25 January 2013
Pope Benedict XVI received the leaders from several Oriental Orthodox Churches on the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, to discuss the progress of talks between them to reach full communion. Click the video to watch. (video: Rome Reports)
With the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity drawing to a close today, and Pope Benedict XVI meeting with members of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox churches, we asked our external affairs officer Father Elias Mallon to explore a few interesting facts about the Roman Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox.
The Oriental Orthodox churches are six ancient churches that differ from the various Orthodox churches in the Byzantine tradition, such as the Greek, Romanian, Russian and Ukrainian, etc. They are: the Armenian Apostolic Church, Coptic Orthodox Church, Eritrean Orthodox Church, Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Syriac Orthodox Church and the Indian Orthodox Church, which is split into two groups, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and the Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church. Many of these churches have Catholic counterparts in full communion with Rome: the Armenian, Coptic, Ge’ez, Syriac and Syro-Malankara Catholic churches are much smaller than their Orthodox counterparts and share their liturgical rites, traditions and many of the same disciplines.
These Orthodox churches are very ancient. The Coptic church traces its beginnings to St. Mark the Evangelist. The Syriac churches of the Antiochene tradition trace their roots to St. Peter. The Armenian church prides itself on being the oldest national church as Christianity became the state religion of Armenia in 301, though it traces its roots to Sts. Bartholomew and Thaddeus.
These churches are not in communion with the Catholic Church and the Byzantine Orthodox churches. The split between the Oriental Orthodox churches and the rest of Christianity is traditionally dated to the Council of Chalcedon (451). This council’s formulation of the relationship of the humanity of Jesus to his divinity was not acceptable to the Oriental Orthodox church for various reasons. Modern theological and historical research among the Catholic, Byzantine Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches has come to the conclusion that the differences that have existed for almost 15 centuries are cultural and linguistic, and need not necessarily be church dividing.
Relations between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox churches have improved dramatically since Vatican II. The Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue has — often against great odds, such as the arrest of Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church by the Egyptian authorities from 1981-1985 — made considerable progress, resulting among other things with the official Statement of Christological Agreement that was signed 12 February 1988, overcoming one of the major obstacles to unity between the Catholic and Oriental Orthodox churches. Some ecclesialogical issues remain, but the commission continues to study the issues and to attempt to resolve them.
CNEWA works where all these churches originated and maintain large communities — Armenia, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, India, Iraq and Syria — and has developed an outstanding rapport with its leaders. CNEWA exercises the dialogue of charity in its many forms of assistance, from priestly formation in Ethiopia, refurbishing Syriac churches in the Middle East to humanitarian assistance in Armenia.
Tags: Eastern Christianity Orthodox Church Eastern Churches Orthodox Oriental Orthodox