The ‘Night’ Before the Dialogue with the Vatican

OO Primates Meeting in Addis Ababa (L) & OO Primates Meeting in Yerevan in 2015 (R)

OO Primates Meeting in Addis Ababa (L) & OO Primates Meeting in Yerevan in 2015 (R)

Prepared by George Alexander -08/10/18
(For the Department of Church Research and Studies) – Orthodoxy Cognate PAGE

The ‘night’ before the ecumenical dialogue with the Vatican is an important time for Oriental Orthodox (OO) Churches, especially in the current context of ecumenism and Church unity. This is the time when OO theologians, scholars and representations come to discuss and decide on the major topics of discussions with Vatican theologians the very next day. This has been a regular practice since the establishment of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches in 2004. It is fine. I am not against ecumenism. I appreciate a lot of good things about ecumenical movements and they have played a vital and successful role in Church unity and inter-Christian cooperation. But I am unable to accept the current trend in which OO hierarchs shake hands at ecumenical events alone, especially events organized by the Vatican. At the same time, I am also happy that there has been a lot of ice melting between OO Churches and the Vatican. Let ecumenism bear fruits of Christian cooperation and unity. I have discussed my concerns in several of my previous articles. My main concern is the widening gap between the Oriental Orthodox Churches or the Orthodox Churches in general.

Reflections on the future of the Oriental Orthodox Communion

We live in a world where Church leaders and the majority of the faithful talk about ecumenism and Christian unity, sharing high hopes on Orthodox – Roman Catholic unity. It is not my intention to prove that Oriental Orthodox Churches are less united; rather I would like to say that we almost forgot our priority of Pan-Oriental Orthodox unity. OO Primates take part in a lot of ecumenical and interfaith events which are part of the official policy of their respective Churches which needs to be supported for the common good of all sections of the society. OO Primates took part in ecumenical prayer meetings with Pope Francis of Rome; they took part in the celebrations of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation in Europe. Nevertheless, we do not see the same enthusiasm when it comes to inter-Oriental Orthodox unity. In 2015 Coptic, Syriac, Armenian and Indian Primates met in Yerevan as part of the commemoration of the Armenian Genocide. Regional OO councils are active (to some extent) as well. Oriental Orthodox Church Council in the Middle East, SCOOCH etc., holds regular meetings and interactions. Council of the Oriental Orthodox Churches in the UK & Ireland – one of the regional councils in Europe seems to be less active as well. However, these councils do not represent the whole of OO Churches. Regional councils are very important for the total strengthening of OO Unity. It has fostered cooperation through liturgical con-celebrations; get together, conferences and other events. But, regional councils alone are not enough. Hence, a strong and unified Pan-Oriental Council in concilliar nature is the need of the time.

OO Primates Encounter with the Roman Pontiff

OO Primates Encounter with the Roman Pontiff

“The real failure of the Orthodox Church does not appear to lie, at least to the present writer, in her missionary laziness, but rather in her unsanctified, power-hungry, quarrelsome, self-pre-occupied and selfish life in the world. It is not a missionary organization that she stands most in need of, but rather evangelical simplicity and Eucharistic sanctity in ordinary life, manifesting the love, freedom, and wisdom of God to mankind.” ― Metropolitan Paulose Mar Gregorious (Gregory of the East).

A Review on the Gathering of Oriental Orthodox Primates in Germany

Let me invite your attention to the Addis Ababa Conference of 1965. It was the last time all OO primates came together to discuss the need and priority for unity. Many decisions were taken. Unfortunately, none of these decisions were implemented despite of some follow-up meetings (by the Standing Committee of the Conference of the Oriental Orthodox Churches- COOC). I strongly believe that if the Addis Ababa decisions were properly implemented, the destiny of OO communion would have been totally different in several ways. One of the major stumbling blocks that prevented the actual OO unity can be referred to the on-going administrative schism in India between the Malankara Orthodox Church and the Jacobite Syriac Orthodox Church. The Ethiopian schism has come to an end and the Eritrean schism may end soon with the help of the Ethiopian Church and the Ethiopian-Eritrean government support. Let us hope that the schism in Malankara will end soon as well.

OO Ecumenical Participation and Events

OO Ecumenical Participation and Events

Some OO clergy and laity hold the view that they need to blindly support and follow the official ecumenical policies of their Church. That is right and correct. It doesn’t mean that they need to ignore the need and importance of Pan-Oriental Orthodox Unity. The sad part is that this group of people tends to condemn others who hold different views on ecumenism and Pan-Orthodox unity. Orthodoxy gives a lot of importance to the fusion of episcopacy and democracy. Hence the Church leadership has a responsibility to listen to all sections of the faithful, not only to one’s who support official policies.

I would like to mention a bit on the Vatican ecumenical diplomacy. In 2016, at the height of Christian persecution in Iraq and Syria, Patriarch Raphael Louis I Sako of the Chaldean Uniate Eastern Catholic Rite made a diplomatic proposal to the Assyrian Church of the East and Ancient Church of the East to create a union of a canonically independent Assyrian Church but united with Rome. The sad situation in Iraq was pointed out as one reason for union with Rome. If that is the case, then there are other Christian denominations, which are still in Iraq and should be invited to seek union with Rome. Assyrian Churches rejected the diplomatic proposal by the Uniate Chaldean Patriarch. Such invitations may also reach the doorsteps of OO Churches.

Various Annual gatherings of the OO-Vatican Dialogues

Various Annual gatherings of the OO-Vatican Dialogues

Apart from the International Commission for dialogue, OO Churches in the USA engage with the Vatican through United States Oriental Orthodox-Roman Catholic Church dialogue. Moreover, in India, the Roman Church holds separate annual dialogues with the Malankara Orthodox Church and the Jacobite Syriac Orthodox Church.

The Bari Ecumenical Encounter

The Bari Ecumenical Encounter

The recent ecumenical prayer meetings in Bari (Italy) hosted by Pope Francis was a great event indeed. Oriental Orthodox Patriarchs (Coptic, Syriac, and Armenian-Cilicia) discussed the on-going conflicts in the Middle East with the Roman Pontiff. I wonder if such discussions ever happen between the Primates of all Oriental Orthodox Churches around a common Pan-Oriental table. OO Churches have reached historic agreements with the Anglican Communion, local and international agreements with the Vatican, whereas the entire decisions taken during the Addis Ababa Conference are shelved.

Eastern Orthodox Pan-Orthodox Council

Eastern Orthodox Pan-Orthodox Council

In a way, Eastern Orthodox Churches are in a better position when it comes to inter-Orthodox unity. They have been successful in organizing a Pan-Orthodox Council, despite the hesitancy from some Byzantine Churches who did not take part in the event in Crete. They have successfully constituted a permanent the Pan-Orthodox Secretariat under the initiative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

A year back, my beloved friend Varghese John Thottapuzha (delegate of Orthodoxy Cognate PAGE) was invited to speak at a diocesan workshop of Malankara Orthodox Christian Sunday School teachers (in Kerala). He spoke on Orthodox Christian Churches and the need for Pan-Oriental Orthodox unity. While interacting with the teachers, he asked them to provide names of all Oriental Orthodox Churches (it was an open question). To his surprise, the group of teachers found it hard to name local Churches of the Oriental Orthodox communion. Out of six Churches, they could only name three or four. This may not be the case elsewhere. I doubt how far our faithful get informed on the structure and details of the OO communion. Mostly, the reach of information on OO structure and details and updates on sister OO Churches are limited to few leaders or learned circles (who take special interest to learn such things). However, the aggressive impact of social media has contributed to a lot of information sharing and interconnections among OO faithful.

OO Con-celebrations

OO Con-celebrations

Our faithful are trained to envisage ecumenical unity above inter-Orthodox conciliar unity. Ecumenical events get high media coverage in comparison to inter-orthodox events. This contributes to the idea that ecumenism is the most important priority for OO Churches.

There are a lot of unsettled matters among OO Churches. Hence the priority should be given to settle or at least take efforts to settle inter matter. This is not possible in a day or two. Continues and constructive efforts are required.

It was reported that the Holy Synod of Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is planning to organize a grand gathering of Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Primates sooner or later. This is a very promising move. We need to wait and see further developments in this regard.

Many people criticize me for writing and sharing my opinion on Pan-Oriental Orthodox unity or Pan-Orthodox unity, stating that these are just my opinions. Unity of Orthodoxy is not just my opinion. Many people share my same opinion. I am not willing to back out or change my opinion on the need of Pan-Oriental Orthodox Unity; rather I will do my best to propagate its importance and benefits. Recent developments in the Ethiopian Church are a classic example of unity. Hence, I do not regret my stand. I do not find anything in wrong in propagating concilliar unity. If the Church leaderships are busy with ecumenical matters, it is our duty to remind them for the need of Pan-Oriental Orthodox unity.

Unfortunately, the ‘night’ before the dialogue with the Vatican is the most important arena of the Oriental Orthodox get-together.

A look at Pan-Oriental Orthodox Cooperation and OO Ecumenical Cooperation

Pan-Oriental Orthodox Cooperation
Addis Ababa Conference with full OO Participation – 1965 
Four meetings of the standing committee of the Conference of the Oriental Orthodox Churches (COOC)- Fourth meeting held in 1968
OO Primates get together in Yerevan – 2015
Regional Councils like SCOOCH and Oriental Orthodox Church Council in the Middle East hold regular meetings

OO- Vatican Dialogue
2004 to present day without fail

Oriental Orthodox –Eastern Orthodox Dialogue
Geneva – 1985
Egypt – 1989
Geneva – 1990
Geneva – 1993
Working Group Consultation
Athens – 2014
Cilicia – 2018

WCC Participation of OO Churches
1948 to present day

OO- Anglican Dialogue
From 2001 to 2003
From 2013 to 2017

OO-Lausanne-Orthodox Initiative
From 2010 until present day

OO- Global Christian Forum
From 2007 until the present day

OO-MECC (Middle East Council of Churches)
From 1974 until the present day

Pics and  References
Syriac Orthodox Patriarchate, OCP Media Network, Pramvir, Armenian Orthodox Church in Lebanon, Anglican Communion, WCC, Global Christian Forum, The Lausanne-Orthodox Initiative, Oriental Orthodox Church Portal.


OCP News Service

1 thought on “The ‘Night’ Before the Dialogue with the Vatican

  1. Pan-Oriental Orthodox Cooperation:
    The Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches was inaugurated in in 1965 and four standing committee meetings were held till 1968. What about further progress progress 50 years till now (2018)?
    “The Conference of the Heads of Oriental Orthodox Churches, which was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, during January 1965, is undoubtedly an event of some importance in the history of the Church in our times. For the first time in history it brought together in a formal meeting the Heads of five of the historic Churches (Coptic Orthodox Church; Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch; Armenian Orthodox Church; Syrian Orthodox Church of India; and Ethiopian Orthodox Church). Accompanied by a few delegates each they came together and thereby inaugurated a new era of cooperation and communication among their Churches. Although these five Churches have all along recognized one another officially as sister churches holding full Eucharistic fellowship with each other, they have not had a common council or synod after the fifth century. The Addis Ababa Conference has now brought to an end this practical isolation one from another of these Churches and opened up a new age in which they may be expected both to manifest concretely their unity and to play their role together in serving the Christian cause in the modern world. It is the story of this historic event which is told in the pages that follows.” (THE CONFERENCE OF ORIENTAL ORTHODOX CHURCHES -1965)
    OO- Vatican Dialogue:
    Oriental Orthodox and Vatican Dialogue: Actually the dialogue between Roman Catholic and Oriental Orthodox Churches started in 1971 Vienna under the auspices of Pro-Oriente and further three more Consultations were held in 1973, 1976 and 1978 – called VIENNA CONSULTATIONS. Under Pro Oriente still it is continuing.
    Oriental Orthodox – Eastern Orthodox Dialogue
    Oriental Orthodox – Eastern Orthodox Dialogue: The “Unofficial consultation of theologians” Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Theologians started in In 1964, Arhus, Denmark. The Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches made it convening possible and helped the carrying out of the programme in other ways. The consensus reached there by the participants on the Christological doctrine was so encouraging that between then and 1971 three other consultations of the same nature were held at Bristol – U.K. (, Geneva – Switzerland (and Addis Ababa – Ethiopia 1971). At these meetings different aspects of the faith concerning Christ were discussed in depth.

    Dr. Paulose Mar Gregorios about the EO & OO Dialogue:
    The Rev. Dr. V. C. Samuel has played a unique and pioneering role in making Oriental Orthodox Christology intelligible as well as acceptable to others. Most of us who came later into the debate about the nature of Christ owe our basic insights to his outstanding work at Yale University in the fifties of our century (The Council of Chalcedon Re-Examined: A Historical and Theological Survey).
    This became very clear as we began the first “Unofficial Consultation between Theologians of Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches” held at the University of Aarhus, Denmark, from August 11-15, 1964. In August 1989, we should celebrate the silver jubilee of this historic event in the life of the ecumenical movement. (The Golden Jubilee year of the great memorable event falls on 2014)
    Father Samuel’s paper on “One Incarnate Nature of God the Word” affirmed that phrase from Cyril of Alexandria (-1- 444 A.D.) as “a most crucial linguistic tool to conserve the Church’s faith in the Person of Jesus Christ”. It made clear to leading Byzantine theologians present like Johannes Karmiris, John Meyendorff, George Florovsky, John Romanides, Nikos Nissiotis, George Konidaris, and Vitaly Borovoy that the Oriental Orthodox agreed with the Byzantine Orthodox in condemning the teachings of both Eutyches and Nestorius. It was Fr. Samuel’s paper which convinced them. There were other dignitaries present like the present Syrian Patriarch of Antioch (Ignatius Zakka I Iwas) and the present Armenian Catholicos of Antelias (Karekin II); it is no exaggeration to say, however that there was no one on the Oriental Orthodox side who could convince the Byzantine theologians on the basis of historical scholarship that there was no essential disagreement between the Byzantines and the Orientals on the substance of Christological teaching. I had the great privilege of organizing, along with the late Nikos Nissiotis, that first unofficial theological conversation
    Recently (September 1987), the first official joint sub. Commission met and produced an official statement that is in basic continuity with the four unofficial conversations. By Dr. Paulos Mar Gregorios; Orthodox Identity In India -1988.
    Dr. V.C. Samuel about these Dialogues:

    The Consultations of theologians saw that on the question of the doctrine of Christ there was no insurmountable barrier in the way of their respective Churches coming together into mutual ecclesiastical fellowship. There are differences between them, which are the result of the varying backgrounds of their historical existence. But these divergences are not such as to justify their separation from each other in the communion of the Church.

    The “two nature” formula, for example, and the “one nature” formula refer, as we have already noted, exclusively to one or another of the two aspects of truth concerning Christ. It is clear that while affirming duality those who employ the former phrases do not deny the union of the natures in Christ. In the same way, those who confess the latter formula do not ignore duality of natures while insisting on the unity.

    The programme envisaged by the Consultations had one important limitation. The “two nature” formula was not exclusively the tradition of the Church in the west; it was more an affirmation of the Antiochene School of theology. No one representing the school participated in these discussions, so that it is not possible for us to say that the understanding reached between theologians of the different schools concerning “nature” is applicable to them as well. For one thing, the rational of the Consultations was to enable the Churches concerned to realize where they agree and they differ, so that they may be led to work for the restoration of their unity. It was not an academic discussion that the participants undertook to carry out; those involved in the programme were theologians of the Churches concerned. We may hope that one day, sooner than later, the Church that perpetuates the memory of Nestorius and the luminaries of the Antiochene School will be involved in similar consultations with the other Churches.

    We who took part in the Consultations have come to the conviction that the Christological issue need not separate our Churches from one another. We may the Holy Spirit to guide the Churches to draw closer, that we may all realize our mutual relationship in our common Lord as a foundation in life. (JOINT INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION FOR DAIALOGUE BETWEEN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND THE MALANKARA ORTHODOX CHURCH: PAPERS AND JOINT STATEMENTS 1999-200)

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