Patriarchate News

On February 22, 2019, His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II received a delegation from the Lutheran World Federation, at the Patriarchate Headquarters in Bab Touma, Damascus.
 
The delegation was led by His Grace Bishop Dr. Munib Younan, Bishop Emeritus of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.
 
His Holiness discussed with his guests the general situation in Syria and means of helping Christians in need.
 
The meeting was attended by Mr. Shadi Sarweh, Executive Director of St. Ephrem Patriarchal Development Committee.
 

On February 21, 2019, for the occasion of the commemoration of St. Severus the Great, His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II celebrated the Holy Qurobo at St. Severus Church in the Patriarchal Residence, Atchaneh – Lebanon.
 
His Eminence Mor Chrysostomos Mikhael Chamoun, Patriarchal Vicar and Director of the Patriarchal Benevolent Institutions in Atchaneh, as well as the monks, nuns, deacons, and a crowd of faithful attended the Holy Qurobo.
 
In his sermon, His Holiness spoke about the life of St. Severus, and how he endured all persecutions for the sake of Christ and His Holy Church. His Holiness added that we should take from St. Severus an example for our lives, that we may endure for our faith and witness to our Master and Lord Jesus Christ.
 
During the Qurobo, His Holiness presided over the Service of the Saints, and made a procession for the relics of the Saint which are kept at his Church in Atchaneh.
 
At the end of the Qurobo, His Holiness and all who were present took blessings from the relics.
 
St. Severus Church in Atchaneh was consecrated last June for the 1500 Jubilee of the Exile of Patriarch Mor Severus the Great to Egypt. Their Holinesses Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark, and Catholicos Aram I of the Great House of Cilicia of the Armenian Apostolic Church, participated with His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II in the consecration of the Church. Pope Tawadros II brought with him part of the relics of St. Severus kept in Egypt, as a symbol of the Saint’s return to Antioch after 15 centuries.
 

The Second session of the Commission for Bilateral Dialogue between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Syriac Orthodox Church took place in the Syriac Orthodox Patriarchal Residence in Atchaneh – Lebanon, on February 18–19, 2019, hosted by the Syriac Orthodox Church. It was chaired jointly by His Grace Bishop Flavian of Cherepovets and Belozersk, and by His Eminence Archbishop Mor Chrysostomos Mikhael Chamoun, Patriarchal Vicar and Director of the Patriarchal Benevolent Institutions in Atchaneh.
 
The Syriac Orthodox Church was represented besides His Eminence by: Very Rev. Raban Jack Yakoub, Director of the Patriarchal Youth Department, Very Rev. Raban Roger-Youssef Akhrass, Director of the Department of Syriac Studies, Deacon Imad Syryany, Staff member of the Patriarchal Secretariat, and Mr. Shadi Sarweh, Executive Director of St. Ephrem Patriarchal Development Committee.
 
The Commission was informed about the actions taken on the various spheres covered by the dialogue, over the last year and a half, following the first session held in Cherepovets (December 8–9, 2017). Representatives also discussed new items of common interest.
 
On the humanitarian level, the Commission highly appreciated the growing cooperation between the Russian Working Group and St. Ephrem Patriarchal Development Committee (EPDC), and discussed new common projects and additional collaboration.
 
Academically, representatives discussed starting a student exchange program for Theological Studies. In addition, It was agreed on the further mutual participation in academic and theological conferences. The Russian Orthodox Church congratulated the Syriac Orthodox Church for the opening of its new university, namely Antioch Syrian University.
 
On the youth level, collaboration between the direction of the Synodal Youth Department of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Syriac Patriarchal Youth Department is to be established, and youth from both Churches are expected to participate in youth activities organized by each department.
 
The Commission also discussed the concrete perspectives of developing contacts between the two Churches’ monastic communities, and the possibility of organizing pilgrimage tours to the major Christian sites of both Churches.
 
Representatives also studied possibilities of enforcing collaboration and exchange of the official positions of both Churches on certain public issues of common interest. Further cooperation in the cultural sphere was also discussed.
 
Finally, the members of the Commission expressed gratitude to His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II for the cordial hospitality extended.
 

February 17, 2019 – Munich
His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II asked during a panel discussion about the situation in Syria at Munich Security Conference: What is the interest of the Syrian people in what happened to our country Syria? He expressed his surprise that Syrian affairs are being discussed at the panel in the absence of representatives from Syria.
 
During the panel which was attended by representatives of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of the United States of America and Russia as well as the Ministers of Defense of Lebanon and Turkey, His Holiness noted that one of the premises and promises of the so-called Arabic Spring in the Middle East was to usher in a new era of democracy where people have the right to decide their own future and way of governance. He asked: Why are the Syrians thus prohibited from deciding their own future?
His Holiness pointed out to the humanitarian tragedy and great suffering which the Syrian people are living as a result of the unilateral sanctions which were illegally imposed by some countries.
 
His Holiness emphasized the necessity of a political solution for the crisis in Syria, ensuring the return of all refugees and internally displaced people. He also asked the help of all parties involved in the Syrian conflict regarding the following main topics:
1- The case of the two abducted Archbishops of Aleppo Boulos Yaziji and Mor Gregorius Youhanna Ibrahim.
2- Lifting the illegal unilateral sanctions imposed on the Syrian people.
3- Giving the Syrian people the right to decide their future.
 

On February 16, 2019, His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II had several meetings at the Munich Security Conference 2019.
 
His Holiness met their Excellencies: Crown Prince of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, Elias Bou Saab, Lebanese Minister of Defense, Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, Omani Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mohammad Java Zarif, Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geir Pedersen, United Nations Special Envoy of the Secretary General on Syria, and Robert O’Brien, US Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs.
 
His Holiness spoke with them about the situation in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Syria, and about the persecution of Christians. He also spoke about the case of the abduction of the two Archbishops of Aleppo Mor Gregorius Youhanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yaziji.
 

On February 16, 2019, His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II participated in a Panel Discussion at the Munich Security Conference 2019.
 
The panel was organized and sponsored by Hanns Seidel Stiftung Foundation, and was entitled: “Dawn of a new era? Future Perspectives for Religious Minorities in the Middle East”.
 
During his contribution, His Holiness spoke about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, as well as the general situations in Syria and Iraq. His Holiness highlighted the negative impact of the sanctions on the Syrian people. He also raised the case of the abduction of the two Archbishops of Aleppo Mor Gregorius Youhanna Ibrahim and Boulos Yaziji.
 
His Beatitude Cardinal Mar Louis Raphaël I Sako, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans and head of the Chaldean Catholic Church, and His Excellency Volker kauder, Former German Interior Minister, also contributed in the panel.
 

INTERNATIONAL JOINT COMMISSION FOR THEOLOGICAL DIALOGUE
BETWEEN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND THE ORIENTAL ORTHODOX CHURCHES
 
REPORT
Sixteenth Meeting
Rome, January 27 – February 2, 2019
 
The sixteenth meeting of the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches took place in Rome from January 27 to February 2, 2019, hosted by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. It was chaired jointly by His Eminence Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and by His Grace Bishop Kyrillos, Coptic Orthodox Auxiliary Bishop in the Diocese of Los Angeles, California, USA.
 
Representatives came from the Catholic Church and from the following Oriental Orthodox Churches: the Antiochian Syrian Orthodox Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church (Catholicosate of All Armenians and Catholicosate of the Holy See of Cilicia), the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, and the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. No representative of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church was able to attend.
 
The two delegations met separately on the morning of January 28 and again in the morning of January 31. Plenary sessions were held from January 28 to February 1, each day beginning with a brief prayer service based on material prepared for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
 
The first plenary session began with prayers for His Eminence Metropolitan Bishoy of Damiette, who passed into eternal life on October 2, 2018. He had served as a committed and dedicated Oriental Orthodox Co-Chairman of this dialogue since it began in 2004. The Oriental Orthodox members nominated Bishop Kyrillos as his successor at their family meeting on January 28.
 
Cardinal Koch informed the members about ecumenical developments over the past year, including the visit of His Holiness Catholicos Karekin II and His Holiness Catholicos Aram I to the Vatican on April 5; the day of prayer and reflection of Pope Francis and heads of churches in the Middle East in Bari, Italy, on July 7; and the visit of Catholicos Karekin II to Rome on October 24.
 
Continuing its focus on the sacraments, this session of the dialogue was entirely devoted to the Sacrament of Marriage. The Oriental Orthodox papers included a major presentation, “A Great Mystery: Theology of Marriage in the Oriental Orthodox Churches” by Metropolitan Bishoy (+) and Bishop Kyrillos. In addition the following papers were presented: “The Practice of Marriage, Inter-Church Marriages, Divorce and Mixed Marriages in the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church” by Metropolitan Youhanon Mar Demetrios; “Conception of Marriage Sacrament in the Antiochian Syriac Orthodox Church” by Metropolitan Theophilus George Saliba; “Sacrament of Marriage: Armenian Apostolic Perspectives” by Rev. Father Shahe Ananyan; “The Sacrament of Matrimony in the Coptic Orthodox Church” by Rev. Father Shenouda Maher Ishak; and “The Practice of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony (The Sacrament of Crowning) in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church” by Rev. Father Daniel Seifemichael Feleke.
 
Four papers on marriage were presented by the Catholic members: “The Sacrament of Matrimony in the Latin Tradition of the Catholic Church” by Professor Dietmar Winkler, “Theology and Spirituality of the Sacrament of Marriage” by Bishop Paul Rouhana, “Canonical Aspects of Marriage in the Catholic Church” by Chorbishop John Faris (invited guest), and “Marriages between Catholics and Muslims” by Archbishop Peter Marayati.
 
The presented papers and discussions made clear that we are in complete agreement that Christian marriage is a sacrament. We accept the same biblical and patristic sources as the grounds for our belief that the Sacrament of Matrimony is a divine institution. The narratives of the Old Testament present marriage and parenthood as a gift from God so that “the two became one flesh” (Gen. 2:24) and respond to God’s commandment “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). The teachings of Jesus and Saint Paul in the New Testament emphasize the indissoluble bond of marriage, rooted in the mutual love of husband and wife that is a sacramental participation in the mystery of Christ and his Church (Matt. 19:6, Mark 10:9, Eph. 5:32). Marriage, by its very nature ordered to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord himself to the dignity of a sacrament.
 
As the gospel spread in various regions and cultures, Churches in their Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopian, Indian, Syrian and Latin contexts developed different traditions to celebrate the rite of marriage. We regard this inculturation as mutually enriching. While the understanding of the sacramental nature of matrimony is universal, the rites and ceremonies of matrimony have developed distinctive elements and emphases.
 
The Church is the principal medium of Christ’s grace. Because Christian marriage is an expression of the union of Christ and the Church, marriage begins and finds its life in the heart of the Church. Therefore, a sacramental marriage is possible only between a baptized woman and a baptized man. In all of our traditions, a sacramental marriage typically requires the free consent of both the man and the woman, the presence of witnesses, and a blessing within the Body of Christ by an ordained representative of the Church. The Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches require the blessing of a priest or bishop, while the Latin church allows even a deacon to confer the blessing.
 
Unity and indissolubility are the distinctive aspects of Christian marriage, but the reality of human frailty and sin means that some marriages weaken and fail. All of our Churches have developed various means to help those who have experienced such pain to remain within the ecclesial community. The possibilities of annulment, dissolution, and divorce are handled differently by the Churches, but always with a pastoral emphasis on healing and spiritual accompaniment. The Oriental Orthodox Churches provide for the possibility of divorce and remarriage for those who were sacramentally married, especially in cases of adultery. While the Catholic Church does not admit the possibility of divorce, it recognizes that some marriages have lacked an essential element from the very beginning and therefore can be declared null. All recognize, and generally agree on, the canonical impediments to marriage.
 
All of our Churches permit the widowed to remarry. The Oriental Orthodox Churches have simplified forms of the rite of matrimony for second or third marriages, whether for the widowed or the divorced, in order to recognize the uniqueness of the first sacramental marriage.
 
Our Churches have various approaches to marriage between Christians of different Churches. The Catholic Church permits marriage with other baptized persons under certain conditions. There are different practices among the Oriental Orthodox Churches. Some require that the prospective spouse who is not in communion with their Church formally join it. In certain cases, this requires baptism and/or chrismation. The social and cultural contexts, especially the legal situation of Churches in some countries in which Christians are in the minority, can also affect their view that spouses must belong to the same Church.
 
For all our churches marriage between Christians and non-Christians cannot in any case be sacramental, as the sacramental nature of marriage requires that both parties be baptized. Such a marriage is seen as problematic by the Catholic Church and unacceptable by the Oriental Orthodox Churches. However, the Catholic Church will offer prayers as a pastoral provision of ecclesial and spiritual support to the Christian spouse, while the Oriental Orthodox Churches consider the celebration of such marriages to be outside of the ministry of the Church.
 
In the evening of Monday January 28, Cardinal Koch hosted a dinner for the dialogue members in the Casina Pio IV in the Vatican gardens. On the evening of Wednesday, January 30, the members attended Vespers at the Benedictine Collegio di Sant’Anselmo at the kind invitation of the Right Revered Gregory Polan, O.S.B., Abbot Primate of the Benedictine Confederation, and shared supper with the community.
 
At 11:00 on Friday morning February 1, His Holiness Pope Francis received the members of the Commission in private audience. In his greetings to the Pope, His Grace Bishop Kyrillos firstly thanked His Holiness for his hospitality, and then reported on the work of the Joint Commission, reflecting in particular that “Marriage was one of the most challenging and important subjects we have discussed. Challenging because of its interdisciplinary nature that touches on the understanding of Holy Scripture, theology, sacramental theology, liturgical history, canon law, and pastoral care. …We deeply appreciate Your Holiness’s efforts to preserve and revive the Christian family in the midst of many attacks and divisions today”.
 
In his response, Pope Francis stated: “I am certain that your work, carried out in an atmosphere of great harmony, will be to the benefit of the family of God’s children, the Spouse of Christ, who we desire to present to the Lord “without spot or wrinkle” (Eph 5:27), without wounds and without divisions, but in the beauty of full communion”. His Holiness offered participants a copy of his Post–Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia on the theme of love in the family.
 
The next meeting will take place in Atchaneh, Lebanon, hosted by the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch. Arrivals on January 26 and departures on February 1, 2020. The main focus of the meeting will be fundamental aspects of sacramental theology.
 
[Their Eminences Mor Theophilus George Saliba, Archbishop of Mount Lebanon and Tripoli, Mor Theophilose Kuriakose, Metropolitan of the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Theological Seminary and President of the Ecumenical Secretariat of the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church in India, represented our Church in the dialogue. His Eminence Mor Polycarpus Aydin, Patriarchal Vicar in Holand attended as an observer]
 

On February 11, 2019, His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II received His Excellency Hans-Peter Glanzer, Charge d’Affaires of the Austrian Embassy in Damascus, at the Patriarchate headquarters in Bab Touma – Damascus.

 
During the meeting, His Holiness discussed with His Excellency the general situations in Syria and Lebanon. They also spoke about His Holiness’s last visit to Austria.
 
The meeting was attended by Very Rev. Raban Joseph Bali, Patriarchal Secretary, and Media Office Director.
 

On February 11, 2019, His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II received His Excellency Hans-Peter Glanzer, Charge d’Affaires of the Austrian Embassy in Damascus, at the Patriarchate headquarters in Bab Touma – Damascus.

 
During the meeting, His Holiness discussed with His Excellency the general situations in Syria and Lebanon. They also spoke about His Holiness’s last visit to Austria.
 
The meeting was attended by Very Rev. Raban Joseph Bali, Patriarchal Secretary, and Media Office Director.
 

On February 9, 2019, upon the invitation of His Excellency Archbishop Samir Nassar, Maronite Archbishop of Damascus, His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II attended the Holy Qurobo for the Commemoration of St. Maron according to the Calendar of the Maronite Church.
 
His Excellency Archbishop Nassar celebrated the Qurobo at St. Antonios Maronite Cathedral in Damascus.
 
His Holiness was accompanied by His Eminence Mor Dionysius Jean Kawak, Patriarchal Vicar for the Archdiocese of the Eastern United States of America, Very Rev. Raban Jack Yakoub, Director of the Suryoyo Patriarchal Youth Department, and Very Rev. Raban Joseph Bali, Patriarchal Secretary and Media Office Director.
 
The Qurobo was also attended by His Eminence Cardinal Mario Zenari, the Apostolic Nuncio in Damascus, as well as representatives of the Christian Churches in Damascus.
 
At the end of the Qurobo, His Holiness gave the final blessing.