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The Cross of Christ, a Reality check for the Ecumenical Movement

Metropolitan Bishoy of Damietta, from the Coptic Orthodox Church, and other members of the WCC executive committee express words of blessing during the installation of the WCC general secretary the Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit.

GENEVA: “To be one, the Church must go back to its common basis. Nothing except Jesus Christ, and him crucified”, the World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit has said. The cross is not just a sign of religious identity, he added, but a “reality check” for both the churches and the ecumenical movement.

Tveit was preaching [1] at a service in the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva on 23 February. During the service, the WCC Executive Committee formally installed Tveit as the Council’s general secretary. A pastor and theologian from Norway, Tveit, 49, was elected as the WCC’s 7th general secretary in August 2009 and began his term on 1 January 2010.

“Seen in the perspective of the resurrection”, Tveit said, “the cross becomes the sign of God’s victory over sin and evil” and of “God’s unconditional love to all human beings”. It is also at the root of any possible Christian unity: “We are one as Christians because we receive the same gift” of God’s “being with us and for us” through the cross.

“It doesn’t sound like very diplomatic language”, acknowledged Tveit in his sermon, referring to the statement that the cross is “the symbol of what the churches have to give to the world […] nothing except Jesus Christ, and him crucified”. Nevertheless, he affirmed that such a statement offers “substance and direction to the ecumenical movement”.

“How shall we, then, best give shape to the ecumenical movement of the cross in our time?” Tveit wondered. “And how can the ecumenical movement be a movement of the cross – the tree of life?”

Following early teachers of the church, Tveit suggested that “when Christ stretches out his arms at the cross, he is stretching out to the whole world, embracing everybody”. The uniqueness of the cross “is precisely that it is inclusive”, he said.

For Tveit, the call of the ecumenical movement goes beyond successes and failures. “Whether we are heard or not, our call is to carry the cross with one another”. This may entail walking in the shoes of the poor and oppressed, suffering distress when agreements are not reached, overcoming disappointment when problems are not solved.

However, Tveit said, the call to “carry the cross in our search for unity” remains. “And we shall do it together, never alone.”

The service of installation of the new WCC general secretary was led by the moderator of the WCC central committee Rev. Dr Walter Altmann. Participants included a large number of representatives of churches, ecumenical and international organizations, and members of the diplomatic corps based in Geneva.

After the service, greetings were presented by Mr. Jens Petter Johnsen, director of the Church of Norway national council; the Rev. Thomas Wipf, president of the Council of the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches; Mr. Alain Stehlé, president of the Association of Churches and Christian Communities of Geneva; the Rev. Dr. Setri Nyomi, general secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches on behalf of the ecumenical organizations in the Ecumenical Centre; Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations; and Ms Bente Agell-Hansen, Norwegian ambassador to the United Nations and other international organizations.

The WCC executive committee is meeting in Bossey, near Geneva, from 23-26 February.