Honest Differences

When Communion impedes communion

Not long ago Patriarch Bartholomeos of Constantinople invited the Roman Catholic church to join the World Council of Churches on the occasion of the WCC’s fiftieth anniversary. Although Catholics have worked since Vatican II with WCC commissions, the Catholic church itself does not belong to the organization or to any of its national affiliates. Orthodox churches have been directly involved in the ecumenical movement from the very start, but in recent years there has been severe criticism of Orthodox ecumenical involvement, most of it coming from American Orthodox.

I am with the Orthodox-still the majority, I am convinced-who believe that Orthodox involvement with the WCC, the National Council of Churches, and other manifestations of the ecumenical movement is a good thing. But this involvement is not without its difficulties, and the Orthodox experience may be instructive.

One difficulty comes from differing visions of ecumenism and differing ways of understanding what it means to be a church. There is a kind of "common denominator" ecumenism that not only focuses on what we hold in common (a good approach), but considers those things that divide us to be unimportant or completely irrelevant (a bad approach). There is a conception of church which sees all churches as essentially equal, with any differences understood as matters of culture, preference, and history rather than as matters of substance....

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About the Author

John Garvey is an Orthodox priest and columnist for Commonweal. His most recent book is Seeds of the Word: Orthodox Thinking on Other Religions.