Every second Saturday of the month, 4 pm - Divine Liturgy in English of Sunday - Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family, Duke Street, London W1K 5BQ. Followed by refreshments.
Next Liturgy: Saturday 10th June, 4pm

SSJC Committee Open Meeting: Monday 19th June, Cathedral of the Holy Family. 6-15 Liturgy, Talk at 7-15, followed by meeting.

To purchase The Divine Liturgy: an Anthology for Worship (in English), order from the Sheptytsky Institute here, or the St Basil's Bookstore here.
To purchase the Divine Praises, the Divine Office of the Byzantine-Slav rite (in English), order from the Eparchy of Parma here.

The new catechism in English, Christ our Pascha, is available from the Eparchy of the Holy Family and the Society. Please email johnchrysostom@btinternet.com for details.













Saturday, 13 March 2010

Patriarch Gregorios in India


His Beatitude Moran Mor Baselios Cleemis, Catholicos and Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church

Gregorios III Laham, the Patriarch of Antioch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, arrived in India on a five-day visit on Wednesday, 10 March. A linguist, the Patriarch is the author of several works and founder of charitable institutions in Jerusalem. He is visiting to attend the ordination of four new bishops of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.

Vincent Kulappuravilai, Samuel Kattukallil, Stephanos Thottathil and Antony Valiyavilayil will be ordained bishops at the Mar Ivanios Vidya Nagar at Nalanchira on Saturday, Catholicos Moran Mor Baselios Cleemis of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church said.

Patriarch Gregorios III will call on Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil of the Syro-Malabar Church at Ernakulam on his arrival there on Wednesday. Later, the Patriarch will attend the installation of the new bishop at Marthandam.

On Saturday, the public function that follows the ordaining of the new bishops will be attended by Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor, Opposition Leader Oommen Chandy, Thrissur Archbishop Mar Andrews Thazhath and Mayor C Jayan Babu.

Here is the Patriarch's speech on the occasion of his visit to His Beatitude Moran Mor Baselios Cleemis, Catholicos, Major-Archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Church, attending the consecration on 13 March 2010 of the four bishops.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Patriarch Gregorios III appeals for forgiveness between Christians and Muslims in Iraq

Appeal for Prayer and Forgiveness for the victims of violence and fanaticism in Iraq: Christians and Muslims together for the rejection of violence and fanaticism

Violence, fanaticism, terrorism, enmity, dislocation, or rather persecution, continue incessantly to decimate our beloved brothers, the few Christians especially, in that dear country Iraq, which has descended into chaos, rout, licentiousness, tribalism, laxity, massacre, destruction and terrorism in all its ugliness.

This is the confirmed state of affairs borne out by the following facts:
  1. From 2003 to 2010, about two thousand Christians have been killed in different districts, following successive waves of violence.

  2. Between 17 February and 1 March, eight hundred and seventy Christian families, numbering some four thousand four hundred persons, have left Mosul because of confessional violence.

  3. During the month of October 2008, twelve thousand Christians left Mosul, fleeing violence.

  4. Forty per cent of Iraqi refugees are Christian. In all, there are one million six hundred thousand Iraqi refugees.

  5. Forty-four per cent of Iraqi refugees in Syria are Christian. Our Churches in Syria receive them and offer them help as best they can.

  6. The number of Christians is declining and diminishing in a tragic way. In 1987, they numbered one million four hundred thousand: in 2003, they were fewer than one million two hundred thousand. Now, in 2009, they are just six hundred thousand, representing three per cent of the twenty-seven and a half million total population of Iraq.

The drop in the numbers of Iraqi Christians, their expulsion and massacre is a tragedy for Iraq’s Christians and Muslims alike. That is why we are making an appeal to foreign governments and to that great spiritual leader, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, to make every effort to speak up in defence of Christians and of all victims of violence. We call upon all Iraq’s sons, especially Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, who make up the majority of the population and appeal to their noble - for so it is! - Iraqi nature, beseeching and imploring them to protect Christians. He who murders a Christian is no Muslim, but a renegade to his Islamic faith.


We call everyone to solidarity, harmony and national unity in lovely Iraq. Christians are an integral part of that national unity and of the rich, pluralist Iraqi social fabric. We call upon them: all you Christians and Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, you are equally responsible for the unity of your country. We entreat them: let us Muslims and Christians stay together and God be with us. He wants us to stay together, as we have always done throughout history, with our common culture, heritage, faith and values. For our future and the future of the faith values of our Muslim and Christian Iraqi citizens are one and the same, and there is a single, common future for all Iraq’s children.


Let us not forget those specialists in terrorism who love to create schemes and disturbances and are the enemies of Christianity and Islam alike: they are the ones behind most of the attacks and acts of terror in more than one Arab country.


In conclusion, we invite all our sons and daughters, the faithful of our Melkite Greek Catholic Church, pastors, priests, monastics, deputies, ministers, members of institutes and confraternities from all walks of public life, to take part in great numbers in the Day of Solidarity with Iraq’s Christians on March 13 2010, at Our Lady of Rihan in Harissa. There we shall pray together to our Lord God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace, imploring the intercession of our Holy Mother, the Mother of God and ever-Virgin Mary, for security, peace, compassion, solidarity and stability for all our brothers and sisters of Iraq.


On that day, I shall be on a brotherly visit to India, staying with our dear brother St. Thomas Christians in Kerala. We shall be meeting in great numbers for prayer, forgiveness and peace in Harissa. And may the God of Peace fill us to the brim with his Peace, his security and his Love.

+ Gregorios III
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,
Of Alexandria and of Jerusalem

Rabweh 10 March 2010

Monday, 8 March 2010

Cardinal Sandri appeals for the Church in the Holy Land


Here is the letter the prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, sent to the bishops regarding the collection for the Church in the Holy Land, which traditionally takes place on Good Friday.


Your Excellency,

The preparation for Easter once again launches the appeal to the Pastors of the universal Church to support the Holy Land by offering prayers, attentive participation and practical generosity.

Sensitivity to the needs of the Church in Jerusalem and in the Middle East finds its motivation in the "we" of the Church. This sensitivity becomes help, like the relief sent to the brethren who l ived in Judea (Acts 11:29-30); remembrance, like St Paul's invitation in his Letter to the Galatians (2:10), and a collection that responds to precise practical instructions (1 Corinthians16:1-6) and is described as the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints (2 Corinthians 8-9 and Romans 15).

Our appeal this year is inspired by the pilgrimage "in the historical footsteps of Jesus" which the Holy Father Benedict XVI made last May. I had the honor of accompanying him and of sharing the pastoral, ecumenical and interreligious concern that enlivened his words and actions.

Together with the ecclesial community of Israel and Palestine I listened to "a voice" of brotherhood and peace. Strongly emphasizing the ceaseless problem of emigration, His Holiness recalled that "in the Holy Land there is room for everyone"! And he urged the authorities to support the Christian presence but at the same time assured the Christians of this land of the Church’s solidarity.

At Holy Mass in Bethlehem, he then encouraged the baptized to be "a bridge of dialogue and constructive cooperation in the building of a culture of peace to replace the present stalemate of fear, aggression and frustration" so that the local Churches might be "workshops of dialogue, tolerance and hope, as well as of solidarity and practical charity".

The Year for Priests involves the beloved priests and seminarians of the whole Church, together with their respective Bishops, in a commitment to the Holy Places. Let us, therefore, return in our hearts to the Upper Room in Jerusalem where the Teacher and Lord "loved us to the end"; to that place where the Apostles with the Holy Mother of the Risen Crucified One experienced the first Pentecost. We firmly believe in the "flame" of the Holy Spirit "which is never extinguished" and which the Living One sp reads in abundance. And let us work tirelessly to guarantee a future to Christians in the place where "the kindness and humanity" of Our God and Father first appeared.

The Pope has entrusted to the Congregation for the Eastern Churches the task of keeping alive interest in that blessed Land. In his name I urge everyone to reinforce the solidarity that has been shown so far. In fact, the Christians of the East have a responsibility that belongs to the universal Church, in other words the responsibility to preserve the "Christian origins", the places and people who are the sign of them, so that those origins may always be the reference of the Christian mission, the measure of the ecclesial future and its security. They therefore deserve the support of the entire Church.

I enclose an informative document that illustrates all that the Custody of the Holy Land has been able to achieve with the 2009 Collection. And I recall that it is always thanks to the annual Collection that various interventions can be carried out by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem and by the Eastern Catholic Churches in Israel and in Palestine.

I pray the Lord that he may lavishly reward those who love the Land that gave birth to him: it must remain, thanks to the "lively and youthful Church" which works there, a witness down the centuries to the great works of salvation.

In communion with the pastors and Christians of the Holy Land, I wish you an Easter filled with divine blessings.

Yours most devotedly in the Lord,

Leonardo Card. Sandri
Prefect

+ Cyril Vasil, S.J.
Archbishop Secretary

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Patriarch Bartholomew I's Environmental Work honoured


Anita Bourdin of Zenit reports

Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople has been honored by the Cardinal Poupard Foundation, which has been established to build bridges between cultures and religions. Based in Crema the Foundation chose the Ecumenical Patriarch as the first recipient of the "Cardinal Poupard Prize," which was awarded to him 4th March 2010 in Monaco. The Orthodox patriarch was recognized for his action and teaching to safeguard creation.

Cardinal Paul Poupard, who formerly served as president of both the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, underlined the "exemplary action" of the Orthodox patriarch. The prize acknowledges his efforts to preserve the environment, coupled with his particular evangelical vision of creation. The patriarch has affirmed that "to safeguard the planet" implies a "cultural renewal" and the expression of a "new solidarity between the Creator, creatures and creation."

For the past 15 years, he has organized multi-disciplinary symposiums worldwide on the theme "Religion, Science and the Environment." At one of them, on June 10, 2002, Bartholomew I signed a joint declaration with John Paul II in Venice's Ducal Palace. This dialogue between cultures and religions is something that the foundation aims to foster, Cardinal Poupard explained.

He added that it encourages dialogue especially by creating links between universities in different countries, focusing on educating youth. "Confrontations happen because the other is not known ... At present we are facing a new situation and we must find means of coming closer so that we get to know one another in order that others will recognize themselves in the image I have of them and that I will recognize myself in the idea they have of me."


He identified two dangers to dialogue: on one hand, "being shut-in on oneself, isolation and even violence," and on the other, "skepticism." "How can one dialogue if there are not a set of fundamental common values as an invariable, namely, the human being, as Paul VI would say, the whole man and all men, and respect for the human person?" The key to transmit this "invariable" is education. "There is no culture without memory, and memory is transmitted through education," the prelate said.


The cardinal decided with a group of friends to begin the foundation named in his honour to continue his work and teaching. To foster dialogue, the foundation is helping to create a "Religion and Public Space" chair in the French Senate, and it has contributed to the translation of the "Dictionary of Religions" into Arabic. The foundation's projects "are abundant," Cardinal Poupard said, mentioning, for example, the relations established with St. Tikhon's Orthodox University in Moscow.

Syriac Orthodox Patriarch pleads for an end to bloodshed in Uraq

DAMASCUS, Syria, MARCH 2, 2010, thanks to Zenit.org

The Patriarch of of the Syrian Catholics of Antioch and of All the East is urging Arab leaders, the United Nations and the international community to help put an end to the bloodshed in Iraq.

Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, who is also the Supreme Head of the universal Syriac Orthodox Church, posted a statement today on the Web site of the Patriarchate, urging "the governments of the world to uproot the terrorism and abuses that are bleeding the Christians of Iraq."

"With great pain and grief," the patriarch said, "we follow all that is happening in Iraq and especially to Christians of Iraq, victims of persecutions, killings, looting, kidnapping and sacrilegious acts: It seems the devil has enlisted these men to spread chaos in the country and among the people."

"We do not know why those who were always faithful to their homeland and attached to the heritage of their beloved Iraq are now being targeted. We have already published other criticisms against this inhuman behavior which is very far from religion," continues the letter.

"Unfortunately, these criminals carry out their acts in the name of religion but Islam is completely foreign to them," he added.

Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas asked what could be the reasons for such violence: "Is there perhaps a plot to empty Iraq of Christians who are natives of that country? Or are there projects sponsored by unknown hands that some call one day Zionism and another a feud, or perhaps a group of outlaws that has as its religion the abuse and damage of others?"

"There is nothing that convinces us on why the state is not able to arrest and dole o ut just punishment to these rebels and outlaws, who are far from the principles of religion, of power, of the state, of the law and of humanity," continues the letter. "This makes us doubt the intentions of the authorities to whom we request, individually and collectively, to obtain justice for the oppressed.

"We cannot look at our innocent children while people are being slaughtered, killed, looted without any one putting an end to it."

[Tony Assaf contributed to this article]

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Orthodox-Catholic Accord in Poland, Ukraine, Belarus and Russia

Jonathan Luxmoore, for Ecumenical News International, reports:

Poland’s Roman Catholic Church has launched its first dialogue with Russian Orthodox leaders, in a bid to rebuild relations between the two countries.

“Although these were introductory talks, key problems of mutual interest were discussed, and it was agreed to start work on a joint document about our churches’ contribution to the labor of reconciliation,” church representatives said in a joint statement. “Both sides stressed the historic significance of this initiative and the conversations now begun, which are an important first step towards bringing our local churches closer and reconciling our nations.”

The statement was issued after the Feb. 26 meeting in Warsaw between Poland’s Roman Catholic primate, Archbishop Henryk Muszynski, and a delegation headed by Filip Riabych, deputy chairperson of the Moscow Patriarchate’s external relations department.

It said themes had also been agreed for future dialogue, which would be handled by a bilateral commission of both churches, including representatives of Russia’s small Catholic Church and the Orthodox church in Poland.

The statement noted that the head of the the Russian Orthodox church’s external relations section, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, had been unable to attend the talks for “reasons beyond his control,” although Poland’s Catholic information agency KAI reported that the 43-year-old official had missed his flight from Moscow.

Polish politicians and historians have frequently criticized Russia’s lack of public regret for mass deportations and executions which followed the occupation of their country by the Soviet Army during the Second World War, and for later decades of communist oppression.

However, Polish church leaders welcomed a conciliatory “Letter to Poles” from Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in September and predicted closer ties could be achieved between the two countries’ predominant churches.

Archbishop Muszynski, who succeeded Cardinal Jozef Glemp as Polish primate in December, told the KAI agency on March 2 that the Warsaw talks had been arranged at the “personal initiative” of Moscow Patriarch Kirill I, and had focused on the “special duties of both churches towards their societies” as majority denominations in their countries.

“The problems lie at another level — including an uneasy mutual history which has many times divided us,” the archbishop said. “Both churches must recognize that the Polish and Russian nations are divided by very difficult, unresolved issues from the past, as well as by great misunderstandings ... I am sure we will nevertheless be able to prepare a joint historic document together which will serve as a common testimony of our churches.”

In a separate interview with KAI on March 1, Riabych said both churches shared the experience of communist-era sufferings and held a “common position” on social and moral issues.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Light of the East March-April 2010 (Youngstown)

Light of the East, the March-April 2010 newsletter of the SSJC Chapter in Youngstown Ohio, is now available - read yours here.

Pope Benedict urges an end to the killing of Christians in Iraq

Here is an excerpt of the address Pope Benedict XVI gave on 28 February 2010 at the Angelus in St. Peter's Square.


Dear brothers and sisters,

I heard with deep sadness the tragic news of the recent killings of some Christians in the city of Mosul and I followed with much concern the other episodes of violence, perpetrated in the martyred land of Iraq, which have harmed defenseless persons of various religious affiliations. In these days of intense recollection I often prayed for all the victims of those attacks and today I would like to join myself spiritually in prayer for peace and the restoration of security promoted by the council of bishops at Nineveh. I am affectionately near to the Christians communities of the whole country. Do not weary of being a ferment for good for the homeland to which, for centuries, you have rightfully belonged!

In the delicate political phase that Iraq is passing through I call upon the civil authorities that they do everything possible to restore security to the population and, especially to the most vulnerable religious minorities. It is my wish that they do not given in to the temptation to allow the temporary and special interests prevail over the safety and the fundamental rights of every citizen. Finally, as I greet the Iraqis present here in the piazza, I exhort the international community to do its best to give the Iraqis a future of reconciliation and justice, while I ask with confidence from God almighty the precious gift of peace.


©Copyright 2010 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Sandro Magister on the discussion document on primacy leaked from the Joint International Theological Commission of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches

http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1341841?eng=y

Orientale Lumen Conference Euro East III

Jack Figel of SSJC USA announces, December 20th, 2009:


After my private audience with His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, we have finalized the speakers and agenda for the upcoming Orientale Lumen EuroEast III Conference scheduled for July 5-8, 2010 in Constantinople. The conference theme will be "The Councils of the Church" and the plenary speakers will be:


  • Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia, Greek Orthodox theologian and retired Spaulding Lecturer of Eastern Christianity at Oxford University, England
  • Archbishop Cyril Vasil, SJ, Secretary of the Congregation for Eastern Churches in the Vatican, and former rector of the Pontifical Oriental Institute, Rome
  • Archimandrite Robert Taft, SJ, Professor Emeritus of Liturgy of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, and prolific author and theologian of the Byzantine Liturgy
  • Archimandrite Job Getcha, Professor of the Catholic Institute of Paris and of the Institute of Orthodox Theology in Chambesy, Switzerland, of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople
  • Sister Vassa Larin, Professor at the University of Vienna, Austria and nun of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia
  • Professor Richard Schneider, specializing in iconology at York University in Toronto and St. Vladimir’s Seminary in New York

The moderator will be Bishop John Michael Botean of the Romanian Greek Catholic Eparchy of St. George in Canton, Ohio, USA.
In addition to the conference agenda of plenaries and liturgies, several special events and tours will take place:
  • Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will address the conference at the opening session
  • The conference will conduct one full day of sessions at the Halki Orthodox Theological Academy off the coast of Istanbul
  • The conference will participate with His All Holiness in a memorial service at the tomb of Patriarch Athenagoras
  • A tour of several churches around Constantinople will be conducted at the end of the conference by Professor Schneider with religious and theological explanations of the churches and their architecture
  • Metropolitan Kallistos will lead a pilgrimage to Ephesus and the island of Patmos to the monastery of Saint John the Evangelist and to the cave where by tradition, Saint John wrote the Book of Revelation
More details and online registration for the conference can be found at www.olconference.com on the Future Conferences page


Orientale Lumen XIV: Conferences in New Jersey and Washington DC

From SSJC in the USA, January 10th, 2010:

We are pleased to announce our almost final list of plenary speakers for the upcoming Orientale Lumen Conferences this coming June. The theme of two OL conferences planned will be "The Councils of the Church" and the speakers will be:
Orientale Lumen XIV North - Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ June 7-10, 2010
  • Archbishop Cyril Vasil, SJ, Secretary of the Congregation for Eastern Churches in the Vatican, and former rector of the Pontifical Oriental Institute, Rome
  • Archimandrite Cyril Hovorun, Director of Religious Education for the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate
  • Archimandrite Robert Taft, SJ, Professor Emeritus of Liturgy of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, and prolific author and theologian of the Byzantine Liturgy
  • Father John Behr, Dean of Saint Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, NY
 Orientale Lumen XIV East - Pope John Paul II Cultural Center, Washington, DC June 21-24, 2010 
  • Metropolitan Jonah, Primate of the Orthodox Church in America, Washington, DC
  • Archbishop Donald Wuerl, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington, DC
  • Archbishop Cyril Vasil, SJ, Secretary of the Congregation for Eastern Churches in the Vatican, and former rector of the Pontifical Oriental Institute, Rome
  • Archimndrite Robert Taft, SJ, Professor Emeritus of Liturgy of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, and prolific author and theologian of the Byzantine Liturgy
  • Father Thomas FitzGerald, Dean of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary, Boston, MA
 
More speakers will be scheduled and further agenda details will be posted on the conference website under Future Conferences at www.olconference.com. Online registration can also done on the website.
Previous conference photos and quotes can be found there, with streaming video clips from plenaries and liturgies at www.oltv.tv

 

How Byzantium, not Rome, can help preserve Pax Americana

We are grateful to our friends in SSJC YOungstown Chapter for this interesting article, in Light of the East, March-April 2010

By Edward Luttwak, November 2009


Economic crisis, mounting national debt, excessive foreign commitments -- this is no way to run an empire. America needs serious strategic counseling. And fast. It has never been Rome, and to adopt its strategies - its ruthless expansion of empire, domination of foreign peoples, and bone-crushing brand of total war - would only hasten America's decline. Better instead to look to the empire's eastern incarnation: Byzantium, which outlasted its Roman predecessor by eight centuries. It is the lessons of Byzantine grand strategy that America must rediscover today.

Fortunately, the Byzantines are far easier to learn from than the Romans, who left virtually no written legacy of their strategy and tactics, just textual fragments and one bookish compilation by Vegetius, who knew little about statecraft or war. The Byzantines, however, wrote it all down -- their techniques of persuasion, intelligence gathering, strategic thinking, tactical doctrines, and operational methods. All of this is laid out clearly in a series of surviving Byzantine military manuals and a major guidebook on statecraft.

I've spent the past two decades poring over these texts to compile a study of Byzantine grand strategy. The United States would do well to heed the following seven lessons if it wishes to remain a great power:

I. Avoid war by every possible means, in all possible circumstances, but always act as if war might start at any time. Train intensively and be ready for battle at all times -- but do not be eager to fight. The highest purpose of combat readiness is to reduce the probability of having to fight.

II. Gather intelligence on the enemy and his mentality, and monitor his actions continuously. Efforts to do so by all possible means might not be very productive, but they are seldom wasted.

III. Campaign vigorously, both offensively and defensively, but avoid battles, especially large-scale battles, except in very favorable circumstances. Don't think like the Romans, who viewed persuasion as just an adjunct to force. Instead, employ force in the smallest possible doses to help persuade the persuadable and harm those not yet amenable to persuasion.

IV. Replace the battle of attrition and occupation of countries with maneuver warfare -- lightning strikes and offensive raids to disrupt enemies, followed by rapid withdrawals. The object is not to destroy your enemies, because they can become tomorrow's allies. A multiplicity of enemies can be less of a threat than just one, so long as they can be persuaded to attack one another.

V. Strive to end wars successfully by recruiting allies to change the balance of power. Diplomacy is even more important during war than peace. Reject, as the Byzantines did, the foolish aphorism that when the guns speak, diplomats fall silent. The most useful allies are those nearest to the enemy, for they know how best to fight his forces.

VI. Subversion is the cheapest path to victory. So cheap, in fact, as compared with the costs and risks of battle, that it must always be attempted, even with the most seemingly irreconcilable enemies. Remember: Even religious fanatics can be bribed, as the Byzantines were some of the first to discover, because zealots can be quite creative in inventing religious justifications for betraying their own cause ("since the ultimate victory of Islam is inevitable anyway …").

VII. When diplomacy and subversion are not enough and fighting is unavoidable, use methods and tactics that exploit enemy weaknesses, avoid consuming combat forces, and patiently whittle down the enemy's strength. This might require much time. But there is no urgency because as soon as one enemy is no more, another will surely take his place. All is constantly changing as rulers and nations rise and fall. Only the empire is eternal -- if, that is, it does not exhaust itself.


Cardinal Kasper: Rediscovering our unity with Oriental Orthodox

From Asia News, 2 February 2010m Fady Noun in Beirut, Lebanon
On a working visit to Lebanon, the president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity summarises the ecumenical journey undertaken with Oriental Orthodox Churches in the Middle East. The search for peace and justice in the region, terrorism and emigration are some of the challenges that await these Churches and that will be examined in next October’s synod.

"We are rediscovering our unity," said Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, as he summarised the relationship between Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The prelate is on a working trip to Lebanon where he chaired a meeting with Syrian and Malankara (Indian) Churches in what has become an annual event since 2004.

The division between the Catholic Church and this family of Orthodox Churches dates back to the 5th century AD, more precisely to the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), which defined Christ’s dual nature, his "full humanity and full divinity, without confusion or division".  After 1,500 years, the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches have come to realise that they share the same faith in Christ and that their dispute was the results of terminological and cultural differences.

"As for the nature of Christ, Our Lord, our Churches believe in the permanence of the divine and human natures, joined in the same incarnate nature, a union that is without confusion, mixing, change or separation, in the same way that the spirit is united to the body in human nature to form a single human nature made of two natures without the body becoming the spirit, nor the spirit, the body, but both forming a single human nature," Anba Bishoï said.

This realisation achieved during 40 years of ecumenical dialogue between popes and heads of Eastern Orthodox Churches on the initiative of the semi-official ‘Pro-Oriente’ foundation of Vienna has led the Catholic Church to sign three Christological declarations with the Coptic Orthodox Church in 1973, the Syriac Church the following year, and one with the Indian-based Malankara Church in 1983.

The dialogue currently undertaken focuses on the ‘Nature, constitution and mission of the Church’, that is the way to understand the Church (ecclesiology) and the sacraments. Through this dialogue, the Churches can try to rebuild the ties that existed in the first five centuries of Christianity, identify the role of the Church of Rome, and examine the ways the first three ecumenical councils were received.

According to Fr Paul Rouhana, theology professor at the Holy Spirit University of the Lebanese Monastic Order, "it is simply a question of learning to be Christian together after centuries of separation.Our progress towards visible unity will have a considerable impact on the lives of our faithful and on the ways our Churches will meet the challenges of our times," Cardinal Kasper said. These challenges are known to all, namely the search for peace and justice in the Middle East, terrorism, emigration, just to name a few.

These issues are also set to be addressed next October in Rome at the special assembly of the Synod of Bishops dedicated the Middle East.  The fraternal delegates from Eastern Orthodox Churches will take part in the meeting side by side with their brothers from Eastern Catholic Churches and will be able to address the assembly. As Cardinal Kasper put it, "What happens in the East is important not only for the Churches that live in the Middle East."

Cardinal Kasper was attending a meeting of the seventh Joint International Commission on dialogue between the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches in the Catholicate of the House of Cilicia, in Antelias (Lebanon).  The commission, co-chaired by Anba Bishoï, bishop of Damietta and secretary general of the Synod of the Orthodox Coptic Church, brought together representatives of the Syro-Orthodox (Syriac), Ethiopian, Eritrean, Armenian, Coptic and Syrian Orthodox Churches.