Easing the tension that separated the Georgian Orthodox Church from the World Council of Churches, the heads of the two groups met for a 2-day conference, June 27-29, 2004. The meeting the first of its kind since the 3-million member Georgian group withdrew from the WCC in 1997, was a promising step toward greater orthodox participation in the ecumenical body.
The WCCs deputy general secretary Georges Lemopoulos, along with WCC staff members Sylvia Raulo and Tamara Grdzelidze, traveled to Tbilisi, Georgia for the short meeting with Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II, president of the Georgian Orthodox Church.
According to Lemopoulous, Ilia expressed the willingness to resume collaboration with the WCC in areas such as social witnessing, service of the churches and response to globalization and European integration.
"The meeting confirmed that there is a mutual willingness to renew dialogue and cooperation, without ignoring the significant differences that persist," said Lemopoulos. Some sections of the Georgian Orthodox Church continue to express their opposition to ecumenical contacts.
In addition to meeting Ilia, the WCC delegation met with government officials, including the deputy minister of foreign affairs, Mr Kote Kavtaradze, and the chairman of the foreign relations committee, Mr Kote Gabashvili. Both leaders urged the Georgian church to strengthen its international relationships.
The Georgian Orthodox Church first joined the WCC in 1961, but with drew its membership from the WCC and all other ecumenical organizations in 1997 because of internal opposition to such unions. In 1998, the WCC established a special Commission on Orthodox participation in the WCC as a means to strengthen ties with the Orthodox churches and address the concerns of the Orthodox groups.