Thursday, April 29, 2010

Systematic Theology paper

Systematic Theology – Blog entry – ‘Perspectives on Ecumenism’

The topic of ecumenism has been popular of late. It appears on the Orthodox blogosphere and can be overheard in coffee hour discussions. It is heard by seminarians at St. Vladimir’s Seminary getting calls asking how they feel about the Archbishop of Canterbury visiting. It can be brought up by seeing images of the Pope and Ecumenical Patriarch praying together on the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul. In some circles, just mentioning the E -word can be seen as a curse word.
It is first important to ask what we mean by the word ‘ecumenism.’ Many simply hear the word and they think of someone who denies the tenets of the Orthodox Church, and it’s view as the “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” On the other hand, many view Anti-Ecumenists as people who are right-wing lunatics who are poorly educated.
There are those who perhaps in both groups that exemplify a negative stereotype. For instance, at the World Council of Churches meeting in Canberra in 1991 participants walked through a cloud of incense to a worship space. Conversely, one should not ascribe all efforts by Anti-ecumenists to those of certain zealous monks on Mt. Athos. As with other issues, it is important that some sort of middle ground be found. This does not mean ceding to the branch theory, which speaks of the church existing in many different branches from the same trunk (even Orthodox can assert a version of the branch theory when they speak of the Greek East vs. the Latin West). It also does not deny that it is possible for God’s grace to extend beyond the canonical walls of the church.
A document that has come out dealing with ecumenism is ‘Basic Principles of Attitudes to the Non-Orthodox. Published by the Moscow Patriarch in 2000, it speaks in chapter 7 of “…rejecting the views which are erroneous from the point of view of Orthodox doctrine, yet also, “…The Church condemns those who…deliberately distort the task of the Orthodox Church in her witness before the non-Orthodox world.” This text nuances the issue appropriately, defending Orthodox teaching and involvement in the ecumenical movement based on tradition, “…witnessing the Truth.”
The fact is that the Orthodox Church has always participated in some form of ‘ecumenism’ broadly defined. Ecumenical engagement can be traced all the way back to St. Basil the Great, who spoke of a degree of difference of people outside of the church. He differentiates between “heresies, schisms, and illegal congregations.” The participation of the Orthodox Church in the ecumenical movement hastened in the 20th century, especially after World War II.
We are forced to ask ourselves, “Where do we go from here?” It is important to constantly assess the purpose of Orthodox involvement in ecumenical dialogue. The continued participation in organizations such as the NCC and WCC by the Orthodox church(es) remains to be seen. It is difficult to participate in dialogue groups that have a completely different ecclesiology, or understanding of the church. It is also difficult to remain involved with a body that often has a liberal Protestant theology and organizational mindset. Other concerns are of a sort of unification movement (super church), and also that organizations such as the National Council of Churches (NCC) has lately functioned as more of a social activist agency rather than a body of churches. In the WCC there are often concessions made to the Orthodox, but one wonders if the Orthodox are used merely for the credibility of the organization. Another concern is the fact that the Roman Catholic Church, the largest church in the world, is not a member.
Many times I scrutinize my own involvement in groups such as Inter-Seminary Dialogue (ISD), wondering if I am fulfilling my duty as an Orthodox Christian to proclaim the ‘good news’ and encouraging people to be visibly connected to the Church.
I consider myself neither an “ecumenist” nor an “anti-ecumenist.” It is natural to divide into different camps when discussing and debating issues, yet it is important to avoid resorting to invective and caricature. We can all look to the ‘Principles’ document as a way to find a middle ground that is both honest to the tradition and also does not deny God’s mysterious grace working in the world. The most important thing a Christian can do is live out their faith and let the fruit of one’s actions speak for themselves. Dialogue is always preferable to silence, and speaking the truth in love is a commandment that we are all to follow.


Blogger Sophocles said...

A very good piece and a departure from your usual postings.

Very balanced perspective.

11:31 PM  
Blogger Aaron Joshua Oliver said...

Thanks, Soph! This was an assignment for my Systematics class at St. Vlad's. Maybe I'll post more of them...

6:31 PM  
Blogger Sophocles said...

I think you should!

9:55 PM  

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