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  Oriental Orthodox Heads Meet

February 10-12, 1999–The heads of the Oriental Orthodox churches in the Middle East met at the Monastery of St. Ephraim in the Cloister of Sadn‚y‚ near Damascus on February 10-12, 1999. They are His Holiness Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church, His Holiness Catholicos Aram I of the Armenian Orthodox Church, and His Holiness Patriarch Mar Ignatios Zakka I Iwas of the Syrian Orthodox Church. With them they brought advisors and consultants for discussions that would strengthen “our unity of faith, and our common ministry in the life of our people in the Middle East and all over the world.” In the end, the purpose of the meeting was to “explore together the most efficient ways and means to strengthen our common presence and witness in the [Middle East] region.”

This was the second meeting of its kind, the first having been held at the Monastery of Anba Bishoy in Egypt which concluded on March 11, 1998. And this meeting was to assess what progress had been made since then and also address issues that had arisen since then. After congratulating President H‚fiz al-Asad on his re-election and commending him for his wise policies, note was made of the fact that Patriarch Ignatios had been elected as a president of the World Council of Churches, and Catholicos Aram had been re-elected as moderator of that council’s Central Committee. The amenities having been dealt with, the three leaders then turned to the business at hand.

They noted progress had been made in dialogue initiatives with the Eastern Orthodox, the Anglicans and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. The dialogue with the Anglican Communion, in particular, is one that must be raised in its level of intensity, and shows great promise. Unofficial dialogue with Catholics through Pro-Oriente pursued the official recognition of the Coptic Orthodox presence in Austria. A proposal to open dialogue with the Seventh Day Adventists, however, was deemed inappropriate.

With respect to the Orthodox Church of Eritrea, the primates expressed their satisfaction that it has become autocephalous, but noted the continuing war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Expressing their solidarity with the church in Eritrea as well as the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, they prayed “for the immediate cease-fire and permanent peace based on just settlement of the conflict.”

Looking forward to the 7th General Assembly of the Middle East Council of Churches at the end of April, their Holinesses noted that their family would re-nominate His Holiness Pope Shenouda III to serve as one of the council’s presidents. After congratulating the council on its 25th anniversary, they raised the delicate subject of the application for membership of the Assyrian Church of the East. The leaders noted their commitment to the theological tradition of St. Cyril of Alexandria and their rejection of the teachings of Nestorious, but affirmed “the ecumenical commitment of our Churches to engage responsibly in theological dialogue and ecumenical relations and collaboration with all churches for the full and visible unity of the church.” They concluded, “On this basis, and in view of the family-structure of the Middle East Council of Churches, we do not oppose the membership of any church in the Middle East Council of Churches provided that it is in line and in accordance with the constitution, and rules and procedures of the Council.”

Turning to the World Council of Churches and its recent general assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe, the Oriental primates affirmed its important ecumenical role, and welcomed the assembly’s action to form a special commission to deal with the issues raised by the WCC’s Orthodox members. The church leaders turned their attention to common pastoral matters and to measures for encouraging Oriental Orthodox youth. And they encouraged cooperation between the three communions in the celebration of the year 2000, each supporting the others’ special events.

                        Their Holinesses concluded their meeting with a thanksgiving to God for its success. 

Source: Official “Common Declaration”



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26.06.1999
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