HIS HOLINESS ARAM I
"Depicting the present state of the ecumenical movement in terms of crisis has become a general trend; I do not share this approach" stated His Holiness Aram I. He said that "seeking new vision, redefining its orientation, revising its agenda, restructuring its programmatic priorities are integral to the very nature of the ecumenical movement". Catholicos Aram, who has served 15 years a Moderator of the World Council of Churches, reminded that "with ecumenism we are dealing with movement, not institution, with vision not programme, with fellowship, not with management". Hence, according to Aram I reducing the ecumenical movement to its institutional expression will be the end of it.
Aram I believes that the ecumenical movement must remain "restless, in permanent crisis, seeking new ways of articling its vision". However, for Aram I the ecumenical movement is actually "disoriented, its focus is not clear and its raison d'ętre has become shaky. Here is the problem". In his view this situation is largely due to "non-committal ecumenism of the churches, as well as the shift of interest from church unity related issues to moral-ethical matters, inter-religious dialogue and confessional ecumenism".
His Holiness stressed the need for a "credible, relevant, reliable and responsive ecumenism, an ecumenism with which the churches can identify themselves". Aram I said that the discussion on the reconfiguration of the ecumenical movement that the WCC started must continue with the active participation of the churches.
These views of Aram I were shared with a few reporters at the end of the meeting of the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Charities which was held at the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia, Antelias, Lebanon, from 27-30 January 2010.
The Seventh Meeting of the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue
Between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches
Antelias, Lebanon, January 27 to 31, 2010
The seventh meeting of the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches took place at the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia in Antelias, Lebanon, from January 27 to 31, 2010. The meeting was graciously hosted by His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Holy See of Cilicia. It was chaired jointly by His Eminence Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and His Eminence Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette, General Secretary of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Joining delegates from the Catholic Church were representatives of the following Oriental Orthodox Churches: the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church (Catholicosate of All Armenians), the Armenian Apostolic Church (Holy See of Cilicia), the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church, and the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. No representative of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church was able to attend.
The two delegations met separately on January 27, and held plenary sessions each day from January 28 to January 30. Each day of the plenary sessions began with a common celebration of Morning Prayer. At its initial session, the members of the Joint Commission considered reactions to and evaluations of the agreed statement that it had issued one year earlier, “Nature, Constitution and Mission of the Church.” This document had been approved for publication by the Joint Commission and is now being considered by the authorities of their churches.
The studies prepared for this session focused on two topics: the ways in which the churches expressed their communion with one another in the first five centuries and the reception of councils. The papers presented included “Ecclesial Communion in Armenia and Surrounding Regions” by Rev. Fr. Boghos Levon Zekiyan, “The Order of Reception of the Ecumenical Councils in the Armenian Church and their Relation to the Other Local Councils” by Archbishop Yeznik Petrossian, “How Churches Understood the Reception of the Ecumenical Councils, How Churches Expressed their Communion in the First Five Centuries, and Whether Rome Was Given Any Special Role. From the Perspective of the Coptic Orthodox Church” by Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette, “Communion and Councils: The Persian Church in the First Five Centuries” by Professor Dietmar W. Winkler, “Exercise of Communion in the Church of St. Thomas Christians in India” by Rev. Fr. Matthew Vellanickal, and “The Reception of the Three Ecumenical Councils by the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church” by Rev. Fr. John Matthews.
During the course of the meeting, which took place in a friendly and cordial atmosphere, the members carefully examined the papers presented and reached a number of conclusions. It was noted that until the middle of the fifth century, the churches did not exist in isolation, but were in communion with one other. Signs of this communion included the exchange of synodical letters and letters of enthronement, the veneration of common saints, the exchange of visits and, above all, sharing in the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist. This communion was based on an understanding that the churches shared the same faith, and willingness to defend it together against heresies and other threats. They also saw themselves as engaged in the same mission of evangelizing the nations. This was often a “horizontal communion” where churches were most intensely in relation to neighboring churches in the same region, but also with other churches throughout the world.
On the morning of January 27, the members of the Joint Commission, together with His Holiness Catholicos Aram I, paid a visit to His Excellency Michel Sleiman, the President of Lebanon, in the Presidential Palace at Baabda. The President welcomed the delegation to his country and presented his condolences to the representatives of the Ethiopian Church over the crash of an Ethiopian airplane near Beirut on Monday, January 25. In his remarks, the President observed that recent events had illustrated the importance of including minorities in the political life of nations. He said that Lebanon is an example of this political inclusiveness since the constitution gives all the country’s ethnic and religious communities a political role whatever their numerical size. He also emphasized the need to organize capitalism in democratic countries in a way that protects the interests of minorities, especially the poor and the vulnerable.
On the evening of the same day, the Joint Commission members were received by His Beatitude and Eminence Cardinal Mar Nasrallah Butros Sfeir, Patriarch of the Maronite Church, at the patriarchate in Bkerké. During an ecumenical prayer service in the patriarchal chapel, the Patriarch extended a warm welcome to his guests, and spoke highly of the agreed statement finalized by the Joint Commission in January 2009. This text, the Patriarch stated, “presents the ecclesiological tradition common to all those churches, a tradition which remained plentiful and sound, in spite of 1500 years of separation.” He also spoke of the positive ecumenical relations that exist among the churches of Lebanon, and wished the members great success in their meeting, which he saw as a sign of encouragement and hope. After the prayer service, His Beatitude hosted a dinner for the Joint Commission members and the spiritual heads of Christian communities in Lebanon.
On the morning of January 28, His Holiness Catholicos Aram I received the members of the Joint Commission. In his remarks, the Catholicos offered his views on the present state of ecumenism, and said that he has come to a renewed appreciation of the work of the bilateral dialogues. He had studied the 2009 agreed statement carefully and appreciated it very much. His Holiness said that in the dialogues the members must never loose sight of the many things we have in common, and not focus exclusively on our differences. He was critical of a tendency of some ecumenical circles to divert their attention to more social issues. He expressed the hope that the Joint International Commission would endeavor to bring about visible unity of the Church, an objective that he as Moderator of the World Council of Churches had worked to achieve. After meeting the Catholicos, the group prayed at the memorial to the Armenian genocide of 1915 on the grounds of the Catholicosate. On the evening of the same day, the Catholicos hosted an official dinner at the Catholicosate that was attended by the spiritual heads of Christian communities in Lebanon, Armenian members of the Lebanese government and parliament, and Brotherhood and Central Executive Council members of the Holy See of Cilicia.
On January 29, the co-chairmen held a press conference at the invitation of Bishop Beshara Raď, the President of the Episcopal Commission for Social Communications. It took place at the Catholic Information Center, which is under the direction of the Assembly of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops of Lebanon. Bishop Nareg Alemezian, Ecumenical Officer of the Holy See of Cilicia, introduced the co-chairmen, and highlighted that “the presence in Lebanon of our brothers from the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches is an occasion of spiritual joy and a sign of solidarity with our churches in the Middle East.” Cardinal Kasper spoke of the importance of the participation of the faithful in the dialogue because the unity of the Church concerns the whole people of God and not theologians alone. Metropolitan Bishoy described the history of the composition of the Joint Commission from the preparatory meeting in 2003 until this seventh meeting. He added that the Commission meets alternatively in Rome and in countries where Oriental Orthodox are present. On the evening of the same day, the members of the Joint Commission attended a dinner hosted by Metropolitan George Saliba.
On Sunday January 31, the members of the Joint Commission attended the Holy Eucharist in the Cathedral of the Catholicosate of Cilicia presided over by His Holiness Catholicos Aram I. Cardinal Kasper preached the homily.
The eighth meeting of the International Commission will take place in Rome at the invitation of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Arrivals will be on January 24, 2011. The two delegations will meet separately on January 25, and participate in the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This will be followed by plenary sessions on January 26, 27 and 28, with departures on January 29. At the eighth plenary meeting, the members of the Commission will deepen their study of the communion and communication that existed between our churches until the mid-fifth century of Christian history, as well as the role played by monasticism.
The members of the Commission are:
Representatives of the Oriental Orthodox Churches (in alphabetical order)
Antiochian Syrian Orthodox Church: H.E. Mor Theophilus George Saliba, Archbishop of Mount Lebanon, Secretary of the Holy Synod of the Syrian Orthodox Church, Beirut, Lebanon; H.E. Kuriakose Theophilose, Metropolitan of the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Theological Seminary and President of the Ecumenical Secretariat of the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church in India, Ernakulam, India;
Armenian Apostolic Church: Catholicosate of all Armenians: H.E. Khajag Barsamian, Archbishop of the Eastern Diocese of the USA, New York (Represented by H.G. Armash Nalbandian, Armenian Orthodox Church Diocese of Damascus); hhhhhH.E. Archbishop Yeznik Petrossian, General Secretary of Inter-Church Affairs of the Holy See of Etchmiadzin, Armenia;
Armenian Apostolic Church: Holy See of Cilicia: H.E. Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy in the USA, New York; H.G. Bishop Nareg Alemezian, Ecumenical Officer of the Holy See of Cilicia, Antelias, Lebanon;
Coptic Orthodox Church: H.E. Anba Bishoy (co-chair), Metropolitan of Damiette, Egypt, General Secretary of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church; Rev. Fr. Shenouda Maher Ishak, West Henrietta, New York, USA; H.G. Bishop Daniel of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Sydney, Australia (observer);
Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church: Rev. Fr. Kaleab Gebreselassie Gebru, Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Patriarchate, Asmara, Eritrea (unable to attend);
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church: Rev. Fr. Megabe Biluy Seife Selassie Yohannes, Ethiopian Orthodox Patriarchate, Addis Ababa (unable to attend). The Ethiopian Church was represented at this meeting by H.E. Archbishop Demetrios of the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon; Rev. Fr. Abba Gebre Kidan of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church of Lebanon;
Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church: H.E. Metropolitan Dr. Gabriel Mar Gregorios, President of the Department of Ecumenical Relations, Diocese of Trivandrum, India; Rev. Dr. John Mathews (co-secretary), Secretary of the Department of Ecumenical Relations, Kottayam, India.
Representatives of the Catholic Church
His Eminence Cardinal Walter Kasper (co-chair), President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity;
Most Reverend Paul-Werner Scheele, Bishop Emeritus of Würzburg, Germany;
Most Reverend Youhanna Golta, Patriarchal Auxiliary Bishop of the Coptic Catholic Patriarchate, Cairo, Egypt;
Most Reverend Jules Mikhael Al-Jamil, Procurator of the Syrian Catholic Patriarchate to the Holy See and Apostolic Visitator in Europe, Rome;
Most Reverend Peter Marayati, Armenian Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo, Syria;
Most Reverend Woldetensae Ghebreghiorghis, Apostolic Vicar of Harar, Ethiopia, President of the Ecumenical Commission of the Catholic Church in Ethiopia and Eritrea;
Rev. Fr. Frans Bouwen M.Afr., Consultant to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; Jerusalem;
Rev. Fr. Columba Stewart, OSB, Executive Director, Hill Museum and Manuscript Library, St. John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota, USA;
Rev. Fr. Ronald G. Roberson, CSP, Associate Director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC, USA;
Rev. Fr. Paul Rouhana, OLM, Université Saint-Esprit, Kaslik, Jounieh, Lebanon;
Rev. Fr. Mark Sheridan, OSB, Pontificio Ateneo S. Anselmo, Rome;
Rev. Fr. Mathew Vellanickal, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Changanacherry, India;
Rev. Fr. Boghos Levon Zekiyan, Pontifical Oriental Institute, Rome;
Prof. Dietmar W. Winkler, Consultant to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Salzburg, Austria.
Rev. Fr. Gabriel Quicke, official of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Rome (co-secretary).
Antelias, Lebanon, January 31, 2010
AND THE ORIENTAL ORTHODOX CHURCHES CONTINUE IN ANTELIAS
During the past two days the representatives of the Catholic and Oriental Orthodox Churches have been discussing their churches’ reception of the decisions of the early ecumenical councils, the impact this reception had on eucharistic communion and the role of Rome.
Archbishop Yeznik Bedrossian, Armenian Orthodox Church, and Father Levon Zekian, Armenian Catholic Church, presented papers on the topic by citing Armenian sources. H.E. Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette presented the Coptic position by citing Coptic sources. The floor was then opened for plenary discussion and clarification.
In the second part of the dialogue, Father Mathew Velanikar of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian church spoke of his church’s reception of the early ecumenical council, and Dr. Ditmer Winkler presented a paper on the position of the churches in the Persian Empire. Following the presentations and discussions, Father Johan Mathew from the Malankara Church explained the reasons why his church had accepted the first three ecumenical councils.
The meeting of the Theological Dialogue Commission ended with a press conference, participated in by the two co-moderators, H.E. Walter Cardinal Kasper and H.E. Metropolitan Bishoy, along with Bishop Nareg Alemezian. In the evening, the participants were invited to dinner by Mor Theophilus George Saliba, Metropolitan of Mount Lebanon, at the Syrian Orthodox Archbishopric.
HIS HOLINESS BASILILIOS MAR THOMA DIDMOS I, CATHOLICOS OF THE MALANKARA ORTHODOX SYRIAN CHURCH INVITES HIS HOLINESS ARAM I TO INDIA
His Holiness Aram I has been holding private meetings with the representatives of the churches taking part in the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches.
On Friday 29 January 2010, he met with Bishops Gabriel Mar Gregorios and Mathew Velanikal of Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church.
The Bishops transmitted the brotherly love of their Patriarch, briefed Catholicos Aram on the latest developments in their Church and handed a letter from Catholicos Didmos I inviting His Holiness Aram I to visit India.
After thanking the Catholicos for the invitation, His Holiness Aram I and the guests discussed relations between the two sister churches.
AGREEMENT TO CONVERGENCE-ORIENTED PROCESSES"
Addressing the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches, meeting at the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia, Antelias, Lebanon, His Holiness Aram I emphasized the crucial importance of bilateral dialogues for the future course of the ecumenical movement. He said that multilateralism and bilateralism need to be taken in their inter-connectedness, complementing and strengthening each other on the way towards the visible unity of the church.
Referring to the theological dialogue between the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Churches, the Catholicos reminded that in the course of history several initiatives have been made in the form of ecumenical encounter, theological talks and joint actions between the Catholic Church and the churches of the Oriental Orthodox family. In 2003 these churches formally embarked on theological dialogue. Catholicos Aram I drew the attention of the Joint Commission to the following points:
1.- After so many years of christocentric ecumenism, he said that the last decade has witnessed an increasing move towards ecclesiocentric ecumenism. According to His Holiness, ecclesiology must remain a priority on the ecumenical agenda. The churches have different concepts of unity because they have different ecclesiological teachings; the churches are divided in respect to ethical issues, because they have different ecclesiological self-understanding. Catholicos Aram also emphasized the need to develop a holistic perspective which will enable the churches to have interactive approach to ecclesiology, ethics and missiology.
2.- His Holiness reminded that the churches are existentially exposed to the moral-ethical repercussions of secularism, syncretism and of so many "ism"s, and are more divided in their response to these issues than in doctrinal matters. Therefore, he strongly suggested that bilateral dialogues seriously tackle these issues and their theological and pastoral implications.
3.- According to His Holiness, who has a long experience in bilateral dialogues, these dialogues must shift their emphasis from consensus-oriented agreement to convergence-oriented processes. In his opinion, consensus implies negotiation within a given time-frame; it is a static reality while convergence is a dynamic process which is not confined to any time-line and agenda and provides open space for greater and creative interaction.
4.- His Holiness also proposed to develop a new perception of reception that involves the whole people of God. He said that the findings of bilateral dialogues must be appropriated by the people; otherwise they become sheer academic exercise. He said that people-oriented reception process implies awareness-building and collaboration on the local level. Reaching out to the people must become an ecumenical priority, otherwise ecumenism will lose its relevance and credibility.
5.- Aram I underscored the need to affirm the commonalties that exist among the churches. Bilateral theological dialogues deal with controversial issues and project the divided image of Christianity. We must affirm our God-given unity, at the same time articulating our commitment to heal the brokenness of the church. This must become our ecumenical strategy, stated His Holiness Aram I.
On Wednesday 2010, His Holiness Aram I and H.E. Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, held a private meeting within the context of the meeting of the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches.
Among other issues they discussed the contribution of bilateral theological dialogues to ecumenical relations.
The meeting will be concluded on Sunday 31 January with the Holy Liturgy at St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral where the Cardinal will preach.
HIS HOLINESS ARAM I AND THE MEMBERS OF THE CATHOLIC AND ORIENTAL ORTHODOX THEOLOGICAL DIALOGUE COMMISSION VISIT THE PRESIDENT OF LEBANON
On Wednesday 27 January the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches, currently meeting in Antelias, visited the President H.E. Michel Suleiman. After introducing the members of the delegation to the President, His Holiness Aram I explained the purpose of the commission and the importance of its work in promoting ecumenical relations.
The President welcomed the guests and expressed his appreciation of their work. He then spoke briefly about the political situation in Lebanon and the region. At the end of the visit, the delegates thanked the President and hoped that the unity government will bring peace to the country.
ANTELIAS HOSTS THE SEVENTH MEETING OF THE INTERNATIONAL JOINT COMMISSION FOR THEOLOGICAL DIALOGUE BETWEEN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND THE ORIENTAL ORTHODOX CHURCHES
Upon the invitation of His Holiness Aram I, the Commission will meet in Antelias 26-31 January 2010. Delegates appointed by the Holy See of Etchmiadzin and the Holy See of Cilicia represent the Armenian Church on this Commission. Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Archbishop of the Eastern Diocese in USA, and Bishop Nareg Alemezian, the Ecumenical Officer are the representatives of the Holy See of Cilicia.
The Commission will discuss the role of Ecumenical Councils in the Early Church. On Sunday, 31 January during the closing Liturgy at St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral, His Excellency Walter Cardinal Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity will give the sermon.