Lutherans represented at historic Orthodox Church council meeting

CHICAGO (June 28, 2016) – The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) joined Christians from around the world in offering prayers as the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Christian Church convened on the island of Crete June 20-25. It was attended by 220 Orthodox bishops and archbishops, as well as 70 official advisers. According to the council’s website (orthodoxcouncil.org), the last time such a council was convened was 1200 years ago – predating the Reformation by 700 years.

The Rev. Donald McCoid, former assistant to the ELCA presiding bishop and executive for ecumenical and inter-religious relations, was invited to represent The Lutheran World Federation at the meeting. McCoid, who served as co-chair of the U.S. Lutheran-Orthodox dialogue and the Lutheran World Federation-Orthodox dialogue from 1995 to 2012, described the opening session which convened on the Monday of Pentecost:

“When the opening session began with the patriarchs, metropolitans and other official  representatives invoking the Holy Spirit with the Pentecost chant, I was deeply moved,” said McCoid. “After so many years of planning and an uncertainty about when a council might happen, it was finally here. The strong image of the Orthodox Church in council is one that should inspire all Christians. Let us remember Orthodox leaders and members in our prayers so that God’s will and way may unfold in all ways.”

In his keynote address, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, leader of the worldwide Orthodox Christian Church, stressed the importance of unity among the 14 churches that comprise the Orthodox Christian Church. Ten of the 14 churches attended the council meeting.

“The voice of the Comforter calls all to unity and calls us to turn our attention and widen our heart toward all people, lovingly embracing the vital problems that concern them, preaching the good news of peace and love to those near and afar,” said Bartholomew.

In addition to McCoid, ecumenical observers included representatives from the Anglican church, the Vatican, the Middle East Council of Churches, the Orthodox Coptic church and the Oriental Orthodox church.

Addressing these guests in his keynote speech Bartholomew said, “We have journeyed together in theological dialogue and ecumenical cooperation in our willingness to respond to the theological divisions of the past and the global challenges of our time.”

“The occurrence of the Orthodox Council is itself remarkable,” said Kathryn M. Lohre, assistant to the ELCA presiding bishop and executive for ecumenical and inter-religious relations. “And the opportunity for the Rev. McCoid to be present was a precious gift for deepening our understanding as Lutherans in relationship to the Orthodox and our partnership together. The unity of Christ’s church, wherever it is sought, is of life-giving importance to us all.”

During the meeting, the council affirmed dialogue with other Christians but indicated there would not be any compromise in doctrine.

A statement released at the conclusion of the council reads, “Our church attaches great importance to dialogue, primarily with non-Orthodox Christians. In this way the remainder of the Christian world comes to know more precisely the authenticity of the Orthodox tradition, the value of patristic teaching and the liturgical life and faith of the Orthodox. Dialogues conducted by the Orthodox Church never imply a compromise in matters of faith.”

The council adopted joint declarations on Orthodox mission, diaspora affairs, church autonomy, fasting and ties with other Christian churches, and a document on marriage, which states that heterosexual unions are “an indispensable condition for marriage,” and which barred church members from “same-sex unions or any other form of cohabitation.”

The council also made a commitment to the unity of the church, according to the principles of conciliarity, or the highest form of church administration and decision-making.

“In a time of rapidly changing religious landscapes, Christians around the world are seeking to understand and explore what conciliar life looks like and how it functions,” said Lohre. “This Holy and Great Council has provided a glimpse for all of us into those important questions.”

In addition to the commitment to the unity of the church, the council lifted up commitments toward inter-religious dialogue, human rights and religious freedom.

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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with more than 3.7 million members in more than 9,300 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of “God’s work. Our hands,” the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA’s roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.