16th Session of the International Joint Commission on the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Lutheran World Federation

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The 16th Plenary of the International Joint Commission on the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Lutheran World Federation was held in the Apostolic island of Rhodes, Greece (28 April – 5 May), hosted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate under the auspices of His Eminence Metropolitan Kyrillos of Rhodes.

A message with blessings and prayers was received during the Meeting from His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

The meeting was chaired by the two co-presidents, from the Orthodox side by H.E. Metropolitan Prof. Dr. Gennadios of Sassima (Ecumenical Patriarchate), and from the Lutheran World Federation side by Bishop (em.) Prof. Dr. Christoph Klein (Evangelical Church of Augsburg Confession in Romania).

Orthodox participants were delegates from the following Churches: H. E. Metropolitan Prof. Dr. Gennadios of Sassima and V. Rev. Second Patriarchal Deacon Dr. Theodoros Meimaris (co-secretary, Ecumenical Patriarchate),  H. E. Metropolitan Dr. Makarios of Kenya and Εirinoupolis (Patriarchate of Alexandria), V. Rev. Alexi Chehadeh (Patriarchate of Antioch), V. Rev. Protopresbyter Prof. Dr. George Dion Dragas (Patriarchate of Jerusalem), V. Rev. Dr. Valentin Vassechko (Patriarchate of Moscow), Dr. Rade Kisić (Patriarchate of Serbia), Rev. Prof. Dr. Viorel Ionita (Patriarchate of Romania), V. Rev. Protopresbyter Prof. Dr. Georgios Zviadadze (Patriarchate of Georgia), H. E. Metropolitan Dr. Isaias of Tamassos and Oreini (Church of Cyprus), Prof. Dr. Christos Voulgaris (Church of Greece), V. Rev. Andrzej Minko (Church of Poland), Mr. Nathan Hoppe (Church of Albania), and Consultants: Prof. Dr. Konstantinos Delikostantis (Ecumenical Patriarchate), Rev. Dr. Cosmin Pricop (Patriarchate of Romania) and V. Rev. Stefanos Chrysanthou (Church of Cyprus).

The following Lutheran participants were representing various member churches of the Lutheran World Federation: Bishop Prof. Dr. Christoph Klein (Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Romania), Prof. Dr. Kenneth G. Appold (ELCA, USA), Rev. Dr. Stephanie Dietrich (Church of Norway), Rev. Prof. Dr. Hermann Pitters (Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Romania), Superintendent Klaus Schwarz (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Wurttemberg, Germany), Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Silcock (Lutheran Church of Australia), Rev. Dr. Jennifer Wasmuth (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hannover, Germany), Rev. Prof. Dr. Risto Saarinen (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland), Rev. Prof. Dr. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson (Institute for Ecumenical Research, France, Consultant) and Rev. Dr. Kaisamari Hintikka (LWF, co-secretary).

Contacts between the Ecumenical Patriarch Jeremias II (Tranos) and Lutheran professors of the University of Tübingen, Germany, began in Europe at the time of the Reformation in the 16th century. Thus, the dialogue has historical precedent. The present official conversations between the Orthodox Church and the Lutheran World Federation began in 1981 in Espoo, Finland, after three years of preparatory meetings.

The Joint Commission, in its 15th Plenary Meeting in Wittenberg, Germany, in June 2011, launched the theme: ‘’The Mystery of the Church: F. Ordained Ministry/Priesthood’’. Meanwhile, the Commission held three preparatory meetings to study and consider specifically: 1. “The Understanding of Ministry/Priesthood in the Light of Holy Scripture and the Early Church” (London, United Kingdom, May 5-10, 2012), 2. a) ‘‘The Lutheran understanding of Ministry/Priesthood during the period of the Reformation’’, and b) ‘‘Apostolic Succession and Ordination from a historical, patristic and canonical point of view’’ (Sibiu, Romania, May 24-28, 2013), and 3. a) ‘‘Liturgical Texts on rites of ordination in Orthodox and in Lutheran traditions’’, and b) ‘‘The Lutheran understanding of the ordination of women to the priesthood, and the Orthodox understanding of the role and the place of women in the Church and the question of the ordination of women’’ (Tallinn, Estonia, May 8-13, 2014).

The Commission studied papers and reports from the Preparatory Meetings of London, Sibiu and Tallinn, as well as new papers from both sides with commentaries on the above-mentioned Draft Statements. Intensive discussions revealed the need for further research especially on the Βiblical foundations and early Church teachings and on the Apostolicity of the Church, concerning the office of Ministry/Priesthood in both traditions. The Plenary Meeting formulated a new provisional Statement that will be developed further in the forth-coming meetings in the near future.

The Commission, before completing its task, had an extended and thorough discussion about the landmark of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation initiated by the theology of Martin Luther, which will be solemnly celebrated in 2017. In addition, it was decided that appropriate festivities should take place during the next Joint Commission Plenary, to be hosted in 2017 by the Lutheran World Federation.

H.E. Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima informed the Commission about the intensive preparatory process for convening the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, scheduled to be held next year, 2016, in Constantinople upon the invitation of His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the unanimous consent of all the Heads of the Holy Orthodox Churches.

The intensive work of the Commission started with an opening Doxology Prayer at the Holy Monastery of the Mother of God ‘’Faneromeni’’, led by His Eminence Metropolitan Kyrillos of Rhodes, who, during the opening session, addressed the Commission and stressed the significance of continuing this important dialogue in truth and love. Warm greetings were also extended to the participants by Mr. Fotis Chatzidiakos, Mayor of Rhodes, and Mr. Charalambos Kokkinos, Deputy State Representative in the region.

The Commission members, in a prayer service, expressed their sympathy for and solidarity with the victims, the people and the children suffering from the recent devastating earthquake in Nepal. In addition, they extended their prayers for peace and reconciliation for all suffering people in the Middle East and in Ukraine.

On Friday, 1 May, the participants visited the Ecumenical Center of the Evangelical Church (German speaking) in Rhodes, warmly welcomed with prayers by the local pastor Rev. Dr Bernt Busch, and met with members of the local community.

On Sunday, 3 May, the group attended the Divine Liturgy at the Cathedral Church of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary in Rhodes celebrated by H.E. Metropolitan Isaias of Tamassos and Oreini, where the historic Pan-Orthodox Conferences of Rhodes started in 1961. Afterwards, the participants visited the archaeological sites and the medieval Castle of the old city, Lindos and the Philerimos Monastery.

During the meeting the members further enjoyed the generous hospitality of the local Orthodox Church and of various parishes, and were grateful for the warm welcome extended by all.

The next Preparatory Meeting of the Commission is scheduled to take place in 2016, hosted by the Orthodox. The meeting will deal with already identified topics from both sides which have not yet been fully developed on the way to constituting a final Statement on the discussed general theme ’’Ordained Ministry/Priesthood in the life of the Church’’.

Rhodes, 4 May 2015