Wadi al-Natrun, Egypt, January 31, 2023 – His Grace Bishop Kyrillos, Dean of St. Athanasius and St. Cyril Coptic Theological School (ACTS) and Coptic Orthodox Auxiliary Bishop in the Diocese of Los Angeles, California, USA, co-chaired the nineteenth meeting of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches at the Logos Center of the Saint Bishoy Monastery, Egypt, with Fr. Columba Stewart OSB and Fr. Hyacinthe Destivelle OP from the Vatican, since H.E. Cardinal Kurt Koch, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity, was for the first time unable to attend. H.H. Pope Francis has asked him to be part of his entourage on the “Ecumenical Peace Pilgrimage” undertaken to South Sudan from February 3-5, with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, preceded by a journey to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The meeting was attended by representatives from the Catholic Church, the Oriental Orthodox Churches: the Antiochian Syrian Orthodox Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church, and the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church.
On Friday, February 3, His Holiness Pope Tawadros II received the members of the Commission in private audience. In his address, His Holiness said, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is unity, and today is a gift that I call a heavenly gift.” His Holiness added, “Your theological dialogue, your discussions, your works and research are considered as steps on the long way of mutual understanding towards unity in Christ.” On the same day, the Commission made an excursion to St. Mina Monastery and on Saturday to St. Antony Monastery.
His Grace Bishop Kyrillos opened the first plenary and welcomed from the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church His Grace Yuhanon Mar Diascoros as a new member and His Grace Abraham Mar Stephanos as an observer. A special welcome was given to the participants of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church, which had been unable to participate since 2009, His Grace Bishop Abuna Sawiros, and Deacon Girmay Zeray Asmerom, and His Grace Bishop Abuna Paulos as an observer. The Eritrean Orthodox delegates read a message from the Holy Synod of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church to the Joint International Commission expressing gratitude for the opportunity to resume participation in the dialogue.
In keeping with the theme, Aspects of Mariology, The Holy Virgin Mary in the Teaching and the Life of the Church, the following papers were presented: Bishop Paul Rouhana, “The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, in the Mystery of Christ and the Church: Chapter VIII of Lumen Gentium, the Dogmatic Constitution of the II Vatican Council (LG 52-69)”; Fr. Shahe Ananyan (read by Archbishop Khajag Barsamian), “The Holy Virgin Mary in the Teaching and in the Life of the Armenian Church”; Fr. Jijimon Puthuveettilkalam SJ, “Mary in the Ecumenical Dialogues: A Harvesting of the Fruits”; Deacon Antonios the Shenoudian, “The Veneration and Liturgical Celebration of the Virgin Mary in the Coptic Orthodox Tradition”; Fr. Columba Stewart OSB and Prof. Dietmar W. Winkler, “Mary in the Liturgy of the Latin Church”; Metropolitan George Saliba, “Virgin Mary in the Antiochian Syriac Orthodox Church”; and Metropolitan Mor Polycarpus Aydin, “The Veneration and Liturgical Celebration of the Virgin Mary in the Syriac Tradition”.
In the course of the meeting, which took place in a friendly and cordial atmosphere of intense theological discussion and exchange, the members carefully assessed the papers presented and came to a number of conclusions. In all our Churches, Mary is honored and venerated with great devotion above all the heavenly hosts and the saints. Nevertheless, we affirm that veneration and theological reflection on Mary must take place in the context of the unique and salvific mission of Jesus Christ and the Church.
While the veneration of Mary has ancient roots in the liturgical practices and devotion of our Churches, the definition of Mary’s divine motherhood at the Council of Ephesus in 431 and the conferral of the title Theotokos, gave impetus to the development of Marian doctrine in our Churches and traditions. The figure of Mary is commonly viewed from a typological perspective. One of the most ancient of these types presents Mary as the New Eve, a model of fidelity and obedience to the divine will for the individual faithful and the Church.
The development of Marian doctrine and devotion took various paths in our Churches. Our discussions reveal from a methodological point of view that on occasion different terms are used to express the same theological reality. There are other times when the same term is used to express different realities. In our meetings we realize that certain topics require further study to determine whether these differences need to be identified as doctrinal divergences or can be instances of legitimate diversity in the expression of our common faith regarding the unique place of the Mother of God in the Mystery of Christ and in the life of the Church. These topics include the exploration of the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, original sin, the understanding of dogmas and the hierarchy of truths.
This study and discussion will continue at the next meeting, which will take place in Rome, January 22 to 26, 2024, with arrivals on January 21 and departures on January 27. This meeting will mark the 20th anniversary of this dialogue.