World Council of Churches Office of Communication
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6 December 1998

WCC Eighth Assembly - Press Release No. 13

The challenge of hammering out a fresh ecumenical vision for the new millennium was debated Sunday (6 December) by delegates at the Eighth Assembly of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Opening a deliberative session on the key WCC document "Towards a Common Understanding and Vision" (CUV), the Moderator of the Central Committee, His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of Cilicia (Armenian Orthodox Church), said that it was expected to give a "fresh articulation" to the ecumenical vision, which should remain faithful to the Gospel message and be responsive to the needs and aspirations of all.

But some fellow Orthodox were pessimistic about the CUV document's ability to bring Orthodox and other WCC members closer together. The Rev. Dr Hilarion Alfeyev (Russian Orthodox Church), who said that he represented the largest church in the WCC, complained: "The Orthodox cannot affect the agenda of the WCC because they are a minority. What about the veneration of Mary or of icons? These cannot be discussed because they are "divisive'. But what about inclusive language and the ordination of women? Are these not divisive?"

Archbishop Anastasios (Albanian Orthodox Church) suggested that the dialogue that once existed between Orthodox and other members of the WCC had all but disappeared. He cited the dialogue on the Holy Spirit that took place during the WCC's Seventh Assembly in Canberra, Australia "(Now) we did not have a single line about it," he said. Orthodox will say, "Keep your "Common Understanding and Vision'. We will go out."

Even so, Anastasios said, "I speak out of a deep desire that we must go together and that the Holy Spirit will guide us as we go together."

The Very Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky (Orthodox Church in America) said that further work was needed in the CUV process before reaching any conclusions. It was unlikely that it could be accomplished at the Harare Assembly.

One delegate received an ovation from delegates in the hall -- and from visitors who were watching the proceedings from the visitors' tent -- when she offered a critique of the debate itself.

"At the risk of sounding naive," said the Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin (Church of England), "what is the problem here? It seems the road we have gone down is, "My church is bigger than yours', or "I have more money than you', or "My church has this long and important tradition'. But this is really about power."

She referred to Orthodox speakers who had preceded her. "An earlier speaker said, "Your story is not my story'. At the Festival (celebrating the Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women), we said just the opposite: "Your story is my story.' If we're going to listen to each other, we cannot do it from a distance. That means walking side by side with me, even if you are uncomfortable."

Bishop Dr Zacharias Mar Theophilus (Mar Thomas Syrian Church of Malahar) said that a new millennium demanded a new vision. The human race was facing the third Christian millennium with a growing despiritualisation, when transnational corporations and information technology "are forging unity at the cost of human values". Giving expression to common vision could be as difficult as articulating common understanding.

The Rev. Thomas Stransky (United States), a Roman Catholic priest who has been following the CUV process for years, said that the Catholic Church had been involved in the ecumenical dialogue, but "our position is like jumping on a tiger's back and therefore having to decide what to do next". At community and national levels there was a "tremendous shift" toward belonging to the ecumenical movement.

Dr Agnes Abuom (Anglican Church of Kenya) said that many member churches had not been engaged in the CUV process. She asked: "What does it mean to talk about Christian unity when we --.churches -- are breaking up? What does it mean in a broken world?"

She added: "Some of us are still in the periphery and not at the centre. We have to create space that will accommodate youth, women and open spaces for established churches which are on the periphery."

Some delegates felt that mission should inspire everything done by the WCC, member churches and the rest of the ecumenical movement. Many endorsed the need for visible unity, with one stressing that it should be the unity that is given by God.

Contact: John Newbury, WCC Press & Information Officer
Press and Information Office, Harare
Tel: +
E-Mail: WCC media

The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 332, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the Assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.