JOINT COMMISSION FOR DIALOGUE BETWEEN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
AND THE MALANKARA ORTHODOX SYRIAN CHURCH
REPORT OF THE 2017 MEETING
Kottayam, 12-13 December 2017
The Joint Commission for Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church held its meeting at the Mar Baselios Dayara, Njaliakuzhy, Vakathanam, Kottayam, on Tuesday 12 and Wednesday 13 December 2017.
After a moment of prayer, led by His Excellency Bishop Dr Selvister Ponnumuthan, His Grace Gabriel Mor Gregorios, Co-Chairman of the Commission, welcomed the members expressing also his gratitude that we all are undertaking a pilgrimage together, moving forward. He reflected that the more we come nearer to Jesus, the more we come closer to each other. We are engaged in walking together. This time of being together gives us strength and joins our hearts together. This togetherness brings our hearts closer to one another and in this common pilgrimage we understand each other better. “Let us give thanks to the Lord and enjoy our togetherness”. Subsequently His Grace drew attention to two events.
Firstly, Cyclone Ockhi claimed the lives of some fishermen in rough seas in Kerala. Many people became homeless and sick, and hundreds of fishermen went missing. His Grace asked to pray for those who passed away and for their families as well as for all who suffer. His Grace Thomas Mar Koorilos, who visited the area the day before, gave a witness of the catastrophe: many people died, survivors experienced tremendous trauma; people were agitated because they felt neglected by the civil authorities. There was even a march in support of the people, who had the impression that the Church was the only institution helping them.
Secondly, His Grace Gabriel Mor Gregorios referred to events at the international level since President Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This decision caused many reactions, given that over the last decades Jerusalem has been considered to have International Status as the city of Jews, Christians and Muslims. His Grace asked to pray for peace and better understanding.
Bishop Brian Farrell, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and Co-Chairman of the Commission, expressed his gratitude for the hospitality that had been extended, reflecting that it strengthens the bonds of fraternity. He also prayed for the help of the Holy Spirit to lead us forward in common understanding. In a world which has become increasingly based upon economic and political interest, driven by a culture of ‘the power of the strongest’, Christians are called to preach the message of the gospel of love and communion. In spite of these challenges facing us, there is a new climate of acceptance of the need for communion that Christians have to stand together. The commemoration of 500 years of Reformation has led to a great healing of memory. Many external factors led to the division in the West. Step by step “we discovered that we cannot change history; the past is the past. What we can do is the way we remember the past. What we can change is the way in which the past influences us into the present. We discovered a new sense of communion”. Further, Bishop Farrell referred to the progress made in the dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Byzantine Orthodox Churches. There is an agreement on the model of the exercise of authority in the first millennium. Now the Theological Commission will undertake a new reflection on the differences between East and West in the second millennium. Expressing his thanks for the progress made, Bishop Farrell emphasized that all the Churches have a mission to the world, especially when there is division, to teach the love that Jesus is giving in the Gospel, in order to overcome the separation of the past.
His Grace Archbishop Powathil expressed words of welcome to all the members of the Commission. He mentioned the new challenge that the Churches face in Kerala, such as the growing tendency of fundamentalism. Finally, he called upon all Christians to stand together with their common concern and to grow in faith and charity, despite their differences.
The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church delegation comprised: Metropolitan His Grace Dr Gabriel Mar Gregorios (Co-Chairman), His Grace Dr Yakob Mar Irenaios, His Grace Dr Youhanon Mar Dioscoros, His Grace Youhanon Mar Demetrios, Father Dr Baby Varghese, Father Dr. Johns Abraham Konat, Father Dr. T.I. Varghese, Father Dr O. Thomas, Father Dr Reji Mathew, Father Dr Jose John, Father Dr Koshy Vaidyan and Father Abraham Thomas (co-secretary).
The Catholic Church was represented by Bishop Brian Farrell (Co-Chairman), His Grace Mar Joseph Powathil, His Grace Mar Mathew Moolakatt, His Grace Thomas Mar Koorilos, His Excellency Bishop Dr Selvister Ponnumuthan, His Grace Mar Joseph Kallarangatt, Revd Dr Mathew Vellanickal, Revd Dr Xavier Koodapuzha, Revd Dr Jacob Thekkeparampil, Revd Dr Augustine Kadeparambil, Revd Dr Philip Nelpuraparampil and Msgr. Gabriel Quicke (co-secretary).
Monsignor Gabriel Quicke presented the report of the meeting in 2016, which the Commission approved.
The program included the presentation and brief reflections on the two documents from the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches.
The document Nature, Constitution and Mission of the Church (Rome, 29 January, 2009) was presented by Father Dr Baby Varghese and Revd Dr Mathew Vellanickal. In the discussion afterwards it was emphasized that it was the spirit of the Commission firstly to find common elements of understanding, and secondly to specify on which points there was not an agreement and which required further study. Subsequently, it was clarified that the documents are preparatory documents, approved by the members of the Commission; they are the result of the dynamics of the presentation of different papers and rich discussion, but they need to be further developed. Finally, they have to be approved by the ecclesial authorities. The document of the Commission is a step in a process of the search for unity. The text is an official document of the Commission which has an official character, but the document is only a step on the way. During the different meetings of the Commission the members try to assimilate what has been presented and produced. Since a given document is a result of an agreement of the Commission, members have to focus on the spirit of the text, trying to understand how this document could be applied to the situation in India.
The second document The Exercise of Communion in the Life of the Early Church and its Implications for our Search for Communion Today (Rome, 28 January, 2015) was presented by His Grace Dr Gabriel Mar Gregorios and by His Grace Mar Joseph Kallarangatt. During the rich exchange of opinions it was affirmed that the document reveals that there was an intercommunication among the churches in the first five centuries. Therefore, it is very important to go back to the roots, to understand much better the significance of the Church as communion. In fact, we can only be grateful that both Churches in India have a common history of 15 centuries. At the end of the discussion it was also proposed that considerations regarding the historicity of some aspects of the texts can be forwarded to the Commission.
Finally, there was the presentation of the progress of the different practical projects:
- Common Patristic Readings for 365 days (a subcommittee comprised by His Grace Dr Youhanon Mar Dioscoros, His Grace Thomas Mar Koorilos,b Revd Dr Jacob Thekkeparampil, and Father Dr Koshy Vaidyan). The project was presented by Father Dr Koshy Vaidyan. The members of the Commission proposed following a chronological order, taking into account the liturgical feasts.
- Powerpoint presentation of the draft pages of the proposed Web-Page of the Joint Commission (created by Revd Father Abraham Thomas and Revd Dr Philip Nelpuraparampil), presented by Revd Father Abraham Thomas.
- Source Book on Ecclesiastical History (prepared by Revd Dr Xavier Koodapuzha and Father Dr Jose John). The completed Source Book on Ecclesiastical History can be published on the new website
- Two papers where presented on the theme of The Principles of Biblical Interpretation. Father Dr Reji Mathew presented a paper entitled Thematic Interpretation in Patristic Writings: The Theme of ‘Teaching’ and the Transformation of the Individual and Revd Dr Augustine Kadeparambil presented Patristic Exegesis. A Model for Modern Exegetes. Afterwards it was decided that they will prepare a practical plan.
- Relevant points on possible pastoral cooperation based on the two papers of His Grace Mar Joseph Kallarangatt and His Grace Yakub Mar Irenaios. A synthesis of the proposals was presented.
The next meeting will be held at the Spirituality Centre, Manganam, Kottayam, on Tuesday 11 and Wednesday 12 December 2018. The following issues will be on the agenda:
THREE MAIN AREAS
- Update of the Different Practical Projects
- Guidelines on Pastoral Cooperation
Presentation of a text in view of publishing it for the clergy and the faithful. A subcommittee comprises Revd Father Abraham Thomas (Coordinator), His Grace Mar Joseph Kallarangatt, His Grace Yakub Mar Irenaios, Father Dr. Johns Abraham Konat, Revd Dr Augustine Kadeparambil and Revd Dr Philip Nelpuraparampil.
- Theological Reflection
Fullness of Communion and Degrees of Communion
Two papers to be presented: ‘Catholic Teaching' by Revd Dr Mathew Vellanickal, and ‘Orthodox Teaching' by His Grace Dr Youhanon Mar Dioscoros.
Participation of the Faithful in the Life of the Church
Two papers to be presented by Father Dr Baby Varghese and by His Grace Mar Joseph Kallarangatt.