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Third Meeting of the Heads of the
Oriental Orthodox Churches in the Middle East

from 4th-9th May 2000 Antelias in the Lebanon

The third meeting of the heads of the Oriental Orthodox Churches in the Middle East was hosted by the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia at its headquarters at Antelias in the Lebanon from 4th-9th May. In addition to the Patriarchs (His Holiness Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church, His Holiness Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I of the Syrian Orthodox Church and His Holiness Catholicos Aram I of the Armenian Orthodox Church-Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia) were members of the Standing Committee: Metropolitan Bishoy of Damietta and Bishop Moussa from the Coptic Church; Metropolitan Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim of Aleppo and Metropolitan Theophilus George Saliba of Mount Lebanon from the Syrian Church; and Bishop Sebouh Sarkissian, Patriarchal Vicar for Damascus, and Archimandrite Nareg Alemezian of the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia.

They began their deliberations on 8th May with a common prayer service celebrated in St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral to mark the Second Millennium of the Birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and issuing a Pastoral Letter addressed to thefaithful throughout the world.

Plans were made relating to participation by the Copts and the Syrians in the 2001 commemoration when the Armenian Orthodox Church will celebrate the 17th Centenary of the Proclamation of Christianity in Armenia.

Particular discussion took place concerning the various Official Theological dialogues in which the Oriental Orthodox churches are currently involved.

Foremost among these is that between the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Following a general assessment of the results of the 15 years-long Official Theological Dialogue, the necessity was underlined of its continuation aimed at the full communion of these two families of Orthodox Tradition. In response to the invitation of His Holiness Alexy I, Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, addressed in a letter to Pope Shenouda III dated 12 April, 2000 to initiate a bilateral dialogue with the Coptic Orthodox Church and then the Oriental Orthodox Churches, it was thought to be more appropriate to continue in a more organized way the Official Theological Dialogue between the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox families. Meanwhile, they welcomed mutual pastoral visits with the clear understanding that they should not be selective and include all the Churches of the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox families. They also welcomed the pastoral agreement reached between the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria and the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and all Africa regarding the mutual recognition of the sacraments of holy matrimony blessed in their respective churches in the cases of mix marriages.

The Roman Catholic Church has expressed a wish to start an Official Theological Dialogue with the Coptic Orthodox Church with the possible extension of it to the Oriental Orthodox Churches but it was felt that before making any engagement in a formal Theological Dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church, the following points should be taken into consideration:

1) the clarification of the future relations of the Oriental Orthodox Churches with the Pro Oriente;

2) the appointment of a mixed preparatory committee to prepare the agenda and discuss methodologies, procedures and other aspects related to this Dialogue.

After this preparatory work, the Middle Eastern Oriental Orthodox Churches would be ready to engage in an Official Theological Dialogue with the hope that in the near future other members of the Oriental Orthodox family will join us. Pope Shenouda III and Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I requested Catholicos Aram I to discuss the modalities and other important matters related to this Dialogue both with the Roman Catholic Church and the other members of the Oriental Orthodox family.

As a follow-up to a resolution passed at the 1998 Lambeth Conference, His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, had extended a formal invitation to the Heads of the Oriental Orthodox Churches to start the Official Theological Dialogue between the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Anglican Communion.

It was decided to appoint a preparatory committee to meet with the representatives of the Anglican Communion to prepare the agenda and clarify the modalities of this Dialogue. Once again, Catholicos Aram I was asked to discuss this matter with the other Churches of the Oriental Orthodox family.

The first phase of the official dialogue between the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches will end in January 2001 with the meeting of the Commission at the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia. In the light of the theological discussions over the last seven years, it was considered important to continue this Dialogue if the WARC would take the same position. However, it was felt to be important that a new agenda, procedures and guidelines be set for the next period.

Deep satisfaction was expressed for the active participation of the Oriental Orthodox Churches in the global ecumenical movement through the World Council of Churches. Ms. Teny Pirri-Simonian, Executive Secretary of Church & Ecumenical Relations and the official representative of the WCC at this Meeting, reported on the new programmatic framework, priorities and activities of the WCC in general, and the work of the ‘Special Commission on Orthodox Participation in the World Council of Churches’ in particular. She underlined the positive impact of the Annual Meetings of the Heads of the Oriental Orthodox Churches in the Middle East on the ecumenical movement and particularly on the Orthodox Churches - WCC relationship and co-operation.

We re-affirmed our commitment to the ecumenical movement through the World Council of Churches and our serious engagement in the work of the Special Commission that aims at a greater Orthodox participation and role in the WCC.The Patriarchs also expressed their deep satisfaction for the significant role that their Churches were playing in the Middle East Council of Churches. The Rev’d Riad Jarjour, the General Secretary of the MECC, extended his thanks for the full and continuous support of the three Heads to the ongoing work of the Council and reported on the activities of the Council, highlighting some of the challenges and concerns that this regional ecumenical structure is facing. The Patriarchs emphasised the vital necessity of re-evaluating the ecumenical work of the MECC vis-à-vis the changing conditions and new developments in the region.

A Sub-Committee for the Oriental Orthodox Youth was appointed to prepare special programmes for joint activities of the youth of our Churches. This Sub-Committee will meet at the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia in Antelias, Lebanon, in September 2000.

A Sub-Committee composed of the Deans of the Oriental Orthodox Theological Seminaries was also appointed. This Sub-Committee will explore practical ways and possibilities to organise mutual exchange of teachers and seminarians, as well as joint programmes in the area of Christian education and ministerial formation. The meeting of this Sub-Committee will take place at St. Ephrem’s Monastery in Damascus-Syria, in October 2000.

The recent translations of the books of Pope Shenouda III into Syriac and Armenian, with reprints of some of them into Arabic was welcomed. Publications were considered a vital tool for Christian education and theological formation. Therefore, with the aim of further organising and co-ordinating the efforts of the Churches in this area, a Sub-Committee for Publications was established. This Sub-Committee will meet at St. Bishoy’s Monastery in the Wadi N’atrun, Egypt, in November 2000. It was recommended to this Sub-Committee to publish the history of all three Churches in Arabic, Syriac, Armenian and English, and to provide news related to the three Churches to be printed in each church’s official newsletters in the ‘News From Sister Churches’ section, and also to prepare the updated address book of our Churches and church-affiliated organisations.

The Standing Committee will co-ordinate and supervise the work of these three Sub-Committees, and report back to the Patriarchs.

© Suryoyo Online
Gabriel Rabo

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