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Catholic World News News Feature

Oriental Orthodox Churches Seek Stronger Ecumenical Ties January 27, 2003

VATICAN, Jan 27, 03 (CWNews.com) -- Representatives of the Oriental Orthodox churches are in Rome this week, for a series of talks sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity.

The meetings, which will be held January 27- 29, include representatives of the Coptic Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox, and Syro-Malankar churches. These Oriental Orthodox churches broke from Rome in the first major split within Christianity, after the Council of Chalcedon in 451. Long before the "Great Schism" of the 11th century, which gave birth to the Orthodox churches that now center around the great patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow, these Oriental Orthodox groups had established their own hierarchies, independent of the Holy See.

Ecumenical talks with the Oriental Orthodox groups hold special promise, because the theological disputes that originally caused their break with the Holy See in the 5th century have been largely overcome, and the political tensions that exacerbated their difficulties with Rome are now mostly forgotten. In recent years some leaders of these Eastern churches-- most notably the Armenian Apostolic Church-- have signed mutual statements of faith with the Vatican, indicating that theological disagreements have been resolved.

Although the different Eastern churches classified under the "Oriental Orthodox" heading are separate groups, they consider themselves members of one ecclesial community; they recognize the validity of each other's sacraments, and allow concelebration of the Eucharistic liturgy. They are also noteworthy for their frequently close relations with Eastern Catholic communities.

Father Johan Bonny, a spokesman for the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, observed that the current tensions in the Middle East have spurred the Oriental Orthodox churches to redouble their pursuit of unity with each other and with the Catholic Church.

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