Orthodox pre-assembly meeting affirms need for spiritual transformation
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The spiritual dimensions of transformation underlie its social dimensions, observed participants at an international pre-assembly meeting of WCC Orthodox member churches which completed its work on the island of Rhodes, Greece, yesterday.
In a comprehensive report produced by participants coming from nearly all of the WCC's Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox member churches, the group outlined its theological contribution and hopes for the WCC's ninth assembly, which will be held in Brazil in February 2006 under the theme "God, in your grace, transform the world".
The gathering, which was attended by more than fifty hierarchs and theologians as well as participants from other WCC member churches, was hosted by Metropolitan Kyrillos of Rhodes on behalf of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, 10-17 January 2005. Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima (Ecumenical Patriarchate) and Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette (Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria) co-chaired the event. Along with the presentation of a series of theological papers, the programme included prayer, meditations and visits to local communities and monasteries.
The pre-assembly of the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches is traditionally held prior to the WCC's assemblies which meet every seven years. There are twenty-two Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox member churches of WCC, whose combined membership makes up almost half of the Council's total constituency.
Transformation and transfiguration
For the Orthodox, grace is associated with the transforming action of the Holy Spirit in creation. "God's divine unconditional graceful love draws us to Him (Rom. 5,15), because humans are not only created by God but they are created for God. In God we entirely find the purpose of our lives restored and transformed." The transfiguration of Christ reveals God's ultimate intention for humanity and creation. "Christ gathers all things in Him, and the whole of creation is transformed into a new heaven and a new earth."
Spiritual and social transformation are interrelated, the report emphasizes. "The process of the transfiguration of our socio-economic order (...) involves our personal and communal commitment" and the struggle to forge a "chain of good" affecting all aspects of human life.
Recognizing the suffering, violence, injustice and immorality so evident in the world, the participants expressed their conviction that the task of Christians is to call on the action of the Holy Spirit and to act as "fellow-workers" in restoring the "true humanity created in God's image."
A renewed council, a renewed commitment
The pre-assembly re-articulated the principles undergirding a continued Orthodox commitment to Christian unity. Referring to ongoing discussions about possible new forms of international ecumenical work, the report affirms that "the world will continue to need a council of churches (...) an instrument to serve the churches by bringing them into a space for dialogue, shared work, for the mutual exchange of gifts and insights from our traditions, for prayer together."
Participants recognized that "ecclesiology is central to the different understandings of Christian division and Christian unity, and therefore the key to our different approaches to the WCC." The status of other churches in Orthodox self-understanding remains one of the most delicate issues affecting Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement, and the pre-assembly appealed for further serious study in this area.
The Special Commission - a "great promise" for the fellowship
The pre-assembly reviewed the results of the Special Commission on Orthodox participation in the WCC, established by the eighth assembly in 1998 to address Orthodox grievances with the direction and priorities of the Council. It underlined the central importance of the Special Commission's findings which bear "great promise for the whole fellowship," and urged WCC member churches to continue to work on receiving the report, which proposes a series of key reforms to the Council to be presented to the next assembly.
In February 2005, the WCC central committee will consider adopting a new method of consensus decision-making as an alternative to the current majority-vote system. "Introduction of consensus (...) offers the Council a way to reflect the centrality of Holy Scripture in its life and engage the work of the Council in an atmosphere of openness, trust and humility [and] will enhance the potential for the Council to find its true prophetic voice," the report stated.
But the pre-assembly report acknowledged that the Orthodox churches are faced both with a moment of opportunity and of particular responsibility as a result of the Special Commission, and calls on the Orthodox churches "to continue to make credible expressions of [their] commitment in the character of [their] participation at every level."
A prayerful contribution
The report culminates in the form of a meditation, which is inspired by the theme of the WCC ninth assembly. The text, drafted as a contribution to the assembly, explores the themes of grace and transformation, and concludes on a note of hope in God "in your grace, you have given us a glorious world - in us it has fallen, in us let it be raised again."
The text of the report of the Rhodes meeting is available at:
A print-ready photo from the meeting is also available at:
More information on the WCC ninth assembly is available at
More information on the Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the WCC is available at