1998 NCC News Archives

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Romanian Orthodox Church Leader Describes
Delicate State of Ecumenism in Eastern Europe

October 13, 1998, NEW YORK ---- A Romanian Orthodox Bishop described the fragile state but necessary role of ecumenism in Eastern Europe and internationally during a visit here sponsored by the National Council of Churches (NCC).

His Eminence Bishop Nifon of Slobozia and Calarasi, President and Mr. Christian Teodorescu, Executive Director of the Ecumenical Association of Churches in Romania (AIDRom) met with members of the NCC's Europe Committee and other NCC staff on Oct. 8. They described the church in Romania as strong and vibrant but also spoke openly about the anti-ecumenical movement in their region, which has led to tensions on both the local and international levels.

"Anti-ecumenical feelings have started to manifest in a dangerous way (in our region as they have in Russia)," Bishop Nifon reported. He said there are many reasons for this growing sentiment. "The situation gets more and more complicated for Orthodox churches in various parts of the world," he explained, citing the fall of communism and the increase in parachurches and other sects in Romania and Eastern Europe. "It is bad to have freedom if it is expressed without responsibility. Some Orthodox have fallen into fundamentalism and extremism that is not positive and creative."

On the other hand, Bishop Nifon explained the "serious critical notes" Orthodox churches have against the ecumenical movement and the World Council of Churches, including a sense that the WCC does not weigh the Orthodox voice equally with other member churches and that it concentrates more on the "horizontal preoccupations of human existence" than on the "vertical," faith and order issues which concern the Orthodox.

"Ethically, the Orthodox are also not ready to give up so easily certain principles that come out of faith, for instance, if we take questions of the ordination of women and sexual minorities," Bishop Nifon continued.

"Mistakes belong to both sides," Bishop Nifon stressed. He called for humility and clear expression on both sides so that there can be a "new, mature theological understanding and vision in the ecumenical movement."

"Both sides need to make themselves heard and to give substantive, theological arguments so we can have efficient dialogue," he said. "It will be a question of concessions in the best, most creative sense, not in the sense of giving up strong positions."

"This is a very delicate time, when both sides need to be careful not to push too hard," Bishop Nifon said. "This next year is an important one for the future of the ecumenical movement."

Bishop Nifon encouraged "ecumenical resource sharing, both material and spiritual," to help balance out the principle too often applied in ecumenical organizations that "who pays, commands."

Of the WCC Assembly in Harare in December, Bishop Nifon lamented that "instead of celebrating 50 years of what we believed to be the most important idea of our century, the pursuit of Christian unity, we meet this event with reticence and dogmatic criticism." He made reference to the Russian Orthodox delegation, which has been reduced from about 45 of the top leaders to a handful of laypeople.

When asked how large the Romanian Orthodox delegation would be to Harare, Bishop Nifon was cautious, saying that he would indeed be leading the delegation but joking, "I can tell you that it will be larger than the reported Russian one!"

Mr. Teodorescu, a Romanian Lutheran layperson, described the work of AIDRom, established in 1991 as a cooperation between the Orthodox, the Reformed and Lutheran churches of Romania to distribute humanitarian relief aid and to be an ecumenical platform. AIDRom's work has developed to include three main programs:

The NCC has supported AIDRom's programs since 1994 through its Europe Office. "AIDRom not only develops programs, but facilitates social wefare programs among its member churches, as well as providing space for dialogue among the churches in Romania," said the Rev. Paul Wilson, NCC Europe Office Director.

"The Orthodox Church in Romania has historically been very ecumenically minded," Rev. Wilson also commented. "It is an inspiration for all the countries in Eastern Europe."

About the NCC, Bishop Nifon said, "You think in terms of the whole of Europe, including the East. It is rewarding to hear about the totality of Europe in the NCC."

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