This year marks 25 years since the Orthodox and Old Catholic Churches declared their full theological agreement. The report on this accord, known as the Koinonia text, has since then been studied in depth but has not achieved its primary objective: full communion between the two church families (the Old Catholic Church has been in full communication with the Anglican church family since 1931). One reason for this is the ordination of women priests in the Old Catholic Church, although other factors such as the different cultural contexts in which our churches live and work also have a role to play.
To maintain contact, also at the official level, an Orthodox-Old Catholic Working Group was set up by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the International Bishops’ Conference of the Union of Utrecht several years ago. It small size means that we members know each other well and can work effectively even with limited means. The group has three members from each church family: Bishop Prof. Kyrillos Katerelos (Athens), Prof. Konstantinos Delikostantis (Athens and Chambésy) and Prof. Grigorios Larentzakis (Graz and Chania) from the Orthodox family, and Bishop Dr. Harald Rein (Bern), Prof. Urs van Arx (Bern) and Dr. Mattijs Ploeger (Haarlem and Utrecht) from the Old Catholic Church. The two bishops are the group’s co-presidents.
In addition to meeting once or twice a year, the working group has run various projects: a conference for students of Orthodox and Old Catholic theology, a study trip to the Orthodox church on Crete, and a visit to the Patriarch of Constantinople – the spiritual leader of all Orthodox churches – and to various sites of historic and contemporary interest in and around Istanbul. On this visit the group was accompanied by the Archbishop of Utrecht as the President of the International Bishops’ Conference of the Union of Utrecht.
During our meeting of 26 to 28 June 2012 we discussed the arrangements for our next project: a conference for Orthodox and Old Catholic theologians regarding the social and societal significance of our shared theology. It is this common theological understanding (God as the Trinity, and the understanding of the church and the Eucharist) that creates the strong link between the Orthodox and the Old Catholic Churches. The conference will examine how our theological foundations translate into our understanding of society. We firmly believe that our churches are closely connected in this context, but we probably refer to these connections too rarely. This is what we aim to change with our conference. Our initial plan is to hold a two-day conference in Zurich the week after Ascension Day 2013. Further details will be communicated nearer the time.
On Wednesday the working group attended a special evening service at St. Peter and Paul’s Church in Bern. This was followed by a meeting with numerous Old Catholic theologians from in and around the city, including Bishop emeritus Hans Gerny, who has always been dedicated to strengthening the Old Catholic contacts with the Orthodox church family.
As always, the Old Catholic Church of Switzerland was an excellent and generous host that gave our inner selves the opportunity to grow – and the Orthodox theologians a chance to decide who was the most ‘ascetic’ (clue: not the person who talked most about asceticism).