Address by His All Holiness Athenagoras I, Ecumenical Patriarch

On the Occasion of His Visit to WCC Headquarters, 1967

Most Reverend General Secretary, Gentlemen,
We thank Your Most Beloved Reverence from our inmost heart for the greetings which you have addressed to us on behalf of the beloved World Council of Churches and those who render such valuable services therein.

We consider it as a gift of grace, granted to us by our Lord, that He has bestowed His blessing on the sacred desire which we had long nourished in our hearts, namely, that of visiting and paying honour to this renowned Centre where the Christians of the world work together in unity.

We greatly rejoice that today this desire received its fulfillment, and above all that our visit falls nearly half a century after the publication of the well-known Encyclical Letter of our Apostolic and Patriarchal See of 1920, and almost 20 years after the founding of the World Council of Churches.
These two chronological landmarks in the historical journey traveled thus far by the Council constitute the starting-point of a new period in the life of this interchurch organisation – a period on the one hand of more complete understanding between its member churches and, on the other hand, of closer collaboration between them, so that they may the better promote the spirit of Christian unity and of service to mankind.

Brothers and beloved children in Christ, we have come to you along with the honoured persons who accompany us, to bring you the greetings, good wishes and blessings of our Holy Ecumenical See and of ourselves. We come not as strangers to strangers, but as members of the same family, to this our common home, in witness of our Church’s profound awareness that it 1s one of the founding Churches of this Council and – along with the other sister Orthodox Churches – a deeply engaged and active member of it in the inter-Christian dialogue of love and unity. But, at the same time, we come to bear witness to the fact that our Ecumenical Patriarchate is conscious of how much it has owed in the past, owes now, and will also owe in the future to the World Council of Churches – and most rightly so, for this Council is destined to act in all things against the sin of division within the Christian Church and to serve the holy purpose of Christian unity by bringing closer together the various denominations. At this moment, some relevant and appropriate words of a 14th century Byzantine theologian come to my mind: how fruitful and pleasing a thing it is for brothers to live together, and how joyful and profitable a thing for them to struggle with unanimity towards deep spirituality; and how miserable and fruitless it is for those who are united in the Spirit to be in conflict with one another.

If it is true that where two or three are gathered together in Christ, He is directly present in the midst of them, then how much more so, when two or three or more nations are gathered in Him, is He there present to bestow all goodness upon them. That is why we are tom asunder in our hearts on account of the division of the Churches; for, being members of Christ, having access to and communion with One and the Same Head, and being fitly framed together, we nevertheless do not think in harmony, nor move forward to the same goal.

We are happy to be able to confirm to all of you that now, as always, such is the thinking of Our holy and great Church of Christ, and of the Orthodox Church in general.
The Orthodox Church, suffering on account of the divisions in the one flock of Christ, has ever longed for sincere and understanding collaboration between the Christian Churches and denominations, and has prayed and prays daily to the Lord, «for the peace of the whole world, the stability of the Holy Churches of God, and the union of all».

The Orthodox Church does this so much the more because it believes that today, more than ever, the Christian world has had enough of sterile verbal exchanges. The Kingdom of Christ is a kingdom of love, and we must return to that love if we are to be able to bind up the wounds of the past, wounds which were inflicted upon the Church of Christ by a spirit that distorted the truth, or by human deviations, or the flames of discord. No Christian Church has the right to remain in isolation, to proclaim that it has no need to be in contact with other Christian brothers, and that those who live outside its frontiers are deprived of bonds which link them with Christ. On the contrary, the more a Church has the consciousness that it alone possesses the truth, and remains faithful to the word of Christ, the tradition and the mission of the One Ancient and Undivided Church, so much the more must it, and has it the obligation to, enter into dialogue and collaboration with all the other Christian denominations. It must do this in a spirit of love, humility and service, in accordance with the example of Christ, so as to advance the victory of truth and the building-up of the Body of Christ. Christendom must feel anew the impetus of this Spirit of Christ, which is rooted in Christian unity and, in its turn, is established on the foundation of love, so that it may spread its beneficent influence to the world and to all mankind.

Our collaboration in the World Council of Churches has as its goal an increase in love and the common study – undertaken in a spirit of total fidelity to the truth – of the differences which separate the Christian Churches, in order that we may build up Christian unity. In collaborating within the World Council of Churches, we do not aim at setting aside our theological differences, nor at achieving superficial understanding, nor disregarding the points that divide us. But we do aim at a spirit of reciprocal and sincere understanding, in the authentic spirit of Christ, and at directing ourselves towards the preparation of the way that will one day make it possible for the Holy Spirit to enable all members of the Body of Christ to receive Communion with the same Bread and from the same Chalice. In a world that is tom asunder, full of suffering, and threatened with dire catastrophe; in a world that is plunged into unparalleled and hitherto unheard-of spiritual and moral confusion; in a world that lacks guidance and a sense of orientation, this collaboration of the Christian Churches and denominations is an urgent need of the times, and an obligation that we have to history.

Our Ecumenical Patriarchate – in the position that it took from the very beginning, in its historic Encyclical of 1920 on the formation of a League of Churches, and in its subsequent collaboration in the Ecumenical Movement – has undoubtedly been, and still is, an ardent preacher of the true ecumenical ideal, and true ecumenical dialogue to foster Christian unity. For this reason, so as to encourage the ecumenical spirit, it has taken initiatives in Christian reconciliation in all directions. And for this reason a new era in relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church has opened up into one of sincere collaboration with His Holiness Pope Paul VI. For this reason it cultivates and promotes bi-lateral relations with member churches of the World Council of Churches, such as the Anglican, Old Catholic and Post-Chalcedonian Churches, and the Lutheran Church.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate, in working in these directions, is firmly convinced that it is also promoting the work of the World Council of Churches. Therefore we greatly rejoice when we see communication and cooperation constantly increasing between our World Council of Churches and the great Roman Catholic Church.

As we examine the present position of the movement of ecumenism towards Christian unity, we can observe that the Spirit of God has led it to an important point, to a point that is one of increasing maturity and, simultaneously – as always happens in things divine – one also of crisis.
Today we find ourselves facing the temptation to content ourselves with what has already been achieved, thus allowing the ecumenical movement – narcissistically and in total contradiction of itself – to stagnate; on the other hand is the possibility of the ecumenical movement’s being inspired to new dynamic action, and thus justifying itself as a movement that leads to its own renewal and to the task of the renewal of the churches, a renewal which is a fundamental presupposition for their meeting on the one divine road that leads to unity.
The renewal of churches, of Christians and Christian Unity are mutually linked. Thus the Fourth Assembly of our World Council of Churches is awaited by everyone with great hopes and most anxious expectations. The eschatological watchword of this Assembly – «Behold, I make all things new» – most accurately formulates the anguishing demands of the Church of our times.
We hope and pray that He who can make all things new, the common and only Father of all Christians, He who is and was and always will be, may make our Fourth Assembly His instrument, an instrument that will renew the ecumenical movement and the member churches.

Looking to the future and seeking for that which is best in Jesus Christ, the Light and Hope of the world, we cannot ignore, and fail to honour, the past. It is therefore with a profound sense of gratitude and a desire to pay tribute of honour, that we recall at this moment the inestimable services rendered by the champions of the ecumenical movement who have passed on: the never-forgotten John Mott, Archbishop Nathan Söderblom of Uppsala, Archbishop William Temple, Bishop Bell and Metropolitan Germanos of Thyatheira who, as all acknowledge, have left indelible footprints of their passing and have set the seal of their personalities on the work and orientation of the ecumenical movement. Nor can we fail to mention at this moment two significant events in the life of the World Council of Churches, namely, the retirement of the Rev. Dr W.A. Vissert Hooft from the high responsibility of the General Secretaryship, and the assumption of it by the Rev. Dr Eugene Carson Blake. It is not our intention to analyse the personalities and work of these two eminent and distinguished labourers in the ecumenical movement, for we believe, as St John Chrysostom says, that «the voice of the work itself speaks more dazzlingly”. The work of both in the ecumenical movement is known to all and speaks for itself, so that further talk is superfluous. But we wish to express to both of them the profound love, honour and appreciation that we bear to them. May glory and honour and peace be given to all who work for the good of the ecumenical movement.

Filled with such thoughts and feelings, we extend from this common Centre of ours an embrace of love and peace to all the member churches of the World Council of Churches. We pray that its task may be accomplished by the realization of the only purpose for which it exists: the unity of all in the One Church of Christ, so that His will may be done, and the world may believe that God did indeed send Him.