One Foot In the Past And One In The Future

October 7, 2009

Because unity is finally a gift of God, “it demands a profound sense of humility and not any prideful insistence.” With this call to the “never-ending search” for unity of the church, which “is also an ever-unfolding journey”, Patriarch Bartholomew I opened the 7-14 October meeting of the Faith and Order Plenary Commission, in Kolympari, Crete, Greece.

In his opening address to the 152 theologians attending the event, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, a former member of Faith and Order, also highlighted the importance of a double conversion, namely turning both “toward the past and the future”.

“It is crucial that we learn from the early Fathers and Mothers of the Church”, and “from those who – in each generation – maintained the integrity and intensity of the Apostolic faith.”

“At the same time, we should turn our attention to the future, to the age to come, toward the heavenly kingdom.” This “eschatological” perspective should offer “a way out of the impasse of provincialism and confessionalism”.

This understanding of Christian unity “permits us to discern the areas of our common ministry and united mission”, he said, before mentioning “preservation of creation” and “promotion of tolerance and understanding among religions and people in our world” as major concerns for the church.

Crete has already hosted one meeting of the Faith and Order Standing Commission, in 1984. This time the Plenary Commission, which meets every 7 years, is being hosted at the Orthodox Academy of Crete and is honoured by the presence of the Ecumenical Patriarch.

As in the rest of Greece, the vast majority of the population is Orthodox. For historical reasons, the Archdiocese of Crete does not belong to the Church of Greece and is under the direct jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate was among the first churches to participate in the development of the modern ecumenical movement, and it is particularly known for its Encyclical to “All the Churches of Christ”, issued in 1920, in which it called for the formation of a worldwide fellowship of churches. It is a founding member of the WCC. The patriarchate is also involved in the coordination of inter-Orthodox relations.

During this meeting, the Commission will focus its theological search for Christian unity on three main topics: how churches understand the “one church” (ecclesiology), how they relate to their sources of authority, and how they use these sources to make decisions in the area of moral discernment. The overall theme of the meeting is “Called to be the One Church: that they may become one in your hand.”

In his sermon at opening prayers, the WCC general secretary, Rev Dr. Samuel Kobia, encouraged participants to “work in love”.

“You may reach an agreement this week on the place of the teachers and early witnesses of the Church. You may find an agreement this week on how best to proceed on questions on moral discernment in the Churches. You may arrive at a clear, fresh direction on how to proceed on the work of ecclesiology. But if these things are not done in love, then they are merely clever”, he warned.

More on the Crete meeting:

Full text of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s address:

Full text of the general secretary’s sermon:

More on churches in Crete:

More on the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople:

More on the Orthodox Academy of Crete:

Additional information: Juan Michel +41 22 791 6153 +41 79 507 6363

The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just anfellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 349 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church. The WCC general secretary is Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, from the Methodist Church in Kenya. Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.

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