From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Orthodox official vows strong commitment to World Council of

Date 06 Feb 2001 12:44:52

Note #6373 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:


Orthodox official vows strong commitment to World Council of Churches

by Edmund Doogue and Stephen Brown
Ecumenical News International

POTSDAM, Berlin -- "Problems" within the World Council of Churches were not
a question of differences between Orthodox and other member churches, but
between conservatives and liberals, irrespective of denomination, a leading
Orthodox official said today.

Georges Tsetsis, an Orthodox priest and representative of the Ecumenical
Patriarchate, was addressing the central committee of the World Council of
Churches, shortly before the end of its meeting. The WCC has 342 member
churches, the vast majority of them Protestant, and a minority of them

Tsetsis was speaking during a brief discussion about the WCCs special
commission on Orthodox participation in the WCC, set up two years ago to try
to find ways to respond to Orthodox criticisms of the ecumenical

He was apparently eager to reject what is becoming a stereotype in views
regarding the WCC --that there is a sharp division between its majority
Protestant member churches, many with liberal theology and practice, and its
more conservative minority Orthodox church members.

During this central committee meeting, which began on February 29, that view
has become more entrenched, especially following a speech by a member of the
Russian Orthodox Church who implied that his church might leave the WCC if
the findings of the special commission did not result in major reforms of
the WCC.

All the Orthodox member churches of the WCC are critical of the
organization, but some are milder in their criticisms than the Russian
Orthodox Church, which has within it an ultra-conservative faction.

"The intention of the Orthodox is to remain here [within the council], to
work together in order to reshape the council," Tsetsis said, apparently
distancing himself from the more strident demands of the Russian church. He
said that by adopting a "consensus model," rather than majority vote, for
most WCC decisions, the organization would become "the prophetic voice" of
all 342 member churches, not just the voting majority.

In a bid to improve understanding between the WCC's member churches, the
central committee today suggested that one of its future meetings be held
"in an Orthodox context" -- in a predominantly Orthodox country.

Tsetsis said he supported the plan "with some hesitation," adding that in
the "two or three" mainly Orthodox countries with the infrastructure and
know-how to host a central committee meeting, there were strong
"anti-ecumenical" lobbies which could create difficulties. However he said
that one possibility came to mind, but he did not elaborate.

In a separate decision, the central committee agreed that the next WCC
assembly should take place in 2006, but no decision was taken on the
assembly's location. The last WCC assembly was in Zimbabwe's capital,
Harare, at the end of 1998. WCC assemblies normally take place every seven
or eight years.

The central committee was told that it would be difficult to hold the
assembly before 2006 because of the WCC's workload -- "the special
commission, planning of our assembly and the election of a new general
secretary [the current general secretary, Dr. Konrad Raiser, retires at the
end of 2003] and because there are major assemblies held by ecumenical
partner organizations from 2001-2005."

The committee also called for its next meeting to be presented with an
"appraisal of the possibility for future coordinated assemblies" of the WCC,
the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the World Alliance of Reformed
Churches (WARC).

The fact that all three organizations have overlapping membership, have
their headquarters at the Ecumenical Center in Geneva, and at great cost
held major assemblies in recent years, has led to criticisms that there was
unnecessary duplication. A report presented today to the central committee
spoke of regret "that so little progress has been made on practical
co-operation, including the possibility of holding coordinated assemblies"
given "the expectations expressed at the Harare assembly."

Dr. Raiser told the central committee that constitutional problems meant
that it had not been possible for the next round of world assemblies to be
coordinated more closely. The LWF has decided to hold its next assembly in
Canada in 2003, while WARC's assembly -- known as the general council -- is
to take place the following year in Ghana.

A search committee is to be elected at next year's meeting of the central
committee to find a successor to Dr. Raiser, who will retire at the end of
2003. Dr. Marion Best, the vice-moderator of the central committee, told
journalists today that the search committee would bring a recommendation of
one or more names to the WCC central committee in 2003, which would then
elect Dr. Raiser's successor to start on January 1, 2004. Asked whether she
thought a woman would be chosen, Dr. Best said: "Anything is possible." But
she added that it was "hard to know ... this may happen, we shall see."

She added: "Did you think, 20 years ago, that you would have so many women
bishops here in Germany?"

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