“Truth does not fear dialogue,” says Ecumenical Patriarch
Indifference in regard to Christian unity is not an option for the disciples of Jesus, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has stated in an encyclical issued on the occasion of the Sunday of Orthodoxy.
“It is not possible for the Lord to agonize over the unity of His disciples and for us to remain indifferent about the unity of all Christians,” Bartholomew wrote in the encyclical. The Sunday of Orthodoxy is commemorated this year on 21 February.
The encyclical refutes “fanatical” challenges brought against theological dialogues among different Orthodox churches and against ecumenical contacts with the wider community of Christians by “certain circles that exclusively claim for themselves the title of zealot and defender of Orthodoxy.”
“They speak condescendingly of every effort for reconciliation among divided Christians and restoration of their unity as purportedly being ‘the pan-heresy of ecumenism’ without providing the slightest evidence that, in its contacts with non-Orthodox, the Orthodox Church has abandoned or denied the doctrines of the Ecumenical Councils and of the Church Fathers,” Bartholomew criticizes.
“The truth does not fear dialogue, because truth has never been endangered by dialogue,” the encyclical letter states. “When in our day all people strive to resolve their differences through dialogue, Orthodoxy cannot proceed with intolerance and extremism.”
“I am very grateful to the Ecumenical Patriarch for his strong commitment to dialogue and the unity of the church, as His All Holiness reaffirms it in this significant encyclical” said the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in response to the encyclical on 18 February.
“This encyclical,” Tveit said, “reminds me of another famous text: the 1920 encyclical letter in which the Ecumenical Patriarch proposed the foundation of a fellowship of churches, providing a major impulse for the formation of the WCC.”
The Feast of Orthodoxy is celebrated on the first Sunday of Lent in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. Originally commemorating the defeat of iconoclasm in the 9th century, the Sunday of Orthodoxy has gradually come to be understood in a more general sense as a feast in honour of the true faith.
In response to the encyclical, the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches has written to the Ecumenical Patriarch to express “profound appreciation” for Bartholomew’s encyclical on the unity of the church.
“Surely, your emphasis on unity in truth is precisely what is needed in order for the whole ecumenical movement to recover depth and direction,” said the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon in a letter sent today to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul.
“Please be assured that we at the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA stand with you … in this passionate call for the unity for which our Lord prayed,” Kinnamon wrote.
On February 21, the Sunday of Orthodoxy, Bartholomew wrote in a Patriarchal and Synodal Encylical: “Our endeavors for the union of all Christians is the will and command of our Lord, who before His Passion prayed to His Father ‘that all [namely, His disciples] may be one, so that the world may believe that You sent me.’ (John 17.21) It is not possible for the Lord to agonize over the unity of His disciples and for us to remain indifferent about the unity of all Christians. This would constitute criminal betrayal and transgression of His divine commandment.”
Bartholomew noted that “the Ecumenical Patriarchate has for many decades conducted official Panorthodox theological dialogues with the larger Christian Churches and Confessions. The aim of these dialogues is, in a spirit of love, to discuss whatever divides Christians both in terms of faith as well as in terms of the organization and life of the Church.”
He criticized critics of the dialogues who “distort reality” about them and “disseminate false rumors” that dialogues will bring the Orthodox Church into subjugation to the Pope.
“Beloved children in the Lord, Orthodoxy has no need of either fanaticism or bigotry to protect itself. Whoever believes that Orthodoxy has the truth does not fear dialogue, because truth has never been endangered by dialogue.”
The text of Kinnamon’s letter to the Ecumenical Patriarchate can be read here .