JOINT INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION FOR THEOLOGICAL DIALOGUE BETWEEN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND THE ORIENTAL ORTHODOX CHURCHES
Wadi al-Natrun, Egypt, 31 January – 4 February 2023
The nineteenth meeting of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches took place at the Logos Center of the Saint Bishoy Monastery, Egypt, from 31 January – 4 February 2023 and was hosted by the Coptic Orthodox Church. It was chaired jointly by His Grace Bishop Kyrillos, Coptic Orthodox Auxiliary Bishop in the Diocese of Los Angeles, California, USA, and by Fr. Columba Stewart OSB and Fr. Hyacinthe Destivelle OP, since H.E. Cardinal Kurt Koch, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, Vatican, was for the first time unable to attend. H.H. Pope Francis has asked him to be part of his entourage on the “Ecumenical Peace Pilgrimage” undertaken to South Sudan from 3-5 February with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, preceded by a journey to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Representatives came from the Catholic Church and from 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 Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church, and the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. Representatives of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church were not present.
The two delegations met separately on the morning of January 31 and February 1. Plenary sessions were held from the afternoon of January 31 through February 3, each day beginning with a brief prayer service based on material prepared for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
On Friday, February 3, His Holiness Pope Tawadros II received the members of the Commission in private audience. In his address, His Holiness stressed in particular that “yesterday is history, tomorrow is unity, and today is a gift that I call a heavenly gift. Your theological dialogue, your discussions, your works and researches are considered as steps on the long way of mutual understanding towards unity in Christ.”
On the same day, the Commission made an excursion to Abu Mina Monastery and on Saturday, February 4, to St. Antony Monastery. In each case, the monastic communities received the delegations with warm hospitality.
H.G. Bishop Kyrillos opened the first plenary and welcomed from the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church H.G. Yuhanon Mar Diascoros as a new member and H.G. Abraham Mar Stephanos as an observer. A special welcome was given to the participants of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church, which had been unable to participate since 2009, H.G. Bishop Abuna Sawiros, and Deacon Girmay Zeray Asmerom, and H.G. Bishop Abuna Paulos as an observer. The Eritrean Orthodox delegates read a message from the Holy Synod of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church to the Joint International Commission expressing gratitude for the opportunity to resume participation in the dialogue.
From the Catholic side three new Catholic observers were invited: Bishop Thomas Adly Zaky (Coptic Catholic), Prof. Souraya Bechealany (Maronite) and Fr. Petros Berga Sorballa (Ethiopian Catholic). Fr. Frans Bouwen MAfr, Fr. Mark Sheridan OSB, and Fr. Matthew Vellanickal, who had served the Commission since its first plenary in 2004, have reached the age of eighty and have retired from the Commission. On behalf of the Catholic members of the commission, Cardinal Koch expressed in a letter “deep gratitude for their highly expert contribution to the theological dialogue.”
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: Bishop Paul Rouhana, “The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, in the Mystery of Christ and the Church: Chapter VIII of Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution of the II Vatican Council (LG 52-69)”; Fr. Shahe Ananyan (read by Archbishop Khajag Barsamian), “The Holy Virgin Mary in the Teaching and in the Life of the Armenian Church”; Fr. Jijimon Puthuveettilkalam SJ, “Mary in the Ecumenical Dialogues: A Harvesting of the Fruits”; Deacon Antonios the Shenoudian, “The Veneration and Liturgical Celebration of the Virgin Mary in the Coptic Orthodox Tradition”; Fr. Columba Stewart OSB and Prof. Dietmar W. Winkler, “Mary in the Liturgy of the Latin Church”; Metropolitan George Saliba, “Virgin Mary in the Antiochian Syriac Orthodox Church”; and Metropolitan Mor Polycarpus Aydin, “The Veneration and Liturgical Celebration of the Virgin Mary in the Syriac Tradition”.
In the course of the meeting, which took place in a friendly and cordial atmosphere of intense theological discussion and exchange, the members carefully assessed the papers presented and came to a number of conclusions.
In all our Churches, Mary is honored and venerated with great devotion above all the heavenly hosts and the saints. Nevertheless, we affirm that veneration and theological reflection on Mary must take place in the context of the unique and salvific mission of Jesus Christ and the Church.
While the veneration of Mary has ancient roots in the liturgical practices and devotion of our Churches, the definition of Mary’s divine motherhood at the Council of Ephesus in 431 and the conferral of the title Theotokos, gave impetus to the development of Marian doctrine in our Churches and traditions. The figure of Mary is commonly viewed from a typological perspective. One of the most ancient of these types presents Mary as the New Eve, a model of fidelity and obedience to the divine will for the individual faithful and the Church.
The development of Marian doctrine and devotion took various paths in our Churches. Our discussions reveal from a methodological point of view that on occasion different terms are used to express the same theological reality. There are other times when the same term is used to express different realities. In our meetings we realize that certain topics require further study to determine whether these differences need to be identified as doctrinal divergences or can be instances of legitimate diversity in the expression of our common faith regarding the unique place of the Mother of God in the mystery of Christ and in the life of the Church. These topics include the exploration of the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, original sin, the understanding of dogmas and the hierarchy of truths.
This study and discussion will continue at the next meeting, which will take place in Rome, January 22 to 26, 2024, with arrivals on January 21 and departures on January 27. This meeting will mark the 20th anniversary of this dialogue.
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; 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).
Armenian Apostolic Church: Catholicosate of the Holy See of Cilicia: H.E. Bishop Magar Ashkarian, Prelate of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Aleppo, Syria; Very Reverend Father Boghos Tinkjian, Parish Priest of the Armenian Community in Chicago, Illinois (not present).
Coptic Orthodox Church: H.G. Bishop Kyrillos (Co-Chair), Auxiliary Bishop in the Diocese of Los Angeles, Deacon Antonios the Shenoudian, Coptic Monastery of Saint Shenouda, Rochester, NY; 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: H.G. Bishop Abune Sawiros; Deacon Girmay Zeray Asmerom, Vice-General Administrator of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church; H.G. Bishop Abune Paulos (observer).
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo 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.G. Metropolitan Youhanon Mar Demetrios, Metropolitan of the Diocese of Delhi, President of the Department for Ecumenical Relations, India; H.G. Yuhanon Mar Diascoros, Metropolitan of the Diocese of Kottayam; H.G. Abraham Mar Stephanos, Metropolitan of the Diocese of UK, Europe and Africa (observer).
Representatives of the Catholic Church
His Eminence Cardinal Kurt Koch, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity (co-chair, not present);
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;
Chorbishop John D. Faris, Saint Anthony Maronite Catholic Church, Glen Allen, Virginia, USA;
Msgr. 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. Columba Stewart, OSB, Executive Director, Hill Museum and Manuscript Library, Professor of Theology, Saint John's Abbey and University, Collegeville, Minnesota, USA;
Prof. Dietmar W. Winkler, Consultor of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, Salzburg, Austria;
Bishop Thomas Adly Zaky, Bishop of Gizah for the Coptic Catholic Church (observer)
Rev. Petros Berga Sorballa (observer), Apostolic Visitator of the Ethiopian Catholic Church in Europe;
Prof. Souraya Bechealany (observer), Director of the Center of Research in Religious Studies, St. Joseph University Beirut, Lebanon;
Rev. Fr. Jijimon Puthuveettilkalam, SJ (observer), Member of the Central Liturgical Committee of the Syro-Malabar Church;
Rev. Fr. Hyacinthe Destivelle, OP, Official of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, Rome (co-secretary).