International Academic Symposium "Orthodox Theology and Ecumenical Dialogue": Opening Address

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His Beatitude Archbishop Christodoulos, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, gave this address at the International Academic Symposium on "Orthodox Theology and Ecumenical Dialogue", held in Thessaloniki, Greece, l-3 June 2003. It has been translated by Anastasia Vassiliadou.

It was with pleasure that I accepted the kind invitation of the theological school of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki to put under my aegis this important symposium, with the theme "Orthodox Theology and Ecumenical Dialogue: Problems and Perspectives". It is also a great joy to be among you in the beautiful Byzantine city of Thessaloniki. The city of the Thermaikos gulf, as well as the entire autocephalous Church of Greece, has a special connection with St Paul, the apostle of the Gentiles, and it has been blessed with two of his epistles. Thessaloniki has also been hallowed by the blood of the Great Martyr Dimitrios the Myrovlitis and has been honoured with the life and work of Saints Cyril and Methodius, Gregory Palamas, St Nicolas Cavassilas the Chamaetos, Saints Symeon and Efstathios, archbishops of Thessaloniki, and many other saints, men and women.

There are two issues that you are called to discuss in this symposium. The first is Orthodox theology and the second ecumenical dialogue. You are called, therefore, based on the teaching of Orthodox theology, to give an account of your experiences on the problems that have so far appeared in the ecumenical dialogue and to give your insights with regard to its perspectives.

The Orthodox church does not deny dialogue; on the contrary, she seeks dialogue. In my enthronement speech when I was elected Archbishop of Athens and of All Greece, I mentioned the following: "The holy Fathers have never feared dialogue, even with the world of fallacy, sin and heresy. On the contrary, they believed, along the line of St Markos Evgenikos of Ephesus, the bastion of Orthodox faith, that "when two parts diverge and they do not enter into dialogue, the difference between them seems to be greater. But when they enter into dialogue and each part listens carefully to what the other is saying, their difference is found much smaller'. And it is mainly the responsibility of the hierarchy to explore new ways of dealing with rapid changes, in order that the church be always in the vanguard of solving the spiritual and social problems of our people, with the power of the ecclesiastical word to find solutions and guide decisive actions."

Our Orthodox church, following the decisions of the holy synod, agreed with pleasure to participate at international inter-Christian fora and dialogues and in love to witness to our faith among our Christian brothers and sisters. We have already celebrated a hundred years since 1902, when the Ecumenical Patriarch Joachim III sent the encyclical letter to the primates of the sister Orthodox churches, in which he raised the issue of their relation with the Roman Catholics and the Protestants. Also another encyclical of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in 1920, set the conditions for desirable collaboration with the non-Orthodox. In our holy church of Greece my predecessor in the 1930s, Archbishop Chrysostomos Papadopoulos, professor of the University of Athens and great theologian, described that the Orthodox churches, already at that time, "following the spiritual movements outside their canonical boundaries, sought communication with the Old Catholics by going to their conferences and having theological dialogue with them. The friendly relations advanced particularly with the Anglican Episcopalians, through dialogue and mutual communication. The Orthodox churches following also the Christian work of major organizations, like the 'Organization of International Friendship of the People through the Churches', the world organization 'Faith and Order', the ecumenical organization 'Life and Work', sought also common reflection on ways of revitalization of Christian values in the lives of the people. …