The Oriental Orthodox Churches
The conference of the Heads of oriental Orthodox Churches, which was held in
It is with this goal in mind that their Holiness’s the patriarchs have, through the conference, adopted the decisions which are published in the present volume. In fact they have sanctioned the appointment of various committees, which in the light of adequate study and comprehensive vision will draw the attention of the Churches to the many tasks which they have to fulfill. Existing as it does in an age of science, the church should be able to combine with its spiritual purity the many insights which science offers. From this point of view, the plan of creating a centre for evangelistic studies and an institution for higher theological learning is to be heartily welcomed.
The conference of the Heads of churches which took only a week was preceded by another week of preparatory work by specially delegated theologians. The task of organizing them both needed several months of planning. In fact, the very idea of the conference reached its maturity after several years of contemplation. Behind all this there was his Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia, who convened the conference, there by giving it a setting similar to that of the Councils of the ancient Church. So it was quite fitting that the conference conferred on the Emperor the little, “Defender of Faith”.
This Conference is only a beginning – just a humble one at that – towards leading the Church concerned to realize and fulfill their God-given mission in the world. But we have firm hope in the power of God who will continue the work thus begun, so that it may bear fruit to his glory. We believe that our Lord Jesus Christ who sumptuously fed five thousand men with the negligible provision of five loaves and two fishes will lead the churches in this great work.
The five churches which took part in the
In consequence of this stand as well as of various other causes these Churches have been made to face disabilities of many kinds. This, to be sure, is one of the main reasons why these Churches happened to be isolated both from the rest of Christendom and from one another. However, in spite of all such disadvantages they have continued to exist in the world holding to “the faith once delivered to the saints”, and today they include in their total membership over twenty million believers.
All this five Churches are members of the world council of churches. The wind contacts which this offered had led many in these churches to hope and pray for a common council of their own churches to be convened. The leaders of the world council of churches have also been showing much interest in such a development.
The Lord of the church answered the prayers and put into the main of His Imperial Majesty Haile Sellassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia, the idea of convening a conference of the Heads of these Churches in his own capital city, as a first step towards bringing the churches into a state of concrete unity and mutual cooperation. A devout member and protector of the Ethiopian orthodox church which is one of the participating churches, the Emperor himself had, ever since has elevation to the imperial throne of Ethiopia, been waiting for a suitable occasion to call together a conference of these churches.
In conclusion with the Heads of Churches, the program Committee prepared a tentative list of subjects to be discussed by the conference. Besides, this Committee arranged for the convening of a preparatory consolation by group of two theologians each deputed by every church to work out the “Schema” as a basis of discussion at the subsequent Conference of the Heads of Churches.
PREPARATORY CONSULATATION OF THEOLOGIANS
This was held during January 7-14, 1965 in one of the Committee Rooms of the
Held behind closed doors, this consultation was indeed a great success and an unforgettable experience for those who took part in it. After long discussions carried on in a spirit of frankness and cordiality on the basis of the tentative list of subjects which the program Committee had prepared these theologians unanimously recommended the “Schema” for the Conference of the Heads. A summary of the discussion is preserved in the short notes taken down by two recording secretaries, whose services had been graciously lent by the World Council of churches. Besides, the Committee had its official findings drafted by a body of three persons elected from among its membership. These findings were finally approved by a committee with necessary modification in order that they may be presented to the conference. The “Schema” thus proposed by the group of theologians to be submitted for deliberation by the conference consisted of forty paragraphs dealing with the following subjects: - I. The Modern World and our churches; II. Cooperation in Theological Education; III. Cooperation in Evangelism; IV. Our Relation with other churches; V. Instituting Machinery for the Maintenance of permanent Relations: and VI. A Statement on Peace and Justice in the world.
The Conference was inaugurated at 11a.m. on January 15th in the context of a short service of prayer. The rotunda of the Africa Hall had been reserved for the delegates and all the seats in the gallery were occupied by invited guests. On rostrum seats were arranged for the Heads of the Churches following the ancient tradition of precedence, and a bible placed on a beautifully decorated table remained at the center of the hall in front of these seats. At this inauguration ceremony the place reserved for the Patriarch of Alexandria remained vacant, as His Holiness Anba Kyrillos pope of
The inaugural ceremony was followed by the regular sessions of the Conference, two sittings each day, expect on 17th January which was a Sunday. Attended only by the Heads and delegates with the officers of the conference, these sessions were also held behind closed doors. Each session began and concluded its program of work with prayer led by one of the Heads, and in response to a unanimous request of the conference His Excellency Ato Abeba Retta, the Secretary General, assumed the role of the Moderator, and Ato Aberra Jembere served as the General Secretary. During these sessions the recommendations of the committee of theologians were read in the context of a very lively discussion of the issues raised in them. As at the preparatory consultation of theologians, the discussion, and a body of five persons was appointed to draft the findings. These men did the work assigned to them and the statements which necessary alterations, as its decisions.
The conference came to a close on January 21st. At 4 p.m. on that day the concluding session was held in the presence of a large gathering of people. On this occasion also the Emperor delivered an address, following by speeches by all the Heads of Churches. This closing session most solemnly conferred on His Imperial Majesty Haile Sellassie I the title of “the Defender of Faith”, and placed on record the feeling of sincere gratitude towards all those who worked for the success of the decisions approved by the Conference.
Although this was a Conference of the Heads of five Churches, the Heads and delegates of the Armenian Orthodox Church expressed their inability to participate in it fully, because of certain internal difficulties of administration which they were facing between the Supreme Catholicos of Etchmidzin and the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia. So at the closed sessions of the Conference the Armenian Orthodox church was represented only by observers, and neither of the Catholicos of the Armenian Orthodox Church signed the decisions at the conclusion of the conference. We are happy to note, however, that His Holiness Khoren I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, has subsequently signified his willingness to be considered a full participant of the Conference. We hope and pray that the Armenian Orthodox Church will be se guided by the Holy Spirit that will join fully with its sister Churches.
Following its adjournment, the standing Committee appointed by the Conference had several meetings, in which a number of decisions have been made with a view to follow up the work of the Conference. It should also be noted that in response to the request of the Conference, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church soon set up the interim Secretariat in
We pray God to shower His unceasing blessings on these churches, and guide them by His Holy Spirit that they may become effective witnesses of the redeeming work of Jesus Christ.
INVITATION AND SPEECHES
18th May, 1964
Because of our expressed desire to see this noble objective achieved, namely, the extension of God’s kingdom, we have at last decided to convince such a meeting.
Our great fathers met first at Nicea, then at Constantinople, and finally at
Other Churches and Denominations have their own separate meetings to discuss their common problems and to strengthen their unity. Now more than ever before, when the Churches are faced with great responsibilities and need greater strength, it is quite appropriate that the leaders of our Churches should meet together to discuss common problems and exchanges ideas. Your Holiness is well aware of the great need and usefulness of such a meeting.
It is, therefore, our desire that these ancient sister Churches should meet together in order to strengthen their unity in faith, to discuss points of common interest, resolve their common problems, and especially to pave the way for the ultimate reunification of the divided Churches of Christ.
We are happy to arrange such a meeting of the leaders of the sister Oriental Orthodox Churches to be held here in our capital city of
INAUGURAL SPEECH OF HIS IMPERIAL MAJESTY TO THE CONFERENCE OF HEADS OF ORIENTAL ORTHODOX CHURCHES
Venerable and Holy Fathers,
The Unity of the Church, as your Holinesses well know, is the will of God and ought to be inspiring example to all men. It should always be a help and not hindrance to the unity of men of different religions.
As church history testifies, the church fathers from the apostolic period up to the Third council (4th century A.D) did hold councils to formulate the doctrines of the church and to draft rules of Churches administration.
It is with the hope that your meeting will contribute in a significant way to the unity of the Church, and indirectly to the unity of church, and indirectly to the unity of all men, that we have invited your Holinesses and Venerable Fathers to our capital city.
Today not only the Church, but also the political powers of the world are frequently meeting, leaving their difference aside, to tackle common problems, and find ways and means for the achievement and preservation of world peace. The church should not overlook this great task because she is the source of peace and fraternity.
Our own church is as ancient as our faith, and her history is replete with accounts of the unswerving faith of our people, the inspiring heroism of our martyrs, the holiness of our saints. The history of our nation has always been closely related to the history of our Church, and the church has been both the rallying point and the inspirer of our national unity. Christianity has flourished in our country, keeping its original features and character through the centuries. As a nation we have a great debt to the Church for our cultural heritage.
In ancient times, when the Faith of the whole Church was one, our country had the closest relations with the Emperors of Christian Byzantium. At the time when several Christian peoples in the North became subservient to non- Christian powers, our country gladly gave asylum to thousands of Christian refugees. It had equally given asylum from religious persecution at an earlier date to the followers of the founder of Islam. Only when our own immediate neighbors ceased to be Christian did our contacts with our fellow-Christians in the North and East become difficult to maintain.
It is therefore with great joy that we welcome your Holinesses to our land and to our Church. Your Holinesses bring with you sacred memories from the ancient past. Your presence here is a pledge and token of the desire of all Christians to be one.
Ever since we ascended the historic throne of
Our age is characterized by notable advances in the sphere of communications, and is therefore rightly termed and age of unity and of coming together. In this connection we recall the noble efforts of Archbishop Nathan Soderblom of
This Conference may not be able to come to conclusions here and now. Yet it behaves the leaders of the churches to begin to seek ways and means of reconciliation and collaboration.
As noted in your agenda, you are to consider the problem of peace, because the world today is facing a great dilemma: the catastrophically weapons which are the result of human ingenuity menace the word to the point of annihilation, and the human race is more than ever in need of the prayers and support of the church. In this face we have another ground for cooperation with all the Churches of the world. As the followers of Christ let us not forget how often our case has suffered through disunity.
We would like to refer in conclusion to the question of social welfare in the modern world. For a country can achieve much more in this field if supported by the Church. The will of God will be realized and humanity can achieve progress in both spiritual and material fields in a healthy society.
We consider it a great blessing to us and to our people that your Holinesses have come to bless our land with your sacred presence. Our people and our Church rejoice to welcome Your Holinesses in our midst.
Holy Fathers, as the spiritual descendants of the Apostles of Christ, you have an eminent responsibility, which responsibility would include the improvement of the relations of laity with clergy and of church with society.
We hope and trust that God will guide the discussion here according to His will and that His power will assist Your Holinesses in finding common solutions to common problems in the spirit of amity and concord. May God who helped the 318 Fathers of the Council of Nicea enlighten and help us all.
You have come to
On these blessed days you have come together to work under His leadership and guided by the Holy Spirit to lay the foundation of a renewed spirit to lay the foundation of a renewed spirit of forward movement in our Churches, a movement which should contribute to growth and enable all those who are called by the name Christian to drew closer together and express the fullness of unity, for which our Lord earnestly prayed. We know that this is a very great task, but we hope that God will guide you to make a good start towards its fulfillment. The conference of the Heads of our Churches, which is to follow your consultation, will rely on your labors for their decisions. So the success of the Conference will depend upon what you will be doing during these few days. Our earnest support in prayer goes with you, and we believe that God who has brought you here will be with you guiding you in all your thinking and activities.
We trust that you will enjoy your stay with us. Once again let me assure you that you are most welcome in
Your Imperial Majesty, Holy Fathers and Brothers beloved clergy and people.
It is with deep sense of gratitude to Almighty God that we stand here on this occasion, and the joy which we feel in the depths of our hearts is beyond words to describe. Your Majesty has offered us a memorable opportunity to meet in your beautiful capital. While listening to the speech of your Majesty, we are reminded of the episode at the Council of Nicea in 325, when following the inaugural oration of Emperor Constantine, St. Eustathius of
As the meeting of Heads and leaders of our sister Orthodox Churches of the East, this Conference is a great event for our Churches. Through we have a common heritage of Orthodox faith, our Churches have not had an opportunity of meeting together in this way for many long centuries. But now God has, through his servant Haile Sellassie I, the Lion of Juda and the glorious Emperor of Ethiopia, made it possible for us to come together. In fact, from the time when our humble self was elevated to the holy see of the Apostle peter, we have been praying God to open the way for a meeting of our Churches, and when two of our brother Metropolitans visited Ethiopia soon after our installation, we had sent through them an appeal to your Majesty urging you to convene it. Now your Majesty has, out of your own gracious decision, called this Conference and we of the Syrian Orthodox Church all over the world rejoices in it.
It is fitting on this occasion for me to say that as the ruler of
Our Churches have indeed inherited the Orthodox faith from our Fathers. But we have not always manifested its meaning through the redeeming powers of divine love to a world which is hungry for it. That is one reason why our Churches have not been able to make the Gospel of Christ more real to our non-Christian neighbors. Through this conference we shall not only strengthen the bond of unity which exists among us, but shall also seek to reexamine the ways in which our true faith should transform our people. Besides, we shall agree together on practical programs of common action to make our Christian witness more effective in the world. With these concerns in mind, we pray that Almighty God may so order our deliberations that our Conference may give a new start to our ancient Churches.
To you Imperial Majesty and to the people of