World Council of Churches
Potsdam, Germany
29 January - 6 February 2001
Document No. GS 4



1. Inaugural meeting

1.1 The Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the World Council of Churches is composed of thirty representatives from the Orthodox churches and thirty from the other member churches of the Council. Co-moderated by Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Ephesus (Ecumenical Patriarchate) and Bishop Rolf Koppe (Evangelical Church in Germany), the Special Commission had its inaugural meeting at Morges, Switzerland, 6-8 December 1999 which was addressed by both the Moderator of the Central Committee and the General Secretary of the WCC. Catholicos Aram I of the Armenian Apostolic Church (Cilicia) underscored that "the Orthodox presence in the WCC has enlarged the scope of the Councilís life and witness" and that the Orthodox churches in turn have been enriched by their ecumenical involvement. The General Secretary, Dr Konrad Raiser, noted that the Council in establishing the Special Commission had for the first time set up a body "with equal participation from the Orthodox Churches and other member churches in the WCC": "never before in its 50 years history has the WCC taken its Orthodox member churches so seriously as with this decision".

1.2 The mandate of the Special Commission is first "to study and analyze the whole spectrum of issues related to Orthodox participation in the WCC" and, secondly, "to make proposals concerning the necessary changes in structure, style and ethos of the Council" to the WCC Central Committee.

1.3 At its first meeting in Morges it received a paper from Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Ephesus, entitled Preliminary Orthodox Proposals for an Unimpeded Participation in the WCC. The Commission identified four issues of special concern and named sub-committees to explore each of these:

1.4 Sub-committees I and IV met in Damascus, Syria, Sub-committee II at Vilemov in the Czech Republic and Sub-committee III in Crete, Greece.

2. Second plenary meeting

2.1 The Commissionís second plenary meeting was held at St Markís Center in Cairo, 23-25 October 2000, at the gracious invitation of the Coptic Orthodox Church. It was therefore a special pleasure to be welcomed to the city by Pope Shenouda III. In a clear and robust exposition, Pope Shenouda indicated some of the difficulties that the Orthodox in general, and the faithful of his own church in particular, encountered through belonging to the WCC. He focused his remarks in particular on issues which threatened the unity and the fellowship of the churches, such as homosexuality, the ordination of women, and the use of inclusive language in speaking about God.

2.2 Bishop Rolf Koppe thanked Pope Shenouda for the hospitality of the Coptic Orthodox Church and for finding time personally to share in the work of the Commission. His remarks were warmly endorsed by Metr. Gennadios of Sassima acting for Metr. Chrysostomos of Ephesus who was absent.

2.3 Hegoumen Hilarion presented a resume on the Russian Orthodox Churchesí recently adopted statement on The Basic Principles of the Attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church to other Christian Confessions. He indicated why this statement had been produced at this time, its significance both for communication within the Russian Orthodox Church, and for other Christian churches to understand the basis on which the Russian Orthodox Church is involved in various inter-Christian activities.

2.4 Metropolitan Irenej from the Serbian Orthodox Church reviewed political changes in his country and paid tribute to the Christian faith and commitment of the new president. He spoke appreciatively of the balanced approaches taken by the WCC and CEC with regard to the past events in his country, especially when some agencies, or even church figures, adopted a less even-handed approach. He also expressed his gratitude to churches and ecumenical organizations which had provided help and assistance in such difficult times.

2.5 The meeting of the Commission in Cairo overlapped with the meeting of the Arab Summit in the same city. Mr Gabriel Habib helpfully analyzed the very difficult situation which was the immediate context for that meeting, and in particular drew attention to attempts to move the Arab-Israeli conflict from the political to the religious arena.

2.6 The observers from the Orthodox Church in Georgia who were present both at Morges and Cairo explained the impossibility for the Georgian Church to pray in common with other Christians, because of theological and ecclesiological reasons.

2.7 The Commission received extensive reports and by consensus the recommendations from each of the sub-committees together with reflections on these from separate preliminary meetings of the two constituencies within the Special Commission.

2.8 It was pleased to note remarkable convergence, which enabled it take its work forward by focusing on five clusters of concerns:

  • issues related to membership
  • a review of decision-making processes
  • worship/common prayer
  • ecclesiological issues
  • developing ecumenical methodologies for approaching social and ethical issues.

    2.9 Beyond these discussions it was necessary to address the vital question: What kind of Council does the ecumenical movement need to work towards in the future in the light of the acceptance by Harare of the CUV documentation? More than 50 years of being together should not be lost but fed into future proposals for the ecumenical movement. Much had been learned in these years and the churches enriched by sharing together in the common journey towards Christian unity. Appreciation of this fellowship underlined an intention to stay together and work more intensively for fulfilling the common calling.

    3. Membership

    3.1 The Commission took account of the discussion paper on membership which was adopted by the Executive Committee, and of the decision to appoint a group to further reflection on membership. In accordance with the decision of the Executive Committee, this group is to include members of the Special Commission and the Special Commission should be kept informed of the work of the group. The Commission commended to the group the relevant parts of the reports of the sub-committees on the issue of membership.

    3.2 The following issues and considerations are forwarded for its careful judgement:

    3.2.1 The need for member churches to re-affirm their subscription to the Basis of the WCC in its Christological and Trinitarian dimensions.

    3.2.2 The need for those applying for membership to subscribe to the Basis of the WCC in its Christological and Trinitarian dimensions, and to share with the Council the ecclesial character of their church.

    3.2.3 Members of the governing body as well as members of staff should be involved in the preliminary investigation of applications from those seeking membership.

    3.2.4 Present procedures for accepting new member churches into the WCC noting the comments of the group that discussed this in the Cairo meeting.

    3.2.5 The exploration of a category of observers status for churches wishing a looser association with the Council. Such an exploration should embrace a consideration of the rights and obligations of churches opting for this category.

    3.2.6 The exploration of a membership category of families of churches.

    3.3 Membership of the Council necessarily entails commitment, accountability and responsibility (including financial contributions and hospitality).

    4. Decision-Making Process

    4.1 It was agreed that the consensus method of reaching decisions be used wherever possible since it avoided confrontational stances and allowed issues to be explored in the Council. The search was for a common mind on a given issue, trying to reach the greatest possible agreement, but the securing of a consensus could be a lengthy process.

    4.2 Part of the process was ensuring that there was widespread agreement about issues to be discussed in a given context. The agenda of the WCC should arise from priorities set by the churches (bottom-up), rather than being developed top-down.

    4.3 Methods of decision-making in small groups representing a single culture and whose members enjoyed some familiarity with one another could not necessarily be transposed on to a world canvas.

    4.4 Consensus does not mean unanimity, nor does it grant to any group in the Council the automatic right to exercise a veto.

    4.5 Rather than adopting a procedure which allowed for the transfer from a consensus to a voting mode of proceeding, the method of decision-making, appropriate to the matter in hand, should be predetermined, e.g. matters of finance, administration and appointment are best resolved by voting whereas matters of doctrine, social, ethical and political judgement should be decided by consensus. Some issues spanned different categories - e.g. a new program would need the vote of the funding stream, and the ending of an existing program could be because funding was failing.

    4.6 Some problems arise from last minute amendments arising from the floor. Documents need to be circulated to such a schedule that allows for the orderly submission of amendments so that these may be scrutinized and evaluated before a final text is adopted.

    4.7 The adoption of some form of Parity Committee (elsewhere referred to as a Business Committee) to serve all major WCC events needed exploration. Some conceived this as an additional layer of government directly elected by the churches (including, some argued, non-member churches). Others believed this to be dangerous, and preferred a committee elected from the membership of the Central Committee or the Executive, with an advisory function. All agreed it should have equal membership from Orthodox and non-Orthodox. Its main function would be to monitor agendas and decide on modes of decision-making.

    4.8 A more radical variant of this proposal was to establish an equal membership Standing Joint Commission on the completion of the work of the Special Commission. It should have its own secretariat and be serviced by co-moderators from each of the main families.

    4.9 The issue of constituting quorums within "families of churches" should be investigated, with the appointment of proxies allowed at all level of governance. Further exploration needs to be given to what might be the function of qualified majority voting, a term which needs careful definition, in future decision-making.

    4.10 The Orthodox were not the only group likely to find themselves in a minority position. There were other groups who were also in a permanent minority.

    4.11 Minorities had a right to have their reasoned opposition to a policy recorded and had a right for their conscientious objections to be respected.

    4.12 The possibility of membership of governing bodies being established through the exercise of a family nomination process should receive further consideration though there were clearly problems of coercing members to identify with a given grouping. Such a methodology might also exaggerate the partisanship of a given family rather than reducing the significance of differences between different denominational traditions.

    4.13 Some observed that distancing membership of governing bodies from those who held significant office in their own churches could put communications with the churches at risk. The extent to which members of the Central Committee represented their own churches, or had wider representative responsibilities was also raised, and it was noted that many smaller churches rarely if ever had a member on the Central Committee. It had to be remembered that the WCC was a council of churches rather than a global forum of the whole people of God.

    4.14 Arguments were rehearsed in favor of a much smaller assembly, partly in terms of fewer voting members, but also by exercising more rigorous discipline on the number of other attendants.

    4.15 A specialized group was needed to look at possible new rules of procedures for decision-making and bring proposals to the next plenary of the Special Commission.

    5. Worship/Common Prayer

    5.1 The positive witness of past practice needed to be taken into account:

    • Fifty years experience together of common prayer.

    • This has resulted in Christians in the western tradition adopting aspects of Orthodox worship and Orthodox employing some emphases of the worship of other Christian traditions without compromise.

    • In practice Orthodox and Christians of other traditions attended each othersí worship, although for the Orthodox this is done within the principle of economia.

    5.2 Two problematics are to be identified:
    • Issues of heresy and economia: it is questioned whether ancient canons relating to heresy could be directly applied to relationships with contemporary Christians confessing the Trinitarian faith and the divinity of Jesus Christ, whilst acknowledging that some did make this connection. Others held that the principle of economia can be applied to the issue of common prayer.

    • It is to be suggested that the basis for common prayer "requires recognition of an already existing degree of unity" and some questioned whether that existed.

    5.3 In the light of those considerations it is suggested:
    • Life together in the WCC requires prayer together which can become a symbol of visible unity, liberating those involved from misconceptions and misunderstandings enabling them to discover each other.

    • The term "common prayer" is to be preferred to "worship" in order to avoid implications concerning ritual.

    • In style and character "common prayer" must avoid syncretistic elements and the use of inclusive language in relation to God.

    • Common prayer should focus on the search for unity and should contain Trinitarian and eschatological dimensions and symbolism.

    • Such prayer should arise out of the living liturgical traditions of WCC member churches.

    • Efforts for maximum comprehensibility of common prayer should be made and the meaning of any symbols featuring in the service be explained.

    5.4 For every major event or gathering, a committee of equal members of representatives of Orthodox and other member churches of the Council should be formed to prepare common prayer for that event or gathering. It was noted that for other events guidelines as to good practice already existed.

    5.5 It is proposed that a group of experts further study these matters and present their final formulations to the Special Commission.

    6. Ecclesiology

    6.1 Joining a council of churches means accepting the challenge to give account to each other of being church and to articulate what is meant by the visible unity of the Church.

    6.2 At this particular time, where dissatisfaction with the life of the WCC has led to the formation of a Special Commission, these ecclesiological endeavors should, especially within the Orthodox families, pay attention to the question: is there a space for other "churches" in Orthodox ecclesiology? How would this space and its limits be described?

    6.3 For the churches within the tradition of the Reformation the challenges emerging from the formation of a Special Commission entail the question: How does your church understand, maintain and express your belonging to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church?

    6.4 These questions should be given to a representative from each tradition in order to have them interpreted for the next meeting of the Special Commission. The group anticipates that these investigations will take note of the work on ecclesiology being undertaken by the Faith and Order Commission.

    7. Methodology in Approaching Social and Ethical Issues

    7.1 Exploration of social and ethical issues raised in contemporary situations must be rooted in particular ways of linking Scripture and Tradition, liturgical practice, theological reflection, assessment of the issues of world and humanity, and the formulations of moral judgement.

    7.2 Each church has the privilege and the burden to shape its moral teaching, both in cases where it is possible to draw on the churchís tradition, and in cases where new questions arise for which there are no models found within the tradition.

    7.3 There are in the present historical situation mounting pressures on the churches from institutions and secular leadership to provide them with general solutions to isolated moral questions. The world has lost its bearings, and there is no agreement among people on the moral good, leading to pressures on churches to provide remedies for the moral ills of the world. This situation becomes aggravated when, and if, member churches transfer the demands for general solutions to moral matters to the WCC.

    7.4 In the search for articulation of moral judgement and for formation of credible moral life within specific Christian churches, a church might ask for assistance from the fellowship of churches in the WCC.

    7.5 Such assistance may be provided in different ways. The WCC can and should help with providing material and theological analyses that might help a church to articulate and sustain its moral teaching.

    7.6 The WCC needs to develop procedures for dealing with social and ethical questions which are made the subject of common deliberation at the request of a member church. Mechanisms are needed for screening such questions, and procedures for such discussions as might help find a common mind on approaching moral issues rather than causing divisions.

    7.7 The group recommends that the WCC "household" gather and make available to the next meeting of the Special Commission the existent documents on procedures for selecting themes for common deliberation in order that they may be brought up to date.

    8. The Future Shape of the Council

    8.1 The Council appears stuck in a certain institutional logic, notwithstanding the revision of Article III of the Constitution which, after Harare, refers to the churches calling each other to the goal of visible unity.


    The member churches are the subject of the quest for visible unity, not the Council.
    The member churches teach and make doctrinal and ethical decisions, not the Council.
    The member churches proclaim doctrinal consensus, not the Council.
    The member churches commit themselves to pray for unity and to engage in an encounter that aims at finding language for resonances of the common Christian faith in other church traditions,
    and the member churches are responsible for developing and nurturing the sensitivities and the language that will allow them to sustain a dialogue with each other.

    8.3 In a brutally divided world, churches have developed different ecclesial cultures, but by accepting the disciplines of the fellowship of the World Council of Churches they are called to acknowledge the necessity to witness to their Christian faith - to unity in Christ and to a community with no other limits than the whole human race.

    8.4 The Commission envisions a Council that will hold churches together in an ecumenical space

  • where trust can be built,
  • where churches can test and develop their readings of the world, their own social practices, and their liturgical and doctrinal traditions while facing each other and deepening their encounter with each other.

    8.5 It envisions a Council

  • where churches freely will create networks for advocacy and diaconical services and make also their material resources available to each other.

    8.6 It envisions a Council

  • where churches through bilateral and multilateral dialogues will continue to break down the barriers that hinder them in recognizing each other as churches sharing one faith, one eucharistic body and one baptism for the remission of sins.

    9. Further actions

    The Commission plans to meet in plenary session in November 2001 and in late May 2002 and intends to prepare for these meetings by intensive work in small groups to sharpen proposals for its final report to the Central Committee in September 2002.

    Cairo, 25 October 2000

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