Friday and Saturday, December 9-10, 2005, the Heads of the Oriental Orthodox Churches in the Middle East, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Church, His Holiness Patriarch Zakka I of the Syrian Church and His Holiness Catholicos Aram I of the Armenian Church-Catholicosate of Cilicia, held their 8th meeting, at St. Ephrem Monastery, Ma’arat Saydnaya, Damascus, Syria. This fellowship was founded in 1996.
During their deliberations, the three Heads addressed issues related to the family of the Oriental Orthodox Churches and its theological dialogues with various churches, and discussed matters related to the Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, the Churches of the Reformation, the World Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of Churches. The socio-political situation in the Middle East as well as the theological seminaries, the youth and the publication sub-committees of the Oriental Orthodox Churches acquired special attention.
The three Heads extended their blessings and appreciation to the Standing Committee, who convened its meeting December 7-8. At the end of their meeting, the three Heads signed a Common Declaration encouraging the active participation of their faithful in evangelism, diakonia, Christian education, theological formation and youth activities as genuine expressions of life and witness of their Churches. Additionally, issues related to theological dialogues and ecumenical collaboration on global and regional levels, as well as human rights, social justice, peace and inter-faith relations were highlighted.
The 9th meeting of His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, His Holiness Patriarch Zakka I and His Holiness Catholicos Aram I will be hosted by the Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia, in Antelias, Lebanon, in November 2006.
The following is an article written by HE Metropolitan Bishoy printed in El Karaza Magazine, December 23, 2005
His Holiness Pope Shenouda III traveled to Damascus on Thursday evening December 8, 2005 accompanied by H.G. Bishop Mousa and Mr Girguis Saleh, the Secretary General of the Middle East Council of Churches, to attend the Supreme Heads meeting of the Oriental Orthodox churches in the Middle East. Upon arrival in the Damascus International Airport, His Holiness Pope Shenouda III was welcomed by H.H. Patriarch Mar Ignatius Zakka I of Antioch and all the East for the Syrian Orthodox; Mr Hazem Ahdy Khairat, the Egyptian Ambassador in Damascus; along with His Eminence Abraham of Jerusalem, His Eminence Metropolitan Bishoy, Hegomen Mar Thawfelous George Salibeh, Archbishop Siboeh Sarkessian, Archimandrite Narik Alimazian, Mar Elia Bahi the Patriarchal Assistant and also Hegomen Antoniuos Sobhy, our priest in Jordan; Fr. Philopateer Abba Pishoi our priest in Lebanon and Syria; with the VIP Officials of the Egyptian Embassy and a group of the Coptic congregation in Syria.
They all then headed to Mar Evraam Al Suriany’s monastery in Ma’aret Seydnaya. The next day and after the arrival of HH Catholicos Aram, a luncheon meeting was held then the official meeting commenced in the attendance of the three Patriarchs and members of the Standing Committee.
HH the Pope and His accompanying delegate headed to Damascus International Airport where HH Patriarch Mar Zakka was bidding them farewell along with the Egyptian Ambassador and their eminence Metropolitan Abraham, Archbishop Siboeh, Archimandrite Narik, and Mar Elia Bahi, also Hegomen Antoniuos Sobhy, Fr Philopateer Abba Pishoi and the VIP Officials of the Egyptian embassy. HH returned back safely to the mother land at 23:00 hrs of Saturday where at HH arrival there were a large number of the Rev Metropolitans, bishops, members of lay Council and church lay
The Standing Committee had previously prepared the agenda of the meeting as well as the proposed common declaration of the Rev Heads meeting of the three oriental orthodox churches in the Middle East the Coptic, Syrian and Armenian Churches. The committee was convened on the morning of Wednesday 7/12 till Friday morning 9/12.
Meeting of the Reverend Supreme Heads of Churches:
HH Catholicos Aram I of the Armenian Orthodox of the Great House of Cilicia arrived from Antlias, Lebanon via the desert road at Mar Evram’s monastery in Ma’aret Seydnaya on Friday noon 9/12 accompanied by Metropolitan Kegham the Archbishop of Beirut for the Armenian Orthodox where he met with HH Pope Shenouda III and HH Patriarch Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas. Meetings commenced in the attendance of the Standing Committee members and Mr Girguis Saleh in order to review the agenda and the proposed common declaration.
The meeting was then continued on Saturday morning 10/12 where the rest of the agenda points were discussed and the common declaration was read aloud, the three Rev supreme Heads also exchanged presents and souvenir gifts were presented to the attendees. Photos were taken during the meeting and also at the gate of Mar Evram’s monastery with the Rev monks and then with the nuns of Mar James’ convent as well as with the students of Mar Evram’s Seminary and some of their professors.
It is to be noted that in this declaration a felicitation was extended to HH Patriarch Mar Ignatius Zakka I Iwas on His 25th anniversary of His enthronement as a Patriarch and Supreme Head of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church.
At the Egyptian Embassy in Damascus:
HH the Pope and HH Patriarch Mar Zakka then headed with their accompanied delegates to the Egyptian Embassy upon the invitation of the Egyptian Ambassador where HH met there with the Ambassador of Norway, Ambassador of Morocco, of the Vatican and the Palestinian activist Nae’f Hawatma. HH also met with Sheikh Salah Keftaro and some of the Muslim Sheikhs where it was a loving and friendly meeting. Mr Ambassador of Egypt gave a word of welcome saluting HH Pope Shenouda III, HH Patriarch Mar Zakka and all the guests who were attending. Then HH the Pope gave a word expressing His thanks to the Ambassador for his welcoming spirit which he showed them, HH also gave a spiritual word about peace.