The commission, co-chaired by Anba Bishoï, bishop of Damietta and secretary general of the Synod of the Orthodox Coptic Church, brought together representatives of the Syro-Orthodox (Syriac), Ethiopian, Eritrean, Armenian and Malankar (Indian) Churches in what has become an annual event since 2004.
The division between the Catholic Church and this family of Orthodox Churches dates back to the 5th century AD, more precisely to the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD), which defined Christ’s dual nature, his "full humanity and full divinity, without confusion or division".
After 1,500 years, the Catholic and Oriental Orthodox Churches have come to realise that they share the same faith in Christ and that their dispute was the results of terminological and cultural differences.
“As for the nature of Christ, Our Lord, our Churches believe in the permanence of the divine and human natures, joined in the same incarnate nature, a union that is without confusion, mixing, change or separation, in the same way that the spirit is united to the body in human nature to form a single human nature made of two natures without the body becoming the spirit, nor the spirit, the body, but both forming a single human nature,” Anba Bishoï said.
This realisation achieved during 40 years of ecumenical dialogue between popes and heads of Oriental Orthodox Churches on the initiative of the semi-official ‘Pro-Oriente’ foundation of Vienna has led the Catholic Church to sign three Christological declarations with the Coptic Orthodox Church in 1973, the Syriac Church the following year, and one with the Indian-based Malankar Church in 1983.
The dialogue currently undertaken focuses on the ‘Nature, constitution and mission of the Church’, that is the way to understand the Church (ecclesiology) and the sacraments. Through this dialogue, the Churches can try to rebuild the ties that existed in the first five centuries of Christianity, identify the role of the Church of Rome, and examine the ways the first three ecumenical councils were received.
According to Fr Paul Rouhana, theology professor at the Holy Spirit University of the Lebanese Monk Order, “it is simply a question of learning to be Christian together after centuries of separation.”
“Our progress towards visible unity will have a considerable impact on the lives of our faithful and on the ways our Churches will meet the challenges of our times,” Cardinal Kasper said. These challenges are known to all, namely the search for peace and justice in the Middle East, terrorism, emigration, just to name a few.
These issues are also set to be addressed next October in Rome at the special assembly of the Synod of Bishops dedicated the Middle East.
The fraternal delegates from Oriental Orthodox Churches will take part in the meeting side by side with their brothers from Eastern Catholic Churches and will be able to address the assembly.
As Cardinal Kasper put it, “What happens in the East is important not only for the Churches that live in the Middle Est.”