Added on 09/10/2013
Anglican and Oriental Orthodox Church leaders who met at the historic Hampton Court over the weekend shared not only prayer, worship and fellowship, but also their fears about the future of Christianity in the Middle East.
Leading clergy and theologians from both Christian traditions met for the first Anglican–Oriental Orthodox International Commission in 12 years. They were there to engage in theological dialogue about important questions which have kept eastern and western Churches separate for centuries, while at the same time to forge deeper bonds of faith and mutual support.
The dialogue’s central topic was the Holy Spirit, but Christian persecution in countries across the Middle East was inevitably a key issue.
Speaking at Saturday evening’s joint vespers hosted by the Orthodox Church of St Augustine in Surrey, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom Bishop Angaelos said, “We gather to remember our brethren in Egypt, Syria, and throughout the Middle East, where many continue to suffer persecution for their faith. Some suffer even to the extent of losing their lives, yet their faithful witness in the Middle East is a blessing to the whole Church, and to the whole world.”
Church of England Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe Geoffrey Rowell added, ‘We have reflected on our common faith in Christ, and how we speak of Him and live in Him by the life–giving work of God’s Holy Spirit. We have done that in the deep awareness of the suffering of fellow Christians in Syria, in Egypt, and in many other places. The God whom we worship and adore is the One who comes down to the lowest part of our need.”
Archbishop Aphrem Karim of the Syrian Orthodox Church said, “A Latin American bishop told me, ‘If a Church is not a suffering Church it is not a real Church’ … But Christians are also people of hope, and suffering in this world will not separate us from Christ.
“What’s happening in Syria and the Middle East is the cost we have to pay for our faith. But the whole people of the Middle East, Christians and Muslims, are suffering at the hands of groups that believe they act on behalf of God. We pray for these perpetrators that they may be touched by God’s love, that they may change and see God’s face in every human being around them.”
He expressed concern at the falling numbers of Christians in the Middle East; “Iraq is another country where Christians are reduced. Out of a million and a half, less than half a million remain. In Egypt, on one day some 80 churches were attacked and people were killed. We know about Turkey where Christians [totalled] 40 to 50 per cent of the population less than 100 years ago. There are [now] perhaps half of one per cent.”
Bishop Angaelos added, “There are many who are suffering for their faith. They suffer persecution. Some suffer even to the extent of losing their lives. Yet their faithful witness in the Middle East is a blessing to the whole Church, and to the whole world. The birthplace of Christianity is still a place in which Christians are witnessing every day and sometimes at great cost.”
In the midst of such sadness and concern there was also joy and hope that believers from different traditions had so much to share with one another.
The Rt Revd Christopher Hill, the Church of England Bishop of Guildford said, “When Christians welcome each other it is a mutual welcome because God in Christ welcomes us.
“In my chapel, by the door, there is a place of water, to remind that me that I am a baptised Christian. Over that place there is a Coptic Orthodox icon… In God in Christ we are mutually welcomed by God the lover of humankind.”
Bishop Angaelos echoed these ecumenical sentiments, “We are blessed to have brothers and sisters in Christ who are also sharing in our vision. There are differences, but the things we have in common are far greater, and far more important. …We are faithful to the one flock, one Shepherd.”
On Sunday 6 October, the Commission members welcomed Archbishop of Canterbury the Most Revd Justin Welby to the Chapel Royal, Hampton Court, for its Feast of Dedication. Archbishop Welby said there was “an urgency and an importance” to the Commission’s meeting not least because of the need for its members to seek “God’s powerful hand” to deliver their brothers and sisters from persecution.
The Anglican–Oriental Orthodox International Commission has held its second meeting 3–7 October 2013 at St Columba’s House, Woking, England. Our Churches rejoice at the resumption of this important dialogue after ten years.
We greatly appreciate the hospitality offered by the Anglican Communion, the Church of England, and the Diocese of Guildford.
During the course of its meeting the Commission shared in daily prayer from the various traditions represented, and considered and discussed the following papers:
•The Procession of the Holy Spirit (Coptic Orthodox presentation)
•The Filioque in the Anglican Tradition
•The Filioque and Anglican Action
•The Filioque and the Armenian Orthodox Tradition
•The Draft Agreed Statement on Christology (2002) and its reception
The context in which we have met has been one of continuing concern for the countries in the Middle East in particular, as well as Kenya, Pakistan and Nigeria. Participants felt that Rev 1.9 spoke powerfully to us. ‘I, John, your brother, who share with you in Jesus, persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos, because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.’
On Saturday 5 October we worshipped in the Coptic Orthodox Church of St Augustine, Gomshall, Surrey. Through this act of worship the members of the Commission, together with local church members, prayed and expressed solidarity with the peoples at the heart of suffering.
At the service, Bishop Angaelos said, ‘We gather to remember our brethren in Egypt, Syria, and throughout the Middle East, where many continue to suffer persecution for their Faith. Some suffer even to the extent of losing their lives, yet their faithful witness in the Middle East is a blessing to the whole Church, and to the whole world.’
Bishop Geoffrey Rowell added, ‘We have reflected on our common faith in Christ, and how we speak of Him, and live in Him, by the life–giving work of God’s Holy Spirit. We have done that in the deep awareness of the suffering of fellow Christians in Syria, in Egypt, and in many other places. The God whom we worship and adore is the One who comes down to the lowest part of our need.’
On Sunday 6 October members of the Commission were welcomed to the Eucharist at The Chapel Royal, Hampton Court, for its Feast of Dedication, and were joined by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby. In greeting them Archbishop Justin said, ‘We meet with an urgency and importance to meeting, which is together to seek God’s powerful hand to deliver the people of Christ, who seek only to serve him and serve their people.’ We express our thanks for his presence with us and his encouragement for the work of this dialogue. We are also deeply grateful to his predecessor Dr Rowan Williams for his significant work in reviving this dialogue.
The Commission shares the joy of the Coptic Orthodox Church at the enthronement of its new Pope and Patriarch, His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, and of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church at the enthronement of its new Patriarch, His Holiness Abune Matthias I.
The third meeting of the Commission is planned to take place in Cairo, Egypt, in October 2014, hosted by the Coptic Orthodox Church, addressing the themes of ecclesiology, primacy and collegiality, and pastoral co–operation.
At the conclusion of the dialogue the Commission thanked God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for the unity that they experienced and shared.
Members of the Commission:
The Rt Revd Dr Geoffrey Rowell (Co–Chair)
The Church of England
The Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson
The Church of Ireland
The Revd Canon Harold Nahabedian
The Anglican Church of Canada
The Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera
The Church of Ceylon
The Revd Canon Dr William Taylor
The Church of England
The Very Revd Dr Samy Shehata
The Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East
The Rt Revd Jonathan Goodall
The Church of England
The Rt Revd Clive Handford
The Church of England (Unable to attend the meeting)
The Revd Canon Alyson Barnett–Cowan (Co–Secretary)
Anglican Communion Office
Mr Neil Vigers (Administrator)
Anglican Communion Office
Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria
His Eminence Metropolitan Bishoy (Co–Chair)
Egypt (Unable to attend the meeting)
His Grace Bishop Angaelos (Acting Co–Secretary)
Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church – Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, Armenia
His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian
The Very Revd Archimandrite Shahe Ananyan
Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church – Holy See of Cilicia, Antelias – Lebanon
His Eminence Archbishop Nareg Alemezian (Acting Co–Chair)
His Grace Bishop Shahe Panossian
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church
His Grace Archbishop Abba Gabriel
His Grace Archbishop Abba Yacob
Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church
The Revd Fr Dr KM George
India (Unable to attend the meeting)
Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch
His Eminence Archbishop Mor Cyril Aphrem Karim
His Eminence Archbishop Mor Gregorios Joseph
India (Unable to attend the meeting