Indifference in regard to Christian unity is not an option for the disciples of Jesus, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has stated in an encyclical issued on the occasion of the Sunday of Orthodoxy.
“It is not possible for the Lord to agonize over the unity of His disciples and for us to remain indifferent about the unity of all Christians,” Bartholomew wrote in the encyclical. The Sunday of Orthodoxy is commemorated this year on 21 February.
The encyclical refutes “fanatical” challenges brought against theological dialogues among different Orthodox churches and against ecumenical contacts with the wider community of Christians by “certain circles that exclusively claim for themselves the title of zealot and defender of Orthodoxy.”
“They speak condescendingly of every effort for reconciliation among divided Christians and restoration of their unity as purportedly being ‘the pan-heresy of ecumenism’ without providing the slightest evidence that, in its contacts with non-Orthodox, the Orthodox Church has abandoned or denied the doctrines of the Ecumenical Councils and of the Church Fathers,” Bartholomew criticizes.
“The truth does not fear dialogue, because truth has never been endangered by dialogue,” the encyclical letter states. “When in our day all people strive to resolve their differences through dialogue, Orthodoxy cannot proceed with intolerance and extremism.”
“I am very grateful to the Ecumenical Patriarch for his strong commitment to dialogue and the unity of the church, despite the many pressures from fundamentalist circles among Orthodox believers” said the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in response to the encyclical on 18 February.
“This encyclical,” Tveit said, “reminds me of another famous text: the 1920 encyclical letter in which the Ecumenical Patriarch proposed the foundation of a fellowship of churches, providing a major impulse for the formation of the WCC.”
The Feast of Orthodoxy is celebrated on the first Sunday of Lent in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. Originally commemorating the defeat of iconoclasm in the 9th century, the Sunday of Orthodoxy has gradually come to be understood in a more general sense as a feast in honour of the true faith.