Thursday 21st January 2016 , Heythrop College, London
Kristian Girling is to be congratulated on obtaining his doctorate. The Theology Group were pleased to receive from him a paper with a reflection on dialogue and ecumenical engagement between the Roman Catholic, Chaldean Catholic Church and Church of the East. The divisions between the Roman church and the Syriac churches were over the divinity of Christ...was Mary the Mother of God (Roman church) or the Mother of Christ (Syriac churches)?...was Christ wholly human or God in human form?...can a Christ who is God in human form be as vulnerable as a 'normal' human being? Was the distinction a matter of definitive vocabulary and/or a matter of essential liturgy? This was the moot point of the Council of Ephesus in 431. Over 1500 years later, a part of the Syriac community of Churches is in communion with Rome, the Chaldean Catholic Church. However not the Church of the East which was by far the largest missionary church several hundred years ago with congregations throughout Asia and India; with a claim to be the first Christian Church to establish itself in China. The Iraq-Iran war and the many troubles that followed led the decline in the power and influence of the two churches as the diaspora grew apace and power and influence shifted to the Americas. The Chaldean Church, with the backing of a more prosperous western Church Community, weathered the political storms more safely and the relative influence of the two churches have adjusted to this new reality. It is not suprising then that closer union has been more pressingly on the agenda of the two churches and considerable progress has been made towards union between the Roman and Chaldean Catholic churches and discussion at least begun with the Church of the East. Apart from the exigencies of hte political and social circumstance of the Middle East today, the role that patriarchal leadership has played in the movement towards union has been significant and the relative stress of one aspect of this increasing fellowship compared with another has been dependent on the particular strengths of four of the more recent patriarchs; Louis Raphael I Sako, Rpahael I Bidawid, Emmanuel III Delly of the Chaldean Catholic Church and Patriarch Dinkha IV of the Church of the East. Survival of the Christian Church in Iraq and Syria has focused around the need for a clearer national and united Christian identity in Iraq and the Middle East in general. This continues to be a significant driver towards greater unity of the Syriac churches.
Kristian asked nine questons of our understanding of ecumenism in this context.
The questions posed by Kristian were about the nature of the ecumenical movement itself in this context; 1. How does ecumenism benefit us? what are its goals? 2. Is ecumenism a politically expedient response to internal strife and civil war? 3. Is it a populist movement rather than one that necessarily has patriarchal leadership? Non-denominationalism as opposed to ecumenism. 4. What part does migration and dispersal of the church play as a driver towards ecumenism? 5. What gifts do the successes of the Syriac movement towards ecumenism bring to other ecumenical movements elsewhere? 6. What is Pope Francis's vision for the Church as a whole...for the Syriac churches in particular? 7. With all the internal strife in Christian churches, does the drive towards ecumenism with other churches lack a degree of integrity? 8. What role does the interest in or lack of interest in the Church of the East in the rest of the world play in the drive towards ecumenism? 9. What is the ecumenical vision of the newly installed patriarch Gegwargis III of the Church of the East?
Not all of these questions were addressed in a long and empassioned discussion but many were. The lack of leadership and inappropriate leadership supporting militarism in the face of conflict were impediments to any visible signs of a recovering church in the Middle East. Leadership in the rest of the world in the face of the Middle East conflict was largely absent but Leadership requires information as a basic requirement and that is missing...Pope Francis, for example, coming from a South American background has little understanding of the political world of Islam. Perhaps information is not the answer or only part of the answer. Do we have the spiritual resources, the spiritual depth to have the courage to recognise weakness as strength and a base to seek and find new solutions. Is diversity of creed and liturgy an obstacle to ecumenism or a gift to be treasured as we all seek to grow together? Are we all hidebound by prejudice and past history and do not see beyong these obstacles to progress. Do we all need to listen to each other more carefully and sensitively?