—By Metropolitan Job of Pisidia
Seventy-four years after its founding, the World Council of Churches is preparing for its eleventh assembly. After gathering in various continents – Europe (Amsterdam - 1948, Uppsala - 1968), America (Evanston - 1954, Vancouver - 1983, Porto Alegre - 2006), Asia (New Delhi - 1961, Busan - 2013), Africa (Nairobi - 1975, Harare - 1998), Oceania (Canberra - 1991), the WCC is meeting again in Europe, in Karlsruhe in Germany, fifty-four years after its last European assembly, with new challenges on the agenda.
Indeed, the context in which the Karlsruhe assembly will be held will be very different from that of the founding assembly in Amsterdam in 1948. The WCC is the fruit of the 20th century ecumenical movement which emerged in the context of mission. Then, Christian Churches in competition and in opposition to each other understood very well that such a situation undermined their authentic witness of the Gospel. From there was born their desire for unity which crystallized in the foundation of the WCC with as its specific aim the visible unity of Christians.
Unfortunately, after a few decades of euphoria that Christian unity was an achievable project, decades of disenchantment and disillusionment followed. However, this should not be seen as a failure of the ecumenical movement. Quite the contrary. By being able to dialogue together, whether bilaterally or multilaterally, the churches quickly realized that agreement or consensus could not be found on all the issues that divided them. Such a situation did not mean that the ecumenical movement, and the WCC as its principal institution, were dead.
After decades of seeking visible Christian unity, member churches understood that points of disagreement did not prevent their collaboration in the fields of mission and evangelism, but also in Christian witness in the secularized world and for the protection of creation. The quest for Christian unity was followed by a pilgrimage of justice and peace where the Churches journey together, helping each other as best they can and exchanging the gifts they can offer.
The decade following the last assembly in Busan was particularly trying. In addition to the environmental crisis which is worsening day by day, with an increasingly evident global warming which not only has consequences on the environment but which also causes climate refugees — those human beings who cannot live in their homeland because the environmental or climatic conditions no longer allow them — humanity, and therefore the Churches, face many other challenges. On the one hand, that of a threatening terrorism originating in religious fanaticism which engenders violence and wars. On the other hand, the COVID-19 pandemic which for more than two years has reminded us all of the fragility of human life and that man is not the master of his own existence. Finally, what is most tragic and shameful, in my humble opinion, a war at the gates of Europe resulting from the invasion of a predominantly Orthodox Christian country by another country which considers itself to be Orthodox Christian, which is nothing but a counter-testimony to the message of the Gospel.
Faced with these many challenges, the Churches which are about to gather in Karlsruhe must give a clear and prophetic message insofar as they want the contemporary world to listen to them and take them seriously. In my view, this message must be a message of repentance and reconciliation. It is important to recognize one’s faults, to ask for forgiveness and to purify memories, if we want to achieve reconciliation and peace among all of us. But it must also be a message of solidarity. Humanity needs support and help, and who else but Christians, following the example of the Good Samaritan, must bring this solidarity to the wounded world, not only in words, but above all and above all in action.
For me personally, the future of the ecumenical movement and the WCC is based on metanoia and solidarity. And only a genuine metanoia and solidarity can support a viable project of a quest for Christian unity. Such a path is certainly not obvious. It is difficult. It requires a lot of effort and sacrifice. However, it is willed by the plan of God which is none other than kenosis and the way of Golgotha. And let us never forget that Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity, as the theme of this year’s assembly reminds us.
[From: Newsletter of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Permanent Delegation to the WCC, July-August 2022]