[Diocesan Bishop of Pala Diocese, Syro-Malabar Catholic Church]


The word ecumenism is derived from the Greek word 'oikoumene', which means 'the inhabited world'. In its root meaning, ecumenism is neither theological nor spiritual oriented. The earliest ecumenical society is traditionally correlated with an ancient king, a just and a wise, during whose benevolent reign, everyone lived equally happy and there was no divisions, falsehood, fraud or untruth. When the word ecumenism entered into the theological arena, it became a spiritual society under an ecumenical Patriarch. These early century Christian societies professed the same doctrine, same faith and same sacramental observation.

In the contemporary world, the term ecumenism is usually used with regard to movements toward religious unity. In its most broad meaning, ecumenism is the religious initiative towards worldwide unity. At the rock bottom, ecumenism is the promotion of unity, co-operation, or improved understanding between distinct Christian religious groups or denominations, more or less broadly defined.

Ecumenism was the lifeline of early Church. The Church is the body of Christ and a divided Church is against the very tenets of Christianity and teachings of Jesus Christ. The division in the Church does not converge to the truth, but it cause man to go astray from God. In our living world, the single Church of Messiah is standing divided and we are the desperate witness for the same. None of these divisions, standing apart, can claim of one being with full truth or another without any truth in it. Such type of false claim is neither ecumenical, ecclesiastical, biblical nor from the Holy Spirit.

In the Revelation of St. John, we read the letters written by Apostle to the seven Churches. These are the letters written as per the revelations from dead and risen Jesus Christ to vivid Churches geographically located at various places. In the letter written to the Church of Smyrna, Jesus says; 'I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, but you are rich.í Here the Author refers to the comment of Jesus Christ about a Church, which is spiritually rich while being in materialistic poverty. Further, Jesus comment about the Church in Sardis with a severe reproof; 'I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.' A lamentable decay in their faith was charged upon the Church of Sardis in spite of all her honorable reputation, embellishment, ornamentation, doctrinal excellence and all, which may look great under a human observation or under a worldview. Here we see the splendid distinctions between two Churches in the first century seen by the eyes of Jesus. All these seven revelational letters written to the seven Churches of Asia are also applicable to the vivid contemporary Churches of our time and of our land, which are to be well reviewed and analyzed in all contexts.

Today, ecumenism is not a union of people with same doctrine and same faith, but it is a commixture of all those who are supposed to enter into a same faith and doctrine. In spite of this sad truth, hopefully, the divinity of the word is still being maintained. All believers of Christ in the entire world are supposed to come to same faith and same spiritual observation of the solemn united Church of Messiah. Getting together with same idea of ecumenism is of great pleasure, happiness and expectations. By being divided, we loose the great happiness of the feel of being in a great-united world family. With the individualism of Church groups, though we may perpetuate a small part of our self-interest, we miss a greater part of its bliss in oneness.

The word ecumenism is a conglomeration of many thoughts. Ecumenism had emerged out as a great institution. The current trend of ecumenism is grown to the level that any church cannot be singled out of herself to form an ecumenical movement of her own. Being away or defiant to the mainstream ecumenical fellowship, we are isolating ourself which cause us to loose many things.

Ecumenism is a great vision. It is the energy involved out of the internal of all the Churches in awareness of the sanctity of its faith attributed with its oneness, catholic and apostolic nature. When we stand divided, we are running away from the Grace of God. While we are away from God, He is searching for us calling us; 'Adam Where are you? Why are you hidden?' This call should be echoing in our ears.

Ecumenism is grown up through centuries. The emergence of the World Council of Churches [WCC], other international and continental ecumenical organizations, the importance given at Second Vatican Council etc. are the milestones of the ecumenical growth among Churches. To involve and grow along in the growth of ecumenism, each of its constituent Churches should be well aware of the history of their root and it should go to the real essence of the worshipping traditions of the Church. WCC and Second Vatican Synod also teach the same essence. It should be a widespread thought among Churches.

Though we are trying to approach our ecumenical goal through dialogue, research and theological exercises, Ecumenism become really practical only through individuals. Any theologian or any leaders of the Church cannot implement the ideas, which cannot be convinced by the individuals. The ecumenical unity cannot be consummated unless it is taken well granted by the mass believers. So the idea should be well spread with out any reservations among the minute area of believers.

We became blind in our eyes and mind by the divisions. This blindness is internal as well as external. Lord Jesus called a blind man near Him and asked Him what you see? He told, I see men but they look like trees. When we become blind with the divisive and sectarian feeling, we cannot see them as true men but we see them like trees. This is a wrong vision. Jesus again touched his eyes. Then he told, now I see the men as men. We should be able to see through spiritual lenses to see the men as men. When we see man as a man, we are seeing the image of God hidden in him. We are the breath of God. When we can see other Sect or Church as a Church of God, then only our eyes became clear. Blind eyes cannot see another Church as that of Jesus.

The ecumenism is not an expression of external bodily unity. Ecumenism is oneness in spirit. Holy Spirit of God is pervading on the one, catholic and apostolic unified Church. We should manifest and experience the depth of this spiritual unity. It is not in a mixture form but it should be a bonded form in the love and truth of Holy Spirit It is both unity of leadership and unity of bottom ness, which unites the body of Christ in its entirety in truth and spirit. It shall be the outcome of repentance and transfiguration.

Unfortunately, the ecumenism of today is found to have been constrained to mere written documents and literatures. It should turn out from the intellectual level to the real experience. We should respect what we cannot accept. Ecumenism can spread and grow only under an atmosphere of mutual respect. It is the Holy Spirit of God who stimulates the desire for unity and ecumenism. Only through the fruits of repentance and humility, the basic desire will be originated. It is high time the message of ecumenism to be taken to the faithful and practiced in its real spirit.

Philip invited Nathanael to Christ, and much is said concerning him. While seeing Nathanael coming to Him, Jesus commented about him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!" To the man who claimed that he kept all the commandments from his childhood, Jesus tells to him, "One thing you still lack". Jesus said to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on Godís interests, but manís." But the comment made about Nathanael was a unique one, which Jesus had ever told. It is the great pious zeal of Nathanael, which each Christian should inherit by getting awakened and knowing the secrets of faith.

Ecumenism is a call of God. It shelves all the self-motivation and look forward for the unified Christ's Church. Through the voice of ecumenism, we involve ourself to a united faith in Christ through the vivid faith doctrines. We all are brothers and sisters in Christ. All the Churches of Jesus Christ are sister Churches. Antiochian Church is a sister Church of Roman Church. Byzantine Church is the sister Church of these two Churches. Armenian Church is the sister Church of all these three Churches. Universal Church is the fellowship of all these sister Churches. Vatican II Synod had specially mentioned this fact. We were living in that fraternity and experience of being united in diversity of these sister Churches during the early centuries. However, all doctrinal differences we involved and accepted too. Once we go forward towards these first century experience, we are moving towards the unity in Christ. Within this journey towards unity in Christ, we should be able to well appreciate to understand our paternity and tradition, worshipping patterns and respecting our religious fathers. Church is a great ocean, it is a great fellowship and it is the world family.

Our land Kerala is a storage of Churches. It is the original source of most of the world Christian Churches. The greatness and nobility of all these Churches in our land are the God given providences. The great glory of these churches is being well kept by the noble fathers of all these Churches. All our Gospel conventions should be a school of Christian fraternity and unity. This great loving fellowship is the university of Gospel.

Pope John Paul II had written a circular Article 'All towards one'. All are traveling together on the same road to same destination. In His High priestly prayer Jesus prayed to His father; 'As we are one they also should become one...' It is the same message Mar Papa gave through his circular. It is a great vision where we all should ascend. This is a Himalayan task to be achieved walking through a narrow and hard road. Love is the basis of ecumenism. This love is the first and last message given by Jesus and His disciples. All the Churches are the conglomeration of sweet memories. In the books of Acts we read; 'And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things, which he possessed, was his own; but they had all things common.' [Acts 4:32]

It was really a great experience which the Church in Smyrna had experienced, 'the richness in poverty'. The physical richness of Church is not the greatness of Church. Once a sage asked Thomas Aquinas that the present day Churches does not have to say that 'We do not possess silver and gold', as all the Churches have enough worldly wealth! Thomas Aquinas replied him that however, the current world Churches lack the strength too, to say, 'rise up and walk'. Because of the weight of the Gold and Silver, it is crippled and lost its fortitude to command to rise up and walk. A Golden Calf is hidden in our mind always. When Moses delayed on the mountain, the Israelites took out the Golden calf and started worshipping it. Today it is applicable to us also. We also occasionally bring out our hidden Golden calf and start worshipping it. These Golden calves are great hindrance for us to walk towards the unity.

Mar Aprem, a third century Eastern Orthodox Church father, told that the divided church is like a wounded body. It is a bruised body, a weeping mother or a raped virgin. We should come forward to heal these wounds and to wipe out the tears of the body of Christ so that the prayer of Jesus to His father will be fulfilled. Unlimited national spirit and unlimited communality cause a great hindrance and danger for the ecumenical unity. Basically Church is neither national nor communal. It is a spiritual community. That is a great ocean, field; oicumene, which is a magnet network, knitting every body together. Church involves always truth and maintains truth.

When we say Church at Corinth, it is not the Corinthian division of Church, but it is the one unit of Church of Christ as it is manifested at province of Corinth. Church is the original 'Word' in the beginning. All other definitions are augmented at a later stage. These definitions should not limit the 'Word' of the beginning. We need a great spiritual rejuvenation for meeting our aim. I earnestly pray for the same.

[Extract from Address delivered at Maramon Convention 2005 : Original in Malayalam]
Translation for LOL by: Dr. Rajan Mathew, Philadelphia, USA.
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