THE ORTHODOX IN ECUMENICAL RELATIONSHome > Various Subjects > THE ORTHODOX IN ECUMENICAL RELATIONS
Word Magazine October 1965 Page 11-12/26
THE ORTHODOX IN ECUMENICAL RELATIONS
By: Father George Timko
“I do not pray for these only, but also for all those who are to believe in me through their word, that they all may be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us, so that the world may believe that thou has sent me. The glory which thou has given me I have given them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me. (John 17)
Christian disunion is the greatest tragedy of Christian history, and in a way ‘all’ Christians are responsible for this tragedy. The recognition of this fact has caused a new movement among Christians. This movement is usually called the ‘Ecumenical Movement’ and is basically a widespread Christian activity devoted to the goal of reunion. In this movement, Christians of various traditions come together to talk and pray and share experiences, and thereby try in some small way to overcome their disunion.
Relating to Others
Should the Orthodox become actively involved in such ecumenical relations? Should the Orthodox meet to talk and pray and share experiences with Protestants and Roman Catholics? An Orthodox majority would no doubt answer yes to such questions. Evidence of such a positive attitude is clearly expressed in the fact that the Orthodox have always participated in ecumenical activities.
Yet there are a good many who would answer ‘no’ and advocate that we should avoid all ecumenical encounter. They would say that the ‘true believer’ must not associate with the ‘false believer.’ Some such people would even go so far as to paste the label of ‘anti-christ’ upon all Protestants and Roman Catholics. This only proves how un-Christian someone can become when he is ignorant of God’s word:
“By this you can know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God. And every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God: this is the spirit of antichrist . . . Whoever then confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he abides in God.” (1 Jn. 4.)
It is not my intention to engage in a discussion of everything involved in the question of Orthodoxy and Ecumenical relations. I simply want to point to something that is basic to the ecumenical encounter; and that is, to the area of Christian personal relations or the idea of being Christian in our association with others.
We simply have not given enough attention to the question of how we should relate or associate with others. We simply have not thought enough about our connection with other persons. The greatest failure of human beings has been their inability to relate to other human beings. Learning how to relate to other persons then is primary to a healthy ecumenical relationship.
But how should the Christian relate to others?
First, we must relate to others with love. According to Jesus Christ, we must love each other as He loves us. This involves much more than we think. It requires us to confront all persons with a disposition of divine graciousness. Such love, says Jesus, is the mark of a true believer and must be shown even to the most godless enemy.
Relating to others with love means that we must be unconditionally concerned and interested and involved in the lives of other persons, that we must be ready to sacrifice our own lives and ourselves and even some of our most cherished notions for the welfare of others. Relating with such love is fundamental in our relations with other persons.
Love is the manifestation of a gracious good will to all persons; it is the desire of personal fellowship as well as an active effort to establish such a relationship. Love is a deep inner yearning and the act of giving oneself for true spiritual companionship, communion and unity with all men in the fellowship of Jesus Christ.
When such love is mutually realized even in a small degree, it places us in an intimate relationship with other persons. It enables us to identify with the person who is loved, to share his life, to understand and know him, to experience his thoughts and feelings, and to establish an indelible bond of personal unity.
Such love has a divine character. In fact — and this idea is very important — God Himself is present in such a relationship of love: “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love . . . No man has ever seen God; but if we love one another, then God abides in us and his love is perfected in us . . . God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1. Jn. 4.)
This means that one can encounter the presence of God in such a relationship of love between human persons. It means that God is actually present even though we are not aware of His presence. It means that such relationship includes a quality of Divine Life, that it has a sanctifying and redeeming attribute, and that it contains a transcendent and eternal character. Such love has a sacramental reality and dimension.
In a true love relationship of human persons there is not only a human communion but a Divine Communion. There is not only a meeting with human being but an encounter with Divine Being. There is not only a personal relationship with man but a relationship with God as well.
Second, we must relate to others as persons. This idea is very important because we tend to treat other people as things or objects rather than as persons or subjects. We tend to overlook the ‘ultimate’ dignity, worth and value of the human person.
God has made each human being in His own image. This means that he has created us as personal beings and that He has endowed us with some likeness of His Self, His Life and His Being. Each person has a special “divinely-given” worth and dignity which must condition our re-relationship with him.
To relate to another as a person means that we must see through the external form of the individual. It means that we must establish contact on an interior level; that we must relate to the other on a level deeper than his race, creed or color; that we must look beyond the physical and ideological framework into the inner self and being of the individual. It necessitates our entering into a relationship with the mind and spirit, with the heart and soul, with the ‘God-given’ essence of the human being.
To do this, we must lay aside all labels and categories. For all such things obscure the person and hinder our personal relationship. By relating to the other only as a Protestant, Roman Catholic, Negro, or something else, we depersonalize the individual. For all such categories are impersonal, and they tend to disrupt any personal encounter.
By placing a tag on a person, we make him an object, a thing, and we fail to establish rapport with the personal self. By identifying the other with a label, we cover up his identity as a person created in the image of God, and we are led to relate to him as an impersonal entity.
Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, is referred to as the “Icon (or Image) of the invisible God.” (Col. 1). In a similar yet lesser way, each ‘son of man’ is a real icon of God even though this icon is badly portrayed and sinfully distorted. Each human being embodies some reflection of divine spirit, and some image of the eternal.
Here again, in a man as an icon or image of God, we find a sacramental reality and dimension. Each person is holy; each is a temple of divine life; each possesses a divine likeness; each represents some quality of the divine. And so every person, in a larger or lesser degree, is a potential meeting place of the Divine Presence and a means of communion with that Presence. This sacred and sacramental quality of each human person must never be overlooked.
Through Jesus Christ
Third, we must relate to others through Jesus Christ. This is so, precisely because the coming of Christ has added another dimension or perspective to human nature. No longer can we identify others by their own nature alone; no longer can we look at others on the purely human level alone. For Jesus Christ has personally related Himself to each person; He has permeated the reality of human identity. He has entered the place of each human being.
Through the Incarnation, Jesus Christ has identified Himself with all men. He has involved Himself in mankind in a most intimate way. He now stands in the presence of every human person, and this presence has been taken up into an intimate communion with God. Our relationship with others is a relationship with Him. Our actions toward others are actions toward Him. Our feelings about others are actually feelings about Him. This is what our Lord meant when He said: “In as much as ye did it to the least of my brethren ye did it to me.”
As the son of man and as the son of God, Jesus Christ has welded a close bond between Himself and all men. He has personally and naturally and unconditionally related Himself to all human beings. He has, in fact, embodied all men in Himself. This is why we must relate to others by seeing the presence of Christ in all men. This is why we must look at all persons through the person of Christ and relate to them through the divine perspective of Christ’s redemptive work and being:
“For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.
“From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view.” (2 Cor. 5.)
Through Christ, God has effected a reconciliation with Himself that applies to all, and all are called to respond to this gracious gift and to live for Jesus Christ.
Our living for Jesus Christ means living for others. For Jesus Christ is mysteriously related and identified with all human persons — even with non-believers. And our relationship with others can lead to the realization of this mystical presence of our Lord. Wherever we go, whatever we do, he is there, and we cannot avoid Him. Therefore, we must relate to others in the reality of Christ’s relationship with each and every human being. Our relationship with others must never be based upon a standard of fleshly or human estimates but upon the value of human beings from God’s point of view.
A Step To Reunion
There is much more to ecumenical relations than I have discussed here. But what is expressed here is a fundamental requirement for any true Christian encounter and relation. Our ecumenical relations can have no meaning or value if we relate to others with arrogance and self-righteousness. A personal disposition of bigotry and conceit is a violation of Christian love. A belligerent and polemical approach erects a barrier and leads to alienation rather than integration. A closed and hostile mind only deepens the breach and leads to a greater disunion rather than reunion.
To relate to others in a Christian way, we must be ready to open the arena of our hearts and minds; we must be ready to expose ourselves and our lives, and enter into a dialogue. This means that we must dispose ourselves to receiving as well as giving, that we must listen as well as talk, and that we must allow the possibility of learning as well as teaching. This alone can lead to a personal rapport. There is a great difference between talking “to” a person and talking “with” a person. In the first instance, we have a monologue, and there is a proclamation that moves from one side to the other. In the second instance, we have a dialogue, and there is a conversation that flows into the communion of each other.
If we enter into ecumenical relations in a personal way with love through Jesus Christ, we will find our understanding illumined, our lives spiritually enriched and ourselves bound to other selves. We will be ‘‘Christian’’ in our relationships with others, and we will be disposing ourselves to the unifying influence of the Holy Spirit. We will also experience an encounter with God in such relations and a greater degree of spiritual communion with other persons. But above all, and most important, we will discover that we have made the first step toward an actual reunion in Christ, which is God’s will and plan to for all men.
This personal dimension of ecumenical relations — this giving of our own selves to other selves and of this receiving of other selves into our own selves — must be embodied by each and every orthodox Christian. For only in this way can we communicate the true content of our faith with meaning and integrity, and move toward a reunion of all separated brethren in a life and fellowship with Jesus Christ. Only in this way can we meet God’s gracious presence and activity in the life and being of other persons and come to realize that others know Him as intimately and serve Him more diligently than we do.
‘Through the act of creation and through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, God relates himself to each human being in a personal way of unconditional love. This then becomes the basis and the pattern of our relating to others.
“Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous, arrogant or vainglorious. Love does not act improperly nor does it insist on its own way; it is not easily provoked nor does it keep an account of wickedness; it does not rejoice at the wrong but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13.)