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26 October 2000

Special Commission meets in Cairo and prepares progress
report for WCC Central Committee

cf. WCC Press Release of 3 December 1999
cf. WCC Press Update of 9 December 1999

At the conclusion of its second meeting in Cairo, Egypt, 23-25 October, the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the World Council of Churches (WCC) released the following communiqué:

"The Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the World Council of Churches (WCC) held its second meeting , 23-25 October 2000, at St. Mark Center in Cairo, Egypt, at the gracious invitation of the Coptic Orthodox Church. The session was preceded by preparatory meetings - one of the Orthodox members and one of the other members of the Commission.

The Commission is composed of an equal number of representatives appointed by the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches and representatives from the other member churches of the WCC appointed by the Central Committee. Its co-moderators were Bishop Rolf Koppe (Evangelical Church in Germany) and Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima (Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople) in the absence of Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Ephesus.

The mandate of the Special Commission is 'to study and analyse the whole spectrum of issues related to Orthodox participation in the WCC' and 'to make proposals concerning the necessary changes in structure, style and ethos of the Council' to the WCC Central Committee.

At its first meeting in Morges, Switzerland, 6-8 December, 1999 the Commission identified four issues of special concern and named sub-committees to explore each of these:

  1. the organisation of the WCC;
  2. the style and the ethos of our life together in the WCC;
  3. theological convergences and differences between Orthodox and other traditions in the WCC;
  4. existing models and new proposals for a structural framework for the WCC that would make possible meaningful participation by Orthodox churches.
After the Morges meeting, all four sub-committees met and prepared reports for the Commission's plenary in Cairo. Sub-committees I and IV met in Damascus, Syria, 6-8 March 2000, at St Ephrem Theological Seminary, Ma'arat Saydnaya; Sub-committee II at the Orthodox Academy of Vilémov u Litovle, Czech Republic, 31 July-2 August 2000, and Sub-committee III at the Orthodox Academy of Crete, Kolympari-Chania, Crete, 22-24 August 2000. The members of the Commission underlined the good spirit of cooperation which developed in each place.

His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, welcomed the Commission in the presence of leaders of other churches in Cairo. In a clear exposition, His Holiness indicated some of the difficulties that the Orthodox experience in the life of the WCC. His Holiness said that, in seeking visible unity, the member churches should work in ways that unite, rather than divide them. Bishop Rolf Koppe thanked His Holiness for the hospitality of the Coptic Orthodox Church and for finding time personally to share in the work of the Commission.

Members of the Commission were able to attend liturgical worship in the churches of various traditions in Cairo. At the conclusion of the meeting some Commission members visited His Beatitude Patriarch Petros VII of Alexandria and All Africa, at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Alexandria.

The Commission heard updates on significant developments within the Orthodox world, including the churches in Russia, Serbia and the Middle East. Also present at the meeting were observers from the Georgian Orthodox Church.

The Commission by consensus received extensive reports and recommendations from each of the sub-committees, noting remarkable convergence in the four reports. This convergence enabled the commission to focus on five clusters of concerns:

  • issues related to membership;
  • a review of decision-making processes;
  • worship/common prayer;
  • developing ecumenical methodologies for approaching social and ethical issues;
  • ecclesiological issues.
Underlying these discussions was the vital question of what kind of Council does the ecumenical movement need to work towards in the future.

The Commission produced a progress report, to be forwarded to the WCC Central Committee which will meet in Potsdam, near Berlin, Germany, 29 January - 6 February 2001. It also approved a plan of action, which involves concentrated work before the next plenary meeting in November 2001in Hungary, at the invitation of the Reformed Church of Hungary. A final report is expected for the Central Committee meeting to be held in September 2002.

Cairo, 25 October, 2000"

The Special Commission was created by the WCC's eighth assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1998. Behind the decision to create the Commission were increasingly vocal expressions of concerns about the WCC among Orthodox churches. These had culminated in a meeting of Eastern Orthodox churches in Thessaloniki, Greece, in May 1998. Central Orthodox concerns as summarized by that meeting included some activities of the WCC itself, "certain developments within some Protestant member churches of the Council that are reflected in the debates of the WCC", lack of progress in ecumenical theological discussions and the perception that the present structure of the WCC makes meaningful Orthodox participation increasingly difficult and even for some impossible. In its action approving creation of the Special commission, the Harare assembly noted that "other churches and ecclesial families" have concerns similar to those expressed by the Orthodox.

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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 337, 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.