orthodox priest had to admit that most of the Orthodox Churches did not really engage in the Apostolic Faith study, focusing on the Ecumenical Creed of 381, which is very much at the core of orthodox faith and self-understanding.

Most disappointing is the fact that almost all Orthodox churches do not even know that there has been such a long-term project (since Lima, 1982 until now), as can be recognised in the most recent statement on The Nature and Purpose of the Church (Ch. IV A).

Is it credible to make public calls in plenary sessions for more Christ-oriented work within the WCC and at the same time not be engaged or interested in, not even be informed about, the work being done for decades?

I am afraid that the Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin was absolutely right: there is neither renewal nor theology at stake, but power games.

The Ecumenical Prayer Cycle, available in four western languages (English, French, German and Spanish) has never been translated into any of Orthodox languages -- Greek, Russian or Rumanian.

How do we have to come to grips with the fact that Orthodox dignitaries celebrated on Monday morning an Easter worship, while none of the dignitaries felt it necessary to take part in Sunday evening’s vigil, the crossroad "for our inability as Christian churches to receive Christ’s body and blood at one and the same table"?

Can there be an Easter celebration without sharing in the commemoration of Christ’s road to and death on the cross, or is this a gnostic heresy?

I understand that Orthodox churches have difficulties in involving themselves in western themes such as women’s ordination and sexual orientation. But it makes me sad and angry that Orthodox representatives abandon WCC work on their very own grounds: Scripture, Tradition, Creed and Prayer.

Instead of criticising the WCC for shifting from its original aims, it would be much more appropriate to do one’s own homework by involving once again work for the renewal of every church. Otherwise, I am afraid, the work done for more than 50 years with Orthodox participation will have been completely in vain and we’ll have to start again from point zero.

Dr Hans-Georg Link is a pastor for Ecumenical Affairs in Cologne, Germany, and a former member of the Faith and Order staff.

Misreported and limited

From Peter Bouteneff

The article "Unmasking Orthodox Claims", in Jubilee number 8, is insufficient in at least two areas.

First, the author misreports the padare offering he describes. The 1963 World Conference on Faith and Order, of which he says all the panelists were ignorant, was in fact discussed explicitly by two of them.

And while one panelist did speak of a regrettably insufficient reception so far of Faith and Order’s work on the Nicene Creed, both he and another presenter put this in the context of the weak reception of this text -- and almost all ecumenical texts -- throughout the confessional spectrum.

Second, the author reveals a limited understanding of the liturgical life of the Orthodox Church. To expect the Orthodox to introduce new prayers, as represented in the ecumenical prayer cycle, into their corporate worship life is surely knocking on the wrong door.

He goes on to misrepresent a matins service (not "Easter worship") celebrated in conjunction with a Vigil service last week, drawing strange and extreme conclusions (charges of gnostic heresy!) from his personal tally of who attended and who didn't.

A certain impatience with the Orthodox is more than understandable on the part of their ecumenical partners, particularly in these tense days. But it is sad to see either "side" express its frustrations in ways that are so raw and misrepresentative.

Bouteneff is executive secretary with WCC Faith and Order and secretary of the council’s Orthodox Task Force.

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Read other articles in this issue:

Polygamy no problem for African churches
Mandela to attend assembly tomorrow
Catholic Church doesn't want to 'dwarf' WCC
Evangelicals work the stream at WCC
Orthodox find the space for dialogue
Padare, the assembly energizer
Unmasking Orthodox claims
Amsterdam had a Message
50 million members, and growing fast
Some quiet nourishment

8th Assembly and 50th Anniversary

copyright 1998 World Council of Churches. Remarks to webeditor