Common Statements:

Divine Revelation (3rd Plenary, Allentown 1985)
Scripture and Tradition (4rd, Crete 1987)
The Canon and the Inspiration of the Holy Scripture (5th, Bad Segeberg 1989)
Authority in and Of the Church:
A. The Ecumenical Councils (7th, Sandbjerg 1993)
B. Understanding of Salvation in the Light of the Ecumenical Councils (8th, Limassol 1995)
C. Salvation: Grace, Justification and Synergy (9th, Sigtuna 1998)
The Mystery of the Church
A. Word and Sacraments (Mysteria) in the Life of the Church (10th, Damascus 2000)
B. Mysteria/ Sacraments as Means of Salvation (11th, Oslo 2002)
C. Baptism and Chrismation as Sacraments of Initiation into the Church (12th,Durau 2004)
D. The Holy Eucharist in the Life of the Church (13th, Bratislava 2006)
D/2 The Holy Eucharist in the Life of the Church. Preparation, Ecological and Social Implications (14th, Paphos 2008)
E The Nature, Attributes and Mission of the Church (15th, Wittenberg 2011)
F. Ordained Ministry/Priesthood (16th and 17th, Rhodes 2015 and Helsinki 2017)

3rd Plenary of the Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission
24-30 May 1985, Allentown/ USA


I (1) God, whom no one has ever seen (John 1:18), reveals himself in history to human beings through his word and power (energies). This revelation of God which begins with the creation of the world (Acts 14:15-17) is fulfilled through his saving work (oikonomia) in Christ, in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and in the promise of a new creation.

(2) The triune God in whom we believe and whom we confess has revealed his divine wisdom and gracious will in his saving work which manifests him to us as Creator, Redeemer, Perfector, and the One who will be the judge of all humanity. God’s promise in the Old Testament, when he spoke to the fathers by the prophets in many and various ways (Heb. 1:1) and its fulfilment in Jesus Christ is not only the history of the revelation of God but also the history of the salvation of humankind. Revelation is the word of God and the word about God; it is simultaneously the word for the destiny and the salvation of all people.

(3) God himself saves human beings from their lostness and alienation from him and brings them into the authentic life of the new creation (2 Cor 5:17). The centre of his saving work is the sending of his Son who “for us and for our salvation came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified”, raised to new life “in accordance with the scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father”. Through the exalted Lord the Father pours out the Holy Spirit upon his people and thereby leads his revelation to completion. The same Holy Spirit who has spoken through the prophets is effective in the apostolic kerygma by glorifying the Son and granting saving knowledge to all believers (John 14:13-16) until the fulfilment of all promises is attained in the kingdom of God on the last day.

II (4) God’s revelation in Jesus Christ is realized and actualized in the church and through the church as the body of Christ. The paschal and pentecostal mysteries instituted the church of the New Testament in which the revelation is lived, proclaimed and transmitted. The Holy Spirit sustains the church’s life and growth until the last day through the proclamation of the gospel in the fullness of the apostolic tradition and its transmission from place to place and from generation to generation, not only by words but also by the whole life of the church.

(5) The holy scriptures are an inspired and authentic expression of God’s revelation and of the experience of the church at its beginnings. In the church’s ongoing experience of its life in Christ, in the faith, love and obedience of God’s people and their worship, the holy scriptures become a living book of revelation which the church’s kerygma, dogma and life may not contradict. Because through the guidance of the Holy Spirit the dogma of the church is in agreement with the holy scriptures, therefore the dogma itself becomes an unchangeable witness to the truth of revelation. Thus under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, divine revelation is living in the church through holy scripture and holy Tradition.

(6) “The sacred and divinely inspired scriptures are sufficient for the exposition of the truth, but there also exist many treatises of our blessed teachers composed for this purpose, and if one reads them he will gain somehow the right interpretation of the scriptures” (St. Athanasius, c. gent. 1,3, PG 25,4).


4th Plenary of the Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission
27 May – 4 June 1987, Crete/ Greece


1. The divine revelation in the Old and in the New Testament of the saving intervention of God (oikonomia), consummated in the person of Jesus Christ, is communicated to the world through the operation of the Holy Spirit. This saving intervention of God through the Son in the Holy Spirit is the essence of the “euangelion” of salvation.

2. The word of God made known to the prophets is revealed to us through the incarnation, the life and teaching, the passion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ and the sending of his Spirit at Pentecost. By all this Jesus Christ accomplished and secured the unity of the testaments and the continuity of the once and for all offering of his body and blood for our salvation and his abiding presence with us to the end of the ages. Therefore, the “euangelion” of salvation, to which holy scriptures bears witness, is not simply speech from or about God but the hypostatic Word of God incarnate. This “euangelion” of Jesus Christ, which by the operation of the Holy Spirit is communicated to us by the church to the end of the ages, is the holy Tradition.

3. The holy Tradition is the authentic expression of divine revelation in the living experience of the church, the body of the Word incarnate. The church in its sacraments and spiritual life transmits this “euangelion” of our salvation through the operation of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, apostolic faith is not only a matter of proclamation but an incarnate faith (Heb. 11:1,; enhypostatos pistis, Maximus Confessor, Quaestiones 25, PG 90, 336D) in the church.

4. This “euangelion”of salvation is the content of the holy Tradition, preserved, confessed and transmitted in scripture, in the lives of the saints in all ages, and in the conciliar tradition of the church.

5. The Orthodox and the Lutheran churches have the same Bible, comprising the Old and New Testament, but the following ten books of the Old Testament have varying degrees of authority in our churches: Judith, 1 Ezra, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 3 Maccabees, Tobit, Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom of Solomon, Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah. In the future we will have to discuss the problem of the canon in more detail.

6. The same triune God is revealed in the Old and in fullness in the New Testament. The Old Testament contains God’s unconditional promise of salvation, and the New Testament contains its fulfilment in Christ through the Holy Spirit. Both Testaments reveal God’s judgment of the sin inside and outside God’s people and God’s saving grace in Christ. Holy scripture, being the work of the Holy Spirit in holy Tradition, has as criterion for its true understanding Jesus Christ himself in the life and teaching of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

7. The revelation of God, even as contained in scripture, transcends all verbal expressions. It is hidden from all creatures, especially from sinful human beings (palaios anthropos). Its true meaning is revealed only through the Holy Spirit in the living experience of salvation, which is accomplished in the church through the Christian life. This catholic experience of salvation in the church is at the same time the only authentic expression of the true understanding of the word of God.

8. The holy Tradition as ongoing action of the Holy Spirit in the church expresses itself in the church’s whole life. The decisions of the ecumenical councils and local synods of the church, the teaching of the holy fathers and liturgical texts and rites are especially important and authoritative expressions of this manifold action of the Holy Spirit. However, not every synod claiming to be orthodox, not every teaching of an ecclesiastical writer, not all rites are expressions of the holy Tradition, if they are not accepted by the whole church. They may be only human traditions, lacking the presence of the Holy Spirit. That is why the problem of the criteria for determination of the presence of the holy Tradition in the traditions of the churches is of great importance and needs further study.

9. Therefore, those church decisions which have been received by the catholic church as true expressions of the intent of the holy scripture can be considered authentic criteria of the church’s faith and its confession (cf. Vincent of Lérins, Commonitorium, 2,3; PL 50, 640). The church’s doctrinal definitions which confess the holy Trinity and God’s saving act in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit are guidelines for defending truth against falsehood. Proclaiming, confessing and living in Christ, the church communicates the mystery of God’s revelation. The church’s doctrinal statements are rooted in its whole spiritual life and at the same time are shaped by it. As St. Basil affirmed about holy scripture and holy Tradition: “… regarding the true faith, both of these have the same value” (St Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, XXVII, 66, PG 32, 188A). In another place St Basil argued for the formula “the glory is common to the Father and to the Son” (he doxa koine Patri kai Hyio) first on the basis of some of the fathers; then he continued: “But it is not sufficient for us that it is a tradition of the fathers. For even they followed the intent (boulema) of the scriptures because they have used as principles the testimonies of the scriptures as mentioned shortly before (St Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, VII,16; PG 32,96).

10. The function of holy scriptures is to serve the authenticity of the church’s living experience in safeguarding the holy Tradition from all attempts to falsify the true faith (cf. Heb. 4:12, etc.), not to undermine the authority of the church, the body of Christ.

11. Regarding the relation of scripture and Tradition, for centuries there seemed to have been a deep difference between Orthodox and Lutheran teaching. Orthodox hear with satisfaction the affirmation of the Lutheran theologians that the formula “sola scriptura” was always intended to point to God’s revelation, God’s saving act through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, and therefore to the holy Tradition of the church, as expressed in this paper, against human traditions that darken the authentic teaching in the church.

12. Pointing to scripture is pointing to the “euangelion” of salvation, to Christ and therefore to the holy Tradition which is the life of the church, to act as criterion of its authenticity and so to stress the church’s unity and catholicity for the joyful common praise of the triune God.


5th Plenary of the Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission
1-7 September 1989, Bad Segeberg/ Germany


1. The holy scripture is a great treasure of the church and serves as norm for its faith and life. The Old Testament bears witness to the self-revelation of the triune God in the prophets to the fathers (Heb. 1:1). It witnesses to God’s acts of deliverance and judgment, to God’s demands for faithful obedience and to God’s promise of the coming Saviour of the world. The New Testament bears witness that God the Father sent his Son into the world to become a human being, born of the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:30-31; Gal 4:4) and that God raised him from the dead in the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom 1:3). Thus the triune God opened the door to life eternal for all believers from all nations. The one church of Jews and Gentiles, gathered in the Holy Spirit as the body of Christ, received the Hebrew scriptures which St Paul called “the old covenant” or “the Old Testament” (2 Cor. 3:14) or “holy scriptures” (Rom. 1:2; cf. “the scripture”, John 2:22; Acts 8:32; “the scriptures”, Mark 12:24; 1 Cor. 15:3f.) and later established the canon of the books of the New Testament. The Old and the New Testaments together comprise the holy scripture, the church’s Bible.

A. The canon of holy scripture

2. The Bible of our Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles was the holy scripture of Israel (cf. Luke 4:16-21). It included the law and the prophets and comprised other writings such as the Psalms which had pre-eminence among them. Thus from the beginning the church had a fixed common nucleus of the canon of the Old Testament. Concerning the inclusion of some writings of Jewish origin, different usages existed side by side in the church. The council of 691-692 (Quinisextum) sanctioned various usages of local churches which included the short canon, a medium canon and an all-inclusive canon.

3. According to the common faith of the church, God’s revelation in the holy scriptures of the Old Testament points to the incarnation of his Son, Jesus Christ, who was crucified and who rose from the dead for our salvation. The church teaches that the Son of God was the revealer to the prophets even before his incarnation (1 Cor. 10:4; John 8:58). The saving work of the triune God (oikonomia) is completed in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and in the gathering of the church (Acts 2:1,17) which awaits the consummation. The traditions regarding the incarnate Lord himself and the message of the apostles were joined to the holy scriptures of Israel as their fulfilment and completion (Heb 10:11; 2 Cor. 3:3-18). These new writings, a deposit of the apostolic oral tradition, became the New Testament.

4. The beginning of the New Testament canon dates back to the time of the apostles. By the end of the 2nd century its basic parts were established: the four gospels and the Acts, the Pauline epistles and the major catholic epistles. The church defined the canon because it heard in these writings the divine revelation in the authentic voice of the apostles as chosen witnesses of Jesus Christ. Later, the church in synods established the exact limits of the New Testament.

5. The recognition of the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, the Christian Bible, is one of the most important decisions of the church on its way from Pentecost to the last judgment. We believe and teach together that the church was led by the Holy Spirit in this decision.

6. The early church recognized in these writings the prophetic promise and the original apostolic proclamation by which the church lives, and it acknowledges the normative authority of these scriptures. The consensus of the church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit decided finally the canonicity of the books of holy scripture.This consensus remains valid for us independent of judgments reached by contemporary historical research concerning the authorship of individual biblical writings. With regard to the content of the New Testament canon there are no differences between our churches.

7. The Old Testament comprises the following 39 canonical books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Kings (1 Samuel), 2 Kings (2 Samuel), 3 Kings (1 Kings), 4 Kings (2 Kings), 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, 2 Ezra (Ezra), Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, The Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Obadiah, Joel, Jonah, Amos, Hosea, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi; and the ten anagignoskomena (also called “deuterocanonical”) which correspond to the Lutheran “apocrypha”. In the Orthodox tradition they are: Judith, 1 Ezra, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 3 Maccabees, Tobit, Ecclesiasticus (Jesus Sirach), Wisdom of Solomon, Baruch and Letter of Jeremiah. [footnote: The confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church do not contain a list of biblical books because the canon of the holy scripture was received by the Reformation as a given entity. Accordingly, there is also no delimitation of the canon of the Old Testament which is binding for all Lutheran churches. In Martin Luther’s translation which became normative for German-speaking lands, the following books and texts which “are profitable and good to read” are reckoned as the Apocrypha (this name does not here mean writings rejected by the church): Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Tobit, Jesus Sirach, Baruch, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, Additions to Esther, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, Prayer of Azariah, Song of the Three Young Men, Prayer of Manasseh.]

8. The New Testament comprises 27 writings: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, Revelation.

9. We have one common holy scripture. We read it in our worship services; we use it catechetically. In the liturgy the reading of the gospel is always the conclusion and the high-point in a series of biblical texts. Jesus Christ is the centre of the holy scripture, the key to its understanding, the fulfilment of all of God’s promises.

10. From the beginning the Old Testament existed in the church in Hebrew and in Greek. The new Testament was written in Greek. The church translated the holy scripture again and again into the languages of many peoples. The many languages in which the one holy scripture appeared express the life of the one church in many languages and cultures. This also discloses that the canon of the holy scripture is a special fruit of the church’s life and a special gift for the church.

B. The inspiration of scripture

11. “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16f.). “No prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pet. 1:20f). To speak of inspiration (theopneustia) of the holy scripture is to speak of the work of the Holy Spirit. When Christians declare scripture to be inspired, they are making a statement about the way God has chosen to work among his people. Holy scripture is one of the means by which the Holy Spirit bears witness to the truth, inspires and sustains the faith of believers.

12. The question regarding the inspiration of the books of the holy scripture points back to the working of the Spirit in their production, that is to say, the inspiration of the authors, and points forward to the working of this same Spirit in the church who teaches how the scriptures are to be understood and leads the faithful to their goal.

13. According to the apostolic witness and the teaching of the fathers, this goal is participation in God’s glory. “And those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom. 8:30; cf. 1 John 3:2). It is the theme of all divine revelation that the triune God himself saves the creation from its lostness and alienation and leads it to true life. The holy scripture is the divinely inspired and canonical witness to revelation which nevertheless transcends all possibilities of concepts and expressions. As witness to revelation the holy scripture is God’s word. Inspiration is the operation of the Holy Spirit in the authors of the holy scripture so that they may bear witness to the revelation (John 5:39) without erring about God and God’s ways and means for the salvation of humankind. Therefore the authors of holy scripture describe God’s ways with his creation and his people and thereby witness to God’s glory which is hidden from the eyes of unbelievers. Inspiration comes from the experience of the revelation of God’s glory through the Holy Spirit. To the Old Testament prophets, to the apostles and prophets of the new covenant (Eph. 2:20; 3:5), God revealed his glory. It is important to note that glorification is inseparable from the cross and from suffering not only with respect to our Lord Jesus Christ (John 12:23f., 32) but also with respect to his followers (Gal 2:19-20). Glorification is the transformation and renewal of the whole person (Rom 12:2). It empowered the authors of holy scripture to proclaim and to write the word of God.

14. Prophets, apostles and saints who have experienced God’s glory and witnessed to it in holy scripture declare the truth of God and the ways of communion with him. It is about them that St Paul wrote: “The spiritual man … is himself to be judged by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:15-16). Orthodox and Lutheran theologians agree that there is no similarity or analogy of being (analogia entis) between God and creation, even though the created depends on God. This is why St Gregory the Theologian wrote: “It is impossible to express God and even more impossible to conceive him” (Oratio theologica 2,4).

15. Those who have experienced the glory of God, which experience in itself cannot be expressed in words or conceived in thoughts, are yet inspired to use expressions and concepts of ordinary language in order to guide others to the same experience. St Paul wrote: “Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!'” (Gal 4:6). This coming of the Spirit into the heart is the normal form of inspiration in the faithful (Rom. 8:14-17, 26-27). The Holy Spirit effects this through preaching and teaching and the life of those who are already inspired (Rom. 10:13-15; 1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1).

16. The Old Testament period prepared the way for the acceptance of the incarnation of the Son of God by the prophetic tradition represented by St John the Baptist and by Mary, the mother of God, and by other believers who found their place in the early Christian community. Christ revealed himself as having by nature the same glory with his Father by his teaching, his miracles and especially by revelation of his glory in his baptism and transfiguration, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and by Pentecost. It is by Pentecost that the church became the body of Christ, thus being led into all truth.

17. The interpretation of revelation and inspiration consummated in Pentecost continues in the life of the church. Within the life of the church Christians who become “a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19) and therefore are members of the body of Christ are led into all the truth in the experience of glorification, as the Lord prayed to the Father: “Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which thou hast given me in thy love for me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).

18. Expressions and concepts of biblical authors about God are inspired because they are unerring guides to communion with God. But the authors did not receive inspiration about created truths except that God created the world out of nothing (ex nihilo). Also the human words of Christ are guides to pentecostal glorification and not this glorification itself since God as revealed in glorification cannot be conceived or expressed. For this reason holy scripture is not to be used as a substitute for scientific research. Some books of the Bible are written by those authors who themselves have reached glorification, while other books were written about them or about historical events.

19. Authentic interpreters of the holy scripture are persons who have had the same experience of revelation and inspiration within the body of Christ as the biblical writers had. Therefore it is necessary for authentic understanding that anybody who reads or hears the Bible be inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Orthodox believe that such authentic interpretation is the service of the fathers of the church especially expressed in the decisions of the ecumenical councils. Lutherans agree in principle. Lutheran confessional writings affirm that no one can believe in Jesus Christ by one’s own reason or abilities but that it is the Holy Spirit who calls, gathers and illuminates believers through the gospel even as he calls, gathers and enlightens the whole church on earth keeping it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith (Luther’s Small Catechism).


7th Plenary of the Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission
5-10 July 1993, Sandbjerg/ Denmark


1. The Church’s authority is grounded in God’s saving revelation in Jesus Christ to which the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and Holy Tradition bear witness. Moreover the Church as the body of Christ is empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Joint Commission in Allentown, 1985, stated: “God’s revelation in Jesus Christ is realized and actualized in the Church and through the Church as the body of Christ. The paschal and pentecostal mysteries instituted the Church of the New Testament in which revelation is lived, proclaimed and transmitted. The Holy Spirit sustains the Church’s life and growth until the last day through the proclamation of the Gospel in the fullness of the apostolic tradition and its transmission from place to place and from generation to generation, not only by words but also by the whole life of the Church” (par. 4).

2. The nature of the Church’s authority differs from worldly authority. Our Lord Jesus Christ said to his disciples: “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? But I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:25?27). All authority in and of the Church is rooted in the saving work of Christ who gave his life for us. Authority and soteriology are indivisible. Christ’s authority, present in the Church’s mission (Mt 28:18?20), is undergirded by the Paraclete who leads the faithful into all truth (John 14:26; 16:7?14) and through the apostles and their successors it is given to the whole Church. Both Orthodox and Lutherans affirm that apostolic authority was exercised in the ecumenical councils of the Church in which the bishops, through illumination and glorification brought about by the Holy Spirit, exercised responsibility. Ecumenical councils are a special gift of God to the Church and are an authoritative inheritance through the ages. Through ecumenical councils the Holy Spirit has led the Church to preserve and transmit the faith once delivered to the saints. They handed on the prophetic and apostolic truth, formulated it against heresies of their time and safeguarded the unity of the churches.

3. The seven ecumenical councils of the early Church were assemblies of the bishops of the Church from all parts of the Roman Empire to clarify and express the apostolic faith. These councils are Nicaea (325 A.D.), Constantinople I (381), Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451), Constantinople II (553), Constantinople III (680/81), and Nicaea II (787). Of the councils it was stated at Crete, 1987: “The Holy Tradition as ongoing action of the Holy Spirit in the Church expresses itself in the Church’s whole life. The decisions of the ecumenical councils and local synods of the Church, the teaching of the holy fathers and liturgical texts and rites are especially important and authoritative expressions of this manifold action of the Holy Spirit” (par. 8). Ecumenical councils are the epitome of biblical theology and they summarize main themes of the Holy Tradition. They are not merely of historical significance but are irreplaceable events for the Church’s life. Through them the apostolic faith and tradition, brought about by the saving revelation of God in Christ, was confirmed by the consensus of the gathered representatives of the Church led by the Holy Spirit.

4. The teachings of the ecumenical councils of the early Church are normative for the faith and life of our churches today. The trinitarian and christological formulations of these councils are an indispensable guide for understanding God’s saving work in Christ and are the foundation of all later dogmatic clarifications. The Creed of Nicaea/Constantinople is the best known statement of faith from the ancient councils, and now that its original form is increasingly common in the West, it is an ever more living bond between our churches. It shapes the language of prayers and blessings in our worship, and by its use the Church has remained faithful to the revelation of the Triune God.

5. The ecumenical councils did not only take decisions on doctrinal problems which threatened the integrity of God’s revelation and the Church’s unity; they also issued “canones” (canons) for good order within the Church. These “canones” establish a close relation between the faith once for all delivered to the saints and the necessity of ordering the Church’s life and structure. The “oroi” (doctrinal decrees) safeguard the teachings of the Church concerning salvation; the “canones” order various aspects of the Church’s life. They are practical applications of the “oroi.” The two belong together as aspects of the same reality. All the same, not all decisions on canonical matters have the same authority as the doctrinal decisions and their reception and use in the Orthodox and Lutheran churches differ.

6. The ecumenical councils were called together to deal with specific problems that had arisen in the churches. They were not an ongoing ecclesiastical institution regularly convoked but ad hoc gatherings which met only as occasion required. The ecumenical councils were charismatic events. The statements of the bishops illuminated by the Holy Spirit went through a process of reception in the years that followed. Reception has taken place in the whole range of the Church’s life, worship, catechesis, and service even when those councils are not explicitly named. Reception also took place through subsequent theological discussions which clarified the meaning of the terms and expressions formulated at prior councils. A notable example is the theological discussion after Nicaea which culminated in the decrees and creed of the First Council of Constantinople in 381.

7. As Lutherans and Orthodox we affirm that the teachings of the ecumenical councils are authoritative for our churches. The ecumenical councils maintain the integrity of the teaching of the undivided Church concerning the saving, illuminating/justifying and glorifying acts of God and reject heresies which subvert the saving work of God in Christ. Orthodox and Lutherans, however, have different histories. Lutherans have received the Nicaeno?Constantinopolitan Creed with the addition of the filioque. The Seventh Ecumenical Council, the Second Council of Nicaea in 787, which rejected iconoclasm and restored the veneration of icons in the churches, was not part of the tradition received by the Reformation. Lutherans, however, rejected the iconoclasm of the 16th century, and affirmed the distinction between adoration due to the Triune God alone and all other forms of veneration (CA 21). Through historical research this council has become better known. Nevertheless it does not have the same significance for Lutherans as it does for the Orthodox. Yet, Lutherans and Orthodox are in agreement that the Second Council of Nicaea confirms the christological teaching of the earlier councils and in setting forth the role of images (icons) in the lives of the faithful reaffirms the reality of the incarnation of the eternal Word of God, when it states: “The more frequently, Christ, Mary, the mother of God, and the saints are seen, the more are those who see them drawn to remember and long for those who serve as models, and to pay these icons the tribute of salutation and respectful veneration. Certainly this is not the full adoration in accordance with our faith, which is properly paid only to the divine nature, but it resembles that given to the figure of the honored and life?giving cross, and also to the holy books of the gospels and to other sacred objects” (Definition of the Second Council of Nicaea).

8. Agreement on authority of the ecumenical councils requires us to discuss at future meetings the Orthodox and Lutheran understanding of salvation in light of these councils.


8th Plenary of the Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission
2 – 7 August 1995, Limassol/ Cyprus



At the 5th Joint Commission Meeting of the Lutheran-Orthodox Dialogue in Bad Segeberg, Germany, 1989, it was decided to continue the work of the dialogue under the new theme, “Authority in and of the Church.” This theme, with special reference to the Ecumenical Councils, was discussed and elaborated with an agreed statement at the 7th Joint Commission Meeting in Sandbjerg, Denmark, 1993, and it was agreed that the “Understanding of Salvation in the Light of the Ecumenical Councils” be the theme of the 8th Joint Commission Meeting in Limassol, Cyprus, 1995.

I. The Mystery of God and Formulations of Dogma

1. The Triune God is the mystery “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). This mystery, revealed in Jesus Christ through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, is continuously lived and experienced in the Church. The doctrinal formulations of the seven Ecumenical Councils are expressions of the continuity of the apostolic faith in the life of the Church, and guides to the Christian life. These formulations enable the faithful rightly to worship, praise and witness to the glory of God.

2. The mystery of God should not be confused with formulations of doctrine in relation to the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation. These doctrinal formulations are necessary pointers on the narrow path, helping the faithful avoid heretical deviations and idolatry which identify theological speculation with the substance and essence of God and with the persons of the Holy Trinity. “It is impossible to express God and even more impossible to conceive Him” (St. Gregory the Theologian, Oratio Theologica 2,4).

3. Both the orthodoxy of our doctrine and the reality of our participation in the Body of Christ are manifested and tested in an ecclesial life of love and prayer, a life of which it can truly be said in the words of St. Paul: “It is no longer I who live but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

4. As Lutherans and Orthodox we affirm that Christians, led by the Holy Spirit, grow through faith in the experience of God as a mystery, nurtured by the liturgical life of the Church, by the apostolic faith, by prayer, and by sharing in the fellowship of the local Church (cf. Acts 2:42).

5a. We agree on the doctrine of God, the Holy Trinity, as formulated by the Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople and on the doctrine of the person of Christ as formulated by the first four Ecumenical Councils. The Fathers of the four Councils rejected the Arian and Eunomian notion that the Logos, the Angel of the Great Counsel (Is. 9:6 LXX) was created before the ages, and insisted that the Logos is “homoousios to Patri”. They also rejected the Nestorian notion that the One born of the Virgin Mary was not the Logos himself and that the Logos only dwelled in the One who was born of the Virgin Mary. In short, the Fathers of these Councils affirmed that he who was born of the Virgin Mary is God by nature and not just by the will of the Father, and that he became homoousios with us in his humanity. The union of the divine and human natures in the hypostasis of the Logos is, according to the Council of Chalcedon, “without confusion, without change, without division, and without separation.” The Ecumenical Councils which followed continued this teaching and applied it to new challenges to the faith. The Fifth Ecumenical Council accepted as orthodox two theological terminologies in the confession of the one Lord Jesus Christ. The Sixth Ecumenical Council affirmed the two natural wills and energies, with their natural properties, of the one person of the Logos incarnate. The Seventh Ecumenical Council drew conclusions from the affirmation of the hypostatic union in Christ in order to confirm the veneration of icons.

5b. We agree in these fundamental teachings, confessing Jesus Christ, the Logos who for us and for our salvation (soteria) came down from heaven, was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and who for our sake was crucified, raised and exalted to the right hand of the Father; he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.

5c. We affirm that between Pentecost and the final Parousia the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, “whom I (Jesus Christ) will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father” (Jn. 15:26), calls, gathers, enlightens and glorifies believers in the Body of Christ.

5d. We affirm that the saving work (oikonomia) of the Triune God encompasses all of sinful humanity. “God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself,” and through the ministry of reconciliation he challenges all people: “be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:19?20).

5e. These are the dogmatic foundations of apostolic and orthodox teaching in the church about salvation.

II. Justification and Glorification as Descriptions of Salvation

6. The language with which the Ecumenical Councils and the Fathers of the ancient Church expressed and clarified the biblical witness on salvation is the privileged, unique and irreplaceable Christian language. According to their understanding, salvation in both the Old and New Testaments is our liberation from slavery to sin, the devil and death, and our participation in the life of Christ, who destroyed death by his death and gives life to those in the tomb. In this context justification (dikaiosis) is liberation from the dominion of the devil and the restoration of our communion with God. Those who are justified are glorified (Rom. 8:30) in the Body of Christ, the Church. By baptism and participation in the other mysteries (sacraments) of the Church, the faithful are raised to a new life of righteousness in Christ, together with all the prophets and saints of the Old and New Testaments. God gives them, in the Holy Spirit, the power to pass through purification and illumination of the heart and arrive “with all the saints” (Eph. 3:18) at glorification (Mt. 17:2; Jn. 17:22, 2 Cor. 3:18; 2 Pet. 1:4). In this life, glorification may have various forms and be experienced for various durations, and in the next life will go from glory to glory without end.

7. The teaching of the Ecumenical Councils and the Fathers – as also Holy Scripture – has to be transmitted from generation to generation in all human languages, for God wills that all human beings come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4). In the New Testament the one mystery of salvation is expressed in different but essentially complementary terms such as sanctification, justification, redemption, adoption, liberation, glorification etc. In interpreting the apostolic teaching on salvation, our two ecclesiastical traditions developed different emphases.

8. For the Orthodox Church, salvation is a gratuitous gift of God offered in Jesus Christ to all human beings (1 Tim. 2:4; Jn. 3:17), which they must both freely choose (Rev. 3:20) and work for (1 Cor. 3:13, 15:58; Phil. 2:12). According to St. Paul, this is synergia (1 Cor. 3:9; 2 Cor. 6:1). Once this gift of the divine grace is accepted by faith, Christ truly becomes the doctor of the souls and bodies of the faithful in the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God and the mysteries of the Church. He purifies their hearts (Ps. 50/51:10, Acts 15:9) and constantly renews their minds (Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 4:16), leading them from illumination/justification (2 Cor. 4:6) manifested by prayer in the heart (Rom. 8:26; Eph. 5:19, 6:18; Col. 3:16) and keeping of the commandments (1 Jn. 3:22), to glorification (Jn. 17:22; 1 Cor. 12:26). The Orthodox Church does not hold that humanity inherited the guilt of the sin of Adam and Eve and is therefore worthy of eternal damnation, or that God chose from those thus guilty certain ones only to be saved without personal merit, or that Christ died on the Cross only for them, or that Christ loves only those sinners who are destined for heaven, or that God had to be reconciled to humanity by Christ’s crucifixion.

9. Lutherans understand the saving work which God accomplishes in Christ through the Holy Spirit primarily through the concept of “justification.” For Lutherans, justification is God’s gracious declaration of the forgiveness of sins for the sake of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, and at the same time the free gift of new life in him. Through the liturgical life, preaching, and sacraments of the Church, the Holy Spirit enables us to have faith in the gospel ? that is, in God’s gracious promise of forgiveness and new life. This promise is received by faith alone (sola fide); this means that salvation is by Christ alone, and not by any human works or merits. In faith Christians entrust themselves entirely to God’s grace in Christ for salvation. In this way they enter a new relationship with God, as St. Paul says: “since we are justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). Justification is a real participation in Christ, true God and true human being. In the Church, the believer by faith participates in Christ and all his gifts, and so has a share in the divine life. The presence of Christ in faith genuinely effects the righteousness of Christ in us, and leads believers to the sanctification of their lives. In this way, believers work out their salvation in fear and trembling, trusting that God in Christ is at work in them, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13).

10. Lutherans and Orthodox agree that the Ecumenical Councils of the early Church are a specific gift of God to his Church. The Councils are an authoritative inheritance through the ages because they keep prophetic and apostolic truth, and provide guidelines for the purification and illumination of the heart to glorification in Christ for the salvation and justification of humanity throughout the ages.

11. Lutherans and Orthodox still need to explore further their different concepts of salvation as purification, illumination, and glorification, with the use of synergia, which is the Orthodox teaching and tradition and as justification and sanctification, with the use of sola fide, which is the Lutheran teaching and tradition.


9th Plenary of the Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission
31 July – 8 August 1998, Sigtuna/Sweden



The general theme of the Lutheran – Orthodox Joint Commission proposed already in 1989 in Bad Segeberg, Germany, and in 1991 in Moscow, Russia, was finally adopted in Sandbjerg, Denmark, in 1993: “Authority in and of the Church in the Light of the Ecumenical Councils.” The 8th meeting of the Lutheran – Orthodox Joint Commission in Limassol, Cyprus, 1995 agreed at the end of their statement on the “Understanding of Salvation in the Light of the Ecumenical Councils,” that Lutherans and Orthodox still needed to explore further their different concepts of ‘synergeia’ in the Orthodox teaching and tradition, and ‘sola fide’ in the Lutheran teaching and tradition. In response to this request the 9th plenary of the Joint Commission in Sigtuna, agreed on the following statement.

1. “God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). The Logos, the Son of God, in whom everything was created, is the light which enlightens everyone. The Logos revealed himself to Abraham, to the prophets of the Old Testament, and in the Law given to Moses. In the last days “He became man for us and for our salvation,” (Nicean-Constantinopolitan Creed 381) which He fulfilled through His life, death and resurrection, and through the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church at Pentecost. Salvation depends entirely upon the grace of the Holy Trinity, given to us and experienced through Word and sacraments in the life of the Church. The grace of God comes to humanity from the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. The Father creates, redeems and glorifies us through the Son, in the Spirit.

2. Lutherans and Orthodox teach that divine grace eternally flows out of God’s love for His creation. It overcomes the sin of humanity to achieve God’s plan for the fullness of time, which is “to gather up all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth (Eph. 1:10). Grace is not simply a reaction to human sin. Lutherans and Orthodox both teach that God invites humanity to full communion in Him, still remaining true God beyond all human comprehension. Orthodox express this reality by the distinction between the divine essence, which is unapproachable (cf. Exodus 33:18-23, I Tim 6:16) and the divine, uncreated energies, the multitude of divine grace in which God comes down to us and in which we are called to participate. As St. Basil the Great says, “We know our God from his energies, but we do not claim that we can draw near to his essence; for his energies come down to us, but his essence remains unapproachable.” (Epist. 234, 1). Lutherans in their terminology do not make use of the distinction between essence and energies, but they fully accept the belief that God’s grace eternally flows to us from his very being because “God is love and who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” (I John 4:16).

3. As St. Paul teaches, the grace which saves us is centered in Christ (cf. Rom 5). Grace presupposes the work of Christ both in the Old Testament (cf. I Cor. 10:2-4) and in the New Testament (cf. Rom. 3:24), and is given as the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ himself (cf. II Cor. 13:13). We receive the grace of Christ in the Holy Spirit, and without the Holy Spirit no one can believe in Christ (cf. I Cor. 12:3). The Holy Spirit, whom Christ sends from the Father, forms us in the divine likeness. The Holy Spirit calls human beings to faith in Christ through the Gospel in the Church, frees them from sin and death in Holy Baptism, enlightens them and bestows His gifts upon them. He sanctifies and sustains the baptized in true faith; He nourishes them by the flesh and blood of the Lord (cf. John 6:56) in the communion (koinonia) of Christ’s Body (cf. I Cor. 10:16-17). He thus leads them through many depths “from glory to glory.” (II Cor 3:18).

4. Though human beings may feel dependence on God (cf. Acts 17:23,27), because of sin they can neither ask for, nor obtain divine grace through their own powers. Grace is entirely God’s gift, which God gives because God wants all human beings to be saved (cf. I Tim. 2:4). Faith is God’s gift from its inception, since it is the Holy Spirit who, by divine grace, enlightens the human mind and strengthens the human will to turn to God. As stated by Cyril of Alexandria: “For it is unworkable for the soul of man to achieve any of the goods, namely, to control its own passions and to escape the mightiness of the sharp trap of the devil, unless he is fortified by the grace of the Holy Spirit and on this count he has Christ himself in his soul.” (Against Julian, 3)

5. Both Lutherans and Orthodox teach that divine grace operates universally and that God freely grants grace to all human beings. God’s saving grace does not operate by necessity or in an irresistible manner, since human beings can reject it. Regarding the way in which salvation is appropriated by the believers, Lutherans, by teaching that justification and salvation are by grace alone through faith (sola gratia, sola fide), stress the absolute priority of divine grace in salvation. When they speak about saving faith they do not think of the dead faith which even the demons have (cf. James 2:19), but the faith which Abraham showed and which was reckoned to him as righteousness (cf. Gen. 15:6, Rom. 4:3,9). The Orthodox also affirm the absolute priority of divine grace. They underline that it is God’s grace which enables our human will to conform to the divine will (cf. Phil 2:13) in the steps of Jesus praying, “not as I will but as You will” (Matt. 26:39), so that we may work out our salvation in fear and trembling (cf. Phil. 2:12). This is what the Orthodox mean by “synergy” (working together) of divine grace and the human will of the believer in the appropriation of the divine life in Christ. The understanding of synergy in salvation is helped by the fact that the human will in the one person of Christ was not abolished when the human nature was united in Him with the divine nature, according to the Christological decisions of the Ecumenical Councils. While Lutherans do not use the concept of synergy, they recognize the personal responsibility of the human being in the acceptance or refusal of divine grace through faith, and in the growth of faith and obedience to God. Lutherans and Orthodox both understand good works as the fruits and manifestations of the believer’s faith and not as a means of salvation.

6. Lutherans, together with the Orthodox, affirm that salvation is real participation by grace in the nature of God as St. Peter writes: “that we may be partakers of the divine nature.” (II Pet. 1:4) That happens through our participation in the death and resurrection of the Lord in His body, in Whom all the fullness of God dwells (cf. Col. 2:9). This is the way in which salvation is realized as purification, illumination and glorification, also referred to as deification (theosis). This terminology has not been central in Lutheran tradition. Lutherans prefer to speak of the sanctification in the body of Christ who is Himself present in the faith of the believers. Lutherans, together with the Orthodox, affirm the reality of the believers’ participation in the divine life, in which they grow by the grace of God.

7. Lutherans and Orthodox affirm that on the cross Christ the incarnate Word, through whom God reconciled us to Himself (cf. II Cor. 5:18-19), died for our sins (cf. I Cor.15,3) and freed us for a new life by His resurrection (cf. Rom. 6:5) so that having crucified the passions of the flesh we may live in the freedom of the Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:24-25).

Lutherans seeing that Christian life is a continuous struggle against sin and “flesh” (cf. Gal 5:16-18), and being afflicted by this experience do not look to their own good works, or their own failures, but look to Christ on the cross and his resurrection and trust in God’s promise, the word of forgiveness in the Church. Therefore Lutherans place specific emphasis on the forensic dimension of salvation. They stress that God forgives sin and imputes the righteousness of Christ to sinners through faith, and that we may therefore for salvation rely entirely upon the Father’s mercy in Christ through the communion of the Holy Spirit (cf. II Cor 13:13).

For the Orthodox, the redemptive work of Christ is received by the believer in the Church, His Body, to whom the promise of forgiveness of sins has been given by the Lord (cf. Mat. 18:18). In faith and humility, the believer puts his trust in the truth and power of the said promise, in the unsearchable riches of Christ’s mercies (cf. Eph. 2:4, 3:8) and His boundless love for humankind (philanthropia) and in the prayers of the communion of saints (cf. Heb. 12:1, 22-23) and the intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos (cf. John 2:3; 19:26-27). The struggle against passions (cf. I Cor 9:24-27, Eph. 6:10-17) in the power of the Holy Spirit is a participation in the death and resurrection of Christ. It aims at the purification of the heart (cf. Mat. 5:8) and the illumination (cf. Mat. 5:14, II Cor 4:6) leading to glorification (cf. John 17:22; II Cor 3:18, II Peter 1:4).

8. Lutherans and Orthodox believe that “the sufferings of the present time are not worthy of comparing with the glory about to be revealed in us.” (Rom. 8:18). In salvation we become children of God by grace and “it has not yet been revealed what we shall be. But we know that when it is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2).And we also know that “the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God” (Rom 8:19) and his daughters, and we know that “creation shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21, cf. I Cor 15:52-54).

Having thoroughly explored and discussed our respective understandings of salvation in relation to grace, justification and synergy, according to the mandate given to us in Limassol, we have noted during this 9th session of our dialogue the central points of agreement between Lutherans and Orthodox with differences in emphasis and terminology.

The Joint Commission expresses its strong affirmation of the continuation of the dialogue between the two traditions, and proposes a new general theme for the next period: “The Mystery of the Church,” and as its first subtheme: “Word and Sacraments (Mysteries) in the life of the Church.”

Sigtuna, 7 August 1998


10th Plenary of the Lutheran-rthodox Joint Commission
3-10 November 2000, Damascus/ Syria



The Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission has been officially working since 1981. Between 1985 and 1998 the Commission has discussed the following topics: Divine Revelation, Scripture and Tradition, The Canon and the Inspiration of the Holy Scripture, Authority in and of the Church in the Light of the Ecumenical Councils. In the 9th meeting of the Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission in Sigtuna, Sweden, in 1998 an agreed statement “Salvation: Grace, Justification and Synergy” was adopted. This ended the treatment of the topic “Authority in and of the Church”. A new general theme was proposed in Sigtuna: “The Mystery of the Church”, with its first subtheme as: “Word and Sacraments (Mysteria) in the Life of the Church”. The Joint Commission thus deepens the treatment of salvation by dealing with the issue of the Christian’s life in the Church. In 1998 it was affirmed that “salvation is real participation by grace in the nature of God as St. Peter writes: ‘that we may be partakers of the divine nature’ (2 Pet. 1:4). This takes place through our participation in the death and resurrection of the Lord in His body, in Whom all the fullness of God dwells (cf. Col. 2:9)” (Sigtuna, paragraph 6). This participation is the work of the Holy Spirit through word and sacraments in the life of the church. In accordance with this the Joint Commission agreed in Damascus, Syria, in 2000, to the following statement on Word and Sacraments (Mysteria) in the Life of the Church.

1. The church as the body of Christ is the mysterion* par excellence, in which the different mysteria / sacraments find their place and existence and through which the believers participate in the fruits of the entire redemptive work of Christ. God “has made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:9-10). The apostle Paul also writes of this mysterion: “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints” (Col. 1:24-26).

2. We affirm this Pauline view of the church as mysterion. Within this view we understand the various sacraments / mysteria as means of salvation, i.e., as specific, divine, saving acts of the church for the salvation of believers. We understand the mysteria in the sense that in them, and through them, Christ imparts his saving grace to believers in a real, though ineffable way, in which we grasp the visible signs but perceive only by faith the divine grace given in and through them. This grace of the sacraments is a free gift of God in the Holy Spirit.

3. The mysteria of the church are grounded in the historical redemptive work of Christ, and as such they differ radically from Hellenistic, pagan and neo-pagan mysteries connected with magic. The word “mysteria” does not have the same meaning for the Orthodox tradition as the word sacrament. “Sacramentum” is the Latin translation of the Greek “mysterion” and it is from this Latin word that specific theological concepts have developed in the West. Mysteria refers to the ineffable action of the divine grace imparted in and through the specific acts performed in and by the church. Lutherans use the word “sacrament” in accordance with the Latin tradition in which these ineffable actions are the means of imparting the saving grace that the Father gives through the Son in the Holy Spirit to the church for the salvation of the world.

4. The expression “word of God” carries distinct but related meanings. With regard to the Holy Trinity it refers to the divine Logos. With regard to christology and soteriology it means Jesus Christ, the incarnate divine Logos and Saviour. With regard to the sacraments it means the same incarnate and resurrected Christ as the subject of the mysteria/sacraments. Besides the reference to the divine Logos and his redemptive work in history, the expression “word of God” carries the meaning of the church’s proclamation of Christ and witness to him (kerygma). The proclamation of the word of God thus brings about faith; people cannot believe unless the word is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom. 10:14-18).

5. Affirming the christocentric nature of the church, our traditions approach word and sacrament from that perspective. Both traditions connect sacramental theology with the divine grace outpouring from the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, remembering also the apostle Paul’s exhortation “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1). By participation in the life of the church, believers grow in holiness, “to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).

6. Together we affirm that when the word of God is preached and taught, believers, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, respond by confessing the faith of the church and entering its sacramental life. In this sense the preaching of the word of God precedes the sacraments, while the confession of faith exists as an essential element of the celebration of the sacraments (cf. Justin, I Apology, 66-67). St. Irenaeus of Lyon writes that he who possesses in himself the rule of faith, which he has received through baptism, cannot deviate from the true faith (Adv. Haer., I,9,4.) This is because the rule of faith is constantly confirmed in the sacrament of the divine eucharist. The interpenetration of the word of God and the sacraments finds an absolute expression in the eucharist. According to St. Irenaeus, “our [the church’s] teaching is in agreement with the eucharist, while the eucharist confirms the teaching” (Adv. Haer., IV,18, 5).

7. Lutherans and Orthodox converge in their teaching of the church as the body of Christ, i.e., as a divine and human reality. Of this theandric reality St. Paul writes: “But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body … Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12:18-20, 27). Being in communion with Christ and with one another through the power of the Holy Spirit, the church exists in history as the community of the faithful awaiting the second coming of its Lord at the end of time (Acts 3:20-21).
8. With regard to the manifestation of the church in the divine economy, i.e., in the history of salvation, we affirm together that the proclamation of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments by the ordained ministry in the church are among the most important marks of the church. Both of our traditions teach that the visible and material elements of the sacraments, such as water, bread and wine, constitute concrete and unchangeable elements of the operations of the Triune God in the history of salvation. Created things thus become, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the symbols of the sacrifice, cross and resurrection of Christ so that we may participate in the divine life. In this new life in Christ believers by grace partake in the communion / koinonia of the Triune God who sets them free from sin and death and leads them to glorification and eternal life.


11th Plenary of the Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission
3 – 10 October 2002, Oslo/ Norway



Meeting in Sigtuna, Sweden, in 1998, the Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission selected the theme of “The Mystery of the Church.” In 2000 at its meeting in Damascus, Syria, the Commission adopted an agreed statement entitled “The Mystery of the Church: Word and Sacraments (Mysteria) in the Life of the Church.” In addition, the Commission decided to examine next under the same theme the issue of “The Sacraments (Mysteria) as Means of Salvation.” The following statement thus builds on the consensus previously discovered, not only on the topic of Word and Sacraments (Mysteria) in the Life of the Church,” but also that reflected even earlier in the dialogue, particularly in the 1998 Statement: “Salvation: Grace, Justification and Synergy.” The present statement should be seen in the context of the Commission’s previous work which has affirmed both that “salvation is real participation by grace in the nature of God” (Sigtuna 1998.6) and that the sacraments/mysteria are “means of salvation, i.e., specific divine acts of the church for the salvation of believers” (Damascus 2000.2). By means of the sacraments, “Christ imparts his saving grace to believers,” for the “grace of the sacraments is a free gift of God in the Holy Spirit” (Damascus 2000.2)
1. The mysteria/sacraments are founded on the incarnation, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as witnessed in the Holy Scriptures. The sacraments of the church are the means by which Christ extends his saving work, which took place once and for all in the past, into the history of the church. These mysteria regenerate believers in the love of God the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit, and incorporate them into the body of Christ-the church-where they participate in the life of Christ. The sacraments are fruits of the salvific work of Christ. They are performed in the church, and grant specific gifts of grace for the salvation of the faithful and for building up the body of Christ.

2. Church and sacraments are inseparable: the church is manifested through the sacraments, and there are no sacraments without or outside the church. We agree that the church is in itself a mysterion, not in the sense that it should be taken as the source of the other sacraments, or as an additional sacrament alongside them, but in the sense that it is the body of Christ, its Lord, “the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:

3. We also agree that those who perform the sacraments in the church do so in persona Christi. When the ordained servants of Christ carry out their sacramental ministries in the church, Christ himself acts as the true high priest and chief liturgist. The sacraments of the church are therefore the acts of Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, by means of which he baptizes, forgives sin, bestows life, and gives his own body and blood for the salvation of all believers. As St. Ambrose says, in the consecration “the priest does not use his own words, but uses the words of Christ. Therefore the word of Christ effects this sacrament” (De sacramentis, 4, 14). The salvation given in the church is thus the work of the triune God, as St. John Chrysostom says: “The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit do everything, while the priest lends his tongue and offers his hand” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, PG 59, 472).

4. The salvation imparted by means of the sacraments must be appropriated personally, by faith and life in Christ, through the Holy Spirit. Lutherans have expressed this point by saying that the sacraments are objectively valid by the word and command of Christ, while they depend for their efficacy on the believer’s faithful reception. The language of “validity” and “efficacy” is not used by the Orthodox in this context. Lutherans and Orthodox, however, both seek to avoid two extremes, one of which would make the sacraments depend for their efficacy on the worthiness of the celebrant or administrator, the other of which would insist that the sacraments confer grace by the mere performance of an act. Thus we agree, for instance, that those who receive the body and blood of Christ in faith do so to their salvation, while whoever “eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord” (I Cor. 11:27).

5. Lutherans and Orthodox teach that the sacraments are instituted by Jesus Christ, and revealed through the Holy Spirit in the church. With regard to the number of sacraments, for the Orthodox the following sacraments have been instituted by the Lord: baptism, chrismation, eucharist, penance, ordination, matrimony, and holy unction (euchelaion). Besides these seven sacraments which are given for the salvation of believers, there are numerous other liturgical acts through which God blesses many aspects of the lives of the faithful as well as the whole creation. Lutherans do not insist on a specific number of sacraments, but generally employ a somewhat more restrictive concept of a sacrament, insisting that of the many ritual acts mentioned in the Holy Scriptures only two-baptism and the eucharist or Lord’s supper-include both a command of Christ (“do this”) and an accompanying promise of salvation. At the same time, there are elements in the Lutheran theological tradition which extend this concept of a sacrament beyond baptism and the eucharist, so that, for example, both penance and ordination may be regarded as sacraments (see Apology XIII.). Lutherans and Orthodox agree that God has bound Christians for their salvation to the sacraments in the church, but that His sovereign freedom remains uncompromised by His fidelity to us in them.

6. Orthodox and Lutherans, discussing the sacraments on a preliminary basis, agree to give emphasis to the sacraments of initiation of the ancient church, that is, baptism, chrismation, and the eucharist. We also agree that baptism takes place with water, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It brings the forgiveness of sins, and is a participation in the death and resurrection of Christ which incorporates the believer into the body of Christ as a member of the church. For the Orthodox this incorporation is completed through chrismation, in which the baptized receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. For Lutherans, anointing with the Holy Spirit takes place within the rite of baptism itself, and finds its expression in the laying on of hands after water baptism.

7. With regard to the holy eucharist, Lutherans and Orthodox converge in their insistence on the reality of the body and blood of Christ given and received in the eucharistic elements. In this respect, Orthodox speak of the change (metabole) in the elements of the eucharist such that after the invocation of the Holy Spirit (epiclesis) there is no longer “bread” and “wine” but the real body and blood of Christ. Lutherans traditionally say that the real body and blood of Christ are present “in, with, and under” the bread and the wine. Lutherans and Orthodox agree that in holy communion we do not receive ordinary bread and ordinary wine, but the body and blood of Christ. As St. Paul teaches: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? (I Cor. 10:16).”

On the basis of this discussion, we propose that the 12th Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission consider the following theme:

The Mystery of the Church:
C. Baptism and Chrismation as Sacraments of incorporation into the Church.



12th Plenary of the International Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission
6 – 15 October 2004, Duràu/ Romania



The Lutheran—Orthodox Joint Commission, meeting in Sigtuna, Sweden in 1998, selected the topic “The Mystery of the Church” for the next round of conversations. The topic has been dealt with so far in three sub-topics: a) “The Mystery of the Church: Word and Sacrament” (Damascus, Syria, 2000, §2); b) “The Sacraments (Mysteria) as Means of Salvation” (Oslo, Norway, 2002, §6); c)“Baptism and Chrismation as Sacraments of Initiation into the Church” (Durau, Romania, 2004). Thus, the Oslo statement builds on the con­sensus previously achieved on the topic “Word and Sacraments (Mysteria) in the Life of the Church.” However, it also takes into account the earlier consensus, particularly that achieved in the 1998 statement: “Salvation: Grace, Justification and Synergy.” The commission’s previous work has affirmed both that “salvation is a real participation by grace in the nature of God” (Sigtuna, 1998 §6) and that the sacraments/mysteria are “means of salvation, i.e., specific divine acts of the church for the salvation of believers” (Damascus 2000 §2).

The present statement builds on the agreement reached in Oslo “to give emphasis to the sacraments of initiation of the ancient church, that is, baptism, chrismation, and the eucharist” (Oslo, 2002 §6). In Durau we have explored areas of convergence and divergence in the process of Christian initiation focusing on the three events of death with Christ, resurrection with Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

Our method has been to compare our respective rites of initiation because we believe that they clearly express the teaching of our churches. The Orthodox rites of Christian initiation are found in the Euchologion, which are translated into the various liturgical languages. The English translation used here is from the Service Book of the Antiochian Orthodox Church in America (1987). The Lutheran rites of holy baptism are based on The Baptismal Booklet (Taufbüchlein), which is an appendix to Luther’s Small Catechism in the Book of Concord (The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church), edited by Kolb and Wengert (2000). The rite of holy baptism in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), published in North America and used widely by other Lutheran churches, includes elements retrieved from the ancient patristic tradition under the influence of the Lutheran liturgical renewal movement.

1. Lutherans and Orthodox agree that entry into the life of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is a gift given by God through the sacraments, which are enacted in the church.  “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).  In both traditions the sacrament of baptism is administered with water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (cf. Matt. 28:19). Therefore, salvation is the work of the Triune God. In both traditions baptism is normally administered by an ordained minister: in Orthodox churches this is normally done by triple immersion, and in Lutheran churches normally by pouring water three times on the head. There is agreement between the two traditions that immersion is the most symbolically appropriate form of the administration of this sacrament. Lutherans and Orthodox also agree that in cases of emergency baptism may be administered by lay persons. Our churches agree that the sacrament of baptism is unrepeatable.

2. There are three basic components in the process of Christian initiation: death with Christ, resurrection with Christ, and the sealing with the Holy Spirit. For Orthodox, Christian initiation finds its fulfillment in the holy eucharist. Lutherans do not normally speak of the eucharist as a sacrament of initiation, but when an older child or adult is baptized, that person is immediately admitted to the eucharist.

3. In preparation for Christian initiation, Orthodox and Lutheran churches use their own rites of exorcism. In the Orthodox order of baptism the priest says, “O Lord … look upon your servant; prove him/her and search him/her and root out of him/her every operation of the devil. Rebuke the unclean spirits and expel them, and purify the works of your hands …” (Service Book, p. 147). In the Lutheran Baptismal Booklet the minister says: “Depart from [name] you unclean spirit, and make way for the Holy Spirit” (Book of Concord, p. 373).

4. Both Lutherans and Orthodox incorporate in their rite of initiation the renunciation of the devil and the confession of faith. The Orthodox priest asks the candidate for baptism, or the sponsor/godparent, the question, “Do you renounce Satan, and all his angels, and all his works, and all his service, and all his pride?” (Service Book, p. 148). Similarly the Lutheran minister asks: “Do you renounce the devil?“ (Baptismal Booklet, p. 374) In the Orthodox rite this is immediately followed by a confession of Christ and the Nicene-Constantinopolitian Creed (325/381), while in the Lutheran rite the Apostles’ Creed is used. Thus, in both traditions the faith of the candidate for baptism or that of the sponsors/godparents is expressed through the confession of the creed.

5. Although theological discourse may ascribe different effects to our participation in Christ’s death and resurrection, they nevertheless form a unity in our liturgical rites and we will therefore treat them together in this document. Lutherans and Orthodox agree that our participation in Christ’s death and resurrection bestows on us the following gifts: death of the old Adam (cf. Rom 6:6), union with Christ (cf. Rom 6:5), redemption, sanctification, purification of flesh and spirit (cf. 1 Cor. 6:11), deliverance from death and the devil, forgiveness of sins, victory over the power of sin (cf. Rom. 6), illumination of the soul (cf. Heb. 6:4), regeneration, new birth (cf. Titus 3:5), new life in Christ, adoption as God’s children (cf. Rom 8:16), renewal of the image of God (cf. Col 3:10, Eph 3:10), eternal life, and incorporation into Christ’s body, the church.

6. The bestowal of these gifts is clearly attested in both the Lutheran and Orthodox rites of initiation. In the Lutheran order the minister addresses those present and explains the meaning of Baptism: “In Holy Baptism our gracious heavenly Father liberates us from sin and death by joining us to the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are born children of the fallen humanity; in the water of baptism we are reborn children of God and inheritors of eternal life. By water and the Holy Spirit we are made members of the Church which is the body of Christ” (Lutheran Book of Worship, p. 121). The gifts are also highlighted in Luther’s Flood Prayer, which is reflected in most Lutheran rites: “… By the baptism of his own death and resurrection, your beloved Son has set us free from bondage to sin and death, and has opened the way to the joy and freedom of everlasting life. He made water a sign of the kingdom and of cleansing and rebirth… Pour out your Holy Spirit so that those who are here baptized may be given new life. Wash away the sin of all those who are cleansed by this water and bring them forth as inheritors of your glorious kingdom” (Lutheran Book of Worship, p. 122).

7. In the Orthodox rite, the priest prays over the water of baptism “…Master of all, show this water to be the water of redemption, the water of sanctification, the purification of flesh and spirit, the loosing of bonds, the remission of sins, the illumination of the soul, the laver of regeneration, the renewal of the spirit, the gift of adoption to sonship, the garment of incorruption, the fountain of life. … You have bestowed on us from on high a new birth through water and the spirit. Wherefore O Lord, manifest yourself in this water, and grant that he/she who is baptized in it may be transformed; that he/she may put away from him/her the old man, which is corrupt through the lust of the flesh, and that he/she may be clothed with the new man, and renewed after the image of Him who created him/her; that being buried, after the pattern of your death, in baptism, he/she may, in like manner, be a partaker or your Resurrection …” (Service Book, p. 155-6).

8. Orthodox and Lutherans agree that the third component of Christian initiation is the gift and seal of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 4:30). In Lutheran rites, the gift of the Spirit is connected with the laying on of hands and either a post-baptismal blessing or a prayer for the Spirit. After the minister pours water three times on the head of the candidate in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, the Baptismal Booklet continues with the prayer: “The almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has given birth to you for a second time through water and the Holy Spirit and has forgiven you all your sins, strengthen you with his grace to eternal life.” (Baptismal Booklet, p. 375)

9. It is also customary in Lutheran churches for the minister to lay both hands on the head of the newly baptized and to pray for the Holy Spirit: “God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we give you thanks for freeing your sons and daughters from the power of sin and for raising them up to a new life through this holy sacrament. Pour your Holy Spirit upon [name]: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence” (Lutheran Book of Worship, p. 124). The Handbook of the Lutheran Book of Worship notes that “the laying on of hands with the prayer for the gifts of the Holy Spirit signals a return to the liturgical fullness of the ancient church which was lost when confirmation became a separate rite.” (p. 31). According to the Lutheran Book of Worship, the minister may make the sign of the cross on the forehead of the newly baptized saying, “[Name], child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever” (p. 125). Lutheran churches that follow this rite have reclaimed the ritual action of chrismation and have clearly distinguished it as a distinct moment in the baptismal rite, though they do not define it theologically as a separate sacrament.

10. The gift of the Holy Spirit is more explicit in the Orthodox rite. Attending closely to patristic tradition, the Orthodox see a profound parallel between participation in the sacraments of the church and the historical unfolding of the economy of salvation as proceeding from the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. After the immersion, the priest anoints the newly baptized with holy chrism (myron) saying: “… compassionate king of all, grant also to him/her the seal of the gift of your holy, and almighty, and adorable Spirit …” (Service Book, p. 159). Thus, as Jesus Christ received the gift of the Holy Spirit in his human nature, so all who follow him must, after the pattern of the gathered church at Pentecost, receive that same gift.  The Holy Chrismation (the anointing of the baptized with the holy myron and prayer for their reception of the Holy Spirit) is the distinct but inseparable sacrament that imparts to the individual believer the church’s own Pentecost.  Endowed with the gift of the Spirit, believers are prepared and enabled to participate in the eucharist, the sacrament which effects their union with Christ, so that they truly become with him one body (syssomos) and one blood (homaimos). Accordingly, in the Orthodox tradition, all those who have been baptized and chrismated are immediately admitted to the Eucharist, including infants. The Orthodox tradition places particular significance on the holy myron, which is prepared during the holy week every ten years from pure olive oil and over 50 other aromatic ingredients and symbolizes the ecclesial character of chrismation, which unites the newly baptized with the universal church through the Holy Spirit.

11. Orthodox and Lutherans at their meeting in Durau, October 6-15, 2004, found that the three components of Christian initiation are to a large extent included in each other’s rites. These components find their fulfillment in the Christian’s full participation in the life of Christ and his church through eating his body and drinking his blood in the holy eucharist. The topic for the meeting of the 13thLutheran – Orthodox Joint Commission will be: The Mystery of the Church: D. The Holy Eucharist in the Life of the Church.


13th Plenary of the International Lutheran – Orthodox Joint Commission
2-9 November 2006, Bratislava , Slovak Republic



The Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission met in Bratislava, Slovak Republic, from November 2-9, 2006, to consider the topic “The Mystery of the Church: The Holy Eucharist in the Life of the Church”. Papers were presented on various topics: “The Spirituality of the Eucharist and its practical implications in Evangelical Lutheran church life” (E. Hagberg), “The Lutheran Understanding of the Eucharist” (K.Ch. Felmy and J. Wasmuth), “The Holy Sacrament (Mysterion) of the Eucharist: An Orthodox Perspective” (V. Ionita); “Comments to the Lutheran papers” (A. Laham); “The Place of the Eucharist in the Divine Economy of Salvation” (Ch. Voulgaris); and “Metabole or Transsubstantiatio” (A. Osipov). Based on this work, the Joint Commission was able to recognize broad areas of agreement in the respective traditions’ understanding of the Eucharist in the Life of the Church.

1. Building on work done in previous Commission meetings, Orthodox and Lutherans recognize the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist as the “fulfillment of the Christians’ participation in the life of Christ and his church through eating his body and drinking his blood in the Holy Eucharist” (Duràu Statement §11). They also affirm that the Eucharist and the believers’ participation in it remain a mystery that transcends human understanding. The Holy Eucharist is the Sacrament of the New Covenant instituted by Christ himself (Mt 26, 27f; par.). As such it is an indispensable part of the life of the Church, which is the body of Christ. Through Baptism the believer is born again and sealed with the Holy Spirit (for Orthodox, the seal is given through Chrismation). In the Eucharist, the believers receive the body and blood of the Lord as a healing and spiritual nourishment of their souls and bodies and experience their membership in the Body of Christ. In this way, believers receive forgiveness of their sins and the gift of eternal life. The Eucharist presupposes the confession of the one faith of the church and strengthens the believers’ union with Christ and their union and communion with each other both locally and universally (Mk 14,22-26; 1Cor 10,16f).

2. Lutherans and Orthodox believe that Christ offered himself as a sacrifice “once and for all” – ephapax (Heb. 7,27; 9,12; 10,10; cf. 10,14). While Lutherans use the language of sacrifice less frequently than Orthodox, both can agree that the Eucharist is a sacrifice in the sense that 1) it is Christ, not the celebrant priest, who offers and is offered as the sacrifice, 2) Christ’s sacrifice of atonement is made once and for all with respect to God, and 3) it is sacramentally enacted so that its benefits are distributed to the believers each and every time the Eucharist is celebrated. Both Orthodox and Lutherans also regard the Eucharist as a sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise (Heb. 13,15).

a. Luther’s criticism of “sacrifice” terminology aims at correcting a misunderstanding of the Eucharist as a “meritorious” act accomplished by human beings to benefit their own salvation.

b. By insisting that it is Christ, and not the priest, who offers the Eucharistic sacrifice, Orthodox join Lutherans in their criticism of such abuse and misunderstanding.

c. Orthodox understand the Eucharist as a bloodless sacrifice. It is “bloodless” because it is a sacramental enactment of Christ’s unique sacrifice on the cross. It is a “sacrifice” because the bread and the wine offered by the church are truly united by the action of the Holy Spirit with the humanity of Christ. The church brings the bread and wine, which are united with the body and blood of Christ by way of anamnesis and are changed by way of union with the exalted and deified humanity of Christ through the action of the Holy Spirit (epiclesis).

d. Orthodox and Lutherans agree that the Eucharist is also a gift of communion granted to us by Christ. In this communion we are fully united with him and with the members of his body. The “how”of the mystery remains inexplicable, but the “what” is clearly confessed in faith and thanksgiving. As John of Damascus says, “… if you enquire how this happens, it is enough for you to learn that it was through the Holy Spirit, just as the Lord took on Himself flesh that subsisted in Him and was born of the holy Mother of God through the Spirit” (Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, 4, 13).

3. Lutheran and Orthodox traditions each stress proper preparation for participation in the Eucharist. For both this involves preparatory prayers and Confession and forgiveness of sins, which for Orthodox is the sacrament of penance. For Orthodox, preparation also includes fasting; for Lutherans fasting is not required but often practiced. Both agree that the Eucharist must be administered properly/canonically and only by ordained ministers.

4. Lutherans and Orthodox take the Lord’s words “this is my body; this is my blood” (Mt 26,27f, par.) literally. They believe that in the Eucharist the bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood to be consumed by the communicants. How this happens is regarded by both as a profound and real mystery. In order to approach that mystery, Orthodox and Lutherans have drawn on their respective theological traditions and developed different insights on what takes place.

a. Lutherans speak about Christ’s “real presence” in the Eucharist and describe Christ’s body and blood as being “in, with and under” the bread and wine (Formula of Concord, SD 7). By this they mean that the bread and the wine really become the body and blood of Christ, through the Words of Institution and the action of the Holy Spirit. Drawing on patristic sources, Lutherans understand Christ’s presence in the elements christologically: “Just as in Christ two distinct, unaltered natures are inseparably united, so in the Holy Supper two essences, the natural bread and the true natural body of Christ, are present together here on earth in the action of the sacrament, as it was instituted” (SD 7). Lutherans, however, maintain a distinction between a personal, hypostatic union and a “sacramental union”, favoring the latter in order to describe Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. Lutheran theology is able to speak of a transformation (mutatio) of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ (Apology X, 2; XXIV). This is not understood as eliminating the physical character of the bread and wine in the Eucharist. Lutherans emphasize that it is God’s Word which makes the sacrament (Large Catechism, 5: The Sacrament of the Altar).

b. Orthodox profess a real change (metabole) of the bread and the wine into the body and blood of Christ by the Words of Institution and the act of the Holy Spirit in the eucharistic anaphora. This does not mean a “transsubstantiation” of the substance of the bread and the wine into the substance of the deified humanity of Christ, but a union with it: “The bread of communion isn’t an ordinary bread, but united with divinity” (John of Damascus). This union amounts to a communication of the deifying properties of the humanity of Christ and of the deifying grace of his divinity to the eucharistic gifts: The bread and the wine are no longer understood with respect to their natural properties but with respect to Christ’s deified human body in which they have been assumed through the action of the Holy Spirit. As in Christology the two natures are united hypostatically, so in the Eucharist Christ’s exalted human body and the “antitypes” (St. Basil, Anaphora) of bread and wine are united sacramentally through the act of the Holy Spirit.

c. Orthodox and Lutherans agree, whether they use the language of “metabole” or of “real presence”, that the bread and wine do not lose their essence (physis) when becoming sacramentally Christ’s body and blood. The medieval doctrine of transsubstantiation is rejected by both Orthodox and Lutherans.

5. Orthodox and Lutherans believe that the changes that take place in the Eucharist are accomplished by the Holy Spirit. In the liturgical celebration of the Eucharist, the Orthodox explicitly include the entire economy of salvation, which culminates in the Words of Institution, Anamnesis, Epiclesis and Holy Communion. For Lutherans, the totality of the work of Christ is also presupposed and is liturgically enacted in the eucharistic worship service as a whole, although less elaborately. Both Lutherans and Orthodox believe that the Eucharist cannot be isolated from the entire mystery of salvation.

6. For both Lutherans and Orthodox, proper use of the eucharistic elements is dictated by Christ’s own words in Holy Scripture: “Take and eat, this is my body; take and drink, this is my blood…” (Mt 26,27f, par.). Those who believe Christ’s words receive his body and blood for their salvation. Lutherans do not recognize salvific qualities in the elements when these are used for non-eucharistic purposes. That position need not exclude a belief that the change of the elements into body and blood of Christ is definitive, however. Orthodox insist on the permanence and irreversibility of that change.

a. The Lutheran position stems from a historical critique of non-eucharistic uses of the eucharistic elements common in late-medieval Western traditions. Lutherans see a danger of superstition, fetishism or an abuse in private masses in such practices. Lutheran theology, furthermore, views the elements as means of salvation (media salutis) which means that its primary interest lies in the two entities that are brought together by those media—God and the believer—and not in the media themselves. Hence, the Lutheran tradition has not emphasized reflection on what happens to the elements outside their use in the Eucharist (extra usum).

b. Orthodox understand the elements’ change christologically. Since Christ’s presence with the elements brings the divine into contact with the earthly, the earthly elements are affected—“deified”—much as Christ’s human nature is affected by union with the divine. As a consequence, Orthodox believe that the elements are sacramentally changed in themselves when they are united with Christ’s body and blood, and that that change is as irreversible as the incarnation itself. However, they insist that the consecrated bread and wine are used only for eucharistic purposes.

c. Lutherans can agree with the Orthodox position without giving up their concentration on the proper use of the elements in the Eucharist. A Lutheran appreciation of the Orthodox’ christological emphasis, along with reflection on Lutherans’ own tradition of reverence for the Eucharist would demand corresponding care when handling the elements extra usum, for example with respect to consecrated bread and wine after the Eucharistic celebration.

7. Lutherans and Orthodox together affirm the eschatologial dimension of the Eucharist, which brings both the past and the future into the present. Since the eschatological mystery is the incarnate, crucified, resurrected and exalted Christ, who is coming again with glory, the Eucharist, which brings us to him and him to us, is truly eschatological. The Eucharist presents the eschaton to the believers and to the world. It brings salvation to the believer and judgement to the unbeliever and unworthy participant (1 Cor. 11,27ff).

By giving us his holy body and blood to eat and to drink, Christ is bodily as close to us now as he was to his first disciples and to all his followers throughout the ages. But the sacrament is also an anticipation of the future redemption and a foretaste of the marriage supper of the Lamb in heaven (Rev. 19,9). This meal, the supper of the Kingdom, encompasses both the future eschatology of the Parousia and the inaugurated eschatology of the Eucharist. In it God the Father not only forgives us our sins, but nourishes us with the body and blood of His Son so that we are strengthened through the Holy Spirit for our earthly pilgrimage, until at last we fully possess the life of the world to come, which we already possess in a hidden manner by faith. In the words of the ancient prayer, “Maranatha, Our Lord, come!” (1 Cor. 16,22c), the Church prays for the future coming of the Lord at the end of time as well as for his coming now through the Spirit in this holy meal. In the Eucharist, the Kingdom becomes a present reality since by coming to Communion with Christ’s body and blood, the believers experience abiding union with the exalted Lord.

8. Because the Eucharist brings the eschatological Kingdom of Christ into space and time, it constitutes a saving blessing for the whole inhabited world (oikumene, Heb. 2,5). This is understood both in terms of the natural environment and human society. The Eucharist transforms participants into bearers of God’s mystical blessing in Christ to the world through appropriate action. Their involvement in the care of the natural environment (oikos) of creation is a consequence of eucharistic participation. In the elements we receive the gifts of creation, offering them again to the Giver, receiving them back and sharing them with each other, thereby underscoring sacramentally both our dependence on the Creator and our responsibility toward creation. The same applies to appropriate Christian social action. Because it unites believers with each other at the Lord’s table, the Eucharist is the Sacrament of human reconciliation par excellence. Believers are sent forth into the world to serve God’s Kingdom. This is denoted liturgically by the Lutheran dismissal: “Go in peace and serve the Lord!”. In the Orthodox liturgy, there are several places which signify such a “liturgy after the liturgy” . The last prayer of thanksgiving for receiving Holy Communion begins with “direct our ways in the right path, establish us firmly in Your fear, guard our lives, and make our endeavours safe…”. Similarly, in the dismissal prayer the believers ask the Lord to guide us in the work of sanctification, to grant peace to the world, to the clergy and to the whole people. This insight is far-reaching and should be explored more fully in a future context.

9. Lutherans and Orthodox agree that the relation of the Eucharist to the ordained ministry/priesthood (hierosyne) requires full discussion at a later stage. Lutherans and Orthodox both hope and pray for a day when they may celebrate the Eucharist together and work together as the one Body of Christ for the life and the salvation of the world.

10. For its next meeting, the Commission agreed to extend its reflection on The Holy Eucharist in the Life of the Church and to work on the following topics: Preparation and Celebration of the Eucharist; Eucharist and Ecology (including Human Society).


14th Plenary of the International Lutheran–Orthodox Joint Commission
30 May-7 June 2008, Paphos, Cyprus


D/2 The Holy Eucharist in the Life of the Church. Preparation, Ecological and Social Implications  

At the Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission in Duràu, Romania, in October 2004, the Commission selected as the topic for its next meeting: The Mystery of the Church, D: The Holy Eucharist in the Life of the Church. The 13th Commission meeting convened in Bratislava, Slovak Republic in 2006 to discuss this topic, producing a Common Statement. In Bratislava, the Commission agreed to explore themes on the Eucharist further, focusing in particular on two aspects: preparation for the celebration of the Eucharist, and ecological and social dimensions of the Eucharist. The 14th Joint Commission met in Paphos, Cyprus, from 30 May to 7 June 2008, to take up these issues. Receiving a draft written by the Preparatory Committee at its meeting in Joensuu, Finland (3-8 October 2007), the Commission continued its reflection by hearing and discussing the following papers: “Preparation for Participation in and Canonical Celebration of the Divine Eucharist” (G.D. Dragas), “Holy Communion: Preparation and Practice in the Lutheran Tradition” (D. McCoid), “The Liturgy after the Liturgy. The Holy Eucharist and the Mission of the Orthodox Church Today” (V. Ionita), “Thine Own of Thine Own we Offer to Thee: A Possible Orthodox Eucharistic Ecological Theology” (V. Jezek), and “The Social and Ethical Aspects of the Eucharist” (A. Raunio). Discussion of these papers identified broad areas of agreement, a number of important differences, and strong shared commitments to the Eucharist’s consequences for the world.


I.    Preparation for Participation of the Eucharist

1.  Orthodox and Lutherans regard the Eucharist as an awesome and most solemn sacrament which is essential to the life of the Church. It is the gift of eternal life, the means of salvation and the medicine of immortality. Participation in the Eucharist is participation in the risen humanity of Christ, which is present in the sacrament and constitutes the Holy of Holies of Christian worship. As such it calls for appropriate preparation. “Tremble, O mortal, beholding the Divine Blood. For it is as a lighted coal burning the unworthy” (The Divine Liturgy of
St. John Chrysostom).

2.  According to St. Paul: “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, therefore, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the Lord’s body, eat and drink judgment against themselves” (1 Cor 11: 27-29). Following St. Paul’s injunction, Lutherans and Orthodox both stress self-examination in preparing for the Eucharist.

3.  St. Paul’s warning to the Corinthians follows his cry of dismay over how they have abused the Eucharist by celebrating while divided among themselves and by ignoring social inequalities in their midst (1 Cor 11: 17-22). In a similar spirit, Jesus Christ calls upon those approaching the altar to first be reconciled with persons who have something against them (Mt 5: 23-24). Accordingly, proper preparation for the Eucharist should involve reconciliation with one’s brothers and sisters. Lutheran and Orthodox traditions expect such reconciliation to follow self-examination when appropriate. In some cases, they provide specific rituals to facilitate the process.

4.  Self-examination involves confession and forgiveness of sins. This is done both in private prayer and through an act of confession and absolution before a priest or pastor, which for Orthodox is the sacrament of confession. While Lutherans do not typically define confession as a sacrament, they do also offer private confession and absolution. The Lutheran tradition includes general confession and absolution within the Eucharistic celebration. Differences between Lutherans and Orthodox on the topic of confession remain. Resolving whether such differences present an obstacle to sharing in the Eucharist will require further discussion.

5.  Because it is an act of repentance, Lutherans and Orthodox regard fasting as an important component of their spiritual preparation for the Eucharist.

  1. The Orthodox tradition observes fasting prior to reception of the sacrament. Complete abstinence begins no later than midnight the day before the celebration. Other fasting periods are specified by the liturgical calendar and are observed in preparation for certain important feasts and for participation in the Eucharist at those times: Great Lent, Holy Week, and the special fasts preceding the feasts of the Apostles (29.6.), the dormition of the Mother of God (15.8.), Christmas, Epiphany, the beheading of John the Baptist, and the exaltation of the Cross, as well as all Wednesdays and Fridays except those of the paschal week. In addition, special fasting may be stipulated by a father-confessor in cases of penance.
  2. Many Lutherans practice regular fasting and regard it as integral to their Eucharistic devotion, though not as a requirement.
  3. The differences between Orthodox and Lutherans on required fasting stem in part from a different theological perspective on the human role in salvation. Whether these differences are church-dividing or could be reconciled will need to be explored further.

6.  Orthodox and Lutherans stress that participants should approach the Eucharist with a fitting attitude, which is cultivated by instruction and prayer. This also applies to the celebrant clergy, for whom both traditions provide special prayers.

  1. In Luther’s Large Catechism, communicants are instructed to pray and to consider the “power and benefit, for which purpose the sacrament was really instituted. For it is most necessary that we know what we should seek and obtain there.” (5, 20f). This power and benefit focuses on absolution. Communicants should, according to Luther, “go to the sacrament because there we receive a great treasure, through and in which we obtain the forgiveness of sins. … For this reason [Christ] bids me eat and drink, that it may be mine and do me good as a sure pledge and sign – indeed, as the very gift he has provided for me against my sins, death, and all evils.” (ibid.) Lutheran hymnals include similar prayers and instructions and make their use part of regular preparation.
  2. Orthodox communicants are provided with an appropriate liturgical service order in their prayer books. The order includes prayers by St. Basil the Great, St. John Chrysostom, St. John Damascene, St. Simeon the New Theologian, and St. Simeon Metaphrastes, among others. The canon begins with the verse: “Compassionate Lord, may your holy Body become for me the Bread of everlasting life, and your precious Blood a remedy for sickness of every kind.” The last verse, said just before partaking of the sacrament, reads: “Receive me today, O Son of God, as a partaker of Thy mystical Supper; for I will not speak to Thine enemies of Thy Mystery, nor will I give Thee a kiss as did Judas. But as the thief I confess to Thee: Remember me, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom.” Such liturgical texts also include prayers after reception of communion. They are provided for both laity and clergy. Celebrant clergy, however, are expected to observe an additional liturgical canon which is related to the daily office.

7.  Lutherans and Orthodox carefully prescribe how to celebrate the Eucharist properly. Currently, they do not share Eucharistic fellowship. However, both agree on many important aspects, such as care for the liturgy and its provisions (vestments for priests and altar, vessels, Eucharistic gifts of bread and wine, etc.). Because of their more elaborate liturgy, Orthodox have many and specific stipulations, e.g. use of leavened bread and red wine, times for the celebration, consumption of the sanctified elements at the end of the celebration, commemorations of episcopal authorities, etc. While Lutheran practice may include some of these provisions, Lutherans do not consider complete ritual agreement a necessity. Nonetheless, closer agreement between the two traditions of liturgical practice would facilitate better understanding between Lutherans and Orthodox and help them to move closer to their mutual goal of joint communion.

8.  The Eucharist is at the heart of our faith, and it is therefore of the utmost importance to support the believers in their proper preparation so that they may participate regularly in the Eucharist. Both traditions underline that the means of preparation should not be understood legalistically, but should support believers in order that they may receive Holy Communion properly prepared and through this nurture their faith and lives.

II.   Ecological and Social Implications of the Eucharist

9.  Eucharist does not end with its liturgical celebration in church. Christ’s self-giving presence continues to guide and sanctify the communicants as they live out the church’s mission in the world. Throughout their history, Lutherans have sought ways to better serve that mission, engaging in prayer, theological reflection and implementing practical projects and programs. Orthodox have shown similarly strong commitments and have pursued what has come to be called “the liturgy after the liturgy” to address environmental and social needs on local, national and international levels.

10. Orthodox and Lutherans together affirm that their participation in the Eucharist challenges them to respond to the needs of the world as stewards of God’s grace. The Eucharist has an essentially communal character which manifests concretely the body of Christ, the church, which is sent to serve God’s salvific embrace of the whole cosmos. Christ is the gift par excellence to all believers, transforming all that exists. As receivers of that most holy gift, the believers are themselves transformed from receivers to givers who are sent forth to change the world according to Christ’s saving purpose.

11.  In this respect, the Eucharist has a profound impact on the church’s life in the created world. As St. Paul says, “The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now…” (Rom 8: 19-22). The church is to be a sign to humanity that it should cease to exploit creation and no longer to treat it in an arbitrary and selfish manner. Creation is an intimate partner to humankind in God’s salvation offered in Christ.

12.  Both Lutheran and Orthodox churches have demonstrated their commitment to this call by engaging in various kinds of ecological activities. Examples include initiatives by local Lutheran parishes aimed at reducing energy-consumption, declaring “car-free Sundays”, supporting alternative energy and assisting members in leading more energy-efficient lives. On a global level, the Lutheran World Federation has underscored its commitment to environmental issues by dedicating council meetings and assemblies to ecological themes. Care for the environment has been a distinctive mark of Orthodox asceticism and liturgical practice. For example, Orthodox sanctify all waters (rivers, seas, etc.), dwelling places, schools, buildings, etc. annually on the Feast of Epiphany. Sanctification [Hagiasmos] is a service that applies to every aspect of the environment. New initiatives on the international level have been launched by the Ecumenical Patriarchate; these include the establishment of  a new religious feast on September 1 as the “Day of Creation”, annual conferences dealing with environmental issues hosted at sites of grave environmental crisis (e.g. the Black Sea, the Adriatic, the Danube, the Amazon, etc.), and corresponding publications.

13. Orthodox and Lutherans both acknowledge and repent that, however much care they have taken for the environment in the past, they must find ways to do much more. This need could not be more urgent. Today’s world faces a situation which according to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople is devastated by “incomprehensible dimensions of the environmental crisis”. Christians are both directly and indirectly implicated in this crisis. As the Patriarch continues, “the moment has come to remove our current way of thinking from its pedestal and to reconsider the means by which we interact with this unique world, which the Almighty God left to us with the command “Work and protect” (Message of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew On World Environment Day [5 June 2008]). As partakers of the Eucharist, we are called to rethink our outlooks and practices in fundamental ways, ways that, with respect to the environment, go further than ever before and may extend beyond traditional patterns of Eucharistic thought and practice.

14.  The communal character of the Eucharist has far-reaching implications for Christian involvement in human society. Both Lutheran and Orthodox traditions contain a powerful witness to this topic. Examples from each tradition include the following:

a. Luther describes the Eucharistic union of believer with Christ in the following terms, placing particular emphasis on the Eucharist’s effect on social life: “Christ with all saints, by his love, takes upon himself our form, fights with us against sin, death and all evil.  This enkindles in us such love that we take on his form, rely upon his righteousness, life and blessedness. And through the interchange of his blessings and our misfortunes, we become one loaf, one bread, one body, one drink, and have all things in common. O this is a great sacrament, says St. Paul, that Christ and the church are one flesh and bone. Again through this same love, we are to be changed and to make the infirmities of all other Christians our own; we are to take upon ourselves their form and their necessity, and all the good that is within our power we are to make theirs, that they may profit from it. That is real fellowship and that is the true significance of the sacrament. In this way we are changed into one another and are made into a community by love” (Martin Luther, The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, and the Brotherhoods, LW 35, 58; cf. WA 2, 748).

b. An eloquent statement of the Orthodox perception is the following text of St. John Chrysostom. Commenting on the instructions of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians, Chrysostom speaks of the responsibility of Christians to be priests to Christ, serving human society as if it were an altar of Christ: “This altar is composed of the very members of Christ, and the body of the Lord is made your altar. … This altar is more awesome than the one which you now use [in church], or the one that was used of old [in Israel]. … This altar you may see lying everywhere, both in the streets and in the marketplaces, and you may sacrifice on it every hour, for on this altar, too, is sacrifice performed. And as the priest stands invoking the Spirit, so do you too invoke the Spirit, not by speech but by deeds. … When then you see a poor believer, think that you behold an altar; when you see a beggar, not only should you not insult him, but you should even reverence him. And if you see another insulting him, prevent it.”
(St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on 2 Corinthians 9: 10, Homily XX).

15.  Statements like this testify to the profound reconciling power of the Eucharist. Commitment to that power unites Orthodox and Lutherans. Both traditions show long-standing engagement on the social and charitable front. Examples include foundations of hospitals; homes for the aged; provisions for the hungry, poor and destitute; missions; schools and other educational institutions. On the parish level, Lutherans and Orthodox engage in a broad range of charitable ministries (involving both clergy and lay people), including aid to the poor; prison, hospital and military chaplaincy, etc. Orthodox women have a distinctive charitable ministry called “Philoptochos”, which operates on the parish, diocesan and national level. On an international level, both churches have made significant contributions to social ministry. Orthodox administer the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) which provides funds for disaster relief. The Lutheran World Federation was founded in connection with relief efforts following the Second World War and continues to maintain a strong international program of diaconal services, refugee and relief programs.

16.  Because the Eucharist unites in Christ believers with each other and with all whom he came to save, the Eucharistic mission of the church focuses particular attention to political and social divisions wherever they appear in the world. Differences based on ethnicity, gender, social and economic class, language, political party, and other factors are transcended in the Eucharist and must never be allowed to divide the Eucharistic community. The Eucharist alerts the church to injustice and conflict, and calls upon the church to help establish justice and restore peace. Lutherans and Orthodox affirm their commitments to the cause of peace and social justice, praying fervently for their realization and engaging in appropriate action. As with the environment, so in the field of social action, Orthodox and Lutherans are implicated directly and indirectly in the prolongation of injustice and conflict on the national and international level. We call upon members of both traditions to repent and to seek prayerfully ways of responding in accordance with our Eucharistic faith.

17.  In closing, our members would like to point out that social and environmental implications of the Eucharist have never divided Lutherans and Orthodox from each other. Our shared commitment to living out our Eucharistic experience is a most hopeful avenue for growing closer together as churches.

18.  The Commission has selected as topics for its next preparatory meetings, “E: The Mystery of the Church: Nature and Attributes/Properties of the Church” (2009) and “E: The Mystery of the Church: The Mission of the Church” (2010). A plenary meeting will be scheduled on these two topics for 2011.


E. The Nature, Attributes, and Mission of the Church

The Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission met in Paphos, Cyprus in June 2008 and selected as the topic for its 15th Plenary “The Mystery of the Church, E: Nature, Attributes, and Mission of the Church.” According to the mandate given to it in Paphos, the commission held a preparatory meeting in Skálholt, Iceland, from May 4-9, 2009 to explore these issues and to prepare a draft for the next plenary session. These papers were presented, followed by discussion: “The Nature of the Church” (N. Hoppe), “Lutheran Theology on the Nature of the Church” (K. Appold), “The Attributes of the Church: An Orthodox Approach” (K. Delikostantis), “Attributes and Marks of the Church” (R. Saarinen). The Commission held a second preparatory meeting in Bethlehem, Palestine, from May 25-31, 2010 to explore these issues and to prepare a draft for the next plenary session. The following papers were presented, followed by discussion: “No Church without Mission: The Mission of the Church in a Lutheran Perspective” (S. Dietrich), “The Service of the Church as a Service of Worship in the Everyday World” (K. Schwarz), “The Theological Character of the Mission of the Church” (C. Hovorun), “Cooperation and the Promotion of Unity: An Orthodox Understanding of Mission” (V. Ionita), and “The Mission of the Church Today: An Orthodox Perspective” (H.E. Metropolitan Makarios of Kenya). Discussion of these papers identified broad areas of agreement between the respective traditions on the above topics and pointed to a number of open questions and disagreements that would benefit from further clarification. During the plenary session in Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Germany, on May 31-June 7, 2011, the papers and statements of the previous two preparatory meetings were reviewed and reformulated, resulting in the present statement.


E.1. The Nature and Attributes of the Church

I. The Nature of the Church

1. Ecumenical dialogue has brought discussion of ecclesiology to the fore in unprecedented ways. Lutherans and Orthodox have produced significant reflections on such issues in recent years, but are both still developing tools to address adequately these extremely complex questions. It is our hope that the following statement will facilitate that process.

2. The church is a mystery that transcends human understanding, as the Apostle Paul says, speaking of Christ and the Church together as “a great mystery” (Ephesians 5:32). He says that Christ is the bridegroom and the Church is his bride, that he is the head of the Church, that the Church is his body and he its savior, that Christ loves the Church and gave himself for it that he might sanctify it, having cleansed it by the washing of the water with the word; that he might present the Church to himself in splendor without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that it might be holy and without blemish. All this, Paul says, is a profound mystery related to Christ and the Church. In light of Paul’s writings both of the above images refer primarily to the body of the incarnate Son of God, which constitutes the foundation of the Church into which human beings are incorporated. While the Church can never be defined exhaustively, its nature and attributes have been and can be reflected upon theologically.

3. The Church is the body of Christ (Romans 12:5; Colossians 1:18). As the body of Christ, the Church is both human and divine in such a way that it is unmixed, unchanged, undivided, and inseparable. Being divine, the Church also is sustained by the love of the Father and is filled with the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies all people belonging to the Church and, through them, the entire creation. Being human, the Church comprises all who share one faith, one baptism, and one Eucharist, making them “the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). The relationship of each member to Christ, who is the head of the body, is facilitated by the structure that he has given to his body. All those who are joined to him must be part of his body and it is impossible for one part of the body to be separated from the rest of the body (Ephesians 4:15-16).

4. Orthodox and Lutherans refer to the Church also as the communion of saints. This communion of saints reflects the koinonia of the Holy Trinity. The Church is brought into communion with the Holy Trinity who is the source of life for the Church and its members. As the body of Christ, the Church is holy and sinless, and its members are being sanctified in spite of their sins. We both emphasize that in this life, daily repentance and forgiveness of our sins (John 20:23) are constantly needed for us in the Church to grow into Christ.

5. Believers are made one body in the Church through the sacraments/mysteries. This is particularly evident in the Eucharist in both traditions. In the Eucharist, unity with Christ and with each other is renewed and nourished. “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (I Corinthians 10:17).

6. The Eucharist, as the proclamation of and participation in the mystery of Christ, is rightly called the focal point of the Church’s life in Christ, “for as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (I Corinthians 11:26). At the same time the Church encompasses the whole reality of human experience, embracing daily life, animating its members to serve their neighbors and communities, and drawing the entire created world into the sanctifying presence of God. The Church’s diakonia, mission, and evangelization are important examples of that reality.

7. The members of the body partake of everything that Christ has done for them. They partake primarily of his suffering and cross, for “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (II Timothy 3:12), in order that they may also partake of his resurrection (II Timothy 2:11). The members are called into the fellowship of the Lord, who says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). The apostles also teach us that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). An essential mark of the Church as the body of Christ is suffering (Philippians 1:29), for it is the Church of the martyrs, who precisely in their suffering take part in the glory of the Lord (I Peter 4:12-19).

II. The Four Niceno-Constantinopolitan Attributes of the Church

8. Both Orthodox and Lutherans confess together in the words of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed (381) that the Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. These attributes are essential, though not exhaustive or exclusive, and they are intimately connected to the nature of the Church as discussed in the previous section. The Church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, because it is the body of its head, Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also clear that these attributes cannot exist independently of each other. They are interdependent and all are fully present in the Church at the same time.

9. Because there is only one Lord, one faith, and one baptism (Ephesians 4:5; Deuteronomy 9:1), there is also only one Church, founded by Christ through the ministry of the apostles. It has continued to exist from that time until the present day and will continue to exist until the eschata. It is the express will of our Lord Jesus that his disciples be one, just as he and the Father are one (John 17:11). We share the common conviction that within our respective Church traditions there is no contradiction between the unity and multiplicity in the Church, just as there is no contradiction between unity and Trinity in God.

a. Lutherans confess the unity of the Church explicitly in the Augsburg Confession VII, which notes that “the one Church will remain forever.” The Large Catechism also states that the Church “is called together by the Holy Spirit in one faith, mind, and understanding… united in love without sect or schism” (Second Part, Third Article). For Lutherans, “It is enough [satis est] for the true unity of the Church to agree concerning the teaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments” (CA 7). In addition to these Confessional standards, Lutherans have traditionally identified the one Church by means of Luther’s seven “marks of the Church”: the word of God, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the ministry, confession and absolution, worship, and suffering.

b. For the Orthodox, this oneness of the Church is not constituted as an entity above and beyond the local Churches, because the one holy Church is fully present in each of the local Churches. Indeed, every ministry at the universal level is based on the local Churches as its source. This is most obvious in the commemoration of the Primates (Προκαθήμενοι) of the local Orthodox Churches in any Hierarchical Eucharistic Liturgy and of all Primates in every Liturgy which is celebrated by a Primate (Hierarchical Diptychs of the Orthodox autocephalous Churches).

10. God alone is holy (Revelation 4:8) and our holiness derives from his holiness (Leviticus 19:2). The Church is holy in that it receives its holiness from Christ, who “loved the Church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy” (Ephesians 5:25-26). The Church is also holy by the Holy Spirit’s forgiving sins, creating faith, renewing believers and inspiring them to do good works. Believers are called “saints” because they have been and continue to be sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Growth in holiness is not a merely passive process but involves the active participation of the believer.

a. Orthodox emphasize this in the liturgy of the Eucharist: “Holy things for the holy ones”; “One is holy; one is the Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father” (The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom).

b. Lutherans in the Augsburg Confession equate the saints (literally, “the holy”) with believers, “the assembly of saints” (AC VII) and likewise the Large Catechism speaks of “a holy little flock and community of pure saints” (Second Part, Third Article). This does not imply a sectarian vision of the Church, but rather stresses that holiness is a gift of the Holy Spirit, who creates and calls the people of the Church into faith and into communion with God and one another. Lutherans also testify that “the church is, properly speaking, the assembly of saints and those who believe, nevertheless… in this life many hypocrites and evil people are mixed in with them” (AC VIII).

11. The Church is catholic because redemption, offered through Christ’s incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection, is universal. Thus the catholicity of the Church is a foretaste of the day when “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11). Catholicity assumes both unity in doctrine and at the same time plurality in the local Churches across the world. In this sense catholicity is not a static, formalistic, or institutional quality, but a dynamic reality that refers to the common faith all Christians share and the common sacraments by which Christians enter the life of the Church and the kingdom of God. The chief and proper expression of the Church is the local community, yet a local community that is in full communion with all other local communities in the world.

a. Lutherans teach that the “Church catholic” consists of “people scattered throughout the entire world, who agree on the gospel, and have the same Christ, the same Holy Spirit, and the same sacraments, whether or not they have the same human traditions” (Apology VII-VIII.10).

b. According to the Orthodox understanding, the catholicity of the Church is a qualitative term, indicating universality, i.e. wholeness of boundaries, doctrine and manner of godly life (St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechism XVIII, ch. 23), unity in multiplicity, i.e. synodality or sobornost (ch. 24ff) whereby it is differentiated from the exclusivist Jewish Church (ch. 25) and the pluralist sectarianism of the heretics (ch. 26), as it manifests the fullness of God’s grace in every locality (ch. 27).

12. The church is apostolic because it is built upon the foundation of the apostles, of which Christ is the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20), sent by his Father for the salvation of the world (John 3:16). The Church is apostolic in several senses. First, the original meaning of the word “apostolic” refers to one who is sent. The apostles are called apostles because they were sent by Christ to proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation (Mark 16:15). The Church is apostolic inasmuch as it continues to be obedient to Christ’s command to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them into the Church (Matthew 28:19). Second, the Church is apostolic in that it devotes itself “to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). This means that the Church maintains the living tradition received by the apostles from Christ, which includes both right teaching (orthodoxia) and right practice (orthopraxia).

a. The Orthodox affirm the apostolicity of the Church also as the continuation of the apostolic tradition, which is maintained by the historic succession of bishops as the heads of local eucharistic communities, which include the whole people of God. Thus the whole Church as communion across time and space does not look simply backward but forward because it is eschatological in character.

b. Lutherans understand the Church to be in succession to the Church of the apostles, teaching apostolic doctrine, preaching the gospel purely, and administering the sacraments rightly. Some Lutherans also point to their line of historic succession reaching back past the Reformation to the undivided Church, while other Lutherans emphasize the first two senses of the church’s apostolicity without denying the value of historic succession. Lutherans did not intend to start a new or other Church but to be faithful to the apostolic witness transmitted by the Church in the Scriptures, creeds, and ecumenical councils, especially evident in Lutheran teaching on the Trinity and the person of Christ. As Melanchthon comments in the Apology to the Augsburg Confession, “We have not said anything new here” (VII-VIII.7).

E.2. The Mission of the Church

1. Christians both in West and East still experience the division of the Church of Christ. The International Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910 marked the beginning of the ecumenical movement for the Protestant Churches, and the initiative taken by the encyclical of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1920 was instrumental in getting all Christian churches involved in the ecumenical movement of our times. Lutherans and Orthodox realize, then, the significance and urgency of pursuing this dialogue to greater depth and determination in responding faithfully, with the love and mutual respect of friendship and Christian fellowship, to our Lord’s prayer and commission.

I. God’s Mission and the Church’s Mission

2. Lutherans and Orthodox agree that the mission of the Church is rooted in the mission of Christ. This mission has to do with salvation, the abolition of evil, and the fulfillment of God’s original plan for humanity and the world. This saving mission is revealed concretely in the sending of the Son and the Spirit into the world with the historical events of the birth in Bethlehem and the crucifixion and resurrection in Jerusalem of Jesus Christ and the empowerment by the Holy Spirit of the apostles in Jerusalem at Pentecost and the growth of the Church into Judea, Samaria and beyond. What this means is succinctly formulated by St. Paul in his epistle to the Galatians 4:4-7: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

3. In other words, redemption from sin and death through Christ, and adoption as children of God through the Spirit of the Son given to them by the Father, are the purposes of the divine mission. With the founding of the Church, the Son sends the apostles, just as he has been sent (John 17:18), to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). The Holy Trinity lives and communicates divine and archetypical love to the world. Therefore, our motivation for mission is rooted in the communion of the Holy Trinity, as it is communicated to us in the Father’s sending of his Son.

4. The Church continues its mission (diakonia) of reconciliation (II Corinthians 5:18), inviting all people everywhere to join themselves to Christ and each other in this new community. There is no geographical, cultural, or linguistic limit to the mission of Christ: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). That apostolic mission is realized primarily in local Churches and demonstrated as well as at the universal level. This is what the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed (381) expresses by using the term “catholic” in describing the Church.

II. Mission and the Unity of the Church

5. Lutherans and Orthodox agree that the mission and the unity of the Church are intimately connected, as is seen in Christ’s prayer on the night before his death: “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:22-23). For the apostolic Church, unity was essential to the ministry of reconciliation, rooted in this prayer of the Lord. Such unity is to lead the world to believe that the Father sent the Son because he loved the world. Maintaining unity was always a difficult task, as the history of the early Church reveals in its struggles against heresy and schism, which affected faith and order.

6. We also agree that the divisions that prevailed among Christians in the subsequent history of the Church that we have inherited today must be overcome. Hence, we continue our efforts to fulfill the task specified by the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church of the early centuries. The present disunity of Christians is contrary to God’s will and a stumbling block to the world’s belief. Therefore the mission of the Church recalls us to the search for visible unity. We were particularly inspired by the words of His Beatitude Theophilos III, Patriarch of Jerusalem, in his address to the preparatory meeting in Bethlehem in 2010: “It is our fervent prayer that, as we can say together the common words of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, we may also one day be able to share a common understanding of the mystery of the Church, and one day also be able to share the common Chalice. We are fully aware that the road to the fullness of the unity of faith and the communion of the Holy Spirit is difficult and painful. Nevertheless, we have to continue in our efforts in doing our part, and the rest we leave, in faith, to the Lord.” We agreed that working for the unity of the Church is a primary aspect of the mission of all Christians.

a. Orthodox believe that the visible unity of the Church is realized in the teaching of the Gospel and in the Holy Tradition of the Church. This unity in relation to mission is also expressed in the Tradition of the ecumenical councils and in the teaching of the Church fathers, centered in the holy sacraments (mysteria), and administered in the context of the apostolic succession.

b. The Lutheran World Federation, realizing that unity is essential for mission, has since its inception in 1947 been involved in many multilateral and bilateral dialogues and other ecumenical groups and activities. As the LWF statement Mission in Context states, “Any Church engaged in holistic mission in today’s globalized contexts soon realizes that mission encompasses the ‘whole inhabited world’—not only selected areas—and is best carried out ecumenically by the whole household of God, beyond denominational demarcations. The inability of Churches to achieve unity in diversity or to engage in joint mission ventures has undermined the credibility of the Church in mission.”

III. Mission as Witness (Martyria) and Proclamation

7. Lutherans and Orthodox agree that the primary missionary task of the Church is to bear witness (martyria) to “the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11). This is an urgent task, for as our Lord tells us at the end of Mark’s Gospel: “Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (16:15-16). Jesus Christ sent out his disciples “to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal” (Luke 9:2). The apostle Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost proclaimed the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, bringing many thousands to faith. This proclamation takes place within the Church itself and is to be communicated to the wider community and in places where the Gospel is not yet known. The contemporary world we live in today has so many problems and so many needs that we feel afresh the urgency of communicating the good news of salvation to hurting, oppressed, and searching people all over the world.

8. Both of us realize that the task of making disciples has two components: the ongoing catechism of those within the Church and the proclamation of the Gospel to those who are not yet Christians. In both cases, the making of disciples must follow Christ’s example of self-emptying and incarnation. This means that the Gospel must be expressed in the language and culture, including art and music, of the people to whom it is preached. Historically, both Orthodox and Lutherans have achieved this, as witnessed by the different ethnic expressions in the two Church families. In the ongoing discipleship of Christians as well as witness to unbelievers, the proclamation of the gospel in the liturgy, preaching, and hymnody/hymnography are of primary importance. Orthodox also emphasize the value of icons. For Lutherans, Martin Luther’s Small Catechism has been an especially valuable tool for communicating the Christian faith.

9. Making disciples of all nations requires the Church to make a concerted effort to proclaim the Gospel to those who are not yet Christians. We must not forget that approximately two-thirds of the world’s population is not yet Christian, which means that the missionary task is far from complete. The economy of the incarnation in Christ means that mission should be carried out with the crucified love of Christ. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). When mission is realized in this way, it is done for Christ and in Christ. There is no room for personal power, coercion, or anything else that is inauthentic to Christ. At times, the godly embracing of suffering is the greatest witness to Christ. As has often been said, with a free allusion to the Apology of Tertullian, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

IV. Mission and Diakonia

10. Lutherans and Orthodox agree that proclaiming the Gospel is the primary task of the Church’s mission. This also implies that God calls the Church to care for the world and all people in need. “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:15-17). The ministry of Jesus Christ was characterized not only by preaching and teaching but also by healing the sick, raising the dead, feeding the hungry, and so on.

11. Lutherans and Orthodox proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God when they attend to their neighbors’ needs. We are to care for all the needy equally, regardless of their religion, race, or culture. Jesus Christ healed all ten lepers even though only one, a Samaritan, came back to thank him (Luke 17:11-19). We realize that both traditions have developed special ministries pursuing this path of diakonia and education. The diakonia of the Church is always to respect the integrity of human persons and their communities. Collaboration in diakonia locally and more widely has been one of the most significant fruits of the ecumenical movement and is an area where even now Lutherans and Orthodox can work together according to our Lord’s command.

V. The Problems of Proselytism and Domination

12. Orthodox and Lutherans have different histories of missionary work due in part to the different socio-political, economic, cultural, and ethnic contexts in which their churches developed. Today, those contexts are changing rapidly, conditioned by the decline of many state-church structures, increased migration, the end of the colonial era, and the dramatic rise in possibilities of global travel and communication. For these reasons, it is more complicated than ever before for churches to recognize each other and to speak of exclusive church boundaries. For this reason too, the issue of proselytism has become especially urgent and complex.

13. Lutherans and Orthodox agree that the purpose of mission is for all people to know the good news about Jesus Christ and to be incorporated into his body, the Church. It is not the mission of God’s Church to coerce, bribe, or otherwise dishonestly pressure people into becoming Christians. Nor is it the mission of God’s Church for members of the divided Churches to try to lure Christians away from one another. An Inter-Orthodox consultation in Neapolis, Greece (1988), declared that “all proselytism by any Church should be condemned, and all antagonism and unhealthy competition in mission work should be avoided, as constituting a distorted form of mission.” Together, Lutherans and Orthodox echo this declaration and mutually reject proselytism toward each other.

14. We agree that the mission of God’s Church is to reveal the body of Christ, which is undivided, and proselytism undermines this task. We encourage the work of evangelization, in which the Gospel is freely offered to and freely accepted by those who have never heard it before. We oppose proselytism, which sows division within existing churches and is counterproductive to Christian unity. We respect the right of persons to make their own individual choices regarding religious practice. We recognize that there is a difference in missionary approach in pluralistic and in more uniform societies.

15. We equally oppose missionary activities that have been too closely aligned with colonial actions and have subordinated the work of evangelization to projects of cultural, political, and economic domination. We recognize that a great deal of damage has been done to individuals, communities, cultures, and whole nations through such an approach to mission, even when the intention has been to live out the missionary calling of the Church.

16. We support and encourage the striving of all Churches, especially those more recently established, to inculturate the Gospel fully in their own idioms and to organize their own missions.

VI. Conclusion

17. Both Lutherans and Orthodox acknowledge that a great deal more could be said on the nature, attributes, and mission of the Church. This statement is not an exhaustive treatment of the subject, but it indicates broad areas of convergence and areas of further discussion that we hope will be helpful to the Churches.

18. God’s Mission remains a constant task of the Church until the end of the ages, “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).

17th Plenary Session of the Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Theological Commission
Helsinki, Finland,
7-14 November 2017

2017 Common Statement
The Mystery of the Church: F. Ordained Ministry/Priesthood

Following the mandate given by the 15th Plenary Session of the Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission (Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Germany, 31 May – 7 June 2011), that discussions on the “Mystery of the Church” should continue and focus on the “Ordained Ministry/Priesthood,” the Commission met in Rhodes, Greece (28 April – 5 May 2015), and Helsinki, Finland (7 – 15 November 2017) to review the work of four preparatory meetings, which met in London, UK (5 – 10 May 2012), Sibiu, Romania (24 – 28 May 2013), Tallinn, Estonia (8 – 13 May 2014), and Nicosia, Cyprus (7 – 13 December 2016) and to produce a Common Statement on the mandated topic.[1]

I: Introductory Remarks on Structure and Terminology

  1. The umbrella topic “The Mystery of the Church,” begun in Damascus, has so far been dealt with in five sub-topics: a) “The Mystery of the Church: Word and Sacrament” (Damascus, Syria, 2000); b) “The Sacraments/Mysteria as Means of Salvation” (Oslo, Norway, 2002); c) “Baptism and Chrismation as Sacraments of Initiation into the Church” (Durau, Romania, 2004); d) “The Holy Eucharist in the Life of the Church” (Bratislava , Slovak Republic, 2006); d/2) “The Holy Eucharist in the Life of the Church: Preparation, Ecological and Social Implications” (Paphos, Cyprus, 2008); e) “The Nature, Attributes, and Mission of the Church” (Wittenberg, Germany, 2009-2011). Already in our Damascus Common Statement, we affirm together “that the proclamation of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments by the ordained ministry in the Church are among the most important marks of the Church.”[2] It is therefore fitting that this final round of discussions on the “Mystery of the Church” should conclude with “The Ordained Ministry/Priesthood.” This is a complex and comprehensive topic, which is treated in eight sections. The Common Statement contains both Lutheran and Orthodox positions as well as statements we make together.
  1. Although the specific focus of this statement is Ordained Ministry/Priesthood, it also contains a section (VI) on the “royal priesthood” (βασίλειον ἱεράτευμα), or the general priesthood (γενικὴ ἱερωσύνη) of all baptized Christian believers and its relation to the Ordained Ministry/Priesthood, the former being also known as “clergy” and the latter as “laity.”
  1. Lutheran and Orthodox have their own specific terminology for their Ordained clergy. Orthodox use the term “Sacramental Priesthood” (μυστήριον Ἱερωσύνης) and refer to their clergy as “Priests” and “Fathers,” while Lutherans generally speak of “Ordained Ministry” and refer to their clergy as “Pastors” (German: Pfarrer) or “Priests.” The Joint Commission has been unable to find any common terminology with exact parity of content because, in spite of closeness and similarities, the terms that are used by both sides are deeply rooted in their respective ecclesiologies and traditions and carry significant theological weight. Some Lutherans do not use the term “Priest” for their Ordained clergy, although the term is common in Nordic countries, parts of Africa and elsewhere. The term does not correspond easily with the main emphasis in their approach to the Lord’s Supper, since the term “Priest” denotes a person who offers a sacrifice, and Lutherans do not regard the Lord’s Supper as a sacrifice, except in the narrow sense of re-enacting the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Christ (see Bratislava Statement § 2). On the other hand, the term Priest is a necessary and appropriate term for Orthodox, precisely because it denotes a person who offers the bloodless Sacrifice of the Eucharist, which is offered to the Triune God, is changed by the invocation of the Holy Spirit (Epiclesis) into the Body and Blood of Christ, and is partaken by the Orthodox in the Divine Liturgy.
  1. Members of the Commission noted that there are important semantic differences in the use of the terms “Ministry” (διακονία) and “Priesthood” (ἱερωσύνη). Whenever the Statement mentions Lutherans and Orthodox in connection with the Ministry/Priesthood and any other terms pertaining to the Church and its functions, it will presuppose their distinctive contents.
  1. For the Orthodox, “Ministry” (διακονία) primarily denotes “Sacramental Ministry,” i.e. “Ordained Deacons”; but this term also has a secondary meaning, which refers to the non-ordained diaconal ministries or diaconates and services of the faithful in and for the Church. This Sacramental Ministry or Ordained Diaconate goes back to the seven Deacons (cf. the Book of Acts) who were ordained by the Apostles in the Church of Jerusalem to assist them in the gatherings of Christians for fellowship (ἀγάπη), which ended with their participation in the Eucharist – an institution which has been continued to this day as an Apostolic Order and occupies the third place in the threefold Apostolic Order of Orthodox clergy: Bishops, Presbyters and Deacons. On the other hand, “Priesthood,” (ἱερωσύνη), is connected with the Ordination of Apostolic Successors by the Apostles, that is, “Bishops” and “Presbyters,” who were elected and ordained to carry out their Apostolic work in the local churches, which were established by them or their appointed collaborators beyond Jerusalem, in Judaea, Samaria, Syria, etc. Bishops and Presbyters, as distinct from Deacons, are called respectively High-Priests (Ἀρχιερεῖς), Priests (ἱερεῖς), and Fathers (Πατέρες), because they preside at the Eucharist and celebrate all other Sacraments/Mysteria that are related to it, namely, Baptism, Chrismation, Confession, Marriage, etc.
  1. Nevertheless, Deacons belong to the threefold Office of the Sacrament of Priesthood, because their order was established in the Church by the Holy Apostles through Ordination and their work is primarily offering assistance to the Bishops and the Priests in the sanctuary and generally in their sacramental and administrative duties. Deacons who belong to the Sacrament of the threefold Priesthood should not be confused with the many Diaconates of the royal or general priesthood of baptized Orthodox Christians, some of which have specific diaconal tasks, such as Deaconesses, Sub-Deacons, Readers, Acolytes, etc. and are established through prayer and the laying-on of hands (χειροθεσία) by the Bishops.
  1. In Lutheran theology, “Ministry” (διακονία) is a broad and all-encompassing term for the διακονία to which the whole Church is called. It describes the work of the Gospel carried out by Ordained Ministers and lay people together. “Ordained Ministry” specifies the work commanded by Christ that is reserved to the Ordained Ministers alone.

II: Biblical Foundations and Ordained Ministry/ Priesthood

  1. Lutherans and Orthodox hold that the priesthood of the Old Testament anticipated the coming of Christ. This Old Testament Priesthood, known as the Aaronic Priesthood, which is richly presented in the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, had to do with the covenant God made with Israel through Moses. It was provisional, because it was a type of the New Testament Priesthood and was based on the sacrifices offered for the atonement of the people. It was replaced by the New Testament Priesthood, which has to do with God’s covenant with the whole of humanity through Jesus Christ and his Body (the Church), and was predicated upon the Sacrifice of Christ on the cross. According to the Christian Bible, the New Testament Priesthood is greater than that of the Old Testament because Christ himself is the only great and eternal High Priest in the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:5-6, I Cor. 3:1, 14:20 and Ps. 109:4), who was sent by the Father to establish the saving Mystery of the Church, his Body, and to entrust it first to his disciples, the Holy Apostles, and through them to their Successors.
  1. Orthodox and Lutherans agree that Christ sent the Apostles, as he himself was sent by the Father, to continue his mission (John 20:21); he gave them the authority to forgive sins through the power of the Holy Spirit (John 20:22-23). He ordered them to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to keep all his commandments, and promised to be with them always until the end of time (Matt. 28:18, 20). This promise is connected with the Mystery/Mysterion of the Holy Eucharist, which he instituted and entrusted to the Holy Apostles at the Last Supper (Luke 22:19-20) and which is fulfilled, revealed and celebrated as the eschatological Mystery of the Kingdom after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ (Luke 24:35, Acts 2:42). It is central to the Apostolic Ministry (1 Cor. 11:23-26) and to the Mystery of the Church as the Body of Christ.
  1. For Orthodox, the teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews on the Priesthood of Christ, and the Eucharistic teaching and practice of the Apostles and their Successors, the Bishops, are the key texts for understanding the New Testament Priesthood. They give priority to the High Priestly Office of the Lord and to the celebration of the Eucharist as the primary activity of the Church. To that extent, Orthodox ecclesiology is primarily Eucharistic. For Lutherans, the Office of the Ordained Ministry, which is a Ministry of both Word and Sacrament, was established by Jesus Christ through the call and commission of the Apostles (Matt. 16:16-19; 28:18–20; John 20:22). Those whom the Apostles appointed to carry on their Ministry are called to uphold the Apostolic faith and teaching of the Church.

III. The Ordained Ministry/Priesthood in the Early Church and the Ecumenical Councils

  1. Orthodox and Lutherans together emphasize the importance of the Early Church’s witness and history for our understanding of the Church’s Ordained Ministry/Priesthood today. Substantial agreement has been reached between Lutherans and Orthodox regarding the Ecumenical Councils in previous statements of the Joint Commission. The Limassol/Cyprus statement (1995) says “We agree on the doctrine of God, the Holy Trinity, as formulated by the Ecumenical Councils of Nicea and Constantinople and on the doctrine of the person of Christ, as formulated by the first four Ecumenical Councils.” The Limassol/Cyprus statement also affirms the teaching of the subsequent three Ecumenical Councils, while that of the Sandbjerg/Denmark statement (1993) affirms that the “canons establish a close relation between the faith once for all delivered to the saints and the necessity of ordering the Church’s life and structure.”
  1. Both traditions perceive that their own structures of Ordained Ministry/Priesthood build on the witnesses of the Early Church, both the witness of Scripture and of the Ecumenical Councils. Scripture and Tradition are interwoven and cannot be separated. The Church Fathers decided on the Canon of the New Testament and binding Christian doctrine, as expressed in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (381). Thus, they are indispensably and inseparably intertwined. Nevertheless, there are differences in our perceptions and understandings of these witnesses and in the understanding of the role of Church Tradition.
  1. For Orthodox, Scripture, the seven Ecumenical Councils, Local Synods, and the Church Fathers’ Canons, are the doctrinal norm of their Tradition. They emphasize that the Tradition established in the Early Church, beginning with Jesus’ calling of the Apostles, is unchangeable for the Church. Examples are Canon 6 of Chalcedon (451) on Ordination practices, Canon 19 of Trullo (692) on the teaching Ministry of clergy, Canon 102 of Trullo on the Pastoral Ministry of the Bishop and other Canons giving detailed advice concerning all ranks of clergy.
  1. Lutherans, according to their confessional writings, emphasize the binding validity of the first four ecumenical councils, i.e. the Creeds. The Lutheran emphasis on “Scripture alone” does not mean that Lutherans do not emphasize the Early Church Tradition. Luther himself underlined that his understanding of the Gospel was in accordance with the true understanding of the Early Church, referring to the Early Church, the Church Fathers and the Scriptures: “We teach nothing new. We teach what is old and what the apostles and all godly teachers have taught, inculcated, and established before us”.[3]

15. Lutherans and Orthodox hold that the Church needs oversight, exercised personally, collegially and communally; it needs Ordained Pastors/Priests to proclaim the Gospel and administer the Sacraments, and it needs ministers with a special responsibility for the Church’s service to people in need. These tasks must be taken care of today just as they were taken care of in a variety of ways already at the time of the Early Church.

  1. Lutherans underline that there is a flexibility in how these ministries are structured in different churches within the Lutheran Communion of Churches, which accords with the flexibility that was known to exist during the earliest history of the Church. Orthodox emphasize that the threefold Ministry is given by Jesus Christ and so is unchangeable.
  1. Lutherans and Orthodox, in their respective traditions, agree that the celebration of the Sacraments and the proclamation of the Word of God have always been a primary focus of the Priesthood. Earliest documents of the Apostolic and post-Apostolic age, such as the Didache and the Epistles of St. Ignatius of Antioch, describe the importance of congregational life as revolving around the Eucharist, celebrated by the Bishop and Presbyters under his authority.[4]
  1. Lutherans and Orthodox hold that the Early Church established clear structures of leadership and oversight. Among the New Testament writings, especially the Pastoral Epistles underline that the Apostles established offices of leadership in the local churches they founded. There was a close connection between the office of leadership and the transmission of the teaching of the Apostles, the “treasure entrusted” to the disciples of the Apostles (cf. 2 Tim. 1:13-14). Both traditions emphasize the need for oversight of the true transmission of the Apostolic teaching.[5]
  1. There are differences in the hermeneutical approach of Orthodox and Lutherans to the reading and use of writings from the ancient Church. Nevertheless, they both stress that the ministerial structures during the first centuries were closely linked with the need to safeguard the authentic content of the Gospel message. The continuity of the Episcopal Office was an important criterion for recognizing the public mediation of Apostolic teaching. The ongoing task of the Church to provide a binding witness to preserve its unity and protect the integrity of its faith and teachings, was bound together with its establishment of unified ministerial structures

    IV: The Ordained Ministry/Priesthood in the Reformation and Lutheran Confessions

  1. The Lutheran Reformers, responding to certain long-standing abuses of discipline, to the lack of clarity in sacramental teaching and practice, and to Luther’s insights into the doctrine of justification, sought to reform the Church and its Ministry. In doing so, they appealed to Scripture and to the teachings of the undivided Church. The Lutheran doctrine of the Ministry is presented in the Book of Concord, which contains the confessional writings of the Lutheran Church.
  1. After the fifth century, the Priesthood of the West began to be shaped by factors that increasingly distinguish it from its counterpart in the East. The most obvious of these factors was the decline of the Western Roman Empire and the collapse of unifying imperial governing structures. This had far-reaching implications for Church­­-State relations as well as for the Church itself and its clergy. Theological reflection on the Office of Priesthood after the tenth century was heavily influenced by the Church’s penitential practice and the growing consensus that Penance be included among the Church’s seven Sacraments. Western medieval theology distinguished between two kinds of powers conferred on Bishops: one was the power deriving from Ordination that gave them the right to administer the Sacraments and to preach publicly in the Church (potestas ordinis), the other was the power that gave them the right, among other things, to forgive and retain sins and to excommunicate the impenitent and heretics (potestas jurisdictionis). The Augsburg Confession accepts the first power, critically modifies the second, and refers both to the Office of the Ministry rather than to the person of the Bishop. It thereby denies those aspects of the Episcopal Office that were unique to Bishops and asserts that, by divine right (i.e. according to the Gospel), a Bishop has no more authority than any ordinary Pastor.[6]
  1. According to Augsburg Confession, the authority of the Pastoral Office comes from Christ through the Church, and Ordained Ministers are ultimately accountable to him (1 Cor. 4:1-4). The confession also says that “no one should publicly teach, preach or administer the sacraments without a proper [public] call” (rite vocatus).[7] Only those properly called and ordained have the authority to assume the Public Office since it does not belong to any individual as such but is Christ’s gift to the Church. Whereas all believers receive gifts through the Holy Spirit, those who are called to the Ordained Ministry receive a special charism that enables them to carry out the tasks of the Office.
  1. Luther, in agreement with the ancient Patristic Tradition, said that the Ordained Minister is God’s hands and God’s mouth, or alternatively Christ’s hands and Christ’s mouth.[8] It is really the Triune God himself who baptizes, speaks through the words of the sermon, absolves the penitent, and administers the Holy Eucharist.
  1. Luther did not call the Ordained Ministry a Sacrament, mainly because he had in mind the medieval rite of Ordination. This rite was very complex, consisting of many different elements (long litanies, prostrations, anointings, the prorectio of chalice and paten, and so on), but the core element was the prorectio of chalice and paten, not the laying-on of hands. Since Luther couldn’t find a biblical foundation for the prorectio (the giving of the symbols of office), he was critical of the Ordination rites of that time. Yet Luther himself could still recommend to the Bohemians that they ordain Pastors with prayer and the laying-on of hands,[9] and as early as 1535 Ordination became obligatory for Lutheran Pastors in Wittenberg.[10] Moreover, Luther considered Ministry and Ordination among the visible signs of the Church in his treatise “On the Councils and the Church” (1539). Here he points out: “The church is recognized externally by the fact that it consecrates or calls ministers, or has offices that it is to administer. There must be bishops, pastors, or preachers, who publicly and privately give, administer, and use the aforementioned four things or holy possessions [the Word of God, the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the public use of the Keys] on behalf of and in the name of the church, or rather by reason of their institution by Christ…Wherever you see this done, be assured that God’s people, the holy Christian people, are present.”[11]
  1. The Augsburg Confession affirms the divine origin of the office of preaching and administering the Sacraments.[12] Melanchthon can even recognize Ordination as a Sacrament as long as it is not linked with the Priestly Office of sacrifice but only with the preaching and teaching of the Gospel.[13] In line with the reformers and confessional writings, Lutherans today acknowledge that Ordained Ministry has a sacramental character.

V: The Theology and Practice of Ordination

26. Lutherans and Orthodox, in their respective traditions, perform Ordination services within the celebration of the Eucharist. Both refer to the basic Priestly functions that are enabled by Ordination; they do this with the understanding that the Priesthood in their traditions is grounded in the person and work of Christ. The efficacy of the Ordained Ministry is a charismatic operation that reflects God’s effectiveness in the divine economy of Christ. Lutherans and Orthodox teach that preaching the Gospel and celebrating the Sacraments is an authoritative task of the Ordained Ministry. While they also teach that it is the Bishop who ordains candidates to the Ministry/Priesthood, differences regarding Episcopacy and the sacramentality of Ordination still remain between our traditions.

A. Orthodox Perspectives

  1. The Ordained Priesthood is a charismatic authority within the Church, which directs and coordinates all the functions of the Body of Christ, that is, the historic Church, and maintains its unity. The Sacrament of Priestly Ordination is God’s gift to the Church and is received by the candidate who comes forward to be ordained by the Bishop. The ordained person receives the grace of the Holy Spirit that enables him to represent Christ in the Church, to celebrate the Sacraments/Mysteria and, through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, to sanctify the whole life of the Church and render possible the growth and well-being of the Body of Christ. In this sense, the unbroken Succession of Bishops is absolutely necessary because, without the Bishop, the Sacrament of the Priesthood cannot be celebrated, especially the all-inclusive Sacrament of the Divine Eucharist.
  1. The Orthodox incorporate the Sacrament of Ordination within the divine Eucharist as a manifestation of the sacramental character of the Orthodox Priesthood. The Orthodox Church is highly sensitive to the doctrinal, canonical, and moral presuppositions of Ordination, elements of which are incorporated into her rites, as can be seen specifically from the extensive “Confession of Faith,” which refers to the principal dogmas of Triadology, Christology and Ecclesiology and which is legally required of the candidate for the Office of Bishop.
  1. The Bishop’s privilege to ordain Priests is linked to his role in the Eucharist. It is remarkable that, although some Sacraments, such as Baptism and Marriage, can also be celebrated outside the Eucharistic Liturgy, only Ordination continues to be performed exclusively in the context of the Eucharist. It is also typical for the Orthodox Church that the Ordination of a Deacon, Presbyter, and Bishop each takes place at a different time within the Liturgy, determined by the special function of each in the Eucharistic celebration. The Deacon, an assistant in the celebration of the Eucharist, is ordained after the consecration of the Holy Gifts. The Presbyter who, in accordance with the mandate of the Bishop, presides over the Eucharistic celebration, is ordained after the Great Entrance, in direct reference to the subsequent consecration of the Holy Gifts, which are transferred to the altar. The Bishop is ordained after the Trisagion, which is followed by the readings and the preaching of the word and the culmination of the Eucharistic celebration. This indicates the indivisible responsibility of the Bishop for both the Word and the Sacraments.
  1. It is remarkable that Lutherans do not call Ordination a Sacrament in spite of its many sacramental characteristics. Ordination, which was instituted by Christ, takes place within the Eucharistic Liturgy, and is normally performed by a Bishop with the laying on of hands and the invocation of the Holy Spirit. Orthodox wonder if the Lutheran decision not to call Ordination a Sacrament is simply a semantic choice based on history or if there is really a deeper theological rationale. Reflection on this point would be useful to our dialogue.

B. Lutheran Perspectives

  1. In dogmatic terms, the Holy Ministry belongs to the esse (essence) of the Church. Without it the Church would not exist. The main functions of the Ordained Ministry are the proclamation of the Gospel, crystallized in the offer and bestowal of the forgiveness of sins, and the administration of the Holy Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. The Ordained Minister, as the servant of the Liturgy, is the one through whom Jesus Christ publicly proclaims the Gospel and administers the Sacraments in the Church. The Lutheran Confessions teach with the ancient Church that the efficacy of the Ordained Ministry is not dependent on the character of the office holder but depends solely on the effectiveness of God’s word (Isa. 55:11).[14]
  1. Lutheran Ordination is mostly linked to the Eucharistic service in a congregation. Lutheran candidates for the Ordained Ministry are usually ordained by their local Bishop. In most Lutheran Churches, Bishops are elected from among the Ordained Ministers and installed in a special Eucharistic service involving the participation of at least three Bishops. That installation, however, is not considered a new Ordination since Lutherans hold that there is only one Office of Ordained Ministry. Lutheran Ordination rites underscore the special character of the Ordained Ministry. Through the rite of Holy Ordination, God’s blessing and grace are invoked on the candidate and the newly Ordained Pastor is acknowledged to be a Minister of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church through the gracious work of the Holy Spirit.

VI: The Relationship between the Royal Priesthood and the Ordained Ministry/Priesthood

  1. Lutherans and Orthodox hold that in the Old Testament there is a general royal priesthood and a special Priesthood consecrated to offer sacrifices. Though all Abraham’s descendants as God’s chosen people benefited from his promise to Abraham (see Gen. 17:4-14; 22:16-18; 28:13-15; Ex. 19:4-6), God still chose certain people to become Priests to serve him and his people, and to enact the cultic laws that he gave them.
  1. The notion of the royal priesthood is used by both our traditions. It is an ancient teaching of the Church and has biblical roots. Christians belong to a spiritual priesthood which serves the world in word and deed on God’s behalf and brings the world’s needs to God in prayer. In this way, Christians are involved in God’s work and mission (1 Peter 2:9). Christians exercise their royal priesthood, each according to his or her own situation and calling in life (1 Peter 2:9-12; Eph. 5:1-2; Col. 3:1-4:6).
  1. According to Orthodox teaching, the Sacraments of Baptism (and Chrismation) and the Eucharist equip Orthodox faithful to experience the Lord’s loving and salvific work in the particular contexts of their lives. This in turn is what they witness to in the world through acts of caring, teaching, praying, and by engaging in the non-sacramental aspects of the Church’s ministry. This is the meaning of the royal priesthood for Orthodox. No one can become a sacramental Priest without first belonging to the royal priesthood. Lay people (λαός) are active in the life and work of the Church. Together with the clergy (κλήρος), they make up the members of the Body of Christ. Paul draws an analogy between these members and the members of the human body, where each supports the other, and each needs the other (1 Cor. 12:26). The clergy, each in his own degree, have specific duties. But the Church cannot be understood without the presence and cooperation of the laity. Laity constitute the assembly (σύναξις) of the faithful, which is fundamental to the life of the Church. This synaxis expresses the consciousness of the Church and has an important role in the proclamation of Saints.[15] Throughout the history of the Church, the laity in most Orthodox Churches have participated in the election of Bishops, and in some Orthodox countries even Priests and Deacons. No Liturgy can be celebrated without the participation of lay people. Moreover, the term “liturgy” derives from the words λεῖτος (λαός, laity) and ἔργο (work) and means “work of the people.” During the Orthodox rite of Ordination, the approval of the congregation is proclaimed by the word “worthy” (ἄξιος); if anyone calls out “unworthy” (ἀνάξιος), the Ordination stops immediately so that the claim can be examined. Moreover, lay people can undertake, always with the Church’s blessings, a variety of duties and practices, such as teaching, mission, catechising, charity work, and any other pastoral, social and theological tasks in the Church, to “equip the saints for the work of ministry and for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12).
  1. Lutherans put a strong emphasis on the royal priesthood. While Luther in his treatise “To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation” (1520), referred to the royal priesthood to encourage the nobility to take responsibility as lay leaders for reforming the Church (because he felt the Bishops had failed to do so), he was eager at the same time to show that the idea of the royal priesthood stands in opposition to the medieval division of Christians into two classes: the “spiritual/clerical” and the “secular.” All baptized Christians are “priests.” As a result, Priests and Bishops should not be considered distinct from other Christians because they belong to a higher spiritual estate, but only on account of their Ministry. Luther specifically emphasized the royal priesthood to counteract a false understanding of the Ordained Priesthood at the time, which saw it as a spiritually superior estate “above” lay people and for that reason “nearer” to Christ. Since the Reformation, Lutherans have often utilized the notion of the “priesthood of all believers” as a reminder that, even though the Ordained Ministry is essential to the Church, so is the ministry of the laity.
  1. Lutherans and Orthodox teach that the Ministry/Priesthood of the Apostles is continued in the proclamation of the Gospel and the celebration of the Sacraments/Mysteria. The authority of both the Apostles and Pastors/Priests depends on the foundational words of Christ. Like the Apostles, the Ordained Ministers/Priests receive their Ministry/Priesthood from the Lord and are leaders whom Christ has appointed/ordained to govern his Church (Col. 4:17; Heb. 13:17; 1 Tim. 5:17). Pastors/Priests exercise oversight over God’s flock, preach God’s word, teach true doctrine and shepherd God’s flock (1 Peter 5:1; Acts 6:2,4; 1 Tim. 3:2; 5:17; Titus 1:9; Acts 20:28).
  1. Lutherans and Orthodox agree that the Ordained Minister/Priest does not act on behalf of himself, but on the authority of the Church and ultimately of Christ himself. Therefore, the authority of the Ordained Ministry/Priesthood is not to be understood as a possession of the Pastor/Priest but as a gift from Christ for the continuing edification of the community in which and for which the Pastor/Priest has been ordained. Authority has the character of responsibility before God and his Church and aims to nurture the royal priesthood and in this way to assemble and build up the Body of Christ by proclaiming and teaching God’s word, celebrating the Sacraments, and guiding the life of the community in its worship, mission, and caring ministry.

VII. Apostolic Succession

  1. Orthodox and Lutherans confess in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (381) that they believe in “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.” This joint confession provides a firm foundation for our dialogue about Apostolic Succession. This theme was already treated in paragraph 12 of the 2011 Wittenberg Common Statement. This current statement focuses on the way in which our two traditions understand Apostolic Succession. There are four ways in which the Church can be understood to be Apostolic. Lutherans and Orthodox agree substantially on three of them but on the fourth there are serious differences.
  1. Lutherans and Orthodox agree that the Church is Apostolic in that: 1) it is instituted by Christ and its foundation is laid by the Apostles, 2) it is sent by Christ to proclaim the Gospel to the world, and 3) it preserves the Apostolic teaching and Tradition received from Christ.
  1. Lutherans emphasize this third sense in which the Church is Apostolic. Their understanding is clearly elaborated in the Lutheran World Federation’s 2007 Lund statement on Episcopal Ministry within the Apostolicity of the Church: “Apostolic tradition in the Church means continuity in the permanent characteristics of the Church of the apostles: witness to the apostolic faith, proclamation of the Gospel and faithful interpretation of the Scriptures, celebration of Baptism and the Eucharist, the exercise and transmission of ministerial responsibilities, communion in prayer, love, joy and suffering, service to the sick and needy, unity among the local Churches and sharing the gifts which the Lord has given to each. Continuity in this tradition is apostolic succession” (Lund 2007, paragraph 29).
  1. Orthodox too insist on the importance of Apostolic teaching but they also emphasize that the Church is Apostolic because its Bishops have received their Ordination in unbroken Succession from the Apostles. This is a point on which Lutherans have differing opinions among themselves, but they do not consider the historic Succession of Bishops essential for the Apostolicity of the Church.
  1. The fourth way in which the Orthodox understand the Church to be Apostolic is the unbroken Succession of Ordination from the Apostles. Lutherans recognize that the historical chain of Episcopal Consecration was interrupted by the extraordinary events surrounding the Reformation in Germany in which emergency measures were adopted to ensure that the Church of the Reformation was not without Ordained Pastors. Some Lutherans today are seeking to address this situation by inviting Bishops, who they consider to be in the historic Succession, to participate in the Consecration of new Bishops. This is encouraged by the Lutheran World Federation in its 2007 Lund statement on Episcopal Ministry within the Apostolicity of the Church, but some Lutherans feel that this is not necessary. Lutherans emphasize that these steps to restore the historic Episcopate would only be taken for the sake of love and good order and not because the Ordained Ministry of the Lutheran Church is somehow defective without it.
  1. Orthodox believe it to be the normative teaching of the whole Church up to the time of the Reformation that every Bishop had to receive Ordination in unbroken Succession from Christ through the Apostles, and be in communion with the other Bishops in Apostolic Succession. Any Bishop who does not have historic Apostolic Succession is in an irregular situation, which needs to be resolved before full communion is possible.
  1. For many Lutherans, the historic Apostolic Succession of Ordination is desirable but for none of them is it essential. For Orthodox, the historic Apostolic Succession of Ordination is an essential requirement of the Apostolicity of the Church which they confess in the Creed. For this reason, historic Apostolic Succession is a Church-dividing issue for Orthodox, not simply because Lutherans and Orthodox have different theologies of Apostolic Succession, but primarily because of the historical fact that historic Apostolic Succession has been broken in most Lutheran Churches. This historic Apostolic Succession would need to be restored before communion could be possible.

VIII. The Role and Place of Women in the Life of the Church and the Ordination of Women

A: Orthodox Perspectives on the New Testament

  1. In keeping with the unanimous tradition of the Church throughout her history, the Orthodox Church does not ordain women to the Priesthood. This practice is based on God’s plan for men and women in the whole Economy of Salvation and has been the consistent practice of all Christians for almost 2000 years. This is the clear teaching of Holy Scripture as a whole and therefore does not depend solely on the exegesis of those New Testament passages that are most often debated.
  1. Human beings are created by God as male and female, each with his or her own distinct vocation. To imagine that male and female are simply interchangeable is to contradict God’s order of creation and deny an essential part of the Economy of Salvation. Already in the Garden of Eden, the man and woman are called upon to be fruitful and multiply. In this way, they are able to do something together, precisely because they are different, which they would not otherwise be able to do if they were interchangeable.
  1. Man and woman, who are both created in the image of God, are called to become one flesh and so image the relationship between Christ and human beings: “For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery which, according to St. Paul, refers to Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:31–32). Man is created differently from woman so that the relationship between man and woman can be an image of the relationship between Christ and his Church: “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church, his Body, and is himself its Savior” (Eph 5:23). This headship is not one of domination but of love and self-sacrifice: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her.” But it is also a relationship where one person is under the authority of the other: “As the Church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands” (Eph. 5:23). The roles of man and woman in marriage are not interchangeable because God established marriage to image the relationship between Christ and the Church. Male headship is therefore rooted in creation and is an essential part of the Economy of Salvation.
  1. When Christ established his Church, he also established the structures for Ordained Ministry/Priesthood according to the complementary relationship between men and women that he had established in creation. Just as men are responsible for headship in the family, they are also responsible for oversight in the Church. For Orthodox, there is both Ordained Sacramental Priesthood/Ministry, for which only men are eligible, and many non-sacramental ministries (royal priesthood) in the life of the Church for which all baptized Christians, both lay women and men, are equally eligible. These different complementary ministries do not imply any inequality among the members of the Church. Ordained Ministry is not about status, but about a particular service which is tied to the person and work of Christ, the pre-eternal Son of God, who became man for our salvation and for the restoration of the entire creation to its original design by the Creator. This tradition is rooted in the Apostolic Succession and Christ’s commission to gather all nations into his Body, the Church, and in the Ordination of Bishops, Presbyters, and Deacons by the Apostles, to continue this mission of the Lord in history for the salvation of all human beings in Christ’s Church.
  1. It is obedience to this order of redemption, which is intrinsic to the Gospel as laid out in the canonical Scriptures of the Church and in her ecumenical creeds and dogmas, which restricts Ordained Sacramental Ministry in the Church to men. Faithfulness to the Gospel, which is given to us in the words and deeds of Christ by the Apostles, determines these distinctive Ordained and non-ordained Ministries. They are complementary and undivided, bearing witness to the new order of redemption that restores creation to its original image, fulfilling the divine purpose of creation by making humanity the means of bringing the entire creation into God’s eternal kingdom. In the Orthodox Tradition, this is personified by two persons: the Last Adam, Jesus Christ, and the Blessed Virgin, the New Eve, the Theotokos, who provided, on the part of humanity, the “flesh of the Church,”[16] by which we are all restored and saved.
  1. It has been the unanimous consensus of the Church, everywhere, always, and by all, that only men can serve in the Ordained Ministry. This has been the clear teaching of the Church for centuries and has never been the occasion of debate or even significant discussion. It is therefore surprising and painful for Orthodox Christians that members of other Christian traditions can now overturn this fundamental Christian teaching, which has been the unbroken Holy Tradition of the Church.

B: Lutheran Perspectives

  1. Lutherans have included women in the Ordained Ministry/Priesthood since the 1920s. That step came not as the result of social pressures but out of a recognition that a) ordained women would make a substantial and unique contribution to the Ministry of Lutheran Churches, and b) since women in most Lutheran countries now had access to higher education, one of the main obstacles to including women in the Priesthood—the lack of proper preparation—had been removed.
  1. Lutherans do not understand the Ordination of women as an “innovation.” The Lutheran tradition has never included the matter of gender in its official definitions of Ordained Ministry/Priesthood. There are no legal or dogmatic prohibitions preventing the Ordination of women. Therefore, the Ordination of women did not require a change of doctrine for Lutherans. Instead, existing laws and teachings were simply applied to a group, namely women, who had previously not been considered eligible for Ordination.
  1. Although there was no clear precedent for ordaining women prior to the 19th century, Lutherans drew on an extensive body of scriptural examples that showed women active in the Ministry of the New Testament Church. For example, Mary Magdalene was the first witness of the risen Christ (Mk. 16:9-10; Matt. 28:7-8), Junia was outstanding among the Apostles (Rom. 16:7), Priscilla took the lead in teaching Apollos (Acts 18:24-26), and the daughters of Philip the Evangelist were prophets (Acts 21:9-11). According to St. Paul, women also prayed and prophesied in the worship services of the New Testament Church (1 Cor. 11:5).
  1. Since the time of the Reformation, Lutherans have taught that the exercise of the Ordained Ministry is an act of pastoral service (pascere) and not one of domination (dominare). Therefore, biblical statements such as Genesis 3:16, which describe a husband’s “rule over” his wife, do not prevent women from serving in the Ordained Ministry/Priesthood in the Lutheran Church.
  1. Jesus taught that women and men are each created in the image of God (Gen 1:26-7) and therefore have the same status before God. Although sex/gender distinctions between men and women originating in creation were not abolished with the incarnation of Christ, it is also true that in Christ we are a new creation, the old has passed away and all things have become new (2 Cor. 5:17). As St. Paul says, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26-28). Based on these passages, Lutherans have concluded that considerations of gender are not a primary factor in assigning roles and offices or exercising specific ministries in the Church. And for this reason, women are eligible, no less than men, to serve in the Ordained Ministry/Priesthood of the Lutheran Church.
  1. A further support for the Ordination of women comes from Luther himself. Luther teaches that all Christians receive the privilege of priesthood through Baptism, forming a “priesthood of all believers,” similar to the Orthodox notion of a “royal priesthood”.[17] Luther emphasizes that this priesthood includes women as well as men. Although this priesthood of all believers is not the same as the Ordained Priesthood, in principle anyone who belongs to the former is eligible to be called to the latter. For this reason, Lutherans during the Reformation affirmed the long-standing tradition of allowing and training certain women to perform emergency Baptism. For this reason, too, Lutherans in more recent times have concluded that women were eligible in principle to be called to the Ordained Ministry/Priesthood, provided they were otherwise properly qualified.
  1. Although Lutherans teach that both women and men can be ordained, they do not hold that this makes the ministry of men and women interchangeable. Women and men bring different perspectives and life-experiences to their ministries. Lutherans have experienced women in the Ordained Ministry/Priesthood as a unique enrichment of that Ministry.
  1. Most of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) member churches ordain women to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament, a practice that began in the 1920s and accelerated after the Second World War. Because Lutherans practice a single Ordination to the Pastoral Office/Priesthood, any woman who is an Ordained Minister is eligible to be elected as a Bishop, and so there are both male and female Bishops in LWF member churches. The minority of member churches that do not presently ordain women are expected to recognize the Ministry of Ordained Women in their sister churches within the LWF. According to the principles of the Lutheran Communion, the Ordination of women is not church-dividing within its member churches and the practice of ordaining women is not a requirement for membership.

C: Concluding Perspectives

  1. Both Orthodox and Lutherans look back on a rich and profound tradition of women who have contributed to the life of their churches, and who continue to do so. Every Orthodox Church has numerous icons not only of the Virgin Mary, the Theotokos, but also of female saints who serve as reminders and as examples of such contributions. Lutherans, too, celebrate the contributions of female saints and of other women to their Church. Contemporary Lutheran and Orthodox Churches are full of committed women assuming a variety of significant roles in the ministry of those churches. Like most Christians, their contributions are often silent and not always acknowledged adequately, but are surely seen and blessed by the Triune God in heaven. Orthodox and Lutherans together affirm the contribution of women and encourage emphatically the continued service of women in their churches. This affirmation stands irrespective of theological or canonical considerations that affect their practices of Ordination. While Lutherans and Orthodox disagree on whether to ordain women, both agree that women play an essential role in the life of their traditions.
  1. At present, Orthodox and Lutherans recognize that the issue of the Ordination of women separates them. Orthodox cannot agree with the exegetical and hermeneutical approaches that Lutherans have employed to support this practice, and Orthodox also draw on a different body of theology and canon law regarding Ordination. Nevertheless, Lutherans and Orthodox remain convinced that they should continue to work through their differences and explore other areas of potential convergence. Together, Lutherans and Orthodox, each according to their respective traditions, teach that it is primarily God who acts through the Ordained Ministry/Priesthood, which they have by the mercy of God (2 Cor. 4:1), and that Pastors and Priests are nothing but clay vessels to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us: “To be baptized in God’s name is to be baptized not by human beings but by God himself. Although it is performed by human hands, it nevertheless is truly God’s own act.”[18] Again: “Neither Angel nor Archangel can do anything with regard to what is given from God; but the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit dispenses all, while the priest lends his tongue and affords his hand.”[19]

[1] The following papers were presented and discussed in the Rhodes Meeting: “Orthodox Reflections on the London Draft Statement (2012)” (V. Rev. Prof. Dr. George Dragas); “A Lutheran Commentary on the London Papers” (Rev. Prof. Dr. Jeffrey Silcock); “‘So That We May Obtain This Faith…’: A Lutheran Commentary on the Sibiu Papers and Statement” (Rev. Prof. Dr. Stephanie Dietrich); “The Sibiu Statement (May 2013): An Orthodox View” (Prof. Dr. Konstantinos Delikostantis); “Brief Commentary on the Preparatory Papers by Kenneth Appold, Risto Saarinen and Metropolitan Isaias” (Superintendent Klaus Schwarz); “Orthodox Reflections on the Tallinn Draft Statement of 2014” (V. Rev. Dr. Valentin Vasechko); “Biblical Foundations of Ordination in Lutheran Tradition” (Rev. Prof. Dr. Jeffrey Silcock); “Ordained Ministry/Priesthood in the New Testament: An Orthodox Perspective” (Prof. Dr. Christos Voulgaris); “The Ordained Ministry/Priesthood in the Early Church and the Ecumenical Councils and the Ordained Ministry/Priesthood in the Early and Medieval Church” (Prof. Dr. Kenneth Appold); “The Ordained Ministry/Priesthood in the Early Church and the Ecumenical Councils” (Dr. Nathan Hoppe); “The Relationship between the Royal Priesthood and the Ordained Ministry/Priesthood” (Rev. Prof. Dr. Stephanie Dietrich); “The Royal Priesthood in Relationship to the Ordained Ministry/Priesthood” (V. Rev. Prof. Dr. George Dragas); “Episcopate and Apostolic Succession: A Lutheran Perspective” (Rev. Heidi Zitting);  “Episcopate and Apostolic Succession: An Orthodox Perspective” (V. Rev. Dr. Valentin Vasechko). Remarks and Observations on Sections I and II of the Nicosia 2016 Draft Statement were presented in the Helsinki Meeting: “Hermeneutical Approaches on the Terminology and Different Understandings of a) ‘Ministry’, ‘Ordained Ministry’/Priesthood and ‘Service’ (Diakonia) and b) Biblical foundations of Ordained Ministry/Priesthood” (Rev. Prof. Dr. Jeffrey Silcock from a Lutheran and Prof. Dr. Rade Kisić from an Orthodox perspective). Remarks and Observations on Section III: “‘The Ordained Ministry/Priesthood in the Early Church and the Ecumenical Councils’” (Rev. Prof. Dr Stephanie Dietrich from a Lutheran and the V. Rev. Archimandrite Dr. Alexi Chehadeh from an Orthodox Perspective). Remarks and Observations on Section V: ‘‘Theology and Practice of Ordination’’ (Rev. Prof. Dr. Risto Saarinen from a Lutheran and H.E. Metropolitan Isaias of Tamassos from an Orthodox Perspective). Remarks and Observations on Section VI: “The Relationship between the Royal Priesthood and the Ordained Ministry/Priesthood” (Rev. Prof. Dr Jennifer Wasmuth from a Lutheran and Rev. Prof. Dr. Cosmin Pricop from an Orthodox Perspective). Remarks and Observations on Section VII: “Episcopate and Apostolic Succession” (Rev. Prof. Dr. Thomas-Andreas Põder from a Lutheran and Dr. Nathan Hoppe from an Orthodox Perspective). Remarks and Observations on Section VIII: “The Role and the Place of Women in the Life of the Church and the Ordination of Women” (Prof. Dr Kenneth G. Appold from a Lutheran and V. Rev. Prof. Dr. George Dragas from an Orthodox Perspective).

 [2] See Growth in Agreement III, International Dialogue Texts and Agreed Statements, 1998-2005, edited by Jeffrey Gros, FSC, Thomas F. Best, Lorelei F. Fuchs, SA, WCC Publications, Geneva (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 25.

[3] LW (Luther’s Works, American Edition) 26:39 (Lectures on Galatians, 1535) (trans. alt.).

[4] The letters of Ignatius of Antioch (ca. AD 110) testify to the existence of a single Bishop surrounded by a College of Deacons and Presbyters. Ignatius also describes the Presbyterate as the independent hierarchical level between Bishop and Deacon. “Let the bishop preside in the place of God, and his clergy in the place of the Apostolic conclave, and let my special friends the deacons be intrusted with the service of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father from all eternity and in these last days has been made manifest. Everyone should observe the closest conformity with God; you must show every consideration for one another, never letting your attitude to a neighbour be affected by your human feelings, but simply loving each other consistently in the spirit of Jesus Christ. Allow nothing whatever to exist amongst you that could give rise to any divisions; maintain absolute unity with your bishop and leaders, as an example to others and a lesson in the avoidance of corruption” (Ignatius to the Magnesians, 6, in The Apostolic Fathers. Early Christian Writings, translated by Maxwell Staniforth [London: Penguin, 1968], 72).

[5] The concept of a Succession of the Apostles appears in the First Letter of Clement to the Corinthians. Clement there describes Succession as a single line of commission from God through Christ to the Apostles and “their first converts,” whom, “after testing them by the Spirit,” they “appointed to be bishops and deacons for the believers of the future” (para. 42), The Apostolic Fathers (see above), 40. Clement also mentions in his letter the appointment and Ordination of Presbyters along with Bishops (44,47,54,57). Disregard for these Presbyters was the reason the letter to the Church in Corinth was written in the first place. See First Epistle of Clement, in The Apostolic Fathers. Early Christian Writings (see note above).

[6] Augsburg Confession, Art. 28: 21,22 in The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, ed. Robert Kolb and Timothy Wengert, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: Fortress, 2000), 94; Apology Art. 28:12,13 in The Book of Concord, 290.

[7] Augsburg Confession, Art. 14 in The Book of Concord, 46.

[8] LW 22:505–6 (Sermons on the Gospel of St. John).

[9] LW 40:4-44 (Concerning the Ministry, 1523).

[10] LW 53:122-26 (The Ordination of Ministers of the Word, 1539).

[11] LW 41:154.

[12] Art. 5: “To obtain such faith God instituted the office of preaching, giving the gospel and the sacraments. Through these, as through means, he gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when he wills, in those who hear the gospel,” in The Book of Concord, 40.

[13] Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Art. 13, in The Book of Concord, 220.

[14] Augsburg Confession, Art. 8, in The Book of Concord, 42.

[15] The refers to the process in the Orthodox Church where persons are proclaimed to be saints.

[16] St. John Chrysostom, “Homily Before Exile,” PG 52, 429.

[17] See Section VI.

[18] Martin Luther, Large Catechism, in The Book of Concord, 457.

[19] St. John Chrysostom, “Homily 86 on the Gospel of John” in Philip Schaff (ed.), A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. XIV: Saint Chrysostom (Grand Rapids, MI Eerdmans, 1956), 326 (trans. alt.).





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