A consultation held on the campus of Saint Vlash in Durres, Albania on 3-7 October brought together Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox women involved in the work of the World Council of Churches (WCC) since the 10th WCC Assembly in Busan, Korea in 2013.
The orthodox women participating were members of the WCC governing bodies, commissioners or advisors within WCC programmes, resource persons and WCC female staff. They shared their ecumenical experiences and discussed the Orthodox women’s agenda towards the 11th WCC Assembly in Karlsruhe, Germany, 2021.
Participants attended the Sunday liturgy at the Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral of Tirana and had an official hearing from His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana, Durrës and All Albania. Anastasios discussed extensively with them the role of contemporary women in the church by sharing insights from the liturgical life in the Orthodox Church of Albania where women have very active roles. “My participation in the ecumenical movement has been a university for life, it was always a possibility for new challenges, for auto-criticism, for research, for contribution, an opportunity to know wonderful people that really represent a part of the whole humanity…it was a gift of God,” he said.
Ruth Mathen, from the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and the Christian Conference of Asia, reflected that Orthodox women, situated in their uniquely different and independent communities and contexts, have developed over time their own resources and toolkits to confront the challenges they face. “The consultation offered the space for cross-cultural and cross-continental learning,” said Mathen. “I have heard how Orthodox women are supporting and sheltering refugees in Greece, how they are rehabilitating survivors of domestic violence in Russia, and how they are enabling grassroots-level empowerment for other women in Lebanon. It is reassuring to know that we Orthodox women have access to a global support system that is facilitated by the WCC and united by our common Orthodox ethos,” she said.
Prof. Dimitra Koukoura, representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate and a WCC Central Committee member, expressed appreciation as well. “Meeting each other and sharing experiences from our ecumenical journey is more than important,” she said. “Giving witness to the Orthodox tradition in the various committees of the WCC as well as transmitting successfully messages from our common ecumenical work back in our communities is not an easy task for us; therefore being together encourages us a lot.”
Margarita Nelyubova, representing the Moscow Patriarchate, is also a WCC Central Committee member. “The Orthodox women meeting in Durres, Albania allowed women involved in WCC work to meet after a long break,” she said. “This consultation allowed us to update each other on what is going on in our Orthodox Churches of Eastern and Oriental traditions, and in particular on how did the situation of women change vis-à-vis new opportunities and challenges.”
Nelyubova expressed appreciation for the opportunity the women had to map their way forward with regard to joint witness and service in the WCC, and also on further inter-Orthodox cooperation. “Meanwhile, a whole wealth of educational, catechetical materials, guidelines and curricula on various fields of diaconal service has been developed that we can share among Orthodox Churches and other WCC members and thus enrich each other,” she said. “During this consultation we articulated Orthodox women’s concerns that we would like to convey to the leadership of our churches and the WCC.”