This new documentary anthology traces the history of Orthodox involvement in the twentieth-century pilgrimage of the churches towards visible unity, offering readers a rich sampling of how the Orthodox churches have responded to events and developments in contemporary church history and key items on the ecumenical agenda. In addition to the selection of documents -encyclicals, official statements, messages and reports of inter-Orthodox consultations — the anthology includes essays by leading Orthodox theologians on such issues as spirituality, the date of Easter, uniatism, "eucharistic hospitality" and koinonia.
This volume follows the two excellent publications on The Orthodox Church (1978) and Orthodox Thought (1983) which have served for many years as reference books and have been much used in ecumenical gatherings and pan-Orthodox conferences and meetings. This collection of Orthodox statements, declarations and reports of inter-Orthodox consultations, supplemented by several pertinent theological articles,3 shows the fruitful contribution and active participation of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches and theologians in the World Council of Churches and in the ecumenical endeavour in general.
Most of the texts here come from the period since 1982. This past decade has been one of the most important and active periods in the history of the World Council of Churches. The assemblies in Vancouver and Canberra, six world conferences,4 hundreds of ecumenical consultations and meetings, involving thousands of people from different Christian churches and denominations, have marked the life of the Council and its member churches. A considerable number of ecumenical statements, reports and publications have also been produced.
During these years enormous efforts have been undertaken to seek the unity of the Church. Yet many today would say that ecumenism is undergoing a crisis of identity, purpose and goal - - and of this there is no doubt. Because of the divisions that have occurred during the past two millennia, the sin of the rent in "the seamless robe of Christ" is so great that it is beyond the power of human beings to expiate it and to heal the wounds which our separations have inflicted on the Church.
People are strong enough to destroy the unity of Christ's Church, but are not capable of restoring it. We can only believe in it and pray for it.
It is time for the ecumenical movement to break free from earlier dreams of bringing about the visible unity of the churches in one fell swoop. We must be clearsighted and realistic: it is easier to destroy than to create!
Having lost its original unity and failed to take account of the separatist tendencies of race, language, culture, etc., the Church in medieval and modern times has been faced by an almost insurmountable problem: that of returning to the state of being one and undivided.
It is impossible to turn back to those early prophetic days. History does not repeat itself. The past belongs to the past, and we must accept the new reality which the ecumenical movement is facing and experiencing. Today, after centuries of growing further apart, there is only one hope left for the Christian churches: not to achieve uniformity, but gradually to come nearer to each other by together spreading the Christian message all over the world.
Orthodox theology believes that its own teaching and its hierarchical structure are based on the unbroken Tradition which was transmitted by Christ to the apostles and was experienced through the conciliar period and the fathers of the Church.
The present volume offers the ecumenical family the opportunity of discovering the richness of Orthodox tradition and teaching, and of understanding how Orthodoxy sees the unity of the churches for today.
I would like to express my thanks to all those who have contributed to this publication: colleagues in the Office of Communication, Renate Sbeghen for her valuable assistance in preparing the manuscript, and members of the Orthodox task force for their advice and encouragement.
Coordinator of the Synodical Committee on Inter-Church Affairs Ecumenical Patriarchate