Opening the doors of our hearts

Archbishop Nikitas, CTE's Orthodox President and the President of the Conference of European Churches, reflects on the role of ecumenism across the continent.

Archbishop Nikitas of Thyateira and Great Britain was elected as President of the Conference of European Churches at their 2023 General Assembly. He has been the Orthodox President for Churches Together in England since 2021.

The Conference of European Churches (CEC) is a fellowship bringing together 114 churches from Orthodox, Protestant, and Anglican traditions from all over Europe for dialogue, advocacy, and joint action. It emerged as a peacebuilding effort in 1959, building bridges between the East and the West during the Cold War.

CTE’s Senior Communications and Media Manager, Sarah Ball (SB), grabbed a quick conversation with the very busy Archbishop Nikitas (AN) at a recent CTE event…

(SB) Congratulations on your appointment. What does your role being President of the Conference of European Churches involve?

(AN) It is an opportunity to show one Christian unity while we have our different expressions and understandings. It is an honour to be in this leadership position because I’m an Orthodox Christian. But the leadership of CEC is interwoven. With the two Vice Presidents we form a presidency. One comes from the Anglican tradition (Rt Rev Dr Dagmar Winter, Bishop of Huntingdon) and one comes from the Protestant tradition (Rev. Frank Kopania, Protestant Church in Germany). One female. One male. It is the place where the voices can come together, not in cacophony. But we can come together in harmony and as there are various musical instruments in an orchestra and they produce a beautiful sound.

We’re going to hold the tradition that has been entrusted to us, as Paul even reminds Timothy that which is passed on and given to you. But we want to expand and show an openness. To show that we’re not afraid to work with others.

(SB) There is a question now, does Europe need religion?

(AN) Of course, Europe needs religion. Europe needs religion like the rest of the world does. First of all, because religion gave law to the world, God brought order from the chaos that existed. And also because religion, Christianity, promotes peace. Not just tolerance. We need to move beyond that. But cooperation, understanding, acceptance of one another. When Christ came to his disciples after the resurrection, he said, ‘Peace be with you, I give you my peace’ and we want to give that to the world. Not only to Europe but to all the world. Politicians, they may be very good people. They all promise us everything we want to hear however almost none of them fulfil their promises. The church, the Universal Church fulfils its promise.

(SB) After decades of relative peace in Europe, it is now on the front line of a war. How is CEC navigating the Ukrainian conflict?

(AN) Well, we hope that through dialogue we can assist in the peace process and hear the voices of all people. The voices of the people in and from Ukraine. We want to hear the voices that come from Russia, Belarus and other places. Let’s sit down, let’s iron out our differences, let’s find the solutions.

Teams from CEC’s member churches are not just sitting at a table they are also assisting in financial matters and supporting teams gathering food and provisions that are necessary and helping with psychological and emotional support. And we’re working too with non-member churches. The Catholic Church is not a member of CEC but they are our partners in many things. I know of Orthodox Christians who are worshipping in Catholic communities because there no churches for them.  Let’s open the doors of the church, but also the doors of our hearts.

(SB) For some people in England the word ‘Europe’ has become polarising, especially since the Brexit vote in 2016. Do you think the relationships between English ecumenism and European ecumenism have been damaged?

(AN) Well, I think that we have to look at things realistically. While there may have been Brexit, it doesn’t mean that we took the map and sliced the United Kingdom from Europe. We have to remember that no matter where we are, in Europe, it could be the island of Crete, it could be somewhere in France, but it could also be London. It’s all part of Europe. So we talk about European things, not political things. I don’t think we need to worry about Brexit being good or bad. It’s a reality.

We share so much. You know, I’m a little bit unusual. Because I’m Eastern Orthodox from the Ecumenical Patriarchate. I’m living in London. I came from the United States and I’m ethnically Greek. So I can put all those things together. Why can’t we all bring whatever we have? Not baggage, but our talents, our abilities, our resources, whether we be this side of the English Channel or the other side of the Channel. And bring all of our resources together and weave them into a tapestry to make the world a better and more beautiful place.

Watch Archbishop Nikitas reflecting on churches’ response to the war in Ukraine and the CEC initiative Pathways to Peace.

Photo: Archbishop Nikitas pictured speaking at the 2023 CEC General Assembly © Albin Hillert/CEC