First Meeting of the Co-Ordinating Committee for the Dialogue of
the Russian Orthodox Church|
with the Coptic,
Syrian and Armenian Apostolic Churches
March 20th 2001
The coordinating committee for the dialogue of the Russian Orthodox Church with the Coptic, Syrian and Armenian Apostolic (Catholicosate of Cilicia) Churches, which belong to the family of Oriental (pre-Chalcedon) Churches, held its first session on March 20, at the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate.
After fifteen centuries of division, the later 20th century was marked with the beginning of an intensive and fruitful theological dialogue between the Orthodox and the Oriental Churches, in which the Russian Orthodox Church took part for many years as a member of the pan-Orthodox representation. As a result of this dialogue, agreements were reached and signed by church representatives. The most important of them was “The Second Common Statement and Proposals to the Churches” (1990, Chambesy, Switzerland). It stated that the faith of the two families was essentially identical, while differing only in notions. This document was sent to the Churches for consideration and reception. In the Russian Orthodox Church, this document was studied by the Synodal Theological Commission from 1994 to 1997.
As a result of this study, the Theological Commission recommended that the Bishops Council of the Russian Orthodox Church (1997) adopt a resolution on the need to clarify the Christological formulations contained in the document. To implement this resolution, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church at its session on March 30, 1999, resolved that the Russian Orthodox Church begin a direct bilateral dialogue with Oriental Churches.
The task before the coordinating committee was to define the agenda and format of the forthcoming dialogue. The coordinating committee includes, from the Oriental Churches, Metropolitan Bishoi of Damiette, secretary of the Holy Synod (Coptic Orthodox Church) and cochairman of the coordinating committee, Bishop Mar Eustathios Matta Roham of Jazeera and Euphretis (Syrian Orthodox Church) and Archimandrite Nareg Alemezian, head of the ecumenical office (Catholicosate of Cilicia). The Russian Orthodox Church is represented on the coordinating committee by Hegumen Hilarion Alfeyev, DECR secretary for inter-Christian relations, Archpriest Valetin Asmus, lecturer at the Moscow Theological Academy and Rev. Vladimir Shmaliy, a lecturer at the MTA.
On March 20, the committee was received by Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia and had a long and meaningful talk with him. Speaking about the significance of the bilateral dialogue of the Russian Orthodox Church with Oriental Churches, His Holiness the Patriarch said that the beginning of bilateral talks did not call in question the significance of the pan-Orthodox dialogue which has been underway for the recent decades. The Russian Orthodox Church will continue participating in the dialogue of the Orthodox Churches with the Oriental Orthodox Churches on the whole range of issues under discussion today, including pastoral and liturgical subjects. On the other hand, it is necessary to give a fresh impetus to the mutual study of theological traditions existing in the Orthodox and Oriental Churches, especially in the area of Christological terminology. In doing so, it is important to exert maximum efforts not to defend agreed documents or formulae, but rather to find agreement between our Churches on the questions of faith. In the course of the talk, His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II asked Metropolitan Bishoi of the Coptic Church to convey an invitation to the Pope and Patriarch Shenouda II of All Africa to come on an official visit to the Russian Orthodox Church.
Later that day, the coordinating committee members were received by the chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad. Metropolitan Kirill stressed the importance of the renewed theological dialogue. He also noted that the dialogue, being essentially theological, should not be reduced to a pure and abstract academic discussion. This dialogue should give an opportunity for meeting between representatives of the two spiritual traditions sharing the same root. Along with theological aspects proper, the dialogue should be also used to make a thorough study of the traditions, life and service of the Churches in dialogue, especially in such areas and education, social service and mission. Also relevant would be an exchange of opinions and agreed actions in the area of Christian relations with society, culture, science, mission and in search for answers to the pressing problems of today. This can be facilitated by a common study of the Basic Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church adopted by the Jubilee Council of the Russian Orthodox Church.
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