November 24-25 2014, Athens-Greece
Invited by the two Co-Chairmen, HE Metropolitan Emmanuel of France and HE Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette, of the Joint Theological Commission of the two families of the Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches, and with the blessings and gracious hospitality of the Ecumenical Patriarch, His All Holiness Bartholomew, a working group of official delegates met in Athens, 24-25 November 2014, in order to lay down a road map for the future work of the Joint Commission.
The working group reviewed the achievements of the Joint Commission so far, in bringing together the two families of the Orthodox Churches on the basis of our common understanding of the Apostolic faith.
Co-Chairman HE Metropolitan Emmanuel of France in his opening speech pointed out the very high priority accorded by the Orthodox Church to the official Theological Dialogue with the Oriental Orthodox Churches. He underlined the common acceptance of the Christological teaching of our common Father St. Cyril of Alexandria and of our common patristic and ecclesiological tradition of the first five centuries as the decisive criterion.
He called for a systematic evaluation of all the theological critiques on the proposals of the Joint Commission and for a theological defense against all prejudices and polemical arguments. He emphasized that unity of the Church is an important dogma of faith and therefore the work of the Commission towards unity is of fundamental doctrinal significance. In order to communicate to the clergy and the people of our Churches the work of the Joint Commission, he suggested regular meetings of the primates of our Churches, exchange of professors, well-prepared meetings of monks from both families and all possible cooperation of Churches at regional level and the Diaspora. The use of print and electronic media to disseminate the efforts for unity was also strongly advocated by Metropolitan Emmanuel.
Co-Chairman HE Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette in his speech, gave an interpretation of the First Agreed Statement on Christology of the historic official dialogue between the two families held at St. Bishoy Monastery, Egypt, in 1989. Highlighting the Christological position of our common Father St. Cyril of Alexandria he pointed out the fact that the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Orthodox Church are expressing the same reality when they speak about one composite hypostasis of the incarnate Logos. He cited from the Chambesy Statement of the Joint Commission in 1990 saying ”that both families have always loyally maintained the same authentic Orthodox Christological faith, and the unbroken continuity of the Apostolic Tradition.” HE Metropolitan Bishoy also narrated the great efforts he made jointly with the former Co-Chairman HE Damaskinos of blessed memory to visit various local Orthodox Churches on both sides, in order to communicate personally to the local Churches’ leadership the good results of the Joint Commission’s work.
In the light of the presentations of the two Co-Chairmen, an intense and fruitful discussion followed. There were also separate meetings of the families to discuss the remaining issues from the perspective of each family as well as to find the common way forward.
Following are some of the proposals, recommendations and concerns expressed by the working group.
1. Gratefully acknowledging the guidance of the Holy Spirit so far in the work of the Joint Commission, the working group called for the continuation of the dialogue in all earnestness and for a formal meeting of the full Commission at an appropriate time at the earliest.
2. While acknowledging the good work of the Sub-Committees on theological, canonical, liturgical and pastoral issues, the working group recognized that some Churches raised some serious issues that require further clarification such as lifting of anathemas, common enumeration of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, mutual recognition of Saints and some questions on Christology. Some solutions to these issues have also been proposed in the Sub-Committees, but they need to be communicated effectively to the clergy, monks, schools of theology and people on both sides to arrive at a consensus.
The working group expressed deep concern over the situation of our Churches especially in the Middle East. It appealed to the international community and to all concerned for the release of the two abducted Bishops, Metropolitan Mor Gregorios Youhanna Ibrahim and Metropolitan Boulos Yasigi. The group felt that the situation of Christianity today urgently necessitates Orthodox unity and the promoting of a healthy interfaith dialogue.
It was noted that three local Churches from the Orthodox family (Alexandria, Antioch and Romania) and three Churches from the Oriental Orthodox family (Alexandria, Antioch and Malankara-India), had already declared their acceptance of the agreed statements and proposals from the Joint Commission. The working group that met in the 50th year of the first unofficial dialogue meeting between the Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox took place in Aarhus, Denmark, 1964. Hence, in the spirit of jubilee the group called for liberation from the misapprehensions and separations of the past, while praying for the joyful common celebration of our life together in Jesus Christ our Saviour in mutual forgiveness, reconciliation and communion in love and truth for the glory of the Triune God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.