Synod: Ecumenism

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Orthodox delegates to the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East asked the Catholic Church to move quickly to institute a common date for Easter and to consider new ways for the pope to exercise his authority.

Delegates from other Christian churches, especially from Orthodox churches in the Middle East, told the synod Oct. 15 that all Christians looked to the gathering for concrete ideas to strengthen their communities in the region.

And several of the “fraternal delegates” who addressed the synod asked Pope Benedict XVI for very specific action to promote greater unity among Christians to give all of them a stronger witness in the Middle East.

Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim of Aleppo, Syria, said the request by several Catholic bishops at the synod that all Christians move toward a common date for celebrating Easter is something that should be enacted quickly.

“This is a general request of all the Christians of the Middle East,” he said, adding that “Christians are waiting impatiently to see their unity represented by this symbol.”

In addition, he asked Pope Benedict and Christian leaders around the world to set a common date for a liturgical commemoration of the Christian martyrs of the 19th and 20th centuries. That, too, he said, would be “another step toward Christian unity.”

The metropolitan also asked the pope to consider ways of “separating communion from authority” in the church so that all Christians would recognize they are united in professing the same faith without having to accept the direct authority of the pope.

Lebanese Greek Orthodox Metropolitan George Khodr also told the synod that the current role of the bishop of Rome, the pope, is problematic for the Eastern Christian churches, who believe the church of Christ is constituted locally first of all with the faithful gathered around their bishop. To extend a bishop’s authority universally doesn’t make sense from the point of view of the history and experience of the East, he said.

Common belief in the Eucharist is “the only sign of communion between Christians,” he said. “It is the Eucharist that makes us everywhere a ‘chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.’”

Armenian Orthodox Bishop Shahan Sarkissian of Aleppo, Syria, said the Armenian patriarch, Catholicos Aram, saw the October gathering at the Vatican as “the synod of all the churches of the Middle East, because we face the same conditions, we share the same problems and are faced with the same challenges.”

“We should concentrate collectively on the Christian presence and witness in the Middle East and consecrate ourselves all together to reorganize and renew our commitment and mission,” Bishop Sarkissian said.

Assyrian Orthodox Bishop Gewargis Sliwa of Baghdad, Iraq, said all the Christians in Iraq consider the synod “a spiritual and holy gathering,” so synod participants have a great responsibility to respond by working together with friendly, brotherly and spiritual relations.

He said the situation of Iraq Christians is unique and dire.

“The situation needs quick, wise and urgent steps and actions,” including putting pressure on “the international humanitarian and political organizations to save Iraqi people in general from this destruction and to create the peaceful circumstances that will keep the existence of Christians in the country.”

Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Makarios Tillyridis of Kenya told the synod that while it is true many Christians in the Middle East do not enjoy full freedom of religion and conscience, it does not exclude them from the obligation to work for Christian unity and to love their non-Christian neighbors.

“Concerning the community of Muslim brothers and sisters, as well as the Jewish community, all around us, we can’t fail to respect their belief and way of life,” he said. “Cooperation with the non-Christians is very important in healing past injustices and promoting peaceful coexistence.”

A message to the synod from Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, was read to synod participants Oct. 15.

He urged joint action to pressure governments to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to support Palestinian Christians.

“The synod is raising unprecedented great expectations for all Christians in the Middle East, especially for Iraqis and Palestinians, who are under serious tribulations,” he wrote.

“Now is the time for actions together. For us Christians these should be based on three fundamental imperatives: an ethical and theological imperative for a just peace; an ecumenical imperative for unity in action; and the Gospel imperative for costly solidarity and love of all our neighbors,” the message said.

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