There are signs that the frostiness of many ecumenical relationships is relaxing. Actions such as the return, in 2004, of the relics of St John Chrysostom from Rome to Constantinople, from where they were plundered by crusaders in 1204, are significant signs of reconciliation and hope.
Orthodox have been involved in the ecumenical movement from its beginnings. At the first meeting of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in 1948 there were representatives of the ecumenical patriarchate and of the Greek Orthodox Church, and these were to be joined by the Russian and other Orthodox churches. All benefited from this collaboration, with western Christians providing much-needed support for the Russians against communist persecution. But the Orthodox often found their colleagues difficult to work with. Since Roman Catholics were not members, the WCC had a predominantly Protestant membership; social and political action was preferred to doctrinal discussion; intercommunion was seen as a way a testifying to a shared commitment rather than as the end of a process of negotiation and discussion; and some talked as though the WCC was a kind of super-church transcending denominational divisions. These tensions resulted in a decision by Orthodox churches to attend the meeting of the WCC at Harare in 1998 but not to worship with others and not to vote. As a result a commission was set up to discuss how Orthodox might in future participate, and it is due to report in 2008. For many Orthodox, other churches are suspect and ecumenism is a grave and modern heresy, threatening the integrity of the Orthodox faith, but Orthodox have remained faithful participants in the ecumenical movement and have contributed a corrective to some of the western assumptions of the ecumenical movement.
Alongside the formal WCC involvement there have been a number of bilateral and multilateral conversations with other churches, which have been carried on in an atmosphere that has ranged from warm and cordial to chilly and suspicious. The most dramatic result has been the official decision to strive to overcome one of the oldest divisions, that between Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian Orthodox churches which has split the eastern Christian world since 451. After a series of discussions, which tookplace between 1964 and 1991, the delegates were able to say that 'we on both sides have preserved the same faith in our Lord Jesus Christ'.22 Full communion has yet to be restored but in practice there is close cooperation and even intercommunion in many places, especially in Syria.
22 See C. Chaillot and A. Belopopsky, Towards unity: the theological dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Oriental churches (Geneva: Inter-Orthodox Dialogue, 1998), 36.
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