20071217

The Eighth Meeting of the Heads of the Oriental Orthodox Churches in the Middle East

ST.EPHREMMONASTERY,MA’ARATSAYDNAYA,

DAMASCUS,SYRIA


DECEMBER9-10,2005


COMMON DECLARATION




In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Greetings to you all with the spirit of Christian love and fellowship.

We, Pope Shenouda III, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. 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, give thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ for granting us, once again, the opportunity to pray and to reflect together on issues of common concern, at St. Ephrem Monastery, in Ma’arat Saydnaya, Damascus, Syria. This is the eighth time that we come together as Heads of Churches, with the members of the Standing Committee we had appointed, within the framework of our fellowship that we initiated in 1996.


In our meeting here in Ma’arat Saydnaya, we reaffirmed our unity of faith that, for centuries, has been the basis of our common doctrinal position and theological teachings. Deeply rooted in the Holy Scriptures, the Apostolic Faith and Tradition, the three Ecumenical Councils (Nicea, 325, Constantinople, 381, and Ephesus, 431) and the teachings of our Church Fathers, our unity has sustained the life and witness of the Churches of the Oriental Orthodox family becoming a living source of spiritual strength and missionary engagement. For the family of the Oriental Orthodox Churches the full communion and visible unity of churches is based on the unity of faith which is manifested through eucharistic communion and other sacraments of the church.


We are responsible to preserve and protect the Holy Scriptures as a source of revelation against those erroneous declarations which create confusion and endanger the sacredness, authority and integrity of the Holy Scriptures. The Holy Scriptures are handed to us through the holy prophets, our Lord Jesus Christ, the holy apostles, the holy fathers and the holy Tradition. St. Paul instructed his disciple Bishop Timothy, to: “Guard through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1.14). We are called to follow this apostolic exhortation.


The unity of our faith must acquire concrete manifestations and touch the life of our people through common witness and joined engagement, particularly in the sphere of religious and moral education, theological formation and social diakonia. In these areas, our Churches have made significant achievements. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called to carry out, with renewed commitment, our missionary task.



The authenticity and credibility of Christian teaching on moral issues should be re- stressed in the context of a rapidly changing world especially in some Christian circles where the moral values of the Holy Scriptures are challenged by new trends and values of secularization and globalization. St. Paul has warned that “In the last days difficult times will come. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy” (2 Timothy 3.1-2). As Christians we must sustain our lives and conduct our work in accordance with these moral and spiritual values.


In our solidarity and unity of faith we are not confined to our Churches; we also feel responsible to strive for the unity of all churches, both in our region and in different parts of the world. We remain firmly committed to the ecumenical movement both through the World Council of Churches, as a global ecumenical fellowship, and the Middle East Council of Churches, as a regional ecumenical fellowship. We will continue our active role in the World Council of Churches. The work of the Special Commission and particularly the consensus decision-making procedure is expected to enhance the Orthodox involvement in the life and witness of the Council.


With this same spirit our Churches are actively engaged in bilateral theological dialogues. These theological dialogues with Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican and Reformed Churches will further spell out the authenticity and Orthodoxy of the Christological teachings of the Oriental Orthodox Churches. The theologians of these churches, who used to call us monophysites (single nature), have realized that we are miaphysites (one united nature), following the teachings of our common father St. Cyril of Alexandria. There still exist differences with other churches, which need more dialogue and discussion. We should keep in mind that reception by the churches of the agreements of theological dialogues needs time and patience.


Family is a sacred institution established by our Lord Jesus Christ. The sacredness and integrity of Christian family must be preserved. Hence, we condemn all practices and behaviors related to marriage and sexual orientation that are not in accord with the biblical and moral teachings. In view of the emerging tendencies and challenges that jeopardize the credibility of Christian moral teachings and spiritual values and traditions, we appeal to our people to remain deeply attached to their Christian identity and values keeping strong their faithfulness to the Gospel message.


Besides the inter-church collaboration, we consider inter-religious relations and dialogue to be imperative. The Christian-Muslim dialogue has been integral to the history, civilizations and cultures of the Middle East. Our Churches in this region have been in constant and existential dialogue with Islam. This dialogue of life, based on mutual understanding, trust and respect, must continue with renewed emphasis, particularly on the level of people at grass-roots. We are increasingly called to keep the peaceful relations and harmonious co-existence between Christians and Muslims in the Middle East and on global level. Due to emerging concerns and new developments especially in Iraq and Palestine, continuous efforts must be made to develop mutual undertaking and understanding between Muslim and Christian teachers, scholars and community leaders. Everybody has the right to explain and defend his or her religion without becoming aggressive and offensive towards the other religion. The Christian-Muslim dialogue in the Middle East must be conducted by the Churches. Therefore, we recommend that the
Middle East Council of Churches give a priority attention to this vital area of concern
through its Dialogue Commission.


We appeal to our communities living in different parts of the world to remain firmly attached to their native lands by supporting all initiatives and actions that promote peace with justice in the Middle East, as well as mutual respect and understanding among religions and nations.


The Coptic Orthodox, the Syrian Orthodox and the Armenian Orthodox Churches have played a significant role in all major initiatives, processes and actions in our region leading it to greater peace and prosperity. We cannot remain silent and indifferent in the face of the prevailing unstable situation in the Middle East.


We believe that the peace process must continue with new impetus, and the Palestinian people must have its independent state and the right to return home. Israel must implement all Resolutions of the U.N. Security Council by withdrawing from the occupied Arab territories, including the Farms of Shabaa in South of Lebanon, Golan Heights and Jerusalem. Only full justice will bring about comprehensive, real and permanent peace in the Middle East.


Iraq must soon regain its independence, integrity and sovereignty. All occupying forces must leave Iraq and the nation-building process must be enhanced with the participation of all communities.


We condemn all forms and expressions of violence. Religion is a promoter of love, hope and reconciliation, peace, justice and human rights. It cannot be exploited and used for non-religious purposes. We urge all those who, for one reason or other, are involved in conflict to resolve their problems through dialogue and mutual understanding.


We greet the President of the Republic of Syria, His Excellency Dr. Bashar Al-Assad, heads of all religious communities and the people of Syria. We note with joy that the Christians in Syria are engaged in renewal process: they are re-organizing their Christian life and witness; they are building new churches and monasteries; and they are playing an active role in society and contributing to the progress of the country.


As we conclude our Eighth Meeting, we appeal to our Churches to remain faithful to the Gospel, its values and imperatives, and participate more actively in the total life and witness of the church. Our collaboration will intensify and deepened further. We will, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, give a renewed efficiency and vitality to the witness of our Churches, and particularly to their educational, theological, diaconal, evangelistic and ecumenical work.


May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen












Shenouda III
Pope of Alexandria and
Patriarch of the See of St. Mark
Mar Ignatius Zakka I
Patriarch of
Antioch and all the East
Aram I
Catholicos of the Great House of
Cilicia


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