Icon of the Holy Church

Icon of the Holy Church

While this question is not directly related to the focus of our blog, it comes up often enough in our discussions that we thought a brief explanation would be appropriate.

Ecumenism is a complex topic that could easily have an entire blog dedicated (and in fact there are probably several such blogs on the internet). This post will necessarily be brief, but hopefully will give a good enough description of the fundamental points that are relevant to our blog. The interested reader is referred to this article by Fr Timothy Evangelidis (Hobart) for a more detailed description as a starting point.

Fundamentally, ecumenism is the goal of bringing all Christians (and indeed all people) together in one Church. To understand why this might be controversial, we first need to cover a couple of points.

The Orthodox Church is the One True Church

To understand Ecumenism, one must first understand Orthodox teaching about the Church. This teaching is simple that the Orthodox Church is not just another Christian church among many (who are all equal), but it is the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, founded by Christ himself. This is a simple but profound & bold claim that we humbly hold as fundamental to our Faith. To contradict this claim is, from an Orthodox perspective, a heresy. It is because of this belief that we view schism as such a serious sin – schism takes people outside of the One True Church.

Ecumenism: The Orthodox way and the heretical way

The most confusing part about Ecumenism (which gives rise to controversy) is that there are two different possible approaches that can be taken to achieve the goal of uniting the world into one Church:

  1. Creating one mega-church comprised of all existing churches (including the Orthodox Church) & other religions, accepting them all as equals as they are, without change, and ignoring all differences as unimportant.
  2. Uniting all Christians into the Orthodox Church by convincing them to change to the Orthodox Faith.

The difference is that the first approach doesn’t consider any existing church to be the true church, which is why a new mega-church has to be created to include everyone, so that all can worship together. In light of the Orthodox teaching that the Orthodox Church is the One True Church, this approach must be considered a heresy. This is why we have canons that (for example) strictly prohibit our clergy from concelebrating with non-Orthodox, and our faithful from participating in their prayer services – because by participating in their services we give the impression that their services (and their churches) are equal to ours.

The second approach, on the other hand, is fundamentally based on the belief that the Orthodox Church is the One True Church -and as such it is not heretical. In fact, this is actually the mission of the Church, because our Lord commanded us to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19) – it would be heresy for us to teach or do otherwise!

So does the canonical Church teach the heresy of Ecumenism?

While we are obviously not intimately familiar with the teachings of each and every one of our hierarchs throughout the Orthodox world in the modern era, we are confident though that neither of them openly preach or have preached the heresy of Ecumenism (ie, that they would claim that the Orthodox Church is merely one Church among many).

That’s not to say that there aren’t times when one or two of our hierarchs might have crossed the line on some occasions – there are even those within the canonical Church who have concerns about the Orthodox Church’s involvement in its relations with other churches & religions, and some of these concerns (like praying, or seeing to participate, in non-Orthodox services) are legitimate. Our hierarchs are not perfect, but there is a big difference between making a mistake here-and-there, however, and openly professing a heresy.

Conclusion

Critics of the canonical Orthodox Church claim that the Church has fallen into the heresy of Ecumenism. While there may be some legitimate concerns at the heart of such claims (as noted above), they are exaggerated to hysterical proportions (as is the case in Christodoulos’ letter, for example). Our hierarchs have a difficult job to do in trying to reach out to our non-Orthodox brothers and sisters, and they deserve to be held innocent until proven guilty.

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