Orthodox Participation in WCC: Meeting to Propose Next Steps

May 30, 2003 09:29 AM EDT

The Steering Committee of a Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the World Council of Churches (WCC) will meet - in the place where Orthodox challenges to the Council first came to light five years ago - to oversee the implementation of its 2002 recommendations. The Steering Committee's 14 members - seven Orthodox and seven from other member churches - will meet in Thessaloniki, Greece, 4-7 June. It will be their first gathering since last August, when the WCC Central Committee adopted the recommendations proposed by the Special Commission to improve Orthodox participation in the WCC.

The Committee will receive reports, evaluate progress and propose the next steps to be taken to implement: - a consensus decision-making process; - reform of the WCC's membership and representation system; - a proposed framework regarding common prayer; - studies on the fundamental differences in the self-understanding of Orthodox and Protestant churches.

These recommendations were the whole Council's response to long-standing concerns that were strongly and openly expressed at a conference of representatives from Eastern Orthodox churches in Thessaloniki in May 1998. They were the fruit of three years of work by the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC. The Commission was created by the WCC's eighth assembly (Harare, 1998), and was made up of an equal number of representatives from Orthodox and other member churches.

According to WCC general secretary, Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, the implementation of the recommendations may lead "to a change in our institutional culture, to extension of the ecumenical table, to improvement in the way Christian churches relate with one another and, finally, to renewal in their witness and ministry".

In Thessaloniki, the Steering Committee will analyze how member churches in different regions have reacted so far to the work of the Special Commission. It will also discuss possible future communication strategies to engage member churches in further discussion.

The Committee fulfills - until the next WCC assembly - the role of a "Permanent Committee on Consensus and Collaboration" set up by the WCC Central Committee to follow up the Special Commission's mandate and to advise WCC governing bodies regarding Orthodox participation in the WCC.

International Symposium

The Steering Committee meeting will be preceded by an international academic symposium on "Orthodox theology and the future of ecumenical dialogue: perspectives and problems".

Organized by the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki's School of Theology under the aegis of His Beatitude Christodoulos, archbishop of Athens and All Greece, the symposium will take place from 1-3 June. Besides local scholars, the symposium will be attended by members of the WCC Steering Committee and staff, as well as representatives of other churches and academic institutions.

The symposium will address the new perspectives for Orthodox participation in the WCC emerging from the work carried out by the Special Commission. It will also discuss bilateral dialogue between Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches, and between those churches and the Roman Catholic Church.

The closing public lecture by WCC general secretary Rev. Dr. Konrad Raiser will address "The importance of the Orthodox contribution to the World Council of Churches".

Background information on the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC is available at: http://www.wcc-coe.org/wcc/press_corner/index-e.html