The 14th plenary of the International Joint Commission on the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and Lutherans was held from 30 May – 7 June 2008 at the St. George Hotel in Paphos, Cyprus, hosted by the Orthodox Church of Cyprus.
The meeting was chaired by the two co-presidents, from the Orthodox side by H.E. Metropolitan Prof. Dr. Gennadios of Sassima, Ecumenical Patriarchate, and from the Lutheran World Federation side by Bishop Dr. Donald J. McCoid, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Orthodox participants were delegates from the following churches: H. E. Metropolitan Prof. Dr. Gennadios of Sassima and Rev. Deacon Theodoros Meimaris (The Ecumenical Patriarchate), H. E. Metropolitan Dr. Makarios of Kenya and Irinoupolis (Patriarchate of Alexandria), Maître Albert Laham (Patriarchate of Antioch), V. Rev. Protopresbyter Prof. Dr. George Dion Dragas (Patriarchate of Jerusalem), V.Rev. Archimandrite Dr. Cyril Hovoroun (Patriarchate of Moscow), V. Rev. Prof. Dr. Viorel Ionita (Patriarchate of Romania), H. E. Metropolitan Dr. Isaias of Tamassos and Oreini (Church of Cyprus), Prof. Dr. Christos Voulgaris (Church of Greece), Rev. Andrzej Minko (Church of Poland), Dr. Nathan Hoppe (Church of Albania), Rev. Prof. Dr. Vaclav Jezek (Church of Czech Lands and Slovakia), V. Rev. Rauno Pietarinen (Church of Finland) and Rev. Sakarias Leppik (Church of Estonia).
The ten Lutheran participants, by appointment of the Council of The Lutheran World Federation, came from LWF member churches in Australia, Finland, Germany, Norway, Romania, South Africa, and the United States.
Contacts between Orthodox theologians from the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Lutheran professors of the University of Tübingen, Germany, began at the time of the 16th century Reformation in Europe. Thus the dialogue has historical precedent. Present official conversations began in 1981 in Espoo, Finland, after three years of preparatory meetings.
The theme currently being studied by the Joint Commission continues and builds on the work of the 13th Joint Commission meeting in Bratislava, Slovakia, in 2006, on The Mystery of the Church: The Holy Eucharist in the Life of the Church. The special focus of this meeting was on the Preparation and the Social and Ecological Dimensions of the Eucharist.
From the Lutheran side papers were presented by Bishop Dr. Donald J. McCoid on “Holy Communion: Preparation and Practice in the Lutheran Tradition” and by Rev. Prof. Antti Raunio on “The Social and Ethical Aspects of the Eucharist.” On the Orthodox side papers were presented by V. Rev. Prof. Dr. George D. Dragas on “Preparation for Participation in the Canonical Celebration of the Divine Eucharist” and Rev. Prof. Dr. Václav Ježek on “Thine Own of Thine Own We Offer to Thee: A Possible Orthodox Eucharistic Ecological Theology.” Rev. Prof. Dr. Viorel Ionita delivered a paper on “The Liturgy after the Liturgy. The Holy Eucharist and the Mission of the Orthodox Church Today.” The papers presented provided theological expositions of Orthodox and Lutheran teaching on the theme, as well as specifications of commonalities and differences between the teachings of the two partners. Following discussion of the papers, the Common Statement was developed.
This Common Statement recognizes that, despite differences which prevent members of the two traditions from sharing together in the Eucharist, both Orthodox and Lutherans “regard the Eucharist as an awesome and most solemn sacrament which is essential to the life of the Church”; they agree also that careful preparation, involving instruction, prayer, confession and forgiveness of sin, is required for participation in the Eucharist. There are, however, also a number of differences, including the sacramental definition of confession and the requirement of fasting, whose significance has not been fully explored. Yet on the social and environmental implications of the Eucharist there has never been division. Both traditions affirm that the Eucharist does not end with its liturgical celebration in church but strengthens Christians to respond to the needs of the world as stewards of God’s grace. Both Orthodox and Lutheran churches recognize a communal character of the Eucharist with far-reaching implications for Christian involvement in human society, both in responding to human need and in addressing injustice and conflict. Moreover, the implications of the Eucharist are not confined to the human community. Recognizing the unprecedented urgency of the environmental crisis, the Commission said, “As partakers of the Eucharist, we are called to rethink our outlooks and practices in fundamental ways, ways that, with respect to the environment, go further than ever before and may extend beyond traditional patterns of Eucharistic thought and practice.”
During the meeting a message with blessings and prayers was received from His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. There was also a special message from the Ecumenical Patriarch on the World Environmental Day on 5 June, which the Commission received in gratitude and integrated into its discussions and Common Statement.
The Commission was informed of the reception process of the Bratislava Statement within the Russian Orthodox Church and within the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland.
On Sunday, 1 June, the group assisted at the Divine Liturgy in the Church of the Virgin Mary of Pantanassa in Paphos celebrated by H.E. Metropolitan Isaias of Tamassos and Oreini. Afterwards they visited the St. Solomones catacombs and the historic Church of St. Kyriaki, where the column of the Apostle Paul is preserved. In the afternoon, the group visited the Monasteries of St. Neophytos and of the Virgin Mary of Chrysorroiatissa as well as the medieval castle of Paphos.
On Wednesday, 4 June, the Holy Eucharist in the Lutheran tradition was celebrated at St. George’s Chapel, and on Thursday, 5 June, an Orthodox Liturgy on the Feast of the Ascension of Christ was celebrated. On Thursday 5 June, the members received the visit of His Beatitude Chrysostomos II, Archbishop of Cyprus, who addressed the commission and stressed the significance of continuing this important dialogue in truth and love. The Commission also went to Nicosia to visit the Archbishopric of Cyprus and the Bishopric of Tamassos and Oreini. At a dinner in the Bishopric they met with leaders from local Maronite, Armenian, Latin Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran churches, who assured them of their prayerful support for the dialogue. With deep regret the commission learned about the continuing suffering caused by the division of the island since the 1974 occupation and about the “green line” that makes Nicosia the only remaining divided capital in Europe. The commission urges the respective parties to work towards an equitable political solution that will end this costly and painful period of division and promises its prayers for such a resolution. On Friday 6 June commission members were delighted to visit the world famous and historically significant Royal Monastery of Kykkos.
Participants much appreciated the generous hospitality extended by the Orthodox Church of Cyprus and were grateful for the warm welcome extended by all.
The next Preparatory Meeting of the Commission is scheduled to take place in 2009, hosted by the LWF. Another Preparatory Meeting is planned for 2010, and the 15th Joint Commission meeting is scheduled for 2011.
Paphos, June 2008