Inter-Orthodox consultation begins discussion on the nature of the church

A week-long inter-Orthodox consultation with the aim of studying the Faith and Order document "The Nature and Mission of the Church" began its work on Thursday 3 March in Ayia Napa, Cyprus. The aim of the consultation is to offer distinctly Orthodox insights as part of a world-wide discussion of the doctrine of the Church, or "ecclesiology". The gathering is hosted by the Orthodox Church of Cyprus.

Nearly forty participants from Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches, church leaders, university professors, theologians, men and women as well as youth, most of whom are members of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Commission on Faith and Order, will discuss the document and produce a common Orthodox response to this important theological text.

After a Te Deum celebrated by Archbishop Chrysostomos II of Cyprus in the historic monastery of Ayia Napa, Metropolitan Prof. Dr Gennadios of Sassima, co-moderator of the consultation, expressed gratitude to the archbishop for his generous hospitality, extended regularly to inter-Orthodox and ecumenical gatherings, and highlighted the archbishop's life-long struggle to overcome dividing lines, in his own country and elsewhere in the world.

Unfortunately, Metropolitan Gennadios added, "walls of separation and division still exist in the world and one of our priorities as Orthodox is to continue our struggle for peace, reconciliation and friendship among peoples and nations."

Archbishop Chrysostomos underlined the importance of the theme. "Orthodox theology is primarily ecclesiological," he said. "Christianity cannot be understood except as the church".

By his incarnation, the archbishop continued, Christ made all human beings part of his own body. Orthodox contributions to ecumenical theological reflection consist in the fact that Orthodoxy, rather than defending a "confessional" interpretation of ecclesiology, shares the existential experience of the church.

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, the WCC general secretary, expressed appreciation both to Archbishop Chrysostomos for his hospitality, which is a tangible sign of his ecumenical commitment, and to Metropolitan Dr Vasilios of Constantia-Ammochostos, moderator of the Faith and Order Commission, for hosting the consultation in his diocese and for his many contributions to the work of Faith and Order.

The general secretary referred to the work of the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC a decade ago and stressed the Orthodox contribution to both ecclesiological reflection in general and to the ecclesial character of the fellowship of the World Council of Churches in particular.

The general secretary concluded by reminding participants of the forthcoming peace convocation in Kingston, Jamaica. "Our task will be to affirm that we aim at being one, so that the world may believe that a just peace is possible. We know that in this island there is a struggle for justice and peace. It is as part of our journey towards unity and common witness that we participate in this struggle."