The 15th plenary session of the Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission was held from 31 May to 7 June 2011 at Colleg Wittenberg in Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Germany, and was hosted by The Lutheran World Federation (LWF).
The meeting was chaired by the two co-presidents, from the Lutheran side by Bishop Dr Donald J. McCoid (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), and from the Orthodox side by H. E. Metropolitan Prof. Dr Gennadios of Sassima (Ecumenical Patriarchate).
The ten Lutheran participants, by appointment of the Council of The Lutheran World Federation, came from LWF member churches in Australia (Rev. Dr Jeffrey Silcock), Finland (Rev. Prof. Dr Risto Saarinen), Germany (Superintendent Klaus Schwarz and Rev. Dr Jennifer Wasmuth), Norway (Rev. Dr Stephanie Dietrich), Poland (Rev. Dr Roman Pracki), Romania (Rev. Prof. Dr Hermann Pitters), South Africa (Bishop Dr Manas Buthelezi), and the United States (Prof. Dr Kenneth Appold and Bishop Dr Donald McCoid). In addition, Rev. Dr Sarah Hinlicky Wilson served as consultant, and Prof. Dr Kathryn Johnson, from the LWF communion office, served as co-secretary.
Orthodox participants were delegates from the following churches: The Ecumenical Patriarchate (H. E. Metropolitan Prof. Dr Gennadios of Sassima and co-secretary Rev. Deacon Theodoros Meimaris); the Patriarchate of Alexandria (H. E. Metropolitan Dr Makarios of Kenya and Irinoupolis); the Patriarchate of Antioch (V. Rev. Archimandrite Dr George Sakour); the Patriarchate of Jerusalem (V. Rev. Protopresbyter Prof. Dr George Dion Dragas); the Patriarchate of Moscow (V. Rev. Archimandrite Dr Cyril Hovorun); the Patriarchate of Serbia (Dr Rade Kisic); the Patriarchate of Romania (V. Rev. Prof. Dr Viorel Ionita); the Church of Cyprus (H. E. Metropolitan Dr Isaias of Tamassos and Oreini); the Church of Greece (Prof. Dr Christos Voulgaris); the Church of Poland (Rev. Andrzej Minko); and the Church of Albania (Dr Nathan Hoppe). In addition, Profs. Drs. Konstantinos Delikonstantis and Nicolaos Nicolaides served as consultants.
The location of the meeting, in the city where the Lutheran movement began, provided several opportunities to experience the historical character of Lutherstadt Wittenberg – for example, visiting the Castle Church. On the first evening, the Commission was given a tour of the museum in the Lutherhaus, followed by dinner hosted by the local Lutheran church and attended also by the Lord Mayor and other religious leaders and civic authorities. Regionalbischof Siegfried Kasparick welcomed the Commission and spoke about the strengths and challenges of the ministry of his church. On Ascension Day the Divine Liturgy was celebrated by the Orthodox in the fourteenth-century Corpus Christi Chapel, where also on other days morning prayer was held. On Saturday 4 June, a service of Holy Communion in the Lutheran tradition was held in the Stadtkirche, Martin Luther’s parish church.
The Commission expressed its appreciation for all the forms of hospitality it received in this city, in which the spirit of Luther’s witness can still be felt. It also with warm generosity extended thanks for the exemplary service of Lutheran co-secretary Kathryn Johnson, who is completing her term with the LWF, and expressed the hope that the parting would not be a final one.
On Sunday 5 June the Commission attended the Divine Liturgy at the Church of the Ascension of our Lord in Berlin, which is under the jurisdiction of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Germany (Ecumenical Partriarchate). V. Rev. Archimandrite Emmanuel Sfiatkos welcomed the Commission in the name of H. E. Metropolitan Augoustinos, and on his behalf hosted a lunch following the liturgy. On its return to Wittenberg the Commission visited also the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Resurrection of the Lord.
The Commission remembered the suffering resulting from the recent earthquake and its consequences in Japan. It was informed of recent tragic events in northern Africa, in the Middle East, and in the northern part of Cyprus, where demolition of a church building has disrupted the worship life of the community. It held the people and the churches of these places in its prayers.
During the meeting a message with blessings and prayers was received from His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who expressed his fervent wishes for “good continuation until we reach the unity in faith for God’s glory.”
At this meeting the Commission celebrated the completion of thirty years of work since its first meeting in 1981 in Espoo, Finland. At a festive dinner in Dresden (held in the midst of events of the Kirchentag) the Commission was welcomed by LWF General Secretary Rev. Martin Junge. He expressed thanks for the faithful work of the Commission over so many years and expressed hope that Orthodox and Lutherans would continue to come closer to unity. The dinner was attended by His Eminence Metropolitan Augoustinos of Germany, who spoke of the warm relations between Orthodox and Lutherans in Germany and also encouraged the Commission to continue its efforts. A greeting was received from Prof. Dr Anna Marie Aagaard, a former Lutheran member of the Commission. Finally H. E. Metropolitan Gennadios and Bishop McCoid concluded the dinner with statements of mutual appreciation and thanks for the commitment of the dialogue partners.
As part of its anniversary commemoration, the Commission remembered in prayer its members who have died: Orthodox members Metropolitan Emilianos of Sylivria, Metropolitan Chrysanthos of Limassol, Bishop Vasilios of Oradea, Metropolitan David of Sohumi, and Rev. Prof. John Romanides; and Lutheran members Bishop Heinz Stoll, Bishop William Lazareth, and Archbishop Georg Kretschmar, (all co-chairs of the Commission), and Rev. Prof. Gerhard Kroedel, Prof. Dr Fairy von Lilienfeld, Prof. Dr Eeva Martikainen, and interpreter Ms. Ilse Friedeberg.
Both Orthodox and Lutherans also contributed to this anniversary meeting by preparing evaluations of the Commission’s work. On both sides, the work of the Commission was affirmed. As part of their evaluation, the Orthodox asked Lutheran Commission members to convey to their churches the Orthodox concern for the possibly serious implications for the dialogue which arise from the widespread Lutheran practice of ordaining women and, more recently, from decisions taken by some Lutheran churches concerning persons in same-gender relationships. At the same time, a strong commitment to the future of the dialogue emerged from both evaluations.
In addition to observing the anniversary year, the Commission completed work on a Common Statement, “The Mystery of the Church: The Nature, Attributes and Mission of the Church.” This statement drew upon the work of two preparatory meetings, in Iceland in 2009 and in Bethlehem in 2010. The Statement includes sections on the nature of the Church; the four Niceno – Constantinopolitan attributes of the Church; God’s mission and the Church’s mission; mission and the unity of the Church; mission as witness (martyria) and proclamation; mission and diakonia; and the problems of proselytism and domination.
Over the course of its thirty years, the Commission has produced twelve Common Statements, which are posted on the internet at http://www.helsinki.fi/~risaarin/lutortjointtext.html. Now the publication of these Statements is foreseen.
For the preparatory meeting in 2012, the topic will be “The Understanding of Ministry/Priesthood in the light of Holy Scriptures and the early Church.” This meeting will be hosted by the Orthodox in a place to be determined. Arrivals and opening meetings will be on 5 May 2012; departures will be on 10 May.
Throughout the meeting, both Lutherans and Orthodox strongly expressed their desire and commitment for the continuation of the dialogue. They expressed gratitude for the growth in understanding which has been achieved on many subjects, and also affirmed again the larger mandate as it was agreed in 1981: to help to lead the two church traditions “to convergence and full communion and mutual recognition.”