I remember in my early years as an Anglican priest being appointed as the “Ecumenical Officer” of the Diocese. It was a tip of the hat from my Bishop that my interest in other Churches (including the Orthodox) would make me a very good candidate for ecumenical representative. As it happened, there really were no great ecumenical events in South Carolina in those years with the single exception of the visit of the Pope to Columbia (yes, he even visited Columbia, S.C.). I thus found myself one bright sunny afternoon, with a field of other strangely dressed clergy, sitting on the football field of the University of South Carolina, while we watched Pope John Paul II and many others address and entertain us. It is hard to know what the event was all about – other than that we all got to see the Pope – and he got another photo shoot.
Ecumenism, at least as it evolved in the 20th century, became largely the play-thing of denominational bureaucrats. Organizations such as the National Council of Churches and the World Council, long ago became the pawns of political concerns (whether of the Communists of old, or of today’s American religious left). As such, they were religiously irrelevant – human organizations that had no relationship to God.
There has been a growing sentiment within Orthodoxy that we need have no relationship with these organizations. This sentiment has been more clearly expressed since the fall of communist regimes gave freedom for churches to express their thoughts.
But there are forms of ecumenism that do not involve Churches making statements they do not believe and which clearly contradict the faith. There is an ecumenism, far more nefarious, that presumes that Churches are but human creations and that the real goal in life is simply the betterment of the planet and its peoples. It is, indeed, simply a restatement of the secular goals of any number of organizations. The Churches are coopted to agree that goals are good and noble and worth pursuing.
I will not argue here about the nature of Churches. Most of them do not make much of a claim for Divine origin, so I will not have to point out the obvious. But the Orthodox Church is indeed of Divine origin and would sell its birthright for a mess of pottage, were we to every allow ourselves to be defined as of an origin other than that of Jesus Christ.
There are many goals of this form of ecumenism – all of them laudable from a distance. People everywhere should be well fed; healthcare should be readily available at least on a minimal basis, etc. It is also the case that such lofty goals will frequently come with attached agenda: the population must be controlled in its growth; the distribution of food must be controlled to some extrent, and other such things common to the secular goals of the secular man.
I can well understand that the Church does not want to appear to be against feeding children, nor is the Church against such a thing. So long as the price extracted is not too high.
We have just come out of 70 years of oppression in which the stated goals were always undeniably good. The extracted price was genocide and the virtual extinction of the Church in places (as if that would help grow more food). The goal of the Church, however friendly it may be towards the goapl of the utopians, is not, however, the improvement of the world. As I have repeatedly written: Christ did not come to make bad men good, but dead men live. It is only in the true transformation of human life, from the merely psychological to the truly spiritual – the true entering into communion with God – that will save us or those around us.
This world should be cared for wisely and well, but the plans of those who do not believe there is any goal for man other than survival cannot possibly understand the goals of the gospel of the Kingdom. There is only one true ecumenism. It is set forth in Scripture:
For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (Eph. 1:9-10).