World Council of Churches Office of Communication
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10 December 1998

WCC Eighth Assembly - Press Release No. 27

The Orthodox Church is experiencing "an internal fermentation" that is provoking misplaced criticisms against the World Council of Churches, one of its scholars told the WCC's Eighth Assembly Wednesday (9 December).

Professor Ion Bria, from Romania, said that the fermentation, caused by "the problem of ecumenical formation", increased after the end of the Cold War. Leaders of the Orthodox churches in the former Eastern bloc "were shocked by a new beginning they were not ready for, but people embraced the change, they were exposed to literature in libraries across their borders hitherto inaccessible, and new voices from new movements were formed."

Professor Bria was speaking on "Orthodox Churches in the Ecumenical Movement" in the Assembly's Padare, a three-day programme of 400 presentations by Christian groups outside the official agenda. He said that although the people changed the life of the Church, church leaders blamed outsiders for causing the fermentation. Among those unfairly blamed was the WCC, Dr Bria said.

His audience, which was largely from the Orthodox Church, was further told that in the minds of many of its leaders, the reality of a borderline between the Church and ecumenism has not been acknowledged. "It is for this reason that they are pushing the WCC to become a super-church and criticising the WCC for not adopting instruments of a super-church. You cannot declare ecumenical councils to be part of the Church. Ecumenical councils are extraordinary instruments given by God in this era to promote the unity of churches."

Professor Bria said that theological problems which the Church is wrestling with are products of tradition and historical factors. "The mentality of the Cold War versus new freedoms encouraging people to build open societies has come with new issues in theology."

The Church is experiencing plurality, he said, adding that there was nothing wrong "with the many voices, it is a question of finding a way to speak together".

Contributing to the discussions, the Rev. Abera Bekele, head of the parish council department of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, said that "progressive dialogue" was taking place in the Orthodox Church. "Orthodox dialogue will continue within its various families."

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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 339, 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.