What do Moscow, Dublin, Cyprus and Buffalo have in common? Since September, all four have given their name to the four agreed statements that have been signed by two of the largest Christian churches – the Anglican and the Eastern Orthodox churches.
As I was sitting in the foyer of a hotel in downtown Buffalo, where the 25 people who make up the International Commission for Anglican-Orthodox Theological Dialogue were staying, I could not help but think that history was being made as these professors, theologians and clergy concluded the work of six years in Buffalo, thus giving the name of our city to the agreement they had signed.
It was a moment of pride for our city and our people, although that afternoon probably not too many people in Buffalo were aware of that historic occasion. After all, these kinds of meetings of religious bodies, which seem to talk in their own dialect and are cut off from the real issues of our times, rarely receive any publicity.
On a rainy afternoon in 1994 in London, England, where I was a student, I received an invitation to be the secretary of this commission. Since then, this involvement has taken me to meetings all over the world, from Canterbury to Constantinople and from Jerusalem to Addis Ababa. But most importantly, it gave me the opportunity to be with people who are concerned with the unity of Christians.
It is a reality that we live in a world that is fragmented in many ways. Christians also bear the responsibility of division and the cross of finding the way toward unity. It is much easier for all of us to remain enclosed in our ghettos, our own well-constructed institutions. It is much more difficult to venture out and meet people whose beliefs are different and to engage in an honest dialogue that promotes mutual understanding and often clarifies misconceptions.
However, we also need to avoid the other extreme of watering down our beliefs and traditions in the name of some artificial unity. Very often I find that people nowadays underestimate the real differences that exist between faiths, cultures and ideologies, and rush to proclaim agreement. They say that, at the end of the day, “we are all the same; we are not different.” This attitude does not prove to be profitable, either.
There are many differences between these two worldwide Christian communions – Anglican and Orthodox. In many respects, they represent two different sides: one traditional and conservative; the other liberal and modern. However, despite all this, they managed to discuss and produce a document that is relevant and meaningful. The Buffalo Agreed Statement talks about the human person as a creation of God and how this idea relates to many areas of modern discourse. The statement was released officially in London. I hope it can be a contribution to the modern ecumenical dialogue, but also to the wider discussion in our society of the place and role of humanity.
One year ago, in the last meeting of this group in Jerusalem, I must admit, I was hesitant to propose Buffalo as the next location. What do people know about Buffalo? How attractive and inviting would our city be for these church officials who have stayed in the greatest cities of the world?
The result was spectacular! The hospitality of our people and the charm of our city shone forth and won over our guests. Buffalo was the best place for discussion, for dialogue and for agreement. Somehow, this fits to the renewal Buffalo is experiencing these days.