The Orthodox approach to all issues is necessarily ecclesial. In spite of the historical contradictions and counter witness of some of the local churches, the Orthodox never cease to be “romantic” about the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, the Body of Christ, the People of God. They speak of the sin and shortcomings of Christians, but never of any defect of personified Holy Mother Church. She is always the Bride of Christ being prepared and perfected for the ultimate revelation of glory. Questions of unity, doctrine and ethical action can never be raised and reflected on except through the ecclesial channel. This is not very often perceived sympathetically by western partners in the ecumenical dialogue where individual theological opinions and contextual ethical concerns may hold sway. The Orthodox are naturally apprehensive that such crucial matters like the authority of Scripture and Tradition, the teaching authority of the Church and the total experience of life in the Holy Spirit attested to by the saints and martyrs are eclipsed by the overriding currents of individual and group demands to interpret the Gospel to suit their passing needs.
The Orthodox ecclesial approach to issues is shaped by the life of worship. Praising and worshipping the Holy Trinity in words, symbols and ritual celebrations takes centre stage in the life of devout Christians. Concerns of this world seem to be sidelined, if not totally ignored. The liturgical-ecclesial approach may look strange, to say the least, to those who are brought up in an Enlightenment rationality tradition. It has been this latter tradition that dominated the modern ecumenical movement. Hence the movement has become acutely aware of the pressing social-ethical issues of humanity. In many instances worship was sidelined, and occasionally questioned as irrelevant in face of the material needs of humanity. The W C C is making great efforts to bring worship back to prominence, at least in its major assemblies. The divergence of approach, however, continues to create difficulties for the on-going dialogue.
The crumbling of authority in general in our contemporary world has eclipsed our traditional reference points on the ecumenical pilgrimage. The time when ecumenical movement beganwith forms of clear traditional authority both in the Protestant and Orthodox families has radically changed. The secularization of the West had its tremendous impact on the Western Churches and their affiliates in the rest of the world, while most Orthodox churches had to undergo quite different historical traumas. So the perspectives have changed in both camps. A convergence now seems to be hardly possible. Yet we are called to struggle, united in our one hope in Christ Jesus our Saviour.
God’s love for humanity (philanthropia) manifested in the incarnate Christ is the basis for the Orthodox Church’s care for the world and all social action. In the fellowship of the WCC, the Orthodox Churches have been constantly exposed to the cry of the poor and the oppressed, call for justice, peace and integrity of creation and all the ethical reflections they required. The sense of ecumenical fellowship acted as a ferment and challenge without which many local churches would probably have remained insensitive to the forces of social evil, and contented themselves with some acts of charity. However, these churches also make it clear that they do not want to confine the fellowship to a simply humanitarian organization which risks to be dominated by the rich do-good is their agenda. The Orthodox Churches need to bring out more clearly its fundamental conviction that ethics can never be divorced from theology. Working out God’s philanthropy for our world which is in dire poverty at one extreme and ecological catastrophe at the other is a holy task laid on the Orthodox Churches. This is also one of the ways in which we can make our fellowship in the WCC more fruitful and less tense.
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