PREPARATORY MEETING OF THE DELEGATES OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCHES TO THE 3rd ECUMENICAL EUROPEAN ASSEMBLY SIBIU, ROMANIA, 4-9 SEPTEMBER 2007.
Rhodes, Greece, 25-28 June 2007.
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‘’The Light of Christ shines upon all’’!
1. Upon invitation of His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, enjoying the gracious hospitality of His Eminence Metropolitan Kyrillos of Rhodes, and under the moderatorship of His Eminence Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima (Ecumenical Patriarchate), 35 hierarchs, priests, deacons, university professors, and lay (male and female) persons, representing nearly all the Orthodox Churches members of the Conference of European Churches (CEC), gathered on the island of Rhodes, Greece. The gathering took place from 25 to 28 June 2007, within the framework of preparations for the 3rd European Ecumenical Assembly (EEA3), to be held in Sibiu, Romania from 4 to 9 September 2007, centred on the theme, “The Light of Christ shines upon all. Hope for Renewal and Unity in Europe”.
2. The participants at Rhodes were all members of their Churches’ official delegations who will attend EEA3, assisted by CEC programme staff. They represented: the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Patriarchate of Moscow, the Patriarchate of Serbia, the Patriarchate of Romania, the Church of Cyprus, the Church of Greece, the Church of Poland, the Church of Albania, the Church of Czech Lands and Slovakia, as well as the Armenian Apostolic Church, Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin.
3. Along with the discussion on a series of varied topics, the programme included prayer and visits to local parishes.
4. The main purposes of the meeting were:
a) to comment on and analyze the program of the EEA3;
b) to provide greater depth of thinking on its main theme: “ The Light of Christ shines upon all. Hope for Renewal and Unity in Europe”, as well as on its three sub-themes: 1) “The Light of Christ and the Church”, 2) “The Light of Christ and Europe”, 3) “The Light of Christ and the World”;
c) to make a survey of present-day ecclesiastical and socio-political developments in Europe and to define the role of the churches in the shaping of a new European society;
d) to draw a common Orthodox understanding on the issues to be debated during this significant pan-European ecumenical event; and
e) to develop a report to be addressed to all those attending the EEA3 in Sibiu.
5. After having conveyed the paternal wishes, prayers and blessings of His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Metropolitan Gennadios wholeheartedly thanked Metropolitan Kyrillos of Rhodes for his generous hospitality and greeted the participants. He expressed the hope that this informal encounter would constitute another occasion to strengthen the existing fraternal links between the Orthodox Churches and that it would enable them to act and speak in a coordinated way, “with one voice and one heart”, during the EEA3. In addition, he mentioned that this gathering was taking place on the historical island of Rhodes where, nearly fifty years ago, Pan-Orthodox meetings paved the way toward the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church and to deeper Orthodox cooperation. From his side, Metropolitan Kyrillos of Rhodes joyfully welcomed the participants and expressed his best wishes for the success of this important inter-Orthodox meeting.
6. Following these introductory remarks, Metropolitan Gennadios gave a summary account of the steps taken so far by the two conveners of EEA3, namely the Conference of European Churches (CEC) and the Council of European Bishop’s Conferences (CCEE), in the process of preparing the Sibiu event. He expressed the hope that this ecumenical European process truly will be an ecumenical pilgrimage that may serve as an instrument that offers to European churches new dynamics, facilitates dialogue, provides new methods of fellowship and opens new spaces for cooperation among the churches today.
7. His Eminence Metropolitan Daniel of Moldova and Bucovina offered an analysis of the Assembly theme. He remarked that this theme is at the same time a biblical, liturgical and missionary one. As Creator of the world (John 1:3; Collosians 1:16) and Head of the Church, Christ is the Light of the world (John 8:12) and especially the Light of the life and mission of the Church and of the Christians in their daily life. In addition, Metropolitan Daniel spoke about the importance of this Assembly in Sibiu - one of the two cultural capitals of Europe for the year 2007 - as well as its deep significance for the faith, the life and the mission of the churches in Romania, and in Europe in general. He particularly emphasized that nowadays, when Europe experiences a deep crisis of faith and passes through the “desert of secularization”, the duty of European churches is to mobilize themselves for dialogue, reconciliation and cooperation among the churches and peoples of this continent.
8. The Revd Prof. Viorel Ionita, Director of the CEC Commission on Churches in Dialogue, gave a short account of the three preliminary stages of preparation of EEA3 (Rome, January 2006; regional/national meetings between Pentecost 2006 and February 2007; Wittenberg, February 2007), during which there was an exchange of ecumenical experiences among participants, a thorough debate on the Assembly theme and concerns, but also an in-depth discussion regarding the secularization of Europe and the Churches’ responsibility to built up a new European society based on Christian moral values and principles.
9. Fr. Ionita proceeded, afterwards, to a “power-point” presentation of the Agenda and the Programme of EEA3, highlighting the importance of the nine Assembly Fora set up to study both the main theme and the sub-themes. The issues to be debated in this context are:
a) the quest for Church unity;
b) the issue of Christian spirituality;
c) the witness of churches in today’s secularized European society;
d) Christian values and the building of a new Europe;
e) encounter of Christians with the believers of other faiths;
f) care and concern for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers;
g) the issue of justice in Europe and in the whole world;
h) the commitment of churches for peace; and
i) the protection of our environment by the adoption of a responsible and sustainable “life-style”.
10. In the ensuing discussion both in plenaries and sub-groups, a great number of participants took the floor and commented both on the programme and the thematic content of EEA3. It was stressed that Church unity, based upon the true faith, should be the main focus of any ecumenical endeavour. It was pointed out, however, that regardless of the unresolved difficulties they face in the ecumenical dialogue concerning issues of an ecclesiological, theological and moral nature, the churches should deliver a clear common witness to the world and to secularized European society. This could be done on the basis of common faith in the Triune God and in the salvific action of our Lord Jesus Christ.
11. It was particularly emphasized that in the overall effort to form a coherent and just European society, Orthodoxy has a specific task; namely, to give a strong witness based on her belief that the Church above all is the manifestation of the presence of the Triune God in the world, and the sign of the continuous intervention of His love in our life. “Orthodoxia” (the right belief) cannot be separated from “orthopraxia” (the right action). It is on the basis of this belief that our Churches should bring the healing action of God to contemporary society, torn apart nowadays by hatred, conflict, violence, racism, xenophobia, injustice, material and spiritual poverty.
12. In relation to the sub-theme “The Light of Christ and the Church’’, it was underlined that Christ is the one to Whom we call in prayer, to Whom we listen in the Gospels, Whom we receive through communion in the sacraments of the church, the foretaste of the Kingdom of God, and through carrying out the commandments to love God and our neighbours.
13. The unity of the Church is a gift of God and at the same time a task of the Christians who are challenged to pray and work for it. This gift and challenge of unity cannot be separated from the Church’s holiness, catholicity and apostolicity. To pray and work towards Christian unity means to rediscover the common apostolic Tradition lived and transmitted through the centuries.
14. The stance of Orthodoxy in the face of any kind of social problem is an expression of Orthodox spirituality. Our spiritual life is not to be separated from the social commitment of the Church, expressed through living communities witnessing to the world of today. The spiritual life is a basis for any authentic Christian social life and mission.
15. In relation to the sub–theme “The Light of Christ and Europe”, it was emphasized that “Europe” is not limited by the framework of Western Europe and the European Union, but describes the whole continent. The common basis of Europe is the Christian faith. That is why it is important at the Assembly in Sibiu to stress the Christian roots of Europe. The role of Christianity in Europe strongly depends on the personal commitment of the faithful in their countries and in the European Institutions. This is an indispensable condition for making any union of the countries a truly spiritual union.
16. Christendom presently coexists with people of other faiths in the context of European society. This is a challenging situation. In addition, Europe faces huge migrational waves of people coming from different religious and cultural backgrounds. This fact often creates problems and conflictual situations. However, it should be acknowledged that the presence of people of other faiths is not a new phenomenon for the Eastern part of Europe, mostly inhabited by Orthodox Christians. This region has a centuries-old experience of good, neighbourly relations with peoples of other faiths and cultures, mostly from Islam. Tragically, in certain cases such as in Kosovo at the present time, Christian communities are victimized because of the political exploitation of ethnic and religious differences. In spite of these unhappy instances, generally Orthodox Christians enjoy good relationships, based on mutual respect and shared responsibility within their societies. The churches should commit themselves to accept the “others”, provided that this commitment to neighbours and coexistence is the result of a mutual respect and tolerance.
17. With regard to the third sub-theme “The Light of Christ and the World”, it was remarked that in the context of today’s pluralistic society in a globalized world, the Churches have to mobilize themselves for the promotion of Christian values such as truth, freedom, human dignity, morality, justice, peace and solidarity, as taught by our Lord Jesus Christ. This may be realized through education and the formation of new generations. In this respect, the defense of the elementary human rights of migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and all the marginalized persons in our society is part of the Churches’ diaconal mission in the world.
18. An integral part of this ministry, however, is also the duty to seek effective ways of healing our natural environment that is being harmed and destroyed by the careless behavior of human beings, who perceive nature as an object of exploitation and not as a sign and “sacrament” of God in the world. As the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew affirmed in his Message for the Day of Creation, “…respect for nature is to recognize that all creatures and objects have a unique place in God’s creation”.
19. In this respect it was strongly recommended to give a visible sign of our concern for the deterioration of the natural environment by dedicating, on the basis of the Orthodox tradition of fasting, “nisteia”, the day of Friday, September 7th, as an optional fasting day for all the Assembly’s participants.
20. The meeting at Rhodes expressed the willingness of the Orthodox participants to prepare well for the Sibiu gathering, which poses a challenge regarding the ecumenical commitment of the Orthodox Churches in a specific way. Listening to the contributions of other participants and entering into dialogue with them, the Orthodox participants would like to present their views in a coherent way as a specific contribution to this important ecumenical event. May our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, bless and enlighten the participants in the Sibiu Assembly and help the churches in Europe to witness to the Light and Love of Christ for the renewal and unity of all humanity.
‘’Christ, the true Light, which shines and sanctifies every human being coming into this world, show in us the light of your presence and guide our paths for the work of your commandments; by the intercession of your Most Holy Mother, the Virgin Mary the Theotokos, and of all the saints, have mercy on us and save upon us. Amen!’’ (Prayer from the Service of the First Hour).
Rhodes, 27 June 2007