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ARCHBISHOP JOB OF TELMESSOR: CHURCH UNITY IS STILL OUR DREAM

 

Archbishop Job of Telmessos. © Ivars Kupcis/WCC

31 October 2016

By Ivars Kupcis*

Almost since the founding of the World Council of Churches (WCC), there has been a permanent delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate at the WCC offices in Geneva. Since November 2015 the task of representing the highest authority within the Eastern Orthodox Church in Geneva is in the hands of Archbishop Job of Telmessos, who is convinced: churches need not only to speak, but also to listen to each other. It has been almost a year since you were appointed as a permanent representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the WCC. Please describe your path to this quite responsible task in Geneva!

Archbishop Job: I was born in Canada and did my undergraduate degree there, then I came to Paris for my graduate studies in St Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute and the Catholic University of Paris, where I graduated with my doctorate degree in 2003. Since that time I have taught at St Serge and also the Catholic University of Paris, where I am still teaching. In 2010, I was appointed as a professor at the Institute of Postgraduate Studies of Orthodox Theology in Chambesy, where I still teach liturgical and dogmatic theology.

Between the WCC assemblies in Porto Alegre and Busan, I was a member of the WCC Central Committee. In 2013, I was elected as an archbishop of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, responsible for Russian parishes in western Europe for two years. Since last November, I have been a permanent representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the WCC. Besides that more recently I became a co-president of the International Commission of Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, and I am also co-president of the St Irenaeus group of Orthodox and Roman Catholic theologians who meet every year in order to help the dialogue between the two churches.

Could you tell me more about the Ecumenical Patriarchate, its history and current role in Eastern Orthodoxy?

Archbishop Job: The Ecumenical Patriarchate is very ancient - it exists as such since the 4th century, since the foundation of Constantinople, which became the new capital of the Roman empire, in place of Byzantium, which existed from apostolic times. This is why we consider the Church of Constantinople as the see of Saint Andrew. It became one of five ancient patriarchates of Christianity, historically second after Rome. Since the rupture of communion between the Church of Rome and the Eastern Churches, the Patriarchate of Constantinople has the role of the first see within the Orthodox church, which implies a role of maintaining unity among all Orthodox churches, and also coordinating inter-Orthodox events.

More recently, since the beginning of 20th century, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has shown leadership for engagement of Orthodox church in the ecumenical movement - the first encyclicals on this regard were issued in 1902, 1904 and 1920. The Ecumenical Patriarchate since then has been a leader in organizing the famous pan-Orthodox conferences, which took place on the island of Rhodes in 1961, 1963, 1964, and in Geneva, in Chambesy, in 1968, which prepared the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox church that finally took place in June this year. The ministry of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is the ministry of communion, working for the unity between the local autocephalous orthodox churches, and also trying to lead the Orthodox church in the ecumenical movement toward Christian unity.

This is why ecumenical movement is not optional for the Ecumenical Patriarchate - it always has been the essential part of our mission, and this is why the Ecumenical Patriarchate has been part of the WCC fellowship and has established the permanent office here almost from the foundation of the WCC. Interesting that, in the encyclical of 1920 I mentioned, the church called for establishment of some kind of league of churches after the model of the League of Nations that had been just created. We can regard this as a prophetic voice from 1920 for the establishment of the World Council of Churches.

Is there a particular geographical region where dioceses of the Ecumenical Patriarchate are located?

Archbishop Job: Historically the Ecumenical Patriarchate was in all Eastern Europe. Over time, the Ecumenical Patriarchate granted autocephaly to the Russian Orthodox church, as well as Serbian, Bulgarian, and Romanian Orthodox churches. These churches ceased to be a part of Ecumenical Patriarchate. Today, if we look on the map, it is basically historical territory of today's Turkey, the dioceses in Greece - northern Greece, the islands of Dodecanese in the North Aegean Sea and Crete, Mount Athos, as well as dioceses in the diaspora - in Western Europe, Australia, North America and South America. The Ecumenical Patriarchate has a few dioceses in Asia as well - in Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong. Altogether there are 90 dioceses in the Ecumenical Patriarchate today across the world.

Regarding the role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate - how would you describe the term primus inter parea, or "first among equals" to the wider Christian community?

Archbishop Job: It means that primacy of the see of Constantinople in the Orthodox Church is understood differently than, for example, in the Roman Catholic church, which is very centralized with the Pope or primate of Rome having direct jurisdiction on every local level - he appoints the bishops, receives their resignations, etc. The administration of the Orthodox church is not centralized - each region has its own administrative independence with local autocephalous churches or patriarchates. The Ecumenical Patriarchate does not have a right to intervene in the matters of the regional autocephalous Churches - because our patriarch is "among the others". But at the same time he is the "first among the others". Being the first among the equals means that he is the one who takes the leadership to organize pan-Orthodox conferences, to call meetings of primates of autocephalous churches, to organize the Holy and Great Council. He also takes the leadership in organizing all bilateral dialogues we have between the Orthodox church and other Christian churches, as well as initiatives for inter-religious dialogue. This is what we mean by the first among equals - he is the first, as the first he has a leadership, but this leadership cannot interfere within the inner life of regional autocephalous churches, respecting others.

Do you agree that regarding the other churches and Christian communities as equal could be very helpful in ecumenical movement as well?

Archbishop Job: This model, of course, is not new - it is the same as it was practiced in the first millennium, when the Church of Rome was still in full communion. This is actually why the last document issued by the International Commission of Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox church, or document of Chieti, studies practice of primacy within synodality in the first millennium, considering that the practice of the church was common between East and West, and it could be a good example how church unity can be achieved and realized today.

Of course, when we speak about being first among equals within the Orthodox church, we ought not to forget that each local Orthodox church confesses the same faith, the same liturgical practice, as well as the same canon law - there is a full agreement on them. When it comes to the relations with the rest of the Christian world, we sometimes have different practices. Sometimes we even have disagreements on ethical issues. That is why bilateral theological dialogues are so important to discuss these divergencies. But nevertheless we agree that this model can be model for the unity of the church in the future.

What is your particular task representin the Ecumenical Patriarchate at WCC?

Archbishop Job: I can compare my task to the task of an ambassador, which is to represent his country in the place where he is appointed, and at the same time to inform his country what is going on where he is appointed. My task is to be such a link or bridge between Ecumenical Patriarchate and the WCC. I represent the Patriarchate and try to inform our ecumenical partners - the member churches of the WCC - about what is happening in the Ecumenical Patriarchate in particular and in the Orthodox church globally. At the same time, being present here and involved in different ecumenical dialogues, my task is also to inform Ecumenical Patriarchate about what is happening in the WCC in particular and in the ecumenical movement in general. With this perspective we recently have created a website for our permanent delegation at the WCC, informing the Christian churches about major events within the Orthodox church linked with ecumenical relations and ecumenical bilateral dialogues. And we also provide knowledge to the Orthodox public about what is going on in the ecumenical movement.

Besides this, what is your action plan for church unity, and what is the role of communication in it?

Archbisho Job: One of my professors once said, speaking about ecumenism, "We have to start by doing our homework." There is a lack of information about ecumenical movement, and unfortunately, ecumenism is very often seen as a world for specialists or for those who have been specially initiated - at least I can say that about the Orthodox church, but probably that is the case in other denominations as well. For this reason many people look at the ecumenical movement with suspicion, as they have not enough information about what is happening and what our task is in it. This is also one of the reasons why some fundamentalist or zealot approaches are circulating within the Orthodox church, looking toward ecumenism with great suspicion.

Our task is to inform the faithful - with that perspective we have renewed our website, providing news about ecumenical relations and also providing related documents that have not been accessible before. All the major documents related to different ecumenical agreements are becoming available online now.

As an addition to the website, we have also created an electronic newsletter. In the past, we had it on paper and it was published in Greek. Now we have chosen an electronic format, which enables people to follow our news regularly, and English as its language in order to reach a larger public. English has become not only the most commonly used international language - it is also becoming a main language in ecumenical relations.

In the future we are also planning to organize seminars, conferences, book presentations and other cultural events here at the Ecumenical Centre, to make the Orthodox church and its tradition better known.

From your perspective, what is the goal of the ecumenical movement?

Archbishop Job: The ecumenical movement has a very long pre-history - but as we know it in the 20th century, the goal of the ecumenical movement is church unity. Speaking to several theologians of the 20th century, they always stress that they all believe in church unity. This is the goal of the ecumenical movement and our dream - because we believe in one church, we have received the commandment from our Lord to be one, and therefore we have to have this goal and dream in our minds. "That all may be one", as we see it on the big tapestry in the Visser't Hooft Hall here at WCC.

Church unity is still our hope and a dream. Although church unity may seem less possible today than it was in the 20th century, nevertheless ecumenical dialogue is very important to understand each other better and to work together in a society that is more and more secularized.

Goethe has said - to speak is a need, to listen is an art. Our churches need to speak with each other - it is a need we have always had and have now, particularly in a world with all the crises we know today. We need to speak to each other, but we also need to cultivate the art of listening to the other in our respective churches, in order to understand each other. This art should be supported by the ecumenical movement.

Ivars Kupcis works as a communication officer at the World Council of Churches.

 

INSIGHT INTO THE VARIOUS 'ORIENTAL' ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN CHURCHES

Ongoing Series - 2nd Installment: The Armenian and Ethiopian Churches

 

The Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church

According to Church tradition, Christianity was introduced to Armenia by Saints Thaddeus and Bartholomew, two of the twelve disciples of Christ. The early kings of Armenia were largely hostile to the new religion: the martyrdom of Thaddeus and then Bartholomew in the years 66 and 68 marked the first of several state-sponsored persecutions. Around the beginning of the fourth century, however, a young nobleman named Gregory succeeded in converting the king, and Armenia became a Christian country--the first Christian state in history. Hagiography records that St. Gregory, henceforth known as "the Illuminator" or "the Enlightener," was instructed by Christ in a dream to build a great cathedral in the capital city of Vagharshapat, not far from Mount Ararat. In commemoration of this vision, the cathedral and the city both became known as Etchmiadzin, or the place where the "Only-Begotten" (Christ) "descended." The Holy See of Etchmiadzin remains to this day the spiritual center of the Armenian Church.

Armenia has endured an unsettled and often violent history, with periods of foreign domination at the hands of Persian, Arab, Greek, Turkish, and Soviet invaders. Following Arab and Byzantine invasions in the tenth and eleventh centuries, the traditional kingdom of Armenia was more or less abandoned, and a new Armenian kingdom, known as Cilician Armenia, was established further west, at the eastern edge of Asia Minor. The Catholicosate, or central authority of the Church, was likewise transferred from Etchmiadzin to Cilicia. The Cilician kingdom fell about three hundred years later, and the See of Etchmiadzin was restored in 1441; nonetheless, there remain to this day two Catholicosates within the Armenian Church: Etchmiadzin retains a primacy of honor, but the Catholicosate of Cilicia (presently centered in Antelias, Lebanon) is fully independent in administration. There are also two Patriarchates, one in Jerusalem and the other in Constantinople, both of which are under the authority of Etchmiadzin.

The darkest period in the history of the Armenian church and people was that of the Turkish massacres of 1915-1920, sometimes referred to as "the Armenian Genocide." According to some estimates, around 1.5 million Armenians were killed and many more exiled; the clergy of the Armenian Orthodox Christian Church were not spared, dropping in number from approximately 5,000 in 1915 to around 400 just eight years later (). In 1920 Armenia was invaded by the Soviets and soon after incorporated into the Soviet Union. In 1991 the Republic of Armenia declared its independence from the U.S.S.R., opening the door to a revival of Armenian Orthodoxy in its traditional homeland.

For centuries the Armenian Apostolic Church has had a large diaspora population. Today its faithful are spread throughout the world, including Turkey, the Middle East, Europe, Australia, and America. As of 2004, the number of Armenian Orthodox worldwide is estimated at six million.

 

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church

The earliest contacts of Ethiopia with the Christian faith may have been in the first century: the New Testament records that an Ethiopian eunuch returning from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem met the apostle Philip on the road, receiving baptism at his hands (Acts 8:26-39). The eunuch was said to be an official in the court of the queen of Ethiopia, and tradition holds that upon his return he became the first to preach Christianity there. A separate tradition also records that the apostle Matthew himself visited Ethiopia in the course of his missionary travels. The great turning point in Ethiopian religious history, however, was not until the fourth century, when the king of Axum proclaimed Christianity the state religion.

The Axumite Empire was at that time a formidable kingdom stretching across present-day Eritrea, parts of present-day Ethiopia, and additional territories along the Red Sea. According to legend, it had been founded in about 1000 B.C. by Menelik I, a son of King Solomon by the Queen of Sheba; indeed, down to the twentieth century emperors of Ethiopia continued to regard themselves as heirs to the throne of Solomon, Haile Selassie (reigned 1930-1974) being counted 111th in the succession. The semi-historical Kebra Nagast (The Glory of the Kings), a medieval work usually cited as the textual source for this tradition, further records the intriguing legend that soon after Menelik's anointing the Ark of the Covenant was brought from Jerusalem to Ethiopia. There are many who believe the Ark is still there to this day, carefully guarded in a sanctuary near the Church of St. Mary of Zion in Axum. The fourth-century conversion of the Axumite king to Christianity is credited to St. Frumentius, a Phoenician-born bishop ordained by St. Athanasius of Alexandria to minister to the faithful in Axum. Since that time, the Ethiopian Church has been closely tied to the Coptic Church, with the Patriarch of Alexandria overseeing the appointment of bishops until recent times; only in AD 1959 did the Church receive full independence. Occasionally the Christians of Ethiopia are still incorrectly referred to as "Coptic Christians," a label that belies not only the Church's autocephaly but also its distinctive heritage.

Together with the Coptic and other Oriental Orthodox Christian Churches, Ethiopia rejected the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451), which proclaimed Christ to have two distinct natures, human and divine. Wishing to stress that Christ has only one, simultaneously human and divine nature, the Orthodox Church of Ethiopia also refers to itself as the Tewahedo (also spelled tewahido), or "Made One / Unity," Church. Non-Chalcedonian Christianity in Ethiopia was further strengthened in the late fifth century, when a group of exiles fleeing persecution under the Chalcedonian-leaning Byzantine Empire came to Ethiopia. These men, known as the "Nine Saints ," translated the Bible and important works of theology into Ge'ez (the language of Ethiopia at the time), established monasteries, and worked to convert the remaining pagans in the land.

In the seventh century Islam began its rapid spread through North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Ethiopia was exempted from jihad, perhaps at the order of the Prophet Muhammad, some of whose companions and relatives are said to have received shelter and religious protection from the king of Axum; but the surrounding conquests left the Christians of Ethiopia relatively isolated. The Church continued to be governed by Coptic bishops, though the dangers of the road from Egypt to Axum at times left the see unoccupied. Beginning in the thirteenth century, Ethiopia faced intermittent conflicts with regional Muslim states, culminating with a devastating series of attacks led by the sixteenth-century ruler Ahmad Ibrahim. With Portuguese assistance, Ethiopia eventually repelled Ahmad's armies, but only after years of violence in which many churches, along with some of Ethiopia's greatest artistic treasures, were destroyed. The work of Jesuit missionaries during this period led to deep tensions within the Church. In the early seventeenth century, Emperor Susneyos of Ethiopia converted to Catholicism, ordering the persecution of those who refused to accept Chalcedonian christology. A bloody rebellion followed, ending with the ascent to power of Susneyos's son Fasiladas, who expelled the Jesuits from the country and proclaimed the restoration of Orthodoxy; for the next two hundred years, further missionary efforts were strictly suppressed.

In the twentieth century, with political support from Haile Selassie, the Ethiopian Church began pushing for greater independence from the Coptic Church. In 1948, the Coptic Church agreed to consecrate an Ethiopian rather than a Copt as the next metropolitan of Ethiopia. The Egyptian-born metropolitan died in 1950, and the Ethiopian-born Archbishop Basilios succeeded him the following year. In 1959, the move was made complete, as BasiliosRECT was elevated to the rank of patriarch of the Ethiopian Church. Henceforth, Ethiopia was fully independent from the Coptic Church, although it continued to accord to Alexandria a primacy of honor. In 1993, after the political independence of Eritrea from Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Church was in turn to recognize the autocephaly of the Eritrean Church, which had previously been a province under the jurisdiction of the Ethiopian patriarch.

A Marxist revolution in 1974 led to the overthrow of Haile Selassie and the official separation of Church and State. The years following the coup were marked by severe persecution of Christians: church properties were seized by the state, and as many as tens of thousands of Ethiopians were killed during a period known as the "Red Terror." The communist government of Ethiopia fell in 1991, and this in turn led to a schism within the Church, with Patriarch Merkorios being accused of collaboration with the communists and forced to resign. In 1992 Patriarch Paulos was consecrated in his place, but Merkorios refused to recognize the election. Merkorios, taking refuge first in Kenya and then the United States, established the Holy Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Exile; as of 2004, the division between the followers of the Patriarchal Church in Ethiopia and the Synod in Exile remains unhealed. Together, members of the two groups number approximately 30 million believers throughout the world.

 

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[Sharon Pennsylvania] St Nicholas Center offers homeless men a home and guidance in return for work on the grounds. This program has helped over sixty-eight men in the last four years and over 183 since 1998. In those years over 26 of these men have been chrismated into the Orthodox Catholic Church, many coming from pasts that did not include any church affiliation or faith at all. Four of these have entered the monastic life of the Church, and one is studying for the priesthood. Currently, many men are being cared for at St Nicholas that includes their room, food, their prescriptions, toiletries, personal needs, the outings they enjoy, and the new life they have found centered on Christ. However, this is costing St Nicholas Center much money and we are now brought to our knees asking for your assistance. We are in need of donations here so that our work started can continue and in time more centers to be opened. If you can find it in your heart to help with our expenses please send you donation to St Nicholas Center, 456 Nimick Street, Sharon PA 16146, or you may do so on your credit card as a donation through PayPal . Please make checks payable to "EOCC." We are a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization and your donations are tax deductible. Thank you.

 

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"Giving to Glorify God" (Matthew 6: 1-4). The Syriac-Greek Antiochian Orthodox Catholic Holy Metropolis would like to thank the following for their generosity and love shown to God and His Church. Those wishing their names withheld are shown as "Anonymous." Those not wanting their location known are left blank. Donation statements upon request. Your gift helps us to help many missions and many persons in the United States who are homeless and in need of assistance in various ways. Please consider this act of charity for those who have nothing. You are asked to consider a donation to help the Church with all its missions and programs by sending yours to the Metropolis of St Peter, 456 Nimick Street, Sharon PA 16146; or by using your credit card to make a donation through PayPal. All donations are tax-deductible. Please make your check payable to "EOCC." Every donor donating $500.00 or more will receive a gift from the Holy Metropolis along with a "Great Benefactor Certificate" and  enrollment in the "Perpetual Basilian Membership of Prayer which enrolls you or another living or deceased family member or friend in perpetual prayer offered for you or another by the members and monastics of the Community of St Basil and the Oblates of Mary Mother of God.

Our appreciation to the following for their charitable support:

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