After nearly two months of silence and following a letter of inquiry by its largest member, a top leader from the National Council of Churches expressed concern over the withdrawal of one of its Orthodox constituents.
Bishop Thomas Hoyt, President of the NCC, wrote in a Sept. 26 letter to United Methodist Bishop Ann Sherer that he was saddened by the unexpected decision of the Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Church, which has only modestly participated in council activities over the years, according to the United Methodist News Service.
"Indeed, in June, when the general secretary (Bob Edgar) received from Metropolitan Philip a congratulatory letter about the NCC statement concerning the war in Iraq, we dared to hope a new level of participation might be forthcoming," Hoyt wrote to Sherer, the president of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns. "We were dismayed, therefore, when, without consultation apparently, the Antiochians took the decision to withdraw their membership."
In late July, the delegates to the Orthodox Churchs 47th General Assembly voted to leave the National Council of Churches, becoming the first in recent history to leave the historic ecumenical body.
Unfortunately, the NCC USA started to adopt an agenda and positioning that appeared to depart from the primary purpose of spreading and witnessing the gospel of Jesus Christ, Father George Kevorkian, Assistant to Metropolitan Philip Saliba - the denomination's senior cleric told the Christian Post in early August. It seems to have taken a turn toward political positioning.
According to Kevorkian, the primary reason for the withdrawal was the politicization of the Council, evidenced in a June fundraising letter sent out by Rev. Edgar. In that letter, the General Secretary asked churches and member denominations to fight right wing attacks.
It is the broader-based representation of the NCC leadership that became a repress, Kevorkian explained. The action we took began when the core leadership started to develop and document political positions.
At that time, top figures in the NCC were unable to be reached for comments, and NCC communications director Leslie Tune said the Council would not release any statements until its leadership could meet with representatives from the Orthodox Church to work something out.
According to the recent letter sent by Hoyt, the Antiochian churchs cleric Metropolitan Philip did not respond to requests for a meeting. The NCC has since decided to schedule meetings with several Orthodox Church leaders and convene a meeting with ecumenical officers and membership and ecclesial relations committee instead.
"We hope and trust that United Methodist participants will share suggestions of other responses we might make and join in implementing those efforts," Hoyt wrote.
The UMC, with over 8-million members, is the largest church body within the NCC. Last week, during an annual meeting of its commission on Christian unity, the denomination sent a letter of concern to Hoyt, encouraging the Council to take immediate steps to understand why the Antiochian church left.
"We believe the impact of this loss to the council will become apparent over the coming months and years, and we implore the council leadership to take immediate steps to understand this action and reach out to leadership within the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese," the letter stated.
The Methodists letter also expressed disdain over the partisan political tone of the June letter by Bob Edgar. We hope that this concern will be addressed in a formal way within the councils accountability structures, the Methodists wrote.
Hoyt responded to these concerns, saying that Edgar has acknowledged that the letter was sent from the development office without proper review." Procedures have been put in place to remedy that, he added.
"We are unaware how, if at all, this letter relates to the Antiochian withdrawal," Hoyt said.
Current NCC Orthodox members include: Coptic Orthodox Church in North America, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, Orthodox Church in America, Orthodox Church in the U.S.A., Serbian Orthodox Church in the U.S.A. and Canada, Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, Ukrainian Orthodox Church of America and the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America.