SOR Logo
  Overview · Directory · Dioceses · Ecumenical Relations
Dialogue and Joint Declarations with the Roman Catholic Church

OO Meetings


Other Dialogues

OO-Anglican: Nov-2003
OO-RC: Jun-2003
OO-Anglican: Nov-2002
Russian Orth: Sep-2001
Pope at Damascus: May-2001
OO-RC: Jun-2000
Syriac Consultation: Jul-1997
Easter Date: Mar-1997
OO-SOC (on Marriage): Jan-1994
Melkite-SOC: Nov-1991
RC-SOC Declarations: 1971 & 1984


Joint Declaration of 1971

During the reign of Patriarch Mor Ya`qub III an attempt was made to narrow down the differences in explaining Christology between the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. This resulted in a joint declaration issued in Vatican on 27 October, 1971 signed by Patriarch Ya`qub and Pope Paul Vl. The text of the declaration is given below:

"As they conclude their solemn meeting which marks a new step in the relations between the Roman Catholic Church and the Syrian Orthodox Church, His Holiness Pope Paul Vl. and His Holiness Mar Ignatius Jacob III humbly render thanks of Almighty God, for having made possible this historic opportunity to pray together, to engage in a fraternal exchange of views concerning the needs of the Church of God and to witness to their common desire that all Christians may intensify their service to the world with humility and complete dedication.

The Pope and the Patriarch have recognized the deep spiritual communion which already exists between their Churches. The celebration of the sacraments of the Lord, the common profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God made man for man's salvation, the apostolic traditions which form part of the common heritage of both Churches, the great Fathers and Doctors, including Saint Cyril of Alexandria, who are their common masters in the faith—all these testify to the action of the Holy Spirit who has continued to work in their Churches even when there have been human weakness and failings. The period of mutual recrimination and condemnation has given place to a willingness to meet together insincere efforts to lighten and eventually remove the burden of history which still weighs heavily upon Christians.

Progress has already been made and Pope Paul Vl and the Patriarch Mar Ignatius Jacob III are in agreement that there is no difference in the faith they profess concerning the mystery of the Word of God made flesh and become really man, even if over the centuries difficulties have arisen out of the different theological expressions by which this faith was expressed. They therefore encourage the clergy and faithful of their Churches to even greater endeavours at removing the obstacles which still prevent complete communion among them. This should be done with love, with openness to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and with mutual respect for each other and each other's Church. They particularly exhort the scholars of their Churches, and of all Christian communities, to penetrate more deeply into the mystery of Christ with humility and fidelity to the Apostolic traditions so that the fruits of their reflections may help the Church in her service to the world which the Incarnate Son of God has redeemed.

This world, which God so loved as to send His only begotten Son, is torn by strife, by injustice and by the inhumanity of man towards man. As Christian Pastors, the Pope and the Patriarch raise their common appeal to the leaders of the peoples to increase the efforts towards achieving lasting peace among nations and towards removing the obstacles which prevent so many men from enjoying the fruits of justice and religious freedom. Their appeal is directed to all areas of the world and in particular to that land hallowed by the preaching, the death and the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ."

Dialogue between Oriental Orthodox Churches and Roman Catholic Church

Meshrob Ashjian of the Armenian Church has said:

"It seems to me that there is greater hope for a reconciliation, if the problem is approached as a theological, rather than a historical one. We live in history, but as Christians we also transcend history. As Bishop Sarkissian puts it: "If we are able to look further and deeper than what pure history gives us, if we can transcend certain historical formulations which have caused misunderstandings and grasp in a new effort of faithful obedience to Christ our faith in the incarnation as such, I believe we have a firm common ground to stand on and make manifest our communion in faith. After all, faith is deeper and far more important than the formula which is a certain pattern of communication."

The joint communique issued by Paul Vl and the head of the Coptic Church in 1973 said:

"In accordance with our apostolic traditions transmitted to our Churches and preserved therein, and in conformity with the early three ecumenical councils, we confess one faith in the One Triune God, the divinity of the Only Begotten Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Word, of God, the effulgence of His glory and the express image of His substance, who for us was incarnate, assuming for Himself a real body with a rational soul, and who shared with us our humanity, but without sin. We confess that our Lord and God and Savior and King of us all, Jesus Christ, is perfect God with respect to His Divinity, perfect man with respect of His humanity. In Him His divinity is united with His humanity in a real and perfect union without mingling, without confusion, without alteration, without division, without separation. His divinity did not separate from His humanity for an instant, not for the twinkling of an eye. He who is God eternal and invisible, became visible in the flesh, and took upon Himself the form of a servant. In Him are preserved all the properties of the divinity and all the properties of the humanity, together in a real, perfect, indivisible and inseparable union.

We venerate the Virgin Mary, Mother of the True Light, and we confess that she is ever Virgin, the God-bearer, she intercedes for us, and, as the Theotokos, excels in her dignity all angelic hosts."

In the year which followed the Catholic-Coptic Joint Commission declared:

"When the Orthodox confess that Divinity and humanity of Our Lord are united in one nature, they take nature", not as a purely simple nature, but rather as one composite nature, wherein the Divinity and humanity are united inseparatedly and unconfusedly. And when the Catholics confess Jesus Christ as one in two natures, they do not separate the Divinity from the humanity, not even for the twinkling of an eye, but they rather try to avoid mingling, commixtion, confusion or alteration.

Moreover, the Joint Commission is convinced that the programmes it proposes should be implemented with an eye to concrete situations and to the needs of our people and the resources at our disposal. To attempt to do everything in one day could lead to failure and disillusionment. To refuse to take a step because of difficulties which might be foreseen could be a refusal of the inspirations being given-by the Holy Spirit and of the clear manifestations of the desire the leaders of our Churches have for the development of that profound unity among us which is Christ's will for His Church.

It is with these reflections in mind that the Joint Commission recommends the formation of a Local Joint Committee in Egypt whose function will be to implement the use of resources for the service of Christ and His Church in Egypt, and to take effective measures to eliminate activities which obstruct this service."

It will also be relevant to note what the theologians of the different Churches which accepted or rejected Chalcedon said in1967:

"Ever since the fifth century, we have used different formulae to confess our common faith in the One Lord Jesus Christ, perfect God and perfect Man. Some of us affirm two natures, wills and energies hypostatically united in the One Lord Jesus Christ. Some of us affirm one united divine-human nature, will and energy in the same Christ. But both sides speak of a union without confusion without change without divisions, without separation. The four adverbs belong to our common tradition. Both affirm the dynamic permanence of the Godhead and the Manhood, with all their natural properties and faculties, in the one Christ Those who speak in terms of "two" do not thereby divide or separate. Those who speak in terms of "one" do not thereby commingle or confuse. The "without change, without confusion", of those who say "one" need to be specifically underlined, in order that we may understand each other."

Again in 1970:

"We have given attention to some of the issues that need to be officially decided in such a statement of reconciliation. Its basic element would of course be the common Christological agreement; it should be made clear that this is not an innovation on either side, but an explanation of what has been held on both sides for centuries, as is attested by the liturgical and patristic documents. The common understanding of Christology is the fundamental basis for the life, orthodoxy and unity of the Church."

And in 1971:

"We believe that our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, is God the Sons Incarnate; perfect in his divinity and perfect in his humanity. His divinity was not separated from his humanity for a single moment, not for the twinkling of an eye. His humanity is one with his divinity without commixtion, without confusion, without division, without separation. We in our common faith in the one Lord Jesus Christ, regard his mystery inexhaustible and ineffable and for the human mind never fully comprehensible or expressible."

Finally in 1973:

"Together we confess our faith that He who is the Second Person of the salvation, became Man like us in all respects except sin. The Son of God was incarnate and became the Son of Man, so that we the children of men may become the children of God by His Grace. Great is the mystery of the God-Man; no created mind can fully comprehend the mystery of how Godhead and Manhood became united in the one Lord Jesus Christ. Neither can human words give adequate utterance to it. We recognise the limits of every philosophical and theological attempt to grasp the mystery in concept or express it in words. If the formulas coined by the fathers and doctors of the Churches have enabled us to obtain an authentic that every formula that we can devise needs further interpretation.

The problem of terminology remains with us. For those of us in the Western tradition, to hear of the one nature of Christ can be misleading, because it may be misunderstood, as a denial of the humanity. For those of us in the Oriental Orthodox Churches to hear of two natures can be misleading because it can be misunderstood as affirming two persons in Christ. But both sides are agreed in rejecting Eutychianism and Nestorianism. We all agree in our confession of the one Lord Jesus Christ, very God of very God, begotten before ages from the father; who was born of the Virgin Mary, grew in wisdom and stature as a full human being suffered, died, was buried, rose again on the third day and ascended into Heaven, and is to come again as judge and ruler of the living and the departed."

The Ecumenical Summit at Rome in 1984

It is in this background that the dialogue initiated by their predecessors were continued by their Holinesses Patriarch Mor Ignatius Zakka and Pope John Paul II.

The preliminary work for the ecumenical summit of the Pope and the Patriarch was undertaken in Damascus and Rome with consultations among the Syriac Orthodox Metropolitans on the one hand and between Damascus and Rome on the other. By the middle of June 1984 the stage was set for a summit at the Vatican.

The Patriarchal delegation consisted of His Beatitude Mor Baselius Paulos II, Catholicos of the East and local head of the Syriac Orthodox Church in India, Archbishops Mor Gregorios Yohanna, Mor Yulius Yeshu` Çiçek and Mor Severios Isahaq, Rabban Benyamin Joseph, Mr. John Glore and Daniel Babu Paul.

The delegation arrived in Rome on Monday, June 18, 1984, to a warm and cordial reception by Cardinals and high dignitaries of Vatican Curia as well as the Ambassadors to Italy of various Arab countries. On Tuesday and Wednesday Archbishop Mor Gregorios Yohanna and D. Babu Paul worked side by side with His Eminence Cardinal New Willebrands and Fr. Duprey for finalising the draft declaration and doing other preparatory work for the summit. On Thursday, June 21, the first session of the summit took place in the private the library of His Holiness the Pope.

On arrival the Pope welcomed the Patriarch with the following words:

Your Holiness,

God's love, which "has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit" (Rom 5:5), enables us to meet together as brothers during your visit to the Church of Rome and gives me the great joy of receiving you. It is in this love of the Lord that with all my heart I bid you welcome.

As an Observer at the Second Vatican Council you met my predecessor John XXIII. You accompanied Mar Ignatius Jacoub III when he came to visit Paul Vl, nor do I forget our own first meeting. But your presence here now has a particular importance. First of all, I welcome in your person the head of the very ancient Syrian Church which has its roots in the apostolic community of Antioch. Since after the pattern of the Good Shepherd, the Bishop is intimately linked with his flock in greeting you I greet all your faithful. To you, to His Beatitude The Catholicos, to those worthy representatives of your Church who are with you, to your clergy and all your people I give a heartfelt and brotherly greeting, full of esteem for your Church, whose history is so glorious, though marked by suffering, for its venerable traditions of theology, liturgy, spirituality and discipline and for the courageous witness it bears today to the Cross and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

There is another reason which increases our joy and gives particular importance to this moment. Your visit has its place in the series begun by your venerated predecessor Patriarch Mar Jacoub III, which aimed at forging again the links between our Churches, which have been strained to the point of separation and ignorance of each other. I now meet you in Rome as Patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church. You come to contribute to hastening the progress towards full communion between us. You know how much that wish is one with my own and with the solemn commitment which the Catholic Church made at the Second Vatican Council to enter fully and actively into the ecumenical movement. To give practical expression to this desire with which the Holy Spirit has filled us, we are able on this occasion to make together a joint declaration of our common faith in Christ, the Son of God who through the Holy Spirit was made man by taking flesh of the Virgin Mary. We thus mark real progress on the path to unity, and we hope that, having confessed together Jesus Christ true God and true man as our one Lord, he will give us the grace to overcome the divergences which remain and which hinder full canonical and Eucharistic communion between us. We bless God for what we have regained in brotherhood already and for the advances we have made together.

Because our Lord Jesus Christ prayed for the unity of his own, "that the world might believe" (Jn 17:21), and gave himself that all men might be reconciled with each other and with the Father, we must ever be his ready instruments for the restoration of visible unity between Christians and for peace between all people.

Concern for restoring unity touches the whole Church, faithful and clergy alike. It extends to everyone according to the ability of each, whether it be exercised in daily Christian living or in theological and historical studies" (Unitatis Redintegratio, 5).The faithful of our Churches should meet still more, learn to know each other better and together bear better witness to the Gospel of Christ. The full possibilities of common witness in prayer, in solidarity, in mutual aid and the service of those in need have not yet been sufficiently exploited. Here the clergy of our Churches can have a decisive influence. Already in many places there is pastoral collaboration in response to the needs of the faithful. I would like this to develop everywhere with courage, confidence and respect. As for theological and historical researches, these have already produced appreciable results, particularly within the framework of meetings of the Pro Oriente Foundation between representatives of the Catholic Church and the ancient Oriental Churches. We should continue them so that they mark fresh progress for the glory of God.

If I speak thus of the urgent need to affirm together our common vocation to unity, it is not because our Churches are concerned only with their own problems. Christ is the light of the nations and it is to testify to his light that Christians ought always to look to do his will. The world needs the message of peace and the reality of salvation brought by Christ. Some of the faithful of our Churches live in lands ravaged by war and violence. In grave circumstances they are called to live the Gospel Beatitudes and to be agents of reconciliation. My thoughts and my prayers reach out to the mat this moment. May God move the governments of nations in conflict so that hatred may be banished and firm concord be established between peoples.

In spite of the strength of brotherly love that unites us, we often feel weak and defenseless in the face of so many needs and so much suffering; but we do not lose courage. We fix our eyes on the "pioneer of our faith", and we know that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (cf. Heb 12: 1-2) who are our fathers in faith, the saints and martyrs interceding for us. They have prayed and fought for the faith, for the unity of the Church and for love among Christians. Living now in Christ they sustain us and draw us after them.

Your Holiness, I thank you most sincerely for your visit I know that your stay in this city is also a pilgrimage to the place of martyrdom of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, whose memory is very dear to the Church of Antioch, as it is to that of Rome. Through their intercession may God bless us, our clergy and all the faithful of our Churches."

In response the Patriarch said:

"Your Holiness,

It is with profound Christian joy and great esteem that I greet Your Holiness. St. Paul's feelings of joyful anticipation when preparing to visit the Church of Rome, were mine, as I was contemplating my visit to this venerable See, where Your Holiness presides in charity over the largest communion of Christian people on earth. "I long to see you" said St Paul, "that we maybe mutually encouraged by each other's faith". (Rom. 1:11, 12). I have pleasure to convey to Your Holiness and the Roman Catholic Church the greetings of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church, the Catholicos of the East H.B. Mor Baselius Paulos II who is with me, Metropolitans, monks, nuns, clergy and the faithful all over the world.

Your Holiness referred to the contacts between our Churches from the time of the late Pope John XXIII. Contacts such as these are positive and meaningful, and they are effective expressions of our common commitment to the unity of the Church, which is the Body of Christ. I am happy to reaffirm that the period of estrangement is far behind us and that we have now made much progress along the path of recognition, appreciation and solidarity.

Our two Churches are closely linked by many common bonds. There is the bond of St. Peter, the chief of Apostles; we profess the same faith declared in the Nicean Creed; we cherish a closeness to the patristic teaching and traditions of the early Church; we are bound by our mutual recognition of ministry and sacraments, and in a special way, by a deep devotion to Mary, Yoldat Aloho, Theotokos.

As Your Holiness is well aware, the Syrian Orthodox Church has an unbroken chain from St. Peter to me who has been called to be his 121st legitimate successor in Antioch. At one time the Church of Antioch extended its sway from the eastern shores of Mediterranean right across Asia to India and China. However, today it bears the painful imprints of history. But powers of the world could not overcome or destroy the Church, because the Master of the Church Jesus Christ has always been with it. The Universal Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch has been a veritable candle which melts itself to provide light for others, and can be likened to the Indian sandalwood which transmits its perfume to the axe which cuts it. Through the ages, we have faithfully cherished our unique liturgical and spiritual traditions. We believe that our particular heritage should be preserved and renewed, for the benefit of the entire Church. There is no greater service we can render, than to unify what has been broken in the past, without damaging the proper riches of the diverse heritages."

Your Holiness,

The stresses and strains of human unity, up and down the world, weigh heavily on our search for Christian unity today. It has become necessary, therefore, not only to search for a common understanding in matters of faith, but also to evolve a common Christian approach, to the world and its problem—ecumenical concern, and action, should necessarily converge on both these today.

Modern man tends to turn away from God as a result of his success in exploring and exploiting the material world. Man refuses to accept the insufficiency of self-sufficiency, and we are witness to the imbalances and destruction brought about by such attitudes. Restoring man to his wholeness, has become our common Christian task today.

Your Holiness has been, ever since your enthronement, at the sensitive centre of human life and you will be more aware than anyone else of the injustice, of poverty both material and spiritual, of violence and war and threats to world peace, that confront humanity today. Technology divorced from morality has never been, and can never be, an unmixed blessing, and the Church today bears a great responsibility in steering mankind along the path of peace, justice and morality. In this great endeavour, as well as in holding up courageously the Christian values, Your Holiness has set a living and shining example to Christian leaders everywhere. Under your dynamic leadership Papacy has assumed a new idiom of Apostolic witness and activity, and the entire Christian world is indebted to you for this. We thank God for the light of Christian sanity and humanity that Your Holiness has been tirelessly spreading abroad as the ambassador of Christ, through your far-flung pastoral visitations.

Our faith, and yours, have been tested in the crucible of fire, and we are very conscious, that the world today is too strong for a divided Church. The Christian response to the world today cannot be less than a powerful and united witness of Christian faith and Christian living. May our dialogues and activities converge to this ecumenical end. To this common task we humbly re-affirm our commitment. Our visit to Your Holiness and our enriching experience in this great city will strengthen our resolve to continue to tread the path of fraternal ecclesiastical relations and Christian solidarity, so that our closeness may be perfected in one communion, according to the will of our Lord.

"With these sentiments I and my delegation greet Your Holiness in love and reverence. We thank God for making this visit possible. This is a day the Lord has made. We are touched by the warmth of the reception you have given us. We assure Your Holiness of our continued prayers for your good health and long life. May our visit to Your Holiness, and our shared experience in this hallowed city, contribute, at least in a small measure, to the fulfillment of the will of our Lord, which is that we should be one. May the words of St. Paul, addressed to the Philippians, be accomplished in us: "Complete my joy, by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord, and of one mind". (Phil. 2:2-4).

We once again greet Your Holiness with profound joy and brotherly love, in the firm belief that we shall together overcome the misunderstandings inherited from the past, and move forward, under divine guidance, to full communion and unity in our common Lord. May the blessed Trinity, the source of all life and all holiness, bless us. Thank you."

During the stay in Vatican His Holiness the Patriarch visited the Oriental Institute and the Vatican Library as well as various sites of historical significance and also attended the Liturgical celebration of Corpus Domini by His Holiness the Pope. There were various receptions which were all marked by great joy and brotherly affection. At the official reception His Holiness the Patriarch said as follows:

"As I stand before you this afternoon my mind goes back to another afternoon, 21 years ago. I was an official observer at the historic Second Council of Vatican. While here in Vatican, I received a cable from my predecessor of blessed memory, Moran Mor Yacoub III. The cable said that I was to return immediately for being consecrated Archbishop of my hometown in Iraq, Mosul. I showed the cable to a dynamic monsignor of the Secretariat for Christian Unity and told him that I was leaving in two days. Next day the monsignor asked me to take supper with him. The next evening came and as I entered the dining hall with my host I was pleasantly surprised to find all observers from the various Orthodox Churches and the members of the Secretariat assembled there. In the hall the monsignor opened an envelope and read out a message from H.H. Pope Paul Vl of blessed memory conveying Apostolic blessings to me. The monsignor then proceeded to present me three medals sent by His Holiness the Pope. I vividly remember the scene particularly the glowing smile of the monsignor as he presented the medals. That monsignor is none other than H.E. John Cardinal Willebrands. I recall saying on that occasion how happy I was to receive the blessings from H.H. the Pope and how I fervently hoped and prayed that one day we would all meet again for better understanding, better relationship, and better co-operation and move towards that noble goal which all of us cherish, namely the unity of all Christians. This afternoon I praise the Lord as I stand here in the hallowed soil of Vatican with that mission. The foundation stone was laid then. And, now, after 21 years, I find the mansion of Christian unity being built up, stone by stone, foot by foot by all clergy and laymen of goodwill. The walls of separation have been demolished, praise be to the Lord. St. Paul said, He is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the walls of hostility (Eph. 2:14), but we in our sinfulness through centuries reerected the walls of hostility. Yet God who loved us so much as to send His only begotten Son could not suffer our stupidity in doing what He had done and in benign grace has sent the Holy Spirit to help us recreate the unity remembering that the Lord's prayer at the end of His ministry was "That they may be one even as we are one" (St. John 17:11). As we have gathered here this afternoon so shall we all gather in oneness and unity at the table of our Lord's supper one day none too far.

May I, on behalf of my brother in Christ H.B. Catholicos Mor Baselios Paulos II, Metropolitans and the other members of my delegation, and on my behalf thank H.E John Cardinal Willebrands and all others assembled here for the generous hospitality and the gesture of goodwill, and propose a toast to the cause of Christian unity. Thank you."

Joint Declaration of 1984

On Saturday, June 23, 1984 the delegation paid a visit to the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. This was followed by the second and final session of the summit between the Patriarch of Rome and the Patriarch of Antioch at which the following Joint Communique was signed by the Holy Fathers:

  1. His Holiness John Paul II, Bishop of Rome and Pope of the Catholic Church, and His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East and Supreme head of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church, kneel down with full humility in front of the exalted and extolled Heavenly Throne of our Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks for this glorious. opportunity which has been granted them to meet together in His love in order to strengthen further the relationship between their two sister Churches, the Church of Rome and the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch-the relationship already excellent through the joint initiative of Their Holinesses of blessed memory Pope Paul Vl and Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatius Jacoub III.
  2. Their Holiness Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Zakka I wish solemnly to widen the horizon of their brotherhood and affirm here with the terms of the deep spiritual communion which already unites them and the prelates, clergy and faithful of both their Churches, to consolidate these ties of Faith, Hope and Love, and to advance in finding a wholly common ecclesial life.
  3. First of all, Their Holinesses confess the faith of their two Churches, formulated by the Nicene Council of 325 AD and generally known as 'the Nicene Creed'. The confusions and schisms that occurred between their Churches in the later centuries, they realize today, in no way affect or touch the substance of their faith, since these arose only because of differences in terminology and culture and in the various formulae adopted by different theological schools, to express the same matter. Accordingly, we find today no real basis for the sad divisions and schisms that subsequently arose between us concerning the doctrine of Incarnation. In words and life we confess the true doctrine concerning Christ our Lord, notwithstanding the differences in interpretation of such a doctrine which arose at the time of the Council of Chalcedon.
  4. Hence we wish to reaffirm solemnly our profession of common faith in the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, as Pope Paul Vl and Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatius Jacoub III did in 1971. They denied that there was any difference in the faith they confessed in the mystery of the Word of God made flesh and become truly man. In our turn we confess that, He became incarnate for us, taking to himself a real body with a rational soul. He shared our humanity in all things except sin. We confess that our Lord and our God, our Saviour and the King of all, Jesus Christ, is perfect humanity. In Him His divinity is united to His humanity. This union is real, perfect, without blending or mingling, without confusion, without alteration, without division, without the least separation. He who is God eternal and indivisible, became visible in the flesh and took the form of servant. In him are united, in a real, perfect indivisible and inseparable way, divinity and humanity, and in Him all their properties are present and active.
  5. Having the same conception of Christ, we confess also the same conception of His mystery. Incarnate, dead and risen again, our Lord, God and Saviour has conquered sin and death. Through him during the time between Pentecost and the Second Coming, the period which is also the last phase of time, it is given to man to experience the new creation, the kingdom of God, the transforming ferment (cf. St. Mt. XIII: 33) already present in our midst. For this God has chosen a new people, His holy Church which is the body of Christ. Through the Word and through the Sacraments the Holy Spirit acts in the Church to call everybody and make them members of this Body of Christ. Those who believe are baptized in the Holy Spirit in the name of the Holy Trinity to form one body and through the Holy Sacrament of the anointing of Confirmation their faith is perfected and strengthened by the same Spirit.
  6. Sacramental life finds in the Holy Eucharist its fulfilment and its summit, in such a way that it is through the Eucharist that the Church most profoundly realizes and reveals its nature. Through the Holy Eucharist the event of Christ's Pasch expands throughout the Church. Through Holy Baptism and Confirmation, indeed, the members of Christ are anointed by the Holy Spirit, grafted on to Christ; and through the Holy Eucharist the Church becomes what she is destined to be through Baptism and Confirmation. By communion with the body and blood of Christ the faithful grow in that mysterious divinization which by the Holy Spirit makes them dwell in the Son as children of the Father.
  7. The other Sacraments, which the Catholic Church and the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch hold together in one and the same succession of Apostolic ministry, i.e. Holy Orders, Matrimony, Reconciliation of penitents and Anointing of the Sick are ordered to that celebration of the Holy Eucharist which is the centre of sacramental life and the chief visible expression of ecclesial communion. This communion of Christians with each other and of local Churches united around their lawful Bishops is realized in the gathered community which confesses the same faith, which reaches forward in hope of the world to come and in expectation of the Saviour's return and is anointed by the Holy Spirit, who dwells in it with charity that never fails.
  8. Since it is the chief expression of Christian unity between the faithful and between Bishops and priests, the Holy Eucharist cannot yet be concelebrated by us. Such celebration supposes a complete identity of faith such as does not yet exist between us. Certain questions, in fact, still need to be resolved touching the Lord's will for His Church, as also the doctrinal implications and canonical details of the traditions proper to our communities which have been too long separated.
  9. Our identity in faith, though not yet complete, entitles us to envisage collaboration between our Churches in pastoral care, in situations which nowadays are frequent both because of the dispersion of our faithful throughout the world and because of the precarious conditions of these difficult times. It is not rare, in fact, for our faithful to find access to a priest of their own Church materially or morally impossible. Anxious to meet their needs and with their spiritual benefit in mind, we authorize them in such cases to ask for the Sacraments of Penance, Eucharist and Anointing of the Sick from lawful priests of either of our two sister Churches, when they need them. It would be a logical corollary of collaboration in pastoral care to cooperate in priestly formation and theological education. Bishops are encouraged to promote sharing of facilities for theological education where they judge it to be advisable. While doing this we do not forget that we must still do all in our power to achieve the full visible communion between the Catholic Church and the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch and ceaselessly implore our Lord to grant us that unity which alone will enable us to give to the world a fully unanimous Gospel witness.
  10. Thanking the Lord who has allowed us to meet and enjoy the consolation of the faith we hold in common (cf. Rom. 1:12) and to proclaim before the world the mystery of the Person of the Word incarnate and of His saving work the unshakeable foundation of that common faith, we pledge ourselves solemnly to do all that in us lies to remove the last obstacles still hindering full communion between the Catholic Church and the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, so that with one heart and voice we may preach the word: "The True Light that enlightens every man" and "that all who believe in His name may become the children of God" (cf. St. John 1:9-12).

Reviewing the visit to the Vatican on the eve of his departure His Holiness the Patriarch said in an interview:

"I am very happy to have come to Rome. This is the place where Peter, Paul and Ignatius Noorono courted their martyrdom and this is, like Damascus, a very old city, perhaps as old as human civilization. The Church of Antioch over which the Holy Spirit has called me to preside—I am the 121st legitimate successor to Peter in Antioch—and the Church of Rome have many things in common. The bond of Peter, the closeness to Patristic teachings, the veneration of Mary the Blessed Virgin and things like that.

I am convinced that unity must be based on truth and not mere friendliness. Unity must include the whole Christian fellowship of all places and all ages. At the same time we are all convinced that unity is not uniformity or structural rigidity. We are also in one mind that theological formulations have to be appreciated in the historical contexts and that no theological formulations exhausts the fullness of truth. Thus we are at the doorstep of an ecumenical age. But we have miles to go before we sleep, to borrow an expression from Robert Frost. The gentle breeze of ecumenism should be transformed into a powerful West Wind. To make that possible we should make ecumenism a way of life. That is not done in one day, of course, but we have not one day to lose either. As St. Paul said, "If we live by the Spirit let us also walk by the due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart" (Col. 5:25, 6:9).

Our two Churches should come closer because the ecumenical unity can come only in stages. First, all Churches with the same broad range of doctrines should cometogether. The Churches of Antioch and Rome share, very broadly of course, a doctrine and teachings. Therefore it is easier for us to come closer with each other than with, for instance, extreme Protestant Churches. Today we have just signed a common declaration—the Pope and I. That is a good step. It contains very significant statements. Mainly there are four points. (1) Unanimity of the opinion in Christology, (2) Willingness to collaborate mutually in priestly formation and pastoral care. (3) Limited co-operation in sacraments—Penance, Eucharist and Anointing of sick can now be received from either Church under certain circumstances. And (4) Desire to continue contacts so that ultimately there will be full communion.

The meetings this week are part of a series started in 1971 by Patriarch Yacoub III. The role of Cardinal Willebrands in bringing us together needs special mention. We are old friends from the time he was monsignor and I a monk an official observer for Second Council of Vatican. I must thank him particularly for all he has done.

The Oriental heritage has to be preserved. Our traditions go back to Apostolic times. They are perhaps in weak vessels, but the contents are so precious that they should be preserved.

My private talks with the Pope were very useful and productive. So also my conversation with Cardinal Cassaroli. The visit to Oriental Institute was very rewarding. So too the visit to the Vatican Library. On the whole I consider the visit very successful. I pray for the health and happiness of the Pope. And I pray that our two Churches may come closer. We are in the process of demolishing walls of separation. I hope the process will be hastened, thanks to this visit."


D. Babu Paul, The Quest for Unity (Damascus: Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate, 1985).

Copyright © Syriac Orthodox Resources. All Rights Reserved.
Last Update: December 29, 2001