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The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America has withdrawn from the National Council of Churches USA, citing a widening gulf in philosophical and theological views.
Clergy and lay delegates attending the 47th archdiocesan convention in Dearborn, Mich., last week unanimously approved a motion to drop out of the NCC, of which it had been a member since its founding in 1950.
A committee on interfaith relations voted in favor of withdrawal and when it presented its decision to the general assembly, the delegates responded with "thunderous applause," according to the Rev. Olof Scott, vice chairman of inter-Orthodox and interfaith relations for the Antiochian archdioese.
The motion was passed unanimously and Metropolitan Philip, leader of the 450,000-member Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, "did not need a lot of thought" before making the withdrawal official, Father Olof told Ancient Faith Radio.
"We're getting further and further away from the primary goal of looking to bring Christianity back into a unified fold," he said. "The churches of the mainline Protestant world really don't want to hear our message. It is with that frustration that we felt that we can put our efforts to better use elsewhere."
The archdiocese also voiced its opposition to groups that promote "divisive and dangerous" positions, including "support for same-sex marriage, support for abortion, support for ordination of women and support for the concept of war that is 'pre-emptive' or 'justifiable.'●"
Although the action to quit the NCC wasn't triggered by a single decision or statement by the ecumenical group or its leaders, one of the examples the archdiocese cited was NCC General secretary Bob Edgar's decision to remove his signature from a statement defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
The Rev. Paul Albert, pastor of St. Elias Antiochian Orthodox Church in Sylvania, said the denomination sought "to be a voice of traditional, patristic Christianity" in the NCC "but that voice was falling on deaf ears."
The Rev. Mark Hodges, of St. Stephen Orthodox Mission in Lima, said the NCC has moved away from its original mission to "restore unity among Christians."
"It has become, especially in the last few decades, a forum for a political and moral agenda that is contrary to Christianity," Father Mark said. "We still want dialogue and want to love people of all faiths, but we don't want to be directly associated with members of a body that is promoting an anti-Christian and immoral agenda."
Father Olof, of Charleston, W.Va., told The Blade that the Antiochian archdiocese was in the process of sending an official letter of notification to the NCC but that the decision was effective as soon as Metropolitan Philip made his ruling.
"This is not a withdrawal of the Antiochian archdiocese from other ecumenical endeavors," Father Olof added. "This is a withdrawal from the National Council of Churches specifically, and if there appears on the horizon an ecumenical venue that we think would be beneficial for dialogue, we'll be happy to consider participating."
NCC officials plan to meet with Metropolitan Philip to discuss the archdiocese's concerns, a spokesman said.
The National Council of Churches USA is composed of representatives from 35 Christian groups with 45 million members in 100,000 congregations. There are five Eastern Orthodox and four Oriental Orthodox jurisdictions that belong to the NCC.
There are two Antiochian Orthodox congregations in the Toledo area, St. Elias in Sylvania and St. George Cathedral on Woodley Road in Toledo. Bishop Mark Maymon, head of the Toledo and Midwest Diocese, is based in Toledo and oversees 50 parishes in nine states and one Canadian province.