Ecumenism 31/08/98 (English)
Address of His Beatitude Petros VII, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa at the 12th International Meeting "People and Religion"
August 31st, 1998
The meaning of the word "Ecumenism" is closely related to the Eastern Orthodox Church. It expresses the universal message of the Gospel and the capacity of the Christian Faith to be accepted by the whole world, regardless of race or language. Therefore, the Byzantine Empire, as well as the Patriarchate of Constantinople, were called "Ecumenical".
These days the word "Ecumenism" is also used in a different way: it expresses the idea of the universal amalgamation of various religions, Christian and non Christian, into one universal Religion. This type of Ecumenism, which is in reality a new "Syncretism", is rejected without any hesitation, completely and unconditionally by the Orthodox Church.
The Orthodox Church of Christ seeks and desires dialogue with all other heterodox Churches, based on equal conditions and provided it be conducted in the fear of God and the witness of the One Divine Truth, which the incarnated Logos and Son of God the Father, our Lord and Saviour has revealed to the world. The Orthodox Church aims for dialogue which seeks the love of man and which will unite all under the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church as one body, the secret Body of Christ.
There is no place in the body of the Church for untruths. The Church does not hold a part of the Truth, but the whole Truth; because Christ, who is the Head of the Church, is the Truth.
The dialogue of the Orthodox Church is conducted in the spirit of love and truth. The Church determines the ecclesiological and moral preconditions and obligations which those who partake in this dialogue must accept, in order that such dialogue will take place without self-serving motivation or hidden purpose. This means that it is impossible, from the Orthodox point of view, to ignore or to sacrifice the true interpretation of the Divine Revelation, simply for the sake of an insincere, superficial and senseless union. Neither can we ignore the element of love as being the highest good in the relationship between men and institutions.
Prudent, honest and effective dialogue takes place at all levels of theological confrontation, debate and conversation, and throughout this intellectual process, the Truth of Christ is projected. All men must accept this Truth. If we wish to proceed to unity of the faith through theological discussion, we must on the one hand, respect the equality of the conditions upon which dialogue is based, and on the other hand, accept the Truth in love and in all its perfection.
The restoration of unity amongst the Churches will be achieved only when full communion is restored. This communion is based upon unity of faith in accordance with the common experience and tradition of the ancient Church. All attempts to restore this unity in the past have failed, and in many cases have served only to reinforce dissension, firstly, because they did not respect the precondition of equality within dialogue, and secondly, because they based the dialogue on self-interest, which is alien to the pure unity of the Church.
The dialogue of Truth and Love is the only way to restore the full communion of Christianity. We must never forget that the communion of faith is the participation of the faithful in the sacrament of Christ in the Holy Spirit. This communion allows those who believe correctly to embrace God the Father, and finds its expression in the experience of holiness and the communion of the saints within the Church, which our Lord instituted.
The mystery of salvation is that of being in Christ within the Church, which is the only Ark of Salvation. Our Lord Jesus Christ instituted the Only One Church, the members of which constitute the mystical Body of Christ. Thus, no one has the right to split or divide the unity of this Body or to proclaim teachings alien to the Apostolic Tradition. We, the Bishops especially, must never forget the words of St. Paul: "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he had purchased with his own blood" (Acts 20:28).
The study and deep understanding of the Word of God will greatly assist the true and fruitful continuation of contemporary theological dialogue, as was understood and experienced by the Fathers of the undivided Church. This systematic study will help to bring our communion into the spirit of truth, assisted by simple brotherly love.
The Church of Christ is not static, but diachronic. It moves in time and faces contemporary problems according to the Divine Revelation. The Theology of the Orthodox Church is life, by which the faithful become "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4).
Theological dialogue is a blessing from God and must be upheld with patience, mutual understanding, and especially, with prayer. For dialogue to be productive, it is not enough just to talk, but also to listen. We must pray to Holy God to grant us all His divine enlightenment, so that we will have the awareness and the ability, not only to distinguish the essential from the unessential, but to comprehend the modifications which have taken place over time. In this way, our conversations will be fair and pragmatic, and based within the historical reality.
On the table of theological dialogue we must clearly place all the facts and experience of our Christian Faith. Only then will we have the right to judge how "bona fide" our discussions and our interlocutors are.
The Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa actively seeks Dialogue. It aspires to and encourages dialogue. It is our heartfelt desire that the paths, which lead towards the unity of the faith be open wide to new possibilities and prospects; that the dialogue between the faithful of various religions be carried out in good will and co-operation. Through such dialogue, we hope that we will be able to contribute essentially to the reign of the Divine Revelation of the Glory of our Triune God, Who is worshipped for ever.