21 June 2005, 09:52
4. Dialogue with the non-Orthodox
4.1. The Russian Orthodox Church has carried on theological dialogue with non-Orthodox Christians for over two centuries. This dialogue has been characterised by the combination of a principled dogmatic approach and a fraternal love. This principle was formulated in the "Response to the Letter of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate" [?] (1903) as a method of theological dialogue with the Anglicans and the Old Catholics. With regard to non-Orthodox confessions, it was said, "there must be fraternal readiness to help them by explanations, normal consideration for their best wishes, all possible forbearance towards their natural perplexities, given the age-old division, but at the same time the firm confession of the truth of our Universal Church as a sole guardian of Christ's heritage and a sole saving ark of divine grace: Our task with regard to them should be: without putting before them unnecessary obstacle for union by being inappropriately intolerant and suspicious: to interpret for them our faith and unchangeable conviction that it is only our Eastern Orthodox Church, which has preserved intact the entire pledge of Christ, that is at present the Universal Church, and thus to show them in fact what they should consider and decide upon if they really believe that salvation is bound up with life in the Church and sincerely wish to be united with her:"
4.2. Characteristic of the dialogues conducted by the Russian Orthodox Church with other Christian confessions is their theological nature. The task of theological dialogue is to explain to her partners in dialogue the ecclesial consciousness of the Orthodox Church, the foundations of her doctrine, canonical order and spiritual tradition, and to dispel perplexities and existing stereotypes.
4.3. Representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church conduct dialogues with non-Orthodox confessions on the basis of faithfulness to the apostolic and patristic Tradition of the Orthodox Church and the teaching of the Ecumenical and Local Councils. Any dogmatic concessions or compromises in the faith are excluded. No document or paper adopted in theological dialogues and talks is obligatory for any of the Orthodox Churches until it is adopted by the Orthodox Church as a whole.
4.4. From an Orthodox perspective, the way to reunification for the non-Orthodox lies through the transformation and healing of their dogmatic consciousness and experience. Along this path, the issues discussed in the era of the Ecumenical Councils should be thought through once more. An important part of the dialogue with the non-Orthodox confessions is the study of the spiritual and theological heritage of the holy fathers, the mouthpieces of the faith of the Church.
4.5. Witness cannot be a monologue, since it assumes the existence of listeners and therefore of communication. Dialogue implies two sides, a mutual openness to communication, a willingness to understand, not only an "open mouth", but also a "heart enlarged" (cf. 2 Cor. 6:11). That is why the problem of theological language, comprehension and interpretation should become one of the most important issues in the dialogue of the Orthodox theology with other confessions.
4.6. It is gratifying and inspiring that non-Orthodox theological thought, as expressed by its best representatives, has shown a sincere and profound interest in studying the patristic heritage and the faith and order of the Early Church. At the same time, it must be admitted that between Orthodox and non-Orthodox theology there are still many unsolved problems and differences of opinion. Moreover, even the formal similarities existing in many aspects of the faith do not point to authentic unity, since the doctrinal elements are given different interpretations in the different theological traditions.
4.7. Dialogue with non-Orthodox confessions has revived the understanding that the one catholic truth and norm can be expressed and embodied in a variety of cultural and linguistic contexts. In the course of dialogue it is essential for Orthodox theologians to be able to distinguish between a specific context and an actual deviation from catholic plenitude. It is also necessary to investigate the question of the limits of diversity in the one catholic tradition.
4.8. Joint study centres, groups and programs should be established within the theological dialogues. It is important that joint theological conferences, seminars and scholarly meetings, exchange of delegations, exchange of publications and information as well as joint publishing projects should be held on a regular basis. The exchange of experts, teachers and theologians is also of great significance.
4.9. It is especially important for the Russian Orthodox Church to send her theologians to the major centres of non-Orthodox theological scholarship. It is also necessary to invite non-Orthodox theologians to the theological schools and other educational institutions of the Russian Orthodox Church to study Orthodox theology. The theological schools of the Russian Orthodox Church should pay more attention in their curricula to study of the progress and results of theological dialogues and to the non-Orthodox confessions.
4.10. Along with theological themes proper, dialogue should also be conducted on a wide range of problems involved in the relationship between the Church and the world. Among the important areas in the development of relations with the non-Orthodox confessions is joint work in the service of society. In situations where it does not come into conflict with Orthodox faith and spiritual practice, joint programs of religious education and catechism should be developed.
4.11. The bilateral dialogues conducted by the Russian Orthodox Church differ from her multilateral relations and participation in inter-Christian organisations in that they are structured in size and form as she thinks most suitable at the time. The yard-stick and criterion here is the success of a dialogue itself and the readiness of the partner in dialogue to consider the position taken by the Russian Orthodox Church on a broad (not only theological) range of ecclesiastical and social problems