WASHINGTON (CNS) – The most significant progress toward full communion since dialogue between the Catholic and Oriental Orthodox churches resumed in 2003 was made during a January 26-30 meeting in Rome.
A representative of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops said that a joint Catholic-Oriental Orthodox statement that came from the Rome meeting was not the very first agreed statement, but is “the first substantial agreed theological statement that has come out of this dialogue”.
“No one is predicting when full communion will come, because we’re in the beginning stages. But everyone is very happy with the statement,” said Paulist Father Ronald Roberson, associate director of the Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the USCCB.
The Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox churches have been out of communion since the Council of Chalcedon in 451, when the Oriental Orthodox refused to accept the teaching of the fourth of the church’s first seven ecumenical councils about Christ being both human and divine.
Pope Benedict XVI met on January 30 with the members of the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox.
In addition to the Catholic Church, commission members represent the Armenian Apostolic Church, Coptic Orthodox Church, Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Syrian Orthodox Church, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and Eritrean Orthodox Church.
Each of the churches involved in the dialogue brings the richness of its own traditions along with a commitment “to overcome the divisions of the past and to strengthen the united witness of Christians in the face of the enormous challenges facing believers today,” the Pope said.
The statement from the sixth meeting of the joint commission acknowledges a large base of agreement in fundamental matters of ecclesiology between the two groups. “The first part of the meeting was devoted to the examination and approval of a common document entitled ‘Nature, Constitution and Mission of the Church,’” it said.
“The document describes broad areas of consensus regarding fundamental ecclesiological principles, and outlines areas that require further study. This common document of our dialogue is a major achievement and will be submitted to the authorities of our churches for their consideration and action. It is also recommended to all the faithful of our churches so that they also can participate in the growing understanding between us.”
The seventh meeting of the commission is scheduled for January 25-29, 2010, in Antelias, Lebanon, where talks about full communion are to be continued.
“My crystal ball is not clear on how long it will take to achieve full communion,” Fr Roberson said. “We’ve been out of communion with these churches for 1500 years. A lot of this is getting to know each other again.”
It’s important for Catholics and the members of Oriental Orthodox churches to know that after all of these centuries the two groups are making significant strides in settling their differences, he said.
“This is of great historical significance,” said Fr Roberson, who participated in the Rome meeting. “The divisions and hostility of the past are not as deep as they used to be. It should be a source of great joy.”
The Pope seemed to agree with that assessment when he addressed the commission members on January 30. “Your sixth meeting has taken important steps precisely in the study of the church as communion,” Pope Benedict said at the conclusion of the joint commission’s meeting. “The very fact that the dialogue has continued over time and is hosted each year by one of the several churches you represent is itself a sign of hope and encouragement.”