Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Debrecen Dialogues between Orthodox and Reformed Churches, 1972-1987

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Debrecen Dialogues between Orthodox and Reformed Churches, 1972-1987

Article excerpt

I have read with great interest the article by Steven C. Salaris on "Christology in the Reformed-Orthodox Dialogue." (1) I appreciate the opportunity to read such a deep Orthodox reflection on thoughts of Reformed theologians put forward in the series of dialogues organized under the auspices of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. The introductory section of the article surveys the history of Orthodox-Reformed dialogues. Here I would like to offer a few remarks.

The article did not mention that from 1975 till 1987 there was a series of dialogues (2) between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Reformed Church in Hungary. These dialogues are important for at least four reasons: (1) They involved the active participation of churches where Orthodox and Reformed had lived side-by-side, often in the same small settlements, for centuries. (2) They were organized in and by churches in countries under Soviet domination during the Cold War. (3) The subjects that have been taken up for study are closely related to Christology, covering areas that Salaris considered "as yet unexplored," (3) such as the eucharist. (4) Reformed church leaders in the West, particularly in the U.S.A., took keen interest in the life of the Reformed Church in Hungary, the largest Reformed community in Central Europe, (4) and developed strong ties with it. The situation was very complex, with many ambiguities and often-justified suspicions. Yet, these Western church leaders had the vision and courage not only to continue connections that had existed for centuries but also to strengthen them in various ways. Therefore, the initiative of the Hungarians was warmly welcomed, and our colleagues from the "Free World" accepted the invitation for these dialogues. This was of tremendous importance for the Hungarian and other Eastern European theologians. Furthermore, it was the common conviction of participants from both East and West that the life, witness, and struggles of the church in a hostile environment offer lessons for all Christians. (5) Therefore, many of those taking part in the dialogues examined by Salaris were also involved in the ones organized by the Reformed Church in Hungary. (6)

These are the considerations that moved me to offer a survey of these dialogues, as well as a short summary of the most important topics under discussion. The Reformed Church in Hungary (7)--whose first confession was accepted in 1565, the Confessio Catholica--professes itself to be part of the One Holy Catholic Church established by the Sovereign of the church at Pentecost in the power of the Holy Spirit, along with other churches of the Reformation. (8) The church has lived in an area of Central Europe that had been the meeting place of empires, ideas, and cultures. Already the Romans had called the Danube (Danubius) "aqua contradictioni," the water of contradictions. The mighty river itself was the border of the Empire and a point of encounter and often of head-on collisions between empires and worldviews at that time and ever since. Hungary was situated on the dividing line between the Latin and the Greek church after 1054, with both traditions being present. After the Reformation, unrelated to the event around Kyrill Loukaris, there was direct contact with Romanian (9) and Serbian Orthodoxy.

When Soviet rule was imposed upon the country by the victorious allies at Yalta, the church found itself behind the Iron Curtain, along with the many Orthodox churches. Despite the limitations on freedom, the General Synod of the Reformed Church was able to open a dialogue with the Russian Orthodox Church for three reasons: (1) the inheritance of history; (2) despite being behind the Iron Curtain, the possibility of building a relationship with the Patriarchate of Moscow; and (3) a theological argument. In the course of the renewal of the Reformed Church, it was considered of high significance to go back to the church that had kept the teachings and experiences of the undivided church more fully than had the churches of the West. …

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