JOINT COMMISSION FOR DIALOGUE BETWEEN
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND THE MALANKARA (JACOBITE) SYRIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
REPORT OF THE 2017 MEETING
11 December 2017
The Joint International Commission for Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church held its meeting in the Patriarchal Centre of Puthencruz on Monday 11 December 2017.
After the opening prayer, led by His Beatitude Baselios Thomas I, Catholicos of the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church, His Grace Metropolitan Kuriakose Mor Theophilose, Co-Chairman of the Joint Commission, welcomed the delegates and expressed his gratitude for the many fruits harvested in our ecumenical dialogue, not only at the level of theological reflection but also in daily pastoral witness. His Beatitude then commented that our Churches now face new challenges such as globalization, interreligious relationships and the changing ecclesial landscape. His Grace Metropolitan Theophilose reflected that “it is our responsibility to work for peace and justice and to transcend elements of disagreements and disharmony”. In fact it is the Lord who brings us together to share our joy, reflected His Grace while contextualizing his comments in the Indian situation. Finally, His Grace referred to the three saints (Sakralla Mor Baselios, Yoachim Mor Koorilose and Paulos Mar Koorilose) who were canonized in 2008 and whose names are now proclaimed in the intercessions. They are examples on how to guide the Church in difficult times. His Beatitude Baselios Thomas I, Catholicos of the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church, asked members to pray for him, since his health has become weak, to pray for the Church which is suffering greatly in India and Syria, and to pray also for the kidnapped bishops. Finally, His Beatitude expressed his gratitude that all the participants were united together for the meeting.
Bishop Brian Farrell, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and Co-Chairman of the Commission, thanked His Beatitude for his heartfelt words, saying: “it is a blessing to come and to enjoy your hospitality”. Bishop Farrell addressed the members in his introductory words, emphasizing that we have reached the point where there is no way back. In a world that has become confused by prevailing egocentric forces that divide them, Christians are called to bring the message of peace, love and reconciliation. Bishop Farrell referred to new developments in the Protestant world in connection with the Joint Declaration on the doctrine of Justification. Ecumenical dialogue has reached a point of agreement not only with the Lutherans, but with all the Churches of the West. The Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East held its plenary session from November 22-24 2017 at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in Rome. On Friday, November 24, 2017, His Eminence Cardinal Kurt Koch and His Beatitude Mar Meelis Zaia, officially signed a Common Statement on Sacramental Life on behalf of the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East. The signing of the document brings to completion the second phase in the dialogue aimed at restoring full communion and opens the path to the third phase of the dialogue, which will consider issues of ecclesiology.
In a letter Archbishop Powathil greeted the participants and expressed his apologies, being unable to attend the meeting due to health reasons. Although he could not be present physically, he assured to be present spiritually, in prayer.
The Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church delegation comprised: His Beatitude Baselios Thomas I, Catholicos of the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church, His Grace Kuriakose Mor Theophilos (Co-Chairman), His Grace Mor Anthimos Matthews, His Grace Mor Koorilos Geevarghese, His Grace Mathews Aphrem, Revd Dr Adai Jacob Cor-Episcopa (Co-Secretary), Revd Dr Kuriakose Moolayil Cor-Episcopa, Revd Father Shibu Cherian, Revd Father Dr Prince Paulose, Revd Father Dr Aji George, Rev. Father Daniel Thattarayil. The Catholic Church was represented by Bishop Brian Farrell (Co-Chairman), His Grace Mar Joseph Powathil, His Grace Mar Mathew Moolakatt, His Excellency Bishop Dr Selvister Ponnumuthan, His Excellency 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 (Co-Secretary of the Commission) presented the report of the meeting of the Commission of 12 December 2016, which the Commission approved.
Revd Dr Philip Nelpuraparampil presented a paper entitled Pastoral Guidelines for Catholic Pastors on Ecumenical Relations with the Jacobite Syrian Christian Church, in which he referred to the possibility of common prayer, sharing in non-sacramental liturgical worship and other resources for spiritual life and activity. He also referred to the agreements on sharing of sacraments of Eucharist, Penance and anointing of the sick, on mixed-marriages and on sharing of sacred places. Finally, Revd Dr Philip Nelpuraparampil presented the publication Called to be United. Ecumenical Directory of the Syro-Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Church (published by the Syro-Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Commission for Ecumenism). In the discussion afterwards the need was expressed to present a ‘common reflection’ on the pastoral guidelines to the Church authorities in order to improve collaboration.
Revd Dr Mathew Vellanickal presented a paper (biblical-theological approach) on The Communion of Churches in the Catholic Perspective. In his conclusion he emphasized that ecclesial Communion is ‘a gift and a call’ and is three dimensional: Trinitarian, sacramental and anthropological. The visible elements of communion are faith, sacraments and hierarchy. Revd Dr Adai Jacob Cor-Episcopa presented a paper entitled The Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Understanding of Local and Universal Church, in which he emphasized the link and complementarity between the local and the universal Church; he also clarified the understanding of the concept of universal and the four attributes of the Church.
Revd Dr Jacob Thekkeparampil presented a paper on The Church According to Saint Ephrem. From the Syriac patristic perspective he emphasized that ecclesiology is ‘Christocentric and sacramental’, reflecting that the Church is ‘a sacrament of the union of Christ with his people’. Furthermore, he developed the theme of the Church as a self-unfolding Church, the liturgical existence of the Church and the concern of Saint Ephrem for unity.
In a general consideration at the end, it was agreed that the three papers had led us to the Early sources: the Fathers have spoken about the local Church as the incarnation of the Church of Christ, understood as the one, undivided, apostolic and universal Church. There is a convergence between local and universal; they are complementary.
The next meeting will be held at the Spirituality Centre, Manganam, Kottayam, on Monday 10 December 2018. The following issues will be on the agenda:
- Republishing the text of the Agreement Between the Catholic Church and the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church on Inter-Church Marriages (signed in 1994) and the Pastoral Guidelines on Marriages Between Members of the Catholic Church and of the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church. In this way the document can be sent to the parishes.
- Finalizing the ‘common reflection’ on the pastoral guidelines signed by the authorities of both Churches. Father Shibu Cherian and Fr Kuriakose Moolayil will prepare a document.
- The ecclesiology of Mar Jacob of Sarug by Revd Dr Jacob Thekkeparampil