Fifteenth Meeting

Etchmiadzin, Armenia, January 29 – February 5, 2018


The fifteenth meeting of the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches took place in Etchmiadzin, Armenia, from January 29 to February 5, 2018, hosted by the Catholicosate of All Armenians.  It was chaired jointly by His Eminence Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and by His Eminence Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette.

Joining delegates from the Catholic Church were representatives of the following Oriental Orthodox Churches: the Antiochian Syrian Orthodox Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church (Catholicosate of All Armenians and Catholicosate of the Holy See of Cilicia), the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, and the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. No representative of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church was able to attend.

The two delegations met separately on the morning of January 30.  The plenary sessions began in the afternoon of the same day and continued until the end of the meeting.  Each day began with a brief prayer service based on material prepared for the 2018 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  

During the first plenary session, recent developments in the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches were discussed.  The members were particularly pleased by the visit of His Holiness Pope Francis to Egypt on April 28 and 29, 2017, and the Common Declaration that was signed by Pope Francis and His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, the Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, during the visit.  Cardinal Koch also informed the members about the recent meeting of the Coordinating Committee of the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church on the island of Leros, Greece, in September 2017.   In addition, the Cardinal brought to the attention of the members the Common Statement on “Sacramental Life” that was issued by the Joint Committee for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East on November 24, 2017.

During the plenary meetings, the members continued their consideration of the sacraments with special emphasis on Penance/Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, and Holy Orders. The following papers were presented:  “Penance and Indulgences: Coptic Orthodox Church View,” by Metropolitan Bishoy; “The Sacrament of Reconciliation,” by Reverend Father Mark Sheridan, OSB; “The Sacrament of Reconciliation,” by Reverend Father Boghos Tinkjian; “Sacrament of Confession: Its Historical, Pastoral and Liturgical Dimensions in the West Syrian Tradition,” by Metropolitan Kuriakose Mar Theophilose (read in his absence);  “The Sacrament (Mystery) of the Anointing of the Sick in the Orthodox Syrian Church, by Metropolitan Youhanon Mar Demetrios; “Anointing of the Sick,” by Professor Dietmar Winkler; “The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick in the Armenian Tradition,” by Reverend Father Shahe Ananyan; “Prayer for the Sick and Sacramental Anointing in the Coptic Orthodox Church,” by Reverend Father Shenouda Maher Ishak; “Anointing of the Sick in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (the Sacrament of Quendil),” by Reverend Father Daniel Seifemichael Feleke; “The Sacrament of Holy Orders in the Latin Church: History and Present Understanding,” by Reverend Father Ronald Roberson, CSP; “Holy Ordination or Holy Orders: Armenian Church Tradition,” by Reverend Father Shahe Ananyan; “The Development of the Rites of Ordination in the West Syrian Tradition,” by Metropolitan Gabriel Mar Gregorios; and “Holy Orders: Priestly ranks in the Coptic Orthodox Church,” by Metropolitan Bishoy.

The papers on the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation demonstrated consensus that it is one of the seven sacraments in all our Churches, having developed from the practice of public penance in the early Christian centuries. Through confession and absolution conferred by a priest or bishop, the faithful obtain pardon for sins committed against God and neighbor and are reconciled with the community of the Church expressed by participation in the Holy Eucharist.  While there are other opportunities in the Christian life to express sorrow for sins, such as the formulas found in the eucharistic liturgies, Reconciliation renews the forgiveness initially obtained through Baptism and opens the way to the Eucharist which is full participation in Christ the Savior.  

The papers on the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick considered the biblical and patristic references about healing and anointing identifying Jesus Christ as the True Physician in all our traditions. The sacrament of Anointing of the Sick with holy oil has been used for the restoration of health in a holistic sense. The papers further elaborated the specific developments in the various Churches. There was general agreement that all our churches trace their healing ministry back to the early church. In the course of history, in the Armenian and Latin Churches the anointing of the sick was given as Extreme Unction. While the II Vatican Council restored the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick to its original meaning in the Latin Church, there is consensus in the Armenian Church since the 19th century that the Extreme Unction is implicitly granted to the catechumens during the Christian Initiation rituals. Nevertheless, the canon of the prayer for the sick is considered as part of the sacrament of Extreme Unction.  The members agreed that these different practices in the administration of the sacrament are not fundamental disagreements or dividing issues among our churches.

The papers on the Sacrament of Holy Orders converged in seeing a three-fold ministry, bishop, priest and deacon.  Tracing its antecedents back to biblical and patristic roots, the development of this ministry in major and minor orders in different traditions, e.g. Armenian Syrian and Latin, throughout history was demonstrated.  In the Latin Church, minor orders and the subdiaconate were abolished after the Second Vatican Council and the permanent diaconate was restored.  While minor orders continue in the Oriental Orthodox Churches, Holy Orders consist mainly of the three-fold ministry.  The members agreed that it is the same Sacrament of Holy Orders that exists in all their churches.  

On Friday afternoon, February 2, His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, received the members in the patriarchal residence.  After hearing words of greeting and gratitude from Cardinal Koch and Metropolitan Bishoy, he addressed the members.  Excerpts from his speech follow:  “I appreciate greatly the work done by the commission and the input for the mutual understanding and testimony to the world. This type of dialogue reveals the common theological understandings of the churches and the theological and ecclesiological differences as well. […] In order to overcome the difficulties churches are facing now, we need to strengthen cooperation between our churches. This should be especially the case in the Middle East where the churches are constantly collaborating for the sake of the rights of Christian communities and the presence of historical Christian identity. […] All the Christian victims of fundamentalists and terrorists in the Middle East are new martyrs who, along with the martyrs of the undivided church, could help to unite all Christians.”

On the final day of the meeting, the members made a pilgrimage to the ancient Khor Virap monastery where Saint Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned.  

The 16th meeting of the dialogue will take place in Rome, hosted by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Arrivals will be on Sunday, January 27, 2019, with plenary sessions from January 28 to February 1. Departures will be on February 2.


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; 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 (unable to attend);

Armenian Apostolic Church: Catholicosate of all Armenians: H.E. Khajag Barsamian, Archbishop of the Eastern Diocese of the USA, New York; Reverend Father Shahe Ananyan, Director of the Intercultural Relationships Department, Etchmiadzin, Armenia;

Armenian Apostolic Church: Catholicosate of the Holy See of Cilicia: H.E. Bishop Magar Ashkarian, Vicar of the Armenian Prelacy, Teheran, Iran; Reverend Father Boghos Tinkjian, Dean of the Armenian Theological Seminary, Antelias, Lebanon;

Coptic Orthodox Church: H.E. Anba Bishoy, Metropolitan of Damiette, Egypt (co-chair); Rev. Fr. Shenouda Maher Ishak, West Henrietta, New York, USA; H.G. Bishop Daniel of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Sydney, Australia (Observer); H.G. Bishop Barnaba El Soryany, Rome, Italy (Observer); H.G. Bishop Kyrillos, Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles and Dean of the St. Athanasius St. Cyril Coptic Orthodox Theological School (observer, unable to attend);

Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church: no representative was able to attend;

Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church: Archbishop Gabriel of Sidamo (unable to attend); Rev. Fr, Daniel Seifemichael Feleke of Holy Trinity Theological University College and Director of Broadcasting Service in Addis Ababa;

Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church: H.E. Metropolitan Dr. Gabriel Mar Gregorios of the Diocese of Trivandrum, India; H.E. Metropolitan Dr. Youhanon Mar Demetrios (co-secretary), Metropolitan of the Diocese of Delhi, India.


Representatives of the Catholic Church:

His Eminence Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (co-chair);

Most Reverend Woldetensae Ghebreghiorghis, Apostolic Vicar Emeritus of Harar, Ethiopia, President of the Ecumenical Commission of the Catholic Church in Ethiopia (unable to attend);

Most Reverend Youhanna Golta, Patriarchal Auxiliary Bishop of the Coptic Catholic Patriarchate, Cairo, Egypt (unable to attend);

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 Paul-Werner Scheele, Bishop Emeritus of Würzburg, Germany (unable to attend);

Most Reverend Boghos Levon Zekiyan, Archbishop of Istanbul and Turkey for the Catholic Armenians;

Rev. Fr. Frans Bouwen, M.Afr., Sainte-Anne, Jerusalem;

Rev. Fr. Habib Mrad, Secretary of the Patriarch and Chancellor, Syriac Catholic Patriarchate, Beirut;

Rev. Fr. Ronald G. Roberson, CSP, Associate Director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, DC, USA;

Rev. Fr. Mark Sheridan, OSB, 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, Consultant to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Salzburg, Austria.

Rev. Monsignor Gabriel Quicke, Official of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Rome (co-secretary).