“The search for Christian unity is very costly, as well as slow and painful,” says Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima, of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. “And yet there is hope for the quest of church unity by God’s grace.”
Gennadios, a vice-moderator of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC), speaks from a long experience within the ecumenical movement, which he began to serve as a young steward at the WCC assembly in Uppsala in 1968.
A key person in the organization of the 7-13 October meeting of the WCC Plenary Commission on Faith and Order at the Orthodox Academy of Crete, Gennadios was happy with the deliberations taking place in this Orthodox setting.
“Crete has a long tradition of hosting great ecumenical events. Due to the open-minded spirit of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, there is a favourable atmosphere here”, says Gennadios. For historical reasons, Crete belongs to the ecclesial jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (today’s Istanbul, Turkey).
For Gennadios, the “charisma” of the Faith and Order Commission is its ability to deal with difficult issues and a great variety of theological viewpoints. That has been achieved thanks to an attitude of cooperation in a spirit “of friendship and mutual understanding”.
The Faith and Order Commission is regarded as the widest Christian theological forum in the world owing to the number of ecclesial traditions involved, the regions represented and the fact that its members are official representatives of their churches. It is made up of WCC member churches and others, including the Roman Catholic Church.
Not only are almost 80 percent of the current members new to the commission, but there is also a generational shift. “There are new faces; the older generation is gradually giving way to younger people”, says Gennadios. The average age of the 120 members is 48, and around 50 of them come from the global South.
Seeking unity from an Orthodox perspective
“There has been very rich participation by the Orthodox from the beginning”, says Gennadios, who has been a Faith and Order staff member, as well as vice-moderator and moderator of the commission. “Important personalities, pioneers of the ecumenical movement in the Orthodox world, have been members.”
Among the Orthodox contributions to ecumenical theological dialogue, Gennadios mentions the concept of “conciliarity”, which refers to the relation in communion and unity in the faith between individual churches, the theology of the Holy Spirit, and an emphasis on the communion of the Holy Trinity.
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