The importance and necessity of an orthodox- pentecostal dialogue
A positive message from Athens
Êáè. Èåïë. Ó÷ïëÞò Ðáíåð. Èåóóáëïíßêçò,
Åêêëçóßá - ÏéêïõìÝíç - ÐïëéôéêÞ,
ÁèÞíá 2007, óåë. 643- 654
His Eminence Metropolitan Damaskinos Papandreou has not only successfully served as an active bishop of the Greek Orthodox diaspora (in Switzerland) under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, but was also a pioneer in the ecumenical dialogue in almost all its various facets: inter-Orthodox - in his capacity as the Secretary at certain preliminary stages of the forthcoming Great and Holy Synod of the Orthodox Churches; bilateral- as the co-Chairman of the official (and in some respects successfully terminated) dialogue between the Eastern and the Oriental Orthodox Churches; and inter-faith- as the initiator and the leading figure of various Orthodox-Jewish and Orthodox-Muslim dialogues of the Ecumenical Patriarchate 1. His service to our Orthodox Church in this delicate field of Orthodox witness in today's world has encouraged many of us who are struggling to convey the profound meaning of Orthodoxy in various Christian, religious and secular contexts and traditions. As a small and humble antidoron to his great service to contemporary Orthodoxy, for which he also experienced some bitterness and disappointments,I decided to dedicate to his Festschrift some first thoughts and reflections on the importance and necessity of an Orthodox-Pentecostal dialogue.
It is true that Orthodoxy and Pectecostalism form two quite opposite Christian traditions; but only when one looks at their practice, spirituality and everyday life, especially their mission praxis. If, however, one looks at the theological production that is being published by Pentecostals in various ecumenical books and journals, one gets a completely different picture; the similarities, even in theological terminology, are tremendous. Within the ecumenical movement the Orthodox have always been the main proponents of Pneumatology, an issue that is brought dynamically also into the the foreground by Pentecostals. Therefore, I firmly believe that the time has come for a more profound encounter and an honest theological dialogue between these two streams of Christianity.
In addition to various unofficial meetings and theological exchanges between Orthodox and Evangelicals of a Pentecostal type within the multilateral dialogue 2 , an important encounter took place at the last World Mission Conference, organised by the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Athens (Ayios Andreas, May 9-16 2005). In the history of World Mission Conferences, this conference was unique in many respects.
The very theme of the Conference again raised the crucial question: How is mission conceived in today's multicultural setting? The two central themes “healing” and “reconciliation” point to a fruitful direction. Although globalization has brought different countries into closer contact, at the same time the clashes of cultures, religions and economic interests are brought to the foreground. Moreover, the events of September 11th and the subsequent “war on terror” have divided the world even more deeply. The economic policies have widened the gap between poor and rich regions, countries, and “worlds”. The global network of communications has had obvious positive aspects, but it also has left whole people has had displaced and excluded.
At the same time, living in the age of “post-modernity”, we are experiencing the resurgence of religion, unfortunately not in the form a healthy and progressive world Christian mission would expect, but mostly in a rather conservative form. With the dangerous rise of all kinds of “New Age” phenomena, which display a thirst on the part of “modern” (mostly Western) world for spiritual experience, and with the revival and “resurgence” of the old-fashioned, aggressive methods of proselytistic activities (especially in Eastern Europe), what the world mission movement needs today is an understanding of mission as a reconciling task. And here the contribution -and the self-critical assessment- of both the Orthodox and the Pentecostals is essential.
What, however, made this conference unique was the fact that it was held at the invitation of the Church of Greece and hosted by all the other local Churches. The decision of the Church of Greece to invite and host such an ecumenical Conference, the first ever to be held in an Orthodox setting, reveals a practical openness of that Church towards the ecumenical movement, and the WCC in particular, in the midst of problems of communication between the Orthodox Churches and the WCC. The well- known ob jections concerning a number of issues (from the decision-making proceedures and the forms of common prayer to ecclesiology) have recently led the WCC to review its policy with regard to the Orthodox, and to accept the recommendations of a “Special Commission on the Orthodox Presence in the WCC” 3 to start a new era on the WCC-Orthodox relations.
The Church of Greece, though one of the founders of the WCC, has for the last fourty years or so in effect limited its participation to the bare minimum. The present Archbishop of Athens and all Greece His Beatitude Christodoulos realized -if one interprets his thoughts from carefully phrased statements in almost all his synodical addresses, as well as his inaugural speech- that this practice was not fruitful at all for the Church.
Rather it gave room to the most conservative, anti-ecumenical, and in some cases even fanatical segments within the Church of Greece, which in the long term would undermind her witness. His desire to lead his Church to change this unhealthy situation was clearly signaled three years ago in his openning address to an international symposium in Thessaloniki (1-3 June, 2003) 4 .
With this in mind, and having been assigned the task of representing the Church of Greece in the Commission on World Mission Conference of WCC for the period between its 1998 Harare and 2006 Porto Alegre General Assemblies, I recommended (through the normal synodical proceedures) the invitation and hosting of the 2005 World Mission Conference, as a tangible sign of this new direction of our Church. And following a formal decision by the Holy Synod to host this important event, I put all my energy, together with a number of dedicated Church personell into the organization of this XIV World Mission Conference, counting the 1910 Edinburgh historic meeting as first.
In many respects this event was a great success, despite the fact that on the local level a unique opportunity was lost by the Church of Greece to use the 2005 World Mission Conference (the agenda of which, as the Archbishop himself admitted, was set “with Orthodox sensitivities in mind”, a statement quoted many times in the “Listeners' Reports 5) to successfully lead her people to an ecumenical awareness and give a strong signal that Orthodoxy has a witnessing role to play in the wider community of Christians all over the world 6 '. On a global level, that mission conference has been positively valued, among other minor things, as an important step towards an Orthodox-Pentecostal dialogue. After all, one of the purposes of the 2005 World Mission Conference, was to underline that all Christians are called in Christ to become reconciling and healing communities. A concrete manifestation of such a calling was therefore to create safe spaces for a fruitful dialogue between various theological traditions. One of the highlights of that event, as we shall see below, was these preliminary steps in regard to a serious theological dialogue between two traditions that at a first glance seem to occupy the extreme ends of the Christian spectrum: Orthodoxy and Pentecostalism. And that was a positive message from Athens.
* * *
At a synaxis (the Greek - and to a certain degree Orthodox - name given to the conventional workshops in the world mission conference) under the title “Reconciliation and Mission. Orthodox and Pentecostal Perspectives” I was asked to introduce the subject from the Orthodox perspective. What follows is taken from that introductory statement of mine.
The pneumatological dimension of our Christian identity is being slowly but steadily developed in ecumenical theology and in contemporary theology of mission. And to this end, the 2005 Mission Conference has contributed a great deal. Pneumatological emphasis is evident in both preparatory working documents: “Mission as ministry of reconciliation” and “Healing and Mission” 7 . In the ecumenical dialogue, of course, the consolidation of the trinitarian theology as a useful tool in almost all ecclesiological, sociological, moral etc., and above all missiological, reflections was further proof. The Trinitarian revolution in contemporary Christian theology, is strongly felt across denominational boundaries -from post-Vatican II Catholicism to Evangelicalism- and is in fact due to the rediscovery of the theology of the Holy Spirit of the undivided Christian Church. And this rediscovery, at least in my view, has resulted in the abandonment of the old medieval (but also later) mission paradigm, which was founded on a Christocentric universalism, in some cases developed into a Christomonistic expansionism and an aggresive imperialism 8 .
The second parameter is an increasing awareness of the liturgical dimension of our Christian self-understanding. In Athens the conference itself was organized with a liturgical flow in all its activities, something quite unusual in previous missionary events, let alone the slogan which was shaped in a prayerful manner, i.e. as an invocation of the Holy Spirit to heal and reconcile; in other words as a radical judgment to let the Holy Spirit to take the initiative in mission, not us (historical churches, missionaries, mission agencies etc.). The importance of liturgy is being underlined in post-modernity 9 as a significant element of the Christian witness - perhaps not as central yet as the proclamation of the word, but certainly as a constitutive element. The exclusive emphasis of the old mission paradigm on the rational comprehension of truth, and as a result of it on the verbal proclamation of the Christian message, has given way to a more holistic understanding of mission in post-modernity 10 . In addition, a new holistic understanding of healing, even of a miraculous healing, widely (and for some successfully or effectively) practiced by Pentecostals, challenges-and of course is challenged by- an overwhelming rational attidude of modernism,to which the majority of western Christianity was forced to surrender, or at least accommodate itself. The rapid growth of the Pentecostal movement, with its emphasis on physical healing through the power of the Holy Spirit, will certainly challenge all secularized attitudes of Christianity. The rediscovery of excorcism, together with a renewed interest in demonology, will certainly be encountered with the Orthodox conception of healing ( Àáóéò ) -beyond physical curing ( èåñáðåßá )- and the openness of the Orthodox Churches to transcendent and awe-inpiring realities.
So far so good. In order, however, to move forward, beyond the issues that unite Orthodoxy and Pentecostalism, it is necessary to establish a sound theological basis. We need to examine whether we insist on a universal proselytizing mission, or on a witness to the world of the Church's eschatological experience. This was, in fact, made possible by the theology of the Holy Spirit. And this development was the result of the fundamental assumption of the Trinitarian theology, “that God in God's own self is a life of communion and that God's involvement in history aims at drawing humanity and creation in general into this communion with God's very life” 12 .
After all, one cannot overlook the fact that the Holy Spirit, in the Bible (but also in the early Patristic tradition 13 ) is first and foremost eschatologically -(Acts 2:17ff) and communion- (2 Cor 13:13) oriented. Nor can one ignore the fact that from the time of the New Testament onwards two types of Pneumatology have been developed: one “historical” and one “eschatological”. The first type, the “historical”, is more familiar in the West to the present day, and understands the Holy Spirit as fully dependent on Christ, as being the agent of Christ to fulfill the task of mission. One clear result of this type of Pneumatology from the past history of the Church is the famous filioque controversy, but also the aggressive and expansionist attitude of Christian witness in more recent mission activities. The second type of Pneumatology has been more consistently developed in the East and understands the Holy Spirit as the source of/Christ. It also understands the Church in terms more of coming together (i.e as the eschatological synaxis of the people of God in his Kingdom) than of going forth for mission 14 .
Taking this second type of Pneumatology seriously into consideration, and building upon the eschatological understanding of the Church 15 , one necessarity concludes that the mission of the Church deals with the problem of ethics, i.e. the problem of overcoming the evil in the world, not primarily as a moral and social issue, but mainly -and for some even exclusively- as an ecclesial one. The moral and social responsibility of Christians, i.e. their mission in today's pluralistic world, is the logical consequence of their ecclesial (i.e. eschatological) self-consciousness. This meens that mission is the outcome, not the primary of Christian theology. That is why for Orthodoxy what constitutes the essence of the Church is not her mission but the Eucharist, the Divine Liturgy; 16 ” the mission is the meta-liturgy, the Liturgy after the Liturgy. The preparatory documents clearly underline reconciliation as the primary condition of the Eucharist, which thus automatically becomes a primary of mission 17 .
The above two types of Pneumatology, together with the two ecclesiological and missiological perspectives which came out of them, survived to the present ecumenical era. In order to be consistent with the idea of “Common Christian Witness”, and more importantly faithful to the tradition of the undivided Church, today's world mission needs to proceed to a theological synthesis of the above two types of Pneumatology, of ecclesiology, and above all of missionary theology. And this is something to which a serious Orthodox-Pentecostal theological dialogue can contribute a lot. Of course, Pneumatology cannot be relegated to an isolated doctrine. Pneumatology was always, and should always be, closely connected Christology, to such an extent to that one can now talk about a Christology pneumatologically conditioned and vice-versa.
This comparatively new methodology in mission theology was strongly proposed mainly (but certainly not exclusively) by the Orthodox, who are experiencing a renaissance in missionary activity, but also -and consequently- in their attitude to mission. And in contemporary mission theology both these dimensions could not have found a stronger affirmation and a better application than in the slogan of the Athens World Mission Conference “COME HOLY SPIRIT, HEAL AND RECONCILE”.
* * *
The above preliminary and very sketchy reflection was followed by similar views and concerns from the Pentecostal side, but mainly by enthusiastic interventions from renowned mission theologians who attended the synaxis. The necessity of an honest theological dialogue, which has of course to be preceeded by a loving encounter between Orthodoxy and Pentecostalism, is clearly attested in the “Listeners' Reports” of the Athens 2005 World Mission Conference.
After the adoption by the Executive Committee of the WCC of the recommendations of the “Special Commission on the Orthodox Presence in the WCC , it was decided by the CWME to take seriously-and implement for the first time- the idea of consensus, which in turn resulted in abandoning the old practice of adopting official documents. The only document adopted by the Conference was a short “Letter from Athens to the Christian Churches, Networks and Communities” 18 . The “Listeners' Reports” 19 , therefore, express the spirit of the conference and are the only reliable source to discover the general feelings, the atmosphere and the main concerns of the participants. Coming from a wide regional and denominational basis, these reports express, in one sense, the expectations of all those engaged in mission and the ecumenical dialogue, thus providing a platform for the future of mission and ecumenism.
8 out of 11 listeners -carefully selected “theologians and students of mission from all over the world and from various spiritual backgrounds to participate in the Athens conference with the intention to discern important trends”- 20 have underlined the importance of the Orthodox- Pentecostal encounter in the conference (five of them directly and another three indirectly), which was, of course, made manifest in more than one way. Following the alphabetical order of these reports in the first IRM issue after the 2005 World Mission Conference we can glean the following remarks:
Allan Anderson stated that “one of highlights of the conference.. .was the quite astonishing and well-attended dialogue between Pentecostals and Orthodox representatives in the final session” 21 , and concluded that “the rapprochement (of the Pentecostals) with Orthodox theologians achieved in this dialogue was indeed noteworthy” 22 .). Kwabena Asamoab- Gyadu was surprised by the fact that “the number of people who signed up to attend sessions dealing with Pentecostal issues was more than most” 23 . Dieter Becker discribed the encounter between the Pentecostals and the Orthodox as the first important issue 24 , and later in his report stated the following: “A notable feature of Athens conference was that it did not only look at Pentecostal experiences of healing in general but also tried to engage in discussion of the understanding of sin and health, demons and evil powers as the source of illness, and of mission as struggle against powers” 25 .
Agnes Charles in her “Reflector's Report” “should highlight one or two more interesting and challenging aspects” 26 , including the Orthodox pneumatology, Michael Kinnamon wrote about “unusual encounters”, referring to a synaxis with Orthodox and Pentecostals 27 , whereas Valdir Raul Steuernagel noted that the conference “set to signal the strong willingness of the WCC to keep the Orthodox within the fellowship... and tried to integrate Evangelicals and Pentecostals” 28 .
Finally, from an exclusively Orthodox perspective, Fr. Vasile Mihoc expressed his concern about the divergence between Orthodoxy (“being more or less ‘holistic'”) and Pentecostalism, whereas Anastasia Vassiliadou, representing also the youth, stated her feeling as follows: “Another very important highlight of the conference was the encounter between Orthodox and Pentecostals. Although this issue was discussed at only one synaxis -and very late in the conference, and for this reason it was not visible enough to all- the preliminary theological debate between two quite distanced traditions left very important promises for the future. Obviously the combination of Christology and pneumatology in the official theme and the theological outlook and orientation of the entire conference has greatly facilitated this very encouraging development'” 29 .
All these comments, coupled with the final assessment of the organizing body (CWME) 30 ", which almost unanimously found the synaxis that initiated the Orthodox-Pentecostal dialogue as the real highlight of the 2005 Athens Mission Conference, need to be taken further by the respective Christian traditions. And if the “institutional” bodies -if one can use such a term for the charismatic Pentecostals- are not ready to embark to this journey, the theologians from both traditions need to take the theological discussion further 31 . One should never forget what the late Fr. George Florovsky, almost 60 years ago at the inaugural Assembly of WCC in Amsterdam, boldly stated: “It is not enough to be moved towards ecumenical reconciliation by some sort of strategy, be it missionary, evangelistic, social or other, unless the Christian conscience has already become aware of the greater challenge, by the Divine challenge itself. We must seek unity or reunion not because it might make us more efficient or better equipped...but because unity is the Divine imperative, the Divine purpose and design, because it belongs to the very essence of Christianity” 32 .
1. Cf. Metropolitan of Switzerland Damaskinos, “The Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Inter-Orthodox Initiatives”, Phanar. 400 Years, Ecumenical Patriarchate's edition, Constantinople 2001, pp. 471-496 (in Greek; also idem, Zur Vorbereitung des Panorthodoxes Konzils, Diisseldorf 1997); Gr. Ziakas, “The Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Dialogue with Islam”, Phanar, pp. 575-725 (in Greek) etc.
2. Cf. Huibert van Beek-Georges Lemopoulos (ed.), Proclaiming Christ Today. Orthodox- Evangelical Consultation Alexandria, 10-15 July 1995, WCC and Syndesmos, Geneva 1995; and Huibert van Beek-Georges Lemopoulos (ed.), Turn to God. Orthodox Evangelical Consultation Hamburg, 30 March-4 April, 1998,WCC Geneva 1998.
3. For a detailed presentation and assessment from an Orthodox perspective of the significance of the Special Commission see Anastasia Vassiliadou, The Participation of the Orthodox in the WCC in the Light of the Recommendations of the Special Commission (M.Th. dissertation submitted in the Department of Theology of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, immediately after the 2005 Athens World Mission Conference, in Greek).
4. The Proceedings of this symposium, with the Archbishop's inaugural speech first, were published by the Apostoliki Diakonia, with the blessing of the Holy Synod, under the title “Orthodox Theology and Ecumenical Dialogue” (edited by the undersigned), Athens 2005.
5. See below.
6. Fearing the expected Old-Calendarist reactions and the tiny but vocal conservative minority within its flock, which on the very day of the closing “sending-out” section at the Areopagus, the very site where almost two thousand years ago St. Paul delivered his speech, organized an Anti-Conference, the Church of Greece at the last moment decided to give a low profile to its initiative.
7.Both these preparatory documents are now available in “You Are the Light of the World (Matthew 5:14). Statements on Mission by the World Council of Churches,1980-2005, WCC Publications, Geneva 2005,pp. 90-126 and 127-162 respectively.
8. More on this in my “Beyond Christian Universalism: The Church's Witness in a Multicultural Society , in Yearbook of the Theological School of Thessaloniki, n.s. Department of Theology, Vol. 9 (1999), pp. 309-320.
9. Cf. my quite recently published books “Lex orandi - Liturgical Theology and Liturgical Renewal , Idiomela 5: Indiktos, Athens 2005; and “Post-modernity and the Church. The Challenge of Orthodoxy”, Akritas, Athens 2002 (both in Greek).
10. Both these two dimensions are closely linked with the eschatological understanding of the Holy Spirit and the eschatological understanding of the Church. Eschatology constitutes the central and primary aspect of the Church. Hence the priority of the Kingdom of God in all ecclesiological considerations. Everything belongs to the Kingdom. The Church in her institutional expression does not administer all reality; she only prepares the way to the Kingdom, in the sense that she is an image if it.
11. Peter Berger, a well-known sociologist, has described the attitude of the Church toward the modernist revolution in terms of two opposite positions: accomodation and resistance (P. Berger, “The Sacred Canopy. Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion”, Doubleday, New York 1967, pp. 156ff.; also pp. 106ff).
12. I. Bria (ed.), “Go Forth in Peace”, WCC Publications: Geneva 1986, p. 3.
13. This is quite evident in the Orthodox hymns of the Feast of Pentecost.
14. J. Zizioulas, “Implications ecclesiologiques de deux types de pneumatologie”, Communio Sanctorum. Melanges offerts a Jean Jacques von Almen, Labor et Fides, Geneva 1982, pp. 141-154.
15. In the Orthodox Church even the episcopocentric structure of the Church is seen as an essential part of the eschatological vision of the Church. The bishop e.g. as the presiding primus inter pares in love over the eucharistic community, has very seldom been understood as a vicar or representative, or ambassador of Christ, but as an image of Christ. So with the rest of the ministries of the Church: they are not parallel to, or given by, but identical with those of, Christ (J. Zizioulas, “The Mystery of the Church in Orthodox Tradition”, One in Christ 24 (1988), pp. 294-303)
16. The imporance of Liturgy has been recently reaffirmed by cultural anthropologists as a constitutive element of all religious systems, and certainly of Christianity. The Eucharist, heart and center of Christian Liturgy, in its authentic perception is widely now accepted, especially within the ecumenical dialogues (multilateral and bilateral) as a proleptic manifestation of the Kingdom of God, as symbol and image of an alternative reality, which was conceived before all creation by God the Father in his mystical plan (the mysterion in the Biblical sense), was inaugurated by our Lord, and is permanently sustained by the Holy Spirit.
17. “Mission as Ministry of Reconciliation”, “You Are the Light of the World, WCC Publications, Geneva 2005, § 30 p. 114.
18. First published in IRM94 (2005), pp. 322-325.
19. The entire July 2005 issue of the above IRM, No 374, was devoted to these reports under the general title “Athens 2005-Listeners' Reports”, pp. 352-439.
20. From Jacques Matthey's “Editorial” of the IRM 94 (2005), 319-321, p. 320.
21. Allan Anderson, “The Holy Spirit, Healing and Reconciliation: Pentecostal/Charismatic issues at Athens 2005”, IRM 94 (2005), p. 337.
23. J. Kwabena Asamoab-Gyadu, “Listening with African Ears. Reflections on the 2005 World Mission Conference in Athens”, IRM 94 (2005), p. 343.
24. Dieter Becker,“Listener's Report ” IRM 94 (2005), p. 355.
25. Ibid., p. 362.
26. Anges Charles, “Reflector's Report”, IRM 94 (2005), p. 367.
27. Michael Kinnamon, “Report on the World Mission Conference Athens 2005”, IRM 94 (2005), p. 388
28. Valdir Raul Steuernagel, “Reflections on the Athens Conference”, IRM 94 (2005), p. 428f.
29. Anastasia Vassiliadou, “Discerning the Spirit of Athens”, IRM 94 (2005), p. 439.
30. The Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) met for the last time after the Athens Conference to assess among other things the Conference itself (Athens, May 16-18, 2005).
31. The (unofficial) Wesleyan-Orthodox theological dialogue, which has so far organized four meetings (cf. the preceedings of the first in S.'T.Kimbrough, Jr [ed.], Orthodox and Wesleyan Spirituality, SVS Press, New York 2002), and earlier the (unofficial again) Eastern and Oriental Orthodox theological dialogue, have set a successful example.
32. W.A.Vissert Hooft (ed.), La Premiere Assembler da Conseil Oecumenique des Eglises. Rapport officiel, Neuchatel - Paris, 1948. Also in G. Florovsky, “The Doctrine of the Church and the Ecumenical Movement”, The Ecumenical Review, 2 (1950), 152-161.