World Council of Churches Office of Communication
Press Release
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10 December 1998

WCC Eighth Assembly - Press Release No. 32

The dialogue between Orthodox and Evangelical Christians, described by an Orthodox spokesperson as "a funny alliance" and as a love story, continued Wednesday night (9 December) at the World Council of Churches Eighth Assembly.

The Very Rev. George Tsetsis was speaking at a meeting sponsored by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the Assembly's Padare programme, a series of informal events independent of the offical agenda. Dr Tsetsis, representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the WCC, said at the meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, that while there are many areas of difference between the two groups, "we manage to find our way together on a few things".

A ground rule for the initial conversations, said Dr Tsetsis, was the understanding that "we shall not be polite. Politeness hides realities and does not solve anything." He admitted that proselytism was a "very painful issue" for dialogue, "in part because of the aggressive presence of uncontrolled [Evangelical] groups" in Eastern Europe.

"The Gospel is already powerfully present in the Orthodox liturgy," he said. "It is nonsensical [for these groups] to say that they will go and proclaim Christ to godless Russia or godless Georgia."

According to Dr Tsetsis, the "love story between Orthodox and Evangelicals" had its beginnings in the late 1980s, but it was at the WCC's 1991 Assembly in Canberra, Australia, that a small group of Evangelical and Orthodox leaders met informally out of concern for "the controversial way" that the Assembly theme, "Come Holy Spirit - Renew the Whole Creation," was presented by the Korean theologian Chung Hyun Kyung. Formal conversations among leaders have been held in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1995 and Hamburg, Germany, in 1998.

Kosta Milkov, an Evangelical from Macedonia, affirmed the "real need for representatives of Evangelical Christians from countries where the Orthodox Church is predominant" as the dialogue between the two groups continues. "We do acknowledge that there are no easy solutions to solve all the problems . . . the dialogue is an ongoing, slow and painful process in which both sides have to commit themselves to the ultimate cause of Christian unity."

Ian Murdoch-Smith, of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, suggested that the discussion among Orthodox and Evangelicals is taking place among the "authority and hierarchy" of both groups, with Evangelicals represented by "a hierarchy of the educated, of Ph.Ds," rather than grassroots practitioners.

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

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.