Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture

The Ecumenical Roundtable

12 Aug 2019 - By Bishop Philip Huggins, Director Centre for Ecumenical Studies ACC&C

The Chambers Pavilion was packed for the 4th Ecumenics Roundtable on 25 June 2019, led by Bishop Geevarghese Coorilos, Bishop of Niranam Diocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church in India.

Bishop George, as he preferred to be addressed, spoke about “Orthodoxy and Pluralism: Challenges and Opportunities” in the first of his two addresses.

His emphasis was that, while it is said that the Orthodox diaspora often get ghettoised, especially in the first few generations, this should not be the case.

Bishop George conveyed that Orthodoxy, both theologically and existentially, can and should live alongside other traditions in a peaceful, co-operative manner.

Looking back in history, Bishop George reminded us of how, from very early days, Orthodoxy had been in dialogue with other faiths, especially Judaism and Hellenism.

Later, dialogue with Islam became an existential necessity after the conquest of the Byzantine world.

Bishop George reminded us of the recent (2008) commitment of the Primates of the Orthodox Churches to dialogue for peaceful co-existence.

The Primates, with us all, realise the importance of this in order to prevent new forms of religious fanaticism and thus, the suffering of terrorism.

Bishop George reinforced his encouragement to the NCCA family with a reminder as to the theological basis of this understanding.

Poetically and biblically, Bishop George spoke out of the Apophatic nature of God; the concept of “Imago Dei” and thus the universal brotherhood and sisterhood of all humanity, each of us having access to salvation; the Trinitarian rootedness of Orthodoxy, the mutual interrelatedness or ‘perichoresis’; the role of the Holy Spirit as Word and Spirit intersect and we are led into all truth (by the Spirit which ‘blows where she wills’ John 3:8).

Thus, making a bridge to his next address, Bishop George spoke of the balance in Orthodoxy between “head and heart” in dialogue.

In his Second address, Bishop George spoke of “Ecumenism and the many Contemporary Global Challenges.”

These challenges are ones we are all familiar with:

The Climate change crisis and the “sweeping influence of the neo-liberal market economy”; the pervasive ideology of war/ violence as if it is the only way to resolve conflicts; the tides of secularisation; the global phenomena of the “fear of the

Other”, driven by a culture amplifying racism, casteism, sexism; the “technological colonisation of humanity”, noting the serious consequences of these issues for the poor and more vulnerable.

In this bleak context, Bishop George’s challenge to us nevertheless also named what he sees as our own ecumenical challenges.

With vivid examples, he spoke of our challenges, naming three:

Moral bankruptcy (of corruption and a lack of accountability); Intellectual bankruptcy (a lack of visionary ideas) and Prophetic bankruptcy (a lack of prophetic courage).

He encouraged our soul-searching so that we renounce all traces of imperial vestiges and remove them from our structures.

He encouraged “an Ecumenical Movement from the Margins” (MFM), putting people from the margins of society at the centre as the new leaders.

Bishop George’s addresses provoked spirited conversation and those of us present felt blessed to be there.