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MESSAGE OF THE CATHOLIC PATRIARCHES OF THE EAST

Easter 1999

Ecumenical Movement
"May they all be one"(Jn17,21)
5th Pastoral Letter Council  of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East

"May they all be one, just as, Father,
you are in me and I am in you, so that they also may be in us,
so that the world may believe it was you
 who sent me" (Jn 17: 21)

1. INTRODUCTION
2. Ecumenism today
3. Everybody’s efforts towards unity
4. Ecumenical initiatives today
5. General Orientations
6. Plan of the letter
 We will follow the following plan in our letter:
7. Diversity and unity
I. Diversity and Richness of Traditions
8.  Unity does not suppress unity
II. History of Our Divisions
9. History of Our Divisions
10. The Council of Jerusalem
11. Councils of the 5th Century
12. Schism between Orient and Occident
13. The Reform
14. Different Attempts to reestablish unity
15. Protestant Churches in the Middle East
16. Conclusion of the historic survey
III. Grave Consequences of Our Divisions
17. Through history
18. Decrease of the number of the faithful
19.The absence of unity, an obstacle to witnessing
20. Unity of Heart and Word
21. Emigration of Christians
22. Collaboration in the pastoral domain
Chapter II
The theological foundations of Ecumenism
23. The acknowledgement of our sins revives the sense of duty.
I. Division, a scandal and a contra-witness.
24. The Division
25. The Division is in contradiction with the very being of the Church.
26. Division is in contradiction with the mission of the Church
II. The Communion already Exists.
27. A growing desire for unity.
28. Elements of truth and sanctity.
29. True Communion though imperfect.
30. The existing communion source of a new life.
III. Increasing the Partial Communion already Existing
31. The existing communion source of a new life.
32. From Partial Communion to a Perfect one :
Chapter III
Ecumenical Dialogue
33. Dialogue of Truth and Charity
34. Dialogue of Truth.
35. Dialogue of Consciences
I. Nature and Method of Theological Dialogue.
36. Theological Dialogue
37. Better understanding of the other
38. Dialogue of experts and of the entire Church.
II. LES PRINCIPAUX ACQUIS DU DIALOGUE ŒCUMÉNIQUE
39. Principal References of Ecumenical Dialogue
40. With the Orthodox Church
41. Sister churches
42. With the ancient Churches of the East
43. Between the Orthodox Church and the Ancient Churches of the East.
44. Responsibility of our Churches
45. With other western Churches and Ecclesial Communities
46. With the Ecumenical Council of Churches
III. Reception of the Results of Theological Dialogue
47. Participation of all the Church in the Dialogue
IV. Middle East Churches and Theological Dialogue
48. Middle East Churches
49. The traditions of particular Churches
V. The reception in the Middle East Churches.
50. The reception 
51. Official Documents
52. Bilateral Accords
53. Other important documents
54. Application of Accords
Chapter IV
Spiritual Ecumenism
55. Spiritual Ecumenism
56. Conversion and Renewal
57. Conversion of the person and of the community
58. We recognize that we have sinned
59. Conversion in all domains of life
60. Prayer
61. Common Ecumenical Prayer
62. Mutual understanding and lived solidarity
63. We call upon 
Chaptre V
A Ecumenical Pastoral action
64. A Ecumenical Pastoral action
65. A new vision
66. New attitudes based on the new vision
67. Coordination between the Churches’ Leaders
68. The problem of Proselytism
69. A Common Study to Clarify this Question
70. Towards true collaboration
71. Orientations of the Ecumenical Directory:
72. In the Liturgical and Sacramental Domains:
73. Other domains of collaboration
Chapter VI
Ecumenical means and instruments
74. Ecumenical means and instruments
75. The Council of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East
76. The Council of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops in every country.
77. The Middle East Council of Churches
78. Ecumenical formation.
Conclusion
Our vocation and our ecumenical responsibility

INTRODUCTION

1. To our brothers the bishops, the priests, members of religious orders, and to all the faithful of all our Churches and in all our dioceses here and in the Diaspora. “Grace and peace to you  from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ep. 1:1).
Christ is risen. Indeed He is risen. It is in this Easter joy that we address you, brothers and sisters, this letter on ecumenism, asking the risen Lord to raise our regards towards the highest, where, contemplating His glory and His divine majesty, we could contemplate in His glory the roots of our unity. Like this, filled with Easter joy, and the hope renewed in us by the glorious Resurrection of the Lord , we could sincerely and seriously walk towards this unity.
We rejoice, moreover, and we give grace to God seeing that our faithful are more and more becoming conscious of the importance of unity between Christians, in our spiritual as well as pastoral life. This new opening and the serious engagement that comes from it is to our view a precious gift from God, Father of lights, to his Church called today to follow, in each and every diocese, the redemptive mission of His Son.

Ecumenism today
2. Unity is becoming more urgent to our Churches given the fact that we Christians, altogether, we constitute a small “flock” (Cf. Lc. 12:32) in the Middle East, where God sent us to continue the redemptive mission of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, if we want for our witnessing to be credible in front of our brothers believers, Muslims and Jews, and all those whom God wanted us to live with, our witness should be one. Accordingly, our service for the human society, where we live, cannot be authentic, fertile and efficient unless we put together our weak power and reduced means. Moreover, our very presence and our future in this part of the world will depend for a great part on our capacity to unite our efforts, forming “one heart and one spirit” (Cf. Ac 2: 44-45), in order to face together the questions raised today, such as justice and peace, emigration of Christians, interreligious relations, social and cultural integration in our societies, and all kinds of common questions that are confronting our Arab world, and our Churches in it.

Everybody’s efforts towards unity
3. Everybody, hierarchy, clergy and lay faithful, we share the same view and feel the urgent need for unity, even if the approaches and the priorities are sometimes different. We hope in any case that our positions, although different, be complementary. Some of our faithful insist and make pressures so as to oblige their pastors to act seriously in this field. although many of their claims and methods might need more reflection, because they don’t take enough in consideration all the theological implications and the true relations between the Churches. Their ardent desire, for instance, and their constant work for a common celebration of Easter, is positive in itself, although many obstacles are hindering its realization. Another example which concerns the faithful and needs serious action on the way to unity is the issue of mixed marriages that is provoking sometimes dramatic tearing  within many Christian families. We have studied this issue and we have adopted a common position during our meeting at Charfeh in Lebanon in 1996 with some of our venerable brothers, the Patriarchs of the Orthodox Churches. Certainly, the Christian unity cannot be reduced to these problems only; it also comprises dogmatic questions over which an accord should be reached.

Ecumenical initiatives today
4. We have insisted upon the importance of unity among Christians since our first encounters in 1991 and 1992. In our second common pastoral letter, published on Easter 1992, entitled “Christian presence in the East, Witness and Mission”, we consecrated many pages on the necessity of  interreligious and ecumenical dialogue and collaboration. We stated: “In the East, we either be Christians together or we will not be” (no. 39). We have recommended that opportune initiatives should be taken in each country and diocese. On the level of the Middle East, since 1988, we took a common decision so that the Catholic family become an integral part of the Middle East Council of  Churches, which became a  place of encounter for all the Churches of the region, and an instrument of exchange between them.

General Orientations
5. Our Catholic Churches are trying today to concretely live the orientations of the second Vatican Council, subsequently elaborated in the Directory for the application of principles and norms on ecumenism, of which a new edition was published in 1993. Recently, Pope John Paul II decided to give a new spring to ecumenical reflection and action by his Encyclical Ut unum sint, of May 1995, that would continually inspire us, in addition to the testimonies of the Fathers of our Oriental Churches.
The Universal Church is today preparing herself to the celebration of the Great Jubilee of the year 2000. Pope John Paul the Second in this occasion has invited for a special effort towards unity, in his apostolic letter Tertio millenio adveniente. We too, united to the universal Church, and in communion with Pope John Paul the Second, and following the spirit of the Oriental Fathers, we appeal to a serious engagement and ecumenical action towards unity. The Pope stated: “The near coming of the end of the second millenium invites all of us to examine our conscience and to take useful ecumenical initiatives, so that at the coming of the Great Jubilee, if not totally united, we would be closer to overcome the divisions of the second millenium. For this reason – everybody is sure of it – an enormous effort is needed. It is true we must follow up the doctrinal dialogue, but it is of great importance to engage more in ecumenical prayers.”
  It is important to listen, at the beginning of this letter, to the voice of St. Ignace of Antioch, in his letter to the Christians of Philadelphia, calling them to beware of divisions: “Be all one only undivided heart. God does not reside where there is division and anger…I beg you to do nothing out of dispute and to behave according to the teaching of God…Avoid divisions, imitate the Lord Jesus as he imitated God.”
  When we concentrate on the reflection on the unity of the Church, we do not intend to close on ourselves. In fact, as Pope John Paul the Second in Ut unum sint stated: “Ecumenism is not but an internal question between Christians. It concerns the love that God brings in Jesus Christ to the entire humanity; to put obstacles in front of this love is to offend Him in His plan to gather all men in Christ.” (no. 99).
Accordingly, we are profoundly convinced that the search for unity in Christ is an integral part of our Christian vocation and tends to an authentic testimony and a better service of the Middle-Eastern human community, in the midst of which and for the sake of which God called us to live.

Plan of the letter
6. We will follow the following plan in our letter:

 I. The richness of the diversity of our traditions and the drama of our divisions.
 II. The theological and spiritual fundaments of ecumenism.
 III. The ecumenical dialogue.
 IV. Spiritual ecumenism.
 V. Pastoral Ecumenism ( or: Ecumenism in Pastoral activity).
 VI. Ecumenical means and instruments.
Conclusion: Our ecumenical vocation in the Middle East.


Chapter I
Richness of the diversity of our traditions and the drama of our divisions

Diversity and unity
7.  In our forth pastoral letter (Christmas 1996), “Mystery of the Church – I am the vine, you are the branches”, we abundantly spoke about the theology of the Church and its history in the Middle East. We mentioned what does the communion with the diversity of traditions within the Catholic Church demand.  We would like in this letter to have a larger vision and to speak about communion and diversity in all of the Churches in our region.
The Christian presence in the Middle East is distinguished, more than any other place, by the plurality and the diversity of the liturgical, theological, spiritual and canonical traditions. These traditions make part of the identity and constitute live bonds with the generations that succeeded throughout the centuries, through which today’s communities remount to the testimony of the apostles.
This diversity constitutes a source of great richness for the whole Church. But we must confess too that this diversity has frequently become a source of  self isolation and division. If we want to engage in a true ecumenical action, we need to reconcile diversity with unity. They are two necessary dimensions of the life of the Church. “Legitimate diversity never opposes the unity of the Church, it rather promotes her and largely contributes towards the achievement of her mission”.

I. Diversity and Richness of Traditions

Unity does not suppress unity
8.  The announcement of the Holy Gospel encountered from the very beginning, in the oriental part of the Mediterranean, peoples, languages and ancient civilizations of a great diversity: Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Greek, Syrian and Armenian, etc. In the midst of these different languages and cultures the apostles and their successors announced the mystery of Christ, and the faithful expressed their faith through them too. Like this, the Christian communities took different cultural faces and created, generation after generation, propre traditions. Faith took flesh in these cultures and reanimated them with a new spirit, like Jesus took our human flesh to redeem it.
We mentioned that this diversity constitutes a great richness for the Church. The reason is simple: no language and no culture could pretend neither to fully grasp the mystery of divine love revealed in Christ, nor to adequately express it. Each of our oriental traditions tried to approach this mystery from its propre angle and according to certain particular affinities. If all of these approaches were gathered in harmony, the Church in its catholicity could hope for a more profound understanding and a more plenary expression of this ineffable mystery.
To reach its plenary meaning, this diversity presupposes unity and communion. Unity, in its turn, does not require the abolishment of diversity, on the contrary, because diversity enables a more rich ecclesiastical life, a more beautiful liturgical celebration and a more fertile announcement because more adopted to the diversity of humankind.

II. History of Our Divisions History of Our Divisions
9.  Unfortunately, through history this diversity frequently and for multiple reasons became division. Many of these divisions, that still exist today, have weakened the Christian presence in this part of the world in a dramatic way, to the extent of endangering its future. It is important to know the most important divisions and to evaluate the consequences, in order to realize the necessity and the possibilities of overcoming them. This could be possible if we are welling to.

The Council of Jerusalem
10.  Already during the first years of the Church, diversity induced tensions among the community of Jerusalem, as the Acts of the Apostles tells us (Cf Ac. 6:1 - 6:15). However, unity of heart and spirit helped her surmount these tensions. The assembly of Jerusalem (Cf. Ac. 15), convoked to answer the questions raised by the entry of numerous disciples from paganism to the Church, became the model for other assemblies, synods or councils, on local basis, regional or universal. It is through consultation, and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that the Christian community finds enlightenment and power to maintain and collegially increase communion.

Councils of the 5th Century
11.  Most of the tensions that left their marks on our Churches today happened in the 5th century. Many fundamental truths of faith were involved, like the divinity of Christ or the veracity of  the incarnation. Certain ecumenical councils, convoked in order to restore and confirm unity, had instead led to divisions. Often, non-dogmatic causes – rather philosophical, cultural, political, and social – had considerably contributed to render reconciliation impossible. Two ecumenical councils especially provoked the division of the Churches that lasts until today: the Council of Ephesus in 431, and the Council of Chalcedony in 451.
The Council of Ephesus, in 431, defined the unity of the person in Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary, against t the teachings attributed to Nestorius. This council likewise affirmed that Jesus Christ is God and man in one person. He is therefore in the same time the Son of God and the Son of the Virgin Mary. This is why the council dedicated the title “Theotokos” or “Mother of God” for Mary. For multiple reasons, the Church of Persia could not participate in this council and just had partial information about it later on. Consequently, the Church of Persia did not accept it and hence found itself separated from the other Churches. This Church had been for a long time designated as “Nestorian”, although it does not accept this appellation and present itself as the "Assyrian Church of the East”.
The Council of Chalcedony, in 451, had more tragic consequences for the Churches of the Middle East. This Council ascertained that there are two natures in Jesus, the human nature and the divine nature, in the unity of one person,  the Word of God, second person of the Holy Trinity. However, the term “nature" did not have the same meaning for all of the theological schools of that time. Nuances between the Greek terms (physis for “nature”, prosopon and hypostasis for “person”) had not been the same in the correspondent Syriac terms (kyana for “nature” and knoma and farsofa for “person”). All of this was cause of confusion and numerous misunderstandings that led to division when many apostolic Cchurches refused to accept the declarations of this council, like the Armenian Church, the Syriac, Coptic and Ethiopian. They had been called  “monophysites”, because they insisted on keeping the term “one nature”, i.e. "one nature in the incarnated Word of God”. However, these Churches refuse this qualification and call themselves today “Eastern Orthodox Churches”.

Schism between Orient and Occident
12. The big schism between the Church of Constantinople and the Church of Rome took place in the 11th century (1054). It was the result of a long process of reciprocal remoteness and growing mutual ignorance. The Christian Orient and Occident had become strangers to each other, as they became part of two different cultural and political worlds. In the Orient, the Byzantine Empire in Constantinople with Greek culture replaced the ancient Roman Empire, while in Occident, appeared a new Roman Empire with Latin Roman culture. As a result, different ecclesiastical traditions were formed in Orient and Occident respectively. They could have been accepted as completing each other, but cultural and political circumstances made it impossible. Diversities of traditions were considered irreconcilable and became cause of division.

The Reform
13.  The Reform with Martin Luther divided the Occidental world between Catholicism and the Protestant movement that gave birth in its turn to different Churches: Anglicans, Lutherans, Reformed, Presbyterians, etc. The Church in Orient up until the 19th century remained out of the reach of this movement.

Different Attempts to reestablish unity
14.  From late 13th century through the 15th century there had been many attempts to reestablish unity among the different Churches. The main attempts had been the councils of Lyon (1274) and Florence (1439) to reestablish unity between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. But they did not reach the hoped for results.
Some attempts resulted in the birth of the Oriental Catholic Churches, aiming at drawing nearer the viewpoints, and seriously working to reestablish unity according to the will of Christ for His Church. Thus, in front of each Orthodox Church there is today an Oriental Catholic Church in communion with the Church of Rome. We are fully aware of the fact that the existence of these Catholic Oriental Churches was a cause of new difficulties between the Churches. This is why we never stop working and humbly praying so that the will of God be accomplished in us, on the different roads He placed us on. Only the Maronite Church remained entirely Catholic and never broke communion with Rome. The Latin Church (Roman Catholic Church) has been in the Middle East for long centuries now, especially through the dispatch of priests and religious men and women. Then gradually a local Latin Church and communities had emerged, mainly in the Holy Land.

Protestant Churches in the Middle East
15.  Protestant communities and Churches started their mission in the Middle East since the nineteenth century. They attracted to them some faithful from the Eastern Churches.  So the number of Churches in the East was increased, as well as the division between Christians. Today these Churches are also part of the ecumenical action in its different initiatives particular or common.

Conclusion of the historic survey
16.   This is how gradually were constituted the different Churches known to us today in the Middle East. This quick survey is very important for the understanding of the formation of the different Churches, and the nature of the relationships existing among them. Ecumenical spirit requires today that we look at our past with courage, frankness and humility, so as to open the doors for fraternal reconciliation and solidarity now in the present as well as in the future, hoping that one day we will reach, with the grace of God, to the realization of the complete communion among us, according to the prayer of Jesus “May all be one” (Jn 17: 21).

III. Grave Consequences of Our Divisions

Through history
17. The divisions that followed the Council of Ephesus (431), and especially the Council of Chalcedony (451) had had deep and long-lasting influence on the history of our Churches in the Middle East. Muslim historians mentioned that Christian divisions facilitated sometimes the Muslim conquest of the region.
Realizing that these divisions constitute a danger for the unity of the empire, Byzantine emperors tried to impose, using force when necessary, one only dogma: they confirmed the decisions of the Council of Chalcedony and imposed it on the Christians of Syria and Egypt who refused it. Consequently, hatred for the Byzantine Empire started to grow bigger in these two countries, to the point that a big number of them were welling to receive the Muslim armies, to liberate them from the imperial persecutions. On the other hand, after the conquest, Muslim rulers were inclined to accord favorable treatment to those non-Chalcedonian-communities compared to the communities having the same creed like the Byzantine Empire easily being suspected of connivance with the enemy.

Decrease of the number of the faithful
18.  During the following centuries, these divisions became the cause of the decrease in number of Christians, and led them to become more and more minorities in the Arab Muslim world. Divisions and isolation of the different Churches weakened them and forbid them of adopting a joint attitude to guarantee respect for their dignity and rights especially during the reign of the Ottoman Empire. Their situation worsened until the Christian presence almost totally disappeared from some regions. Since the beginning of the 19th century, emigration started and continues today becoming an alarming phenomenon during the last few decades.

The absence of unity, an obstacle to witnessing:
19. The Christian presence today is dependent of this history full of divisions, dramas and sufferings. It is abundantly clear that the absence of unity among us is a heavy handicap in the effort to give a new dynamism to this presence. Very often, the different Churches co-exist in the same city or village. Wanting to give the best to our communities, everyone tries to have its own schools, youth clubs, charitable organizations, social centers, etc. the same services are thus duplicated, when Christian population and even ministers are more and more decreasing. Expenses are duplicating uselessly too, and despite the big number of institutions, they are not able to satisfy the legitimate needs of the faithful, because of the lack of resources and personnel. Collaboration in these different domains would offer undeniable advantages.

Unity of Heart and Word
20.  In another domain also solidarity is felt needed: in front of our common problems we need to coordinate our hearts and voices. The whole Church (i.e. all of the Churches) become stronger, more respected and more efficient within our societies; and they would even facilitate the task of the civil authority when it has to deal with the demands and rights of the different Churches.
All of our Churches, fortunately, started to realize this painful reality. All of us, indeed, want to do something about it in order to strengthen solidarity and union among us. We must mention that already a certain solidarity exists today, although the task remains difficult. The road to union and solidarity is long and painful. However, we started it, and the grace of God will confirm us in our walk and in the sincerity of our intentions.
Let us listen to St. Basilius the Great exhorting us to unity: “Is it necessary to explain the necessity of peace to the sons of peace? Thus, because this great thing, admirable and worth of being looked for with eagerness by those who love the Lord, is risking today to be reduced to a simple word, I think it is convenient for those who are serving the Lord in truth and sincerity to have as a unique goal to their efforts to bring back to unity the Churches that had been divided in many fractions and ways […]. In fact, nothing is more important to a Christian than working for peace; the Lord promised us for this a great reward”.

Emigration of Christians
21. Tendency among Christians to emigrate started since a long while. It never stopped but grew, for political, economical and social reasons similar in each of our countries. This also requires unity in our efforts to face the problem with efficiency. Isolated initiatives are often non-sufficient and some times have a negative effect. Our Churches and the Churches of the world proclaim and express that it would be very regrettable if Christians disappeared from this part of the world that witnessed the birth of the Church and was its point of departure to the whole world. Nonetheless, one must recognize that visions and efforts deployed to face this danger remain insufficient. We must say that our Muslim brothers themselves, in some of the Arab countries, consider the historical existence of Christians and their presence in their midst positively. They are sure that this presence strengthen conviviality between Christians and Muslims and is profitable for all, for them as well as for us, in our Arab countries.

Collaboration in the pastoral domain:
22. Indeed, we are feeling more and more, in the domain of pastoral, the need for ecumenical collaboration. Following the emigration and displacement toward the cities (urbanization process), Christian existence in some regions of the Middle East became that rare to the point that it is almost impossible for every Church to secure regular services to her faithful, given the scarce number of priests and the distances. This state of things is indeed pushing the remaining families to depart. Therefore we see that the circumstances themselves and the necessity to safeguard the Church of Christ and our ministry towards our faithful, impose upon us a better pastoral collaboration, in order to satisfy the different needs of our faithful. This reality requires from us new dispositions and common engagement in order to start a theological and pastoral reflection. This presupposes mutual recognition of ordained ministry and sacraments. This is the main core of ecumenism.

Chapter II

The theological foundations of Ecumenism

The acknowledgement of our sins revives the sense of duty.
23. Up to now we have talked about our past history. We have to know our history, our roots, and the dangerous consequences that have resulted from division in our Eastern Churches. Nevertheless we should not stop at this point.  The acknowledgement of  our sin, of the scandals and the contra-testimony that resulted from these division, should revive in us the sense of duty to work at reestablishing unity in Christ and to seek the ways most appropriate to accomplish this, taking into consideration the historical, geographical and social circumstances that Churches are called to live with.  We are to rekindle our theological reflections in order to arrive at a new vision in our Church action and our way of understanding relationships with other Churches. Ecumenism is a basic need: theology, spirituality and pastoral.activity require it.

I. Division, a scandal and a contra-witness.

 

Division, a scandal and a contra-witness
24. Division among Christians is in contradiction with the very existence and mission of the Church. In effect, the Church is the sign and the privileged instrument serving God's plan for salvation, who wants to assemble in unity all "His scattered children" (Cf. Jn 11:52) and to gather everything under one head, Jesus Christ (Cf. Ep 1:10). We have meditated for long on that in our pastoral letter “the Mystery of the Church”. The Church is called to be and to live according to the mission she has to announce and communicate to the world.

The Division is in contradiction with the very being of the Church.
25. The very being of the Church is the communion (koinonia),  i.e. a shared spiritual life among many persons. This communion, is not a simple question of intention and pure human affection. It is effectively based on what Christ had asked his Father for His disciples: <<That all of them will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me>> (Jn 17:21). The mystery of communion between the Father and the Son, in the Holy Spirit, is the model and the source for the communion of the Church. Therefore Christians constitute a communion at the image of the divine Trinity. Because they share in the divine life of which we have said that it is in itself a communion.(8)
 In the theology of Saint Paul, all are ordained towards that unity: << There is one Body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all>> (Ep 4:4-6) That is why he exhorts Christian Ephesians and through them all Christians in all times and places, to lead a life worthy of their vocation. << As a prisoner for the Lord, then I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love>>. (Ep 4:1-3)
All division, accordingly, is contradictory to the Christian vocation of unity and to the communion the Church is called to be, with the Holy Trinity as source and model.

Division is in contradiction with the mission of the Church
26.  Division is also contrary to the mission of the Church called to continue the work of Christ. The Church is not communion for herself. She is  communion in Christ  for the glory of the Father and to serve His kingdom. The dogmatic constitution of Vatican Council II manifests this truth in these terms: “The Church, in Christ, is some sort of sacrament, in other words and at the same time, the sign and the instrument of the intimate union with God is the unity of all generations” (9). How can she accomplish such a mission if she is divided? The symbol looses its meaning and the testimony of the Church it credibility.
 How can the Church announce the communion which is << with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ>> (Cf. 1Jn 1:3), if her members or the pastors of the local Churches are not united on the very truth of this communion, nor abiding with in the way of living? If their union should be the symbol of truth in the mission of the Son, their division is an obstacle to the belief of those to whom they were sent. (Cf. Jn. 17: 21-23)
How could the Church be the sign and instrument of unity among human beings with God and in him, if the Christians are not capable to surmount amongst themselves the differences of nationalities, cultures and languages, in the proclamation of Good News and in the construction of a human society more brotherly and more just, and in peace? Salt risks loosing its flavor (Cf. Mt 5:13). The voice of St. John Chrysostomus is inciting us to free ourselves from  the human interpretations of the divine realities that we are carrying in ourselves: <<We have all been baptized in one Spirit, so that we are nothing but one body, Jews, and Greeks, slaves, and free men>>. These words signifie: << The same Spirit made us to be one body,  and gave us a new birth: one is not baptized in one spirit, the other in another. Not only the one who baptizes is one, but also the reason for which we are baptized, is one. In effect, it is not so that we become different bodies when we were baptized, but so that we scrupulously guard amongst us the preoccupation to remain united in one body... If one spirit unites and gathers us in one body, why then under these conditions do you give worth, wrongly and mistakenly, to the difference? If you pretext that members are many and different, you should know that this is exactly what is admirable and what makes the excellence of the one body, that the numerous and different members make one whole>> (10)

II. The Communion already Exists.

A growing desire for unity.
27.  We can consider the growing desire of our Churches to reestablish unity among all the disciples of Christ, as a divine call addressed to us, and special grace bestowed upon us.  This is what Vatican Council II has defined at the start of the declaration on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio(11). It states that the fundament of the ecumenical engagement lays on << a clear  ecclesiology based upon and  all ecclesial values found in all Churches".>> (12)

Elements of truth and sanctity.
28.   In the constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, the council affirms that the catholic Church has been faithful to the deposit of faith and to unity, despite the several serious crisis that shook the Church, and the unloyalty of some of her ministers or members: <<The unique Church of Christ, which we profess in the Credo that she had kept unity, sanctity, catholicity and apostolicity, is present in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the bishops who are in communion with him>>. But at the same time the Council looks to other Christians recognizing that << outside of this one body which is the Church, exist many elements of sanctity and truth: they are true gifts bestowed by God upon the Church of Christ, which are oriented toward the "catholic" or universal unity" (13).

The Decree on Ecumenism has deduced: <<As a consequence, these Churches and these separated communities, even if we believe that they suffer from deficiencies, they have their role and their significance in the mystery of Redemption. The Holy Spirit does not refuse to be served by them as means of redemption. Their efficiency derives from the plentitude of grace and truth that was bestowed upon the Catholic Church>> (14).

True Communion though imperfect.
29.  It is upon these common elements of sanctification and truth that Pope Jean-Paul II, in his encyclical letter Ut unum sint has based the idea of an already existing true communion, even if still not perfect: << The elements of sanctification and truth that are present in other christian communities, constitute the objective foundation of the communion that exists between them and the Catholic Church, even if not perfect. In proportion to these elements that are found in other christian Communities, there is the active presence of the only Church of Christ in them. This is why the Vatican Council speaks of an effective communion, even if it still is imperfect" (15). (Ut Unum Sint, 11).

The existing communion source of a new life.
30.  It is good to be aware of the present and active riches that lie between the visible boundaries of the catholic Church “Numerous are those who venerate Holy Scripture and consider it as a rule of life and faith. They manifest sincere and religious zeal and  believe with love in God, Allmighty Father, and in Christ,  Son of God and Savior. They are marked with baptism that unites them with Christ, and more, recognize and receive other sacraments in their own Churches or Ecclesial communities. Many of them have bishophood, celebrate the Eucharist, and venerate piously the Virgin, Mother of God. This in addition to the communion in prayers and other spiritual advantages, and more, they have in some sort, a true union in the Holy spirit, since through its grace, it works in them through its sanctifying power, and has fortified some of them up to the shedding of their blood. In this manner the Spirit created in all the disciples of Christ the desire and action oriented towards a peaceful union of all in one flock under a sole Pastor, according to the way wanted by Christ”. 16 (LG 15, UUS 13).
These elements of communion are particularly intimate and strong with the orthodox Churches, <<since these Churches, however separated, have the true sacraments, and they have the apostolic succession, priesthood and Eucharist>>   Therefore Vatican Council II could declare on this issue: << The Church of God is edified and grows  in the celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord in these particular Churches" (17).  UR 15; UUS 12.

III. Increasing the Partial Communion already Existing

Common Belonging to Christ
31. Ecumenical dialogue begins with the recognition of the already existing communion. Its aim is to enlarge the basis of  common points and to increase communion up to its plenitude. Since Vatican Council II, the relationships between Churches and ecclesial communities made a big progress and Churches communion has been profoundly enriched. << The awareness of this common belonging to Christ is deepened, and  universal fraternity among Christians has become a firm ecumenical conviction" (18).

From Partial Communion to a Perfect one :
32. With Pope Jean Paul II, in his encyclical letter Ut unum sint, it is possible to constate : « The progress already accomplished in our mutual knowledge and the action toward doctrinal unity have as consequence a deepening of the communion  in the feelings and in the reality. Nonetheless, Christian conscience which professes one Church, holy, catholic and apostolic, cannot stop at this phase. The ultimate goal of the ecumenical movement is the reestablishment of visible full unity of all the faithful" (19).

Chapter III
Ecumenical Dialogue

Dialogue of Truth and Charity
33. Dialogue, in all its forms, occupy a distinct place at the heart of grand ecumenic work. In the relations between Catholics and Orthodox, it has become a custom to distinguish between the dialogue of charity and the dialogue of truth. Both of them are necessary. The dialogue of charity is an indispensable condition for the preparation of the dialogue of truth. Moreover, it is necessary that dialogue of charity accompany the dialogue of truth, to maintain it and nourish it, to give it a soul and to allow it to transcend the much human limitations and hesitancies.

Dialogue of Truth.
34.  In its strict sense, the dialogue of truth or the theological dialogue commonly designates usually the methodological study, conducted by delegations of the different Churches, of the truth revealed and of its numerous forms of expression and practice. The aim is to surmount the prejudices and misunderstandings inherited from the past and to arrive, if possible, to a common understanding of the Christian mystery, with all  diversities in traditions that would appear at first glance impossible to reconcile.

Dialogue of Consciences
35. However and according to the expressions utilized by Pope Jean Paul II in Ut unnum sint, the dialogue is not limited to « an exchange of ideas »; « it is also an exchange of gifts », and is called to become a « dialogue of consciences », and to turn to a « dialogue of conversion ». Henceforth, dialogue concretely is a form of life, « it implies the person as a whole, it is also a dialogue of love » (21).

I. Nature and Method of Theological Dialogue.

Theological Dialogue
36. Jesus Christ is « the way and the truth, and the life>> (Jn 14: 6). He has revealed to us the mystery of God’s love for humanity. The theological dialogue, that aims to discover this sublime truth, that plays an irreplaceble role in the search for Christian unity.
In theological dialogue we are placed together facing the real divergences that concerns faith. This common search requires us in the first place to eliminate judgements, words and attitudes inherited from the past that do not correspond into truth and justice to what Churches live and believe. The dialogue enforces then the development of confidence, openness and mutual acceptance, in our confrontation to diverse points of views, in order to surpass the contradictions that obstacle full communion. Special attention is to be given to the different formulations used in respective traditions, since some apparent opposition might in reality recover identical contents. That is why dialogue should always take full respect to the grand mystery of God revealed in Christ, a mystery that human intelligence cannot totally capture, and no human language can adequately express. Consequently, some human contradictory expressions may sometimes be different but loyal attempts to the mystery, and can be acceptable in their  endeavor to express an inexpressible mystery.

Better understanding of the other.
37. The theological dialogue that is animated by a similar spirit can result in unexpected discoveries of great richness. It will allow <<a better knowledge of the truth, and a better esteem of the doctrines and the life of every community>>; moreover it will open up the path to deeper intuitions of the revealed truth itself. Pope Jean-Paul II says it this way: << The ecumenical dialogue that incites implied parties to mutually self interrogate, self understand and self explain leads to unexpected discoveries. Polemics and intolerant controversies have transformed in incompatible affirmations what has been a result of two examinations of the same reality, but with two different points of view. Today we have to find the formulation which comprehends the integral truth and allows to overcome partial lectures  and help eliminate faulty interpretations>> (23).

Dialogue of experts and of the entire Church.
38. This dialogue is in the first place the work of experts and theologians that are well anchored in their proper traditions, and who are open to the approaches of others. But it is also convenient that all the ecclesial community, pastors and faithful,  be informed of the program, of the method and of the results of the dialogue.  In effect, all true ecumenical dialogue should be done in the name of the Church.

Principal References of Ecumenical Dialogue
39. Our ecumenical engagement for the service of full unity is strongly encouraged and consolidated with the considerable progress accomplished in the relations between Churches during the last half century. It is important to know the fruits of the most promising fruits of the efforts achieved in this field, on the level of universal Church as well as on the level of our Middle East region in particular.

With the Orthodox Church
40. Renowned figures, as Pope Jean XXIII, Pope Paul VI and the ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras Ist opened new ways of encounter  and mutual recognition between the Catholic and the Orthodox Church. The historical and unforgettable encounter between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras Ist in Jerusalem, on January 1964, mark a new start, and will remain for ever the living image of the ideal to follow, and the anticipated icon of the full communion we seek.
The taking away of the anathems of 1054, which were the symbol of separation between Rome and Constantinople, happened in the last days of the Vatican Council, on December 7 1965. It has solemnly expressed the profound change in the relations and attitudes. This ecclesial act of faith  was << a purification of the historic memory, a reciprocal pardon, and an engagement of solidarity for the quest for communion>> (25).
Numerous exchanges of visits between Popes and Patriarchs, different encounters between bishops, theologians, priests and believers, within the framework of calling for dialogue of charity, gradually changed the views with which both Churches regarded each other. In that sense Pope Paul VI declared in his visit to the ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in June 1967: <<Now, after a long period of division and reciprocal miscomprehension, the Lord has allowed us to rediscover ourselves as sister Churches, despite the obstacles existing between us" (26).

Sister churches
41. This vision of sister Churches has inspired all the journey of the theological dialogue announced in 1979. The work if the International Mixed Commission for Dialogue proved fruitful, to a point that allowed Pope Jean-Paul II and the ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew Ist to declare together during the visit of the latter to Rome in 1995: << Dialogue led to the finding of a common sacramental conception of the Church,  carried and transmitted in time by the apostolic succession. This apostolic succesion in our Churches is fundamental for the sanctification and unity of the people of God. Taking into consideration that in each local Church the ministry of divine love is realized, and in  that manner, the Church of Christ manifests its efficient presence in each one of them, the mixed Commission could declare that our Churches recognize each other as sister Churches, together responsible to safeguard the one Church of God, in fidelity to the divine disposition, and especially in what concerns unity >> (27)

With the ancient Churches of the East
42.  Under diverse forms, the Catholic Church began also relations with the ancient Churches of the East, which did not accept the dogmatic formulas of the Council of Ephesus (431) or that of Chalcedony (451), in the domain of Christology.
Since the visit to Rome of many Patriarchs of Eastern Orthodox Churches (known also as non-chalcedonian), the Pope have signed with them common declarations affirming the common faith in Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, perfect in his divinity and perfect in his humanity. It appeared then that Christological disagreements that were the origin of the ancient divisions had had diverse causes, and mainly linguistic. Thereof, it was put an end to 15 centuries of misunderstanding.
A similar common declaration was signed by Pope Jean-Paul II and Mar Dinkha IV, Patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, in November 1994.

Between the Orthodox Church and the Ancient Churches of the East.
43. Another Christological accord has been concluded between the Greek Orthodox Church (Chalcedonian) and other Churches of the East (non Chalcedonian), i.e. Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian, and Syrian Orthodox Churches, thanks to the work of the theological commissions of both traditions, who have worked in an unofficial way from 1964 to 1971, and later in an official manner from 1985 till 1993. Yet, competent authorities in these Churches did not yet officially adopt these accords.

Responsibility of our Churches
44. Now we see that it is our duty,  we the Churches of the Middle East, to study with particular attention the text and the contents of these Christological accords, because we all coexist in the same region, and we are all called to carry a common testimony to our Lord Jesus-Christ amidst Muslim and Jewish believers.

With other western Churches and Ecclesial Communities
45. Since Vatican Council II, the Catholic Church has also multiplied its contacts with other diverse reformed Churches and communities. Bilateral official dialogues have been established with the Anglicans, the Lutherans, the World Reformed Alliances, the Methodist, the Disciples of Christ, etc. With the Anglicans and the Lutherans in particular, common theological texts of great richness have been published on the mystery of the Church, the authority in the Church, Eucharist, justification etc.

With the Ecumenical Council of Churches
46. The Catholic Church has similarly developed a tight collaboration with the Ecumenical Council of Churches, in particularly through the Mixed Working Group and thanks to it participation in the work of the Commission of Faith and Constitution. Documents published in 1982 on baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, is certainly the most rich outcome, that mark impressive convergence between all the great Christian confessions.

III. Reception of the Results of Theological Dialogue

Participation of all the Church in the Dialogue.
47. We have already said that the results of theological dialogues should not only be reserved to those commissions and specialists, and that they should be communicated to the Church to << become a common heritage>>. The results should become the subject of <<serious reflexion that should imply the people of God in his totality, in diverse manners and in function with different competencies.  Bishops, priests, and believers and lay people who have been anointed by the Holy Spirit should be integrated in this reception, each according to his charisma and proper place in the Church, in order to arrive a common consensus fidelium >>
 The reception of these results does not consist in one single action, neither it is a decision taken by the highest authority once for all. It is rather a long process of discerning and progressive assimilation of the decisions taken, and a common growing  in the mutual acknowledgement and communion, achieved by the whole Church, under the responsibility of the hierarchy and the assistance of the Holy Spirit. This reception requires that the ecumenical opening become a constant dimension in the whole life of the Churches, in particular in the pastoral life.

IV. Middle East Churches and Theological Dialogue

Middle East Churches and Theological Dialogue
48. Our Middle East Churches consider the theological dialogue, in its strict sense, as being of their competence and duty. We suffer at times in our Catholic and Orthodox Churches from lack of human resources and means. This is why our contribution in this aspect remains modest. But we have to mention here the initiatives taken by the two Churches of Antioch, the Greek Melkite Catholic and the Greek Orthodox, and by the two Churches of Babylon, the Chaldean, catholic, and the Assyrian of the East, orthodox.
We know that the concrete way of living certain truths or certain theological or canonical requirements by our Catholic Churches have serious repercussions on the theological dialogue about these very truths. For example, the question of the primacy in the Church and the communion with the successor of Peter in Rome. Pope-Jean Paul II launched a pressing appeal in his encyclical letter Ut unum sint, asking to help him, <<by a fraternal and patient dialogue>>, to <<find the form of exercising the primacy according to the present situation, without renouncing to the essence of his mission" (30). He renewed his appeal in his meeting with the Catholic Patriarchs of the East on the 29th of September 1998.

The traditions of particular Churches
49. How can we reconcile our diverse ancient traditions and our particular rights with this communion? What are the best means to integrate synodality and authority?  A continuous research of the significance of the Church in our particular traditions, oriental and occidental at the same time, and in the contents of our patriarchal traditions, can open up new doors in the frame of the catholic communion: this is our true contribution in theological dialogue. We exhort our children to engage in this research in order to assist the Catholic Church, in the East and in the world, to breath with its two lungs, oriental and occidental, as Pope Jean-Paul II demands.
It is clear that these aspects are already part of the dialogue of charity, since it is not possible to trace a distinct border between this dialogue and the dialogue of truth. St. John says: << Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light>> (Jn 3: 21).
 


V. The reception in the Middle East Churches.

The reception in the Middle East Churches
50. We have said that dialogue should <<imply the people of God in his totality>>. This is why our Middle East Churches should fully assume this responsibility in all developments and aspects of life. Texts or accords, which are the outcome of theological dialogue and that should be the subject of such process of reception, are numerous and varied in origin and nature.

Official Documents
51. First we have the official documents of the Catholic Church, starting with the texts of Vatican Council II, that has opened up a new era for catholic ecumenism. The directory on the application of principles and norms on ecumenism, published in a revised edition in 1993, is an immediate continuation to these documents  and the best guide in the effort of a concrete living of these directives. The encyclical letter of Pope Jean-Paul II, Ut unum sint (May 1995) came to confirm the reception of ecumenical directives of Vatican II. At the same time it confirms the outcomes of the different dialogues that took place since then. Many other texts of the Pope or other catholic references propose again the same directives in function with new circumstances. One of the most important document for us is the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation, << A New Hope for Lebanon>> (May 1997).

Bilateral Accords
52. Second. within the same decades, many ecumenical documents of marking accords or convergences, have been produced. Many came from bilateral dialogue, between the Catholic Church and another Church – with the Orthodox, the Anglicans, the Lutherans, etc.-. Others came from multilateral dialogue, where many Churches and traditions are engaged together, for example in the frame of the Ecumenical Council of Churches, on world level, or the Middle East Council Of Churches, on regional level.
 

Other important documents
53. Concretely, in the Middle East, the most important are the texts concerning the relations between Catholics and Orthodox. The principal questions exposed in the texts and accords that concern theological dialogue with the Orthodox Church, Byzantine tradition, are the following: first, we are sister Churches. This vision should be an integral part of our ecclesiology. Second, sacraments are the same and the <<sacramental conception of the Church>> is common to us. Third, the practical orientations of the international Commission for dialogue contained in the final documents of  Balamand in 1993, are to be known and put in practice. It is important to understand that on these points, not only practical regulations for action are suggested, but also fundamental theological and ecclesiological principles.

Application of Accords
54. The Christological accords between the Catholic Church and the Syrian, Coptic, and Armenian Orthodox Churches hold profound implications for our Churches. This means that the principal reasons of separation which were during the Vth. century exist no more. It is clear nowadays that the Catholic and Orthodox Churches are to work together to accomplish theses accords and to put them in practice. To do this mixed working commissions should be created.

Chapter IV
Spiritual Ecumenism

Spiritual Ecumenism
55. Worry and search for unity are integral par of the very being of the Christian as well as of the Church. Pope John Paul II repeated it many times: “Unity, that the Lord gave to His Church and within which He wants that all be included, is not secondary. It is at the center of His work. It doesn’t moreover represent an accessory attribute of the community of the disciples. On the contrary, it belongs to the very being of this community” (31). The Church is thus called to be ecumenical at the deepest of itself and it should allow herself to be converted to that and be shaped through the relations with  other Christians and their communities. We again recall what Pope John Paul II said: Ecumenical dialogue should go beyond dialogue of ideas, in order to become a dialogue of exchanging gifts, a dialogue of consciences, and therefore a dialogue that leads to conversion.
The decree about ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council uses in this meaning the expression “spiritual ecumenism”: it comprehends the renewal of the Church, the conversion of heart, prayer and mutual understanding (32).

Conversion and Renewal
56. Vatican Council II appeals first of all to interior conversion without which there would be no true ecumenism. As for the faithful, this means the renewal of heart, self-renouncement, humility and mildness in the service, fraternal generosity towards the others. Everybody is called to a radical evangelical conversion: “The faithful have to remember that they promote union of Christians; moreover, they realize it, when they devote themselves to live more purely according to the Gospel” (33).
 

Conversion of the person and of the community
57. It is not only the person who is called to conversion, Vatican Council II also calls for a community conversion. The encyclical letter Ut unum sint strongly reaffirms this: “It is not only the individual sins that should be forgiven and overcome, but also the social sins, so as to say the very ‘structures’ of sin, that led and could lead again to division”.

We recognize that we have sinned
58. This conversion concerns mainly sins against unity: “Unity of Christians is possible, on the condition that we be humbly aware that we have sinned against unity and we are convinced of the necessity of our conversion” (34). This will lead to a total change of our attitudes towards the others: “We become aware of certain exclusions that bless the fraternal charity, of certain refusal of forgiving, of a certain pride, of self-isolation in condemning the others in a way that is not evangelical, in despising others out of unhealthy presumptions” (35). Every Church and community must find out how did its own sins play a role in bringing division in its history, and which Church it has  harmed by its sin. Consequently, it should do its best, by the grace of God, to reach forgiveness and reconciliation.

Conversion in all domains of life
59. Personal and community conversion should be expressed at the level of the Church’s life, where “we certainly find the source and strength of the movement towards unity”. Such renewal must be carried out in all domains of life and pastoral work of the Church: “Biblical and liturgical movement, preaching the word of God, catechesis, lay apostolate, new forms of religious life, marriage spirituality, the Church’s doctrine and activity in social issues” (36). Consequently, all the efforts of our Oriental Churches would have an ecumenical meaning, especially efforts relating to theology, liturgy and spirituality.

Prayer
60. Being part of spiritual ecumenism, the prayer is worth a special mention, because through it the faithful and the ecclesial community find themselves in presence of God, submitted to his will and imploring his light and power. Council Vatican II described the prayer as “the soul of the whole ecumenical movement” and “a very efficient means to implore the grace of unity” (37)
  This is true also for individual prayer: “In the intimate and personal dialogue that everyone should have with the Lord, one cannot exclude preoccupation for unity. Only like this indeed that unity would be truly and fully part of our life and duties in the Church” (37).
All of our Church traditions have prayers for unity in their liturgies, which proves that our Churches have never ceased of praying for unity, have carried this preoccupation daily, even in the Eucharist. We invite to give again a special consideration to the value and significance of these prayers, as expression of the ecumenical dimension of the liturgy, in order to keep alive in us this spirit that would lead us to the reestablishment of unity with our brothers.

Common Ecumenical Prayer
61. “On the ecumenical route for unity, priority is for the common prayer” of  brothers and sisters who are not yet in a perfect communion. It is “an authentic expression of the ties which unite the Catholics with their brothers in the whole Church”; it is "an expression and a confirmation of unity". In fact, “if Christians, notwithstanding their divisions, know always how to be united around Christ in a common prayer, they will be more and more aware that what divides them is far less that what unites them" (39).  Therefore we must make sure that prayer be present as often as possible in our  numerous ecumenical meetings; prayer should even be the summit of all meetings. The week for the prayer for unity of Christians celebrated every year either in January or around Pentecost, is a privileged expression of this duty of ecumenical prayer, as well as a suitable occasion to develop the ecumenical conscience of the faithful.

Mutual understanding and lived solidarity
62. “Communion of prayer leads to a new look on the Church and Christianism”. (40)
 This change of look is part of the conversion to the Gospel: “We must pass from a position of antagonism and conflict to a position where we mutually recognize each other as partners” (41). It promotes a new discovery of the richness of the other Churches and communities: “the feeling that the Spirit is working in the other Christian communities, the discovery of examples of holiness, the experience of unlimited richness of the communion of saints, the contact with undoubted aspects of Christian engagement” (42).

We call upon
63. We call upon our priests and faithful to be interested in knowing and loving the theological, liturgical and spiritual traditions of the other Churches, in order to be able to be nourished by them. This requires long education until we reach to the point of feeling the sentiments and reactions in us and in the others. As we rely upon the already existing communion continually enriched by the encounters, we must arise a worry for solidarity that should be always present. We must always strive to to be concerned by the joys and sorrows, success and failure of the others, and to “carry each other's burdens" (Ga 6:2). This should be translated in concrete acts as  taking part in the feasts and griefs, being interested in what happens in the other communities, being ready to offer our services when needed, etc. Like this, partial communion will grow upstep by step and will help overcome the old antagonisms, prejudices and painful old memories. Pope John Paul II described very well this dynamic when he stated: “The whole life of Christians is therefore stamped by ecumenical preoccupation and they are called to be shaped by it” (43).
 


Chaptre V
A Ecumenical Pastoral action

A Ecumenical Pastoral action
64. If dialogue is the instrument par excellence of ecumenism and prayer, the conversion of the heart its soul, it is in pastoral action that it should take flesh, in order to transform the actors and renew the methods. Already in December 1979, at his return from the visit to the ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul, Pope John Paul II stated that fraternal dialogue “must become a necessary component of the pastoral programs on both sides” (44). The Pope repeated this in Ut unum sint: “Ecumenism, the movement for the unity of Christians, is not an appendix that we just add to the normal activity of the Church. On the contrary, it is an integral part of its life and action, and therefore it should penetrate in this whole and be like the fruit of a tree which, healthy and luxuriant, grows to its full development” (45).

A new vision
65. All of our pastoral work should be based on the principle that the Church is a communion in faith, sacraments and the service of charity. Its goal is to lead to its fullness, the communion, which already exists, real though still imperfect, between the Catholic Church and the other Churches and ecclesial communities.
 In the first place, this is true with the Orthodox Churches because we recognize them as sister-Churches, given that they have “the profession of the apostolic creed, the participation at the same sacraments, especially the unique priesthood which offers the unique sacrifice of Christ, and the apostolic succession of bishops” (46). Already Pope Paul VI got to the conclusion that the leaders of both Catholic and Orthodox Churches should “recognize each other mutually and respect each other as pastors of the flock of Christ entrusted to them” (47).
As for the Churches and ecclesial communities coming from the Protestant Reform, there are still great regarding the faith. However, there is also between us a common base that invites us to mutual respect, and to a joint action in religious and social domains” (48).

New attitudes based on the new vision
66. The main orientations for an ecumenical pastoral work with the Orthodox Church are given to us in the different common accords reached by the Catholic Church with these Churches: especially the pastoral accord between the Catholic Church and the Syriac Orthodox Church of 1984, the different texts that have been published within the frame of the theological dialogues with the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Church, the common document signed at the Charfeh encounter in Lebanon in 1996 by the Catholic Patriarchs of the Middle East and the Greek Orthodox  and Syriac Orthodox Patriarchs of Antioch. Therefore, it is important for us to assimilate these texts and to study their concrete implications.

Coordination between the Churches’ Leaders
67. This is why we call upon our pastors and faithful to do their best to promote mutual consultation and collaboration wherever it is possible. Particularly when our pastoral activity is extended to the faithful of other Churches, we must inform the leaders of these Churches and if possible coordinate with them. Like this, fraternal spirit and reciprocal confidence will grow up and become stronger. The fundamental principle that leads us is to work together while remaining faithful to the dogma and the laws of the Church.

The problem of Proselytism
68. It is abundantly clear that the goal of ecumenism is to restore the visible unity among Churches without absorbing the one into the other. Representatives of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches commonly affirmed this at their meeting of Balamand in Lebanon in 1993: “In the effort to reestablish unity we must not try to convert persons from one Church to another in order to secure their salvation. We must realize together the will of Christ upon His people and the plan of God for his Church, through a common research among the Churches for a full agreement on the content of faith and its implications” (49).
Consequently, we must respect in our pastoral activity the belonging of  Christians to their Churches, without trying to convert them from one Church to another” (50). We should rather help them discover and promote their mission in their own Church.
The problem of faithful passing from one Church to another is a problem of which all Churches today are suffering. It is a question still shadowed by confusion; it is a source of mutual suspicion and a cause of tensions and lack of confidence among the Churches, particularly in the Middle East, where the Churches live alongside and where the faithful are together in different domains of daily life.

A Common Study to Clarify this Question
69. We all agree in refusing this method in our pastoral work, i.e. the passing of persons from one Church to another, for some material social or cultural advantages. However, the issue has two important aspects. From one side, we have to respect the liberty of conscience – one of the fundamental rights of the human person – that comprises also the liberty of Church belonging and the liberty to pass from one Church to another, if he arrives freely to this choice in his search for God and truth. Nonetheless, if it is necessary to respect the liberty of conscience of the believer, it is not allowed to exploit his ignorance or the simplicity of his faith, or his weakness or other, to pretend that it is a case of liberty of conscience. This would be in fact a violation of this liberty.
On the other hand, the second aspect concerns the Churches who have numerous institutions like schools, hospitals, orphanages or old aged people houses, etc. frequented by believers of other Churches. Our principle of action here is clear and precise: we don’t refuse to extend our material or spiritual services anyone whenever we are able to serve and help. However, we refuse the exploitation of some believer’s need to pressure him to leave his own Church. All possible help will be offered in all spiritual and material domains; and this help would reach its true aim when it leads this believer to discover his own mission and to grow up in the Church God called him and gave him the grace to belong to.
In all cases, a common dialogue in this domain should reflect upon the individual cases as well as the general principles that the Churches must follow.

Towards true collaboration
70. We keep always following the orientations of Pope John Paul II given in his letter Ut unum sint. According to him, the relations between Christians “foresee and demand immediate and full practical collaborations possible at different pastoral, cultural, social level and also in witnessing the message of the Holy Gospel”. Collaboration between Christians has a double value: on the one hand, it expresses in a vital way the union that already exists between them and their fraternal communion, and on the other hand, it is a “true school of ecumenism, it is a dynamic way towards unity". Unity of action leads to full unity in faith. Collaboration among Christians is moreover to the eyes of the world a common witness and "a proclamation that reveals the true face of Christ” (51). This is very important for our present and vocation in the Middle-East.

Orientations of the Ecumenical Directory:
71. The Ecumenical Directory describes the different domains where this collaboration is possible: in the translation and the reading of the Holy Bible, unification of the liturgical texts, catechism, higer education at seminary and university level, dialogue with religions, media, social and cultural life, etc. (52). For instance, in our Patriarchal accord of Charfeh (1996), we already projected the edition of a common text for religious teaching in the government schools. Other possibilities of collaboration are already working within the frame of the Council of Churches of the Middle East – like the Arab common translation of Our Father and of the Nicee-Constantinople Symbol of faith – or any other initiative between the different Churches of the region.

In the Liturgical and Sacramental Domains:
72. As for the collaboration in the liturgical domain or the participation in the sacraments, the absence of perfect communion remains a central factor, which continues to divide our Churches. It is of a primordial importance to always respect the theological vision of each Church in this domain, until the hour comes in which the will of God  unites us, so as to offer together one Eucharist. The Churches understand nowadays that the absence of unity in faith is impeding the communion in sacraments. Any communion is between two persons or two communities and supposes free acceptance of both parties. And when it is sacramental communion, it is never the case of an isolated person: every baptized is a member of an ecclesial communion. Consequently, as Pope John-Paul II states it: "We should never lose sight of the ecclesial dimension when we speak of participation in sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist" (53).
 In the Charfeh Accord, we have foreseen new possibilities for the celebration of mixed marriages between Catholics and Orthodox. We have also  traced the headlines to resolve difficulties raised by the celebrations of first communion in the Catholic schools. The pastoral accord signed in 1984 by Pope John-Paul II and Patriarch Zakka Iwas Ist makes possible a reciprocal reception of the sacraments of reconciliation, Eucharist and Unction of the Sick, in the absence of the minister of one or the other Church. We have to remain attentive to these directives, in order to apply them with mutual respect and great prudence. Other possibilities will open up in the future, but we need still more common reflection and study.
 Concerning the date of celebrating Easter, in order to respond to the wishes of the faithful of all Churches, Catholic and Orthodox, we have studied this question with our venerable brothers the Patriarchs of different Churches in our region. Serious difficulties arose for some Churches which cannot be surmounted. Therefore freedom was left to those who can unify the date of Easter to make it, according to the circumstances in which they live in their own country, as sign of rapprochement and preparation to the desired unity. Nevertheless, in all that, we have to respect the identity, the legacy and the tradition of every Church.

Other domains of collaboration
73.  In the meanwhile, there are vast domains of collaboration that are open in various services, those of construction and utilization of churches, construction of schools and hospitals where and when necessary, social development projects and assistance to the needy, housing projects, the utilization of the press and other means of the media, etc. It is of principal importance that we face together the problem of immigration with all means available at our disposal. Together we have to work for justice and peace, so that Christian could have an active and just participation in the civil life of their country. Together we should address our Church issues with competent authorities. Finally together we should study our relations with our Muslim Jewish brothers.
 


Chapter VI
Ecumenical means and instruments

Ecumenical means and instruments
74.  All of that requires mixed working commissions. But before that, we need a new spirit capable of assimilating and putting in practice the orientations and proposed accords by the different international and local dialogue organizations.

The Council of the Catholic Patriarchs of the East
75.  Since its creation in 1991, our Council has focused on the issues with which our Catholic Churches of the Middle East are affronted. At the same time, at the annual congress, we have brought up the most important problems that concern our presence as Christians in general and as Catholics in particular. We have addressed you, dear believers, with many pastoral letters where we have communicated to you our reflections on all of these domains.
We have taken always to heart the promotion and development of our relations with our brothers the Orthodox Patriarchs. Therefore, during the last four years, the first day of our meetings is consecrated to a Catholic-Orthodox encounter. We are strongly committed to keep this fraternal common reflection with sister Orthodox Churches. We call upon our pastors, that they themselves follow the same path for encounter and common reflection, to concretely put in practice all the principles and accords that we have evoked in this letter.

The Council of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops in every country.
76.  Ecumenical circumstances and possibilities are different from one country to another. That is why it was necessary to have Patriarchs and Bishops Councils in every country to follow up on this ecumenical mission and to take the initiatives they judge opportune.  We ask that commissions be constituted to realize this goal where they do not exist, or be reactivated where they do exist, so that the Church may remain faithful to its testimony in this domain.

The Middle East Council of Churches.
77.  This council has been founded in 1974 under the impulsion of zealous Christians who wished to respond to the call and prayer of Christ for the unity of his Church (Cf. Jn 17:21). It included at that time Orthodox and Protestant Churches and was the conclusion of long efforts that go back as far as 1925. The Catholic Church with its seven Patriarchates became a full member in 1988-1989,
As Patriarchs, we have participated in the works of this Council. We believe that our mission is to be there in fraternity with all the Churches of the region. It is a privileged place where we could listen to our brothers and where we could learn how to better know each other as Churches. We contribute in it along with other Churches to a common reflection, that the Council invites us to, and which it organizes in its different sections and commissions. The aim is to realize a rapprochement among Churches so that we become able to affront together the same problems that all Christians are facing in this part of the world.

Ecumenical formation.
78.  If we are to accomplish our ecumenical duties in respect to our local Churches as well as to the universal Church, we are to set up a full program of formation and preparation of priests, religious and lay people. The importance of this formation is confirmed by the Ecumenical Directory that provide priority position to all those who work in parish ministries (54).
In that spirit, we require in the first place from all our seminaries to offer an ecumenical preparation to our future generations of priests. They have not only to know   different documents and accords, but they should also be filled with a new spirit that allows them to be open to other Churches. The aim is that they know others' traditions and strive to love them sincerely. It is necessary to put an end to all rivalry and to all closed confessional mentality that regard the other as a stranger, an unknown,  considered as coming next in our services, or inferior in value and in dignity. We are all equal in front of the grace that God has bestowed in our hearts. We are all called to seek the best paths  to liberate ourselves from the negative consequences of our divisions, and from our malevolent attitudes which these divisions nourish within each one of us.
The same applies to all our educational work. We want our children to be educated in the love of their Church where they received the grace of baptism, to know their traditions and to remain loyal to them. At the same time we want them to learn how to open up to others and to love them. Confessional suspicions between the faithful  should stop.  All together we should recognize each other as the disciples of Christ and as his witnesses in our human society, bearing a common testimony to one and only God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
This is also why the Christian education program should be marked with the same open ecumenical spirit. Whenever we present our children with information on other Churches, the approach should be positive, without confusion and without sacrificing the truth, so as to develop in them the true spirit of Christian fraternity.

Conclusion
Our vocation and our ecumenical responsibility

Our vocation and our ecumenical responsibility
79.  Our Churches are born in the region where Jesus has proclaimed the Good News, and from where the apostles have departed to bear the message of salvation to the world. We believe to have received a specific mission in the Middle East as well as in the universal Church.
We believe to be called to be a sign of hope for our societies, in a Middle East, which for many long years is in search for stability and true peace, amidst contrasting internal tensions, and rival exterior interventions. The pluralism of our cultural and religious traditions of our communities is a reflection of the human societies where our heavenly Father have placed us. We can bring more inspiration and more fraternal understanding as much as we will be able, with the grace of God, to accept ourselves with our diversity and to unite our words, our testimony, and our service. The service we offer is a disinterested service for the salvation of all. But our words and testimony will not have profound echoes unless we are capable to surmount divisions amongst us: if not, we will only increase the general confusion.
Our unity then could become a sign of the Father eternal love, he who wants to reassemble all his scattered children in his Son Jesus. United in thought and heart, we will be able, with the power of the Holy Spirit,  to renew our presence in this part of the world and to give our faithful and our countries a new vision and a new confidence in the future.

80.  Let us listen in conclusion to the voice of Saint Cyril of Alexandria: "Christ, having taken this substantial unity from his Father and from Himself, being the model and the example of a perfect friendship and harmony of soul, wants us too in a certain fashion, to be united with each other, by the power of this holy and substantial Trinity, so that in the Church will be recognized only one body, universal, elevated in Christ, and constituted, through the union and the encounter of two peoples, in one perfect whole" (Cf. Eph 2: 14)
"In order to tend to this unity with God and amongst us, and to become intimately united, - though each one of us keeps his own body and soul- the only Son has found this way, through the wisdom and the will of his Father: one only body, his of course, exalting the believers in him through the sacramental communion, he has incorporated them in himself and among themselves. Who can then actually diverse and break this mutual and profound union that, by the unique and most sacred body of Christ, were bounded in the unity with the Lord?
"If we are all members of one body in Christ- and not only between us, but with him who is surely in us with his flesh-, how we will not appear as one, among us and in Christ? Christ is the bond and the unity, He who is God and Man.
"Then we are all one in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, one, I say, by the identity of our supernatural state, one by our filial conformation and by the communion with the holy body of Christ, and by our participation in the unique and holy Spirit" (55).

81.  Approaching the second millenium of the birth of Jesus, all the eyes and hearts of a great number of Christians from around the world are set on our region of the Middle East, the cradle of the Church. If we, Christians, living every day near the places where the mysteries of salvation have been revealed, know how to be united, at the image of the first Christian community mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, the pilgrims, coming from the four corners of the horizon searching for the origins of their faith, could go back home, confirmed and refreshed in their engagement and in their fidelity to their faith.
The search for unity in Christ is an essential dimension of our Christian being and a primary condition of our mission in the Church and in the world, so that all "may have life and have it to the full" (Jn 10:10). We ask God to help us in our way towards unity, and to fill us with his Spirit in order to renew our hearts and to reinforce our unity. We ask him to bless you in your journey towards him and in your love for your brothers and sisters, in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 
 
 

+ Stefanos II Ghattas, Patriarch of Alexandria for the Coptic Catholics

+ Maximos V Hakim, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, of Alexandria, and Jerusalem,
   for the Greek Melkite Catholics

+ Nasrallah Pierre Cardinal Sfeir, Patriarch of Antioch for the Maronites

+ Ignace Moussa Ier Daoud, Patriarch of Antioch for the Syrian Catholics

+ Rafael Ist Bidawid, Patriarch of Babylon for the Chaldeans

+ Jean Pierre XVIII Kasparian, Patriarch of Cilicy for the Armenian Catholics

+ Michel Sabbah, Patriarch of Jerusalem for the Latins
 

 
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