Speech given at the Dinner in His honour by the General Secretary of the W.C.C., Rev. Dr. Sam Kobia
Dear Reverend Doctor Kobia and fellow guests,
It is indeed, a very great pleasure for me and the members of the Delegation of the Church of Greece to be with you this afternoon and to be able to break bread with you at this table of Christian fellowship, which you have so graciously prepared in our honour. Although this is the first official visit ever of an Archbishop of Athens to the World Council of Churches, we in no way feel strangers or out of place, but rather that we are among Christian brothers who share the same concerns and aspirations, and who aim at the common goal of unity in love and truth. The warmth and friendliness with which we have been received, as well as the cordial hospitality extended us, are proof of this, and we thank you, Dr. Kobia, and all the members of your staff, from the bottom of our hearts.
For the Church of Greece, a founding member of the World Council of Churches, the Ecumenical Centre is in no way a strange milieu. In its Assembly Hall and its meeting rooms the voices of distinguished representatives of our Churches who have now passed on, have resounded. I recall here, but a few of the many who have worthily represented the Church of Greece and advanced the work of the W.C.C.: Professors Hamilcar Alevizatos, Gerasimos Konidaris, Panagiotis Bratsiotis, Panagiotis Trembelas, Ioannis Karmiris, Nikos Nissiotis of course, and Fr. John Romanides. It is upon the foundations that they helped to lay, that our present representatives to the World Council are building--solid foundations for the advancement of Christian unity, understanding and collaboration.
From the very beginning our Church has made every honest effort to participate positively and effectively in the work of the World Council and to support its various programs and concerns. For the fruitful collaboration between our Church and the World Council of Churches that has thus ensued, we are most grateful, for it is a collaboration from which both our Church and the World Council have mutually benefited. I mention here only indicatively, the Reconstruction Program following World War Two, the most significant aid granted during the Earthquakes that struck the Ionian Islands, and our collaboration in aiding refugees, Greece being one of the first countries to receive post-war refugees on its shores and Athens one of the three Centers housing offices of the Refugee Service of the W.C.C. And while this collaboration was unilaterally broken off in 1992 by the W.C.C. our Church has continued it on its own initiative, under the title “Ecumenical Refugee Program”, no longer focusing upon resettlement in over-seas countries but on integration in the local societies.
Thanks to the W.C.C.'s scholarship programme, more than 180 young Greek theologians were given the opportunity to continue their post-graduate studies abroad in Europe and the United States, and returned to assume important and high position both in theological education as well as in the Church and have contributed to the better understanding and deeper appreciation of the ecumenical movement in Greece. One can only regret that the current scholarship programme of the W.C.C. has been greatly restricted and has thus deprived us of an important channel of ecumenical communication.
Further, it would be a tremendous oversight not to mention the 136 church institutions and facilities that cover a span that extends from student hostels to Old Age homes and from Mental Health institutions to Centres for the rehabilition of the handicapped, and from general hospitals to church buildings, all co-funded by the inter-Church aid programme at an important time-phase in the life of the Church of Greece.
Our collaboration, however, is not limited to the past. Our Church continues actively to participate in the on-going work of the World Council, as the successful hosting of the World Conference on Mission and Evangelism in Athens, during May of last year and the positive input provided by her representatives at the Porto Allegre General Assembly indicate. Indeed, we cannot here overlook mentioning the successful application of the Consensus Decision Making process, proposed by the Special Committee, in the work of the Assembly and its almost unanimous reception by the Assembly's participants. Also, the adoption for study of the mutual recognition of Baptism as a positive factor in promoting Church unity is a theological topic to which the Orthodox feel that they can especially contribute.
But theology and matters of Faith and Order are not the only areas of W.C.C. activity in which the Church of Greece desires to increase her participation. We are also keenly interested in the work being carried on by the Council in international Affairs, Church and Ecumenical Relations, World Mission and Evangelism, Ecumenical Formation, Justice, Peace and Creation, Diakonia and Solidarity and in other fields of social endeavour and of course in the programme of the future work of the W.C.C. adopted at the Assembly, and we ask that you help us to increase our participation.
Moreover, our Church has a rich experience in social work and activity, which she feels that she could share with her ecumenical partners within W.C.C. endeavours. Our Church has and maintains a plethora of philanthropic institutions, foundations hospitals, hostles, orphanages and programmes aimed at alleviating and assisting all those in need.
Only last year, more than 66 million euros were spent on alleviating the needs of the poor.
It is evident then, that the Church of Greece in no way desires to close her eyes to the current every-day problems faced by its faithful and the society in which we live and especially to the constant changes being created in the field of politics, social issues, ecology, bioethics, human rights, peace and justice, education, and cultural identity and heritage. To do so would be a negation of both her Divine mandate and her self-awareness.
Needless to say, all these matters, however, can effectively be dealt with, only in a spirit of Christian integrity, responsibility and consequence, which the Churches must foster and cultivate in people's lives. We cannot afford the luxury of being Christians in name only. There must be consequence between our beliefs and our lives, which must reflect the holiness and integrity of the Leader of our faith, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is not so much our activities that the Devil fears, but rather our sanctity and holiness.
Indeed, a great many of the problems arising in these fields, we believe, stem precisely from this loss of Christian identity and self-awareness. There is a strong tendency today to consider Christian values and principles as no longer being Christian, but rather as ideological values in themselves, divorced from their Christian roots and the Christian faith that gave birth to them and established them as principles of unchanging value in our relationship to God, to our fellow men and to God's creation. It is ironic and tragic indeed that these very values are frequently employed in order to attack the Christian faith that gave them birth and promoted them. There can be no doubt that our society, at least as far as Europe is concerned, has become secularised and is in need of rediscovering its Christian identity and self-awareness, and, unfortunately, we are already witnessing the ramifications of this loss of identity.
We therefore look to the W.C.C. as a Council of Christian Churches to help the Churches in their task to help reawaken this awareness not only in their constituencies but in society at large.
In conclusion, I should like to reiterate that we are indeed very grateful to the World Council for all that it has done throughout the years in furthering contacts, collaboration, ecumenical fellowship and mutual understanding among the Churches and for providing a valuable forum from which to speak out on matters of common concern.
For all this, and for nearly sixty years of untiring efforts, to foster unity, collaboration and understanding between the Churches, I whole-heartedly thank the World Council on behalf of the Church of Greece and raise my glass and drink to an even more fruitful and rewarding future of ecumenical work and service for the benefit of the Churches.-