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

This meeting was held at St. Ephrem's Monastery at Ma'arrat Seydnaya, Damascus, Syria,
from 7-9 March 2002 and issued the following

 

Common Declaration

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

We, Pope Shenouda III, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark of the Coptic Orthodox Church; Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East of the Syrian Orthodox Church; and Catholicos Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia of the Armenian Orthodox Church, an d the members of the Standing Committee: H.E. Metropolitan Bishoy, H.G. Bishop Moussa, H.E. Metropolitan Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, H.E. Metropolitan Theophilus George Saliba, H.G. Bishop Sebouh Sarkissian, and Archimandrite Nareg Alemwzian, who are with us, give thanks to God for bringing us together once again in the context of this Fifth Meeting of the Heads of the Oriental Orthodox Churches in the Middle East, 7-9 March 2002 at the St. Ephrem Monastery of the Syrian Orthodox Church, Ma'arat Seydnaya, Damascus, Syria.

From the dawn of Christianity our three Churches have shared the same apostolic heritage and the one faith. In our Common Declarations of our four previous meetings (St. Bishoy Monastery, Wadi Natroun, Egypt, 10-11 March 1998; St. Ephrem Monastery, Ma'arat Seydnaya, Damascus, Syria, 13-14 February 1999; Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia, Antelias, Lebanon, 4-9 May 2000; St. Mark's Centre, Cairo, Egypt, 15-17 March 2001) we have affirmed our strong attachment to our common spiritual heritage and unity of faith expressed in the first three Ecumenical Councils of Nicea (325), Constantinople (381) and Ephesus (431), and through the teachings of our holy fathers. We have also affirmed our holy fathers' rejection of all kinds of heresies in the course of our respective histories. We have recommitted ourselves to the decisions taken by our Churches in the context of our common witness and service to our faithful in the world and particularly in the Middle East, where the Christian witness has been faithfully carried on by our fathers since the apostolic era. We must preserve what we have inherited from our fathers, saints and martyrs as a sacred treasure to be cherished by all generations.

We have studied issues of common concern that have emerged since our last meeting. We have received a report from the Standing Committee, and taken the following actions:

I. Inter-Church Relations and Bilateral Dialogues

A. Oriental Orthodox Churches-Eastern Orthodox Churches

1. Based on the proposal of the Joint Commission of Theological Dialogue between the two Orthodox families, we encourage the publication in local languages of studies dealing with the Christological agreements signed by the two families (1989, in Egypt, and 1990 and 1993, in Switzerland). We believe that such publications will significantly help our faithful to understand more fully the findings and the results of this dialogue, aimed at the restoration of full communion between the two families.

2. We welcome the initiation of ecumenical collaboration with the Russians. The Coordinating Commission met 19-21 March 2001, and the Joint Commission for the Relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and Oriental Orthodox Churches in the Middle East met 3-5 September 2001 in Moscow, Russia. The purpose of these meetings was to deepen the collaboration with the Church of Russia and to clarify the existing difficulties concerning the reception of the agreed Christological statements signed by the two Orthodox families.

3. Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I and Catholicos Aram I welcomed the visit made by Pope Shenouda III to His Holiness Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople (Istanbul), 13-16 September 2001. This meeting was an occasion to discuss issues related to inter-Orthodox relations and participation of our Churches in the ecumenical movement. The two Heads of Churches also discussed ways of advancing the theological dialogue between the two Orthodox families, and in this context they asked H.E. Metropolitan Bishoy to continue his contacts with the Orthodox Churches as Co-chairman of the Theological Commission.

B. Official Dialogue between the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Anglican Communion. We received the report of the meeting of the Preparatory Committee for the Theological Dialogue between the family of the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the World Anglican Communion, in Midhurst, England 17 July-1 August 2001. This report includes the agenda, membership and procedures and working plan. Six representatives of the Oriental Orthodox Churches participated in this meeting. The aim of the meeting was to upgrade the dialogue from a Forum to a Commission in response to the request of the Anglican Communion and to set the agenda and methodology for the future work of this Commission. We participated in the work of the Preparatory Committee with three delegates representing each of our three Churches and we will continue our active participation in this theological dialogue.

C. Official Theological Dialogue between the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Roman Catholic Church

We have received an invitation from the Vatican to start an official theological dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church. Catholicos Aram I and H.E. Cardinal Walter Kasper discussed this project and they emphasized the importance of bilateral theological dialogue between the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Roman Catholic Church. Following this discussion, the initiative was further discussed by H.E. Metropolitan Bishoy and Cardinal Kasper. Cardinal Kasper proposed that the Preparatory Committee meet next autumn in the Vatican. An invitation will be sent from the Vatican to all the Heads of the Oriental Orthodox Churches. On the basis of their response, a formal theological dialogue will be initiated with the Roman Catholic Church.

D. Official Theological Dialogue between the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC)

The full report of the first phase of this dialogue had already been sent to our Holy Synods and the Executive Committee of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) for study, discussion and action.

We consider theological dialogues of decisive importance for the visible unity of the Church. Pope Shenouda III and Patriarch Zakka I express their great appreciation to Catholicos Aram I who has been following closely the initiatives and the developments in this important area of our ecumenical witness.

II. Ecumenical Collaboration

A. World Council of Churches

1. We have received the Communiqué of the last meeting of the Special Commission for the Orthodox Participation in the World Council of Churches, in Berekfurdo, Hungary, 15-20 November 2001. We discussed with particular attention the report of the section on Consensus Decision Making. The report includes a proposal to form a 'Standing Committee' (Parity Committee) with half of its members Orthodox and the other half from the other members of the Council, to address 'Orthodox concerns'. We were informed that the next meeting of the Special Commission will be in Helsinki, Finland, 27 May-2 June 2002, where the full report of the Commission will be finalized to be presented to the Central Committee of the WCC in September 2002. We fully support the idea of 'consensus decision making' and the idea of establishing a Standing Committee in order to ensure more active Orthodox participation in the life and witness of the Council.

2. We express our appreciation for the important role that the Faith and Order Commission is playing in the World Council of Churches and the ecumenical movement at large. We welcome the participation of the Oriental Orthodox participants in the Inter-Orthodox Consultation organized by the Faith and Order in Moscow, Russia, 5-11 September 2001 on "Confessing the One Faith" to "Confessing the Apostolic Faith as expressed in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (381)" which was suggested by Pope Shenouda III to the Faith and Order Commission. The Faith and Order Commission should continue its vital task by initiating reflection processes on questions related to ecclesiology and controversial theological and ethical matters.

3. As to the ongoing discussion on Ecumenical Forum where our family is represented by H.E. Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, we believe that the Ecumenical Forum may promote wider participation of all Churches and ecumenical organizations in the ecumenical movement. We welcome this project, however it needs further clarification. In the same time we urge that the participation in such Forum must be based on the confession of the divinity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and of the one Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

B. Middle East Council of Churches

1. We received a letter from the General Secretary, Rev. Dr. Riad Jarjour, expressing his best wishes for the success of this meeting. We appreciate his continuous support to our family of Churches.

2. We encourage the decision taken by the Executive Committee of the MECC at its recent meeting in Cairo, 18-20 February 2002, concerning the formation of a committee with the mandate of dealing with proselytism. In fact, proselytism has negative effects on the ecumenical activities in the region. We urge therefore that all churches and ecumenical organizations look at this issue with utmost responsibility and in an ecumenical spirit.

3. Based on our discussions at the same meeting of the Executive Committee, regarding the report of the Unit on Faith and Unity, we believe that the MECC should maker great efforts to promote discussion and dialogue on issues of faith and dogma among the member Churches. Such collaboration, as Pope Shenouda III pointed out in the Executive Committee, will help our faithful to challenge all heretical movements such as Jehovah Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists and Mormons, as well as negative Bible criticism, etc.

4. We find that the Council is performing an important role in the life of the Churches in the Middle East and that it needs more support from our Churches to re-activate its tasks, implement its programmes and achieve its aims. We believe that re-assessing the work of the Council is of vital importance in order to make the Council's ecumenical witness more relevant and efficient.

5. With regard to the post of General Secretary, we believe that our family of Churches in the Middle East should nominate one of its members as a candidate for the post of General Secretary upon the termination of the period of the current General Secretary.

III. Sub Committees

We listened to the reports of the Sub-Committees and we mandated the Sub-committee for Theological Seminaries to pursue the establishment of a Department of Oriental Studies in our seminaries. We have appointed a coordinator and a moderator for each Sub-Committee as follows:

A.     Sub-Committee for Theological Seminaries  

H.E. Metropolitan Bishoy, Coordinator;

Subdeacon Jerjes Ibrahim Saleh, Moderator.

 

B. Sub-Committee for Youth

V. Rev. Archimandrite Nareg Alemezian, Coordinator;

Subdeacon Razek Syriani, Moderator.

 

C. Sub-Committee for Publications

H.E. Metropolitan Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim, Coordinator;

V. Rev. Archimandrite Norayr Ashedian, Moderator.

We find both helpful and necessary the recommendation of the Sub-Committee for Publications that a common book (which will include the history of each of our three Churches) be published in Arabic, Armenian and other languages. Such a publication will certainly help our faithful to know each other better and to deepen their historical bonds and common faith in Christ.

We appreciate the work of the Standing Committee and encourage it to continue supervising the activities of the Sub-Committees.

IV. Christian-Muslim Relations

After the tragic events of 11 September, 2001, international regional and local conferences were held, in which the Churches of our family actively participated and significantly contributed.

We urge the international community to lift the unjust sanctions imposed on Iraq, which have caused much suffering and pain to the Iraqi people.

At the end of our meeting, we thank the Lord for leading our deliberations and decisions. We ask Him to grant us His abundant grace and wisdom to enable us to work for the preservation of the apostolic faith and the unity of His holy Church. We also pray that God may grant our faithful and all of humanity the hope that peace, justice and goodness will prevail in the whole world.

We thank the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch for its brotherly love and warm hospitality. We also thank all who worked, prayed and assisted us for the success of this meeting.

Glory be to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Pope Shenouda III  -  Mar Ignatius Zakka I   -  Catholicos Aram I

9 March, 2002


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