It is my honor to give a response to the presentation by John Gibaut. I want to thank him for the most interesting paper. There are several inspiring ideas and questions which have been raised regarding The Church: Towards a Common Vision (TCTCV) and Faith and Order and the Renewal of Churches.
The Bishops’ meeting with the Orthodox Church of Finland will have this Church statement on their agenda in their next meeting, in October. As of yet, there is no official final statement to present. But as far as I have understood, the statement The Church -towards the common vision has been warmly welcomed by the Orthodox Churches. – However, there are some items which need further discussion such as the themes of the ministry and the moral issues.
And why is it welcomed? - I think there the Church shares a lot of common ground with Orthodox theology and thinking. The terms like Eucharist, koinonia, threefold understanding of ministry, etc. make this statement more understandable and familiar to Orthodox readers. The different cultural characteristics, and the different kind of history of theology has often hindered the previous ecumenical discussions. Also, the fact is that several theological concepts are relatively new for the orthodox theology, such as the term ecclesiology. The Church – it is a mystery, and to analyze it does not feel very familiar method to the orthodox theology. The definitions are difficult, the Orthodox Church rather sees this eg. as an existential question, how a person has, due to incarnation, a possibility to grow as part of the Church.
Cultural differentiations hold much of the ecumenical conversation. As we know, in Orthodox ecclesiology, the experience of the Church has been articulated in terms of communion. And especially after the Canberra, koinonia has become the predominant model for describing church unity. The Orthodox ecclesial approach to issues can be understood to be shaped by the life of worship. Worshiping the Holy Trinity takes centre stage in the life of Orthodox Christians.
Because of the limited time, there are just a few items I would like to raise from the presentation. First is the idea that if the Churches live up to a vision of the Church as a koinonia, they will be renewed. In the presentation, we were asked what the signs of renewal are and how the renewal is related to tradition. For the Orthodox Church, the tradition is very crucial subject. It offers a special challenge to the idea of renewal. But the idea of tradition itself is something that sounds like a paradox; it has a twofold character, it is unchangeable and living at the same time. In addition to this nature of tradition, it should also be discussed in terms of how it is written; with capital or lower case letters, and how it can be read and interpreted. The principle of oikonomia/ economy may be one way to approach the potential problems on the way to renewal. His eminence, the late metropolitan John of Nicea, used a term that could be translated to ‘creative obedience’ to express the attitude of this principle. - The literal interpretation is not always the most important one.
John Gibaut asked us also how receiving koinonia theology with TCTCV might change how we feel about certain theological ideas. The first is the Trinity. The Holy Trinity combines koinonia in many ways, all of which are very important for the Orthodox thinking: The Church is, in principle, koinonia, Orthodox Ecclesiology in its entirety is based on koinonia and the Church of the internal access is koinonia. The icon of Andrei Rublev, the Holy Trinity, provides the theological basis of koinonia ecclesiology. The persons are bound together by bonds of love. For us, the Holy Trinity is a model of communial ecclesiology. Again, a kind of paradox; the mystery of unity in diversity.
The last item I would like to raise from the presentation is the theological idea of sin. How receiving koinonia theology with the statement might change how we perceive and teach about sin. John Chrysostomos has said that sin weakens a person’s ability to grow into God’s likeness. Sin is something that should be understood as an element which separates, breaks and violates. Especially moral and ethical issues are becoming issues which increasingly divide the churches and people. I think that women have often been in the position that can be seen as a consequence of sin. There are also some primarily cultural traditions which have transferred to churches and, as a result of these cultural traditions, the women have often been the suffering part of the body of Christ.
The churches are called to voice their opinion of this model of ecclesiology. John Gibaut brilliantly compared the ecumenical movement as an update for the Church and how 68% is now downloaded. Future discussions can increase the amount from 68%, as the discussions are built upon the great work that already has done for many decades.
I want to thank John Gibaut for the presentation that really gave us “much to think about and fresh duties to perform”.
Dr Eeva Raunistola-Juutinen
University of Eastern Finland