Gathering together for their 32nd consecutive year, members of the International Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission met in Sibiu, Romania, from 24 to 29 May for a preparatory meeting on the doctrine of ministry. This is the second time the Commission has met in Romania; in 2004, the Orthodox hosted the meeting in Durau. This time, however, the Lutherans were the hosts in the historic city of Sibiu, also known as Hermannstadt, home to a centuries-old community of Saxon German immigrants. After the fall of communism in 1989, most of the Saxons in Romania repatriated to Germany. Today’s community numbers only about 13,000. However, those who remain are strongly committed to their language, faith, and heritage, which includes the very impressive “Saxon fortified churches” built to protect the city’s inhabitants from invasion.
It was also a happy place for an ecumenical meeting because of Sibiu’s remarkable ecumenical history. Western and Eastern Christians coexisted peacefully during the late Middle Ages. When the Reformation swept through Europe, Johannes Honterus, a Saxon living in Romania, went to study in Wittenberg and brought back the evangelical teaching with him. While most of the Saxons accepted the Reformation, those who did not weren’t forced to convert or leave. In fact, the new Lutherans built worship spaces for those who wanted to remain loyal to the pope. The earliest known religious tolerance accord in Europe was issued by the local government, which led in turn to the Saxon cities becoming major centers for religious refugees, including Jews and Unitarians.
The topic under discussion in Sibiu was ministry and ordination, following upon last year’s preparatory meeting in London, which discussed the meanings of priesthood and ordained ministry in the Old and New Testaments and the early church. In Sibiu, attention turned to the development of the Lutheran doctrine of ministry in the context of the Western medieval tradition and rites of ordination today. For their part, the Orthodox offered papers on apostolic succession and an assessment of Luther’s teaching from an Eastern perspective. A text was drafted to aid the work of the plenary group, which will assemble in 2015. It was decided by the group that a third preparatory meeting will be required in 2014 to discuss liturgical texts for ordination rites and the ordination of women.
It was a particular pleasure for the Lutherans this year to welcome two new members to the team. Bp. Prof. Dr. Christoph Klein of Sibiu itself took the helm as Lutheran co-president, replacing Bp. Donald McCoid of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, who had served for many years as co-chair. Representing the LWF was Rev. Dr. Kaisamari Hintikka from the Church of Finland, the new Assistant General Secretary for Ecumenical Relations and Director of the Department for Theology and Public Witness. We look forward to a long and fruitful partnership with them as we pursue unity and reconciliation with our Orthodox sisters and brothers.