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Note of information for the Meeting with the Lutheran World Federation


GENEVA 29.5.2006

The theological dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Reformed Churches began, as is known, immediately after the establishment of the Reformation in the Christian World of the West and culminated from the beginning of the 17th century in response to the Calvinising confession of faith which is assigned to the Patriarch of Constantinople Kyrillos Loukaris, and which evokes the constructive and, in any case, widely known co-operation between the Orthodox and the Reformed Churches for checking the illegitimate propaganda of Roman Catholic Uniatism in the Orthodox peoples of the East that suffered under a conqueror of a different religion. However, the refutation of Kyrillos Loukaris’ confession by means of the decisions of the great Orthodox Synods and the Orthodox Confessions of faith of the 17th century polemically undermined not only the theological dialogue but also the good relations between the two Christian traditions, which thereafter were negatively loaded because of the development of proselytism on the part of Protestant missionaries in the Orthodox East during the centuries that followed.

This negative atmosphere was defused from the beginning of the 20th century within the framework of the truly significant initiatives both of the Orthodox Church and of Protestant denominations for the promotion of the idea of the Ecumenical movement. The proposition for constructive dialogue and earnest co-operation was significant in view of the common pressing problems caused by the provocative ideological questioning not only of the part of the Church but of the very raison d’être of faith in the lives of peoples. The unofficial Ecumenical meetings of Geneva (1920), Lausanne (1928) and Edinburgh (1937) confirmed the necessity of this co-operation and the positive prospects of the Ecumenical dialogue that took on an institutional form by the foundation of WCC (1948) and was expressed in a positive spirit both in the multilateral and in the bilateral theological dialogues that were conducted between the various Christian traditions.

It was within this institutional framework that the official bilateral theological dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Lutheran World Federation was prepared. Its opening was unianimously approved by the Third Pre-Synodal Pan-Orthodox Conference (Chambézy 1986). All shared the hope that the theological dialogue would contribute not only to the much-needed cure of the traumatic experiences of the historical past but also to the new approach of the existing theological differences old and new. In this sense, the Joint Theological Commission on Dialogue agreed to focus its efforts on a common theological approach to the basic articles of the common Symbol of faith of Nicea and Constantinople (The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity, Christology, Pneumatology, Ecclesiology, Eschatology) in the light of the theology of the authoritative Fathers of the 4th century and more specifically of the great Cappadocian fathers (Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and Gregory of Nyssa).

The thorough theological propositions of the theologians of both sides on each thematic area brought out the significant degree of convergence, rapprochement or even common understanding between the propositions of the two theological traditions on certain issues, on the basis of the established criteria of patristic tradition, particularly on the issues of the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity, Christology and Pneumatology, as was reflected in the truly remarkable joint theological documents of the Joint Theological Commission. Of course, disagreements were also identified, as should be expected, mainly in the area of matters of Ecclesiology (nature, mission, qualities, mysteries and mission of the Church), the existing differences on which were duly noted with theological lucidity and ecclesiastic prudence.

To sum up, the Theological Dialogue between Orthodoxy and the Reformed Churches was truly a dialogue of a high theological level and reasonable ecclesiastic responsibility on the basis of the established criteria of the patristic tradition of the first centuries, which, besides, most deeply influenced Calvin’s theology as well. It is therefore reasonable to expect that jointly adopted theological documents will contribute both through agreements and through disagreements not only to the prospects of the dialogue but also to relations of co-operation between the Orthodox Church and the Lutherans at a time of multiple spiritual confusion in the Christian world.

[Transl. into English by
Dr Nikolaos C. Petropoulos,
M.St., D.Phil. {Oxon.}]

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