Fr. John Meyendorff on Ecumenism

The following seven texts are reproduced from Meyendorff’s book Witness to the World (New York, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1987). Written as editorials for the OCA newspaper, The Orthodox Church, between the late 60′s and the early 80′s, they are as timely today as they were when first published. An extract from each essay follows each link.

  1. Orthodoxy and Ecumenism I: …First of all the Orthodox Church is neither a “sect” nor a “denomination,” but the true Church of God. This fact defines both the necessity and the limits of our evolvement in ecumenism…
  2. Orthodoxy and Ecumenism II: …Unfortunately, Orthodox thought in the matter is too often polarized between two equally wrong positions: “open” relativism and “closed” fanaticism…. Between these two positions — which are both unfaithful to the present Orthodox responsibility — lies the road of a conscious and sober participation in the ecumenical movement, implying no compromise, but much love and understanding. This road is the right one, not simply because it is the “middle” road, but mainly because it reflects the truly catholic spirit of the Orthodox faith. It is also the only truly responsible one: for if Orthodoxy does not bear its witness, who else will?
  3. The Ecumenical Dilemma: …The Orthodox Church has participated in the ecumenical movement since its very inception at the beginning of this century. The reason for this participation was not — as some negativists pretend — to water down Orthodox witness, to accept a Protestant view of Christianity and to drop the claim of Orthodoxy to be the true Church of Christ. Quite to the contrary, the Orthodox participants simply considered it their duty, and the duty of the Orthodox Church itself, to be present wherever unity in Christ was sought. It is precisely because the Orthodox Church is the true Church, i.e., the Church for all, that it could not escape the responsibility — and the opportunity — which was offered to it to be heard and understood…
  4. The Problem of Ecumenical Bureaucracies: …In the opinion of this writer, the very comprehensive membership of the World Council, and the wide opportunity which it presents for an articulate Orthodox witness, justifies our membership. (This does not mean, however, that the Council can, in any way, speak for us, or that we should stop protesting against some of the policies endorsed by its majorities!)…
  5. Ecumenism — A Heresy?: …The distinction between a “good” ecumenism, which can be espoused by the Orthodox and is nothing but an obligation of charity, and a “wrong” ecumenism, which confuses rather than solves the issues, is to be understood clearly by all of us. The awareness that “wrong” ecumenism is indeed heresy should not lead us to forget the mission of our Church to the world, to the people around us, to those who sincerely seek the truth, for, as we forget this mission, we cease to be truly “catholic” and “orthodox” and become nothing but an introverted sect…
  6. True and False Ecumenism: …It is not, for example, the very idea of ecumenical prayer which should be put in question. If sacramental intercommunion remains, of course, excluded for the Orthodox as long as true union in faith is not achieved, other forms of prayer with the non-Orthodox are certainly possible, for the canons which forbid “prayer with heretics” had in view conscious apostates from the Church and not sincere Christians who never personally left it…
  7. Mission and Ecumenism: …Why then participate? The answer to this question is simple: the mission of the Church requires it. As Orthodox we have no right to ignore the world around us; this world requires our presence and our voice wherever it can be heard, precisely because our message is unique and because the Church is the guardian of a universel Truth. We have no right to restrict our witness to situations where “we” feel comfortable…