Feast of the Hieromartyr Dorotheus
THE REFORMATION shattered the unity of the institutional Western church. The anathemas of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism drove Christian brothers to condemn one another in the harshest terms. Meanwhile, the Orthodox churches watched the papacy become ever more monarchical and Protestantism splinter, and grew more and more disdainful of their Western brethren.
The rending of institutional unity has been a source of scandal to Christians and non-Christians alike, and raises questions about how to overcome it. Given that denominations are unlikely to give up their distinctive doctrine and practices to come together organizationally, it is necessary to think in terms of other forms of unity that can be manifested before an unbelieving world.
In order to find those forms, I propose to look at three crucial contributors to the Church's thinking about ecumenism. First, I will look at the eighteenth century German Lutheran nobleman Nicholas Zinzendorf, whose work with the Unitas Fratrum (Moravians) led him to think deeply about the nature of Christian unity in a world of confessional antagonism, and whose idea of the ‘tropus’ (from the Greek tropoi peideias–‘methods of training’) offers a more positive view of the multiplicity of denominations than is typical. Second, I will look at Pope John Paul II, and specifically his encyclical Ut Unam Sint, in which he finds a basis for unity in the sacraments that goes beyond the institutional. Third, I will look at Fr. Georges Florovsky, the foremost Orthodox ecumenist of the 20th century, and his belief that while schism is a reality, so is the ontological bond between Christians that makes them all genuine members of the Body of Christ. Finally, I will briefly examine a specific instance – that of the response to the persecution of the multi-confessional Assyrian Christians of northern Iraq – where Christian unity can and should be manifested.
Of Jewish heritage, the Rev. Dr. David Fischler became a Christian in college. He earned a B.A. at Rutgers University, a M.Div. at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a D. Min. at Trinity School for Ministry (Anglican). He has served pastorates in the United Methodist, Moravian, and Evangelical Presbyterian churches. He is chairman of the board of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council.