Monday, February 25, 2019

2nd Meeting of the Dialogue beteween the Russian Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox Churches

Russian original here.

Dialogue with the Syriac Orthodox Church

The second meeting of the commission for dialogue between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Syriac Orthodox Church was held on February 8-22, 2019 at the administrative residence of the patriarchs of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Atchaneh, Lebanon.

On the part of the Moscow Patriarchate, the commission includes: Bishop Flavian of Chevepovets and Belozersky, co-chairman; Hegumen Arseny (Sokulov), representative of the Patriarch of Moscow All Rus to the Patriarch of Antioch and All the East; Hegumen Stefan (Igumnov), secretary of the Department of External Church Relations for Inter-Christian relations; and DECR staff members S.G. Alferov and E.A. Bakhtin. On the part of the Syriac Orthodox Church, the meeting was attended by: the patriarchal vicar in charge of the complex of the administrative residence in Atchaneh, Archbishop Chrysostomos Michael Chemoun, acting co-chairman of the commission; Archimandrite Jack Yacoub, head of the Patriarchal Department of Youth Affairs; Archimandrite Roger Yousef Akhrass, head of the Department of Syriac Studies; Deacon Imad Suryani, a staff member of the Patriarchal Secretariat; and Shadi Sarwe, executive director of the St Ephrem charitable foundation.

At the beginning of the meeting, Archbishop Chrysostomos asked Bishop Flavian to convey His Holiness Patriarch Ignatius Ephrem II's congratulations  to His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus on the occasion of his recently-celebrated tenth anniversary as primate.

Then the parties summarized the implementation of the agreements concluded at the commission's first meeting and identified a program of further cooperation to be submitted for the hierarchy's approval.

The commission's priority remains coordinating the cooperation on the implementation of projects to support the suffering Christians of Syria, among whom many thousands make up the flock of the Syriac Orthodox Church. The commission noted with satisfaction the successful implementation of a number of projects in this domain in 2018. Among them are the organization of a visit by a delegation from the Working Group on Assistance to the Syrian Population of the Council for Cooperation with Religious Associations under the President of the Russian Federation to Syria and Lebanon, the distribution of the largest consignment by volume of food aid in February of last year, the Russian Orthodox Church's initiation of a medical rehabilitation program for disabled children who suffered during the hostilities in Syria, and the holding of a meeting of the heads and high representatives of the religious communities of Syria and Russia during the visit of the chairman of the DECR of the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Hilarion to Damascus; His Holiness Ignatius Ephrem II participated in this meeting. The parties discussed plans to continue cooperation in this domain, including with the participation of the St Ephrem Charitable Foundation, which oversees the humanitarian projects of the Syriac Orthodox Church.

Another relevant area of collaboration is continuing the development of ties in the academic domain. The importance of the participation of the representative of the Russian Orthodox Church, Hegumen Arseny (Sokolov) in the symposium organized by the Department of Syriac Studies on the person of Severus of Antioch (Atchaneh, May 25, 2018) was noted. This year, the participation of delegates from Syria in academic and theological conferences organized by higher educational institutions of the Moscow Patriarchate is also expected. Concrete agreements have been reached about starting a student exchange program. In the future, there are plans to develop direct cooperation at the level of theological schools, in particular between the educational institutions of the Russian Orthodox Church and and the St Ephrem Patriarchal Seminary in Saydnaya as well as Antioch Syrian University, which was opened in Damascus in November, 2018 and trains not only future clergy, but also laypeople specializing in the humanities, natural sciences and technical disciplines.

The commission considered it relevant to facilitate contacts between the relevant structures responsible for the development of youth ministry, including exchanges of delegations and joint participation in thematic events, including in the territory of dioceses in the diaspora.

The sides discussed prospects for interaction between representatives of monasticism as well as of continuing to develop pilgrimage projects, noting the positive experience of organizing visits to Russia of pilgrims from the Syriac Orthodox Church in January and July, 2018, organized by the DECR of the Moscow Patriarchate.

The commission recognized the need to maintain the existing level of interaction in the domain of media, including the the provision of mutual informational support in the context of the challenges that the Moscow Patriarchate and the Syriac Orthodox Church are facing today. The Syrian party highly appreciated the initiative of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus to hold consultations with the primates of the churches of the East and West and to adopt a joint statement during the worsening of the situation in Syria in April, 2018. Another significant manifestation of this interaction was the circulation by the DECR during those very days of the text of the joint statement by His Beatitude Patriarch John X of Antioch and All the East, His Holiness Patriarch Ignatius Ephrem II, and His Beatitude Melkite Patriarch Yusuf I Absi.

The meeting's participants noted the importance of the intensifying of contacts in 2018 between the Russian Orthodox Church and the community of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Iraq, whose representative, Archbishop Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf of Mosul, Kirkuk and the Kurdish Autonomous Region, visited Moscow last November as part of the delegation of the Council of Christian Leaders of Iraq. Before that, in March, Hieromonk Stefan (Igumnov) visited Iraq on the instructions of Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk and also met with the leadership and representatives of the local Syriac Orthodox communities.

At the end of the meeting, a joint memorandum was adopted.

During their stay in Lebanon, the delegation of the Moscow Patriarchate visited the Monastery of the Dormition at Balamand, belonging to the Antiochian Orthodox Church and the theological institute there where, with the blessing of His Beatitude Patriarch John X, it was received by Metropolitan Ephrem of Tripoli. Bishop Flavian asked him to convey the cordial greetings of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus to His Beatitude Patriarch John X of Great Antioch and All the East and told about the dialogue with the Syriac Orthodox Church. For his part, Metropolitan Ephrem noted that at Balamand Monastery they still cherish the memory of the visit there by the primate of the Russian Orthodox Church during his visit to the Patriarchate of Antioch in November, 2011. The two parties also exchanged views about a number of current issues of bilateral and inter-Orthodox collaboration.

The program of the commission's meeting included visits to holy places and historical and cultural sights of Lebanon, including the Cathedral of the Great-Martyr and Victory-Bearer George of the Beirut Archdiocese of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, the Orthodox monasteries of Sayyidat al-Nouriyeh and the Prophet Elijah, and the city of Byblos.

The next meeting of the commission will be held in Russia in the summer of 2020.


Agreement on the formation of the commission was reached by His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Rus and His Holiness Patriarch Ignatius Ephrem II during the primate of the Syriac Orthodox Church's visit to Russia on November 9-13, 2015. In pursuance of this decision, a meeting of the joint working group for the preparation of the dialogue was held on May 11, 2017 in Washington.

On July 29, 2017, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church approved the composition of the commission on the part of the Moscow Patriarchate; in October of that year, the Synod of the Syriac Orthodox Church adopted a similar decision. The commission's first meeting took place on December 7-10, 2017 in the city of Cerepovets (Volga oblast).

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