June 14, 2016

The Relationship Between Orthodox and Other Christians

By Archbishop Anastasios of Albania

Our relations with other Christians have gone through several phases. Today, two positions can be distinguished. The first one represents a closed mentality, distrust of others, which often goes back to the past with negative ideologies and points out the dangers of contacts with other Christian denominations. The second is expressed by those who believe in approaching and cooperating with other Christians. Usually the first pose the question: What can we take from the West? The second emphasize that the correct attitude is: What can we offer? And of course we have a lot to share together. Something obvious, yet it is ignored by several Orthodox, is that other Europeans did not choose to join a heresy, which is the Christian confession they belong to today, but they were born in a country where for centuries their confession prevails. For example, a Norwegian belongs to the Lutheran Church and the Scottish is Presbyterian. How can we judge them for not being Orthodox?

The ultra-conservatives claim that our contacts with the heterodox threatens to alter Orthodox beliefs and morals and that our participation in the ecumenical movement - which they uncritically characterize as a "pan-heresy" - is a betrayal of Orthodoxy. Without difficulty they put labels on dissidents from their views as if they are "heretics", "ecumenists" (an unknown word in Greek vocabulary, which for centuries has only known the words "ecumene" and "ecumenical"). But many believe that it is our duty to participate in our common concerns by offering an Orthodox testimony. This measure has been adopted for years in Synods of the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches. I recall the recent pronouncements in Constantinople of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Benedict XVI.

The key question is, who ultimately decides in the Orthodox Church what should be done and what is heretical? So and so pious monk and cleric? Because supposedly he automatically "represents" the people, even without being asked? Perhaps this is why we are in danger of slipping into a "Presbyterian Orthodoxy"? But this is unknown in Orthodox tradition. The Synod of Bishops has the responsibility to make decisions on critical issues and determine the respective Orthodox attitude.

Obviously, there are many theological, ecclesiological and practical problems which divide the Christians of Europe. It certainly will require responsible and systematic discussion on various topics. Not one of those who participate in inter-Christian relations is willing to deny their Orthodox identity to make compromises in the faith by betraying the Orthodox tradition. Moreover, our essential contribution is neither compromise nor silence, but very critical thinking, offering the treasure of Orthodox tradition and theology which connects the present with the apostolic era.

In general, however, it would be tragic, if while the political, scientific, cultural and economic forces promote the unity of the citizens of Europe thereby supporting the peace and security of the continent, the Orthodox Churches try to raise a curtain between them. Something worse: it would be a scandal.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.