Orthodox and Anglicans in Dialogue

by Rev. Dr. Christos Christakis | Ελληνικά

Patriarch Meletios and Archbishop Cosmo Lang

In the fall of 2015, a small and unassuming publication was introduced in London, England with the title The Buffalo Statement: In the Image and likeness of God – A Hope-Filled Anthropology. It was a text that was agreed in Buffalo, NY earlier that year by a group of official representatives of the Orthodox Church and the Anglican Communion who make up the International Commission for Anglican–Orthodox Theological Dialogue (ICAOTD). This was  the fourth such document  by the ICAOTD. 

Anglicans held in the past a unique place in the eyes of Orthodox Christians. They stood between Roman Catholics and Protestants as a more sympathetic counterpart. For the Orthodox, Anglicans did not carry with them the bitter memories of the Crusades, the Great Schism, the Papacy, and the rest. On the other hand, they also had not rejected the entire Tradition of the first millennium like the rest of the Protestants. Many Orthodox in the United States still remember the advice of their bishops earlier on the 20th century allowing them to attend an Episcopalian Church when there was not an  Orthodox Church nearby. 

Of course, things have changed since then. In the eyes of many Orthodox, Anglicans have lost some of their more traditional catholic elements, and they have become more Protestant. In the United States, the Episcopal Church has gone even further away becoming, in the eyes of many Orthodox, one of the most theologically “liberal” denominations. Thus, it might be a surprise to some that the Orthodox still talk to the Anglicans. However, dialogue still takes place.

Discussions between Orthodox and Anglicans had started in 1930s and continued in the following decades. The official dialogue started at Oxford, England in 1973. The first two statements, endorsed at Moscow in 1976 and at Dublin in 1984, covered a wide range of topics. The Moscow Statement considered the knowledge of God (the distinction between the divine essence and the divine energies), the inspiration and authority of the Scripture, the relation between Scripture and Tradition, the authority of councils, the Filioque clause, the Church as Eucharistic community, and the invocation of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharist. The Dublin Statement discussed in general terms the mystery of the Church, faith in the Trinity, prayer and holiness, the communion of saints and the departed, and icons. The third agreed statement, The Cyprus Statement: The Church of the Triune God, adopted at Cyprus in 2006, analyzed more systematically the theme of ecclesiology. It gave careful consideration to the understanding of the episcopate and the meaning of primacy and synodality. It bears the marks of the masterful theological thought  of Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon, who was the Orthodox co-chair from 1989-2006.

Developing what was said on this subject in the Cyprus Statement, from 2009 onwards the Commission concentrated upon the theme of Christian anthropology, producing the Buffalo Statement. This was particularly timely, in view of the wide-ranging developments in biotechnology and genetic engineering, and also in the appreciation of humanity’s place in the universe, whose vast extent has become apparent to us in a way far beyond the imagination of earlier generations. Recognizing all of this, together with the far-ranging changes in attitudes within secular society concerning the place of God and the Church, has raised serious and fundamental difficulties for Christian theology. The Buffalo Statement provides fundamental theological presuppositions of Christian anthropology and bears the distinct flavor of the theological thought of Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, who was the Orthodox co-chair from 2007-2015.

Since 2005, this dialogue has begun to look at the practical consequences of Christian anthropology. The Orthodox are led by Metropolitan Athenagoras of Belgium. Topics of discussion will include the responsibility of humankind for the environment, questions on sexuality, the meaning of marriage, and human interventions at different stages of life: before and at birth (birth control, abortion, experimentation on the fetus, etc.), during the course of life (transplant of organs), and at death (euthanasia, assisted dying). All of these questions involve the understanding of human rights.

The first fruit of this discussion is completed and the joint statement Stewards of Creation: A Hope-Filled Ecology is about to be published this fall. It builds on the Buffalo Statement and addresses the vital concern of care for creation ad the place of human beings within the created order. It calls all people to be filled with wonder and gratitude to God for the gift of creation, and to exercise true restraint so that we may properly and reverently safeguard God’s creation. Anglicans and Orthodox recognize in this area the important initiatives of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Green Patriarch.

The discussions between Anglicans and Orthodox have been, as a member of the Commission once said, a conversation of delight and illumination. Like all true conversations, it had its moments of surprise, disagreement, and illumination. Certainly, those who have participated in this dialogue have come to appreciate the things held in common and to understand the nature of their disagreements. 

The Rev. Dr. Christos Christakis serves at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Buffalo, NY and teaches the History of the Eastern Orthodox Church at Canisius College.  He has been the Orthodox co-secretary of the International Commission for Anglican–Orthodox Theological Dialogue  since 1994.