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Oriental Orthodox Church News

Edited by James Kirby Tomblin

Ancient Monastic cells discovered

In August it was reported that renovators working in Saint Anthony’s monastery near the Red Sea had unearthed the oldest example of a building housing Christian monks. Previously the earliest archaeological evidence dated from the sixth century. The cell, which dates from between the fourth and fifth centuries is a collection of rooms with private living areas and a central communal room, where the team found cooking implements. It will help shed light on the early days of monastic life.

Ethiopian Riots during Timkat

Some sixteen people were injured, three seriously, as police broke up unrest in Addis Ababa during the second and final days of the celebratyion of Timkat, the Epiphany feast. The wounded, most of them with bullet injuries, included three men who were shot in the abdomen, chest and pelvis respectively. The men were in a critical condition and undergoing emergency surgery at the Menelik hospital in Addis Ababa, doctors said.

Among the others wounded, two were women and several had been beaten with police truncheons or hit by rocks apparently thrown by demonstrators who joined up with religious processions around the city, chanting anti-government slogans and throwing stones at police, they said.

Earlier, witnesses and an Agence France-Presse correspondent reported hearing gunfire and explosions on procession routes near the British and French embassies in the north and north-western parts of Addis Ababa. Witnesses said some in the crowds of people celebrating the baptism of Jesus Christ had become unruly and were throwing stones, and that rocks littered many streets where the processions of several hundred people each had been marching.

Timkat, a colorful, raucous and ultimately water-drenched festival, ranks second in importance only to Christmas for the country’s 40-million Orthodox Church followers and routinely draws tens of thousands into Addis Ababa’s streets each January 19 and 20.

It is marked by huge crowds of white-clad revelers marching to relentless drum beats behind elaborately dressed priests covered in jewel-encrusted velvet and satin robes, holding aloft Tabots, the consecrated altar boards, symbolic of the Ark of the Covenant.

Patriarch Paoulos visits Lebanon

Patriarch Paoulos of Ethiopia paid an official visit to Lebanopn in July 2005 was welcomed in the airport by the Armenian Catholicos of Cicilicia, Aram I, Bishop Kegham Khatcherian, the Primate of the Diocese of Lebanon, the Ambassador of Ethiopia to Lebanon, and representatives from the Ethiopian community of Lebanon.

The Catholicos and the Patriarch moved straight from the airport to the Ain Aar region in Metn, where the new Ethiopian church is being constructed. The two spiritual leaders inaugurated the construction of the church. The inaugural service was carried out in Armenian, Ethiopian, and Greek, and the two spiritual leaders placed the first stone of the church. Patriarch Paoulos expressed his gratitude to His Holiness Aram I, who, upon his request, had accepted spiritual care of more than twenty thousand Ethiopians living in Lebanon.

“Due to certain circumstances, a large number of the children of our nation today live in this country and enjoy the love and care of Armenians thanks to our spiritual brother His Holiness Aram I,” said the Patriarch. His Holiness emphasized the brotherhood between the two churches and considered the construction of the Ethiopian Church a new phase in their historical cooperation.“This church is a new expression of the close cooperation between our two churches. It will gather the sons of Ethiopia living in this country in the House of God,” said His Holiness Aram I.

The two spiritual leaders then went to the St. Asdvadzadzine Monastery in Bikfaya, where Patriarch Paoulos stayed during his visit to Lebanon. Catholicos Aram has conducted all the negotiations for buying the church’s land and has handled the necessary legal work.

State intervenes in inter-Orthodox strife in Kerala

Inter-Orthodox strife in Kerala became violent in July at St. Mary’s Jacobite Church in Aluva when poliuce had to disperse the mob with a lathi-charge. The mob, which set fire to the car of Kerala’s Additional Advocate General V K Beeran, who was passing by, although by then all the passengers had left.

Members of the Jacobite Church were enraged at the Malankara Orthodox Church’s Catholicos-designate, Thomas Mar Thimothios holding a mass at the Thrikunnath Seminary Church. Jacobite Church members alleged that he was allowed into the disputed premises with the help of the state government and the police and to disrupt the fast undertaken by Catholicos of the Jacobite Church
Mar Baseliose Thomas I.

The Catholicos who had been on a fast-and-prayer sit-in, hardly 100 metres away from the seminary, ended the fast after Congress leader K. V. Thomas assured him of an amicable solution to the decades-old rivalry between the church factions.

Enraged at the entry of the Orthodox Metropolitan into the church and the holding of mass there, the mob resorted to violence, near the disputed seminary. Violence erupted even as the managing committee meeting of the Jacobite Church was going on in the church.

The police entered the church premises and lathi-charged priests and nearly 3,000 people who had assembled outside the church. Many people locked themselves up inside the church and shouted slogans. Nearly 50 people, including five policemen, were injured in the violence. The area near the seminary had been cordoned off and ban orders, under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, imposed there.

Ending his fast, Catholicos Mar Baseliose Thomas I alleged that the faction feud in the Orthodox Church had worsened after the Congress government came to power in Kerala. “Seventeen Jacobite churches have been closed down. The government has been supporting the Malankara Orthodox Church. Jacobites feel cheated. The Patriarch of Antioch is the final word on issues affecting the church,” he told reporters.

But the Malankara Orthodox Church, a rival faction to the Jacobite Orthodox Church, termed his allegations baseless.

Following this an d many other incidents over many years, the State Government of Kerala has gone ahead and issued a set of guidelines to both the groups. “We have discussed the guidelines with both the groups but have not received their consent,” Chief Minister Chandy told a post-cabinet press briefing.

The following are the guidelines framed by the State Government:

  • Bilateral discussions should be held to open all closed churches for religious service.
  • Churches not embroiled in legal or law and order problems should be opened without delay. The bilateral decision will not stand in the way of legal proceedings, Chandy assured. Bilateral decisions will be based on the court verdict.
  • Status quo will be maintained in churches where services are being conducted. Status quo can be changed by mutual consent and the court verdict. If there is any dispute regarding status quo, the District Collector will seek the legal opinion of the government pleader or Advocate-General.
  • The Collector’s decision will be final. If there is a difference of opinion, the opposing party will be given three working days time to appeal to the court.
  • Both the sides will show maximum leniency with regard to funeral rites. If it becomes impossible to arrive at an agreement, the District Collector will take an appropriate decision for conducting the funeral.
  • The Collector’s decision will not be used as a precedent.

Attack on Armenian Church in Keyseri

The aftermath of reactions in Muslim circles to the anti-Islam caricatures published in Denmark recently led to unidentified persons firing six bullets into the outer door of the Armenian Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator in the slum neighbourhood of Cafer Bey in Kayseri. The Governor of Kayseri, Osman Gunes, immediately established security precautions in the area of the Armenian Church and put officers on duty in the church courtyard but in a rather surprising statement observed “ There has been no incident of any kind directed toward the Armenian Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator”, whilst admitting that the shots had been fired into the door.

His Beatitude Mesrob II , Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul and All Turkey , made known his distress over these developments as follows. “It is the most natural right of Muslim believers to express their outrage over the provocative caricatures published in Denmark, but I cannot understand the use of violence against the worship places of Christian citizens of our country. Whoever has done such a thing has behaved in a deviant, unacceptable, and senseless way; it is a crime, and people can later interpret these types of attacks in a very different way. Every sort of violence is unjustifiable, wrong, and to be condemned!”

New Catholicos for Malankara Orthodox Church of India

On 31 October 2005 Thomas Mar Themothious was enthroned as the Seventh Catholicos and Supreme head of the Malankara (Indian) Orthodox Syrian Church at St. Peter & Paul’s church in Parumala, Kerala, India. He succeeds the 91-year old Catholicos Mar Baselious Marthoma Mathews II whose retirement was announced only the previous day. The new Catholicos will be known by name Baselious Marthoma Didimos I. Didimos is the Greek substitute for Thomas. Most in the church was expecting that the new Catholiose will be named Thomas as he is already known in that name, but this decision to change the name from Thomas to Didimos is believed to have taken in order to distinguish him from Catholicos of India Mor Baselious Thomas I who heads the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church. The 85-year old new Catholicos was ordained Bishop in 1966 by Catholicos Augen I at Kolencherry Church. Since then he was the Metropolitan of Malabar diocese of the Malankara Orthodox Church and later became the Catholicos designate of the Church under Mar Baselios Marthoma Mathews II.

Eighth Meeting of the Middle-Eastern Patriarchs

The eighth meeting of the Patriarchs of the Oriental Orthodox Churches in the Middle-East took place in Ma’aret Seydnaya in Syria 9-10 December 2005. Pope Shenouda, Patriarch Mar Ignatius Zakka and Catholicos Aram of Cilicia presided at the meetings.

Commision for Oriental Orthodox and Russian Orthodox dialogue

The third meeting of the Commission for Official Ecumenical Relations between the Oriental Orthodox Churches in the Middle-East and the Russian Orthodox Church met at Antelias in Lebanon 12-16 December 2005. Papers were presented on the subject of the councils which followed after Ephesus in 431. This commission has been established to continue the debate of the Joint Commission between the two families of Orthodox churches. Plans were also discussed for an official visit during 2006 by Pope Shenouda to Patriarch Aleksei II of Russia.

New Syrian Bishop for Belgium and France

H.H. Patriarch Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas consecrated Very Rev. Raban Hazail Soumi  as the Metropolitan of the Patriarchal Vicariate for the Archdiocese of Belgium and France  at Monastery of St. Aphrem the Syrian, in Ma’rrat Sayyidnaya, Damascus, Syria on 12 February  2006. Rabban Hazail Soumi   was given the name ‘Mor Severius’. Their Eminences Môr Dioscoros Benyamin Atas (Patriarchal-vicariate of the archdiocese of Sweden), Môr  Julius Abdulahad G. Shabo (bishop of Sweden & Scandnavia), Môr Clemis Eugene Kaplan (patriarchal vicariate of Western USA), Môr Osthatheos Matta Rohum (bishop of  Jazirah & Euphrates), Môr Severios Malke Mourad (patriarchal-vicariate for Jerusalem & Jordan), Môr Athanasius Elia Bahe (patriarchal assistant) Môr Yusphinos  Paulos (Patriarchal Vicariate for Zahle & Beqa), assisted His Holiness in the consecration ceremonies.

Armenian Joint Communiqué

Under the auspices of His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, and His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, a meeting of delegations from the Catholicosate of All Armenians and the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia once again convened on January 31, 2006 in the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin with the theme of “The Imperative for the Renewal of the Armenian Church,” and determined the process of accomplishing the work. This meeting was a follow up to the first consultative meeting ( March 4-5, 2005) aimed at the greater prosperity of the sacred mission and a further strengthening of the internal unity of the Armenian Church.

The members of the delegation representing the Catholicosate of All Armenians were:

His Eminence Archbishop Khajag Barsamian (Chairman)

His Grace Bishop Mikael Ajapahian (Secretary)

Mr. Rafael Papayan

Mr. James Kalustian

The members of the delegation representing the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia were:

His Eminence Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan (Chairman)

His Grace Bishop Nareg Alemezian (Secretary)

Mr. Yervant Pamboukian

Arsen Danielian, Esq.

Rev. Fr. Vahram Melikian recorded the minutes of the meeting.

On the morning of Tuesday, January 31, His Holiness Karekin II Catholicos of All Armenians received both delegations in the Pontifical Residence, offering his suggestions and extending his fatherly blessings. Afterwards, His Eminence Arch­bishop Oshagan Choloyan conveyed His Holiness Catholicos Aram I’s wishes for success to the work of the delegations.

Following the Lord’s Prayer and a biblical reading (Ephesians 4:1-16), in accord with the guidelines created during the previous meeting and thereafter confirmed by the two Catholicoi, the participants comprehensively developed the strategy for future proceedings, determined the number of committees and the spheres for their discussion.

The meeting progressed in a productive and warm atmosphere of brotherly love, always guided by the greatest interests of the Armenian Church.

At the conclusion of the meeting the committee presented its report to His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, and His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, filially requesting that implementation be granted to the future work.

As an outcome of the atmosphere and results of the meeting, the delegations are confident that the realization of these proposals will greatly benefit the strengthening and unity of the Armenian Church.

January 31, 2006

Holy Etchmiadzin

International Catholic-Oriental Orthodox dialogue

The International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches met in Etchmiadzin from 27-30 January to discuss three topics on church leadership and authority.

This was the third annual meeting since a preparatory meeting in 2003 laid out a plan for the dialogue. Participants at the end appointed a drafting committee to study points of consensus and differences found in the meetings so far and prepare a draft common statement for participants to discuss at their 2007 meeting.

The meeting was hosted by Catholicos Karekin II, head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. It was supposed to begin 26 January, but severe winter weather in Armenia delayed the arrival of a number of participants, forcing a one-day delay.

A report issued at the end of the meeting said the dialogue members, delegated by their churches, discussed papers presented by each side on the topics of “Bishops in Apostolic Succession,” “Primacy and Synodality/Conciliarity” and “Synods, Local and Ecumenical.”

The Oriental Orthodox, like the Orthodox, vest synods and councils with ultimate authority in their governance, while the Catholic Church gives greater weight in church governance to the primacy of the bishop of Rome, who in Catholic teaching holds “full, supreme and universal power over the church.”

The first full meeting, held in Cairo, Egypt, in 2004 was devoted mainly to reviewing ecumenical development and activities over the past 30 years, reviewing the work plan for the dialogue and deciding how the first dialogue topic, the understanding of the church as communion, would be dealt with when they met again the following year in Rome.

The next meeting is to be hosted by the Catholic Church 29 January – 2 February 2007, at a place not yet determined. In addition to discussing a draft agreed statement, that gathering is to discuss a paper from each side on “ Mission, Witness, Service and the Problem of Proselytism.”

The Catholic co-chairman of the dialogue commission is Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The co-chairman on the Oriental Orthodox side is Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette, Kafr El-Sheikh, Barary and the Monastery of St. Demiana, who is based in Cairo and is general
secretary of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

The report said Catholicos Karekin received the dialogue group on 27 January and exchanged gifts with its co-chairmen. On 29 January he presided at a Divine Liturgy that the members attended in the Etchmiadzin cathedral, and it was followed by a special requiem service for Catholicos Baselius Mar Thoma Mathews II, head of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, who died on 27 January.

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