CONFERENCE OF THE HEADS OF ORIENTAL ORTHODOX CHURCHES
Decisions adopted by the Conference of the Heads and Delegates
during January 15 – 21, 1965
P R E A M B L E
2. We believe that this Conference opens a new era in our history. It is our firm hope that our meeting here is really the beginning of an age of Councils to be held in future, linking our churches with the state of unity which they had during the period of the three ancient Ecumenical Councils of Nicea, Constantinople and Ephesus, and enabling them with renewed strength and vitality to further the redeeming purpose of God in the world.
3. In our deliberations at this Conference we agreed to examine the findings and recommendations submitted by a Committee of our theologians whom we had appointed. Thus we concentrated our attention on the common task of our churches in relation to six specific themes which are of utmost importance at the present time.
Given below are our decisions.
THE MODERN WORLD AND OUR CHURCHES
(1) The world in which we live has undergone, and is continuously undergoing, radical changes which deeply affect the life of the people. Men and women are acquiring new ideas, are attracted to new ideologies, are experiencing new ways of life and are creating new norms of culture. A whole secular movement is sweeping over our people almost everywhere. We all are aware of the widening gap between the Church and the educated modern man, particularly the youth. We realise that the question of how to bridge this cleavage is a major problem, and we decide to take seriously the following suggestions presented to us by the Committee of theologians.
(2) Concerning the problems raised in the minds of the faithful in this 20th century by new points of view, spiritual, doctrinal and exegetical, or new materialistic and atheistic ideologies, the Conference of the Oriental Orthodox Churches re-affirms its attachment to the orthodox faith and doctrine based on the Holy Bible and the Holy Tradition. In particular, new theories or declarations, whether made by individuals or by groups, concerning the life and teaching or our Lord Jesus Christ. His Incarnation or His Crucifixion must be judged on the basis of the text of the Holy Bible and the teachings of the Fathers of the Church.
“Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scriptures is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (II Peter 1: 20’21).
“All Scripture is given by the inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. That the man of God may be perfect. Thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (II Tim. 3: 16-17).
Each of our Churches will appoint a Committee to study the details of the problems raised by such new points of view and ideologies, to formulate the answers required and to report their findings to the Standing Committee for further consideration in a forthcoming Conference.
(3) A considerable proportion of educated youth seems to be drifting away from active participation in the life of the Church. This is especially noticeable in the unwillingness of most college and university educated young men to consider priesthood as a possible vocation for them. It is not unusual to find the very young men who are reluctant to come in touch with the Church becoming enthusiastic workers in certain groups of ideological or social character which succeed in capturing their imagination and loyalty. One of the reasons for this seems to be that they feel the Church continues to live in a bygone age, being concerned with questions of doctrinal history rather than paying attention to problems that are more real to the modern man. The churches are reckoned by them as being preoccupied mainly with keeping the “deposit of faith once delivered to the Saints” and carrying on the accustomed patterns of worship. In other terms, the preaching and the practice of the Church are less meaningful to many educated men in a scientific and technological age.
(4) Therefore, there is an urgent need for the reintegration of modern men in general and educated youth in particular, with the life of the Church. The needs of those who live in urban and industrial areas should be given special consideration. Our churches should immediately take up for serious consideration questions such as those of making appropriate changes in certain practices which have a direct link with the participation of the people in the life of the Church. For example, the rules of fasting and the days of lent need to be reconsidered and revised. The genuine spiritual values of such practices should be taught to the faithful so that they may enter into them meaningfully. The length language and hours of church services should be re-examined, applying methods of simplification and adaptation, without bringing harm to the mystery and deep spirituality contained and made manifest therein. Laymen and laywomen must be brought into responsible positions and places in the life of the Church. Particularly the youth must be given more responsibility in their participation in the life and work of our churches. Youth must not be regarded and dealt with, as a group at the fringes of the Church, but must be brought into the very heart of the life of the Church. Since these points are most indispensable for the integration of modern man with the life of the Church, we resolve that each of our churches should appoint an expert committee to study them in its own particular context and to recommend specific measures for adoption by it, and that whatever steps to be thus taken by each may be brought to the information of the other churches. In this connection we note that the Syrian Orthodox Church both of Antioch and of India as well as the Armenian Orthodox Church have already introduced certain definite changes in their rules concerning fasting and Lenten seasons.
(d) FAMILY LIFE AND SPIRITUAL RENEWAL
(5) Christian homes are the basic units in the life of the Church and there is urgent need to provide education in Christian family life. Special attention must be given to the instruction of young couples before and after marriage. The question of family planning, dissolution of marriages, and related problems should be carefully studied and cared for in a deep pastoral concern.
(6) The practice of Bible reading, daily devotions, family prayer, regular attendance at Church services, frequent and well directed confession and conscious participation in the Holy Eucharist must be encouraged by every possible means. Sacramental life should be strengthened and depended. It should become more directly related to the social concern for the poor and the suffering. The spiritual gifts received through the grace of God must be translated into actions of charity and sacrificial giving for the welfare of the needy and the promotion of social justice. The confessional should once again become a real and effective source of spiritual and moral guidance and counselling. All this calls for a new orientation in the pastoral ministry of our churches.
(e) CHRISTIAN EDUCATION
(7) The Christian education of our children and young people is a matter of genuine interest and concern for our churches. We decide to establish a special Committee composed of experts, namely educators, clergymen and laymen, to prepare a general outline of a curriculum for Christian education to be used by our churches with necessary modifications required by the particular traditions and situations in each church.
(8) Literature has been in service to the Christian Church since the very beginnings of Christianity. We have received from our Church Fathers a very rich literary heritage in the fields of biblical, theological, hagiographical. Liturgical, and historical studies and writings. But we can not confine ourselves to what we have inherited from the past and have it as the only source for our spiritual nourishment. The literary activity of churches should be a continuous process which may bring new and fresh spirit into the life of our churches.
We need (i) Biblical and Liturgical commentaries; (ii) Theological Books for a clear and intelligent exposition of our Christian faith; (iii) Literary productions aimed at meeting the challenge of modern ideologies, sociological theories, and new psychological trends in relation to the teachings of the Gospel; (iv) Popular Christian Books such as novels and tracts, written in an attractive language and style for the ordinary people; (v) Informative publications giving full and precise account of historical background and the present situation of our churches written in a form of fair, accurate presentation and in a spirit of self-criticism as over against self-glorification, as we are sometimes inclined to do; (vi) A periodical for all our Churches covering information concerning our various churches, selection from our local periodicals, and activities of our Committees and Secretariat.
(g) MONASTIC LIFE
(9) Monastic life has to be revived in our churches. While emphasis should continue to be placed on contemplation, manual labour and study in all monastic orders, it is necessary to develop different types of orders giving special attention to different concerns in view of an active participation in the work of our churches as a whole. Careful selection and proper training of candidates are the basic preconditions for a successful renewal of monastic life.
(10) The restoration of Religious Orders for women should be carefully considered and seriously taken up. The Church will gain immensely from the devotion of such women who feel the call to dedicate their whole life to God’s service. Our churches should take seriously the question of exchanging monks and nuns between them.
(h) CHURCH ADMINISTRATION
(11) Although the systems of church administration very to a very large extent from church to church, yet we feel that there is a need for re-examination and re-ordering. Two points must be given priority:
(i) CHURCH CALENDAR
(12) The question of whether there is not the need for a revision of our Church Calendar should be faced by our churches. A unified calendar would indeed be an outward expression of our oneness. So we decide to nominate a Committee of experts to study in detail the causes of differences and difficulties arising there from, and report to us their findings for consideration and appropriate action. We not that here also the Syrian Orthodox Church both of Antioch and of India as well as the Armenian Orthodox Church have accepted a change in its traditional calendar by adopting the Gregorian Calendar.
COOPERATION IN THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION
(1) We all recognise that theological education is one of the most indispensable responsibilities of Church. The Church needs men who, on the one hand, are ready to respond to the call of the Holy Spirit at work in the Church and, on the other hand, are capable of meeting the needs of man in modern times. Theological education is the proper means by which the churches seek to prepare such men. Although the primary aim of theological education is the training of the clergy and of other church workers, it should also provide for the education of laymen to be effective witnesses of the Christian faith in their respective callings in life.
(b) CONTENT OF THEOLOTICAL EDUCATION
(2) By theological education the Church tries to instruct the members in the first place, its clergy- in the faith in a way relevant to the realities of life in every age. The Church’s faith is centred round the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, the incarnate, crucified and risen Lord, and the continuing guidance of the Holy Spirit who brings as a contemporary reality in every age Jesus Christ and His redeeming work. This faith is borne witness to in the Holy Scriptures and has moulded the Holy Tradition of the Church. So, in theological education there should be adequate place for the study of the Bible, which has brought fresh inspiration to every generation, and of Christian history as a dynamic experience of our common faith and God-given mission. All this should be undertaken in an atmosphere of worship and religious commitment and in relation to the intellectual element of our age. Thus by theological education the Church should be able to train men who are deeply rooted and rounded in “the faith once delivered to the Saints” and who will proclaim it effectively to their generations.
(3) While the spiritual and intellectual aspects are thus being emphasised, the pastoral aspects would not be overlooked. Thus, a programme of practical training in Christian action should also be part of any theological education. Students in Theological Schools should be given opportunities of coming in touch with the world as it exists and which will be the field of their action during their ministry. In addition to this, they should be provided with facilities for entering into the life and work of the parish through direct participation. Whereby they may become acquainted with the various aspects and problems of Church life.
(c) COMMON CURRICULUM
(4) Bearing all these facts in mind, we feel the need of drawing up a comprehensive curriculum for theological studies in our churches which might be adopted by each church with suitable modifications according to its particular traditions and local needs.
(d) PRACTICAL MEANS OF COOPERATION
(5) With reference to the specific question of co-operation in theological education by our churches, we realise that there are two problems which we have to face. In the first place, the fact that we use different languages as our media of instruction in our Theological Seminaries makes co-operation difficult to work out. Secondly, there is the problem that our churches do not have either the same liturgy or the same ecclesiastical practices. AT the same time we decide to explore possibilities of initiating the following means of co-operation.
(i) We should encourage the exchange of special students, preferably at a graduate level, who will learn the needed language and will be offered by the institution concerned necessary facilities in carry out their chosen programme of study. Exchange of professors will be easier than exchange of students, especially when they are scholars or experts in some field or study.
(ii) We should co-operate in the building up of a common Centre of Advanced Studies and Research as a place of higher learning for our churches. This should be a post graduate institution offering facilities for special study at a high level of scholarship in the history, theology and other subjects related to our Orthodox Churches. Post graduate students recommended by any of our Churches, should be admitted to it and professors of high academic standing or experts in their respective fields may be invited to join its staff. With a view to maintaining an advanced level of academic proficiency, it may work in co-operation with institutions of a similar nature in other parts of the world.
(e) STUDIES ABROAD
(6) In view of the fact that there are facilities offered by Universities, Seminaries and other institutions abroad for advanced studies in theology, and that we also can take advantage of them, we resolve that our churches should select qualified persons and recommend them to places of our choice. In so doing, we should see that the men so sent are graduates in their own countries and mature enough to pursue their studies in a part of the world other than their own. They should be people deeply rooted in their own tradition, at the same time having a genuine in sight into other traditions.
(f) THEOLOGICAL BOOKS
(7) Production of theological books and textbooks is also an area in which we decide our churches should co-operate. When the proposed Centre of Advance Theological Study and Research takes shape, this work also can be combined with it. The books so published may be translated into the various languages in use in our different churches, so that language will not be a hindrance for co-operation in this respect.
COOPERATION IN EVANGELISM
(1) Evangelistic work is another area in which, we feel our churches should co-operate. Evangelism is part of our common heritage, and we recall the great accomplishments of our churches in the past in this field. At the same time we live in an age which calls for a fresh evaluation of the methods of evangelism. So we should examine the experiences of the various missionary organizations in our churches and see what can be done to co-ordinate our evangelistic efforts.
(c) THE BASIS OF EVANGELISM
(2) The basis of evangelism is to be found in the very nature and purpose of Christ’s Incarnation as manifested in His life and teaching. It must not be the human desire to increase the number of members in one’s own community. Also, it is not a merely formal obedience to Christ’s command: “God into all the world and preach the Gospel”. In His high-Priestly Prayer, our Lord said to the Father: “ As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (
(3) We need well-trained and devoted preachers and workers in the field of the evangelistic witness of our churches. However, increased evangelistic effort is not only a matter of training larger number of eloquent preachers and sending them out into all the world with the necessary equipment. It is also a matter of the whole membership of the Church being moved by the redemptive love of God and being concerned to bring succour to those who are in spiritual and material need everywhere. The question, therefore, is what our churches can do to foster among our members this evangelistic spirit of burden-bearing, for the love of God and along with that, to organize the proclamation of the good news of God’s love to a world in need.
(4) The life of the worshipping community is an essential witness of the Church to her risen Lord. Loving identification with, and redeeming lover for, mankind for whom our Lord died is expressed in worship through evangelistic intercession. Such intercession, Prayer for the world and for the Christian work which expresses the care of the Church, will also help to make the members of our churches more conscious of their Apostolic or missionary calling. We have to give this kind of evangelistic intercession an integral place in our liturgical worship and our family prayers. This needs enlarging the intercessory parts f our worship and introducing a programme for educating our congregations in this respect.
(5) Evangelism should make our churches better instruments of the Holy Spirit in all aspects of their life. This is the real source of renewal of our churches. Evangelism involves an earnest attempt to make the compassion of Christ a reality to those in need. This calls for not only sympathy expressed through almsgiving, but also for sacrificial giving of whatever God has blessed us with. Our people should be taught the principle and practical ways of self-giving through personal commitment. There are de-christianized areas in the lives of our people which need to be evangelized. Here there is need to make the fullest use of all the means of grace.
(e) EVANGELISM AMONG THOSE OUTSIDE
(6) We have to give united thought to specific areas where evangelistic work is urgently needed. Areas where men and women are in special need of the Gospel message of a new life ought to engage our immediate attention. The message of the Gospel has to be presented also to those who are attracted by atheism, materialism, and other philosophies and ideologies, so that the truth of Christ may be clearly and honestly faced by them.
(7) In this connection it should be specially remembered that witnessing for Christ is not passing on our national cultures to men and women of other nations. Those who come to Christ are to be helped to continue as witnesses to Christ among their own people. This might involve the development of new modes of worship in accordance with their own environment, so that indigenous churches may be formed.
(8) There is need to study various methods of evangelism which have been, and are being, used to make Christ real to those in need. We must avoid such methods as are not compatible with the Christian sprit of charity and the moral ideals of evangelism. Our churches should use also modern media of communication and education like popular literature, the cinema, and the radio wherever possible, to proclaim the Gospel.
TRAINING IN EVANGELISTIC WORK
(9) while all Christians are to be evangelists wherever they are, there is particular need for many who are engaged in full time evangelistic work. Such people need special training. Our churches, wherever possible, ought to have missionary training centers to give such training to full time evangelists and others. It would be of very great help if we would build up one Missionary Institute for all our churches together.
OUR RELATION WITH OTHER CHURCHES
(1) We rejoice that there is a great longing for the recovery of Christian unity all over the world in our times, and we share that spirit fully. God wills the unity of the whole human race in His own Church. But the Christian world is divided into many bodies, a fact which causes much distress to us. So we are concerned to raise the question of what should be our relation with the many churches which comprise the Christian world. These churches can be considered under three categories. The
(b) RELATIONS WITH THE EASTERN ORTHODOX CHURCHES
(2) Though in our concern for the reunion of Christendom we have in our minds the reunion of all churches, from the point of view of closer affinity in faith and spiritual kinship with us we need to develop different approaches in our relationship with them. This consideration leads us to take up the question of our relation with the Eastern Orthodox Churches as a first step. We shared the same faith and communion till the Council of Chalcedony in 451, and then the division took place.
(3) Concerning the Christological controversy which caused the division, we hope that common studies in a spirit of mutual understanding can shed light on our understanding of each other’s positions. So we decide that we should institute formally a fresh study of the Christological doctrine in its historical setting to be undertaken by our scholars, talking into account the earlier studies on this subject as well as the informal consultations held in connection with the meetings of the world Council of Churches. Mean- while, we express our agreement that our churches could seek closer relationship and co-operate with the Eastern Orthodox Churches in practical affairs.
(4) With the Church of Rome also we shared the same faith and communion till the Council of Chalcedony in 451, and then the division took place. We rejoice about the new awareness which the Roman Catholic Church has begun to show of the need on its part of recognizing the other churches, particularly the Orthodox Churches of the East. With this new spirit in view, we suggest that we should be willing to enter into conversation with the Roman Catholic Church with a view to closer understanding. In our relationship with it the principle of dialogue on the level of Churches must be adopted. In this connection, we should ask the Roman Catholic Church to reconsider its theory and practice both of maintaining unite churches and of proselytizing among members of our churches.
(5) We are happy to note that the Eastern Orthodox Churches have also expressed a positive attitude in regard to establishing a dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church, and we hope that it will be possible for our churches to proceed in this direction in collaboration with them.
RELATIONS WITH OTHER MEMBER CHURCHES OF THE WCC
(6) With the non-Orthodox member Churches of the World Council of Churches we have cordial relations through it and we hop and pray that God will open the way for our mutual understanding and co-operation wherever possible. Of these Churches, the Old Catholic Church and the
THE ECUMENICAL MOVEMENT
(7) Before we conclude, we would like to express a genuine appreciation of the whole Ecumenical Movement such as that made manifest through the World Council of Churches. The new spirit of fellowship, mutual understanding and co-operation fostered by the Ecumenical Movement has had beneficial effects in the life of all the churches involved.
(8) We hope and pray that God will strengthen every effort made for the progress of the Ecumenical Movement to enable the churches to fulfil their mission through common and concerted efforts in ever greater faithfulness to our common Lord, Jesus Christ.
INSTITUTING A MACHINERY FOR THE MAINTENANCE OF PERMANENT RELATIONS AMONG THE CHURCHES
1. In order to carry out the decisions of this Conference and to co-ordinate the efforts made by the various Churches in this respect, we resolve that permanent machinery should be established. So we appoint a Standing Committee consisting of two representatives recommended by each Church, who will have the following duties:-
2. The members of the Standing Committee this appointed are:-
3. For the interim period between this Conference and the establishment of the permanent Organization and Secretariat, which should not exceed six months, we approve the appointment of Ato Seifu Metaferia as a temporary Secretary, his name having been submitted to this Conference by our sister Ethiopian Orthodox Church in response to our request, to carry out the practical work involved in this immediate stage. The Standing Committee in its first meeting should define the responsibilities of the interim Secretary and draw up the plan of work for this interim period.
The Heads and Representatives of the Oriental Orthodox Churches, assembled in Conference in
Peace, however, is not merely absence of war. It is rather that state of life in which all the people and nations of the world move forward in harmony and co-operation towers the experience of God’s Kingdom on earth. In such a state of human life the rights of individuals, communities and nations must be fully recognized. All men are equal in the eyes of God. All are children of the one heavenly Father. The blessings of God in nature are for all human beings without distinction of race, religion, colour, class or sex.
Therefore, all human beings, communicates, peoples and nations must be treated on the basis of freedom of conscience, equality and justice. Our churches are committed by obedience to our Lord, to work for the establishment of justice for all. We would co-operate with one another and with world organizations which strive for the establishment of justice and peace in the world and we call on all peoples, nations and states of the world to do the same. May God bless and proper all efforts to this end by whomever undertaken.
CONFRENCE OF THE HEADS OF ORIENTAL ORTHODOX CHURCHES
We, the Heads of the Oriental Orthodox Churches, assembled with our delegations in conference, solemnly declare His Imperial Majesty Haile Sellassie I Emperor of Ethiopia as the “Defender of the Faith.”
CONFRENCE OF THE HEADS OF ORIENTAL ORTHODOX CHURCHES
We, the Heads of the Oriental Orthodox Churches, assembled with our Delegations in Conference, at the successful conclusion of our sessions, are happy to pay tribute to His Imperial Majesty Haile Sellassie I, whose initiative and foresight made this meeting possible.
CONFRENCE OF THE HEADS OF ORIENTAL ORTHODOX CHURCHES