Review of THEOLOGICAL, HISTORICAL, AND CULTURAL REASONS FOR ANTI-ECUMENICAL MOVEMENTS IN EASTERN ORTHODOXY, by Pantelis Kalaitzidis, in The Orthodox Handbook on Ecumenism, ed. Pantelis Kalaitzidis, Thomas FitzGerald et. al, Regnum Studies in Global Christianity (Oxford: Regnum Books International, 2014), pages 134-52, online at:
LOI is deeply interested in ways for Evangelical and Orthodox Christians to work together. This article examines Orthodox involvement in ecumenical initiatives starting in the 20th century, and analyses why anti-ecumenical outlooks have developed within the Eastern Orthodox traditions. This summary reflects the content of the article, which is the strongly expressed view of its author. From the outset the substantial contribution by Orthodox theologians and church leaders to ecumenical relations is acknowledged. Whilst there have been reconciliations arising from the ecumenical movement, a significant anti-ecumenical strand has evolved in the Orthodox Churches from an ambiguity partly rooted in what the author sees as an unrealistic understanding of the undivided church in the first millennium, leading to assertions of supremacy from some Orthodox. This ambiguity has also led, in the view of the author, to some reluctance by Orthodox leaders to speak to a broad audience within their own churches and so a failure to engage broader Orthodox faithful in ecumenical initiatives. Other perceptions have been of ecumenism being about ‘returning to Orthodoxy’ combined with non-recognition of the ecclesiological status of other Christian churches, accentuated by some Western aggressiveness and the traumatic experience of many Orthodox communities throughout the 20th century.
Kalaitzidis points to what has been a general lack of Orthodox awareness of the genuine nature of the origins of differences separating the Orthodox Churches from other Christian expressions, and perhaps a failure to distinguish between differences in the core of the theology of ecclesial faith and those of a cultural, social or political nature. Alongside this, the author argues that Orthodox universalism, collapsed especially in the period after Ottoman rule. The result, in some cases, has been an ethno-religious narrative of Orthodox fundamentalism and anti-ecumenism which has a tendency to regard the West purely as being in error and heretical; this has been made worse by Roman Catholic proselytism and Uniatism, and also Protestant proselytism. Finally, he considers the rising influence of the inherently conservative monastic movement, which has had many benefits but also an inbuilt suspicion of ecumenism. The article concludes with an appeal to the Orthodox community to be at the ‘center of progress, or vanguard, or development, of transition’ with the alternative being the marginalisation of Orthodoxy in the 21st century.
The author’s strong views are well argued, and the work draws well on historical sources and ideas. The arguments could be described as one-sided, but it is aimed at Orthodox Christians, written by an Orthodox theologian, and points to significant obstacles that are encountered by any serious ecumenical efforts. It points to biases in outlook that are key to understanding the significant challenge of ecumenical conversations; these are challenging to the community to which the article is addressed but also enlightening for those outside Orthodoxy in understanding the ecumenical challenge. LOI will need to take such biases seriously and address them if progress is to be made. Biases are present in all directions: this article points to those of Orthodox Churches, and it would be helpful to review (or write) an article that examines Evangelical biases as well.
Ralph Lee

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