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02.05.05 04:33 Age: 7 yrs

Orthodox church leaders note concerns ahead of world Athens' rally

Ecumenical News International
Daily News Service
02 May 2005


By Maria Antoniadou
Athens, 2 May (ENI)--Orthodox church leaders in Greece are attempting to allay fears about a world church conference, to begin in Athens on 9 May, amid concern the gathering might aggravate tensions in their denomination about relations with other churches.

The conference is being organized by the World Council of Churches and will bring 500 participants to the Greek capital from many Christian churches, including from Evangelical, Pentecostal and Roman Catholic traditions which do not belong to the Geneva-based WCC.

The (Orthodox) Church of Greece is reported to have received hundreds of letters protesting about the conference which is on the theme of mission and evangelism, or Christians sharing their faith with others.

Many Orthodox Christians in Greece and elsewhere are suspicious of mission by other denominations in traditionally Orthodox countries such as those in eastern Europe or the Middle East. They denounce as proselytism what they see as an attempt to win converts among Orthodox believers.

Still, the WCC is on record as opposing proselytism, noted Orthodox leaders from around the world who met in Athens recently. The world church grouping has in the past urged "those involved in proselytism to recognise its disastrous effects on church unity, relationships among Christians, and the credibility of the Gospel".

The WCC says the main aim of the Athens conference is "to provide a space for Christians and churches to exchange their experience and think together about priorities in mission and the future of Christian witness". The theme is "Come Holy Spirit, Heal and Reconcile".

Says the Rev. Ruth Bottoms, a Baptist pastor from Britain who is to moderate the gathering, "In our globalised and fragmented world, filled with much division and conflict, the gospel message of healing and reconciliation is vital."

Still, Greek Bishop Ioannis of Thermopilon, a member of the local organizing committee for the conference, said he was concerned about the reaction of what are seen as conservative clerics who are professors at the theological schools in Athens and Thessaloniki.

Prior to the conference there had been some tensions in the WCC between its Orthodox and non-Orthodox member churches over issues including worship rituals involving Christians from different church traditions.

The Orthodox church leaders who met before the conference said they would not be taking part in joint ecumenical worship services during the Athens conference, but that prayers would be organized by each separate church tradition.

Earlier this year, the head of the Orthodox Church of Greece, Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens, welcomed plans to hold the mission gathering in Greece.

"This is an opportunity to present an image of a modern church and manifest the true values of our faith and culture," he said in a statement. "We shall set aside the fears of the last century and look forward to new relationships with other churches." [482 words]

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