On Ecumenism with Sincerity

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Every year, in the third week of January, the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches pray together.

This ritual is based on one of the aspirations of the Christian Churches to leave the differences apart and reunite in a single community.

This intention regarding the unification of all Christian denominations received the generic name of “ecumenical movement” or “ecumenism”.

Ecumenism is not something new. We did not invent it! Not us, the ones that belong to the end of the 20th or the beginning of the 21st century. Not even, close!

In fact, the initiative to unite all Christians did not even belong to one of the two older branches of the religion founded by Christ: Orthodoxy or Catholicism.

On the contrary, it emerged from the desire of the Anglican Christians.

Let the History speak

Certainly, there have been attempts, but historians mention the association of the Anglican and Eastern Orthodox Churches as the official beginning of ecumenism.

This happened in 1864, at the initiative of British minister H. J. Fynes-Clinton.

Then, in 1910, in Edinburgh, the first International Mission Council was held, attended by representatives of several Christian denominations.

This meeting is considered the basis of today’s ecumenical movement.

The most important ecumenical organization the World Council of Churches (W.C.C.) that was established following the meetings in Utrecht (1938) and Amsterdam (1948).

In this body, most of the Eastern Orthodox Churches entered in 1961, during the W.C.C. assembly from New Delhi (India).

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What is ecumenism and what are its purposes?

From my point of view, the ecumenical movement is a correction of the wrong deed of history and the attempt to erase several stains from the face of the Christian Church.

Because Christ is One and He is the Head of the Church[1], it is self-evident that there can only one “true” Church.

Certainly, Christians have known these things since the dawn of Christianity, but it took some time before they became aware of it. “Just” a few hundred years!

Therefore, the first attempts of unification between Christian Churches tried to put into practice the essence of Christ’s teaching – love for the other[2].

Meeting between Pope Francis I and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

Consequently, the objective of the ecumenical movement was to unite the Christian Churches to ward off wars and cure social woes.

In this respect, since 1944, W.C.C. has activated to limit the effects of the Second World War.

After these trials, quite successful, in the practical realm, began the long process of in-depth mutual knowledge, in order to achieve the unification in the realms of teaching, morality, cult and church organization.

So far, this process is underway.

Obstacles

As expected, once separated, each of the Christian Churches developed its own identity.

Some of the best-known examples are given by the fact that Roman Catholic priests are only unmarried, while most Orthodox priests are married.

In addition, in some of the Protestant Churches, women may be priests and bishops.

In addition, some Protestant Churches also accept homosexual or transgender clergy.

And these are just matters related to the organization of the clergy, without having entered into dogmatic or moral matters of finesse.

Therefore, we can no longer speak of a unitary picture of Christianity, but of an unsolved puzzle.

Some principles

I firmly believe that the unification of the Churches is a very difficult thing to accomplish, but not impossible. So this process is one that must continue. But not anyway.

It requires patience, lucidity, and clear principles to regulate this endeavor.

Knowledge is needed

In 1054, the Great Schism of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches occurred. And this was just the beginning.

Over time, several branches of Christianity have emerged and each has its own identity (from the perspectives of teaching, moral, cult, and organization).

To speak of union, one must first know the differences between these ways of confessing Christ.

The truth is absolute and not something to be found somewhere in the middle

When we talk about the revealed truth, we are talking about Christ, which is “the Way, the Truth and the Life”[3].

Therefore, in the ecumenical dialogue, it is not possible to apply the principle of negotiation – “I give up something, you give up something, and let us meet in the middle.”

The Truth is only one, and it must be found together and accepted by all!

We do not have to hurry

The wounds that caused the separation between Churches remained open for hundreds of years. It would be a pity to hurry to close them without completely cleaning the gangrene.

If we do not do it properly, we cannot speak of genuine healing.

Along the history, Christian denominations have formed their own identities expressed in feasts, specific rituals, unique ways of understanding God, etc.

Let’s assume that after a debate, the experts come to the conclusion that the practices of a particular confession are wrong.

In that case, it would very difficult for the priests and believers of that community to accept that what they and their forefathers believed over hundreds of years is not right.

That’s why these things have to be dealt with maximum care!

The theologians must be allowed to work

Einstein said that a problem cannot be solved by the same level of intelligence that created it.

And history tells us that not necessarily differences of learning have been the basis of the separation between the Churches, but rather, Church-related political issues.

So, more than ever, prayer and theological clarity are needed, where the egos of the high priests or the interests of the moment created tears.

Or, in other words, humility and theological arguments must be focused on.

In search of God

For the time being, ecumenism is only seen as a prayer shared with other Christians.

In the same way, it is also a way to apply practically the principles of Christian love in communion with members of other denominations.

But it is more than that!

Even though on the surface, it seems to be just about the union of the Christian Churches, there is more.

Because ecumenism is also about seeking God together.

I have always liked the metaphor that speaks of God as a very high mountain everyone wants to climb.

Therefore, each individual starts from a different place at the basis of the mountain, and therefore each one of them will experience a unique way to the top.

However, what is important to remember is that, despite the obstacles, as everyone approaches the peak, he is approaching the others.

Perhaps this is, in fact, the essence of the ecumenical movement.

So, firstly, let’s start to search for God, and as a consequence, we will get closer to one another.

References

[1] Epistle to Ephesians of apostle Paul, chapter 5, verse 23: ”For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the Savior of the body.”

[2] The Gospel according to John, Chapter 13, verses 34-35: ”A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples if ye have love one to another.”

[3] The Gospel according to John, Chapter 14, verse 6.

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