The official dialogue between the Episcopal Church and the Orthodox will resume this year, following several years of suspension. The Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA) suspended the dialogue in 1991 because of some developments in the Episcopal Church around sexuality issues.
The goal of the reestablished dialogue is "to renew the friendly, historic relationship of the two churches," according to a statement released by the Rev. David Perry, the church's ecumenical officer, following a meeting of Episcopal and Orthodox leaders. "The many years of cooperation and friendship will provide a firm foundation and focus for the work of the dialogue participants in the years ahead," the statement said.
The Orthodox-Episcopal dialogue in the United States is among the oldest ecumenical relationships, the statement pointed out. "The new conversations will continue, deepen and honor the tradition of that friendship."
In June of 1991 Archbishop Iakovos, primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, notified the Episcopal Church that the church's synod of bishops vote to suspend dialogue "resulted from recent developments such as the ordination of women, including one who is a practicing lesbian, and a recent article by Bishop Spong which characterized the Apostle Paul as a homosexual."
The decision was reviewed at a fall meeting of SCOBA, which represents 10 Orthodox churches. It sustained the suspension of dialogue with the Episcopal Church and membership in the National Council of Churches.
Former Presiding Bishop Edmond L. Browning said that he was "encouraged" by a private meeting with Iakovos in October. The church leaders agreed that, to remain faithful to the central task of seeking Christian unity, churches must consult with each other as they face fundamental issues.
Despite the suspension "the friendships remained strong and they even deepened," said Bishop Richard Grein of New York, who will co-chair the dialogue committee. "These are our oldest partners so we are delighted to be back in official dialogue." Grein visits the Russian Orthodox Patriarch in Moscow and the Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul every year to keep the lines of communication and consultation open. "And locally in New York in recent years the relations have never been better," he added.
Despite some tensions, there have also been significant common agreements in the past, the statement emphasized. In the ecumenical setting there are key issues on which Orthodox and Episcopalians have great agreement. And the conversation has been encouraged by the recent visits of Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold to Moscow and Istanbul and by the on-going international Orthodox-Anglican Dialogue.
A steering committee has been established that includes Orthodox representatives: Bishop Dimitrios of Xanthos, the Very Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, the Rev. Robert Stephanopoulos, and the Rev. Paul Schneirla. Episcopal representatives are: Bishop Richard Grein, the Rev. John Backus, the Rev. J. Robert Wright and Perry. The dialogue is scheduled to resume this November.
--James Solheim is director of the Episcopal Church's Office of News and Information.