Rethinking Ecumenism

Speaking in September in Aachen, Germany, at an interreligious forum, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk, Chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, was sharply critical of tendencies in the ecumenical movement to place secular ideologies higher than holy scripture. Extracts from his text follow:

“For the last ten years we have heard about the crisis of the ecumenical movement more often than ever. … Some people are afraid of excessive bureaucratization in modern ecumenism. They would like to see a more ‘charismatic’ approach to the problem of cutting the Gordian knot of differences and divisions.

“Others, having resigned themselves to the tragedy of division and even convinced themselves that this is not a tragedy at all, insist on ‘broadening the horizons,’ on the inclusion… of a maximum number of communities of different trends irrespective of their teaching…

“It looks as if the ecumenical movement is really in crisis, even at a dead end. In a certain sense this crisis was inevitable. As far back as the eve of ecumenism, in its most romantic period, the outstanding Russian theologian Archpriest George Florovsky warned against easy ways, against dangers of ‘dogmatical minimalism,’ and exposed the futility of hurried efforts aimed at reaching any result as soon as possible. He saw other serious danger in domination of humanitarian and peace-making subjects… at the expense of Christian unity, return to the spirit and life of the early Ecumenical Church, which… continues her ceaseless being in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and in many respects in the Roman Orthodox Church.

“Today, paradoxical as it may seem, the ecumenical movement has become a hostage of politics aimed at underlining human values rather than particularly Christian ones. The movement itself is not to be blamed, as it consists of the Churches and Christian communities, which bring their concerns and priorities into it… processes of modernization that took place in the Protestant world under relatively favorable post-war conditions…

“[T]he ecumenical movement on the whole has not fulfilled its most important task in history, namely the rapprochement of Christians at the profound level of spiritual life, but rather has left them separated in their experience of faith…

“[I]nstead of spiritual revival and rapprochement we have faced new obstacles that make our common witness to Christ more and more difficult in the world, from which Christian values are being ousted. In our opinion, uncritical adoption of secular humanitarian ideology by many theologians and Churches in the West played a negative part in it. Secular humanism in many respects differs from Christian Biblical anthropology, which is far from the unequivocal support of freedom in every form…

“[M]any liberal values connected with personal rights and freedoms have become coated with doubtful theological argumentation, which has a different evaluation and is considered doubtful by many people. At present these values are perceived as equal to those of the Holy Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition or even higher. Moreover, the clear and unequivocal witness of the Word of God when it differs from the secular liberal values is ignored or… distorted.

“The protection of personal rights, which is in compliance with the Church tradition (especially under tyranny, persecution for faith, wars and poverty), was radicalized to the detriment of the norms of the Apostolic Tradition, and in female ordination, ordination of homosexuals, and so on. The secular legal principle of religious tolerance was extrapolated on dogmatics and brought about syncretism, which is often hidden beyond the facade of inculturation…

“No wonder that the Churches that confess the changeless values of Holy Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition resist the impulse to subject ‘old truths’ to reform and revision. But this resistance consists neither in raising outside barriers, nor in refusing to communicate with ‘brothers, separation from whom tortures us,’ to quote St. Gregory the Theologian…

“It is evident that the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches as the Churches of the Tradition, which are the closest in their history, teaching and church order, and many Protestant communities that try to keep the norms of the Apostolic Tradition in their life, should work together to assert the Word of Christ in the world in order to save many.

“Probably we should seek the ways of a more adequate representation of the ‘catholic’ tradition in the framework of the global inter-Christian forum, which is the World Council of Churches, or whatever structure may replace it.

“Many people fear that the inter-Christian dialogue is losing its dynamics and meaning and that it is maintained for the sake of a certain political correctness. We have talked about many dogmatic truths for fifty years, but have not reached complete understanding, and many people say that the dialogue has no future.”

[Full text: www.russian-orthodox-church.org.ru]