An important meeting of heads of Oriental Orthodox Churches was recently
held in Egypt. Pope Shenouda III acted as host to His Holinesss Mar Ignatius
Zakka I, Patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch and all the
East and His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of Cilicia for the Armenian Apostolic
Church. Arriving in Cairo on 9th March they were taken first to the Papal
residence at Abbesseya, where they were received with Coptic Hymns chanted
by the Theological Seminary Chorus.
Early the next morning the three patriarchs, accompanied by their bishops
drove to St. Bishoy's Monastery in Wadi El-Natrun where their historical
meeting would be held. Attending the meeting with the Patriarchs were
members of the Standing Committee (see the Common Declaration, paragraph
11) as well as Their Graces Bishops Sarabamoun, Serapion, Joannes, Gabriel,
Paul Barsouma (Syrian church in Cairo) and some priests and monks.
After revising, evaluating, studying, discussing and reformulating what
had been prepared by the preparative Committee at its meetings with the
three Patriarchs in Cairo, Damascus and Beirut, they published an historic
eleven-point Common Declaration, building on their 1996 Declaration.
The Patriarchs asked the 'Middle East Oriental Orthodox Churches Common
Standing Committee' which they had formed, to meet every three months.
The committee schedule includes the preparation for the forthcoming Patriarchs
meeting in St. Ephraim the Syrian Seminary, (Ma'aret Sednaya, Damascus).
The Patriarchs also discussed whether it is possible to have a common
Orthodox position during the forthcoming Ninth General Assembly of the
World Council of Churches in Harare, Zimbabwe during December 1998 and
the importance of holding firm the divine commandments and the Apostolic
Orthodox tradition and common confession of holy life and living faith
in this Ecumenical scope. Bishop Serapion presented a report concerning
the Orthodox position required at such future meetings. The Patriarchs
expressed their desire to unite Orthodox positions.
In the morning of 11th March, in a ceremonial session, the Patriarchs
signed the text of the declaration both in Arabic and English. The Patriarchs
exchanged presents and Pope Shenouda distributed gifts to the members
of the Armenian and Syrian delegations.
Then Pope Shenouda invited the Patriarchs to participate tranaslating
the relics of St. Athanasios the Apostolic, which His Holiness had brought
from the Vatican in 1973 to the new shrine. This has now been erected
in the crypt of St. Mark's Cathedral. The Patriarchs were overjoyed by
this invitation and considered it an historic day in the life of the three
churches. The patriarchs signed a document explaining this great event,
the same manuscript explained that part of the relics had been previously
donated to St. Athanasios' Cathedral (Damanhur) upon the request of Metropolitan
Pachomius of Behiera. They returned to Cairo where the members of the
Theological Seminary were waiting and in a procession they moved the relics
to the new shrine in an atmosphere of hymns and joyful songs. Then Pope
Shenouda had prepared a lunch for his guests.
In the evening the party attended the weekly lecture of Pope Shenouda
in St. Mark's Cathedral. The congregations received the Patriarchs with
great joy. Pope Shenouda welcomed them, then both Mar Ignatius I Zakka
and Catholicios Aram I spoke words of greeting. Pope Shenouda thanked
the patriarchs for their love and humility, he mentioned the faith and
deep cooperation which unites the three churches, and which was expressed
in the Common Declaration signed the same morning.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit...
We, Pope Shenouda III, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of
Saint Mark, Patriarch Mar Ignatius Zakka I, Patriarch of Antioch and all
the East and Catholicos Aram I, Catholicos of the Armenians of the Great
House of Cilicia, and the members of the preparatory committee of this
meeting who are with us, give thanks to God for bringing us together at
the Monastery of the great Saint Bishoy in Wadi El-Natrun, Egypt, on Tuesday
and Wednesday, 10th and 11th of March 1998. We have gathered together
as Heads of the Oriental Orthodox Churches in the Middle East to reaffirm
our unity of faith and our common ministry in the life of our people in
the Middle East and all over the world, and explore together the most
efficient ways and means to strengthen our common presence and witness
in the region.
On the basis of our Joint Agreed Statement issued on the 14th of June
1996 at the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia in Antelias, Lebanon, we
studied a number of issues and questions of common concern. Hereunder
we mention briefly some of the issues and perspectives which acquired
an important place in our deliberations.
First: In our common witness to our faith
in the Only-Begotten Son, the Incarnate Logos, our Saviour Jesus Christ,
we hold firmly to the Apostolic Faith handed down to us from the Apostolic
Fathers through the Holy Scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments;
from the three Ecumenical Councils of Nicea (325 A.D.), Constantinople
(381 A.D.) and Ephesus (431A.D.); and through the teachings of the saintly
fathers of our three churches who have struggled in keeping the doctrines
of our churches and the teachings of these Councils. In fact, our Churches
have striven throughout their history and at the cost of the blood of
their martyrs to keep intact the teachings of the Council of Ephesus concerning
the incarnation of the Logos based on the teachings of Saint Cyril the
Great (444 A.D.) as well as the decisions of the said Council. We want
to mention here from among our Holy Fathers, especially Saint Gregory
the Illuminator, Saint Dioscorus of Alexandria, Mar Philixenus of Mabbugh,
Mar Jacob Baradeus and Saint Nerses the Gracious who have kept firm the
Apostolic Faith and strongly defended the Orthodoxy of the teachings of
the first three Ecumenical Councils.
Second: The teachings of Saint Cyril the
Great constitute the foundation of the Christology of our Churches. It
was on the basis of these teachings that the Committee of the Joint Official
Dialogue between the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox Churches was able to
formulate a joint agreement which is now under study by the Holy Synods
of both families. In fact, the following statement was mentioned at the
beginning of this agreement: "We have found our common ground (i.e.
in the Apostolic faith) in the formula of our common father Saint Cyril
of Alexandria: 'Mia Physis tou Theo Logou sesarkoumeni' One Incarnate
Nature of God the Logos, and in his dictum that "it is sufficient
for the confession of our true and irreproachable faith to say and confess
that the Holy Virgin Saint Mary is the Mother of God, the Theotokos."
Third: In accordance with and in faithful
obedience to the faith, doctrine and teachings of our Holy Fathers, we
firmly re-state our common rejection of all the heretical teachings of
Arius, Sabellius, Apollinarius, Macedonius, Paul of Samosata, Diodore
of Tarsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Nestorius, Eutyches and of all those
who follow these and other heretics and propagate their erroneous and
Fourth: We believe that our Lord Jesus Christ
the Logos, Son of God, came in His own person. He did not assume a human
person, but He Himself by hypostatic union took full and perfect human
nature, rational soul and body, without sin, from the Virgin Saint Mary
through the Holy Spirit. He made His own humanity one incarnate nature
and one incarnate hypostasis with His divinity in the very moment of incarnation
through a true natural and hypostatic union. His divinity did not separate
from His humanity even for a moment or a twinkling of an eye. This union
is superior to description and perception. When we speak of "One
incarnate nature of the Word of God" we do not mean His divinity
alone or His humanity alone, i.e. a single nature, but we speak of one
united divine-human nature in Christ without change, without mixture,
without confusion, without division and without separation. The properties
of each nature are not changed and destroyed because of the union, the
natures being distinguished from each other in thought alone (th Qewria
Fifth: We agreed on the necessity of maintaining
a common position of faith in all theological dialogues. Thus, henceforth,
we will engage as a family of Oriental Orthodox Churches in the Middle
East in any theological dialogue with other churches and Christian world
communions. We hope that this basic principle will also be accepted by
other beloved churches of our family, as is happening now in many theological
Sixth: We re-affirm the vital importance
of establishing more organised and close collaboration between our churches
to ensure the oneness of our faith, our full communion in the ecclesial
and liturgical life, and our partnership in evangelism, diakonia and in
witnessing Christ the Lord in the Christian world and to the entire humanity.
We believe that this goal could be achieved by several means, some of
- To meet periodically and regularly every year.
- To have a common doctrinal and theological attitude in all theological
- To have a common position on issues of vital concern for our churches
in the Middle East Council of Churches, the World Council of Churches,
Pro Oriente and other ecumenical organisations.
- To exchange teachers and students among the seminaries and theological
institutes of our churches.
- To exchange pastoral letters dealing with matters of faith and issues
related to the witness, mission, evangelism and diakonia.
- To exchange books, periodicals and publications pertaining to Christian
education, theological formation and moral teachings of our churches.
- To exchange information related to the various activities of our churches.
- To take a common stand on issues of justice, peace and human rights.
- To encourage our clergy and people to establish close collaboration
on the diocesan and parish levels in the Middle East and everywhere.
Seventh: We hope that through our common
efforts the scope of our meetings will be widened in the near future to
include other beloved churches of the Oriental Orthodox family, in continuation
with the historic meeting of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1965.
Eighth: We wish to meet periodically with
the Heads of the Eastern Orthodox family to enhance our theological dialogue
and strengthen further our ecumenical collaboration on local, regional
and global levels.
Ninth: We discussed the celebration of the
2000th anniversary of the birth of Christ our Lord, and gave a special
responsibility to the Standing Committee (ref. N.11) to organise properly
this important event.
Tenth: We discussed the prevailing situation
in the Middle East. The difficulties that the peace process is facing
actually are due to Israel's uncompromising and hard-line policy. We shall
together exert strong and continuous efforts through the world-wide ecumenical
fellowship and in international community so that the people of the Arab
world may regain their violated rights in Jerusalem, Palestine, Golan
and South of Lebanon. It is also our demand that the embargo and sanctions
imposed on the people of Iraq be lifted immediately. We pray that peace
with justice prevails throughout the world.
Eleventh: A Standing Committee was appointed
by us to implement the decisions of this meeting. This committee shall
meet twice a year. The members of the Standing Committee are: H.E. Metropolitan
Bishoy and H.G. Bishop Moussa from the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria;
H.E. Metropolitan Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim and H.E. Metropolitan
Mar Theophilus George Saliba from the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch;
H.G. Bishop Sebouh Sarkissian and Archimandrite Nareg Alemezian from the
Armenian Orthodox Church (the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia).
At the conclusion of our meeting we joyfully present out thanks to Almighty
God Who has promoted and sustained our endeavours. We ask Him to always
assist our efforts for the well-being of our churches, for the unity of
all churches and the salvation of the world.
We thank the Church of Alexandria for its love and kind hospitality.
We also thank all who prayed and worked for the success of this meeting.
Glory be to God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, forever. Amen.
Pope Shenouda III Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas Catholicos Aram I