Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Orthodox church sees gap with Protestants growing

The 9th Assembly of the World Council of Churches

Orthodox church sees gap with Protestants growing
21 February 2006

PORTO ALEGRE: Liberal reforms allowing female clergy and same-sex marriage are creating a widening gulf within world Christianity, a leading Russian Orthodox bishop said.

That growing divide may prompt Orthodox churches to consider a tactical alliance with Roman Catholicism to defend traditional Christian values, Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev said on the sidelines of the global assembly of the mostly Protestant World Council of Churches (WCC).

While Orthodox churches, with some 220 million members, are members of the WCC, now holding its global assembly in Brazil, Alfeyev – the chief Russian Orthodox delegate – said they have less in common with fellow members than they once had.

"The gap between the traditional wing, represented mainly by Orthodox churches and the Roman Catholic Church, and the liberal wing, represented by many Protestant churches, is only growing day by day," he said.

"We (Orthodox and Catholics) are on the same side of the divide." "Traditional Christianity's very survival is in jeopardy. We have no right to delay this strategic alliance, because in 20-40 years it will be too late," he said in an interview, citing threats like "warrior secularism, warrior Islam or warrior liberalism present in Protestantism."

Alfeyev, the Bishop of Vienna also in charge of Russian Orthodox Church relations with the European Union, said the alliance should not be a matter of dogma and should precede the resolution of many centuries-old differences between the two oldest branches of Christianity, some dating back to the Great Schism of 1054.

His comments echoed ideas supported by Roman Catholic Pope Benedict, who has said closer ties with Orthodox churches are a top priority of his papacy. The Catholic Church represents over half of the world's 2 billion Christians but is not a member of the Geneva-based WCC.

AdvertisementAdvertisementAlfeyev said Russian theologians thought decades ago to "establish full Eucharistic contact" with the Anglican church.

"In the past years, it has become clear that it is completely impossible – dogmatically, ideologically and from the point of view of moral teaching, as the Anglican church shifted very far away from Orthodox dogma," he said.

Some Anglican churches in North America and Europe, as well as other Protestant churches, ordain non-celibate gay clergy and bless same-sex unions. Some also ordain women bishops.

These stances, Alfeyev said, make "any talk of unification very hard nowadays." The Orthodox Church does not accept the idea of female clergy as it attributes that development to the influence of secular processes of the past few decades.

Alfeyev said "a revelation from above" is needed for Orthodox churches to start ordaining women.

The Russian Orthodox Church recently broke off relations with the Lutheran Church of Sweden after it established an official ceremony to bless same-sex marriages, he said.

Alfeyev said his church accepts homosexuals as parishioners, treating them "with a sense of pastoral responsibility," but still considered gay relationships "sinful and not to be blessed or promoted," as seen in some Protestant churches. This echoes the traditional Catholic view.

In the wake of the growing differences with liberal churches, Alfeyev suggested an alliance with the Vatican and stressed there was no time to lose.

Alfeyev said the sides were trying to resolve their own issues, including the more modern problem of Catholic proselytism in Ukraine and Russia.

"I'm not calling for a dogmatic alliance. . .. We should unite in a joint testimony of traditional Christian values."

Alfeyev said the two sides were working to prepare a historic meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, which had not yet taken place "not because of our denial, but because we want it to actually change things and not be just a protocol event."