JOINT INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION
FOR THE THEOLOGICAL DIALOGUE
BETWEEN THE ORTHODOX CHURCH AND THE LUTHERAN WORLD FEDERATION
AN INTER-ORTHODOX EVALUATION
OF THE DIALOGUE (1981 - 2011)
Inter-Orthodox Center of Penteli, Athens,
Greece, 2-5 May 2011
|Following the mandate given at the Preparatory Orthodox-Lutheran meeting in Bethlehem (2010) for an evaluation of the Orthodox-Lutheran dialogue from its inception (Espoo, Finland, 1981) to the forthcoming 15th Plenary Session (Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Germany, 2011), an Inter-Orthodox meeting was held in Athens under the leadership of H.E. Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima, at the Inter-Orthodox Center of the Church of Greece, located within the Holy Monastery of the Dormition of the Theotokos in Penteli, Athens, Greece, from 2 to 5 of May 2011 (Cf. The Communiqué). The papers presented and the discussion that ensued, during that meeting, were the basis for the drafting of the present document of evaluation by a three-member committee (Fr. George Dragas, Fr. Viorel Ionita and Fr. Cyril Hovorun). This committee drafted the six-point structure which is seen in the following paragraphs of this document (points 1-3 drafted by Fr. Dragas, point 4, by Fr. Ionita and points 5-6 by Fr Hovorun). The first draft was discussed by the whole Inter-Orthodox committee and Fr. Dragas was asked to edit it in the light of that discussion and to add point 7 which was agreed unanimously. |
1. Introduction: General overview
1.1) We Orthodox note with a sense of gratification that the official Theological Dialogue at the international level between the Orthodox Church as a whole and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has completed an impressive milestone: thirty years of uninterrupted and productive work (1981-2011) which resulted in formulating twelve Common Statements (the 12th pending its amendment and approval at the planned plenary meeting in Wittenberg in June 2011).
1.2) Although all the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches participated during the thirty years of the Dialogue and the Lutheran Churches were represented by the Lutheran World Federation, which does not call itself ‘’one Church’’ but rather ‘’a communion of Churches’’ that includes 145 local Lutheran churches worldwide representing 95% of the world’s Lutherans, nevertheless this Dialogue has been a very serious and fruitful attempt to grapple with major theological and ecclesiological topics from Lutheran and Orthodox points of view and traditions. The presence of distinguished theologians from the two traditions and from different parts of the world has provided the basis for a realistic and honest approach to the two traditions which recognizes the faith they share in common and exposes the real nature of their diversifications which historical exigencies have piled up.
1.3) The overall estimation of the Orthodox members is that this Dialogue has not reached its desired end, namely, to lead the two church traditions “to convergence and full communion and mutual recognition” (Espoo, Finland, 1981), but it has gone a long way to dispel misunderstandings and to prepare the way for a fresh initiative – an initiative both towards the desired aim to which the two traditions are committed, the unity of the Church and through it the unity of humanity, even if it often appears to be a long-term one, and towards sharing their short term anxieties which emerge from the challenges which the modern world imposes on them.
1.4) There is no doubt that unity is what both traditions desire, but current problems and issues which both traditions face and to which they often seem to respond differently require deeper discussions and even new strategies, so that the long-term aim may by the grace of God be eventually reached. Metropolitan Gennadios (the Orthodox co-chairman) put it very aptly to the Inter-Orthodox meeting in Athens: “Today, Christian Churches, cannot stay indifferent in a world of constant mutation, which is bringing about new challenges and changes, where wars and conflicts are still taking place… and where globalization touches the daily life of people… In this new phase of humanity’s history, it is absolutely necessary for the Churches all over the world to continue to be in constant dialogue… and to seek better collaboration and closer fellowship… The Orthodox Churches have high expectations from the ecumenical conversations and from the bilateral dialogues in particular.”
1.5) This Inter-Orthodox evaluation, then, attempts firstly to take stock at this junction of what has been achieved during these thirty years of conversations, secondly to evaluate it in such a way that it is not jeopardized because of divergences and especially because of controversial responses to current issues and problems which have arisen through the challenges of modern society, and thirdly to stress that it does actually provide the basis for new initiatives concerning the future direction and purpose of this Bilateral Dialogue.
1.6) From the Orthodox viewpoint, such initiatives are necessitated by new developments that have occurred in the Lutheran Churches since the inception of this bilateral Lutheran Orthodox Dialogue: e.g. the ordination of women on all levels of clerical orders, which is a clear deviation from Christian practice, and the emergence of a new moral-code concerning human sexuality and especially homosexual relations, which has far reaching implications for Christian anthropology, both on the personal and social levels, etc. In the eyes of most Orthodox, these new ecclesiological and controversial anthropological innovations in the Lutheran world constitute radical challenges and serious obstacles to the Orthodox-Lutheran theological dialogue and to its original aim, namely, the promotion of mutual ecclesial rapprochement and, eventually, of Church unity, and consequently need to be fully and carefully addressed.
2. An overview of the work of the Dialogue
2.1) One way of describing this bilateral Orthodox/Lutheran Dialogue is to distinguish several phases based on the Common Statements that were issued. It is important to note, however, that there was a period of preparation. This period began with the Fourth Pan-Orthodox Conference (1968), which unanimously approved the suggestion for such a bilateral dialogue. It was realized in 1977 when the LWF accepted Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios’ invitation to this dialogue. The preparatory separate meetings that followed thereafter (in 1978, 1979 and 1980) led to the first official joint meeting in Espoo, Finland, in 1981. The following phases may be distinguished:
2.2) The first phase (1981-1984) can be described as preliminary, because the joint commission tried to deal with ecclesiology but did not reach concrete results. As Professor Voulgaris put it, “The theme of the first official meeting in Espoo (1981) was Participation in the mystery of the Church, which was approached through four subthemes: the understanding of the Church, the Church in the history of salvation, the marks of the Church and the way in which Christ’s salvation of human beings is realized in and through the Church. It seems that presentation and discussion of the above sub-themes was premature, and this was proved in the 2nd plenary session in Paphos, Cyprus (1984), where the main theme was discussed and consensus proved impossible.” Instead, the dialogue continued with a series of more fundamental themes, which, however, were not entirely unrelated to the initial theme of ecclesiology.
2.3) The second phase (1985-1989) dealt with fundamental themes of particular concern to the two sides such as “Revelation,” “Scripture” and “Tradition.” In the words of Professor Voulgaris, the first fruits of the Dialogue came at the 3rd plenary session in Allentown, Pennsylvania, U.S.A, (1985), where the sub-commission’s draft on Divine Revelation was discussed, revised and approved. Thereafter other related common statements followed: in Chania, Crete, Greece (1987) a common statement on Scripture and Tradition, and in Bad Segeberg, Germany (1989) another common statement on The Canon and Inspiration of Holy Scripture.
2.4) The third stage (1990-1998) indicates a shift to themes that relate in a preliminary way to the original concern of ecclesiology. They include the themes of “authority in the Church,” “the Ecumenical Councils” and “Soteriology.” The discussions of this last theme, however, were conducted in both typical Lutheran and typical Orthodox terms: i.e. “justification,” “deification (theosis),” “grace,” “synergy” and “sanctification.” Three common statements were signed: in Sandbjerg, Denmark (1993) on Authority in and of the Church: Ecumenical Councils; in Limassol, Cyprus (1995) on Understanding Salvation in the light of the Ecumenical Councils; and in Sigtuna, Sweden (1998) on Salvation: Grace, Justification and Synergy. That ecclesiology has been the background to the discussions all along clearly emerges in the next phase which concludes with this theme.
2.5) The fourth phase (1999-2011) dealt more explicitly with ecclesiological topics of central importance to both Orthodox and Lutherans; they were topics relating to “Sacraments,” especially those connected with Christian initiation, i.e. Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, and also to “the nature of the Church” and “the Church’s Mission.” Five common statements were issued, A, B. C. D. and E. (the last one pending the approval of the Lutherstadt-Wittenberg plenary meeting in June 2011). All these statements bear the general title The Mystery of the Church and are specified as follows: A. Word and Sacraments in the Life of the Church (2000, Damascus, Syria); B. Mysteria / Sacraments as Means of Salvation (2002, Oslo, Norway); C. Baptism and Chrismation (Confirmation) as Sacraments of Initiation into the Church (2004, Duràu, Romania); D.a. The Holy Eucharist in the Life of the Church (2006, Bratislava, Slovakia); D.b. The Holy Eucharist in the Life of the Church: Preparation, Social and Ecological Dimension (2008, Paphos, Cyprus); E.a. The Mystery of the Church: Nature and Attributes/Properties of the Church” (2009) and E.b. The Mystery of the Church: The Mission of the Church” (2010).
2.6) Reflecting on this work of the joint Orthodox-Lutheran Commission, we cannot fail to observe that an initial aborted attempt to approach the mystery of the Church directly, did eventually, after some thorough-going explorations of particular themes relating to it, arrive at laying down very important statements. These statements reveal not only the commitment of the two church traditions to serious dialogue towards convergence and unity, but also many points of convergence on the basis of which their dialogue can and should continue, in spite of historic divergences and newly arisen problems.
3. Taking stock of what has been achieved: points of convergence and divergence
3.1) As Metropolitan Isaias of Tamassos indicated, the Common Statements that the Orthodox Lutheran Bilateral Dialogue has produced during the last thirty years reveal in general many and important convergences. They contain, for example, several implicit agreements on topics relating to basic doctrines such as the doctrines of the Holy Trinity and Christology – although on the topic of the procession of the Holy Spirit “and from the Son” (Filioque) the position of the Lutherans is unclear to the Orthodox. Lutherans seem to agree with the Orthodox that the addition to the Ecumenical Creed was not right, but they are not ready to reject the doctrine which implied by this addition. For the Lutherans this had not been a major theological issue, because they had received it from the beginning and was not an issue in their debates with the Church of Rome at the time of the Reformation or afterwards. Besides, it is not the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (381) but the so-called Apostle’s Creed which Lutherans use at Baptisms.
3.2) On the topic of the Ecumenical Synods – a primary concern of the Orthodox who initiated it in the course of the Dialogue – the Common Statements reveal a clear convergence. The fourth Statement states, that “Through the Ecumenical Councils and Synods, the Holy Spirit guided the Church to maintain and disseminate the faith … that in this way the Apostolic authority is exercised by the Bishops…,” and that “the decisions of the Ecumenical and Local Synods, the teachings of the Church Fathers, the Liturgical Texts and other ecclesiastical customs are authentic expressions of the operation of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, all the ecclesiastical activities and decisions are considered to be correct, as long as they were received by the Church.” However, the Lutherans hold that the Canons of the Councils, which relate to the dogmas of the faith, are not of the same status and authority as the rest of them; hence the divergence that exists between them and the Orthodox on matters of ecclesiastical canon law. Indeed, the Lutherans are hesitant about the Canons of the Quinisextum (Trullan Council) which to the Orthodox are foundational in the Canonical Tradition of the Undivided Church to which they adhere.
3.3) On the topics which were discussed in the first phase of the Dialogue, the Common Statements again reveal significant convergence, but there are also important points of divergence. Convergence is reached on the divine inspiration of Holy Scripture. Holy Tradition is the authentic expression of the Divine Revelation. Both, Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition have the same status for ‘’orthodox piety’’ (St. Basil the Great). Indeed, for the Lutherans, it is stated that the Reformation motto “Sola Scriptura” includes both Scripture and Tradition. The New Testament Canon is identical for the two Traditions, but the Lutherans do not accept 10 books of the Orthodox Old Testament Canon, which they consider to be Apocrypha (Ezra I, Maccabees I,II and III, Tobit, Iudith, Sophia Sirach, Sophia Salomond, Baruch and the Letter of Jeremias). On the topic of the “Fathers of the Church,” the Lutherans accept the importance of the Church Fathers, but they regard Luther as a primary authority. Church’s Fathers teachings are mediated to Lutherans through the Ecumenical Creeds, Councils and early Lutheran theology.
3.4) On the topics relating to “Soteriology,” Metropolitan Isaias noted the following: that for the Orthodox, salvation is understood as purification, illumination and deification (theosis) – a terminology which is not prominent among the Lutherans. According to the Orthodox, salvation is achieved through “synergy,” i.e. cooperation of divine grace and human will. For Lutherans, justification is by Grace through Faith in Christ (cf. Sigtuna statement 1998). The Lutherans do not teach the distinction between God’s ‘’being’’ (ousia) and God’s ‘’energies’’. For them “grace proceeds from the very being of God.” With regard to eschatology, both Orthodox and Lutherans believe that creation “will be delivered from the slavery of corruption” (Rom. 8:21). With regard to environmental issues there are converges from both sides.
3.5) On the topics relating to the Sacraments and ecclesiology the following points are important: The Lutherans identify as “sacrament” those acts of the church that involve a physical element (water, bread and wine), ‘’a command of Christ (‘’do this’’) and an accompanying promise of salvation’’ (Damascus statement 2000), whereas the Orthodox use the term “mysteries” (mystéria) and understand it as referring to particular acts, which are done in the Church and by the Church since the Church is the body of Christ and the sacraments are based on the work of the economy of Christ. Indeed the founder of the sacraments is Christ himself. For the Lutherans, however, only two sacraments, Baptism and Eucharist, are based on divine commandment (“Go, teach… and baptize all nations…”, cf. Mt. 28:19). Nevertheless, there are elements in the Lutheran tradition which could lead to the recognition of confession and priesthood as sacramental. In addition, for the Lutherans Chrismation is included in the sacrament of Baptism. As regards the Eucharist, Orthodox and Lutherans seem to converge on the real presence of the Body and Blood of Christ, although the Orthodox understand it in terms of a “change” (metabolé in Greek) of the Eucharistic Bread and Wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. Lutherans also often speak of this in terms of the Body and Blood of Christ being “in, with and under” the elements of the bread and the wine.
3.6) Finally, with regard to topics relating to Ecclesiology, both Orthodox and Lutherans believe that the Church is One, but they do not share the same understanding on how this Church is constituted. Lutherans have different ecclesiastical traditions, such as the German, the Scandinavian, the American, etc., and this oftentimes makes the dialogue with the Orthodox difficult. Orthodox do not distinguish between visible and invisible in their belief in One Church as Lutherans do.
4. A general consideration on Reception
4.1) As Fr. Ionita has rightly stated, in the Orthodox perspective the issue of Reception refers to a very complex process which involves the whole Church and is ultimately completed with the integration of the decisions to be received into the teaching and the life of this Church. It is understood, of course, that the Orthodox delegates who participate in the bi-lateral dialogue submit detailed reports of the proceedings and of the common statements to their respective Churches which are read, discussed and evaluated by the appropriate committees of their synods. The next stage in the process of reception is the discussion and evaluation of these proceedings and statements on the Pan-Orthodox level – an act which is initiated by the Ecumenical Patriarch who coordinates all the bilateral Dialogues. This is done in the first instance by special consultations with the officers (chairpersons and secretaries) of the orthodox delegations and ultimately by consultations of all the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches.
4.2) Fr. Ionita also rightly states that if the Orthodox Church is to receive a decision either taken by its own authority or by the Orthodox representatives jointly with representatives of other churches, as it is the case of the joint statements made in the frame of the Orthodox-Lutheran dialogues at the world level, she needs first to recognize in them her own faith as she got it from the Lord Jesus Christ through the Holy Apostles and witnessed to by each generation in the history of the Orthodox Church through the Apostolic succession of Bishops.
4.3) To the extent, then, that the joint statements of the Orthodox-Lutheran Dialogue do not reflect the whole teaching of the Orthodox Church in relation to the topics addressed by the respective statements, and that these statements include many open questions, to that extent the Orthodox Church would not be able to receive these statements at the ecclesial level and, consequently, these statements will not have a full ecclesiological relevance for the Orthodox Churches.
4.4) Nevertheless, the joint statements from this bilateral dialogue have to be received at the level of theological reflections as they could help the Orthodox to acquire a better understanding of Lutheran theology, and to work more effectively towards bringing the two traditions together.
5. Evaluation of the dialogue
5.1) Through the work of the Joint Commission over the past 30 years Lutherans and Orthodox have grown closer to one another. We have come to understand one another's theology and practice much more deeply and have found that often we have come much closer than we had supposed. We have been mutually enriched in many ways.
5.2) In spite of these positive achievements, the Orthodox Church is very concerned about recent developments within the LWF in two areas, “same sex marriages” and the ordination of women. These two developments are significant because of their implications for theological method, especially the new hermeneutical approach to Holy Scripture and Tradition which has been used to justify them. For us Orthodox, these changes in theological method call into question the value of much that we have achieved in our dialogue.
5.3) With regard to homosexuality, we are aware that the decision to accept it as a legitimate Christian expression of human sexuality has come about as a result of social pressure in some member churches of the LWF. We are also aware that the question of homosexuality is an ongoing and painful controversy within and between LWF member churches. Based on the love and trust built between us over the past 30 years, we Orthodox feel it necessary to express to our Lutheran brothers and sisters, our great concern about this issue. When members of our Church see Lutheran Churches condoning to behavior which Christians throughout all history have seen as sexual immorality, they reach the conclusion that Lutherans have abandoned historic Christian morality with regard to sexuality. Although we Orthodox members of the Commission can recognize that this is a caricature, nevertheless, it has provoked a strong negative reaction against the Lutheran-Orthodox dialogue in much of the Orthodox world.
5.4) On a more theological level, though we can see that this caricature of public opinion is quite incorrect, we consider the issue of homosexuality to be very serious and potentially Church dividing. A number of Autocephalous Orthodox Churches have officially expressed their grave concerns to the Orthodox delegation of the dialogue about the fact that some LWF member Churches accept and bless “same-sex relationships” and some even perform “same-sex marriages”.
5.5) The question of homosexuality has intentionally not been raised in our dialogue because we have understood that it will be very difficult. Because of the increasingly wide acceptance of homosexuality in some LWF member Churches, we now consider it necessary to address this issue together in our dialogue. We remain committed to the goal of visible unity, and in order to achieve this we must address this concern. Orthodox hope and pray that the discussion of this issue in our dialogue will be of assistance to the Lutherans in their continuing process of discernment, and to the Orthodox Church as well, as it begins to face similar developments related to homosexuality in the Church in traditionally Orthodox lands and around the world.
5.6) Ordination of women to the priesthood had already begun in the LWF before the Orthodox-Lutheran dialogue was initiated, but did not yet include women to the episcopate. The fact that this practice has now become normative in the LWF is of serious concern to the Orthodox. This substantial change in Lutheran theology and practice, based on a shift in theological method and hermeneutics, provide a substantial barrier to the successful completion of the Orthodox-Lutheran dialogue. This issue has also caused substantial popular reaction in the Orthodox Church and has led to pressure to discontinue the dialogue.
5.7) We would like to state clearly that, in spite of these additional obstacles towards unity, it is the desire of the Orthodox to continue the dialogue. In fact these greater challenges probably make the dialogue more necessary than ever. However, Lutherans should understand that these issues are major difficulties in our dialogue and may jeopardize its continuation and success. If the popular reaction becomes too strong in any of the Autocephalous Churches it may not be possible for them to continue participating in the dialogue in spite of their desire to do so.
5.8) We Orthodox members of the Joint Commission suggest that we take together the following steps in order to address the issues of women’s ordination and concerns related to homosexuality:
a) Orthodox ask Lutherans to inform us about the current state of affairs within the LWF on these issues. Looking at the LWF from outside, it is not easy for Orthodox to understand the complexity of internal developments. It would be easier for Orthodox to respond constructively if we are more fully informed. In this way, we will be able to inform our Churches more accurately,
b) Orthodox ask Lutherans to communicate clearly to your Churches how deeply grieved the Orthodox Church is regarding these issues. If we are to work towards unity, it is important that both sides of the dialogue take seriously the issues that are of great importance to their dialogue partners. In the case of these two issues, member Churches of the LWF have chosen to take steps which depart radically from Christian belief and practice throughout the last 2000 years. In such cases we believe that love and Conciliarity demand that those who are making such radical changes do so in a way that respects the fact that the Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. This means that the process of discernment cannot take place on a local level in isolation from the rest of the Church, and
c) We propose that we consider together how we can constructively address the topics of women's ordination and concerns related to homosexuality within the Church. This can be done through the study of Ecclesiology, Ministry and Anthropology.
5.9) Orthodox pray that Lutherans receive this evaluation in a spirit of love, friendship and fellowship. It is our desire more than ever to continue to work with you towards the goal of visible unity. As we grow closer together, however, it becomes more necessary for us to find ways to speak openly, honestly and with mutual respect about the things that grieve us, so that we can work towards healing and reconciliation.
6. Hopes and expectations:
6.1) In response to these concerns we believe that it is necessary to rethink and redefine the methodology of our dialogue.
6.2) It seems to us that we should shift our attention to a better understanding of each one's positions concerning church-dividing, ecclesiological and ethical issues. Thirty years ago, at the inception of the dialogue, we considered it as a means of achieving unity. Now most Orthodox see it as a means to protect the theological achievements of the past years, and to prevent unwanted reactions in our Churches. In continuing the pursuits of our dialogue, the Orthodox Churches hope to avoid the danger of self-isolation, and also to help the Lutherans to overcome tendencies of extreme liberalization.
6.3) In spite of disappointments, we Orthodox have not lost our hope. On the contrary, we find it extremely important to continue meeting and speaking with the Lutherans. Maybe, our dialogue is more important nowadays than it was 30 years ago. We need to continue discussing various theological issues from our commonly elaborated agenda. We also need to consider promoting a fuller implementation of our theological discussions in the life of our Churches.
a) that this bilateral Orthodox-Lutheran Dialogue be continued as it was agreed in Espoo, Finland in 1981, and as it was mandated by the 3rd Pan-Orthodox Pre-Conciliar Conference in Chambésy/Geneva, Switzerland, in 1986,
b) that the Dialogue focuses not only on Ecclesiological doctrine but also on church dividing issues in Ecclesiology and Anthropology, as noted above.
We Orthodox hope that the 15th Plenary of the Joint International Commission for the Orthodox-Lutheran Theological Dialogue in Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Germany (31 May- 7 June 2011) will be an occasion for a thorough and deep evaluation of the work accomplished during the thirty years and will mark a new phase for the future.
This present document was approved by all the Orthodox members present at the 15th Plenary Session of the Orthodox-Lutheran Dialogue at Lutherstadt Wittenberg, 2011, and was presented to and discussed in the Plenary Session.
Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Germany, 4 June 2011.