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NCC has concerns about Orthodox withdrawal, bishop says

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Bishop Thomas Hoyt
Sept. 29, 2005

By Linda Bloom*

NEW YORK (UMNS) - The president of the National Council of Churches has reassured United Methodists that the ecumenical organization is concerned about its Orthodox members.

Bishop Thomas Hoyt was responding to a letter from the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, which expressed sadness about the recent withdrawal of the Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America from the council. The letter also implored NCC leadership "to take immediate steps to understand this action and reach out to leadership" in the archdiocese.

Hoyt, a bishop in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, said he also had been saddened by the unexpected decision of the archdiocese, which has only modestly participated in council activities over the years.

"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 in a Sept. 26 letter to United Methodist Bishop Ann Sherer, the commission's president. "We were dismayed, therefore, when, without consultation apparently, the Antiochians took the decision to withdraw their membership."

When the letter from Metropolitan Philip arrived, NCC officials sought a meeting with him, but no response has been received, according to Hoyt. After further discussion and with counsel from the Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, a former NCC president, it was decided to schedule meetings with several Orthodox church leaders and convene a meeting with the ecumenical officers and membership and ecclesial relations committee.

"We hope and trust that United Methodist participants will share suggestions of other responses we might make and join in implementing those efforts," he wrote.

Hoyt also mentioned a NCC fund-raising letter that the Commission on Christian Unity expressed concern over because of its "partisan political tone." He said 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.

The Rev. Larry Pickens, chief executive of the Commission on Christian Unity, said he believes the NCC is concerned about the loss of an Orthodox member. "I think it was a necessary step on the part of the president of the national council to respond to the Antiochian church," he added.

Current NCC Orthodox members include the 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.

Pickens believes it is important to strengthen these relationships and recruit new Orthodox members. "There is a sense that without the Orthodox, the legitimacy of the council would be called into question," he noted.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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