His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, in a keynote address on 18 June at the CEC General Assembly, asked some challenging questions about the future of ecumenism in Europe.
“Today, the purpose of our presence here is to celebrate and affirm the ecumenical spirit among our diverse churches, communions and confessions, looking back respectfully to the long history of ecumenical relations in Europe and throughout the world, while at the same time looking forward to the immense challenges that lie ahead of us on the continent and across the globe,” he said.
“As we know, the ecumenical movement gained momentum in the wake of the devastation of the two world wars in the last century.”
But that ecumenical movement thrived in a very different Europe than that which we know and live in today, Bartholomew noted. “Needless to say, today, we are living in a very different Europe, one in which the landscape of religious affiliation has changed,” he said.
“As Christian churches, we can no longer take for granted that Europeans will identify with national churches or, indeed, with any particular form of belief.”
The Ecumenical Patriarch described a Europe where the religious landscape has changed dramatically. “Today attendance in liturgical services of cathedral churches in major cities may be sufficient, but attendance in suburban churches of smaller towns is weak,” he said. “There, religiosity is perceived as being in the minority.”
He then discussed the purpose or goal of the ecumenical movement in this kind of Europe. “What role or responsibility does religion play in such a Europe?” he asked, describing a destructive “new ecumenism” that is in essence a force for division and destruction.
“We see the consequences of this divisive and destructive mentality on full display in Russia’s current brutal attack against Ukraine as well as in its church’s justification for this war as the salvation of Ukraine from the alleged seduction of a godless, secular, and liberal West,” he said.
Today, the rhetoric of the so-called “culture wars” has grievously compromised any potential for dialogue, damaging the very core of ecumenism, he lamented. “As Christian communities, we must first adopt a sense of humility and accept that we are also to blame for this reduction of ecumenism,” he said.
“In our ecumenical movement—where differences are recognized and respected, where distinct voices are articulated and heard—one question we must consistently discuss is: what do we mean by a Christian Europe within a democratic European Union?”
The Ecumenical Patriarch reflected on the possibility of a Christian Europe to mirroring the openness and respect that we expect of one another in ecumenical circles.
“Can a Christian Europe now allow for all voices to be heard, including those that express disagreement and disbelief?” he asked. “Here, we can appreciate how our differences cannot undermine our unity. Here, too, we can believe in what is possible through mutual respect and social justice.”