LUTHERAN-ORTHODOX JOINT COMMISSION
Divine Revelation (3rd Plenary, Allentown 1985)
3rd Plenary of the Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission
I (1) God, whom no one has ever seen (John 1:18), reveals himself in history to human beings through his word and power (energies). This revelation of God which begins with the creation of the world (Acts 14:15-17) is fulfilled through his saving work (oikonomia) in Christ, in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and in the promise of a new creation.
(2) The triune God in whom we believe and whom we confess has revealed his divine wisdom and gracious will in his saving work which manifests him to us as Creator, Redeemer, Perfector, and the One who will be the judge of all humanity. God's promise in the Old Testament, when he spoke to the fathers by the prophets in many and various ways (Heb. 1:1) and its fulfilment in Jesus Christ is not only the history of the revelation of God but also the history of the salvation of humankind. Revelation is the word of God and the word about God; it is simultaneously the word for the destiny and the salvation of all people.
(3) God himself saves human beings from their lostness and alienation from him and brings them into the authentic life of the new creation (2 Cor 5:17). The centre of his saving work is the sending of his Son who "for us and for our salvation came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified", raised to new life "in accordance with the scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father". Through the exalted Lord the Father pours out the Holy Spirit upon his people and thereby leads his revelation to completion. The same Holy Spirit who has spoken through the prophets is effective in the apostolic kerygma by glorifying the Son and granting saving knowledge to all believers (John 14:13-16) until the fulfilment of all promises is attained in the kingdom of God on the last day.
II (4) God's revelation in Jesus Christ is realized and actualized in the church and through the church as the body of Christ. The paschal and pentecostal mysteries instituted the church of the New Testament in which the revelation is lived, proclaimed and transmitted. The Holy Spirit sustains the church's life and growth until the last day through the proclamation of the gospel in the fullness of the apostolic tradition and its transmission from place to place and from generation to generation, not only by words but also by the whole life of the church.
(5) The holy scriptures are an inspired and authentic expression of God's revelation and of the experience of the church at its beginnings. In the church's ongoing experience of its life in Christ, in the faith, love and obedience of God's people and their worship, the holy scriptures become a living book of revelation which the church's kerygma, dogma and life may not contradict. Because through the guidance of the Holy Spirit the dogma of the church is in agreement with the holy scriptures, therefore the dogma itself becomes an unchangeable witness to the truth of revelation. Thus under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, divine revelation is living in the church through holy scripture and holy Tradition.
(6) "The sacred and divinely inspired scriptures are sufficient for the exposition of the truth, but there also exist many treatises of our blessed teachers composed for this purpose, and if one reads them he will gain somehow the right interpretation of the scriptures" (St. Athanasius, c. gent. 1,3, PG 25,4).
4th Plenary of the Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission
1. The divine revelation in the Old and in the New Testament of the saving intervention of God (oikonomia), consummated in the person of Jesus Christ, is communicated to the world through the operation of the Holy Spirit. This saving intervention of God through the Son in the Holy Spirit is the essence of the "euangelion" of salvation.
2. The word of God made known to the prophets is revealed to us through the incarnation, the life and teaching, the passion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ and the sending of his Spirit at Pentecost. By all this Jesus Christ accomplished and secured the unity of the testaments and the continuity of the once and for all offering of his body and blood for our salvation and his abiding presence with us to the end of the ages. Therefore, the "euangelion" of salvation, to which holy scriptures bears witness, is not simply speech from or about God but the hypostatic Word of God incarnate. This "euangelion" of Jesus Christ, which by the operation of the Holy Spirit is communicated to us by the church to the end of the ages, is the holy Tradition.
3. The holy Tradition is the authentic expression of divine revelation in the living experience of the church, the body of the Word incarnate. The church in its sacraments and spiritual life transmits this "euangelion" of our salvation through the operation of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, apostolic faith is not only a matter of proclamation but an incarnate faith (Heb. 11:1,; enhypostatos pistis, Maximus Confessor, Quaestiones 25, PG 90, 336D) in the church.
4. This "euangelion"of salvation is the content of the holy Tradition, preserved, confessed and transmitted in scripture, in the lives of the saints in all ages, and in the conciliar tradition of the church.
5. The Orthodox and the Lutheran churches have the same Bible, comprising the Old and New Testament, but the following ten books of the Old Testament have varying degrees of authority in our churches: Judith, 1 Ezra, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 3 Maccabees, Tobit, Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom of Solomon, Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah. In the future we will have to discuss the problem of the canon in more detail.
6. The same triune God is revealed in the Old and in fullness in the New Testament. The Old Testament contains God's unconditional promise of salvation, and the New Testament contains its fulfilment in Christ through the Holy Spirit. Both Testaments reveal God's judgment of the sin inside and outside God's people and God's saving grace in Christ. Holy scripture, being the work of the Holy Spirit in holy Tradition, has as criterion for its true understanding Jesus Christ himself in the life and teaching of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.
7. The revelation of God, even as contained in scripture, transcends all verbal expressions. It is hidden from all creatures, especially from sinful human beings (palaios anthropos). Its true meaning is revealed only through the Holy Spirit in the living experience of salvation, which is accomplished in the church through the Christian life. This catholic experience of salvation in the church is at the same time the only authentic expression of the true understanding of the word of God.
8. The holy Tradition as ongoing action of the Holy Spirit in the church expresses itself in the church's whole life. The decisions of the ecumenical councils and local synods of the church, the teaching of the holy fathers and liturgical texts and rites are especially important and authoritative expressions of this manifold action of the Holy Spirit. However, not every synod claiming to be orthodox, not every teaching of an ecclesiastical writer, not all rites are expressions of the holy Tradition, if they are not accepted by the whole church. They may be only human traditions, lacking the presence of the Holy Spirit. That is why the problem of the criteria for determination of the presence of the holy Tradition in the traditions of the churches is of great importance and needs further study.
9. Therefore, those church decisions which have been received by the catholic church as true expressions of the intent of the holy scripture can be considered authentic criteria of the church's faith and its confession (cf. Vincent of Lérins, Commonitorium, 2,3; PL 50, 640). The church's doctrinal definitions which confess the holy Trinity and God's saving act in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit are guidelines for defending truth against falsehood. Proclaiming, confessing and living in Christ, the church communicates the mystery of God's revelation. The church's doctrinal statements are rooted in its whole spiritual life and at the same time are shaped by it. As St. Basil affirmed about holy scripture and holy Tradition: "... regarding the true faith, both of these have the same value" (St Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, XXVII, 66, PG 32, 188A). In another place St Basil argued for the formula "the glory is common to the Father and to the Son" (he doxa koine Patri kai Hyio) first on the basis of some of the fathers; then he continued: "But it is not sufficient for us that it is a tradition of the fathers. For even they followed the intent (boulema) of the scriptures because they have used as principles the testimonies of the scriptures as mentioned shortly before (St Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, VII,16; PG 32,96).
10. The function of holy scriptures is to serve the authenticity of the church's living experience in safeguarding the holy Tradition from all attempts to falsify the true faith (cf. Heb. 4:12, etc.), not to undermine the authority of the church, the body of Christ.
11. Regarding the relation of scripture and Tradition, for centuries there seemed to have been a deep difference between Orthodox and Lutheran teaching. Orthodox hear with satisfaction the affirmation of the Lutheran theologians that the formula "sola scriptura" was always intended to point to God's revelation, God's saving act through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, and therefore to the holy Tradition of the church, as expressed in this paper, against human traditions that darken the authentic teaching in the church.
12. Pointing to scripture is pointing to the "euangelion" of salvation, to Christ and therefore to the holy Tradition which is the life of the church, to act as criterion of its authenticity and so to stress the church's unity and catholicity for the joyful common praise of the triune God.
5th Plenary of the Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission
1. The holy scripture is a great treasure of the church and serves as norm for its faith and life. The Old Testament bears witness to the self-revelation of the triune God in the prophets to the fathers (Heb. 1:1). It witnesses to God's acts of deliverance and judgment, to God's demands for faithful obedience and to God's promise of the coming Saviour of the world. The New Testament bears witness that God the Father sent his Son into the world to become a human being, born of the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:30-31; Gal 4:4) and that God raised him from the dead in the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom 1:3). Thus the triune God opened the door to life eternal for all believers from all nations. The one church of Jews and Gentiles, gathered in the Holy Spirit as the body of Christ, received the Hebrew scriptures which St Paul called "the old covenant" or "the Old Testament" (2 Cor. 3:14) or "holy scriptures" (Rom. 1:2; cf. "the scripture", John 2:22; Acts 8:32; "the scriptures", Mark 12:24; 1 Cor. 15:3f.) and later established the canon of the books of the New Testament. The Old and the New Testaments together comprise the holy scripture, the church's Bible.
A. The canon of holy scripture
2. The Bible of our Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles was the holy scripture of Israel (cf. Luke 4:16-21). It included the law and the prophets and comprised other writings such as the Psalms which had pre-eminence among them. Thus from the beginning the church had a fixed common nucleus of the canon of the Old Testament. Concerning the inclusion of some writings of Jewish origin, different usages existed side by side in the church. The council of 691-692 (Quinisextum) sanctioned various usages of local churches which included the short canon, a medium canon and an all-inclusive canon.
3. According to the common faith of the church, God's revelation in the holy scriptures of the Old Testament points to the incarnation of his Son, Jesus Christ, who was crucified and who rose from the dead for our salvation. The church teaches that the Son of God was the revealer to the prophets even before his incarnation (1 Cor. 10:4; John 8:58). The saving work of the triune God (oikonomia) is completed in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and in the gathering of the church (Acts 2:1,17) which awaits the consummation. The traditions regarding the incarnate Lord himself and the message of the apostles were joined to the holy scriptures of Israel as their fulfilment and completion (Heb 10:11; 2 Cor. 3:3-18). These new writings, a deposit of the apostolic oral tradition, became the New Testament.
4. The beginning of the New Testament canon dates back to the time of the apostles. By the end of the 2nd century its basic parts were established: the four gospels and the Acts, the Pauline epistles and the major catholic epistles. The church defined the canon because it heard in these writings the divine revelation in the authentic voice of the apostles as chosen witnesses of Jesus Christ. Later, the church in synods established the exact limits of the New Testament.
5. The recognition of the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, the Christian Bible, is one of the most important decisions of the church on its way from Pentecost to the last judgment. We believe and teach together that the church was led by the Holy Spirit in this decision.
6. The early church recognized in these writings the prophetic promise and the original apostolic proclamation by which the church lives, and it acknowledges the normative authority of these scriptures. The consensus of the church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit decided finally the canonicity of the books of holy scripture.This consensus remains valid for us independent of judgments reached by contemporary historical research concerning the authorship of individual biblical writings. With regard to the content of the New Testament canon there are no differences between our churches.
7. The Old Testament comprises the following 39 canonical books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Kings (1 Samuel), 2 Kings (2 Samuel), 3 Kings (1 Kings), 4 Kings (2 Kings), 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, 2 Ezra (Ezra), Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, The Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Obadiah, Joel, Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi; and the ten anagignoskomena (also called "deuterocanonical") which correspond to the Lutheran "apocrypha". In the Orthodox tradition they are: Judith, 1 Ezra, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 3 Maccabees, Tobit, Ecclesiasticus (Jesus Sirach), Wisdom of Solomon, Baruch and Letter of Jeremiah. [footnote: The confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church do not contain a list of biblical books because the canon of the holy scripture was received by the Reformation as a given entity. Accordingly, there is also no delimitation of the canon of the Old Testament which is binding for all Lutheran churches. In Martin Luther's translation which became normative for German-speaking lands, the following books and texts which "are profitable and good to read" are reckoned as the Apocrypha (this name does not here mean writings rejected by the church): Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Tobit, Jesus Sirach, Baruch, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Additions to Esther, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, Prayer of Azariah, Song of the Three Young Men, Prayer of Manasseh.]
8. The New Testament comprises 27 writings: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, Revelation.
9. We have one common holy scripture. We read it in our worship services; we use it catechetically. In the liturgy the reading of the gospel is always the conclusion and the high-point in a series of biblical texts. Jesus Christ is the centre of the holy scripture, the key to its understanding, the fulfilment of all of God's promises.
10. From the beginning the Old Testament existed in the church in Hebrew and in Greek. The new Testament was written in Greek. The church translated the holy scripture again and again into the languages of many peoples. The many languages in which the one holy scripture appeared express the life of the one church in many languages and cultures. This also discloses that the canon of the holy scripture is a special fruit of the church's life and a special gift for the church.
B. The inspiration of scripture
11. "All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16f.). "No prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2 Pet. 1:20f). To speak of inspiration (theopneustia) of the holy scripture is to speak of the work of the Holy Spirit. When Christians declare scripture to be inspired, they are making a statement about the way God has chosen to work among his people. Holy scripture is one of the means by which the Holy Spirit bears witness to the truth, inspires and sustains the faith of believers.
12. The question regarding the inspiration of the books of the holy scripture points back to the working of the Spirit in their production, that is to say, the inspiration of the authors, and points forward to the working of this same Spirit in the church who teaches how the scriptures are to be understood and leads the faithful to their goal.
13. According to the apostolic witness and the teaching of the fathers, this goal is participation in God's glory. "And those whom he justified he also glorified" (Rom. 8:30; cf. 1 John 3:2). It is the theme of all divine revelation that the triune God himself saves the creation from its lostness and alienation and leads it to true life. The holy scripture is the divinely inspired and canonical witness to revelation which nevertheless transcends all possibilities of concepts and expressions. As witness to revelation the holy scripture is God's word. Inspiration is the operation of the Holy Spirit in the authors of the holy scripture so that they may bear witness to the revelation (John 5:39) without erring about God and God's ways and means for the salvation of humankind. Therefore the authors of holy scripture describe God's ways with his creation and his people and thereby witness to God's glory which is hidden from the eyes of unbelievers. Inspiration comes from the experience of the revelation of God's glory through the Holy Spirit. To the Old Testament prophets, to the apostles and prophets of the new covenant (Eph. 2:20; 3:5), God revealed his glory. It is important to note that glorification is inseparable from the cross and from suffering not only with respect to our Lord Jesus Christ (John 12:23f., 32) but also with respect to his followers (Gal 2:19-20). Glorification is the transformation and renewal of the whole person (Rom 12:2). It empowered the authors of holy scripture to proclaim and to write the word of God.
14. Prophets, apostles and saints who have experienced God's glory and witnessed to it in holy scripture declare the truth of God and the ways of communion with him. It is about them that St Paul wrote: "The spiritual man ... is himself to be judged by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:15-16). Orthodox and Lutheran theologians agree that there is no similarity or analogy of being (analogia entis) between God and creation, even though the created depends on God. This is why St Gregory the Theologian wrote: "It is impossible to express God and even more impossible to conceive him" (Oratio theologica 2,4).
15. Those who have experienced the glory of God, which experience in itself cannot be expressed in words or conceived in thoughts, are yet inspired to use expressions and concepts of ordinary language in order to guide others to the same experience. St Paul wrote: "Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying 'Abba! Father!'" (Gal 4:6). This coming of the Spirit into the heart is the normal form of inspiration in the faithful (Rom. 8:14-17, 26-27). The Holy Spirit effects this through preaching and teaching and the life of those who are already inspired (Rom. 10:13-15; 1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1).
16. The Old Testament period prepared the way for the acceptance of the incarnation of the Son of God by the prophetic tradition represented by St John the Baptist and by Mary, the mother of God, and by other believers who found their place in the early Christian community. Christ revealed himself as having by nature the same glory with his Father by his teaching, his miracles and especially by revelation of his glory in his baptism and transfiguration, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and by Pentecost. It is by Pentecost that the church became the body of Christ, thus being led into all truth.
17. The interpretation of revelation and inspiration consummated in Pentecost continues in the life of the church. Within the life of the church Christians who become "a temple of the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor. 6:19) and therefore are members of the body of Christ are led into all the truth in the experience of glorification, as the Lord prayed to the Father: "Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which thou hast given me in thy love for me before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24).
18. Expressions and concepts of biblical authors about God are inspired because they are unerring guides to communion with God. But the authors did not receive inspiration about created truths except that God created the world out of nothing (ex nihilo). Also the human words of Christ are guides to pentecostal glorification and not this glorification itself since God as revealed in glorification cannot be conceived or expressed. For this reason holy scripture is not to be used as a substitute for scientific research. Some books of the Bible are written by those authors who themselves have reached glorification, while other books were written about them or about historical events.
19. Authentic interpreters of the holy scripture are persons who have had the same experience of revelation and inspiration within the body of Christ as the biblical writers had. Therefore it is necessary for authentic understanding that anybody who reads or hears the Bible be inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Orthodox believe that such authentic interpretation is the service of the fathers of the church especially expressed in the decisions of the ecumenical councils. Lutherans agree in principle. Lutheran confessional writings affirm that no one can believe in Jesus Christ by one's own reason or abilities but that it is the Holy Spirit who calls, gathers and illuminates believers through the gospel even as he calls, gathers and enlightens the whole church on earth keeping it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith (Luther's Small Catechism).
7th Plenary of the Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission
AUTHORITY IN AND OF THE CHURCH
2. The nature of the Church's authority differs from worldly authority. Our Lord Jesus Christ said to his disciples: "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? But I am among you as one who serves" (Luke 22:25?27). All authority in and of the Church is rooted in the saving work of Christ who gave his life for us. Authority and soteriology are indivisible. Christ's authority, present in the Church's mission (Mt 28:18?20), is undergirded by the Paraclete who leads the faithful into all truth (John 14:26; 16:7?14) and through the apostles and their successors it is given to the whole Church. Both Orthodox and Lutherans affirm that apostolic authority was exercised in the ecumenical councils of the Church in which the bishops, through illumination and glorification brought about by the Holy Spirit, exercised responsibility. Ecumenical councils are a special gift of God to the Church and are an authoritative inheritance through the ages. Through ecumenical councils the Holy Spirit has led the Church to preserve and transmit the faith once delivered to the saints. They handed on the prophetic and apostolic truth, formulated it against heresies of their time and safeguarded the unity of the churches.
3. The seven ecumenical councils of the early Church were assemblies of the bishops of the Church from all parts of the Roman Empire to clarify and express the apostolic faith. These councils are Nicaea (325 A.D.), Constantinople I (381), Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451), Constantinople II (553), Constantinople III (680/81), and Nicaea II (787). Of the councils it was stated at Crete, 1987: "The Holy Tradition as ongoing action of the Holy Spirit in the Church expresses itself in the Church's whole life. The decisions of the ecumenical councils and local synods of the Church, the teaching of the holy fathers and liturgical texts and rites are especially important and authoritative expressions of this manifold action of the Holy Spirit" (par. 8). Ecumenical councils are the epitome of biblical theology and they summarize main themes of the Holy Tradition. They are not merely of historical significance but are irreplaceable events for the Church's life. Through them the apostolic faith and tradition, brought about by the saving revelation of God in Christ, was confirmed by the consensus of the gathered representatives of the Church led by the Holy Spirit.
4. The teachings of the ecumenical councils of the early Church are normative for the faith and life of our churches today. The trinitarian and christological formulations of these councils are an indispensable guide for understanding God's saving work in Christ and are the foundation of all later dogmatic clarifications. The Creed of Nicaea/Constantinople is the best known statement of faith from the ancient councils, and now that its original form is increasingly common in the West, it is an ever more living bond between our churches. It shapes the language of prayers and blessings in our worship, and by its use the Church has remained faithful to the revelation of the Triune God.
5. The ecumenical councils did not only take decisions on doctrinal problems which threatened the integrity of God's revelation and the Church's unity; they also issued "canones" (canons) for good order within the Church. These "canones" establish a close relation between the faith once for all delivered to the saints and the necessity of ordering the Church's life and structure. The "oroi" (doctrinal decrees) safeguard the teachings of the Church concerning salvation; the "canones" order various aspects of the Church's life. They are practical applications of the "oroi." The two belong together as aspects of the same reality. All the same, not all decisions on canonical matters have the same authority as the doctrinal decisions and their reception and use in the Orthodox and Lutheran churches differ.
6. The ecumenical councils were called together to deal with specific problems that had arisen in the churches. They were not an ongoing ecclesiastical institution regularly convoked but ad hoc gatherings which met only as occasion required. The ecumenical councils were charismatic events. The statements of the bishops illuminated by the Holy Spirit went through a process of reception in the years that followed. Reception has taken place in the whole range of the Church's life, worship, catechesis, and service even when those councils are not explicitly named. Reception also took place through subsequent theological discussions which clarified the meaning of the terms and expressions formulated at prior councils. A notable example is the theological discussion after Nicaea which culminated in the decrees and creed of the First Council of Constantinople in 381.
7. As Lutherans and Orthodox we affirm that the teachings of the ecumenical councils are authoritative for our churches. The ecumenical councils maintain the integrity of the teaching of the undivided Church concerning the saving, illuminating/justifying and glorifying acts of God and reject heresies which subvert the saving work of God in Christ. Orthodox and Lutherans, however, have different histories. Lutherans have received the Nicaeno?Constantinopolitan Creed with the addition of the filioque. The Seventh Ecumenical Council, the Second Council of Nicaea in 787, which rejected iconoclasm and restored the veneration of icons in the churches, was not part of the tradition received by the Reformation. Lutherans, however, rejected the iconoclasm of the 16th century, and affirmed the distinction between adoration due to the Triune God alone and all other forms of veneration (CA 21). Through historical research this council has become better known. Nevertheless it does not have the same significance for Lutherans as it does for the Orthodox. Yet, Lutherans and Orthodox are in agreement that the Second Council of Nicaea confirms the christological teaching of the earlier councils and in setting forth the role of images (icons) in the lives of the faithful reaffirms the reality of the incarnation of the eternal Word of God, when it states: "The more frequently, Christ, Mary, the mother of God, and the saints are seen, the more are those who see them drawn to remember and long for those who serve as models, and to pay these icons the tribute of salutation and respectful veneration. Certainly this is not the full adoration in accordance with our faith, which is properly paid only to the divine nature, but it resembles that given to the figure of the honored and life?giving cross, and also to the holy books of the gospels and to other sacred objects" (Definition of the Second Council of Nicaea).
8. Agreement on authority of the ecumenical councils requires us to discuss at future meetings the Orthodox and Lutheran understanding of salvation in light of these councils.
8th Plenary of the Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission
AUTHORITY IN AND OF THE CHURCH:
At the 5th Joint Commission Meeting of the Lutheran-Orthodox Dialogue in Bad Segeberg, Germany, 1989, it was decided to continue the work of the dialogue under the new theme, "Authority in and of the Church." This theme, with special reference to the Ecumenical Councils, was discussed and elaborated with an agreed statement at the 7th Joint Commission Meeting in Sandbjerg, Denmark, 1993, and it was agreed that the "Understanding of Salvation in the Light of the Ecumenical Councils" be the theme of the 8th Joint Commission Meeting in Limassol, Cyprus, 1995.
I. The Mystery of God and Formulations of Dogma
1. The Triune God is the mystery "in whom we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). This mystery, revealed in Jesus Christ through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, is continuously lived and experienced in the Church. The doctrinal formulations of the seven Ecumenical Councils are expressions of the continuity of the apostolic faith in the life of the Church, and guides to the Christian life. These formulations enable the faithful rightly to worship, praise and witness to the glory of God.
2. The mystery of God should not be confused with formulations of doctrine in relation to the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation. These doctrinal formulations are necessary pointers on the narrow path, helping the faithful avoid heretical deviations and idolatry which identify theological speculation with the substance and essence of God and with the persons of the Holy Trinity. "It is impossible to express God and even more impossible to conceive Him" (St. Gregory the Theologian, Oratio Theologica 2,4).
3. Both the orthodoxy of our doctrine and the reality of our participation in the Body of Christ are manifested and tested in an ecclesial life of love and prayer, a life of which it can truly be said in the words of St. Paul: "It is no longer I who live but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).
4. As Lutherans and Orthodox we affirm that Christians, led by the Holy Spirit, grow through faith in the experience of God as a mystery, nurtured by the liturgical life of the Church, by the apostolic faith, by prayer, and by sharing in the fellowship of the local Church (cf. Acts 2:42).
5a. We agree on the doctrine of God, the Holy Trinity, as formulated by the Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople and on the doctrine of the person of Christ as formulated by the first four Ecumenical Councils. The Fathers of the four Councils rejected the Arian and Eunomian notion that the Logos, the Angel of the Great Counsel (Is. 9:6 LXX) was created before the ages, and insisted that the Logos is "homoousios to Patri". They also rejected the Nestorian notion that the One born of the Virgin Mary was not the Logos himself and that the Logos only dwelled in the One who was born of the Virgin Mary. In short, the Fathers of these Councils affirmed that he who was born of the Virgin Mary is God by nature and not just by the will of the Father, and that he became homoousios with us in his humanity. The union of the divine and human natures in the hypostasis of the Logos is, according to the Council of Chalcedon, "without confusion, without change, without division, and without separation." The Ecumenical Councils which followed continued this teaching and applied it to new challenges to the faith. The Fifth Ecumenical Council accepted as orthodox two theological terminologies in the confession of the one Lord Jesus Christ. The Sixth Ecumenical Council affirmed the two natural wills and energies, with their natural properties, of the one person of the Logos incarnate. The Seventh Ecumenical Council drew conclusions from the affirmation of the hypostatic union in Christ in order to confirm the veneration of icons.
5b. We agree in these fundamental teachings, confessing Jesus Christ, the Logos who for us and for our salvation (soteria) came down from heaven, was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and who for our sake was crucified, raised and exalted to the right hand of the Father; he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
5c. We affirm that between Pentecost and the final Parousia the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, "whom I (Jesus Christ) will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father" (Jn. 15:26), calls, gathers, enlightens and glorifies believers in the Body of Christ.
5d. We affirm that the saving work (oikonomia) of the Triune God encompasses all of sinful humanity. "God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself," and through the ministry of reconciliation he challenges all people: "be reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:19?20).
5e. These are the dogmatic foundations of apostolic and orthodox teaching in the church about salvation.
II. Justification and Glorification as Descriptions of Salvation
6. The language with which the Ecumenical Councils and the Fathers of the ancient Church expressed and clarified the biblical witness on salvation is the privileged, unique and irreplaceable Christian language. According to their understanding, salvation in both the Old and New Testaments is our liberation from slavery to sin, the devil and death, and our participation in the life of Christ, who destroyed death by his death and gives life to those in the tomb. In this context justification (dikaiosis) is liberation from the dominion of the devil and the restoration of our communion with God. Those who are justified are glorified (Rom. 8:30) in the Body of Christ, the Church. By baptism and participation in the other mysteries (sacraments) of the Church, the faithful are raised to a new life of righteousness in Christ, together with all the prophets and saints of the Old and New Testaments. God gives them, in the Holy Spirit, the power to pass through purification and illumination of the heart and arrive "with all the saints" (Eph. 3:18) at glorification (Mt. 17:2; Jn. 17:22, 2 Cor. 3:18; 2 Pet. 1:4). In this life, glorification may have various forms and be experienced for various durations, and in the next life will go from glory to glory without end.
7. The teaching of the Ecumenical Councils and the Fathers - as also Holy Scripture - has to be transmitted from generation to generation in all human languages, for God wills that all human beings come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4). In the New Testament the one mystery of salvation is expressed in different but essentially complementary terms such as sanctification, justification, redemption, adoption, liberation, glorification etc. In interpreting the apostolic teaching on salvation, our two ecclesiastical traditions developed different emphases.
8. For the Orthodox Church, salvation is a gratuitous gift of God offered in Jesus Christ to all human beings (1 Tim. 2:4; Jn. 3:17), which they must both freely choose (Rev. 3:20) and work for (1 Cor. 3:13, 15:58; Phil. 2:12). According to St. Paul, this is synergia (1 Cor. 3:9; 2 Cor. 6:1). Once this gift of the divine grace is accepted by faith, Christ truly becomes the doctor of the souls and bodies of the faithful in the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God and the mysteries of the Church. He purifies their hearts (Ps. 50/51:10, Acts 15:9) and constantly renews their minds (Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 4:16), leading them from illumination/justification (2 Cor. 4:6) manifested by prayer in the heart (Rom. 8:26; Eph. 5:19, 6:18; Col. 3:16) and keeping of the commandments (1 Jn. 3:22), to glorification (Jn. 17:22; 1 Cor. 12:26). The Orthodox Church does not hold that humanity inherited the guilt of the sin of Adam and Eve and is therefore worthy of eternal damnation, or that God chose from those thus guilty certain ones only to be saved without personal merit, or that Christ died on the Cross only for them, or that Christ loves only those sinners who are destined for heaven, or that God had to be reconciled to humanity by Christ's crucifixion.
9. Lutherans understand the saving work which God accomplishes in Christ through the Holy Spirit primarily through the concept of "justification." For Lutherans, justification is God's gracious declaration of the forgiveness of sins for the sake of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, and at the same time the free gift of new life in him. Through the liturgical life, preaching, and sacraments of the Church, the Holy Spirit enables us to have faith in the gospel ? that is, in God's gracious promise of forgiveness and new life. This promise is received by faith alone (sola fide); this means that salvation is by Christ alone, and not by any human works or merits. In faith Christians entrust themselves entirely to God's grace in Christ for salvation. In this way they enter a new relationship with God, as St. Paul says: "since we are justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:1). Justification is a real participation in Christ, true God and true human being. In the Church, the believer by faith participates in Christ and all his gifts, and so has a share in the divine life. The presence of Christ in faith genuinely effects the righteousness of Christ in us, and leads believers to the sanctification of their lives. In this way, believers work out their salvation in fear and trembling, trusting that God in Christ is at work in them, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13).
10. Lutherans and Orthodox agree that the Ecumenical Councils of the early Church are a specific gift of God to his Church. The Councils are an authoritative inheritance through the ages because they keep prophetic and apostolic truth, and provide guidelines for the purification and illumination of the heart to glorification in Christ for the salvation and justification of humanity throughout the ages.
11. Lutherans and Orthodox still need to explore further their different concepts of salvation as purification, illumination, and glorification, with the use of synergia, which is the Orthodox teaching and tradition and as justification and sanctification, with the use of sola fide, which is the Lutheran teaching and tradition.
9th Plenary of the Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission
AUTHORITY IN AND OF THE CHURCH
The general theme of the Lutheran - Orthodox Joint Commission proposed already in 1989 in Bad Segeberg, Germany, and in 1991 in Moscow, Russia, was finally adopted in Sandbjerg, Denmark, in 1993: "Authority in and of the Church in the Light of the Ecumenical Councils." The 8th meeting of the Lutheran - Orthodox Joint Commission in Limassol, Cyprus, 1995 agreed at the end of their statement on the "Understanding of Salvation in the Light of the Ecumenical Councils," that Lutherans and Orthodox still needed to explore further their different concepts of 'synergeia' in the Orthodox teaching and tradition, and 'sola fide' in the Lutheran teaching and tradition. In response to this request the 9th plenary of the Joint Commission in Sigtuna, agreed on the following statement.
1. "God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life" (John 3:16). The Logos, the Son of God, in whom everything was created, is the light which enlightens everyone. The Logos revealed himself to Abraham, to the prophets of the Old Testament, and in the Law given to Moses. In the last days "He became man for us and for our salvation," (Nicean-Constantinopolitan Creed 381) which He fulfilled through His life, death and resurrection, and through the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church at Pentecost. Salvation depends entirely upon the grace of the Holy Trinity, given to us and experienced through Word and sacraments in the life of the Church. The grace of God comes to humanity from the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. The Father creates, redeems and glorifies us through the Son, in the Spirit.
2. Lutherans and Orthodox teach that divine grace eternally flows out of God's love for His creation. It overcomes the sin of humanity to achieve God's plan for the fullness of time, which is "to gather up all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth (Eph. 1:10). Grace is not simply a reaction to human sin. Lutherans and Orthodox both teach that God invites humanity to full communion in Him, still remaining true God beyond all human comprehension. Orthodox express this reality by the distinction between the divine essence, which is unapproachable (cf. Exodus 33:18-23, I Tim 6:16) and the divine, uncreated energies, the multitude of divine grace in which God comes down to us and in which we are called to participate. As St. Basil the Great says, "We know our God from his energies, but we do not claim that we can draw near to his essence; for his energies come down to us, but his essence remains unapproachable." (Epist. 234, 1). Lutherans in their terminology do not make use of the distinction between essence and energies, but they fully accept the belief that God's grace eternally flows to us from his very being because "God is love and who abides in love abides in God, and God in him." (I John 4:16).
3. As St. Paul teaches, the grace which saves us is centered in Christ (cf. Rom 5). Grace presupposes the work of Christ both in the Old Testament (cf. I Cor. 10:2-4) and in the New Testament (cf. Rom. 3:24), and is given as the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ himself (cf. II Cor. 13:13). We receive the grace of Christ in the Holy Spirit, and without the Holy Spirit no one can believe in Christ (cf. I Cor. 12:3). The Holy Spirit, whom Christ sends from the Father, forms us in the divine likeness. The Holy Spirit calls human beings to faith in Christ through the Gospel in the Church, frees them from sin and death in Holy Baptism, enlightens them and bestows His gifts upon them. He sanctifies and sustains the baptized in true faith; He nourishes them by the flesh and blood of the Lord (cf. John 6:56) in the communion (koinonia) of Christ's Body (cf. I Cor. 10:16-17). He thus leads them through many depths "from glory to glory." (II Cor 3:18).
4. Though human beings may feel dependence on God (cf. Acts 17:23,27), because of sin they can neither ask for, nor obtain divine grace through their own powers. Grace is entirely God's gift, which God gives because God wants all human beings to be saved (cf. I Tim. 2:4). Faith is God's gift from its inception, since it is the Holy Spirit who, by divine grace, enlightens the human mind and strengthens the human will to turn to God. As stated by Cyril of Alexandria: "For it is unworkable for the soul of man to achieve any of the goods, namely, to control its own passions and to escape the mightiness of the sharp trap of the devil, unless he is fortified by the grace of the Holy Spirit and on this count he has Christ himself in his soul." (Against Julian, 3)
5. Both Lutherans and Orthodox teach that divine grace operates universally and that God freely grants grace to all human beings. God's saving grace does not operate by necessity or in an irresistible manner, since human beings can reject it. Regarding the way in which salvation is appropriated by the believers, Lutherans, by teaching that justification and salvation are by grace alone through faith (sola gratia, sola fide), stress the absolute priority of divine grace in salvation. When they speak about saving faith they do not think of the dead faith which even the demons have (cf. James 2:19), but the faith which Abraham showed and which was reckoned to him as righteousness (cf. Gen. 15:6, Rom. 4:3,9). The Orthodox also affirm the absolute priority of divine grace. They underline that it is God's grace which enables our human will to conform to the divine will (cf. Phil 2:13) in the steps of Jesus praying, "not as I will but as You will" (Matt. 26:39), so that we may work out our salvation in fear and trembling (cf. Phil. 2:12). This is what the Orthodox mean by "synergy" (working together) of divine grace and the human will of the believer in the appropriation of the divine life in Christ. The understanding of synergy in salvation is helped by the fact that the human will in the one person of Christ was not abolished when the human nature was united in Him with the divine nature, according to the Christological decisions of the Ecumenical Councils. While Lutherans do not use the concept of synergy, they recognize the personal responsibility of the human being in the acceptance or refusal of divine grace through faith, and in the growth of faith and obedience to God. Lutherans and Orthodox both understand good works as the fruits and manifestations of the believer's faith and not as a means of salvation.
6. Lutherans, together with the Orthodox, affirm that salvation is real participation by grace in the nature of God as St. Peter writes: "that we may be partakers of the divine nature." (II Pet. 1:4) That happens through our participation in the death and resurrection of the Lord in His body, in Whom all the fullness of God dwells (cf. Col. 2:9). This is the way in which salvation is realized as purification, illumination and glorification, also referred to as deification (theosis). This terminology has not been central in Lutheran tradition. Lutherans prefer to speak of the sanctification in the body of Christ who is Himself present in the faith of the believers. Lutherans, together with the Orthodox, affirm the reality of the believers' participation in the divine life, in which they grow by the grace of God.
7. Lutherans and Orthodox affirm that on the cross Christ the incarnate Word, through whom God reconciled us to Himself (cf. II Cor. 5:18-19), died for our sins (cf. I Cor.15,3) and freed us for a new life by His resurrection (cf. Rom. 6:5) so that having crucified the passions of the flesh we may live in the freedom of the Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:24-25).
Lutherans seeing that Christian life is a continuous struggle against sin and "flesh" (cf. Gal 5:16-18), and being afflicted by this experience do not look to their own good works, or their own failures, but look to Christ on the cross and his resurrection and trust in God's promise, the word of forgiveness in the Church. Therefore Lutherans place specific emphasis on the forensic dimension of salvation. They stress that God forgives sin and imputes the righteousness of Christ to sinners through faith, and that we may therefore for salvation rely entirely upon the Father's mercy in Christ through the communion of the Holy Spirit (cf. II Cor 13:13).
For the Orthodox, the redemptive work of Christ is received by the believer in the Church, His Body, to whom the promise of forgiveness of sins has been given by the Lord (cf. Mat. 18:18). In faith and humility, the believer puts his trust in the truth and power of the said promise, in the unsearchable riches of Christ's mercies (cf. Eph. 2:4, 3:8) and His boundless love for humankind (philanthropia) and in the prayers of the communion of saints (cf. Heb. 12:1, 22-23) and the intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos (cf. John 2:3; 19:26-27). The struggle against passions (cf. I Cor 9:24-27, Eph. 6:10-17) in the power of the Holy Spirit is a participation in the death and resurrection of Christ. It aims at the purification of the heart (cf. Mat. 5:8) and the illumination (cf. Mat. 5:14, II Cor 4:6) leading to glorification (cf. John 17:22; II Cor 3:18, II Peter 1:4).
8. Lutherans and Orthodox believe that "the sufferings of the present time are not worthy of comparing with the glory about to be revealed in us." (Rom. 8:18). In salvation we become children of God by grace and "it has not yet been revealed what we shall be. But we know that when it is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." (1 John 3:2).And we also know that "the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God" (Rom 8:19) and his daughters, and we know that "creation shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rom. 8:21, cf. I Cor 15:52-54).
Having thoroughly explored and discussed our respective understandings of salvation in relation to grace, justification and synergy, according to the mandate given to us in Limassol, we have noted during this 9th session of our dialogue the central points of agreement between Lutherans and Orthodox with differences in emphasis and terminology.
The Joint Commission expresses its strong affirmation of the continuation of the dialogue between the two traditions, and proposes a new general theme for the next period: "The Mystery of the Church," and as its first subtheme: "Word and Sacraments (Mysteries) in the life of the Church."
Sigtuna, 7 August 1998
10th Plenary of the Lutheran-rthodox Joint Commission
THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH
The Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission has been officially working since 1981. Between 1985 and 1998 the Commission has discussed the following topics: Divine Revelation, Scripture and Tradition, The Canon and the Inspiration of the Holy Scripture, Authority in and of the Church in the Light of the Ecumenical Councils. In the 9th meeting of the Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission in Sigtuna, Sweden, in 1998 an agreed statement "Salvation: Grace, Justification and Synergy" was adopted. This ended the treatment of the topic "Authority in and of the Church". A new general theme was proposed in Sigtuna: "The Mystery of the Church", with its first subtheme as: "Word and Sacraments (Mysteria) in the Life of the Church". The Joint Commission thus deepens the treatment of salvation by dealing with the issue of the Christian's life in the Church. In 1998 it was affirmed that "salvation is real participation by grace in the nature of God as St. Peter writes: 'that we may be partakers of the divine nature' (2 Pet. 1:4). This takes place through our participation in the death and resurrection of the Lord in His body, in Whom all the fullness of God dwells (cf. Col. 2:9)" (Sigtuna, paragraph 6). This participation is the work of the Holy Spirit through word and sacraments in the life of the church. In accordance with this the Joint Commission agreed in Damascus, Syria, in 2000, to the following statement on Word and Sacraments (Mysteria) in the Life of the Church.
1. The church as the body of Christ is the mysterion* par excellence, in which the different mysteria / sacraments find their place and existence and through which the believers participate in the fruits of the entire redemptive work of Christ. God "has made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth" (Eph. 1:9-10). The apostle Paul also writes of this mysterion: "I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. I became its servant according to God's commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints" (Col. 1:24-26).
2. We affirm this Pauline view of the church as mysterion. Within this view we understand the various sacraments / mysteria as means of salvation, i.e., as specific, divine, saving acts of the church for the salvation of believers. We understand the mysteria in the sense that in them, and through them, Christ imparts his saving grace to believers in a real, though ineffable way, in which we grasp the visible signs but perceive only by faith the divine grace given in and through them. This grace of the sacraments is a free gift of God in the Holy Spirit.
3. The mysteria of the church are grounded in the historical redemptive work of Christ, and as such they differ radically from Hellenistic, pagan and neo-pagan mysteries connected with magic. The word "mysteria" does not have the same meaning for the Orthodox tradition as the word sacrament. "Sacramentum" is the Latin translation of the Greek "mysterion" and it is from this Latin word that specific theological concepts have developed in the West. Mysteria refers to the ineffable action of the divine grace imparted in and through the specific acts performed in and by the church. Lutherans use the word "sacrament" in accordance with the Latin tradition in which these ineffable actions are the means of imparting the saving grace that the Father gives through the Son in the Holy Spirit to the church for the salvation of the world.
4. The expression "word of God" carries distinct but related meanings. With regard to the Holy Trinity it refers to the divine Logos. With regard to christology and soteriology it means Jesus Christ, the incarnate divine Logos and Saviour. With regard to the sacraments it means the same incarnate and resurrected Christ as the subject of the mysteria/sacraments. Besides the reference to the divine Logos and his redemptive work in history, the expression "word of God" carries the meaning of the church's proclamation of Christ and witness to him (kerygma). The proclamation of the word of God thus brings about faith; people cannot believe unless the word is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom. 10:14-18).
5. Affirming the christocentric nature of the church, our traditions approach word and sacrament from that perspective. Both traditions connect sacramental theology with the divine grace outpouring from the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, remembering also the apostle Paul's exhortation "to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (Rom. 12:1). By participation in the life of the church, believers grow in holiness, "to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ" (Eph. 4:13).
6. Together we affirm that when the word of God is preached and taught, believers, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, respond by confessing the faith of the church and entering its sacramental life. In this sense the preaching of the word of God precedes the sacraments, while the confession of faith exists as an essential element of the celebration of the sacraments (cf. Justin, I Apology, 66-67). St. Irenaeus of Lyon writes that he who possesses in himself the rule of faith, which he has received through baptism, cannot deviate from the true faith (Adv. Haer., I,9,4.) This is because the rule of faith is constantly confirmed in the sacrament of the divine eucharist. The interpenetration of the word of God and the sacraments finds an absolute expression in the eucharist. According to St. Irenaeus, "our [the church's] teaching is in agreement with the eucharist, while the eucharist confirms the teaching" (Adv. Haer., IV,18, 5).
7. Lutherans and Orthodox converge in their teaching of the church as
the body of Christ, i.e., as a divine and human reality. Of this theandric
reality St. Paul writes: "But as it is, God arranged the members
in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member,
where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it"
(1 Cor. 12:18-20, 27). Being in communion with Christ and with one another
through the power of the Holy Spirit, the church exists in history as
the community of the faithful awaiting the second coming of its Lord at
the end of time (Acts 3:20-21).
11th Plenary of the Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission
THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH
Meeting in Sigtuna, Sweden, in 1998, the Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission selected the theme of "The Mystery of the Church." In 2000 at its meeting in Damascus, Syria, the Commission adopted an agreed statement entitled "The Mystery of the Church: Word and Sacraments (Mysteria) in the Life of the Church." In addition, the Commission decided to examine next under the same theme the issue of "The Sacraments (Mysteria) as Means of Salvation." The following statement thus builds on the consensus previously discovered, not only on the topic of Word and Sacraments (Mysteria) in the Life of the Church," but also that reflected even earlier in the dialogue, particularly in the 1998 Statement: "Salvation: Grace, Justification and Synergy." The present statement should be seen in the context of the Commission's previous work which has affirmed both that "salvation is real participation by grace in the nature of God" (Sigtuna 1998.6) and that the sacraments/mysteria are "means of salvation, i.e., specific divine acts of the church for the salvation of believers" (Damascus 2000.2). By means of the sacraments, "Christ imparts his saving grace to believers," for the "grace of the sacraments is a free gift of God in the Holy Spirit" (Damascus 2000.2)
2. Church and sacraments are inseparable: the church is manifested through
the sacraments, and there are no sacraments without or outside the church.
We agree that the church is in itself a mysterion, not in the sense that
it should be taken as the source of the other sacraments, or as an additional
sacrament alongside them, but in the sense that it is the body of Christ,
its Lord, "the fullness of him who fills all in all" (Eph. 1:
3. We also agree that those who perform the sacraments in the church do so in persona Christi. When the ordained servants of Christ carry out their sacramental ministries in the church, Christ himself acts as the true high priest and chief liturgist. The sacraments of the church are therefore the acts of Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, by means of which he baptizes, forgives sin, bestows life, and gives his own body and blood for the salvation of all believers. As St. Ambrose says, in the consecration "the priest does not use his own words, but uses the words of Christ. Therefore the word of Christ effects this sacrament" (De sacramentis, 4, 14). The salvation given in the church is thus the work of the triune God, as St. John Chrysostom says: "The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit do everything, while the priest lends his tongue and offers his hand" (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, PG 59, 472).
4. The salvation imparted by means of the sacraments must be appropriated personally, by faith and life in Christ, through the Holy Spirit. Lutherans have expressed this point by saying that the sacraments are objectively valid by the word and command of Christ, while they depend for their efficacy on the believer's faithful reception. The language of "validity" and "efficacy" is not used by the Orthodox in this context. Lutherans and Orthodox, however, both seek to avoid two extremes, one of which would make the sacraments depend for their efficacy on the worthiness of the celebrant or administrator, the other of which would insist that the sacraments confer grace by the mere performance of an act. Thus we agree, for instance, that those who receive the body and blood of Christ in faith do so to their salvation, while whoever "eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord" (I Cor. 11:27).
5. Lutherans and Orthodox teach that the sacraments are instituted by Jesus Christ, and revealed through the Holy Spirit in the church. With regard to the number of sacraments, for the Orthodox the following sacraments have been instituted by the Lord: baptism, chrismation, eucharist, penance, ordination, matrimony, and holy unction (euchelaion). Besides these seven sacraments which are given for the salvation of believers, there are numerous other liturgical acts through which God blesses many aspects of the lives of the faithful as well as the whole creation. Lutherans do not insist on a specific number of sacraments, but generally employ a somewhat more restrictive concept of a sacrament, insisting that of the many ritual acts mentioned in the Holy Scriptures only two-baptism and the eucharist or Lord's supper-include both a command of Christ ("do this") and an accompanying promise of salvation. At the same time, there are elements in the Lutheran theological tradition which extend this concept of a sacrament beyond baptism and the eucharist, so that, for example, both penance and ordination may be regarded as sacraments (see Apology XIII.). Lutherans and Orthodox agree that God has bound Christians for their salvation to the sacraments in the church, but that His sovereign freedom remains uncompromised by His fidelity to us in them.
6. Orthodox and Lutherans, discussing the sacraments on a preliminary basis, agree to give emphasis to the sacraments of initiation of the ancient church, that is, baptism, chrismation, and the eucharist. We also agree that baptism takes place with water, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It brings the forgiveness of sins, and is a participation in the death and resurrection of Christ which incorporates the believer into the body of Christ as a member of the church. For the Orthodox this incorporation is completed through chrismation, in which the baptized receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. For Lutherans, anointing with the Holy Spirit takes place within the rite of baptism itself, and finds its expression in the laying on of hands after water baptism.
7. With regard to the holy eucharist, Lutherans and Orthodox converge in their insistence on the reality of the body and blood of Christ given and received in the eucharistic elements. In this respect, Orthodox speak of the change (metabole) in the elements of the eucharist such that after the invocation of the Holy Spirit (epiclesis) there is no longer "bread" and "wine" but the real body and blood of Christ. Lutherans traditionally say that the real body and blood of Christ are present "in, with, and under" the bread and the wine. Lutherans and Orthodox agree that in holy communion we do not receive ordinary bread and ordinary wine, but the body and blood of Christ. As St. Paul teaches: "The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? (I Cor. 10:16)."
On the basis of this discussion, we propose that the 12th Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission consider the following theme:
The Mystery of the Church:
12th Plenary of the International Lutheran-Orthodox
THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH
The Lutheran—Orthodox Joint Commission, meeting in Sigtuna, Sweden in 1998, selected the topic “The Mystery of the Church” for the next round of conversations. The topic has been dealt with so far in three sub-topics: a) “The Mystery of the Church: Word and Sacrament” (Damascus, Syria, 2000, §2); b) “The Sacraments (Mysteria) as Means of Salvation” (Oslo, Norway, 2002, §6); c)“Baptism and Chrismation as Sacraments of Initiation into the Church” (Durau, Romania, 2004). Thus, the Oslo statement builds on the consensus previously achieved on the topic “Word and Sacraments (Mysteria) in the Life of the Church.” However, it also takes into account the earlier consensus, particularly that achieved in the 1998 statement: “Salvation: Grace, Justification and Synergy.” The commission’s previous work has affirmed both that “salvation is a real participation by grace in the nature of God” (Sigtuna, 1998 §6) and that the sacraments/mysteria are “means of salvation, i.e., specific divine acts of the church for the salvation of believers” (Damascus 2000 §2).
The present statement builds on the agreement reached in Oslo “to give emphasis to the sacraments of initiation of the ancient church, that is, baptism, chrismation, and the eucharist” (Oslo, 2002 §6). In Durau we have explored areas of convergence and divergence in the process of Christian initiation focusing on the three events of death with Christ, resurrection with Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Our method has been to compare our respective rites of initiation because we believe that they clearly express the teaching of our churches. The Orthodox rites of Christian initiation are found in the Euchologion, which are translated into the various liturgical languages. The English translation used here is from the Service Book of the Antiochian Orthodox Church in America (1987). The Lutheran rites of holy baptism are based on The Baptismal Booklet (Taufbüchlein), which is an appendix to Luther’s Small Catechism in the Book of Concord (The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church), edited by Kolb and Wengert (2000). The rite of holy baptism in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), published in North America and used widely by other Lutheran churches, includes elements retrieved from the ancient patristic tradition under the influence of the Lutheran liturgical renewal movement.
1. Lutherans and Orthodox agree that entry into the life of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is a gift given by God through the sacraments, which are enacted in the church. “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). In both traditions the sacrament of baptism is administered with water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (cf. Matt. 28:19). Therefore, salvation is the work of the Triune God. In both traditions baptism is normally administered by an ordained minister: in Orthodox churches this is normally done by triple immersion, and in Lutheran churches normally by pouring water three times on the head. There is agreement between the two traditions that immersion is the most symbolically appropriate form of the administration of this sacrament. Lutherans and Orthodox also agree that in cases of emergency baptism may be administered by lay persons. Our churches agree that the sacrament of baptism is unrepeatable.
2. There are three basic components in the process of Christian initiation: death with Christ, resurrection with Christ, and the sealing with the Holy Spirit. For Orthodox, Christian initiation finds its fulfillment in the holy eucharist. Lutherans do not normally speak of the eucharist as a sacrament of initiation, but when an older child or adult is baptized, that person is immediately admitted to the eucharist.
3. In preparation for Christian initiation, Orthodox and Lutheran churches use their own rites of exorcism. In the Orthodox order of baptism the priest says, “O Lord … look upon your servant; prove him/her and search him/her and root out of him/her every operation of the devil. Rebuke the unclean spirits and expel them, and purify the works of your hands …” (Service Book, p. 147). In the Lutheran Baptismal Booklet the minister says: “Depart from [name] you unclean spirit, and make way for the Holy Spirit” (Book of Concord, p. 373).
4. Both Lutherans and Orthodox incorporate in their rite of initiation the renunciation of the devil and the confession of faith. The Orthodox priest asks the candidate for baptism, or the sponsor/godparent, the question, “Do you renounce Satan, and all his angels, and all his works, and all his service, and all his pride?” (Service Book, p. 148). Similarly the Lutheran minister asks: “Do you renounce the devil?“ (Baptismal Booklet, p. 374) In the Orthodox rite this is immediately followed by a confession of Christ and the Nicene-Constantinopolitian Creed (325/381), while in the Lutheran rite the Apostles’ Creed is used. Thus, in both traditions the faith of the candidate for baptism or that of the sponsors/godparents is expressed through the confession of the creed.
5. Although theological discourse may ascribe different effects to our participation in Christ’s death and resurrection, they nevertheless form a unity in our liturgical rites and we will therefore treat them together in this document. Lutherans and Orthodox agree that our participation in Christ’s death and resurrection bestows on us the following gifts: death of the old Adam (cf. Rom 6:6), union with Christ (cf. Rom 6:5), redemption, sanctification, purification of flesh and spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 6:11), deliverance from death and the devil, forgiveness of sins, victory over the power of sin (cf. Rom. 6), illumination of the soul (cf. Heb. 6:4), regeneration, new birth (cf. Titus 3:5), new life in Christ, adoption as God’s children (cf. Rom 8:16), renewal of the image of God (cf. Col 3:10, Eph 3:10), eternal life, and incorporation into Christ’s body, the church.
6. The bestowal of these gifts is clearly attested in both the Lutheran and Orthodox rites of initiation. In the Lutheran order the minister addresses those present and explains the meaning of Baptism: “In Holy Baptism our gracious heavenly Father liberates us from sin and death by joining us to the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are born children of the fallen humanity; in the water of baptism we are reborn children of God and inheritors of eternal life. By water and the Holy Spirit we are made members of the Church which is the body of Christ” (Lutheran Book of Worship, p. 121). The gifts are also highlighted in Luther’s Flood Prayer, which is reflected in most Lutheran rites: “… By the baptism of his own death and resurrection, your beloved Son has set us free from bondage to sin and death, and has opened the way to the joy and freedom of everlasting life. He made water a sign of the kingdom and of cleansing and rebirth… Pour out your Holy Spirit so that those who are here baptized may be given new life. Wash away the sin of all those who are cleansed by this water and bring them forth as inheritors of your glorious kingdom” (Lutheran Book of Worship, p. 122).
7. In the Orthodox rite, the priest prays over the water of baptism “…Master of all, show this water to be the water of redemption, the water of sanctification, the purification of flesh and spirit, the loosing of bonds, the remission of sins, the illumination of the soul, the laver of regeneration, the renewal of the spirit, the gift of adoption to sonship, the garment of incorruption, the fountain of life. … You have bestowed on us from on high a new birth through water and the spirit. Wherefore O Lord, manifest yourself in this water, and grant that he/she who is baptized in it may be transformed; that he/she may put away from him/her the old man, which is corrupt through the lust of the flesh, and that he/she may be clothed with the new man, and renewed after the image of Him who created him/her; that being buried, after the pattern of your death, in baptism, he/she may, in like manner, be a partaker or your Resurrection …” (Service Book, p. 155-6).
8. Orthodox and Lutherans agree that the third component of Christian initiation is the gift and seal of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 4:30). In Lutheran rites, the gift of the Spirit is connected with the laying on of hands and either a post-baptismal blessing or a prayer for the Spirit. After the minister pours water three times on the head of the candidate in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, the Baptismal Booklet continues with the prayer: “The almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given birth to you for a second time through water and the Holy Spirit and has forgiven you all your sins, strengthen you with his grace to eternal life.” (Baptismal Booklet, p. 375)
9. It is also customary in Lutheran churches for the minister to lay both hands on the head of the newly baptized and to pray for the Holy Spirit: “God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we give you thanks for freeing your sons and daughters from the power of sin and for raising them up to a new life through this holy sacrament. Pour your Holy Spirit upon [name]: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence” (Lutheran Book of Worship, p. 124). The Handbook of the Lutheran Book of Worship notes that “the laying on of hands with the prayer for the gifts of the Holy Spirit signals a return to the liturgical fullness of the ancient church which was lost when confirmation became a separate rite.” (p. 31). According to the Lutheran Book of Worship, the minister may make the sign of the cross on the forehead of the newly baptized saying, “[Name], child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever” (p. 125). Lutheran churches that follow this rite have reclaimed the ritual action of chrismation and have clearly distinguished it as a distinct moment in the baptismal rite, though they do not define it theologically as a separate sacrament.
10. The gift of the Holy Spirit is more explicit in the Orthodox rite. Attending closely to patristic tradition, the Orthodox see a profound parallel between participation in the sacraments of the church and the historical unfolding of the economy of salvation as proceeding from the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. After the immersion, the priest anoints the newly baptized with holy chrism (myron) saying: “… compassionate king of all, grant also to him/her the seal of the gift of your holy, and almighty, and adorable Spirit …” (Service Book, p. 159). Thus, as Jesus Christ received the gift of the Holy Spirit in his human nature, so all who follow him must, after the pattern of the gathered church at Pentecost, receive that same gift. The Holy Chrismation (the anointing of the baptized with the holy myron and prayer for their reception of the Holy Spirit) is the distinct but inseparable sacrament that imparts to the individual believer the church’s own Pentecost. Endowed with the gift of the Spirit, believers are prepared and enabled to participate in the eucharist, the sacrament which effects their union with Christ, so that they truly become with him one body (syssomos) and one blood (homaimos). Accordingly, in the Orthodox tradition, all those who have been baptized and chrismated are immediately admitted to the Eucharist, including infants. The Orthodox tradition places particular significance on the holy myron, which is prepared during the holy week every ten years from pure olive oil and over 50 other aromatic ingredients and symbolizes the ecclesial character of chrismation, which unites the newly baptized with the universal church through the Holy Spirit.
11. Orthodox and Lutherans at their meeting in Durau, October 6-15, 2004, found that the three components of Christian initiation are to a large extent included in each other’s rites. These components find their fulfillment in the Christian’s full participation in the life of Christ and his church through eating his body and drinking his blood in the holy eucharist. The topic for the meeting of the 13th Lutheran - Orthodox Joint Commission will be: The Mystery of the Church: D. The Holy Eucharist in the Life of the Church.
13th Plenary of the International Lutheran – Orthodox Joint Commission
D. THE HOLY EUCHARIST IN THE LIFE OF THE CHURCH
The Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission met in Bratislava, Slovak Republic, from November 2-9, 2006, to consider the topic “The Mystery of the Church: The Holy Eucharist in the Life of the Church”. Papers were presented on various topics: “The Spirituality of the Eucharist and its practical implications in Evangelical Lutheran church life” (E. Hagberg), “The Lutheran Understanding of the Eucharist” (K.Ch. Felmy and J. Wasmuth), “The Holy Sacrament (Mysterion) of the Eucharist: An Orthodox Perspective” (V. Ionita); “Comments to the Lutheran papers” (A. Laham); “The Place of the Eucharist in the Divine Economy of Salvation” (Ch. Voulgaris); and “Metabole or Transsubstantiatio” (A. Osipov). Based on this work, the Joint Commission was able to recognize broad areas of agreement in the respective traditions’ understanding of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church.
1. Building on work done in previous Commission meetings, Orthodox and Lutherans recognize the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist as the “fulfillment of the Christians’ participation in the life of Christ and his church through eating his body and drinking his blood in the Holy Eucharist” (Duràu Statement §11). They also affirm that the Eucharist and the believers’ participation in it remain a mystery that transcends human understanding. The Holy Eucharist is the Sacrament of the New Covenant instituted by Christ himself (Mt 26, 27f; par.). As such it is an indispensable part of the life of the Church, which is the body of Christ. Through Baptism the believer is born again and sealed with the Holy Spirit (for Orthodox, the seal is given through Chrismation). In the Eucharist, the believers receive the body and blood of the Lord as a healing and spiritual nourishment of their souls and bodies and experience their membership in the Body of Christ. In this way, believers receive forgiveness of their sins and the gift of eternal life. The Eucharist presupposes the confession of the one faith of the church and strengthens the believers’ union with Christ and their union and communion with each other both locally and universally (Mk 14,22-26; 1Cor 10,16f).
2. Lutherans and Orthodox believe that Christ offered himself as a sacrifice “once and for all” - ephapax (Heb. 7,27; 9,12; 10,10; cf. 10,14). While Lutherans use the language of sacrifice less frequently than Orthodox, both can agree that the Eucharist is a sacrifice in the sense that 1) it is Christ, not the celebrant priest, who offers and is offered as the sacrifice, 2) Christ’s sacrifice of atonement is made once and for all with respect to God, and 3) it is sacramentally enacted so that its benefits are distributed to the believers each and every time the Eucharist is celebrated. Both Orthodox and Lutherans also regard the Eucharist as a sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise (Heb. 13,15).
a. Luther’s criticism of “sacrifice” terminology aims at correcting a misunderstanding of the Eucharist as a “meritorious” act accomplished by human beings to benefit their own salvation.
b. By insisting that it is Christ, and not the priest, who offers the Eucharistic sacrifice, Orthodox join Lutherans in their criticism of such abuse and misunderstanding.
c. Orthodox understand the Eucharist as a bloodless sacrifice. It is “bloodless” because it is a sacramental enactment of Christ’s unique sacrifice on the cross. It is a “sacrifice” because the bread and the wine offered by the church are truly united by the action of the Holy Spirit with the humanity of Christ. The church brings the bread and wine, which are united with the body and blood of Christ by way of anamnesis and are changed by way of union with the exalted and deified humanity of Christ through the action of the Holy Spirit (epiclesis).
d. Orthodox and Lutherans agree that the Eucharist is also a gift of communion granted to us by Christ. In this communion we are fully united with him and with the members of his body. The “how”of the mystery remains inexplicable, but the “what” is clearly confessed in faith and thanksgiving. As John of Damascus says, “… if you enquire how this happens, it is enough for you to learn that it was through the Holy Spirit, just as the Lord took on Himself flesh that subsisted in Him and was born of the holy Mother of God through the Spirit” (Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, 4, 13).
3. Lutheran and Orthodox traditions each stress proper preparation for participation in the Eucharist. For both this involves preparatory prayers and Confession and forgiveness of sins, which for Orthodox is the sacrament of penance. For Orthodox, preparation also includes fasting; for Lutherans fasting is not required but often practiced. Both agree that the Eucharist must be administered properly/canonically and only by ordained ministers.
4. Lutherans and Orthodox take the Lord’s words “this is my body; this is my blood” (Mt 26,27f, par.) literally. They believe that in the Eucharist the bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood to be consumed by the communicants. How this happens is regarded by both as a profound and real mystery. In order to approach that mystery, Orthodox and Lutherans have drawn on their respective theological traditions and developed different insights on what takes place.
a. Lutherans speak about Christ’s “real presence” in the Eucharist and describe Christ’s body and blood as being “in, with and under” the bread and wine (Formula of Concord, SD 7). By this they mean that the bread and the wine really become the body and blood of Christ, through the Words of Institution and the action of the Holy Spirit. Drawing on patristic sources, Lutherans understand Christ’s presence in the elements christologically: “Just as in Christ two distinct, unaltered natures are inseparably united, so in the Holy Supper two essences, the natural bread and the true natural body of Christ, are present together here on earth in the action of the sacrament, as it was instituted” (SD 7). Lutherans, however, maintain a distinction between a personal, hypostatic union and a “sacramental union”, favoring the latter in order to describe Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. Lutheran theology is able to speak of a transformation (mutatio) of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ (Apology X, 2; XXIV). This is not understood as eliminating the physical character of the bread and wine in the Eucharist. Lutherans emphasize that it is God’s Word which makes the sacrament (Large Catechism, 5: The Sacrament of the Altar).
b. Orthodox profess a real change (metabole) of the bread and the wine into the body and blood of Christ by the Words of Institution and the act of the Holy Spirit in the eucharistic anaphora. This does not mean a “transsubstantiation” of the substance of the bread and the wine into the substance of the deified humanity of Christ, but a union with it: “The bread of communion isn’t an ordinary bread, but united with divinity” (John of Damascus). This union amounts to a communication of the deifying properties of the humanity of Christ and of the deifying grace of his divinity to the eucharistic gifts: The bread and the wine are no longer understood with respect to their natural properties but with respect to Christ’s deified human body in which they have been assumed through the action of the Holy Spirit. As in Christology the two natures are united hypostatically, so in the Eucharist Christ’s exalted human body and the “antitypes” (St. Basil, Anaphora) of bread and wine are united sacramentally through the act of the Holy Spirit.
c. Orthodox and Lutherans agree, whether they use the language of “metabole” or of “real presence”, that the bread and wine do not lose their essence (physis) when becoming sacramentally Christ’s body and blood. The medieval doctrine of transsubstantiation is rejected by both Orthodox and Lutherans.
5. Orthodox and Lutherans believe that the changes that take place in the Eucharist are accomplished by the Holy Spirit. In the liturgical celebration of the Eucharist, the Orthodox explicitly include the entire economy of salvation, which culminates in the Words of Institution, Anamnesis, Epiclesis and Holy Communion. For Lutherans, the totality of the work of Christ is also presupposed and is liturgically enacted in the eucharistic worship service as a whole, although less elaborately. Both Lutherans and Orthodox believe that the Eucharist cannot be isolated from the entire mystery of salvation.
6. For both Lutherans and Orthodox, proper use of the eucharistic elements is dictated by Christ’s own words in Holy Scripture: “Take and eat, this is my body; take and drink, this is my blood…” (Mt 26,27f, par.). Those who believe Christ’s words receive his body and blood for their salvation. Lutherans do not recognize salvific qualities in the elements when these are used for non-eucharistic purposes. That position need not exclude a belief that the change of the elements into body and blood of Christ is definitive, however. Orthodox insist on the permanence and irreversibility of that change.
a. The Lutheran position stems from a historical critique of non-eucharistic uses of the eucharistic elements common in late-medieval Western traditions. Lutherans see a danger of superstition, fetishism or an abuse in private masses in such practices. Lutheran theology, furthermore, views the elements as means of salvation (media salutis) which means that its primary interest lies in the two entities that are brought together by those media—God and the believer—and not in the media themselves. Hence, the Lutheran tradition has not emphasized reflection on what happens to the elements outside their use in the Eucharist (extra usum).
b. Orthodox understand the elements’ change christologically. Since Christ’s presence with the elements brings the divine into contact with the earthly, the earthly elements are affected—“deified”—much as Christ’s human nature is affected by union with the divine. As a consequence, Orthodox believe that the elements are sacramentally changed in themselves when they are united with Christ’s body and blood, and that that change is as irreversible as the incarnation itself. However, they insist that the consecrated bread and wine are used only for eucharistic purposes.
c. Lutherans can agree with the Orthodox position without giving up their concentration on the proper use of the elements in the Eucharist. A Lutheran appreciation of the Orthodox’ christological emphasis, along with reflection on Lutherans’ own tradition of reverence for the Eucharist would demand corresponding care when handling the elements extra usum, for example with respect to consecrated bread and wine after the Eucharistic celebration.
7. Lutherans and Orthodox together affirm the eschatologial dimension of the Eucharist, which brings both the past and the future into the present. Since the eschatological mystery is the incarnate, crucified, resurrected and exalted Christ, who is coming again with glory, the Eucharist, which brings us to him and him to us, is truly eschatological. The Eucharist presents the eschaton to the believers and to the world. It brings salvation to the believer and judgement to the unbeliever and unworthy participant (1 Cor. 11,27ff).
By giving us his holy body and blood to eat and to drink, Christ is bodily as close to us now as he was to his first disciples and to all his followers throughout the ages. But the sacrament is also an anticipation of the future redemption and a foretaste of the marriage supper of the Lamb in heaven (Rev. 19,9). This meal, the supper of the Kingdom, encompasses both the future eschatology of the Parousia and the inaugurated eschatology of the Eucharist. In it God the Father not only forgives us our sins, but nourishes us with the body and blood of His Son so that we are strengthened through the Holy Spirit for our earthly pilgrimage, until at last we fully possess the life of the world to come, which we already possess in a hidden manner by faith. In the words of the ancient prayer, “Maranatha, Our Lord, come!” (1 Cor. 16,22c), the Church prays for the future coming of the Lord at the end of time as well as for his coming now through the Spirit in this holy meal. In the Eucharist, the Kingdom becomes a present reality since by coming to Communion with Christ’s body and blood, the believers experience abiding union with the exalted Lord.
8. Because the Eucharist brings the eschatological Kingdom of Christ into space and time, it constitutes a saving blessing for the whole inhabited world (oikumene, Heb. 2,5). This is understood both in terms of the natural environment and human society. The Eucharist transforms participants into bearers of God’s mystical blessing in Christ to the world through appropriate action. Their involvement in the care of the natural environment (oikos) of creation is a consequence of eucharistic participation. In the elements we receive the gifts of creation, offering them again to the Giver, receiving them back and sharing them with each other, thereby underscoring sacramentally both our dependence on the Creator and our responsibility toward creation. The same applies to appropriate Christian social action. Because it unites believers with each other at the Lord’s table, the Eucharist is the Sacrament of human reconciliation par excellence. Believers are sent forth into the world to serve God’s Kingdom. This is denoted liturgically by the Lutheran dismissal: “Go in peace and serve the Lord!”. In the Orthodox liturgy, there are several places which signify such a “liturgy after the liturgy” . The last prayer of thanksgiving for receiving Holy Communion begins with “direct our ways in the right path, establish us firmly in Your fear, guard our lives, and make our endeavours safe…”. Similarly, in the dismissal prayer the believers ask the Lord to guide us in the work of sanctification, to grant peace to the world, to the clergy and to the whole people. This insight is far-reaching and should be explored more fully in a future context.
9. Lutherans and Orthodox agree that the relation of the Eucharist to the ordained ministry/priesthood (hierosyne) requires full discussion at a later stage. Lutherans and Orthodox both hope and pray for a day when they may celebrate the Eucharist together and work together as the one Body of Christ for the life and the salvation of the world.
10. For its next meeting, the Commission agreed to extend its reflection on The Holy Eucharist in the Life of the Church and to work on the following topics: Preparation and Celebration of the Eucharist; Eucharist and Ecology (including Human Society).
14th Plenary of the International Lutheran–Orthodox Joint Commission , Paphos, Cyprus
, Paphos, Cyprus
THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH
THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH
At the Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission in
I. Preparation for Participation of the Eucharist
1. Orthodox and Lutherans regard the Eucharist as an awesome and most solemn sacrament which is essential to the life of the Church. It is the gift of eternal life, the means of salvation and the medicine of immortality. Participation in the Eucharist is participation in the risen humanity of Christ, which is present in the sacrament and constitutes the Holy of Holies of Christian worship. As such it calls for appropriate preparation. “Tremble, O mortal, beholding the Divine Blood. For it is as a lighted coal burning the unworthy” (The Divine Liturgy of
2. According to
3. St. Paul’s warning to the Corinthians follows his cry of dismay over how they have abused the Eucharist by celebrating while divided among themselves and by ignoring social inequalities in their midst (1 Cor 11: 17-22). In a similar spirit, Jesus Christ calls upon those approaching the altar to first be reconciled with persons who have something against them (Mt 5: 23-24). Accordingly, proper preparation for the Eucharist should involve reconciliation with one’s brothers and sisters. Lutheran and Orthodox traditions expect such reconciliation to follow self-examination when appropriate. In some cases, they provide specific rituals to facilitate the process.
4. Self-examination involves confession and forgiveness of sins. This is done both in private prayer and through an act of confession and absolution before a priest or pastor, which for Orthodox is the sacrament of confession. While Lutherans do not typically define confession as a sacrament, they do also offer private confession and absolution. The Lutheran tradition includes general confession and absolution within the Eucharistic celebration. Differences between Lutherans and Orthodox on the topic of confession remain. Resolving whether such differences present an obstacle to sharing in the Eucharist will require further discussion.
5. Because it is an act of repentance, Lutherans and Orthodox regard fasting as an important component of their spiritual preparation for the Eucharist.
6. Orthodox and Lutherans stress that participants should approach the Eucharist with a fitting attitude, which is cultivated by instruction and prayer. This also applies to the celebrant clergy, for whom both traditions provide special prayers.
7. Lutherans and Orthodox carefully prescribe how to celebrate the Eucharist properly. Currently, they do not share Eucharistic fellowship. However, both agree on many important aspects, such as care for the liturgy and its provisions (vestments for priests and altar, vessels, Eucharistic gifts of bread and wine, etc.). Because of their more elaborate liturgy, Orthodox have many and specific stipulations, e.g. use of leavened bread and red wine, times for the celebration, consumption of the sanctified elements at the end of the celebration, commemorations of episcopal authorities, etc. While Lutheran practice may include some of these provisions, Lutherans do not consider complete ritual agreement a necessity. Nonetheless, closer agreement between the two traditions of liturgical practice would facilitate better understanding between Lutherans and Orthodox and help them to move closer to their mutual goal of joint communion.
8. The Eucharist is at the heart of our faith, and it is therefore of the utmost importance to support the believers in their proper preparation so that they may participate regularly in the Eucharist. Both traditions underline that the means of preparation should not be understood legalistically, but should support believers in order that they may receive Holy Communion properly prepared and through this nurture their faith and lives.
II. Ecological and Social Implications of the Eucharist
9. Eucharist does not end with its liturgical celebration in church. Christ’s self-giving presence continues to guide and sanctify the communicants as they live out the church’s mission in the world. Throughout their history, Lutherans have sought ways to better serve that mission, engaging in prayer, theological reflection and implementing practical projects and programs. Orthodox have shown similarly strong commitments and have pursued what has come to be called “the liturgy after the liturgy” to address environmental and social needs on local, national and international levels.
10. Orthodox and Lutherans together affirm that their participation in the Eucharist challenges them to respond to the needs of the world as stewards of God’s grace. The Eucharist has an essentially communal character which manifests concretely the body of Christ, the church, which is sent to serve God’s salvific embrace of the whole cosmos. Christ is the gift par excellence to all believers, transforming all that exists. As receivers of that most holy gift, the believers are themselves transformed from receivers to givers who are sent forth to change the world according to Christ’s saving purpose.
11. In this respect, the Eucharist has a profound impact on the church’s life in the created world. As St. Paul says, “The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now…” (Rom 8: 19-22). The church is to be a sign to humanity that it should cease to exploit creation and no longer to treat it in an arbitrary and selfish manner. Creation is an intimate partner to humankind in God’s salvation offered in Christ.
12. Both Lutheran and Orthodox churches have demonstrated their commitment to this call by engaging in various kinds of ecological activities. Examples include initiatives by local Lutheran parishes aimed at reducing energy-consumption, declaring “car-free Sundays”, supporting alternative energy and assisting members in leading more energy-efficient lives. On a global level, the Lutheran World Federation has underscored its commitment to environmental issues by dedicating council meetings and assemblies to ecological themes. Care for the environment has been a distinctive mark of Orthodox asceticism and liturgical practice. For example, Orthodox sanctify all waters (rivers, seas, etc.), dwelling places, schools, buildings, etc. annually on the Feast of Epiphany. Sanctification [Hagiasmos] is a service that applies to every aspect of the environment. New initiatives on the international level have been launched by the Ecumenical Patriarchate; these include the establishment of a new religious feast on September 1 as the “Day of Creation”, annual conferences dealing with environmental issues hosted at sites of grave environmental crisis (e.g. the Black Sea, the Adriatic, the Danube, the Amazon, etc.), and corresponding publications.
13. Orthodox and Lutherans both acknowledge and repent that, however much care they have taken for the environment in the past, they must find ways to do much more. This need could not be more urgent. Today’s world faces a situation which according to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople is devastated by “incomprehensible dimensions of the environmental crisis”. Christians are both directly and indirectly implicated in this crisis. As the Patriarch continues, “the moment has come to remove our current way of thinking from its pedestal and to reconsider the means by which we interact with this unique world, which the Almighty God left to us with the command “Work and protect” (Message of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew On World Environment Day [5 June 2008]). As partakers of the Eucharist, we are called to rethink our outlooks and practices in fundamental ways, ways that, with respect to the environment, go further than ever before and may extend beyond traditional patterns of Eucharistic thought and practice.
14. The communal character of the Eucharist has far-reaching implications for Christian involvement in human society. Both Lutheran and Orthodox traditions contain a powerful witness to this topic. Examples from each tradition include the following:
a. Luther describes the Eucharistic union of believer with Christ in the following terms, placing particular emphasis on the Eucharist’s effect on social life: “Christ with all saints, by his love, takes upon himself our form, fights with us against sin, death and all evil. This enkindles in us such love that we take on his form, rely upon his righteousness, life and blessedness. And through the interchange of his blessings and our misfortunes, we become one loaf, one bread, one body, one drink, and have all things in common. O this is a great sacrament, says
b. An eloquent statement of the Orthodox perception is the following text of St. John Chrysostom. Commenting on the instructions of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians, Chrysostom speaks of the responsibility of Christians to be priests to Christ, serving human society as if it were an altar of Christ: “This altar is composed of the very members of Christ, and the body of the Lord is made your altar. … This altar is more awesome than the one which you now use [in church], or the one that was used of old [in
15. Statements like this testify to the profound reconciling power of the Eucharist. Commitment to that power unites Orthodox and Lutherans. Both traditions show long-standing engagement on the social and charitable front. Examples include foundations of hospitals; homes for the aged; provisions for the hungry, poor and destitute; missions; schools and other educational institutions. On the parish level, Lutherans and Orthodox engage in a broad range of charitable ministries (involving both clergy and lay people), including aid to the poor; prison, hospital and military chaplaincy, etc. Orthodox women have a distinctive charitable ministry called “Philoptochos”, which operates on the parish, diocesan and national level. On an international level, both churches have made significant contributions to social ministry. Orthodox administer the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) which provides funds for disaster relief. The Lutheran World Federation was founded in connection with relief efforts following the Second World War and continues to maintain a strong international program of diaconal services, refugee and relief programs.
16. Because the Eucharist unites in Christ believers with each other and with all whom he came to save, the Eucharistic mission of the church focuses particular attention to political and social divisions wherever they appear in the world. Differences based on ethnicity, gender, social and economic class, language, political party, and other factors are transcended in the Eucharist and must never be allowed to divide the Eucharistic community. The Eucharist alerts the church to injustice and conflict, and calls upon the church to help establish justice and restore peace. Lutherans and Orthodox affirm their commitments to the cause of peace and social justice, praying fervently for their realization and engaging in appropriate action. As with the environment, so in the field of social action, Orthodox and Lutherans are implicated directly and indirectly in the prolongation of injustice and conflict on the national and international level. We call upon members of both traditions to repent and to seek prayerfully ways of responding in accordance with our Eucharistic faith.
17. In closing, our members would like to point out that social and environmental implications of the Eucharist have never divided Lutherans and Orthodox from each other. Our shared commitment to living out our Eucharistic experience is a most hopeful avenue for growing closer together as churches.
18. The Commission has selected as topics for its next preparatory meetings, “E: The Mystery of the Church: Nature and Attributes/Properties of the Church” (2009) and “E: The Mystery of the Church: The Mission of the Church” (2010). A plenary meeting will be scheduled on these two topics for 2011.