21 June 2005, 09:52
2. The quest for the restoration of the unity
2.1. The essential goal of relations between the Orthodox Church and other Christian confessions is the restoration of that unity among Christians which is required of us by God (Jn. 17:21). Unity is part of God's design and belongs to the very essence of Christianity. It is a task of the highest priority for the Orthodox Church at every level of her life.
2.2. Indifference to this task or its rejection is a sin against God's commandment of unity. According to St. Basil the Great, "all who are really and truly serving the Lord should have this one aim - to bring back into union the Churches that have been severed from one another" (Letters,114).
2.3. Nevertheless, while recognising the need to restore our broken Christian unity, the Orthodox Church asserts that genuine unity is possible only in the bosom of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. All other "models" of unity seem to us to be unacceptable.
2.4. The Orthodox Church cannot accept the assumption that despite the historical divisions, the fundamental and profound unity of Christians has not been broken and that the Church should be understood as coextensive with the entire "Christian world", that Christian unity exists across denominational barriers and that the disunity of the churches belongs exclusively to the imperfect level of human relations. According to this conception, the Church remains one, but this oneness is not, as it were, sufficiently manifest in visible form. In this model of unity, the task of Christians is understood not as the restoration of a lost unity but as the manifestation of an existing unity. This model repeats the teaching on "the invisible Church" which appeared during the Reformation.
2.5. The so-called "branch theory", which is connected with the conception referred to above and asserts the normal and even providential nature of Christianity existing in the form of particular "branches", is also totally unacceptable.
2.6. Orthodoxy cannot accept that Christian divisions are caused by the inevitable imperfections of Christian history and that they exist only on the historical surface and can be healed or overcome by compromises between denominations.
2.7. The Orthodox Church cannot recognise "the equality of the denominations". Those who have fallen away from the Church cannot re-unite with her in their present state. The existing dogmatic differences should be overcome, not simply bypassed, and this means that the way to unity lies through repentance, conversion and renewal.
2.8. Also unacceptable is the idea that all the divisions are essentially tragic misunderstandings, that disagreements seem irreconcilable only because of a lack of mutual love and a reluctance to realise that, in spite of all the differences and dissimilarities, there is sufficient unity and harmony in "what is most important". Our divisions cannot be reduced to human passions, to egoism, much less to cultural, social and political circumstances which are secondary from the Church's point of view. Also unacceptable is the argument that the Orthodox Church differs from other Christian communities with which she does not have communion only in secondary matters. The divisions and differences cannot all be reduced to various non-theological factors.
2.9. The Orthodox Church also rejects the assumption that the unity of Christendom can only be restored through common Christian service to the world. Christian unity cannot be restored through agreement on earthly matters, in which case Christians would be united in what is secondary but still differ in what is fundamental.
2.10. It is inadmissible to introduce relativism into the realm of faith, to limit unity in faith to a narrow set of necessary truths so that beyond them "freedom in what is doubtful" may be allowed. Even a position of tolerance towards differences in faith is unacceptable. At the same time, however, one should not confuse unity of faith and the form of its expression.
2.11. The division of Christendom is a division in the experience of faith itself, not just in doctrinal formulations. Formal doctrinal unity does not exhaust what is meant by the unity of the Church, though it is one of its essential conditions.
2.12. The unity of the Church is first of all a unity and communion in the Sacraments. True communion in the Sacraments, however, does not have anything to do with the practice of so-called "inter-communion". Unity can be realized only in an identical grace-filled experience and life, in the faith of the Church, in the fullness of sacramental life in the Holy Spirit.
2.13. The restoration of Christian unity in faith and love can come only from above as a gift of Almighty God. The source of unity is in God, and therefore merely human efforts to restore it will be in vain, for "except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it" (Ps. 127:1). Only our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has commanded us to be one, can give us the power to fulfill his commandment, for He is "the way, the truth, and the life" (Jn. 14:6). The task of Orthodox Christians is to be co-workers with God in the task of salvation in Christ. As the holy fathers have said: God saves us, but not without us.