WCC and Orthodox Churches / Dr. Paulos Mar Gregorios


My dear George and George Achen,

I have read your joint letter of March 1994 with some interest, and heartily reciprocate your kind Easter greetings.

I see that you want to hold another consultation on the participation of the Orthodox churches in the WCC. I have only a remote interest in the subject now, because I do not have reason to expect much creative leadership, i.e. Christian leadership with vision and imagination, from the WCC.

I do not have the time to set forth in sufficient detail my basic insights about the Ecumenical Movement in general and the WCC in particular. I will just jot down a few things, in the form of brief statements.

1. The unity of the One church, the one body of Jesus Christ, belongs to the very foundation of the Christian faith. By the very nature of the Church it has to be united and one. This we confess in the Creed, and this I believe.

2. But the unity of the Church does not mean simply the unity of all Christians living now. We have to be one with the Church of all ages and all places. This means continuity with the Apostolic Church and its Apostolic witness. Most churches at present are not fully faithful to that tradition and heritage. The orientation of the Ecumenical Movement should not be to go after the latest fad, but to rediscover and live in greater fullness the Apostolic heritage, which can truly unite us in Christ.

3. True unity is in the good, and the more we live in accordance with the total commitment to Christ and to His universal compassion, the more united we will be as churches. This is why renewal in the church and in personal lives is basic to the ecumenical movement. There can be no unity without renewal. It is the Spirit of God who unites us in the good. There is so much evil in our churches and in the WCC, which hampers and hinders their work for unity. Some self – assessment of a deeper kind than what goes on now, is needed both in the churches and in the WCC.

4. The Protestant leadership of the WCC puts a higher priority on their hanging on to that leadership, than to the unity of the Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox churches on the basis of the Apostolic witness. So long as this distorted power hunger remains, there is little posibility of the WCC functioning as a privileged instrument of the ecumenicl movement.

5. There are some important issues facing humanity which the WCC should take up on a priority basis. The most important is laying the foundations for a new and more humane civilisation to replace the present inhuman urban technological – industrial – consumerist – nuclear – development alist civilisation, of which the disrupted life environment and war are two major products. The WCC leadership lacks the will and the vision to make the churches pick this up as an ecumenical task – including an examination of the theoretical foundations of all our academic disciplines and of our science and technology. There are other issues – like moving towards some universally acknowledged principles, not moral laws, but some basic principles like love and compassion, integrity and truth, justice and peace, with middle axioms and civil and social laws derived from them – for humans (not just Christians) living together in Koinonia on this planet, a total restructing of the visible structures of international coherence like the UN system, The TNCs, the emerging unjust global single ecomony and its institutions and structures, the initiation of new structures to make just international laws and to administer and adjudicate them, i.e. international legislative bodies, executive structures, peace – keepig bodies, and judiciary systems. Neither the churches nor the WCC seem equipped to handle these questions more than superficially.

6. The ecumenical movement needs a new kind of leadership – decentralised and distributed in different parts of the globe – not bureaucratic offices, but of praying ecumenical communities, living and sharing in koinonia. The bureaucratic pattern does not fit, either for Church leadership, or for WCC operations. We have to make full use of our best lay leadership, both female and male, but not let loose some feverish activists furiously tearing each other and themselves apart. We need wise, loving and compassionate, knowledgeable and skilled people to lead us in this critical period of our history, people who fear God, who can pray together, who love each other, which is not the case now. The shift of leadership from bureaucracy to a global koinonia of local koinonias is an urgent need.

7. The question of culture must receive urgent and better informed attention. The present treatment does not take up the real issues: e.g. culture as identity for persons and groups, the cultural imperialism of certain cultures, the role of inter-religious co-operation and mutual understanding as a way to learn to live together in pluralistic societies and to pave the way for a united humanity, the relation of culture, not some abstract entity called “the Gospel”, but to the Kingdom of God and to ultimate reality.

8. Another important ecumenical issue is the growing alienation between the organized main line churches and their people. So many, especially among the young and the learned, are opting for a life with minimum association with the organized church. There is a new and dangerous quest for “spirituality without religion” which is replacing yesterday’s “Religionless Christianity.” A great “spiritual” egoism and an unjustifiable individualist quest for one’s own private peace and salvation lurk behind this anti-social, anti- communitarian movement. But there is some justification for people revolting against the life of the organized church. This should be a prime concern for the WCC.

9. As for the questions you have posed I have only few things to say. On relation to RCC, that is another power group with its own power game, but much more experienced in that game than the WCC. It will be good to make a study of why the WCC-RCC relationship, which started off with great hopes in 1962, became rather unproductive and formal by 1970. I believe that the power game played by one WCC official to bring down the RCC to the level of one of the Reformed churches backfired. I believe also that both Paul V1 and John Paul II saw the Protestant churches as a bad influence, undermining some of the cherished RC realities such as opposition to artificial birth control, clerical celibacy, the monastic vocation, and submission to the Magisterium. The RCC gently closed its doors to the Reformation churches around the mid-seventies or even earlier. The way the dominant Protestant, leadership was treating the Orthodox churches gave some ideas to the RCC as to what would happen to them if they came inside despite their great and massive strength. Meanwhile the Reformation tradition began moving further and further away from the Apostolic heritage; this confirmed the RC desire to protect itself from such influences by keeping the doors closed as much as possible.

10. The WCC’s present agenda is certainly not of the churches, but of some activists who pick up the latest fads. On important issues like the environment or the one single global market, the WCC does not do any serious research through competent and knowledgeable people, but becomes quite satisfied with a few slogans. The question of the persistence and growth of poverty and injustice in the world as well as the growth of militarism and the arms trade gets very little informed attention. The role of science and technology in shaping our world has now been pushed back to a back burner. The element of study and research in the ecumenical community as a whole does not seem to have too many advocates either on the staff or in the Committee structures. This applies across the board-Unity, Mission and Diakonia. Of course I do not quite understand the difference between Mission and Diakonia.

On the question of what alienates the Orthodox churches from the WCC, I would not put women’s ordination issues at the top. It is the general lack of respect for the Apostolic Tradition, great differences in the attitudes towards the Church as a Divine – Human reality, towards the mysteries of the Church, the functional approach of the Reformation towards the Ministry, – these seem to me the basic factors, in addition to a lack of sensitivity in general to what the Orthodox regard as sacred, including the sanctification of time and of space.

These are just some ideas that come to my mind. The WCC was once a great force. It is not longer so, and the WCC better recognise the reasons for that and do something radical about it. Otherwise not only History, but even our Lord Himself may leave it behind.

Christ is risen. God bless you both.

Yours in Christ,

Paulos Gregorios

May 6, 1994