Astana, Kazakhstan, June 29, 2017
From June 27-30, 2017 the Commission for Bilateral Dialogue between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church held its second meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan generously hosted by His Grace Bishop Gennady of Kaskelen, co-chairman of the Commission. Present at the meeting were His Grace Bishop Gennady of Kaskelen, Hieromonk Stefan (Igumnov), Secretary for Inter-Christian Affairs from the Department of External Church Relations (DECR), the Very Rev. Father Oleg Davydenkov, Professor of Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox University, and Mr. Ilya Kashitsyn staff member of the DECR. The Coptic Orthodox representatives were His Eminence Metropolitan Serapion of Los Angeles, co-chairman, and His Grace Bishop Kyrillos, auxiliary bishop of Christian Education in the Diocese of Los Angeles, and Dean of Saint Athanasius and Saint Cyril Coptic Orthodox Theological School.
The Commission recognized the blessed visit His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark, in May 23-25, 2017 to His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, during which His Holiness Patriarch Kirill presented the prize of the Unity of the Orthodox Nations Foundation to His Holiness Pope Tawadros II. Our beloved Patriarchs in their meeting acknowledged the achievements of our Commission. Their blessing, direction, and support encouraged this Commission to continue its efforts and opened new areas for future work.
One of the primary goals of this Commission was to find ways of cooperation and collaboration toward the protection of Christian communities in the world, especially in the Middle East. After the terrorist attacks on Al Botrosia Church in December, 2016 and the attacks on Palm Sunday at St. Mark Cathedral in Alexandria and St. George Church in Tanta, His Holiness Pope Tawadros II received condolences directly from His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, who condemned the attacks and declared, “The faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church are grieving with you and your people. We are united in the face of the common distress that affects cities and villages in various countries these days. Terrorism must be defeated through the concerted efforts of all countries regardless of their adherence to these or those political ideals, views and beliefs, or of their attitude to the current international agenda.”
Our Commission opted to hold its second meeting in Astana, since Kazakhstan, under the leadership of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, provides a model of peaceful coexistence and religious tolerance. We thank His Eminence Metropolitan Alexander of Astana and Kazakhstan for hosting our meetings, and we are delighted at the meeting of His Eminence Metropolitan Serapion and His Grace Bishop Gennady with Mr. Nourlan Yermekbayev, Minister for Religious Affairs and Civil Society of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
The Commission was pleased at the exchange of visits by abbots and monks: a Russian delegation visited Egypt in November 6-12, 2016 and a Coptic delegation visited the Russian monasteries from June 17-23, 2017. We will continue to organize this exchange of visits.
At the direction of its Patriarchs, the Commission discussed the possibility of bringing the relics of one of the great Coptic Saints who founded of monasticism to tour Russia for a few months, and then bring it back to Egypt. We are making every effort so that this can take place at next year’s council for monasticism in Moscow.
The Commission has also made several accomplishments in terms of education. In the past year, the Commission was successful in having a student exchange program. We discussed the possibility of offering mutual summer courses for clergy, professors, students, and staff members for a deeper understanding of the life and mission of our Churches. The Commission also seeks to continue to encourage participation of its theologians in international patristic conferences in both Churches.
The Commission recognizes the importance of clarifying any theological misunderstanding which affects the progress of the cooperation between our Churches. Therefore, the Commission will organize theological consultations that will supplement (and not replace) the official theological dialogue that has taken place for decades between the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox families.
In March 10-17, 2017, the Russian Orthodox Church welcomed a Coptic Orthodox delegation which met and began its cooperation in social services and media field. The Commission recognizes the successful start of its cooperation in these two fields.
The third meeting of this Commission is scheduled to be in Los Angeles from February 12-17, 2019, hosted by His Eminence Metropolitan Serapion. At that meeting, the Commission will explore new areas regarding the service in the lands of immigration such as diakonia, youth service, language of worship, and cultural barriers.