INTERNATIONAL JOINT COMMISSION FOR THEOLOGICAL DIALOGUE BETWEEN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND THE ORIENTAL ORTHODOX CHURCHES
Rome, 20-24 June 2022
The eighteenth meeting of the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches took place in Rome from June 20-24, 2022 and was hosted by the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity. It was chaired jointly by His Eminence Cardinal Kurt Koch, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, and by His Grace Bishop Kyrillos, Coptic Orthodox Auxiliary Bishop in the Diocese of Los Angeles, California, USA.
Representatives came from the Catholic Church and from the following Oriental Orthodox Churches: the Antiochian Syrian Orthodox Church, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church (Catholicosate of All Armenians and Catholicosate of the Holy See of Cilicia), and the Coptic Orthodox Church. Representatives of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church and the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church were not present.
The two delegations met separately on the morning of June 20. Plenary sessions were held from the afternoon of June 20 through June 24, each day beginning with a brief prayer service based on material prepared for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
In the evening of Monday June 20, Cardinal Koch hosted a dinner for the dialogue members in the Casina Pio IV in the Vatican gardens. On the evening of Wednesday, June 22, the members attended Vespers at the Benedictine Collegio di Sant'Anselmo at the kind invitation of the Right Reverend Gregory Polan, OSB, Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Confederation, and shared dinner with the community.
On Thursday, June 23 at 12 pm, His Holiness Pope Francis received the members of the Commission in private audience. His Grace Bishop Kyrillos presented to His Holiness the completed statement of the Commission, “Sacraments in the Life of the Church,” commenting that the Commission will begin a new phase of reflections on the Mother of God. Bishop Kyrillos then presented to Pope Francis a Coptic icon depicting St. Cyril of Alexandria and Pope Celestine of Rome, recalling the cordial relations between the Churches of Alexandria and Rome at the time of the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus.
In his address, Pope Francis emphasized that this document “will be able to mark a new step forward towards full communion.” This consideration led the Holy Father to reflect on three important dimensions of ecumenical dialogue: baptismal, pastoral and local. “It is in baptism that we find the basis of the communion between Christians and our yearning for full visible unity”, the Pope said. “Secondly, ecumenism always has a pastoral character (...) the broad consensus noted by your Commission, not only on baptism but also on the other sacraments, should encourage us to develop more fully a pastoral ecumenism”. His Holiness referred to already existing pastoral agreements and asked: “Would it not possible to extend and multiply such pastoral agreements, above all in those situations in which our faithful are a minority or in the diaspora?” Finally, he highlighted that ecumenism exists already as a primary local reality. “The dialogue of life in the local, everyday relations between our Churches (…) constitute a genuine locus or source of theology.”
Cardinal Koch opened the first plenary session with a prayer for the repose of the soul of Bishop Youhanna Golta, who passed away in February 2022. He then welcomed Rev. Jijimon Puthuveettilkalam, SJ, as an Observer to the Commission and indicated those members who could not be present, but who might participate at some time via Zoom. Cardinal Koch presented a gift of Acta Oecumenica 2021 to the members of the Joint International Commission and indicated a few salient ecumenical events since our last meeting.
Bishop Kyrillos indicated that the Oriental Orthodox Churches have created groups for the exchange of ideas and collaboration in the United States on the east and west coasts, in Europe and in Australia (including also Catholics).
The plenary session then began its final review of the draft of the Document “Sacraments in the Life of the Church.” This process continued through the morning of Wednesday, June 22. The text received unanimous approval and was signed by the co-chairs on Thursday, June 23. After the signing, Bishop Kyrillos presented Cardinal Koch with an icon of the Mother of God for the Dicastery.
In keeping with the theme, Aspects of Mariology, The Holy Virgin Mary in the Teaching and the Life of the Church, the following papers were presented: Malpan Dr. Mathew Vellanickal, “Mary in the Biblical Tradition;” Rev. Mark Sheridan, OSB, “The Tradition of the Dormition and Assumption in the Catholic Church’s Teachings;” and Bishop Kyrillos, “The Understanding of the Dormition of the Holy Virgin Mary in the Oriental Orthodox Tradition.”
This study and discussion will continue at the next meeting, which will take place at the Logos Center of the Saint Bishoy Monastery, Egypt, January 31-February 4, 2023, with arrivals on Monday January 30 and departures on Sunday February 5.
The members of the Commission are:
Representatives of the Oriental Orthodox Churches (in alphabetical order)
Antiochian Syrian Orthodox Church: H.E. Mar Theophilus George Saliba, Archbishop of Mount Lebanon, Beirut, Lebanon (not present); H.E. Kuriakose Mar 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; H.G. Bishop Mor Polycarpus Aydin (observer);
Armenian Apostolic Church: Catholicosate of all Armenians: H.E. Khajag Barsamian, Pontifical Legate for Western Europe and Official Representative of the Holy See of Echmiadzin to the Vatican; Reverend Father Shahe Ananyan, Director of the Interchurch Relationships Department and Dean of the Kevorkian Theological Seminary Echmiadzin, Armenia (not present); H. E. Bishop Tiran Petrosyan, Pontifical Legate for Central Europe and Scandinavia (proxy);
Armenian Apostolic Church: Catholicosate of the Holy See of Cilicia: H.E. Bishop Magar Ashkarian, Director of Christian Education Department of the Holy See of Cilicia, Antelias, Lebanon; Very Reverend Father Boghos Tinkjian (co-secretary), Parish Priest of the Armenian Community in Chicago, Illinois;
Coptic Orthodox Church: H.G. Bishop Kyrillos (Co-Chair), Auxiliary Bishop in the Diocese of Los Angeles, Rev. Fr. Shenouda Maher Ishak, West Henrietta, New York, USA (not present); Deacon Antonios the Shenoudian; H.G. Bishop Daniel of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Sydney, Australia (Observer); H.G. Bishop Barnaba El Soryany, Rome, Italy (Observer);
Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church: no representative was able to attend;
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church: Rev. Fr. Daniel Seifemichael Feleke of Holy Trinity Theological University College and Director of Broadcasting Service in Addis Ababa (not present);
Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church: H.E. Metropolitan Zachariah Mar Nicholovos, Northeast Diocese of America (not present); H.E. Metropolitan Dr. Youhanon Mar Demetrios, Metropolitan of the Diocese of Delhi, President of the Department for Ecumenical Relations, India.
Representatives of the Catholic Church
His Eminence Cardinal Kurt Koch, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity (co-chair);
Most Reverend Peter Marayati, Armenian Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo, Syria;
Most Reverend Paul Rouhana, OLM, Bishop of the Patriarchal Maronite Vicariate of Sarba, Jounieh, Lebanon;
Most Reverend Lesanuchristos Matheos Semahun, Bishop of Bahir Dar-Dessie, Ethiopia;
Most Reverend Boghos Levon Zekiyan, Archbishop of Istanbul and Turkey for the Catholic Armenians;
Rev. Fr. Frans Bouwen, M.Afr., Sainte-Anne, Jerusalem (participated via Zoom);
Chorbishop John D. Faris, Saint Anthony Maronite Catholic Church, Glen Allen, Virginia, USA;
Rev. Fr. Habib Mrad, Patriarchal Secretary and Chancellor, Syriac Catholic Patriarchate, Beirut (not present);
Rev. Fr. Ronald G. Roberson, CSP, Associate Director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC, USA (participated via Zoom);
Rev. Fr. Mark Sheridan, OSB, Rector Emeritus, Collegio di S. Anselmo, Rome;
Rev. Fr. Columba Stewart, OSB, Executive Director, Hill Museum and Manuscript Library, Professor of Theology, Saint John’s Abbey and University, Collegeville, Minnesota, USA;
Rev. Malpan Fr. Mathew Vellanickal, Spirituality Center, Manganam, Kottayam, India;
Prof. Dietmar W. Winkler, Consultor of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, Salzburg, Austria;
Rev. Jijimon Puthuveettilkalam, SJ (observer);
Rev. Hyacinthe Destivelle, OP, Official of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, Rome (co-secretary).