"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ecumenism Binds Everybody

Certain Eastern Christians, upon hearing the word "ecumenism" and its cognates, fall into fits of apoplexy and begin, tiresomely, to fulminate about ecumenism as "the pan-heresy." Fr. John Jillions, an OCA priest at the Sheptytsky Institute in Ottawa, showed me a copy this past summer of a rather droll little "icon" in support of this view. It comes replete with Luther, the pope, and others apparently assailing HMS Orthodoxy and trying to sink or at least run her aground:

Others, while not paranoid about ecumenism as some destructive, demonic force, are nonetheless uninterested in supporting the move towards Christian unity. Neither position, of course, is even remotely theologically defensible. One may not agree with certain methods of ecumenism in every instance, but one cannot, precisely as an o/Orthodox Christian, disagree with the goal of unity and the dominical imperative (cf. John 17) that the Church be one. Unity is not optional. Remaining content in our divisions is sin.

Steven Harmon has written a very short little book that is very useful in trying to overcome the apathy today about ecumenism while also allaying the sometimes understandable anxieties of Christians who imagine that ecumenism means selling out to some kind of lowest-common-denominator version of the faith:

 Ecumenism Means You, Too (Cascade Books, 2010), 120pp.

A Baptist theologian teaching in the School of Divinity at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, Harmon, who keeps a very interesting blog here, offers us two very useful things in this book. First is his opening call for all Christians to understand that ecumenism, properly understood, does not (pace our Eastern polemicists) entail any doctrinal diminution or dogmatic compromises. Only unity founded on the truth, to which we all come and unreservedly consent, can be accepted. So the idea of ecumenism as selling out to Luther, or being dominated by the pope, or taking on false doctrines so that the ship of Orthodoxy sinks, is just great silliness. No Orthodox hierarch today that I know of is willing to compromise on fundamental dogmatic matters in order to achieve unity. That is why the process is so painstaking and time-consuming.

The second important reminder of this text comes in the sub-title: "Ordinary Christians and the Quest for Christian Unity." Every Christian needs to be involved in the search for unity. If unity is to happen between Catholics and Orthodox, we have an enormous amount of work to do at the grassroots. Theological dialogue and agreements between bishops are necessary but not sufficient. Part of the reason Ferrara-Florence failed is precisely because the hierarchs did not carry the people with them. I fear we have insufficiently mastered that lesson of failure and its cause. Twenty years ago I began working in the World Council of Churches, and traveled all over the world, only to return home every time and realize that nobody had the faintest clue that the WCC even existed, let alone any interest in what it might be trying to do. Ecumenism thus remains too top-down, too "elitist," and this must change. As Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky of blessed memory used to say: the Lord will give us unity when all of His people rise up in prayer demanding it. If Harmon's book helps us to do that, then glory to God.


  1. Glory to Jesus Christ!
    Dear dr. Adam, my name is Anatolij Babinskyj? I am editor of "Patriarchte" journal (UGCC) and Religious Information Service in Ukraine (risu.org.ua). And I take part in work of "Theological portal" http://theology.in.ua/ua/bp

    I follow your blog here and I find it very interesting and usefull. And I want to propose you to duplicate your posts on our "Theological portal" for our ukrainian readers in "book review".
    What do you think about it?

    You can reply on my e-mail:


    Thank you!

  2. I'll have to check this little book out. I think the word 'ecumenism' as taken on such negative connotations because 1- there is no definitive definition of what 'ecumenism' is, 2- no one agrees on what it is and 3- so many abuses have been carried out in the name of 'ecumenism' and 'that they all may be one' enthusiasms.
    I myself cringe every time I here the word and my first reaction is 'AWH, NOW WHAT!'
    The Catholics are in the forefront of this, bless their hearts, and hurt the very cause they support by issuing false or half true statements, jumping the gun and pronouncing unity 'is just around the corner' or exaggerating what was accomplished. The you have to read the Orthodox statements to get a clearer picture of any progress toward reunion is there is any at all.
    Most protestant groups aren't interested. The Anglicans used to be but that is all but a dead horse. Only a few Lutherans are interested and usually just give up or go over to Rome or Constantinople as well they should! But the others? Forget it! Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterian/Reformed, Churches of Christ, never going to happen. Individual converts, yes.or even congregations, yes. Mass group conversions (I mean of whole denominations) never going to see that.
    Living one's life in the Truth of Christ is the best argument for ecumenism and unfortunately, Mormons and Pentecostals generally do it better. Sad.

  3. I realize that I am extraordinarily late to the game, nonetheless, I persist. I believe the "icon" to which you refer above comes from the Old Calendarist group in Buena Vista, Colorado. It may have some other provenance but the copy I discovered was attributed to them so I doubt it. Certainly there will be sympathy for that image among some who are not in open rebellion but I think that we are not obliged to consider the image as legitimate Church iconography given the source. I realize the image wasn't really the point, merely an illustration for your argument but I thought I'd point that out anyway.

    Fr. John Cox


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