THE END OF THE AGE OF ECUMENISM: TOWARDS THE RESTORATION OF UNITY WITH THE CHURCH
During the last century, it was often thought in Western religious circles that different Christians, whether Protestant, Roman Catholic or Orthodox, should unite into one 'Super-Church'. The motivation for this branch theory movement, which came to be known as 'Ecumenism', came especially from leaders and intellectuals from Protestant groups, in particular from Anglicans. The latter felt that as an episcopal church with a number of Catholic customs and yet largely Protestant teachings, Anglicanism could somehow be the glue for unity between Protestantism and Catholicism. As regards the Orthodox, they were deemed merely to be exotic, oriental Catholics, and therefore they would inevitably follow Rome.
Part One: Early Ecumenism
Initially, as a basically Protestant movement born in Western Europe and North America, the idea of Ecumenism attracted only Western people. The concept therefore spread to Catholicism. The latter saw that this movement was in its own interest, that of bringing back Protestants, especially the episcopalian Protestants like the Anglicans, to unity with Rome. Catholic intellectuals and idealists, mistaking their fantasies for reality, also came to take up its ideas. Like Protestant intellectuals, they were attracted to the neat, syncretistic theories which they could build up around Ecumenism.
The next step in the spread of these ideas was to Orthodox. Here again, some Westernised Orthodox intellectuals, especially in Paris, genuinely thought the concept practicable. However, this naïve reaction only occurred among Orthodox living in the West, for the simple reason that the whole concept of Ecumenism was not only ethnocentric, but culturocentric. It was an idea alien to anyone living outside secular, Western culture.
However, this did not stop the idea spreading to other Orthodox, official representatives of the Orthodox Churches in impoverished and oppressed Eastern Europe and the Middle East. But they saw Ecumenism rather as a method of getting political and financial support against enemies as varied as Turkish Muslims, Soviet Communists and Romanian Fascists, not as a way of creating Christian unity.
In all of this we can see that the ideals of Ecumenism had little real support at grassroots level.
Part Two: Secularisation
As a result of the disillusionment and transformations in technology and living standards which followed the Second World War, Western societies became increasingly secularised. At first these changes affected Protestant societies, as in the United States, but they then spread to Roman Catholic countries. The symbol of this is the Second Vatican Council of the 1960's, the effect of which, intended or not, was to spread secularisation into Catholicism, effectively protestantising it. By the end of the last century, the overall situation in both Protestant and Catholic societies in Western Europe, as elsewhere, was one of massive dechristianisation. The vast majority of young people were no longer interested in any Church. The era of mass religion in the West was over and Ecumenism and similar religious concepts were only for old folk. The effect of all this on Ecumenism was that it no longer held any interest for virtually anyone of the younger generation. It became a movement that had lost its dynamic, lost its way, together with the rest of modern Western society.
Outside Western society, however, the effects of World War II on the ecumenical concept were very different. At that point, Eastern Europe was completely Sovietised and the secret services of all those countries, in their majority Orthodox, interested themselves greatly in Ecumenism as a Cold War tool. This became particularly apparent in the 1960', 1970's and 1980's when organisations like the World Council of Churches (WCC) were used by several Eastern European Orthodox Church representatives, many of them KGB agents in cassocks, in the propaganda war against the West. In this way Communism indirectly gained influence, especially in Third World countries, former Western colonies, which at that time were rapidly becoming Soviet colonies.
In return for their participation in a culturally alien movement, at that time Orthodox Church delegates were forced into entering into dialogues, or signing the most meaningless statements and contracts or promises of unity with Protestant groups and the Catholic Church. These statements, binding only their signatories, were unknown to grassroots Orthodox people, rejected by those Orthodox who did come to know about them and generally not worth the paper that they were written on. At home the Orthodox Churches, whose delegates had signed anything they had been told to sign by their secret services, received a certain relief from persecution for the services of their official representatives at the foreign junkets they had attended. As the Cold War and totalitarianism ended, however, and Orthodox people at the grassroots found out what had been going on, this political Ecumenism was totally rejected. Indeed the very word 'Ecumenist' became a byword for traitor. Ecumenism came to mean syncretist theories and fantasies which were in fact sell-outs to militant atheists made for political advantage.
Part Three: The Way Ahead - The Restoration of Unity with the Church
In the twenty-first Century the Cold War has become something that young people study in history lessons. The concept of a 'Super-Church' proposed in the 1960's by Christian 'representatives' who are now well past retirement age, if not actually in their graves, has become a joke. The books, brochures and grand plans of professional ecumenists and academics of that period now gather dust on forgotten library shelves. The end-game is here.
The contemporary world, profoundly Westernised, secularised, dechristianised, 'dereligionised', is heading for unity according to a 'religion' outside the Church. It is the new 'religion', the secular religion of the unity of the New World Order, based on economics and politics, a materialistic, anti-religious religion of unity. Now that Churches are no longer mass phenomena, their possible unity is rapidly becoming irrelevant. The Protestant world has lost its way, because it has lost its Faith. Catholicism is nearly at the same stage, and after the present, ailing Pope has gone from the world stage, it will achieve what Protestantism already has achieved - full secularisation.
The few serious Christians who remain are now beginning to see that the only sense that can be made of Christianity is not to 'unite the Church', but to unite with the Church. The Church does not need unity, the Church has always been united. However, we do need to unite ourselves with the Church. There is now an increasing interest in the roots of Christianity, in the Early Church, in the Fathers, in monasticism, in Christianity as a way of life, a life which unites us with the Church in a profound and mystical sense. And it is at this point that all concerned are beginning to look to the One Church which, in spite of everything, has kept faith with the Church of the First Millennium, the Orthodox Church.
In turn, the Orthodox Church is now beginning, phoenix-like, to free itself, rising from beneath the ashes of the fires of the most terrible persecutions of Christianity ever seen, those under Communism in Eastern Europe and Russia. It is our belief that Her millions of New Martyrs and Confessors there, so far ignored by the Western world which is still in the clutches of its self-admiring consumerist frenzy, have not yet been heard by History. And it is the words of these Martyrs of the last century which will yet shape the end of Western history that is now coming, as surely as it was the words of the Martyrs of the first centuries which shaped the beginning of Western history.