Outgoing Orthodox President and Coptic Archbishop of London, Archbishop Angaelos, talks about his ecumenical journey as he leaves his CTE role…
CTE: What was your first experience of ecumenism?
AA: My first experience was probably 30 years ago. I used to engage with other churches when I was a young person growing up in Australia in the 80’s. Then in 1990 I went to the Monastery of Saint Pishoy in Egypt. I was serving as Papal Secretary to the late Pope Shenouda III and I attended the theological dialogue between the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox families of churches and commission between the Anglican communion and the Oriental family of churches. I was just a novice then.
CTE: Was there an incident which set your ecumenical fires burning?
AA: I think it was that engagement – when we sat on the Commission between the Eastern and Oriental families of churches we were talking about a problem that had been in existence for 1500 years and we were sitting there talking about it with the view of trying to resolve it. That was an incredible thing to behold. And since then it’s been the opportunity to sit and engage and try to find resolution and collaboration.
CTE: Have you noticed any changes in the ecumenical landscape while you were a President of CTE?
AA: I have, I have been involved with CTE since probably 1999/2000. What I’ve noticed, not just with CTE, but worldwide is that ecumenical engagement is becoming less about institutional engagement and more about relational engagement. It is the personal relationships, bi-laterally and multi-laterally, which are really driving things at the moment. I think CTE becomes a very big meeting place, a platform upon which people can meet and begin to build relationships.
CTE: What was your favourite moment during your time as CTE President?
AA: I think it was being at CTE Forum a few years back. When the six Presidents stood on the stage together, obviously there as brothers and friends. Those relationships still continue until today. I have finished my term as CTE President but the relationship with the people who I served alongside remains very strong. That’s one of the best memories I take away from this period.
CTE: And were there particular challenges?
AA: I think the challenge for any ecumenical instrument now is going to be holding the balance between letting people be themselves and having a shared journey and path ahead. There is sometimes an attempt to either showcase Christianity or the Church as this homogenous grey mass, which it certainly isn’t, as each of our churches has their flavour and identity. So I think we need to be able to let our members show their individuality while at the same time trying to find common cause. That is an incredible challenge because there seems to be issues that arise that from one party or another where there is no middle ground. If we present ultimatums to each other that will herald the end of our ecumenical journey, unfortunately.
CTE: Do you think the ‘end of the ecumenical journey’ is a possibility, do you fear it?
AA: I don’t fear it but I’m concerned that some people will not have sufficient experience to realise that it could be a possibility. I have faith in those who engage ecumenically, and I have faith in those who want to journey together. I think that will be the overwhelming majority. But if we do try to force people into situations, that breaks relationships unfortunately.
CTE: How healthy do you think ecumenism is as we come to the end of 2021?
AA: I think ecumenically our relationships are strong, I think like any family we hit our bumps and we sometimes go straight into them and have to do some repairs afterwards. We have healthy relationships that by God’s grace will continue to flourish as we appreciate the breadth and beauty and diversity of the body of Christ. There’s such a movement of people at the moment enriching the body of Christ. That is definitely a positive but it will mean that we will have to work harder at being united because when the differences of application or viewpoints may start manifest themselves. If we can’t work through them, work together towards reconciliation, collaboration, cooperation what are we leaving for the world?
CTE: We know Covid has presented challenges for churches but has it also given us some opportunities?
AA: Absolutely, we’ve seen the strength of the church through the Covid pandemic, so many wonderful initiatives…and it wasn’t just the pandemic. In the George Floyd situation the Presidents really benefitted from the leadership of Pastor Agu (CTE Pentecostal and Charismatic President) to navigate. And we saw incredible acts of kindness and generosity from churches stemming from their faith. I was speaking at the Billy Graham evangelical summit a few days ago. And I said that the pandemic did create a platform for the church because it really is in the greatest darkness where there is need for the greatest light. And that is where the church shone, in darkness.