KESTON JOURNAL Religion, State and Society ISSUE 2 1998 Ecumenism, defined by the World Council of Churches as 'the whole task of the whole church to bring the Gospel to the whole world', is the focus of Issue 2 1998 of the Keston journal, Religion, State and Society. The ecumenical movement has dominated the agenda of the western Christian world in the second half of the twentieth century, and in this issue of RSS we try to find out what ecumenism means to those involved and what problems arise today in postcommunist times when the churches try to put the concept into practice. Several of our authors make the point that, largely thanks to the influence of communist governments, the twentieth-century encounter between the western (Protestant) and eastern (Orthodox) churches never included that thoroughgoing discussion of doctrinal differences which would have been essential for achieving real mutual understanding. Nothing substantial happened within the WCC to alter the centuries-old Orthodox view of the West as 'a territory where any heresy was possible', as Flavius Solomon points out in 'Between Europe and Tradition: Church and Society in Orthodox Eastern Europe'. For their part, argues Gerd Stricker in 'Stumbling-blocks between Orthodoxy and Protestant Ecumenism', western Protestants always suspected that the Orthodox did not accept them as full Christians.   Special factors in the postcommunist period have meant that the doctrinal gulf has widened. Many individuals who were formerly zealots for the official ideology in communist times are now seeking new certainties in the church. In 'Barriers to Ecumenism: an Orthodox View from Russia', Vladimir Fedorov identifies the neophyte complex - 'the desire to display one's exceptional loyalty to the Church, the search for one's identity, and the seduction of nationalism and messianism' - and observes a general movement in Eastern Europe away from ecumenism and towards 'confessionalism'.   In this context, the specific issue causing the most bitter East- West church controversy has been missionary activity, seen by its opponents as 'proselytising'. Yet proselytising activity is by no means a consequence of 'ecumenism', as many in the East allege. As Anton Houtepen points out in 'Evangelisation and Ecumenism: Contradiction or Challenge?', 'The difficulties surrounding proselytism in Eastern Europe do not stem from the ecumenical movement, but from groups and churches who want to remain aloof from this movement.'   It begins to come clear at this point that the word 'ecumenism' is being interpreted differently in East and West. As Houtepen observes, 'The greatest stumbling-block to ecumenism is ... the concept of ecumenism itself.' The western understanding is that ecumenism involves the world's churches working together. However, in 'Reconciliation through Aid: the Catholic Presence in Orthodox Countries' Fr Michel van Parys notes that in maintaining their contacts with foreign churches the churches in the communist countries of the East 'had to make concessions to party and state pressure' so that 'the legacy of doublespeak is that "ecumenism" has actually come to mean "compromise"'. This is confirmed in 'Stumbling-blocks to Ecumenism in the Balkans', where Anne Herbst quotes the view of a Serbian bishop that ecumenists want to forge Christian unity 'through compromise, lies and hypocrisy'.   However hard it may be to overcome such differences, Stricker is surely right when he argues that the goal of ecumenism should no longer be described in terms of 'church unity'. Instead he proposes 'reconciled diversity'. It is a concept that has been dismissed as too timid, as reflecting too weak a faith. Yet, Stricker argues, in these times of deep distrust it has the advantage of being a realistic first step, and one that is obviously essential before further progress can be made. Other articles in this issue: Erich Bryner, 'Stumbling-blocks to Ecumenism'. Basilus J. Groen, 'Nationalism and Reconciliation: Orthodoxy in the Balkans'. Gary D. Bouma, 'The New Europe and Church-State Relations: the Case of the Euro-Anglicans'. Yuli Shreider, 'The Ethics of Mutual Understanding'. Veniamin Novik, 'Social Doctrine: Will the Russian Orthodox Church Take a Daring Step?' Religion, State and Society is available from Keston Institute, 4 Park Town, Oxford, OX2 6SH, UK, for an annual subscription of 35/$53 (four issues). You may order it via our website at