Perspectives and limits of ecumenism. Part I


Ecumenism and interreligious dialogue today

The question of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue in today's reality of progressive secularization is a big challenge for the Catholic Church and other Christian communities. The attitude towards this issue marks the line between supporters of modernist and traditionalist orientations in the Christian world, that overlaps (but only partially) upon another division that defines contemporary Christianity: on moral liberals and conservatives. Strictly interpreting the matter through these divisions, however, would be a misconception, because too often, it happens that moral conservatives can be modernists in issues of interreligious dialogue and liberals in moral issues  can be the supporters of traditional theology of religions (1). It is valuable to view this from the perspective of the traditionalist, to understand the threats and opportunities posed by ecumenism and interreligious dialogue.

Two Ecumenisms

Ecumenism is of course possible only within the limits of Christianity, while interreligious dialogue can be conducted also with the followers of other religions. Dialogue between the various Christian communities is always more or less ecumenical in it's character, because it's goal is to lead Christians to ecclesiastical unity. Dialogue with other religions is committed to general goals and is more limited, but also in this area it is possible to talk about theology. Generally, however, the desire to work together on social issues seems to be easier, which should also serve as an important goal in relations between the Christian communities.

Doctrinal ecumenism

Ecumenism with a doctrinal basis, from the perspective of Roman Catholics, has its origins in the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist and the legitimate papal and Episcopal ministry. Contradictions here are drawn in the relations between Roman Catholics and evangelical Christians (Baptists, Pentecostals), who recognize only the baptism of adults. Also, some Orthodox communities (some monks from Mount Athos, churches of the Old Rite and Old Calendar in Russia) require converts from Roman Catholicism to re-baptize, not recognizing the sacraments given outside their own community. Limited intercommunion (in the case of the absence of an accessible temple of their own Church, it is allowed to participate in the liturgy and the Eucharist in the temples of the other church) between Roman Catholics and Orthodox is acceptable, however, because these Churches recognize the validity of each other's ordination.

Obstacles to Christian ecumenism obviously involve more than a few questions of  a doctrinal, liturgical, and disciplinary nature. These include the lack of recognition by Catholics of the validity of ordination of Anglicans, the lack of recognition by Protestants of the transfer of Christ's authority over to the Church in the hands of the Pope. But the achievements of the ecumenical movement are also visible: a dispute with the Assyrian Church of the East which was accused of Nestorianism at the Council of Ephesus (431) has been appeased, and a dispute with the Eastern Churches (Syriac, Syro-Malancar, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian and Eritrean) which were often accused in turn of Monophysism from the Council of Chalcedon (451), has also been appeased.

The ecumenical movement, however, also raises the threat and as an entity that is essentially Protestant, it arouses reasonable doubts among Catholics and Orthodox. The Roman Catholic Church has never taken part in the World Council of Churches established in Amsterdam in 1948, while the Georgian Orthodox Church and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church withdrew its membership from this organization in 1997 and 1998 respectively. The danger posed by the ecumenical movement is the concept of "unity but the truth " conceptualised in some Protestant communities, expressed as “Euharistic hospitality” popular among the Protestants, which means the release of their rites of communion of all the baptized, and sometimes even unbaptized.

The Eucharist is the sacrament of renewing and strengthening the unity of the Church, it cannot therefore be concelebrated in the case of actual absence of such unity in faith, in the sacraments and in the Church's hierarchy. To avoid the trap of ignoring the real and significant differences, Catholicism and Orthodoxy may recognize intercommunion but refuse it in relation to the Protestant communities.

Ethical ecumenism

Other than dogmatic, fields in the disciplines of Sacramentology and ecclesiastics, for dialogue between the Christian communities, are ethics, anthropology and model of social order. The importance of these areas today is certainly greater than theological issues because they determine the nature of collective life and shape the social order. Everything indicates that in the 21st century, the most important doctrinal dispute will not debate the theological-dogmatic, but moral-anthropological (2). When the state and the authority have a religious character, the content and form of religion determines the temporal human life, and whether it has opened its way to God. With the advent of the secular state, religion has been pushed to the margins of human life, hence the dogmatic differences between religions no longer play such a fundamental role as the concept of collective life for which advocates a given religious community.

Until recently, a natural partner in ecumenical dialogue for the Catholic Church were Protestant communities which has began during the first wave of the Reformation, because as indicated by Hilaire Belloc in Essays a Catholic, ("Essays of a Catholic"), peoples who passed to Protestantism, did not reject their Catholic moral standards (3). This situation changed, however, in the last half-century, when many Churches and Protestant communities have accepted abortion, genetic engineering, homosexuality, and sometimes even euthanasia. This significantly alienated from the Catholic Church many Anglican, Lutheran, Reformed, Methodist and Holiness communities

On the other hand, a rapprochement of Catholics became apparent with the Baptists, previously hostile to them, Pentecostals and Orthodox as well as the Traditional Anglican Communion (Anglican Church in America and the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada). Borders and walls on moral issues go across existing divisions. Anglicans, who until recently were the Protestant denomination closest to Catholics, have become the most distant morally from the Christian church from an anthropological point of view. Baptists or Pentecostals, who until recently did not even see the Roman Catholics as Christians, but only as the children of the great harlot, now increasingly recognize that they are much closer to us (i.e. Roman Catholics) than to protestants (4).

Christianity vs. liberalism

Disputes on ethical and anthropological studies, however, are merely derivative of a more fundamental, as said in the above, dispute between supporters of founding a political community on the principles of secular (liberals) and supporters of founding it on religious principles (religions). Today, our nations have faced new challenges. Under the pretext of maintaining the principle of secularism, or the defense of freedom, the basic moral principles based on the Ten Commandments are questioned. Abortion, euthanasia, same-sex unions, which are being presented as one of the forms of marriage, a consumerist lifestyle, rejection of traditional values ​​and the removal of religious symbols from public space, are promoted. Often we deal with manifestations of hostility towards Christ and his Gospel and the Cross, as well as attempts to exclude the Church from public life. Falsely understood secularism takes the form of fundamentalism, and in fact is one of the varieties of atheism (5).

In the ongoing struggle between liberalism and Christianity, the natural cooperation would therefore be among anti-liberal Orthodox Christian rites, and the Roman and Protestant rites. The idea brought against their liberal ideas of the secular state should be the idea of ​​the Christian state. We are confident that the Risen Christ is the hope not only for our Churches and peoples, but also for Europe and the whole world (6). Archbishop Jozef Michalik, and Patriarch Kirill wrote this in a joint message of August 2012. The political community founded on Christianity and Christian anthropology, is a political community which is organized around the norms of Christian ethics, thus rejecting crimes as abortion, euthanasia, genetic engineering, cloning as well as various manifestations of immorality as divorce, pornography, promiscuity and immodesty, which are postulated by liberalism.

We call on everyone to respect the inalienable dignity of every human person created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27). In the name of the future of our peoples we advocate for the respect and defense of every human life from conception to natural death. We believe that a grave sin against life and the disgrace of modern civilization is not only terrorism and armed conflict, but also abortion and euthanasia.

A firm foundation of any society is the family as a permanent union between a man and a woman. As an institution established by God (cf.. Genesis 1:28; 2,23-24),the  family demands respect and defense. It is the cradle of life, a healthy environment, education, and is a social guarantor of stability and a sign of hope for society. It is in the family where man matures and becomes responsible for himself, for others, and for the society in which he lives.

With sincere concern, hope and love, we look at young people, who we wish to protect against demoralization, and educate them in the spirit of the Gospel. We want to teach young people the love of God, man and his earthly homeland and develop in them the spirit of Christian culture, the fruit of which is respect, tolerance and justice (7).

Respect for human dignity and the effective protection of unborn life, to rebuild the family, and for Christian education to be the requirement of future generations to replace the liberal state by the Christian state, must be ensured. Christian integrists and traditionalists should not therefore engage in the so called "culture wars" conducted within the limits of the liberal paradigm, because they don't reach the essence of the present conflict and give no prospects of any real permanent success. The effect of ecumenical dialogue among Christians should be a common rejection by them of the liberal paradigm in ideological and political fields.

The Christianization of the liberal state is not possible, because liberalism and Christianity are competing and mutually exclusive civilisational paradigms. The fight against immorality and the call for obedience to God's law without politically rejecting liberalism, the scaffolding of the modern "culture of death", is doomed to failure.  Even when Christians temporarily take up this fight and such effectively safeguard the statutory protection of unborn life, the principle of political alternation will create, in the end, the will to power up anti-Christian forces, which will complete the temporarily slowed down destruction.

Social Kingship of Christ in the liberal state is impossible. It would be possible only after destroying liberalism, under the rule of God's rightful rulers of origin. Facing objective difficulties faced by ecumenism in the areas of dogma and ecclesiastical discipline and the declining significance of Christianity in Europe, the accent in ecumenical dialogue should be transferred to the problems of anthropology and ethics, which should lead to the emergence of the Christian anti-liberal block consisting of Christians of different rites who share in their rejection of liberalism. This section must fight not only specific and practical consequences of liberalism (divorce, institutionalization of homosexuality, abortion, etc), but also the ideological and political liberal paradigm, seeking to replace the liberal state Christian state.


1 . T. Terlikowski, Kościół (dla) zagubionych, Kraków 2007, s. 51-52.

2T. Terlikowski, Kiedy sól traci smak. Etyka protestancka w kryzysie, Warszawa 2005, s. 10.

3T. A. Nelson, Przedmowa amerykańskiego wydawcy [w:] F. Sardà y Salvany ks. dr, Liberalizm jest grzechem, Poznań 1995, s. 21.

4T. Terlikowski, dz. cyt., s. 11-12.

5Józef Arcybiskup Michalik, Metropolita Przemyski, Cyryl, Patriarcha Moskwy i Całej Rusi, Wspólne Przesłanie do Narodów Polski i Rosji, Przewodniczącego Konferencji Episkopatu Polski, Arcybiskupa Józefa Michalika, Metropolity Przemyskiego i Zwierzchnika Rosyjskiego Kościoła Prawosławnego Patriarchy Moskiewskiego i Całej Rusi Cyryla, podpisane 17 sierpnia 2012 r. w Warszawie,,Wspolne_Przeslanie_do_Narodow_Polski_i_Rosji.html, Russian version: (15.01.2016).

6 Józef Arcybiskup Michalik, Metropolita Przemyski, Cyryl, Patriarcha Moskwy i Całej Rusi, Wspólne Przesłanie...

7 Józef Arcybiskup Michalik, Metropolita Przemyski, Cyryl, Patriarcha Moskwy i Całej Rusi, Wspólne Przesłanie...

To be continued...