Prepared by – George Alexander
(For the Department of Church Research and Studies) – OCP Society -23/10/17
Primates of Oriental Orthodox Churches (OO) – His Holiness Pope & Patriarch Tawadros II –of Alexandria, His Holiness Ignatius Aphrem II – Patriarch of Antioch, His Holiness Karekin II Catholicos-Patriarch of Armenia and His Holiness Baselious Paulose II – Catholicos of the East gathered in Germany in connection with the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in Europe. They also talked and participated in the international conference titled ‘The Middle East Christians’. German President received them and expressed his solidarity with suffering Christians in the Middle East. They also attended a reception by the Roman Catholic Bishops Conference and participated in a few other events. The OO primates met leaders and Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and participated in Ecumenical prayer service.
An excellent get together and many were happy to see Oriental Orthodox Primates on a common platform. These events and meetings were an excellent gesture of Christian ecumenism and a great support for our persecuted brothers and sisters in the Middle East. The German government, various Christian Churches and social agencies expressed their support and help for Christian in the Middle East.
Some medias even reported that the German get together is an International Conference of the Oriental Orthodox Churches. I have a different opinion here. It was not a conference in Pan-Oriental Orthodox nature. First, there was no full participation of all OO Churches and Primates (Ethiopian and Eritrean Churches and other autonomous Oriental Orthodox Churches Church representations were not present). Second, the get-together was on the invitation of the German authorities and Evangelical Church in Germany, it was not an Oriental Orthodox initiative, rather a pure ecumenical event (even though OO Prelates were involved in organizing the conference). Third, the major agenda of the get-together was not to discuss anything related to the life and future of the Oriental Orthodox Communion (except for some informal discussions between Primates) and finally the event was not held in an Oriental Orthodox hub like Egypt, Syria, Ethiopia, Armenia, India or Eritrea.
On the other hand side, faithful were happy to see Patriarch of Antioch and Catholicos of the East together for the second time. It is indeed a matter of great joy and hopes for Syriac and Malankara (Indian) Orthodox Christians.
We are not sure if the gathering or the ecumenical conference in Germany discussed the ongoing Christian persecution in Eritrea (The Eritrean Orthodox Churches is one among six OO Churches). Apart from the problems in Egypt and Syria, Christians are heavily persecuted in Eritrea (also known as the ‘North Korea of Africa’) which is notorious for detaining the canonical Patriarch Abune Antonios of the Eritrean Orthodox Church since 2007. There have been no unified statement or call from the heads of OO Churches for the release of Abune Antonios.
From a Pan-Orthodox unity perspective, the get-together in Germany is a bit challenging. Why? The Orthodox Primates were united more or less on Protestant and Roman Catholic platforms. The real problem is that Oriental Orthodoxy has almost lost her exclusivity in unity, she has lost a common platform for herself. The problem here is not about ecumenical gathering, but the absence of an exclusive mechanism for enhanced Pan-Oriental Orthodox cooperation and gathering.
Will there be a second Pan-Oriental Orthodox conference? There is a high need for a permanent mechanism for OO Churches. All decisions taken during the first Addis Ababa Conference (1965) remain in papers. In my previous articles and appeals, I had mentioned the same thing. Many people and clergy ask me, “What are you talking? We are already united in communion”. Yes, we are united, but is that unity enough? For me, it is not at all enough. We have lot many things to achieve. Oriental Orthodox Primates (Except the Patriarch of Ethiopia) met in Yerevan in 2015 for the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, but the nature of this meeting was quite different. Apart from this, there are occasional visits of OO Primates to a sister Orthodox Church. I also appreciate the Pan-Oriental Orthodox unity efforts of SCOOCH (even though Indian Orthodox Malankara Church is not a member), The One Conference, and several other regional meetings and organizations.
We blame a lot of things that stand as stumbling blocks for Pan-Oriental unity. At the same time, despite these stumbling blocks, all OO Churches freely participate in WCC, ecumenical gatherings, and dialogues with Vatican (the annual Oriental Orthodox-Roman Catholic theological dialogue). These ecumenical activities are practiced on a regular basis, while the first and last Pan-Oriental Conference was held in the capital city of Ethiopia way back in 1965. The energy and enthusiasm of participation by OO Churches in ecumenical cooperation are way beyond the satisfactory level.
The need for Pan-Oriental Orthodox unity or Orthodox unity, in general, is not a great need for faithful and clergy, even though many of them work and speak on the same. It’s not their fault, as they see and get exposed more to ecumenism and ecumenical gathering and very less of inter-orthodox unity efforts.
On the other hand side, WCC and other ecumenical forums played and still play an important role in bringing Orthodox leaders and faithful on the common platform. It high time OO churches come out of this age-old system of gathering on ecumenical platforms. Ecumenical practices should go on, but Oriental Orthodox Churches should build a common platform and a common voice.
The German gathering was a successful ecumenical event, but can we think of a Pan-Oriental Orthodox gathering in near future?
The need for Pan-Oriental Orthodox unity, enhanced cooperation and common exclusive platform for all OO churches is a great need of the time. Why do we need it? Let us check a few points below.
Pan-Oriental Orthodox Council: All Oriental Orthodox prelates came together on a single platform during the great and holy Addis Ababa Conference held in 1965. The decisions made in the Addis Ababa conference have not been realized yet. It was the 50th anniversary of the Addis Ababa Conference in 2015. Eastern Orthodox Churches will have their own great and holy council in 2016. The 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide brought together Oriental Primates, but no major announcements were made. The Oriental Orthodox Churches should think and organize a Pan-Oriental Orthodox council to discuss and redefine our future. Organizing a Pan-Oriental Orthodox council has a lot of relevance in the present scenario.
International Headquarters and Secretariat for Oriental Orthodox Churches: A world association for OO churches can be developed with a full-fledged secretariat/headquarters at a desirable location. It should consist of a good administrative organization with a strong financial background and with a solid focus of implementing programs and projects developed to benefit the members of OO churches. National level councils and local councils can be developed under the global headquarters. Annual/timely meetings of OO primates and delegates can be organized to promote and ensure solid and intimate relations among all sister churches. Various organizations like youth forums and clergy councils can develop. Steps should be taken to resolve any existing disputes between the OO churches by creating practical protocols and mediating compromises to avoid disputes in the future.
Education and Mission Activities: Establishment of an international University, Academy, and a Research Centre for theological and secular education (with special emphasis on Orthodox Christian Research, Human Resource Development, Leadership, Morality, Music, etc.) shall be given priority. There should be opportunities for mutual exchanges of faculty members, and students for internship programs. Providing mutual cooperation in mission fields and a common Oriental Orthodox Mission Training Centre can be initiated. There is a big need to develop inter- Orthodox centers of theology, exchange of resources. Developing OO chairs and study centers in secular universities, even though there are several quality centers like SOAS, Coptic study centers, Armenian Theological Faculty at the Yerevan University.
Oriental – Eastern Orthodox Dialogue for Unity: There is the need for a common platform for regular dialogues between the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches for communion in the faith as the continuation of the existing agreements. The halted dialogue process should be revamped. An international council should be established for the purpose of resuming official dialogue at regular intervals of time, quick and timely follow-ups of its results, encouragement of mutual visits, cooperation in theological education, mission-work development organizations, and other areas of common interest.
Eritrean Orthodox Church: A unified decision should be made on the detention of the Canonical Patriarch of Eretria. Sister Churches should check various methods to find a solution for the Church of Eretria and her faithful. The Oriental communion should act as a lobbying force to attain more international attention, thereby finding a solution for the humanitarian crisis in Eretria.
Schisms and Autonomy: There are schisms within the Oriental Orthodox communion that really worry us. We need to find a solution for a lasting solution to strengthen brotherhood and conciliarity. A number of ‘Unrecognized’ Orthodox Churches that seek to enter in communion with Oriental Orthodoxy. If genuine, dialogues should be initiated with these churches. A common cannon can be developed for the entire Oriental Orthodox family to define various aspects of church life.
Social Justice, Poverty, War, and Persecution: A unified declaration on social justice, poverty eradication, persecution of minorities, preventing war should be made. Pan-Oriental Orthodox projects should be implemented to meet the needs of ailing communities.
Youth and Women: We need to bring Oriental Orthodox youth and women on a common platform and provide them with an increased role in church affairs. They have to get exposed more to Pan-Orthodox unity affairs.
Tourism and Cultural Exchange: This remains an unexplored area for Oriental Orthodox Christians. There is huge potential in developing the inter-oriental orthodox tour and cultural exchange programs. This will help faithful to get more exposure to the life, culture, and traditions of their own sister Oriental Orthodox churches.
Assyrian Churches: The historic relations between Oriental Orthodox family and the Assyrian Churches (Assyrian Church of the East and Ancient Church of the East) should be revived. We need to bring them closer to the Oriental Orthodox communion. A permanent commission for dialogue and cooperation with Assyrians should be installed.
Ecumenical Relations: Ecumenical relations with Roman Catholics, Anglicans, WCC, MECC, and other inter-Christian and inter-faith bodies are worth appreciable. May the ecumenical movements bring fruits of true Christian unity.
Dept of Church Research and Studies – Orthodoxy Cognate PAGE Society