This weekend I travel to Heraklion on the Greek island of Crete, where Baptist World Alliance General Secretary Neville Callam, British Baptist theologian Paul Fiddes of Oxford University, and I will meet with a delegation from the Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate for "pre-conversations" October 31-November 1 that will explore the feasibility of holding a series of formal international bilateral ecumenical converstions between the Baptist World Alliance and the Orthodox churches. Similar pre-conversations were held in the 1990s: October 22-24, 1994, January 29, 1996, and May 10-13, 1996 in Istanbul, Turkey, and May 24-28, 1997 at Regents Park College of Oxford University. At that time the Ecumenical Patriarchate did not elect to proceed with formal conversations. At the Baptist World Alliance annual gathering in Kuala Lumpur in July 2011, however, the BWA General Council authorized General Secretary Callam to appoint a small planning team that would respond to a renewed invitation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate to meet for pre-conversations in Crete this fall.
In connection with this prospect of Baptist-Orthodox ecumenical dialogue, I'm posting below some excerpts from the address of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I to the plenary meeting of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches at which I represented the Baptist World Alliance in Chania, Crete in October 2009. These reflections on the quest for the church's unity are worth reading in their entirety (click on hyperlink); here are some highlights:
1.Unity as Calling
....the unity of the Church, like the unity of God, is also a never-ending search, an ever-unfolding journey. As St. Gregory of Nyssa would affirm, even in the age to come, growth in the divine life is without end and with endless perfection; it is, indeed, constant progress through continually refining stages. This mindset demands from us a sense of forbearance rather than of impatience. We should not be frustrated by our human limitations, which unfortunately determine our disagreements and divisions. Our ongoing and persistent pursuit of unity is a testimony to the fact that what we seek will occur in God’s time and not our own; it is, by the same token, the fruit of heavenly grace and divine kairos.
2.Unity as Conversion
If unity – as our own ongoing and persistent goal – is indeed a gift of God, then it demands a profound sense of humility and not any prideful insistence. This means that we are called to learn from others as well as to learn from time-tested formulations. It also implies that imposing our ways on others – whether “conservative” or “liberal” – is arrogant and hypocritical. Instead, genuine humility demands from all of us a sense of openness to the past and the future; in other words, much like the ancient god Janus, we are called to manifest respect for the time-tested ways of the past and regard for the heavenly city that we seek (cf. Heb. 13.14). This “turning” toward the past and the future is surely part and parcel of conversion.
3. Unity in Mission
....For the Prophets, just as for the Apostolic community, justice and peace are closely linked to the preservation and balance of the land as God’s creation. This means that our Churches are called to a common ministry and mission, proclaiming and promoting a worldview in which God’s authority – the authority of the kingdom – guides our ways and determines our actions. We must never forget that this world is inherited; it is a gift from above, offered as a means of communion with God.
If, then, we are to submit to the authority of God, the authority of the kingdom, then we must be authentic and prophetic in our criticism of the world’s consumerism. We must remember and remind our faithful that the land – and all the fullness thereof – belongs to the Lord (cf. Psalm 24.1), that the world’s resources must be oriented toward others. We must recall the Lord’s beatitude, according to which “the meek shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5.5). For the meek person is the one who reverses the world’s attitudes to power and possessions; otherwise, the land becomes a place of division and violence. Meekness is ultimately a way of caring, a way of sharing. And it stands as a contrast and correction to the desecration that we have brought into God’s creation.