From September 19-23, the Commission for Bilateral Dialogue between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church held its fourth meeting in Moscow generously hosted by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill. Present at the meeting were His Eminence Metropolitan Serapion of Los Angeles, co-chairman, His Grace Bishop Kyrillos, auxiliary bishop of Christian Education in the Diocese of Los Angeles, and Dean of Saint Athanasius and Saint Cyril Coptic Orthodox Theological School, Rev. Father Dawood El Antony, graduate in the Moscow Theological Academy and parish priest in Russia, Dr. Isaak Ibrahim Agpan, General Secretary at the Institute of Coptic Studies, and Mrs. Barbara Soliman, Director of the Papal Office for Projects and Relations and Co-Secretary of the Commission. The Russian Orthodox representatives present were His Grace Bishop Gennady of Kaskelen, Hieromonk Stefan (Igumnov), Secretary for Inter-Christian Affairs from the Department of External Church Relations (DECR), and Mr. Sergey Alferov, DECR staff member and Co-Secretary of the Commission.
The members of the Commission were blessed to have a private audience with His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia at the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow. This meeting took place on September 20, 2022, the eve of the Commemoration of the Nativity of the Holy Virgin Mary in the Russian Orthodox calendar. His Holiness showed his encouragement and support of the Commision by mentioning its accomplishments. HH also expressed his blessing to reestablish the Dialogue between the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Oriental Orthodox Churches.
The Commission reviewed the projects implemented in the last two years since its previous meeting in Cairo from May 28-29, 2019. It also discussed new, promising areas of common interest for development in the framework of the dialogue. Specifically, the Commission discussed 11 items in detail throughout its sessions.
Monastic Delegations. Since its last meeting in 2019, several monastic visits took place in our respective churches. The Commission seeks to establish a roundtable discussion of the challenges facing our contemporary monastic life that extends beyond the simple exchange of experiences that currently takes place during these visits. A successful roundtable will require careful selection of monastic leaders from both churches, suitable time, and clear focus on the topic for consideration.
Academic Cooperation. Since our meeting in Cairo in 2019, four working groups met in Egypt and Russia to assess and implement areas of cooperation between our theological schools and seminaries. These working sessions resulted in a memorandum in St. Petersburg in June, 2022, headed by HG Bishop Mikhail and HG Bishop Silouan.
Student Exchange. Since 2018, 60 Coptic students have been successfully enrolled in Russian universities. In 2022, another 15 people were enrolled via the Rossotrudnichestvo Agency and the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Russian Federation. With the personal blessing and direction of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill to the dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church, each of these students will receive great attention of the dioceses of the Russian Orthodox Church which seeks to support the pastoral care provided by the Coptic Orthodox Church in Russia. In addition, special Russian Language Centers were established in Cairo and Alexandria at the end of 2019, at the initiative of Rossotrudnichestvo and Mrs. Angela Dolzhikova of RUDN University. Upon completion of these language courses, many Coptic students enrolled in Russian Universities. During the visit of the Commission, a new Memorandum of Understanding was signed in Moscow between RUDN University and the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate’s Office for Projects and Relations.
Theological Consultations. In accordance with the Cairo agreement of 2019, the Joint Commission coordinated the first round of bilateral theological consultations between our two churches in Lievelde, Netherlands, from January 20-24, 2020. A second round has been scheduled for 2023, which will discuss the Russian Orthodox Church response to the two agreed statements produced by the official dialogue between the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches. In our meeting with HH Patriarch Kirill, HE Metropolitan Serapion expressed our desire for the Coptic Orthodox Church to host an unofficial consultation between the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches related to these two agreed statements. The Coptic Orthodox Church will send invitations to this first unofficial consultation once we have received the preliminary agreement from the patriarchs.
Parishes. Since the beginning of our work, one of the most crucial areas of our Commission is the rendering effective pastoral care for our faithful in Egypt and Russia, respectively. This is the subject of personal attention of our patriarchs and Holy Synods. HH Patriarch Kirill mentioned that the Russian Orthodox Church gifted a church building in the center of Moscow. After much discussion and research, the Coptic Orthodox Church has generously provided buildings in Hurghada, the Pyramid Gardens area in Cairo/Giza, and Sharm el-Sheikh.
The Commission also addressed other areas for cooperation such as development of films about the saints and history of our churches, coordinating our roundtable projects related to diakonia, and providing youth summer programs and camps.
The next meeting of the Commission will take place from June 10-14, 2024 at the Logos Center in St. Bishoy Monastery, Egypt.