Armenian Patriarch urges Christians to overcome selfishness to achieve true Christian unity
Mideast Church leaders start Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in Beirut. In his address, Armenian Catholic primate slams divisions that still remain in the Church. The true meaning of the sacrifice on the cross is lost when the work for unity is aimed at “winning others to one’s principles”.
Beirut (AsiaNews/LOJ) – Ecumenism is the atonement that comes after falling-out. It exists only to answer Christ’s priestly prayer, “so that they may all be one”, and then just fades away.
The particularly delicate issue of the unity of the Church often lends itself to formal, polite remarks. However, this is not what the Patriarch of Armenian Catholics, Raphael Bedros XXI Minassian, did when he talked about the matter last night at the start of the Week of Prayer in the Cathedral of Saints Elijah and Gregory, Debbas Square, Beirut.
Using measured but firm terms in his address to Church patriarchs and heads gathered in the presence of the Apostolic Nuncio and the Maronite Patriarch, Archbishop Minassian did not hesitate to put his finger in the wound, noting that humans naturally go their separate ways, whilst the main pathway to end divisions is to get rid of “individual and collective selfishness” once and for all.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is held annually from January 18 to 24. In every church in Lebanon and across the world, these eight days are punctuated by daily meditations that the faithful attending Mass can follow in a booklet made available to them by the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC).
This year, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity entrusted the meditations to the MECC, which is headquartered in Beirut. Their inspiration comes from the Gospel of Matthew about the Magi’s arrival in Jerusalem: “We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.
These reflections focus on the very difficult situation Christians face today in the East and the urgency of working for Christian unity. The head of the Armenian Catholic Church, host of the ceremony, delivered the central exhortation.
"Actions that do not match good intentions”
Far from the watered-down formulas of traditional meditations, Patriarch Minassian reminded his peers that “the Churches continue to suffer from divisions that have torn them apart in the past” because of the “individual and collective selfishness” shown by churchmen and religious leaders.
“Their actions do not match their good intentions,” he said, so much so that they are almost unable to “measure the true meaning” of the sacrifice on the Cross.
Slamming one of the "flaws" of ecumenism, which is to “work hard for unity, but with the aim of winning others to one’s principles,” the head of the Armenian Catholic Church did not hesitate to compare the Churches to the Roman soldiers who, at the foot of the Cross, shared the clothes of Jesus.
Addressing the sensitive topic of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, as bread and wine, he said that he was surprised by the fact that “Catholics reject communion with the Orthodox, and the Orthodox reject communion with Catholics”.
“But is the Catholic Christ different from the Orthodox Christ? Is the sacrament of baptism in one different from the other?” asked Archbishop Minassian. We know full well that all the sacraments of the Church were established directly by Christ, so where is the controversy? Isn't the row something human, wrapped in selfishness and sectarianism, far from any spiritual and Christian principle?”
Undoubtedly, for some ecclesial circles, the views passed on so straightforwardly by the Patriarch of Armenian Catholics refers to the lack of clarity and mistakes to which the Pope referred in his address to the Patriarchs and Heads of the Oriental Churches in the meeting held last summer at the Vatican (1 July).
On that occasion, the Pope said: “in facing this dark situation, we, as pastors, have sought together to be guided by God’s light. And in God’s light, we have seen our own lack of clarity: the mistakes we have made in failing to bear consistent witness to the Gospel, and above all the opportunities we have missed along the path to fraternity, reconciliation and full unity. For all this, we ask forgiveness”.
The Pope spoke on behalf of all. Is it not time for Oriental Churches to speak about it themselves?