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First Orthodox Priest in CCANZ Presidium

Photo of Fr Ilyan (right) with Fr Felimoun El Baramoussy (Coptic Orthodox church) in DunedinPhoto of Fr Ilyan (right) with Fr Felimoun El Baramoussy (Coptic Orthodox church) in Dunedin.

For the first time in its history an Orthodox priest has been elected to the three-person presidium of the Conference of Churches of Aotearoa New Zealand (CCANZ).

Father Ilyan Eades says his presence on the country's leading ecumenical body is significant because some Orthodox churches have begun to withdraw from the ecumenical movement and the World Council of Churches (WCC).

"Orthodox churches have become uncomfortable with the tone of deliberations at the WCC and issues such as the ordination of women and homosexuality. They feel the original intention of the ecumenical movement was to work towards the reunion of Christendom, not deliberate on social issues. Also the views of the Orthodox churches are often depreciated.

"Here in New Zealand, some Orthodox leaders think we should only send observers to CCANZ, as the Roman Catholic Church does. Others think the Orthodox churches should continue to participate in the ecumenical movement because it is important that Christians present a united front on social issues, and the Body of Christ is seen as one. We as Orthodox must bear witness to our Orthodox Faith " Fr Ilyan says.

Fr Ilyan is an archpriest in the Antiochian Orthodox Church and has served in the parish of St Michaels in Dunedin since 1992. St Michaels is the oldest Orthodox Church in New Zealand and was established in 1911 to meet the needs of Lebanese immigrants. In addition to the Antiochian Orthodox Church, CCANZ includes the Greek, Serbian, Romanian and Coptic Orthodox churches. The different strands of the Orthodox faith should not be thought of as different denominations, Fr Ilyan says. Rather they are different jurisdictions of a single Orthodox Church and have a shared priesthood, sacraments and tradition.

There are two orders of priests in the Orthodox Church. Priests in the White Order can marry and are generally parish priests. The Black Order is monastic and celibate. Orthodox bishops are appointed from the Black Order.

Born in Auckland, Fr Ilyan is a Pakeha New Zealander who converted to the Orthodox faith in 1978. He trained for the priesthood in New Zealand and was ordained in 1987. He was elevated to the rank of archpriest in 2000. He has been married for 32 years and has two children and four grandchildren. He works with IHC and assists in running an organic garden project in Mosgiel.

Because his own congregation is mixed, Fr Ilyan uses three languages - English, Greek and Slavonic - to conduct services. Slavonic is the traditional liturgical language of most Orthodox Churches in Eastern Europe and is currently very useful because about 80 percent of those who attend St Michaels in Dunedin are from Eastern Europe and Russia.

Fr Ilyan says over the past decade the Orthodox Church has begun to rejuvenate itself in Eastern Europe but faces many obstacles. "People are free to worship, and the state has begun to hand back property but the Church is poor. Many people in the West do not understand the situation there. Evangelicals are sending missionaries to 'establish Christian churches' as if there were none before."

This is rather insulting because millions of people were put to death, tortured, and even sexually abused, or sent to psychiatric hospitals during the Communist period for being Christian and not only Orthodox. Ten percent of the Russian population maintained regular devotions even at the height of Stalinist purges. The situation was even worse in China during the Cultural Revolution, and hasn't recovered."

In New Zealand there are now more than 14 Orthodox clergy. Fr Ilyan says both his own archbishop Metropolitan Paul Saliba and the Wellington-based archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Dionysios Psiachas requested that he attend CCANZ. His appointment to the presidium has been widely welcomed by members of the Orthodox community.

Fr Ilyan is the first Orthodox member of the presidium since the lay person Professor Barbu Nicolescu of the Romanian Orthodox Church was elected to CCANZ's first presidium in 1987.

The other two members of the current presidium are Bishop Murray Mills (Anglican) and Gaynor Larson (Presbyterian).