Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church
The Twentieth and Twenty First Centuries will remain marked in history of Christianity as a period of particularly intensive efforts for a renewal of unity of the Christian Oecumene or, at a minimum, for greater mutual rapprochement and cooperation among the divided Christians. The Orthodox Church, from the outset, not only positively reacted to “the signs of time”, but was the Protagonist of the authentic content of the latter ecumenical movement. Already at the beginning of the 20th Century the Patriarch of Constantinople Ioakeim III, in his response to the congratulations he received on the occasion of his Enthronement in 1902, he sent a circular letter urging all the Leaders of the Orthodox Churches to think about possible ways of consolidation of unity of the Orthodoxy and improvement of its relations with the Roman-Catholic Church and the Churches of Reformation. A much broader and more concrete initiative in this respect was launched by the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1920. In its letter to all Churches of Christ it asked of all Christians to defeat the spirit of mutual mistrust and bitterness and to demonstrate the power of love in а pursuit of restoration of the lost unity.
Altough even earlier, at any period of time, there were atempts to restore the unity, all of us, from the beginnings of the 20th century until today, put extraordinary efforts to get to know each other at a deeper level, while at the same time we descover our common spiritual roots – biblical, liturgical, patristic... We, the Orthodox, pray on a daily basis „for the union of all“, and at the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great even more concretely we pray to the Lord „to detruncate the divisions among Churches“ and „to extinguish the animosity among the nations“. We are grateful to the Roman Catholic Church for openness for a dialog and readiness for a mutual support and cooperation. According to our estimate, The Second Vatican Council gave an extraordinary impulse to the faithful of the Roman Catholic Church for this.
We remember with gratitude the late Cardinal Franz Konig and his ecumenical endeavors. We cannot but mention, with respect, the organization Pro Oriente,
of which he was the founder and spiritus movens, as well as the Focolare movement of the late Chiara Lubich, and many other institutions and movements in the bosom of the Roman Catholic Church who „redescovered“ the Orthodox Christians as their brothers and sisters. Among all of them, the community of St. Egidio occupies a honored and very high position. This Community did not choose its name accidentaly, but rather purposefuly: Just as the holy monk Egidius came from the Greek East to the Latin West and in his own time expressed their unity, so also the Community, named after himself, while acting in the West, is always turned toward the East, according to the spiritual legacy of its Holy Patron. To that Community
we, the Orthodox, are indebted in many ways, especially for the iniciative and organization of the Meetings for peace, this Meeting too, a cosmopolitan one in the true sense of this word.
The Serbian Orthodox Church, from the very beginning, in different forms, participates in the Ecumenical movement. Since 1965 she is a member of the World Coucil of Churches. Participation in the Inter-Christian dialog, especialy with the Sister-Roman Catholic Church, our Church considers this to be a very important question, perhaps one of the most important questions of her contemporary mission. Thus, very often some of her representatives participate in different Inter-Church and ecumenical gatherings in the Country and abroad. Our Church hosted and organized a number of times such gatherings, including the one of the Joint comission for the theological dialogue of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church from 18-25 september 2006. Why the Orthodox Church today as a whole, thus our local Church as well, participates in the ecumenical movement and dialogue, along with other Christian Churches? In short, because her very nature is dialogic. The Church is by her very nature oecumenical, relational, corelational reality. If the Orthodox Church would not have been in dialogue with other Christian Churches and communities, and then with non-Christian religions, secular and religious movements as well as all ideological and spiritual challenges of the modern world, she would automatically shut herself, become self-sufficient, and thus according to such a mentality transformed herself into a sect. „No historical Church community can claim to be the Church if it ceased to strive towards unity with other Churches“1
Our Christian God, the Holy Trinity, is fundamentaly determined by the relational category, both within Himself, and with respect to the World: Christian ontology is dialogic. God is love, relation Me – You. God’s Revelation, as the fundamental source of Christian teaching, has a dialogic charachter: we recognize God who reveals Himself and the man who receives, lives through and communicates divine Revelation. For Christians, to be a true man means to coexist with others. Man is not a self-captive and self-sufficient monad, but a being for the other. It is precisely this dialogic and relational demension that makes man a destinct being, - an icon of God, - and not only his intellectual or ethical characteristics. The Orthodox lifestyle is always selfcontrol, abandonment of the sheer life for oneself. To be a Christian means to always fight for freedom from the individual and colective egoism and a resentment caused by the wounded self-love. In the Gospel everything is about meeting, and joy because of the meeting with the other.
Christian gnoseology is also dialogic. To know God (but also the world and man) always implies to love and to enter into a communion of love with the Other (God), that is with the other (man, being, world). In the structure of the Orthodox Church everything is interdependent. Nobody and nothing can exist only for itself. Orthodox Liturgy, which expresses the identity of the Church, is of a dialogic character and in its literary form is structured as a dramatic dialog. The purpose of fasting and asceticism in the Church is also a victory over egoism, emersion from self and a movement toward another. “Nothing is more appropriate to our nature as being in communion with one another”, St. Basil the Great says. The mission of the Church in the world is to bring about the existential transfiguration of a mankind, by transgression divided and torn apart, into a community of free personalities, united with God and each other. The Church strives to make the whole world “a cosmic Liturgy” (St. Maximus the Confessor).
The Church never accepts a schism or division, nor does it strive to become “independent” from others. Those who are at peace with a schism or division, commit even a greater sin then the perpetrators of schisms and divisions, for they deny the will of God that all may be together and one at the close of history. Christian identity assumes renunciation of the self and what belongs to the self, liberation from all the chains of the nature and history, creation of the trust and building of the selfidentity upon the personality of the other. Christian
freedom is not freedom from others but freedom for others. A Christian dialogue should be a dialogue in the Truth and Love. The imperative for a dialogue emerges from the catholic (universal, all-embracing) nature of the divine-human organism of the Church. Therefore, the Orthodox participate in the Inter- Church dialogues and the Ecumenical movement because they are convinced that the unity of the Church is an imperative for the Christian conscience.
That unity can not be re-established except through the meetings of those who share faith in the Triune God. The Ecumenical dialogue does not strive toward the unification of the Church but toward “a reconciled difference” (a unity in diversity). Such a dialogue preserves the Church from two equally dangerous temptations - “open relativism” and “sealed fanaticism”. According to the Orthodox understanding, the most important spiritual task for all of us today is reintegration of the Christian mind, rediscovering of the fullness of the apostolic Tradition, “the fullness of the Christian view and belief, in symphony with all epochs”, as said by one of the most important orthodox theologians of the last century, Georges Florovsky.2 “The Dialogue of truth” can be accomplished only by love. And vice versa: “The dialogue of love” leads to nowhere if we relativize the truth of God’s Revelation, i.e. the truth of the Church as the bearer of that Revelation.
We are moving toward a great jubilee - 1700th Anniversary of the Edict of Milan. This is a significant date and occasion for all of us to re-consider the position of the Churches and Religious Communities in the modern Europe, i.e. to once again ask and contemplate upon the question of religious freedom and equality in the contemporary historical context and thus “here and now” to actualize the Edict of Milan. The Inter-Christian and Inter-religious dialogue will be unavoidable theme on that occasion. There is a great interest for this Anniversary in our Church and among the Serbian people. The preparations for its celebration have already begun. Naturally, in this celebration the special role belongs to the city of Niš which should be the host of the central event. Our Local Orthodox Church does not want this Anniversary to be a conventional “commemorative gathering”, “remembrance of the past”, and even less a return to the past. She will do everything she can to make these days of jubilee – the days of anticipation of the future Kingdom of Heaven, here and now, days of the meeting in the Truth and Love, days of repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation.
1700th Anniversary of the Edict of Milan is an event of the European and global importance. This important date should be used on our regional plan by all the relevant subjects to accomplish a substantial progress on the way to reconciliation and restoration of trust between the peoples of the region, but on the global plan - improvement of relationships between Christian Churches and deepening of the dialogue of the truth and love, as well as further developing of the Inter-religious dialogue and cooperation in everything we can together contribute to the sanctity of life, peace, freedom, spiritual and ethical values, in one word - the common good.
To the Good Heavenly Father who loves mankind, “to the Only All-wise God our Savior, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, be the glory and majesty, power and authority before all ages, now and unto the ages! Amen”
(Jude 1, 25).
(1)Florovsky Georges, Apostolic tradition and Ecumenism, the Church is life, Belgrade 2005, pg. 73.
(2)Zizioulas John, Pravolsavlje, Belgrade 2003, pg. 52.