January 10, 2007
Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement in general, and in the World and National Councils of Churches in particular, has always been predicated on the opportunity that these forums might provide for Orthodox Christians to give witness to the ancient faith of undivided Christendom. Yet, as the councils have moved further and further from doctrinal issues and have sought to unite separated Christians around social and political programmes, Orthodox participation has become more and more difficult. Criticisms of such abound in sectors of virtually every Orthodox patriarchate around the world.
Orthodox Christians share with one another a unified commitment to faith and morals, one which does not vary from Patriarchate to Patriarchate or from Third World to First or Second. However, they no longer have a unified approach to participation in many of the current avenues of ecumenical endeavor.
On the world scene, both the Churches of Georgia and Bulgaria have withdrawn their membership from the World Council. In America, the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese, a self-ruled archdiocese of the Patriarchate of Antioch, has withdrawn from the NCC. Scholars, bishops, writers and speakers from throughout the world meeting together in Thessaloniki (2004) to discuss the topic "Ecumenism: Origins, Expectations, and Disenchantment", called unanimously for all Orthodox Churches to exit the World Council precisely because it does not deal forthrightly and effectively with the issues we believe critical to Christian unity: ecclesiology, soteriology and eschatology.
The publication of Strange Yokefellows further documents the abdication of the National Council's original purpose, as it has sought funding from outside sources, many of which seek to advocate not for Christian unity but for political and social agendas antithetical to Orthodox moral standards, especially in the areas of abortion and homosexuality. The position of the Orthodox Church is unequivocal, that both abortion and homosexual relations distort the image of God in human beings and are contrary to the clear, consistent teachings of our Church throughout two millennia of Christian history.
Orthodox Christians do well to ponder the effects that such large amounts of money can have on the operation of the National Council of Churches and the direction it seeks to take in American religious life. Especially onerous for us are the many times that the National Council purports to speak for the "churches" to the American public and its political leaders through the press. A Christian "unity" is presumed for purposes of publication which is not supported by the facts.
We would do well to follow the money. The considerable financial support now running into the coffers of the NCC from such organizations named in this monograph is not being given merely as a form of charity. Foundations fund programs and entities which share philosophies compatible to their own. This is not to imply that such foundations are dictating polity to the NCC. Strange Yokefellows makes no such claim. However, the NCC has been found to be a "worthy" recipient of these donors' benevolence, and we must ask, loudly and clearly, Why?
For Orthodox Christians in America, whose jurisdictions are still in the NCC, Strange Yokefellows should be seen as further vindication of the Antiochian Archdiocese's courageous withdrawal of membership and should spur our faithful in renewed efforts to convince Church authorities to follow the lead of the Antiochian clergy and laity.
I would encourage our priests to read it and to study it with their parishes. I would encourage our parishes to see that every Orthodox hierarch is given a personal copy for his own perusal. And I would urge that our diocesan and national assemblies give due consideration to the facts presented and soberly re-assess our current ecumenical alignments.
The Scriptures warn us not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers, lest the cart be thrown into the ditch. Strange Yokefellows provides ample information for Orthodox (and other) Christians to conclude that the ultimate destination of any ecumenical enterprise which seeks its funding from the sources named here will neither be through that strait gate nor along that narrow way which must be pursued toward Christian unity.
Fr. John M. Reeves is pastor of Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, (Orthodox Church in America), State College, Pennsylvania. An Orthodox priest for the past twenty five years, he served as the Director of the Office of Church Growth and Evangelism for the Orthodox Church in America from 1997-2002.
In 2004 he presented a paper "Ecumenical Impact on Orthodox Witness and Mission: A Convert's Reflections" at the Academic Conference Ecumenism: Origins, Expectations, and Disenchantment, University of Thessaloniki, hosted by the School of Pastoral Theology, The Aristotelian University.
Read the "Strange Yokefellows" report on the Institute on Religion and Democracy website (new window will open).