Encyclical Letter of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America on Christian Unity and Ecumenism

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in Him… Philippians 3:8

Dearly beloved in Christ,

For many years our Holy Orthodox Church has participated in the ecumenical movement, 1 because she has always remembered the prayer of Christ, “that all may be one” (John 17:21) and the will of God the Father to “gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth.” (Ephesians 1:10) In the past, the Church has recognized in the ecumenical movement a genuine search, however imperfect and limited, for the unity of all men in Christ.

Today we perceive a grave crisis in the ecumenical movement. In the first place, there have appeared in the movement theories and understandings of its nature, which are radically different from those upon which it was founded. In the second place, there have arisen among the Orthodox positions and even practices, which are clearly contradictory to the consensus that formerly guided us in ecumenical activity.

For these reasons, we, the bishops of the Orthodox Church in America, consider it our God-given duty to confess once again the nature of the unity which Christ has given to His Church, and to warn all Christians against those forms of union which are not given by God and consequently are not acceptable to the Orthodox Faith. It is our purpose as well to remind the members of the Orthodox Church of the principles which have guided us in our ecumenical activity in the past.

1. THE UNITY OF THE CHURCH

The Christian Church is the unity of men with God in Jesus Christ by the grace of the Holy Spirit. The center and uniting power of the Church is Christ. Being God and man, Christ has united in Himself all that is human and divine. He is the “alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” (Revelation 22:13) “For in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” (Colossians 2:9)

The Church lives by Jesus Christ as His true body and bride. The only head of the Church is Christ Who is also its only foundation and cornerstone. Christ is the sole savior, pastor, teacher and priest of the Church. In Christ all die to this sinful, evil and fallen world and rise again in Him as children of God the Father in the eternal life of the Kingdom of God.

Man’s unity with God in Jesus Christ in the Church is impossible without the Holy Spirit. The very existence of the Church depends on the coming of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of grace which He brings to men. In Christ and the Holy Spirit men are given divine sonship which is the final goal and perfect realization of human life, the purpose and goal of the Christian faith.

The essence of the Christian life is union in and with the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Every unity not rooted in God through Christ and the Holy Spirit is not Christian unity nor the unity of the Christian Church, for as the Apostle Paul teaches, “there is one Body and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, Who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6)

A. Unity in Truth

Unity in God the Holy Trinity is unity in Truth, for God is Truth. The unity of the Christian Church must be unity in the Truth of God.

Christ is the divine Word of the Father. He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” (John 14:6) He is “the Light of the world.” (John 8:12) Christ sends the Holy Spirit, Who is also “the Truth,” to men. (I John 5:6) The Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of Truth, who proceedeth from the Father” (John 15:26) Who comes to guide men “into all truth.” (John 16:13)

The Church of Christ is “the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” (I Timothy 3:15) The Church is the “chosen generation, the royal priesthood, the holy nation, the peculiar people” whom God “hath called ... out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (I Peter 2:9) The Church is the vessel of divine truth in and for the world.

There is no Christian unity outside of the truth, for outside of the truth there is no Church, no salvation, no eternal life. God the Father “Who will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:4) has sent His Son into the world to make Himself known. “Whosoever transgresseth and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.” (II John 9)

The truth of God is unchanging and eternal. God is eternal and in Him is “no variableness, neither shadow or turning.” (James 1:17) He is the “King eternal.” (I Timothy 1:17) Jesus Christ is the “true God and eternal life.” (I John 5:20) He is “the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

he Lord Jesus Christ has said that His teachings will never change. “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” (Mark 13:31) Jesus has promised that the Holy Spirit will take what belongs to Him and the Father and show it to those who believe, guiding them into all truth. “He shall not speak of Himself ... He shall glorify me; for He shall take of mine, and shall show it unto you.” (John 16:13-14)

The Holy Spirit came to the apostles of Christ, so that they could make disciples of all nations and teach all men that which Jesus Himself had taught them. “Go ye therefore and teach all nations . . . teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you . . .” (Matthew 28:19-20) The teaching of the apostles is the teaching of Christ, which is the teaching of God.

The apostles did not fashion their own doctrines, but proclaimed “that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life . . .” (I John 1:1) The Apostle Paul witnesses in the same way, when he says “the gospel which was preached of me is not after man, for I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:11-12)

The apostles urged all Christians to “teach no other doctrine” (I Timothy 1:3) and to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” (Jude 1:3)

No apostle, no saint, no father of the Church, no martyr, confessor or inspired Church council ever claimed to have another teaching than that of Christ Himself. The doctrinal truth of the apostolic Church is the eternal and unchanging Truth of God Himself, made known in Christ and the Holy Spirit. This truth is always the same. It never changes. It abides in the Church in every age and generation, handed down from time to time and from place to place in the Holy Tradition of the Church. The task of Christians always and everywhere is to receive, to express, to explain, and to pass on the true Christian Gospel, changing nothing in it, adding nothing to it, and taking nothing from it.

For the Orthodox Church, therefore, the only possible unity for Christians and for the Christian Church is the unity of faith to which the apostles, saints and councils of the Church have witnessed, the faith to which they call all men for the sake of their salvation.

The meaning of Holy Tradition in the Church is that the entire spiritual treasury given to men by God in Christ and the Spirit is given over wholly and perfectly to all believers in all times and places. The creative task of individual Christians and Christian communities is to realize the Christian Faith with all possible depth and fullness, and to transmit this same Faith to all persons now living and to those yet to be born.

The apostles severely condemned any form of Christianity other than that which they received from the Lord. The Apostle Paul said “anathema” to any man-made religion, claiming that those who distorted the Gospel and fashioned their own doctrines are “self-condemned.” (Galatians 1:9 and Titus 3:11)

The apostles forbade communion with those who distorted the Gospel and removed them from the Church. Such serious action was taken because in every case the mutations of the Christian Faith threaten man’s salvation and destroy unity, since they are merely “human doctrines” having only “an appearance of wisdom.” (Colossians 2:22-23)

Holy Scripture tells us that the Church will always suffer from false prophets and false teachers, but that the faithful Church will exist to the end of the world, until the glorious coming of Christ. For Christians, therefore, there is no greater sin than the betrayal of the Gospel of Christ and the distortion of the apostolic teaching. To be guilty of this sin is to be guilty of betraying God Himself and the entire life of the Church. Christian unity and the unity of the Christian Church can be only in the perfect unity of those doctrines which our fathers in the faith have called divine. Woe to us if we betray Christ, Who is our Truth!

B. Unity in Love and Holiness

Together with divine truth, divine holiness is the fundamental basis for genuine Christian unity, the unity of the Church. “Be ye holy, for I am holy,” says the Lord. (Leviticus 11:44 and I Peter 1:16)

The highest and most perfect expression of divine holiness is love. Love is the greatest and most powerful force of unity that exists: “For God is love.” (I John 4:8) Genuine love and holiness are rooted in divine truth, in all virtues, and in the commandments of Christ.

Love and holiness are the living expressions and perfections of truth. “Being obedient to the truth through the Spirit” is the foundation of love. (I Peter 1:22) Without love for the truth there is no salvation. The wicked perish “because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved.” (II Thessalonians 2:10) “Being knit together in love” gives us “the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:2-3)

Love is inseparable from all the commandments of God, for it is the “bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:14) and the “fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:10) “If you keep my commandments,” says Christ, “you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” (John 15:10)

The commandments of God which are given by Christ and fulfilled in love include all virtues and all fruits of the Holy Spirit. These commandments remain forever as the ideal and goal of man’s life, as the law of human existence. Like all words of the Lord, His ethical, moral and spiritual precepts which are recorded in the New Testament scriptures may never be changed but abide forever as the unchanging law of Christian perfection.

The unity of Christians and the unity of the Christian Church are rooted and grounded in the unity of all Christian commandments perfected in love, and the unity of Christian virtue and holiness testified to in the scriptures.

C. The Orthodox Church is the True Church

Genuine Christian unity is possible only where men are one in Christ and the Holy Spirit, fully united in the truth, love and holiness of God. This unity is possible only in the one Church which Christ founded, against which “the gates of hell shall not prevail.” (Matthew 16:18) This unity is possible only in that Church which has preserved whole and unchanged the teachings of Christ and His apostles, prophets, martyrs and saints. This unity is possible only in that Church which continues to proclaim the revelation of God in its fullness, not only in its doctrines and morals, but also in the whole order of spiritual, sacramental and hierarchal church life as established in the apostolic Christian community.

Where truth is not mixed with falsehood and where the ideals of Christian perfection are not mixed with false principles of human behavior; where men in perfect awareness of their weaknesses and sins commune with God in the fullness of His divine self-manifestation in grace, there is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, which is the presence and power of the Kingdom of God on earth. Only in this Church is genuine Christian unity, the unity of all men, given by God.

Dearly beloved brothers and sisters, it is our duty as bishops of the Church and guardians of the apostolic faith to confess that the Orthodox Church is the one Church of Christ. We make our confession because it is our conviction that from the time of our Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles, the Orthodox Church has accepted no wrong doctrines and no false ideals of life, despite the corporate and personal failings of the members of the Church - “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (I John 1:8)

The Orthodox Church is the one, indivisible Church of Christ, not because of the works of men, but because by the grace of God expressed in the blood of the martyrs and the witness of the saints, the Orthodox Church has preserved to this day its God-given mission to be for the world “the Church which is His Body, the fullness of Him who filleth all in all.” (Ephesians 1:23)

There can be only one Church, for Christ founded but one Church. It is into this one Church that all must enter to live in perfect communion with God, with each other, and with all of creation.

As we make our “good confession” (I Timothy 6:13) we sincerely desire that the Orthodox Church be understood by all people, and especially by all the members of the Orthodox Church herself, not as an eastern church or as a national church necessarily bound to certain human cultures and traditions, but as the Church of Christ founded by God in the Holy Spirit for the salvation of all men and the whole of creation. Let us Orthodox Christians never forget that our own nationalism and ethnicism often obscure and betray this divine mission of the Church. We will have to answer before God for the great gift of Orthodoxy which He has given to our care. Finally, we make our appeal that all persons may partake freely of the truth and love and holiness of God Himself, and commune most fully and perfectly with the divine life of the Kingdom of God, which Christ has brought to the world.

II. THE ECUMENICAL MOVEMENT TODAY

The fundamental self-understanding of the Orthodox Church, which has been described above, has always served as the basis for Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement. It has been clearly expressed by many Orthodox hierarchs and theologians, and it motivated several separate declarations adopted unanimously by Orthodox delegations at ecumenical gatherings. The other participants in the ecumenical movement did not, of course, share these Orthodox convictions, but they respected them in a brotherly spirit. It is obvious that the Orthodox were able to take part in the ecumenical movement only on the condition that all participants were free to defend and promote their own understanding of the nature, purpose, and goal of ecumenical activity.

In recent years the ecumenical situation has changed considerably, and the movement as a whole, and Orthodox participation in it, is facing a grave crisis. This crisis is not, as many may think, one of constitution or organization. It is first of all a crisis of spirit and orientation. It is a crisis of the fundamental understanding of ecumenism itself, which has forced us to restate the position which has always been that of the Orthodox Church, a position which unfortunately even some of our Orthodox brethren have ignored or forgotten.

It is our conviction that the ecumenical movement today is being confronted with the following most obvious dangers.

A. The Danger of Relativism

Following philosophical and theological presuppositions foreign to the Orthodox Christian Tradition, a powerful trend in contemporary ecumenism rejects the very notions of truth, church order, visible ecclesial and doctrinal agreement, as if they were obstacles to Christian unity. In fact, this trend amounts to a consistent, confessional, doctrinal, and historical relativism.

In this relativistic view, the Church is considered to be simply a human society, an institution of men inevitably sinful and in error. No distinction is made between the dignity of the Church and the indignity of its human members. Thus, every form of Christian faith and life, every Christian community and confession, is considered to be relative and partial, possessing no right in any way to claim perfection in anything, especially in the knowledge of the truth.

Therefore, there could be no such thing as a perfect Church, and this is not understood to mean a Church with perfectly sinless, omniscient members, which obviously cannot and does not exist. It means rather that there is no Church which can claim that it teaches no false doctrines or moral principles, and so that within its membership one can come to fullness of life without fear of error or deceit, a claim which we Orthodox make about the Orthodox Church.

Further, in this concept, each and every Christian communion is merely a society of like-minded believers who are trying more or less successfully to realize the Christian Faith as they understand it, according to their own subjective doctrines and their own quite limited human customs and traditions.

Everything, then, essentially changes in history, even concepts of God, Christ, and the Church; and the Holy Spirit Himself is said to inspire the alteration of the Christian Faith to suit the conditions of life in each given time and place. It is not merely the case here that the Faith remains essentially the same and that its accidental forms are different. It is the position that the very Faith itself can take overtly contradictory forms in different times and places, and that each generation of Christians in different parts of the world is called to refashion the faith and practices of the Church to meet the “spirit of the times.”

The very Church of Christ’s apostles, it is asserted, created a form of Christian doctrine and life different from that of Jesus, in order to meet the needs and aspirations of the first generation of Jewish and Greek believers. Still more, in the later ages, as the Church spread out to encounter different peoples and cultures, was the Christian Faith changed, and necessarily and properly so, in order to be relevant to the new and different conditions and needs.

Since Christianity is considered to be merely the assemblage of its many different and contradictory historical and cultural forms, the ecumenical movement is no longer considered to be the common search for truth, the long and patient attempt to discover the human origins of division and the divine means of union, making the painful decision at each step of the dialogue between what is right, i.e. in conformity with divine revelation and Catholic Tradition, and what is wrong, i.e. in contradiction to the revelation of God and the witness of the communion of the saints.

The ecumenical movement, then, becomes rather an attempt to discover and to manifest the minimum of Christian belief, sometimes merely the non-denial of Christ on the most superficial level, and to establish this minimum agreement as the unity of the Christian Church regardless of the many differences and contradictions in doctrine and practice of those who are considered to be members of the Church. Thus the singular task of ecumenism is to manifest the minimum of unity which already exists among Christians rather than to recover the fullness of unity in God beyond all contradictions which, according to the Orthodox, has been lost.

In the present atmosphere of the ecumenical movement, any discussion of the differences which divide Christians and in fact disunite them in their relationships with each other and with the secular world, is considered to be almost an anti-ecumenical action. All essential differences must be passed over, as if they were merely accidental variations or harmless and inconsequential and even enriching traditional diversities which have always been welcome in the catholic consciousness and character of the Church. Thus, the defenders of the relativistic view of ecumenism are very willing to allow any Christian group or confession to retain its own customs and traditions, its own doctrines and practices, and even urge it to do so, with the strict condition, however, that its peculiarities are not given universal value and are not set up as conditions for Christian unity with those outside of the given confession. Thus, for example, the ecumenical relativists would be the firm defenders of the right of the Orthodox to preserve their Orthodoxy as long as they do not make it an obstacle to Christian unity, as the former understand it.

B. The Danger of Secularism

One major root of the doctrinal relativism defined in the preceding paragraphs is a tendency prevailing in the thought of many Western Christians during the past decade, which can be described as secularism.

Secularistic Christianity and contemporary ecumenism define themselves in terms of unity through common activity in the affairs of this world, in unified effort to establish a “better world” of social justice, prosperity and peace. Here it is not merely the case that the defenders of the secularist position consider that the primary and essential task of the Christian Church is to improve secular life through direct political, social and economic action, but that this very secular activity will bring about the unity of Christians and manifest the unity of the Church to the world.

We reject the secularist view of ecumenism, because any attempt on the part of the Church to unite men in secularist policies and actions is impossible, and from the viewpoint of Orthodox Christianity, unnecessary for Christian unity and the unity of the Christian Church.

The Lord Jesus Christ came into this world to unite all things in Himself and in His eternal Kingdom. The Lord did not come to the world to unite men in one or another political or social ideology. He did not take upon Himself the sins of the world, being born of the Virgin and being crucified upon the Cross, in order to unite men on any secular basis, which is always and of necessity bound to the fallen conditions of this world, always and of necessity subject in some measure to imperfection, falsehood and sin.

To unite men in secular ideologies is to unite them in the confusion and mixture of good and evil, for everything that is of this world is necessarily relative and inevitably imperfect.

The Lord Jesus Christ has brought to the world the Kingdom of God, which is “not of this world.” (John 18:36) The proclamation of this Kingdom is the good news of the Christian Gospel. Participation in this Kingdom is the gift of God to His Church.

The Church of Christ exists in this world as the witness and manifestation of the Kingdom of God on earth, the Kingdom which is not of this world. In the one Church of Christ there is no imperfection, falsehood or sin. To be united in the one Church of Christ is to be one in God, one in that perfect, divine reality, which is always and of necessity absolutely and completely true, holy, beautiful and good.

The Church of Christ exists in this world as the presence of the Kingdom of God yet to come, and does not exist in this world for its relative improvement. It does not exist to promote or defend one or another social, political or economic ideology, policy or program.

The clergy of the Church, according to the Orthodox Tradition, are forbidden direct action in the secular affairs of this world. As persons consecrated to the Church and wholly identified with its mission in the world, the clergy renounce all participation in the necessarily relative actions of this fallen world. Where Christian clergy have participated and continue to participate in direct secular activity, they fall under the judgment of the canons of the Church and the witness of its prophets and saints.

Christian laymen who have secular professions and responsibilities are obliged by their Christian profession in baptism to bear witness in the world to the perfection of Christ and the Kingdom of God. They must try by every possible means at their disposal to build a better world and to incarnate as fully as possible the things of the Kingdom of heaven in the life of this world. They must be fully aware of the difficulties of their task, the inevitable sufferings which they will endure, the relative success they will achieve, and the unavoidable differences which they will have even among themselves concerning the best possible policy and actions for Christians to take in any given concrete situation.

We see in many ecumenical activities today, not excluding those undertaken by official ecumenical organizations and agencies, a total violation of the traditional principles of Christian involvement in the life of the secular world. Not only is there an attempt to unite Christians and to manifest the unity of the Church through secular actions, but there is also a conscious choice of certain social, political and economic policies and actions, which, it is claimed, are the only ones consistent with the Christian Faith. Not only is this choice partisan and one-sided, and inevitably so, but it is also not seldom inspired much more by purely secular ideologies, usually of a radical, leftist variety, than by the Gospel of Christ and the complete doctrine of the apostles and prophets of the Christian scriptural tradition.

This serious and alarming shift from the Church and its unity to the world and its problems constitutes in our eyes one of the central elements of the crisis of the ecumenical movement in our time. It is a shift which we are compelled to judge and reject as totally incompatible with the true nature of Christian ecumenism, and indeed, of the Christian Faith itself.

C. The Danger of False Methods of Union

The relativistic and secularistic trends described above inevitably lead to improper methods of ecumenical action and unity. In both instances the conviction is expressed that Church structures, as well as its doctrines and moral ideals, are relative and may be changed for any practical purpose, since the sacramental, hierarchal order of the Church dating from apostolic times is not essential to the Christian Faith and the unity of the Church. Thus, different Christian confessions may be merged into one, or may be considered as one without formal organizational merger, with the result of the creation of a new Church order unknown to traditional Christianity. In this view, the sacraments, and particularly the Holy Eucharist, are not expressions of the very being of the Church with a deep and necessary relationship to the essential order and structure of the Church, but are simply devotional rituals or psychological symbols which can create the impression of unity, where it does not exist in reality.

We consider it our divine mission to reject all false methods of Church union and to insist that all doctrinal, ethical and sacramental compromises which alter the hierarchal order of the Church in and through which the continuity and identity of the Church of Christ is realized in space and time, cannot possibly lead to the unity of all men in Christ and cannot possibly unite Christians in the one Church of God.

We further deny the possibility of fusing the hierarchal and sacramental structure of the Orthodox Church with a contradictory form of Christian confession, and we categorically reject the use of eucharistic communion and sacramental “intercommunion” as a means of achieving Christian unity. According to the Orthodox Faith, the sacraments and the liturgy of the Church, most specifically the Holy Eucharist, cannot be separated from the very being of the Church, which they exist to manifest. The sacraments are not devotions or psychological symbols. They are the manifestations of the essence of the Church as the Kingdom of God on earth. Outside the unity of faith in the one Church of Christ, which cannot be divided, there can be no sacramental communion and no liturgical concelebration.

Formal liturgical worship which involves the active participation of clergy and laity of different confessions is contrary to the canons of the Orthodox Church. Such liturgical celebration can only create confusion and scandal and serve to project a false impression of the Christian Faith and the nature of the unity which God has given to men in His Church, both to the Christian faithful and to the non-Christians of the world. According to the Orthodox Faith, such liturgical celebration is also a false presentation of men before the heavenly altar of God.

We repeat our deep and essential disagreement with the recent trends in the ecumenical movement mentioned above, which we view as an attempt to transform ecumenism itself into a kind of universal church, uniting persons and groups on the basis of its own conditions rather than on the basis of the absolute, eternal and unchanging conditions of the Gospel of Christ and the Kingdom of God.

III. ORTHODOX PARTICIPATION IN THE ECUMENICAL MOVEMENT

Before going through His voluntary passion, our Lord Jesus Christ prayed that “all may be one.” What is needed primarily to share in this divine unity, offered by Christ to His followers, is the personal conversion of each man and woman to the Truth and a free entry into the fold of His Holy Church. However, it would certainly not be contrary to the divine will if the various Christian churches and confessions were to be drawn gradually closer to each other, if they were to overcome their estrangement and eventually, led by the Spirit of Truth, if they were all to be united in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, which for us, of course, is the Orthodox Church.

This progressive rapprochement between divided Christians is what we properly call the “ecumenical movement.” The Orthodox Church has taken part in it from the very beginning, and, in spite of the mistakes committed and the dangers constantly being faced, we see no reason to question the principles which made Orthodox participation possible and desirable, providing very clear and definite conditions were met.

A. Conditions for Ecumenical Activity

We, the bishops of the Orthodox Church in America, welcome all positive relations between us, our pastors and our people and non-Orthodox Christians, and indeed, all believers and all men of good will, wherever these relations do not contradict the Orthodox Faith.

The possibility of positive collaboration with non-Orthodox Christians is founded in the indisputable fact that, despite all the differences which do exist between the Orthodox Church and the other Christian confessions, the non-Orthodox Christians have preserved some doctrines and practices which are compatible with those of the Orthodox Christian Tradition.

We are convinced as well that there are Christians who share our anxieties about the trends in contemporary ecumenism, which we consider to be wrong and dangerous, and who share with us the conviction that genuine Christian unity can be achieved only through union in the truth and love of God in the one Church of Christ.

In its ecumenical activity, the Orthodox Church can have no other norm of judgment than the Orthodox Christian Faith as revealed by God, lived by the saints, and recorded and testified to in the Holy Scriptures and Tradition of the Church. On this basis, there are at least two fundamental norms which guide the Orthodox in our relations with other men. In the first place, we must deny what is wrong wherever we find it. This means that we must refuse to identify ourselves and our Church with those elements in the non-Orthodox communions which are contrary to the Scriptures and Holy Tradition. In the second place, we must take all that we find in the non-Orthodox which conforms to the faith and life of the Orthodox Church as the basis for our positive meeting and cooperation. We must recognize all those who have faith in Christ and who have preserved elements of Orthodox Christianity as our fellow Christians and rejoice in that which we share in common with them.

We do not know if the high and holy ideal of organic Christian unity can be achieved by Christians on this earth. This is a mystery of God’s mercy and grace and man’s desire and effort. We see the genuine ecumenical movement as working toward this goal. We also see that the achievement of Christian unity, insofar as it depends on Orthodox Christians, requires the preservation and strengthening of the consensus of opinion and action of the Orthodox in ecumenical affairs. If we Orthodox Christians do not maintain and develop the most perfect unanimity possible in regard to the nature, methods and goals of the ecumenical movement, our participation will be meaningless and fruitless, and will not only be a grave disservice to Christians outside the Orthodox Church, but will cause grave difficulties within the Church as well, for which we shall have to answer before Almighty God.

B. Areas of Ecumenical Cooperation

On the basis of that which we hold in common with non-Orthodox Christians, we offer the following possibilities for common action.

All who believe in Christ can present a common witness to faith in God and defend this wherever it is threatened or denied.

All Christians can support the right of believers to propagate their faith and to conduct religious education and mission.

All Christians can coordinate their possibilities and efforts in the work of serving those in need of help and assistance, and can join in with all men who work for the good of others.

All Christians can be united in the affirmation of the Christian ideal of the human person as a creature made in the image and likeness of God, and so can struggle together against every inability and unwillingness of men to distinguish between right and wrong, defending the Christian vision of life as witnessed in the New Testament scriptures.

All Christians can also work together to support among themselves the desire to achieve true Christian unity in the truth and love of God, providing an open atmosphere in which all positions and opinions can be freely expressed without coercion or pressure of any kind.

We have the firm conviction that, as we define the norms and goals of Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement, we defend as well the proper way of ecumenical action for all participants in the movement. We sincerely believe that we fulfill our ecumenical duty as well as our responsibility as the episcopate of the Orthodox Church in America by calling all men to follow the way toward Christian union and the unity of the Christian Church which can be fruitful and can lead, by the grace of God, to some positive results.

It is our desire to call men to the authentic way of Christian ecumenism, since we sincerely believe that the recent trends in the ecumenical movement are harming all the churches. Divisions are arising among those who wish to recover the unity of the Church through fidelity to the Gospel of Christ and the Tradition of the saints, and those who are willing to settle for a kind of Christian unity in which it is possible to find only a few impoverished remains of the original life and teaching of the Church of Christ. Because of this, we see frustration and confusion among the faithful, distrust, suspicions, animosity and grief.

We call all men to see and to believe that unity founded on any basis other than Christ, the prophets, the apostles, the fathers, the saints, and the councils of the Church can only be a false union, which necessarily transforms the “faith once delivered to the saints” into a relativistic, temporal phenomenon, one of the many human philosophies and secular ideologies destined to pass away with the image of this world.

We call all men to walk with us the narrow path of Christ and to follow an ecumenical plan which, however slow and painful, alone can draw men into the divine unity given by God to His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church: the unity of the untreated, undivided Trinity.

For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God Who commanded the light to shine out of the darkness, has shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels to show that the excellency of the power belongs to God and not to us. (II Corinthians 4:6-7)

To Him be glory always, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

+ IRENEY
Archbishop of New York Metropolitan of All America and Canada

+ JOHN
Archbishop of Chicago and Minneapolis

+ NIKON
Archbishop of Brooklyn

+ SYLVESTER
Archbishop of Montreal and Canada

+ VALERIAN
Archbishop of Detroit and Michigan

+ KIPRIAN
Archbishop of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania

+ THEODOSIUS
Bishop of Pittsburgh and West Virginia

+ DMITRI
Bishop of Hartford and New England

+ IOASAPH
Bishop of Edmonton

+ JOSE
Bishop of Mexico

+ HERMAN
Bishop of Wilkes-Barre

Signed in New York City at the Sessions of the Holy Synod, March 20-31, 1973


  1. The terms ecumenism and ecumenical movement are used in this letter in their most comprehensive sense. They refer to all forms of activity directed to the reunion of divided Christians in the one Church of Christ. As such they include, but are not limited to, the policies and actions of the official ecumenical organizations such as the World Council of Churches and the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.