World Council of Churches Office of Communication|
150 route de Ferney, P.O. Box 2100, 1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland
SPECIAL COMMISSION HOLDS FIRST MEETING
The Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the World Council of Churches held its inaugural meeting from 6 to 8 December 1999 in Morges, Switzerland. The Commission is composed of an equal number of representatives appointed by Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches and representatives from the other member churches of the WCC appointed by the Central Committee. Its co-moderators are Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Ephesus (Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople) and Bishop Rolf Koppe (Evangelical Church in Germany).
The Special Commission was created by the WCC’s eighth assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1998. Behind the assembly 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 members 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.
At its meeting in Morges, the 60-member Commission identified the four areas on which it will focus its work in 2000. For each of these four issues, it named a subcommittee, drawn from its own membership, to discuss the topic thoroughly and prepare a report for the next plenary meeting of the Special Commission, set for 23-25 October 2000. Fourteen members were chosen as a steering group to coordinate the work of the four sub-committees and to prepare the agenda for subsequent meetings.
The four areas identified for intensive work during next year are (1) the organization of the WCC; (2) the style and ethos of our life together in the WCC; (3) theological convergences and differences between Orthodox and other traditions in the WCC; and (4) existing models and new proposals for a structural framework for the WCC that would make possible meaningful participation by Orthodox churches.
In his presentation to the opening session on 6 December, the moderator of the WCC Central Committee, Catholicos Aram I of the Armenian Apostolic Church (Cilicia), underscored that "the Orthodox presence in the WCC has enlarged the scope of the Council’s life and witness" and that the Orthodox churches in turn "have been enriched by their ecumenical involvement". Addressing the group at the same session, WCC general secretary Konrad Raiser noted that this Commission marked the first time the WCC has created an official body "with equal participation from the Orthodox churches and from the other member churches in the WCC". Raiser suggested that "never before in its 50 years of history has the WCC taken its Orthodox member churches as seriously as with this decision".
Much of the three-day meeting was devoted to a wide-ranging plenary discussion of the twofold task assigned to the Commission by the Harare assembly: "to study and analyze the whole spectrum of issues related to Orthodox participation in the WCC" and "to make proposals [to the WCC Central Committee] concerning the necessary changes in structure, style and ethos of the Council". During these sessions, Orthodox members of the Commission offered a summary of concerns, comments and proposals discussed during their own meeting in Chambesy, Switzerland, from 2 to 5 December, just before the Morges meeting. Members also referred to a dossier of background materials including statements and reports from all key conferences regarding Orthodox participation in the WCC throughout its history, as well as to the contents of the October 1999 issue of The Ecumenical Review, devoted to the theme "Orthodox Participation in the Ecumenical Movement".
Recalling that the churches of the World Council of Churches have stayed together in fellowship over the past decades, the Commission reiterated the hope voiced by the Harare assembly to "grow together" and to "continue the journey ‘towards a common understanding and vision’".
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.