The Report of the Special Commission on eccle
Harsh questions of a broader ecumenical character emerged in this situation:
•Why did the Orthodox Church of Bulgaria and Georgia suddenly withdraw their participation in WCC?
•Why did the council of bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Holy Synod of bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church request a new pan-Orthodox discussion on Orthodox participation in WCC?
•For which reason then Orthodox Churches, gathered in Thessaloniki in 1998, stated that their delegates would not participate in ecumenical services, common prayers, worship and other religious ceremonies at the Harare Assembly of WCC?
These questions gave expression of a certain “crisis” which seemed to exist in the relations Orthodox Churches - WCC and the main reason probably for that situation was that there was no common understanding basically on ecclesiological issues.
If we look back we can see that the decades following the entrance of most of the Orthodox Churches in WCC (New Delhi 1961) represented a period of intensive interchange between Orthodox and Protestants. On the occasion of 25th anniversary of the council’s founding, in 1973, congratulatory message from Moscow and Constantinople pressed the WCC to reexamine its basis and underlying concept o ecumenism.
An intensification of dialog followed, culminating with the consultation at New Valamo (1977), Sofia (1981) and Chambesy (1986). Generally the Sofia meeting is considered to be the precursor of the Special Commission; of course one must understand the different historical context in which these two consultations took place.
Following the collapse of communism and changes of the leaderships in some of the member churches there have arisen renewed debates on the role of Orthodox Churches within the WCC as an institution.
A pan-Orthodox meeting in Thessaloniki, in May 1998, raised essential questions in such a pointed way that the WCC’s eighth assembly meeting that December in Harare decided to create a special commission, with parity of membership between protestants and orthodox to address these issues.
This commission was divided in four subcommittees and had the role to study and analyze the whole spectrum of issues related to Orthodox participation and to make proposals concerning the necessary changes in structure, style and ethos of the Council.
In the late summer of 2002, the central committee of the WCC met in Geneva to address a number of pressing concerns. Perhaps none of these was more potentially significant in the life of the ecumenical movement than discussion and action regarding the final report of the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in WCC.
Ecumenical journey has not been a smooth sailing for none of the confessional traditions active in the WCC. Differing perspectives on the nature of the Church and the role of the WCC led to delicate yet frank dialogues between Orthodox and Protestants and to ecumenical milestones like Toronto Statement (1950) on the ecclesiological significance of WCC and, more recently, to the 1997 document “Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the WCC”.
Although the title of the commission refers to orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement it is important to say that the issues addressed in this context are not just of the Orthodox churches. It has long been clear that the Catholic Church and many evangelical, free and Pentecostal communions are unlikely to come into membership with WCC as it is currently constituted. Some of the fundamental questions the commission dealt with may mark the beginning of new dialogues with Christian fellowships not yet closely associated with WCC.
I don’t claim to analyze thoroughly the subject as it is very complex. I see my paper more like an invitation to debate, to deep analyze and to a better understanding of present situation in ecumenical discussions on this topic.
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