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Oriental Orthodox Church News

New Bishop for Malankara Jacobite Church

On 23 August 2009 at St. Peter’s & St. Paul’s Patriarchal Cathedral of the St. Ephrem the Syrian Monastery at Ma’arrat Seydnaya, Damascus, Syria, His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, Patriarch of Antioch, consecrated Yacoub Ramban (Very. Rev. P.J Jacob Cor-Episcopo) with the name, Mor Anthonious Yacoub as Auxiliary Bishop for St. Antony’s Mission, Honnavar of the Malankara Jacobite Syrian Christian Church under the Holy Apostolic See of Antioch and All the East.

Seventh Catholic-Oriental Orthodox Joint Commission

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 27-31 January, 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 27 January, and held plenary sessions each day from 28-30 January.  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 27 January, 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 25 January.  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 28 January, 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 endeavour 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 29 January, the co-chairmen held a press conference at the invitation of Bishop Beshara Raï, the President of the Episcopal Commission for Social Communications.  It took place at the Catholic Information Centre , 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 31 January, 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, 24-29 January 2011.

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).

Catholic-Oriental Orthodox Dialogue in USA

The new agreed statement of the international dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the fostering of vocations were the main topics of discussion at the 2009 meeting of the national dialogue between the two communions, which took place 30 September – 1 October in Riverdale, New York.

In the first session, Paulist Father Ronald G. Roberson, Associate Director of the USCCB’s Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and a member of the international Oriental Orthodox-Roman Catholic dialogue, presented the new international agreed text, entitled “Nature, Constitution and Mission of the Church.” The document outlines broad areas of consensus on such topics as the Church as communion, the attributes of the Church, the bishops and apostolic succession, the relationship between synodality and primacy, the nature of councils, and the mission of the Church. It also identifies points that need further study. Members welcomed this step forward in our relationship and commented on the contents and significance of the document.

Father Luke Sweeney, Director of Vocations of the Archdiocese of New York, spoke about fostering of vocations from a Catholic perspective. He outlined eight essential facets of any effective vocations program. These include the roles of the bishop, prayer programs, the family, the vocation director, priests themselves, seminarians and seminary communities, and lay auxiliary groups. He also noted a need to develop an image of the priesthood that emphasizes heroism and sacrifice.

Father Stepanos Doudoukjian, director of vocations at St. Nersess Armenian seminary in New Rochelle, New York, spoke about vocation work in his church. The Eastern diocese of the Armenian Church is placing emphasis on developing vocations from the United States, and emphasizes the role of summer youth programs. Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, primate of the Eastern diocese, has declared this to be a year of vocations, and a number of programs in the parishes are in progress.

Father Jacob Ghaly, a representative of the Coptic Orthodox Church, spoke about the promotion of vocations in his church. He emphasized that calls to the priesthood always come from the local communities who ask men to consider ordination; men do not apply to be ordained on their own initiative. More vocations are now coming from the United States but seminarians receive their education in Egypt.     Metropolitan Cyril Aphrem Karim, head of the Syrian Orthodox Archdiocese of the Eastern United States, added that the Syrian Orthodox priests in this country are being trained to foster vocations in their own communities. Seminarians may study at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary, but they also spend time in Syria to understand how the church functions in its homeland.

Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul

Faced with the problems of Patriarch Mesrob’s health, on 13 November 2009 the Religious Council announced that it would make formal application to the Turkish Ministry of Internal Affairs for the election of a Co-Patriarch. This was in accordance with its previous decision to recognise His Beatitude to be Patriarch for life. At the moment Archbishop Sahan Sivaciyan serves as Deputy Patriarch.

Catholicos Karekin visits Syria

During his visit to Syria the Catholicos of all Armenians, His Holiness Karakin II visited the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I at the Mor Aphrem Monastery in Ma’arat Saydnaya, Damascus, on 13 November, 2009.

Catholicos Karekin was received by Patriarch Zakka, several Archbishops, clergy and seminarians at the entrance of Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral. His Beatitude Ignatius IV, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch was also present.

Malankara Orthodox Church Elects new bishops

The Holy Episcopal Synod of Malankara Orthodox Church approved the election of seven candidates elected to the episcopate at a meeting of the Malankara Syrian Christian Association which took place on 17 February at Sasthamkotta.  The bishops-elect are Fr. Dr. John Mathews, Fr. V. M. James, Fr. Dr. Nathaniel Ramban, Fr. Yoohanon Ramban, Fr. Dr. Sabu Kuriakose, Fr. Dr. George Pulikottil and Fr. Dr. V. M. Abraham. Five are priests will be professed as ramban (monk) on 15 April at Parumala Seminary and the consecration date is likely to be 12 May at Mar Elia Cathedral, Kottayam.

Russian Patriarch visits Armenia

His Holiness Kirill I, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, made an official visit to Armenia from 16-18 March 16 to 18. During the welcome service in the Mother Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin the relics of St. Gregory the Illuminator (the Soorp Adj – the saints right hand) were carried in procession for both Patriarch Kirill and Catholicos Karekin to venerate.

Syrian Patriarch calls for peace in Iraq

The Patriarch of Antioch and of All the East, Mar Ignatius Zakka Iwas once again has called on Arab leaders, the United Nations and the international community to help put an end to the bloodshed in Iraq:

Number 208/2010

With extreme pain and sorrow we are watching the unfolding events in Iraq in general and the persecutions, killings, kidnapping, ransacking holy places and injustice done to the Christian population in Iraq in particular, as if Satan has recruited those evil people to destroy the country and its people. For what reason they target the Christians who are loyal to their land and are proud of their beloved Iraqi culture, sacrificing everything even their life, for its glory and dominion.

We had previously issued condemnations for these inhuman actions which are far away from religions. But unfortunately these criminals commit their aggression in the name of religion, which Islam itself rejects. We know Iraq and its people and the loving ties between all its citizens from all religions, groups, factions, and sects.

What is happening in the city of Mosul in particular is very worrisome. Is there a conspiracy to evacuate Iraq from its Christian population, the original inhabitants…? or are there plots sponsored by invisible hands which some call: Zionism one day, and Al-Qaida another day? Or is there an outlaw group whose aim is to hurt and obliterate others, resembling the war of annihilation against the Christians in 1915?

We support all Arabic governments in all our countries. We did not see or feel any persecution or discrimination factional or religious or political because Christians, by nature, are loyal and faithful to their countries wherever they are, and specially to their home land . .

What is happening in Iraq ?

Nothing will convince us that those defiant rebels, outlaws of every religion or authority or state or law or humanity, that the government cannot chastise and inflict on them the punishment they deserve, which causes us to doubt the intensions of the rulers and people in charge. We call upon them, both individually and collectively, to act steadfastly and do justice to those oppressed on the hands of the transgressors as we are unable to watch our innocent children being slaughtered, murdered, and looted without any deterrent.

What account would those in charge present in front of God for allowing oppression to their citizens in the day light?… !

We call upon the presidents of the Arabic countries in general and the Assembly of the Arabic countries, the United Nations, and all the rulers of the world to elevate this terrorism and violations incurred upon the subdued and innocent Christians who cannot defend themselves although Christians in Syria and Lebanon and most of the Arab countries live in peace and security.

What makes our heart and soul rest is when we see initiatives taken by those whom we call upon in our declaration. We call upon all the decent Iraqis to stand side by side with their afflicted Christian brothers and martyrs in our beloved Iraq.

Awaiting a positive response, we pray for concord and progress in Iraq, liberation from injustice and aggression in our beloved Palestine, peace and tranquility to the Arab world, to humanity and to the whole world.

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