PhD Grant White: Reflections on Yksin armosta


Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, Thank you for the invitation to offer a few personal reflections on the subject of Dr. Hintikka’s presentation from an Orthodox Christian perspective. I regret that I am not able to present these comments in person. Thanks to Fr. Heikki for allowing me to present my remarks in this manner instead.



I must begin by acknowledging that these are difficult times for ecumenical work in some parts of the Orthodox world. I’m thinking first of the very recent, abrupt cancellation of theological dialogue between the Orthodox Church of Russia and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland over the ordination of women to the episcopate and the blessing of same-sex unions. I also have in mind the meeting last month of the Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches in Amman, Jordan. There, serious disagreement from the Orthodox side over the most recent draft document on primacy and synodality led to its rejection and the drafting of yet another text, due in 2015.


However, these two events do not tell the whole story of Orthodox participation in bilateral and multilateral dialogues. For example, even after taking note of the fact of ordination of women as presbyters and bishops by Lutherans, the 2011 inter-Orthodox evaluation of the LWF-Orthodox dialogue concluded by reaffirming the dialogue and Orthodox commitment to it. On the Catholic-Orthodox side, there are many encouraging signs (beginning with the first statement of Pope Francis on the evening of his election) of a closer relationship between the Catholic Church and particularly the Ecumenical Patriarchate.


This mixed picture, painful as it is, suggests that we Orthodox are wrestling with the basic issue of how to respond to modernity. In addition, we have yet to be able to speak with one voice about the issues facing the world and the church today. Perhaps the Great and Holy Synod scheduled to be held in 2016 will allow us to do so. We will need to address our own problems of communion among the autocephalous churches before that can happen.

Against this background, what can one say from an Orthodox perspective about From Conflict to Communion and the Joint Declaration on Justification? Allow me to offer three brief comments on the themes of Dr. Hintikka’s presentation, and to conclude with two hopes for how we work together in the years to come.



In my view, From Conflict to Communion calls us to a hard task: to come to terms with our own painful histories with other Christians, and to adopt a new attitude towards our histories and those from whom we have been and are separated. It may seem impossible for us to do so, but you have shown us that it is possible – and necessary, if there is to be progress towards visible union.



We can rejoice with Lutherans and Catholics at the stunning progress that both documents embody. At the same time, the theological conflict over justification is not part of Orthodox theological history. How might we talk with our fellow Orthodox about what Lutherans and Catholics have been able to accomplish in these two texts, and about why these things are so significant, not simply historically but for us right now?



As Dr. Hintikka notes, the pursuit of visible unity and common witness are two mutually-completing sides of Christian life. They are not options; they belong together. As an Orthodox Christian, I find that recommitment to the pursuit of visible unity heartening. It seems to me the more difficult path. It would be easier, and less painful, to give up our insistence to the visible unity of the church!


A hope: starting from what we have in common

From Conflict to Communion concludes with five imperatives for the commemoration of 1517. I am particularly struck by the first imperative:


Lutherans and Catholics are invited to think from the perspective of the unity of Christ’s body and to seek whatever will bring this unity to expression and serve the community of the body of Christ. Through baptism they recognize each other mutually as Christians. This orientation requires a continual conversion of heart.


The first imperative: Catholics and Lutherans should always begin from the perspective of unity and not from the point of view of division in order to strengthen what is held in common even though the differences are more easily seen and experienced. (par. 239)


I take this to mean that Lutherans and Catholics are called to live out of what they have in common, and to live more deeply out of what they share.


My hope is that we Orthodox would take this imperative upon ourselves as well, and make it a habit of our own thought, not only in ecumenical contexts but in our day-in, day-out lives as Orthodox Christians. As an example of what “thinking from the perspective of unity” could mean in terms of how we approach Christian spirituality, let me close with the words of the Orthodox theologian and ecumenist Lev Gillet (known more widely as A Monk of the Eastern Church) in the introduction to his classic volume on Orthodox spirituality:


It cannot be too often repeated: there is no chasm between Eastern and Western Christianity. The fundamental principles of Christian spirituality are the same in the East and in the West; the methods are very often alike; the differences do not bear on the chief points. On the whole, there is one [emphasis in the original] Christian spirituality with, here and there, some variations of stress and emphasis.


The whole teaching of the Latin Fathers may be found in the East, just as the whole teaching of the Greek Fathers may be found in the West. Rome has given St. Jerome to Palestine. The East has given Cassian to the West and holds in special veneration that Roman of the Romans, Pope St. Gregory the Great (our Gregory Dialogos). St. Basil would have acknowledged St. Benedict of Nursia as his brother and heir. St. Macrina would have found her sister in St. Scholastica. St. Alexis “the man of God,” the “poor man under the stairs,” has been succeeded by the wandering beggar St. Benedict Labre. St. Nicholas would have felt as very near to him the burning charity of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Vincent de Paul. St. Seraphim of Sarov would have seen the desert blossoming under Father Charles de Foucauld’s feet, and would have called St. Therese of Lisieux “my joy.” In the same way the Eastern Church can value the achievements of “evangelical” Christians. She can acknowledge and honour all that is so deeply Christian – and therefore “Orthodox” – in such men (as to name only a few) George Fox, Nicholas Zinzendorf, John Wesley, William Booth, the Sadhu Sundar Singh. (pp. viii-ix)


As we approach our common commemoration of 1517, my hope is that we will take inspiration from the labors of Catholics and Lutherans and find new ways to live out that imperative even after 2017.

Suomen Ekumeeninen Neuvosto / Ekumeniska Rådet i Finland       Eteläranta 8 / Södra kajen 8            PL / PB 210          00131 Helsinki / Helsingfors

Lahjoita Suomen Ekumeenisella Neuvostolla on Poliisihallituksen myöntämä rahankeräyslupa. Keräysnumero on RA/2021/1503 ja keräys on käynnissä koko Suomessa Ahvenanmaata lukuunottamatta.
Donera  Ekumeniska Rådet i Finland ordnar en penninginsamling med tillstånd från Polisstyrelsen. Insamlingsnumret är RA/2021/1503. Insamlingen pågår  i hela Finland förutom på Åland.