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Speech before the Executive Committee of theMiddle East Council of ChurchesHis Beatitude Theophilos IIIPatriarch of Jerusalem20 April 2010“Your Beatitudes, Eminences, Graces,Your Excellencies fellow clergy,Sisters and Brothers in Christ,Christ is Risen, He is indeed Risen.It is a great honour and privilege for the “Mother Church” of all Christendom. The Patriarchate of Jerusalem to host this distinguished gathering of the executive committee of the Middle East Council of Churches in Our beloved Holy Land here in Amman under the wise and enlightened leadership of His Majesty King Abdulla II, may God guard him.In the Middle East in general and in Holy Jerusalem in particular, we have a diminishing congregation to protect, a fine line amidst political turmoil to walk, centuries’ old status quo to preserve, a priceless Heritage to maintain, and on top of all spiritual duties to perform.We shall not allow the special circumstances we experience in our respective national domains and spiritual jurisdictions, to deter us from performing our mutual and universal commitments as well as our devoted concern to challenges facing religious communities, entities and Humanity as a whole. It is precisely in this respect that we are convening here today to address the main concern that will only be achieved through adhering to the incarnate message of the Cross and the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ and his message of Justice, Tolerance and Unity, For it is said: “ In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears God and works righteousness is accepted by God”, (Acts 10:34 & 35).The radical currents that our world is experiencing demands our perseverance to be the initiators and apostles of spreading the message of the gospel unadulterated; the message of the love of Christ, that is Justice, Peace and reconciliation for nations and people, among Christians and others, grassroots and political echelons.Performing such a task in a complex environment where some have found an interest in spreading bigotry, violence, aggression and hatred is risky. Reconciliation with Almighty God and our common efforts as Church Leaders and clergy among us and our flock is the only way to engage the inherent risks and succeed in this task of spreading the message of Love, Justice and Peace. For as Saint Paul says: “…we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness…”, (Eph. 6:12).The ongoing crisis in the MECC is in its essence structural and administrative. The financial component is only one of its symptoms. Therefore, there is a need to approach this crisis in a comprehensive way.The MECC should be modelled to fit in the needs and aspirations of the member churches but also needs to adapt to these changing and challenging times. Therefore it has to be reconfigured to reflect an up to date vision of itself and of its mission aspirations. Let us be critical to ourselves and courageous enough to tackle this very point along the lines of what We envisaged in our address to the last General Assembly that took place in Cyprus.There is no doubt that good efforts have been made by the special task force appointed to ensure the MECC survival beyond 2009. It should be acknowledged that the Churches in Lebanon made a substantial financial contribution to the MECC. Therefore, we call on Churches in other countries to follow suit. As far as Our Church is concerned, We are ready to fulfill our responsibilities and make our contribution the very moment that the NEW MECC emerges adopting the above mentioned re- structural vision.The Executive Committee today is extraordinary by all means. We are asked to take bold and sharp decisions about the near and short term future of the MECC.Any decision we may take has to be bound by clear guidelines, and realistic timetables; most importantly it has to have secured financial resources ensuring its implementation.We cannot condone any concessions that undermine the future of the MECC. We have to be tough enough in our decisions and if need be to overcome ourselves as well as our church inclinations and interests.We are open to all the suggestions and proposals that have the only aim of securing the functionality and sustainability of the MECC as a fellowship of churches that are devoted in the diaconia and service of our institutions guarding our respective congregations together with our fellow brethren thus encouraging the much needed Christian presence here and now.To perform such a task we need to intensify our spiritual presence in society, to attract more believers to commit themselves to church teachings, to provide better social services, to enhance education, to subsidize for the unfortunate through welfare programs and to communicate more efficiently among ourselves. This task requires solid promotion of inter-religious dialogue for nurturing mutual respect, symbiosis and coexistence.Let our faith in the risen Lord Jesus Christ lead our way, let our work be a firm manifestation of Christ’s enlightenment, let our human fears be the fuel for our actions, so that the biblical words: “Let justice roll down like water and righteousness”.Please join Us in extending our appreciation and thanks to the sponsors and organisers that worked diligently to organise this meeting of ours”.Christ is Risen, He is indeed Risen”.
Jerusalem--In exclusive remarks to Al-Masry Al-Youm, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Theopholis III, says he is unfazed by the withdrawal of the Coptic Church from the Middle East Council of Churches in a dispute that has pitted two of the oldest Christian churches against each other.''The council doesn't necessarily include everybody,'' Theopholis said when asked about Pope Shenouda's recent decision to withdraw the Coptic church from the council. ''We aren't forcing anyone to join by force. Everyone participates by freewill, not force.''But in an interview at the Patriarchate's seat in the old city of occupied East Jerusalem, Theopholis, a co-president of the council, took pains to stress that the dispute was neither doctrinal nor political in nature, but rather limited to his and other church leaders' demands that the secretary of the council, Guirguis Saleh, a Copt who has served for the last seven years, resign. This, he said, is necessary due to what Theopholis alleges was mismanagement during Saleh's tenure that, the Greek clergyman says, has paralyzed the ecumenical grouping.Theopholis denied accusing the Coptic church or any of its representatives of ''treason'' during the council's latest meeting in Amman on 19 April, saying Egyptian media reports to that effect were ''a smear to discredit me because I took the initiative and put the knife on the knot'' by calling for Saleh to step down."I swear I never used that word, never. I asked the secretary-general in a kind way, 'Mr. Guirgis, if you want to help the council, consider a sacrifice and this is to offer your resignation,''' Theopholis said. He said he would not apologize for the reported treason remark, as demanded by Pope Shenouda, since he had never said it.Theopholis's account of what happened at the Amman meeting is that after his remarks to Saleh, Bishop Bishoi, the secretary of the Coptic Holy Synod, said the request for Saleh's resignation could not be accepted since he had been appointed by Pope Shenouda.''I said in responses: 'Is secretary-general a private enterprise? Is he for the council or for your church alone?''' Theopholis said.Despite the apparent acrimony at the meeting, Theopholis praised Bishop Bishoi, who is seen as a likely successor to the elderly Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa of the Holy See of St. Mark. Theopholis called Bishoi ''highly respected'' and a ''serious man involved in dialogue.''Of the pope he said, ''I have respect for him. He is a very interesting and highly respected church leader.''But Theopholis was direct and persistent in his criticism of Saleh's handling of council affairs. Saleh could not be reached for comment on Theopholis's allegations of mismanagement. ''In the course of his tenure he proved to be unsuitable,'' the Greek clergyman said.The council, Theopholis said, ''became a club. Everyone was promoting people for financial benefits rather than qualifications. It became a club loooking after private interests and the Copts were playing a major role. Other churches, because of the sensitivity did not want to face the problem in a straightforward way. No one wanted to disturb relations with Pope Shenouda. But when the council collapsed, someone had to come to the rescue of this council.''''I am trying for the reform and restructuring of this council,'' said the former school teacher, who grew up in the narrow streets of Jerusalem's Old City.''I would like to see it come back to its original purpose, to promote understanding and ecclesiastical unity through theological dialogue, especially right now in the cirucmstances the Middle East is passing, in order to support the needs of the Christians living in the Middle East in a non-Christian social context.''Bernard Sabella, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council who is executive secretary of the Middle East Council of Churchs' department of service for Palestinian refugees, voiced regret over the Coptic-Greek Orthodox feud. ''The idea of the council is to bring together all churches in the spirit of ecumenism. We pray this troublesome episode will be overcome. An active council is much needed for the communities themselves and relations with other religions and for the kind of future churches could contribute to iin the countries of the Middle East. It is important to get the council back on its feet. May the Holy Spirit guide all of them.''The Coptic church has at times played a substantial role in council affairs. His Excellence Anba Samuel was a founding member of the council in 1974. Anba Samuel was assassinated along with President Sadat in October 1981. Pope Shenouda served as a president of the council previously. Saleh, a theologian and professor, became secretary-general in 2003 and was elected to a second term in 2007.The council's official website lists among its key themes as strengthening ''a sense of national unity, confidence, continuity and purpose withini the fellowship of its member churches.''It brings together 27 (now 26) churches from countries as varied as Sudan, Tunisia, Lebanon, Syria Algeria and Iran. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria is a member within the Eastern Orthodox (Chalcedonian) family of churches, that also includes the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem. The Coptic Orthodox Church was until now in the council's Oriental Orthodox family of churches.This is not the first time there has been acrimony between the Coptic and Greek Orthodox churches or their antecedents. In a far more serious fracture in 451 AD, at the Council of Chalcedon, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria differed over the nature of Christ with the Eastern Orthodox and Western Churches. The schism led to the formation of the Coptic church as a distinct body.
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