(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Friday received the participants in a meeting - this week - of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches. Below, please find the official English text of the Holy Father's remarks.
Dear Brothers in Christ,
With great joy I welcome you, the members of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches. Through you, I offer fraternal greetings to my venerable brothers, the heads of the Oriental Orthodox Churches. I thank His Eminence Anba Bishoy, Co-President of the Commission, for his kind words.
It is gratifying to reflect on the work of your Commission, which began in January 2003 as a joint initiative of the ecclesiastical authorities of the family of the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. In the last ten years the Commission has examined from an historical perspective the ways in which the Churches expressed their communion in the early centuries, and what this can mean for our pursuit of communion today. In the course of this week’s meeting you have also embarked upon a deeper examination of your work on the nature of the sacraments, and of baptism in particular. I express my hope that this work will bear rich fruit for our common theological research and help us to experience ever more fully our fraternal friendship.
With deep appreciation I recall the inspiring commitment to dialogue shown by His Holiness Ignatius Zakka Iwas, Patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch and All the East, who died this past year. Together with you and his own clergy and faithful, I pray for the eternal rest of this dedicated servant of God.
At this time we especially feel dismay and deep sadness at what is happening in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Syria. I think of all those living in the region, including our Christian brothers and sisters, and many minorities, who are experiencing the effects of a prolonged and painful conflict. I join you in praying for a negotiated solution and in imploring God’s goodness and mercy upon all those affected by this immense tragedy.
All Christians are called to work together, in mutual acceptance and trust, in order to serve the cause of peace and justice. May the intercession and example of the many martyrs and saints who have borne courageous witness to Christ in all our Churches sustain and strengthen you and your Christian communities.
Dear brothers, I thank you for your visit. Upon you and your ministry I invoke the Lord’s blessing and the maternal protection of Mary Most Holy. Please pray for me.
Oriental Orthodox and Catholics work to conclude joint document
A woman prays in the Armenian Orthodox Church in Damascus, Syria
(Vatican Radio) Representatives of all the Oriental Orthodox Churches are here in Rome this week for a meeting of their International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue with the Catholic Church. During the five day encounter, which began on Monday, participants hope to finalise a joint document on Communion and Communication in the first five centuries of Christianity.The Oriental Orthodox Churches are amongst the most ancient Christian communities in the world, founded according to tradition by the first apostles in Egypt, Armenia, Syria, India and Ethiopia in the decades following Christ’s death and Resurrection. They have not been in communion with either the Roman Catholic Church or the Orthodox world since they officially severed ties in the 5th century.To find out more, Philippa Hitchen spoke with Fr Gabriel Quicke, who’s in charge of relations with these Oriental Orthodox Churches at the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity….
Fr Gabriel says the new document is significant for Christians today as it highlights the rich heritage the Churches shared in the first five centuries before the divisions took place…
He says the Commission will go on to a new round of discussions on the sacraments, especially the question of Baptism which is still not recognised by some of the Oriental Orthodox Churches…
Fr Gabriel says many of the Oriental Orthodox Church leaders are witnessing an emptying out of their communities because of the lack of security in the Middle East region. He says the solidarity of the Catholic world and the appeals of Pope Francis on behalf of persecuted Christians are very important and much appreciated by the people there….
Francis: spirit of fraternity with Oriental Orthodox
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Friday received the participants in a meeting -this week - of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches.
The Oriental Orthodox Churches those Orthodox Eastern Christian churches which recognize only the first three ecumenical councils, and rejected the formulae of the Council of Chalcedon, at which certain central Christological doctrines were dogmatically defined, most especially the dual nature – fully divine and fully human, perfectly united though without mixing, blending or alteration – of Christ.
In remarks prepared for the occasion and delivered during the noon audience in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican, Pope Francis praised the progress of the Commission in its dozen years of work, and called on all participants to continue their journey in a spirit of brotherhood. “I express my hope that this work will bear rich fruit for our common theological research and help us to experience ever more fully our fraternal friendship,” the Holy Father said.
Pope Francis went on to note, with, “dismay and deep sadness,” the ongoing conflicts and crises in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Syria. “I join you,” he said, “in praying for a negotiated solution and in imploring God’s goodness and mercy upon all those affected by this immense tragedy.” The Holy Father continued, saying, “All Christians are called to work together, in mutual acceptance and trust, in order to serve the cause of peace and justice. May the intercession and example of the many martyrs and saints who have borne courageous witness to Christ in all our Churches sustain and strengthen you and your Christian communities.”
Pope Francis concluded his remarks by thanking the participants for their visit, invoking the Lord’s blessings and the maternal protection of Mary on their ministry, and asking in turn for their continued prayers for him.
PREVIOUS RELATIONS WITH THE CHURCHES OF THE EAST
1. Syrian Orthodox Church
From October 25th to 27th, 1971, His Holiness Mar Ignatius Jacob III, Syrian Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, paid an official visit to Rome. During this time he was the guest of the Holy Father. The Pope and the Patriarch met for a long private meeting on October 25th. At the end of this meeting they participated together in a Celebration of Prayer in the Matilda Chapel. During this celebration the following addresses were exchanged:
ADDRESS OF POPE PAUL VI
With joy we extend our fraternal greeting as we welcome you to our home. In your person we salute a Church which sees in the faith and devotion of the apostolic community of Antioch the roots and foundation of its own Christian witness. We are particularly happy to welcome an exalted visitor from Damascus, where, in receiving the holy waters of baptism, the Apostle of the Nations, whose name we bear, began that life of total commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ which was to lead him to this city of Rome and the supreme sacrifice of his life out of love for that Lord.
Nine years ago, Your Holiness accepted the invitation of our predecessor of venerated memory, John XXIII, to be represented at the Second Vatican Council by a delegated observer. Since that time the exchange of letters between us and the visit of qualified members of our Church to Your Holiness have helped strengthen the relations between our Churches. Now we have the joy of meeting in person so that we may share the thoughts and desires which animate us as we strive to fulfil God's wish for His Church and for the world redeemed by the precious Blood of His Son.
The history of the relations between our Churches shows many lights and shadows. We recognize that difficulties which have been created over centuries are not always easily overcome. Each of us is motivated by a sincere desire to be faithful to our Fathers in the faith and to the tradition they have handed down to us. Yet this very desire to be faithful to them impels us to search with ever greater zeal for the realization of full communion with each other.
We share a common sacramental life and a common Apostolic tradition, particularly as affirmed in what is popularly called the Nicene Creed. The dogmatic definitions of the first three Ecumenical Councils form part of our common heritage. Thus we confess together the mystery of the Word of God, become one of us to save us and to permit us to become in Him sons of God and brothers of each other.
It is in total submission to this Lord and Saviour, God the Son Incarnate, that we will be able to find the way towards that reconciliation which will bring us to perfect communion. The Syrian Orthodox Church in union with her sister Oriental Orthodox Churches, meeting in Addis Ababa in 1965, has already determined to press forward for a dialogue which will help overcome the misunderstandings of the past. Already theologians are working with renewed effort to throw new light on the mystery of the one Lord Jesus Christ. If they recognize that there are still differences in the theological interpretation of this mystery of Christ because of different ecclesiastical and theological traditions, they are convinced, however, that these various formulations can be understood along the lines of the faith of the early councils, which is the faith we also profess (cf. Pope Pius XII, in Encyclical Sempiternus Rex, A.A.S. 1951, pp. 636-637).
We, as pastors, can encourage the common efforts being made for a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of this mystery which, far from raising doubts about our two different ecclesiastical traditions, can reinforce them and show the basic harmony which exists between them.
The task is the more urgent because of the demands which are being made upon the Churches today. In a world which is struggling to give birth to new ideas, to new developments which can enable all men to share in the gifts of God's creation, to new relationships between men and nations which will ensure peace with justice, we are called to proclaim the "one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God who is Father of all, over all, through all and within all" (Ephesians 4:5-6).
If we can carry on this task in fraternal communion we will contribute in an even more perfect way to that service of the world which is an essential part of the mission of the Church. We will be fulfilling our vocation to see the mystery of the compassion of God translated into Christian compassion between men and for men.
In the visit of Your Holiness we see a new testimony to our common desire to carry out this mission and fulfil this vocation. As we welcome you, we pray that God may guide our steps for the glory of His name and the peace and reconciliation of all those who are called to be His sons.
ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS MAR IGNATIUS JACOB III,
SYRIAN ORTHODOX PATRIARCH OF ANTIOCH
AND ALL THE EAST
In these joyous moments, we deem it our earnest duty, in our capacity as the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East and the Supreme Head of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church, to hail Your Holiness and to greet Your Holy See in Your notable person, since today is a very unique and important day in the history of our two Apostolic Churches.
After 1520 years of break, mutual anathemas and the like, the heads of these two most ancient Churches in Christendom meet each other as brothers in an atmosphere of love and fraternity. Time is a healer of all wounds. It was at Chalcedon in 451 that the break took place. But now both Churches recognize that what took place there was, unfortunately, a stab to the heart of Christendom.
Thank God, those days of unhappy relations are now a thing of the past; and today there is real love and cooperation between our two Apostolic Sees, and Christian communion in general.
In the 20th century there has never been a movement more fruitful than the ecumenical movement, and we recognize with appreciation the constructive role Your Holiness's illustrious predecessor and your good self have played in this field. We on our part look forward to the day when we will have even a greater visible unity and that too without sacrificing our individuality and the cultural contribution each of our Churches can make towards the speedy speeding of the Kingdom of God on earth.
Your Holiness, please accept our sincere gratitude for your brotherly love and hospitality. May God protect Your good self and bless the great Church which, in the Providence of God, Your Holiness heads.
For two days the Patriarch and the archbishops who accompanied him visited the principal holy places of Rome and made contacts with various personalities of the Holy See. In the larger Synod Hall near the Court of Saint Damasus on the morning of 27 October, there took place the farewell visit of the Pope and the Syrian-Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch. A large number of the Synod Fathers were also present. The Pope spoke as follows:
ADDRESS OF POPE PAUL VI
Before this assembly of chosen representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, we would like to express once more our joy and our gratitude to God that we have had the opportunity to meet with the spiritual head of the Syrian Orthodox Church in an atmosphere of prayer, openness of spirit and fraternal respect and comprehension.
Throughout the centuries, in times of glory and in times of great suffering, your Church has given witness to Our Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God made man for our salvation. Preachers, scholars and pastors have all contributed to deepening the understanding of the Incarnation of the Son of God and to making the significance of God's condescension towards man a living reality for your people. Many of them bore witness to their faith by the supreme sacrifice of their lives.
We are happy that Your Holiness has personally been able to visit the Church of Rome which, under God's grace, has also struggled to fulfil its mission through the devoted actions of its own teachers, pastors and witnesses to her faith.
These Fathers in the faith and these saints and martyrs call out to us to apply ourselves with renewed dedication to that mission, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who is ever ready to offer us new light and strength. We ourself and our brothers in the episcopate, with humility but also with great confidence, are determined to listen to these promptings of the Spirit and to strive to carry them out to the best of our ability. That is the underlying principle of the work of this Synod of Bishops which is gathered here and which extends today its heartfelt greeting to Your Holiness.
All of us are encouraged by the fact that your own Church, in union with your sister Oriental Orthodox Churches, is also actively engaged in searching for new ways to carry on her mission in a spirit of unity and docility to what the Spirit is saying to the Churches. Your visit to us makes us even more confident that our Churches will find means for greater cooperation in our common task and, at the same time, will open up the road to that full communion so ardently desired by all of us.
As we pray that the Lord of the Church may lead us to full reconciliation, we are mindful also of the particular needs of the Middle East where so many of your faithful are to be found. May this meeting with Your Holiness be a new stimulus to all Christians, especially to those of that area, to work for reconciliation in Christ among themselves and to search out, with imagination and tenacity, a durable peace with justice for all who dwell in those lands so dear to us.
Your Holiness, again we express our heartfelt thanks for your visit. As we take leave of you now, we do so with gratitude to God for what he has permitted us to accomplish up to now, with renewed confidence that the Holy Spirit will continue to show us the ways to accomplish the divine will, and with our prayers that almighty God will abundantly bless Your Holiness and all the clergy and faithful of your Church.
The following is the address of the Patriarch to the Holy Father:
ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS MAR IGNATIUS JACOB III
We wish to express our gratitude to Your Holiness, to His Eminence, the President Delegate, and to the representatives of the Synod of Bishops, for this opportunity to reveal what lies in our heart as we prepare to leave the city of Rome.
We and our brothers the metropolitans who have accompanied us on this historic visit are deeply grateful for the love and respect Your Holiness and your collaborators have shown us. We are also thankful to have been able to visit this city blessed by the blood of so many martyrs, among them the great and holy Apostles, Peter and Paul. The faith they preached in Antioch, in Rome and in so many others parts of the world is the faith we too are trying to bring to men today. We are happy to be able to address these few words before bishops of the Roman Catholic Church who are meeting to study the ways by which this proclamation of the faith may be done most effectively so as to meet the needs of men today. May almighty God guide your efforts and bless them with success.
The joy of this occasion encourages us to look forward to the great day on which our common Lord will bring us together into the one visible Church that will manifest His own unique glory. Towards that end we and our clergy and people will work by our prayers, our studies and our action. It is our hope that this can be done in common with the members of your own Church wherever possible.
As we return from here, we carry with us profound memories of Your Holiness and your great Church, to be cherished forever in the annals of the Apostolic See of Antioch. May almighty God continue to sustain Your Holiness in good health and strength of spirit to carry on the great work of the Church in the world, to the glory of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
After the discourses, Cardinal Willebrands, President of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, read the text of the "Common Declaration" given below, which was signed by the Holy Father and by His Holiness Patriarch Mar Ignatius Iacob III.
COMMON DECLARATION BY POPE PAUL VI
AND HIS HOLINESS MAR IGNATIUS IACOB III
As they conclude their solemn meeting which marks a new step in the relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Syrian Orthodox Church, His Holiness Pope Paul VI and His Holiness Mar Ignatius Jacob III humbly render thanks to Almighty God, for having made possible this historic opportunity to pray together, to engage in a fraternal exchange of views concerning the needs of the Church of God and to witness to their common desire that all Christians may intensify their service to the world with humility and complete dedication.
The Pope and the Patriarch have recognized the deep spiritual communion, which already exists between their Churches. The celebration of the sacraments of the Lord, the common profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God made man for man's salvation, the apostolic traditions which form part of the common heritage of both Churches, the great Fathers and Doctors, including Saint Cyril of Alexandria, who are their common masters in the faith all these testify to the action of the Holy Spirit who has continued to work in their Churches even when there have been human weakness and failings. The period of mutual recrimination and condemnation has given place to a willingness to meet together in sincere efforts to lighten and eventually remove the burden of history which still weighs heavily upon Christians.
Progress has already been made and Pope Paul VI and the Patriarch Mar Ignatius Jacob III are in agreement that there is no difference in the faith they profess concerning the mystery of the Word of God made flesh and become really man, even if over the centuries difficulties have arisen out of the different theological expressions by which this faith was expressed. They therefore encourage the clergy and faithful of their Churches to even greater endeavours at removing the obstacles which still prevent complete communion among them. This should be done with love, with openness to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and with mutual respect for each other and each other's Church. They particularly exhort the scholars of their Churches, and of all Christian communities, to penetrate more deeply into the mystery of Christ with humility and fidelity to the Apostolic traditions so that the fruits of their reflections may help the Church in her service to the world which the Incarnate Son of God has redeemed.
This world, which God so loved as to send His only begotten Son, is torn by strife, by injustice and by the inhumanity of man towards man. As Christian Pastors, the Pope and the Patriarch raise their common appeal to the leaders of the peoples to increase the efforts towards achieving lasting peace among nations and towards removing the obstacles which prevent so many men from enjoying the fruits of justice and religious freedom. Their appeal is directed to all areas of the world and in particular to that land hallowed by the preaching, the death and the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
OF POPE PAUL VI AND OF
THE POPE OF ALEXANDRIA SHENOUDA III
Tower of St. John in the Vatican gardens
Paul VI, bishop of Rome and Pope of the Catholic Church, and Shenouda III, Pope of Alexandria and patriarch of the See of St. Mark, give thanks in the Holy Spirit to God that, after the great event of the return of relics of St. Mark to Egypt, relations have further developed between the Churches of Rome and Alexandria so that they have now been able to meet personally together. At the end of their meetings and conversations they wish to state together the following:
We have met in the desire to deepen the relations between our Churches and to find concrete ways to overcome the obstacles in the way of our real cooperation in the service of our Lord Jesus Christ who has given us the ministry of reconciliation, to reconcile the world to Himself (2 Cor 5:18-20).
In accordance with our apostolic traditions transmitted to our Churches and preserved therein, and in conformity with the early three ecumenical councils, we confess one faith in the One Triune God, the divinity of the Only Begotten Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Word of God, the effulgence of His glory and the express image of His substance, who for us was incarnate, assuming for Himself a real body with a rational soul, and who shared with us our humanity but without sin. We confess that our Lord and God and Saviour and King of us all, Jesus Christ, is perfect God with respect to His Divinity, perfect man with respect to His humanity. In Him His divinity is united with His humanity in a real, perfect union without mingling, without commixtion, without confusion, without alteration, without division, without separation. His divinity did not separate from His humanity for an instant, not for the twinkling of an eye. He who is God eternal and invisible became visible in the flesh, and took upon Himself the form of a servant. In Him are preserved all the properties of the divinity and all the properties of the humanity, together in a real, perfect, indivisible and inseparable union.
The divine life is given to us and is nourished in us through the seven sacraments of Christ in His Church: Baptism, Chrism (Confirmation), Holy Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Matrimony and Holy Orders.
We venerate the Virgin Mary, Mother of the True Light, and we confess that she is ever Virgin, the God- bearer. She intercedes for us, and, as the Theotokos, excels in her dignity all angelic hosts.
We have, to a large degree, the same understanding of the Church, founded upon the Apostles, and of the important role of ecumenical and local councils. Our spirituality is well and profoundly expressed in our rituals and in the Liturgy of the Mass which comprises the centre of our public prayer and the culmination of our in corporation into Christ in His Church. We keep the fasts and feasts of our faith. We venerate the relics of the saints and ask the intercession of the angels and of the saints, the living and the departed. These compose a cloud of witnesses in the Church. They and we look in hope for the Second Coming of our Lord when His glory will be revealed to judge the living and the dead.
We humbly recognize that our Churches are not able to give more perfect witness to this new life in Christ because of existing divisions which have behind them centuries of difficult history. In fact, since the year 451 A.D., theological differences, nourished and widened by non-theological factors, have sprung up. These differences cannot be ignored. In spite of them, however, weare rediscovering ourselves as Churches witha common inheritance and are reaching out with determination and confidence in the Lord to achieve the fullness and perfection of that unity which is His gift.
As an aid to accomplishing this task, we are setting up a joint commission representing our Churches, whose function will be to guide common study in the fields of Church tradition, patristics, liturgy, theology, history and practical problems, so that by cooperation in common we may seek to resolve, in a spirit of mutual respect, the differences existing between our Churches and be able to proclaim together the Gospel in ways which correspond to the authentic message of the Lord and to the needs and hopes of todayss world. Atthe same time we express our gratitude and encouragement to other groups of Catholic and Orthodox scholars and pastors who devote their efforts to common activity in these and related fields.
With sincerity and urgency we recall that true charity, rooted in total fidelity to the one Lord Jesus Christ and in mutual respect for each oness traditions, is an essential element of this search for perfect communion.
In the name of this charity, we reject all forms of proselytism, in the sense of acts by which persons seek to disturb each other's communities by recruiting new members from each other through methods, or because of attitudes of mind, which are opposed to the exigencies of Christian love or to what should characterize the relationships between Churches. Let it cease, where it may exist. Catholics and Orthodox should strive to deepen charity and cultivate mutual consultation, reflection and cooperation in the social and intellectual fields and should humble themselves before God, supplicating Him who, as He has begun this work in us, will bring it to fruition.
As we rejoice in the Lord who has granted us the blessings of this meeting, our thoughts reach out to the thousands of suffering and homeless Palestinian people. We deplore any misuse of religious arguments for political purposes in this area. We earnestly desire and look for a just solution for the Middle East crisis so that true peace with justice should prevail, especially in that land which was hallowed by the preaching, death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jusus Christ, and by the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom we venerate together as the Theotokos. May God, the giver of all god gifts, hear our prayers and bless our endeavours.
From the Vatican, May 10, 1973.