A WORD ABOUT THESE CHURCHES
The five churches which took part in the Addis Ababa conference have, each of them, a long history, which in most cases can be traced back to the first century of the Christian era. At the same time, with reference to the fifth century Christological controversy they remain loyal to the Alexandrine theological tradition as it had been declared orthodox by the council of Ephesus in 431. On this ground they renounce the council of Chalcedon held in 451, which, they maintain, did practically contradict the council of 431.
In consequence of this stand as well as of various other causes these Churches have been made to face disabilities of many kinds. This, to be sure, is one of the main reasons why these Churches happened to be isolated both from the rest of Christendom and from one another. However, in spite of all such disadvantages they have continued to exist in the world holding to “the faith once delivered to the saints”, and today they include in their total membership over twenty million believers.
All this five Churches are members of the world council of churches. The wind contacts which this offered had led many in these churches to hope and pray for a common council of their own churches to be convened. The leaders of the world council of churches have also been showing much interest in such a development.
ARRANGEMENTS MADE FOR A CONFERENCE
The Lord of the church answered the prayers and put into the main of His Imperial Majesty Haile Sellassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia, the idea of convening a conference of the Heads of these Churches in his own capital city, as a first step towards bringing the churches into a state of concrete unity and mutual cooperation. A devout member and protector of the Ethiopian orthodox church which is one of the participating churches, the Emperor himself had, ever since has elevation to the imperial throne of Ethiopia, been waiting for a suitable occasion to call together a conference of these churches.
At last the time came, and on 18th May 1964 the Emperor sent out invitations to Heads of the Churches, requesting them to take part in a conference which he was planning to convene. On receiving their replies of acceptance, he entrusted the responsibility of making the necessary preparations with three local committees. These were a program committee under the chairmanship of His Beatitude Abuna Theophilos, Archbishop of Harar and Deputy Patriarch of the Ethiopia Orthodox Church; a Reception Committee led by His Excellency Balambras Mahetheme Sellassie, Minister of public Works of the Ethiopian Government; and a Secretariat with His Excellency Ato Abeba Retta, Minister of public Health of the Ethiopian Government, as Secretary General. These Committees, in cooperation with the staff of the Theological College of the Holy Trinity and persons like the Reverend Father T. Paul Verghese of the World Council of churches, did the work assigned to them during the several months preceding the conference.
In conclusion with the Heads of Churches, the program Committee prepared a tentative list of subjects to be discussed by the conference. Besides, this Committee arranged for the convening of a preparatory consolation by group of two theologians each deputed by every church to work out the “Schema” as a basis of discussion at the subsequent Conference of the Heads of Churches.
PREPARATORY CONSULATATION OF THEOLOGIANS
This was held during January 7-14, 1965 in one of the Committee Rooms of the Africa hall. With solemn prayer and an address of welcome delivered by his Grace Abuna Philipos, Archbishop of Jerusalem, representing the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the work of the committee of theologians formally began at 11 a.m. on January 7, 1965. it was attended by delegates of all the five Churches, the Secretary General, and other officers of the Conference. The meeting elected His Grace Abuna Philipos, representing the host Church, to be its permanent chairman, and every session was presided over by a delegate of each Church who was chosen by a principle of rotation. Each of these sessions began and concluded its work with prayer led by every member of the Committee also by rotation.
Held behind closed doors, this consultation was indeed a great success and an unforgettable experience for those who took part in it. After long discussions carried on in a spirit of frankness and cordiality on the basis of the tentative list of subjects which the program Committee had prepared these theologians unanimously recommended the “Schema” for the Conference of the Heads. A summary of the discussion is preserved in the short notes taken down by two recording secretaries, whose services had been graciously lent by the World Council of churches. Besides, the Committee had its official findings drafted by a body of three persons elected from among its membership. These findings were finally approved by a committee with necessary modification in order that they may be presented to the conference. The “Schema” thus proposed by the group of theologians to be submitted for deliberation by the conference consisted of forty paragraphs dealing with the following subjects: – I. The Modern World and our churches; II. Cooperation in Theological Education; III. Cooperation in Evangelism; IV. Our Relation with other churches; V. Instituting Machinery for the Maintenance of permanent Relations: and VI. A Statement on Peace and Justice in the world.
THE CONFERENCE OF THE HEADS OF CHURCHES
The conference had its sessions from January 15-21, 1965. The Heads with delegates other than those who had taken part in the preparatory consultation had arrived by plane on January 14th. They were received at the airport by His Imperial Majesty in person and high-ranking dignitaries of both the church and the state. Besides, there was a very larger gathering of people at the airport to accord a cordial welcome to the holy Fathers on their arrival. They were also given a special reception at the cathedral of the Holy Trinity in accordance with the tradition of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. The Reception Committee had made all the necessary arrangements for the comfortable stay of these most venerable guests in Addis Ababa.
The Conference was inaugurated at 11a.m. on January 15th in the context of a short service of prayer. The rotunda of the Africa Hall had been reserved for the delegates and all the seats in the gallery were occupied by invited guests. On rostrum seats were arranged for the Heads of the Churches following the ancient tradition of precedence, and a bible placed on a beautifully decorated table remained at the center of the hall in front of these seats. At this inauguration ceremony the place reserved for the Patriarch of Alexandria remained vacant, as His Holiness Anba Kyrillos pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the see of St. Mark arrived only two days later. The conference was declared open by Emperor Haile Sellassie I as the host, who delivered the inaugural address, welcoming the guests and expressing his unbounded joy in the great event signified by the conference. Following him, two of the Heads, namely His Holiness Moran Mar Ignatius Yacub III, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, and His Holiness Vasken I, Supreme Catholicos and Patriarch of the Armenian Orthodox Church, also spoke thanking the Emperor and wishing the Conference every success.
The inaugural ceremony was followed by the regular sessions of the Conference, two sittings each day, expect on 17th January which was a Sunday. Attended only by the Heads and delegates with the officers of the conference, these sessions were also held behind closed doors. Each session began and concluded its program of work with prayer led by one of the Heads, and in response to a unanimous request of the conference His Excellency Ato Abeba Retta, the Secretary General, assumed the role of the Moderator, and Ato Aberra Jembere served as the General Secretary. During these sessions the recommendations of the committee of theologians were read in the context of a very lively discussion of the issues raised in them. As at the preparatory consultation of theologians, the discussion, and a body of five persons was appointed to draft the findings. These men did the work assigned to them and the statements which necessary alterations, as its decisions.
The conference came to a close on January 21st. At 4 p.m. on that day the concluding session was held in the presence of a large gathering of people. On this occasion also the Emperor delivered an address, following by speeches by all the Heads of Churches. This closing session most solemnly conferred on His Imperial Majesty Haile Sellassie I the title of “the Defender of Faith”, and placed on record the feeling of sincere gratitude towards all those who worked for the success of the decisions approved by the Conference.
A PROBLEM IN THE ARMENIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
Although this was a Conference of the Heads of five Churches, the Heads and delegates of the Armenian Orthodox Church expressed their inability to participate in it fully, because of certain internal difficulties of administration which they were facing between the Supreme Catholicos of Etchmidzin and the Catholicos of the Great House of Cecilia. So at the closed sessions of the Conference the Armenian Orthodox church was represented only by observers, and neither of the Catholicos of the Armenian Orthodox Church signed the decisions at the conclusion of the conference. We are happy to note, however, that His Holiness Khoren I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cecilia, has subsequently signified his willingness to be considered a full participant of the Conference. We hope and pray that the Armenian Orthodox Church will be se guided by the Holy Spirit that will join fully with its sister Churches.
A WORD IN CONCLUSION
Following its adjournment, the standing Committee appointed by the Conference had several meetings, in which a number of decisions have been made with a view to follow up the work of the Conference. It should also be noted that in response to the request of the Conference, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church soon set up the interim Secretariat in Addis Ababa with Ato Seifu Metaferia as its Secretary General. In this way the work which the Conference aimed to accomplish is being carried on.
We pray God to shower His unceasing blessings on these churches, and guide them by His Holy Spirit that they may become effective witnesses of the redeeming work of Jesus Christ.
INVITATION AND SPEECHES
The English Translation of His Majesty’s
Original Letter of Invitation Sent to the
Heads of the four Oriental Orthodox Churches
18th May, 1964
We extend loving and friendly greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ever since Our ascension to the throne, by the will of the Almighty God, of our fathers, it has been our great desire to see representatives of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and her traditional sister Oriental Orthodox Churches gather around one table in our capital city to strengthen their unity in faith and further their good relations as well as to solve their common problems by mutual exchange of ideas.
Because of our expressed desire to see this noble objective achieved, namely, the extension of God’s kingdom, we have at last decided to convince such a meeting.
Our great fathers met first at Nicea, then at Constantinople, and finally at Ephesus. Notwithstanding the very long period that has elapsed since then, the spirit of unity in faith of these sister Oriental Orthodox Churches has been maintained. This fact has encouraged us to convince this meeting. If the representatives of our Churches meet once again, there is no doubt that the common faith will be further strengthened.
Other Churches and Denominations have their own separate meetings to discuss their common problems and to strengthen their unity. Now more than ever before, when the Churches are faced with great responsibilities and need greater strength, it is quite appropriate that the leaders of our Churches should meet together to discuss common problems and exchanges ideas. Your Holiness is well aware of the great need and usefulness of such a meeting.
It is, therefore, our desire that these ancient sister Churches should meet together in order to strengthen their unity in faith, to discuss points of common interest, resolve their common problems, and especially to pave the way for the ultimate reunification of the divided Churches of Christ.
We are happy to arrange such a meeting of the leaders of the sister Oriental Orthodox Churches to be held here in our capital city of Addis Ababa from September 25, 1964 to October5, 1964.
With great personal regards to your Holiness, We extend this invitation hoping that your Holiness will be able to attend and participate in this meeting.
We wish Your Holiness all peace from God and good health.
(Signed.) HAILE SELLASSIE I,
INAUGURAL SPEECH OF HIS IMPERIAL MAJESTY TO THE CONFERENCE OF HEADS OF ORIENTAL ORTHODOX CHURCHES
Venerable and Holy Fathers,
On this occasion when you, Venerable Heads of the Oriental Orthodox Churches, are assembled together in our capital city, it is appropriate to demonstrate our joy by singing with the psalmist, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity”(Ps 133:1).
The Unity of the Church, as your Holinesses well know, is the will of God and ought to be inspiring example to all men. It should always be a help and not hindrance to the unity of men of different religions.
As church history testifies, the church fathers from the apostolic period up to the Third council (4th century A.D) did hold councils to formulate the doctrines of the church and to draft rules of Churches administration.
It is with the hope that your meeting will contribute in a significant way to the unity of the Church, and indirectly to the unity of church, and indirectly to the unity of all men, that we have invited your Holinesses and Venerable Fathers to our capital city.
Today not only the Church, but also the political powers of the world are frequently meeting, leaving their difference aside, to tackle common problems, and find ways and means for the achievement and preservation of world peace. The church should not overlook this great task because she is the source of peace and fraternity.
Our own church is as ancient as our faith, and her history is replete with accounts of the unswerving faith of our people, the inspiring heroism of our martyrs, the holiness of our saints. The history of our nation has always been closely related to the history of our Church, and the church has been both the rallying point and the inspirer of our national unity. Christianity has flourished in our country, keeping its original features and character through the centuries. As a nation we have a great debt to the Church for our cultural heritage.
Ethiopia has been from ancient times well known for he hospitality and this is not the first time she has welcome holy fathers like yourselves. From the 4th century A.D onward monks and saints have come from Egypt, Syria and other Christian countries to Ethiopia and been received with high honor and great respect. T o mention only a few among those who are canonized in the Ethiopian church, the Nine Saints who came from different countries of Middle East and Abuna Gebre-Menfas-Kidus are examples. Those holy fathers, preaching and establishing monasteries in various parts of our country, have greatly contributed to Ethiopian Christianity. Therefore, many churches and monasteries are dedicated to them in undying memory of the spiritual services, which they rendered to our country.
In ancient times, when the Faith of the whole Church was one, our country had the closest relations with the Emperors of Christian Byzantium. At the time when several Christian peoples in the North became subservient to non- Christian powers, our country gladly gave asylum to thousands of Christian refugees. It had equally given asylum from religious persecution at an earlier date to the followers of the founder of Islam. Only when our own immediate neighbors ceased to be Christian did our contacts with our fellow-Christians in the North and East become difficult to maintain.
Ethiopia, an island of Christianity has made her own distinctive contribution to the Christian faith; for, ever since her conversion to Christianity, she has remained faithful, her age-old ties with the apostolic church uninterrupted. For this reason she is universally renowned as the faithful daughter of St. Mark of Alexandria. The opportunity we have today to discuss our common interests and problems together is the fruit of that ancient unity. To defend the faith and to preserve our ancient ties with your respective countries, our fathers the Emperors of Ethiopia and Ethiopian people have exerted great efforts all through our history. We are grateful to all of them.
It is therefore with great joy that we welcome your Holinesses to our land and to our Church. Your Holinesses bring with you sacred memories from the ancient past. Your presence here is a pledge and token of the desire of all Christians to be one.
Ever since we ascended the historic throne of Ethiopia, we have considered it our duty to call a meeting of the churches who belong to the same fold. We were praying to God for His help in achieving this holy purpose, so that He may grant it to us to see this event. In ancient times the Byzantine emperors used to summon the Councils. Our sincere wish from the very beginning was to see these churches meeting to discuss their common interests and decide on their common problems. This wish is in actual fact fulfilled today, and we are happy to witness it. Therefore, we thank Almighty God, first because he has enabled us properly to fulfill our clear duty and, secondly, because our long cherished desire has now met with fulfillment. Henceforth the matter will demand the spiritual unity and hard work of your Holinesses. For strength can be achieved through unity, and success is the fruit of cooperation. There is no doubt that work done through a cooperative spirit shell meet with success. Christ affirmed:-
“…..That if two of you agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my father which is in heaven” (Math. 18:19)
For centuries past our Orthodox Church have been without contact. Perhaps that which still divides the two groups is a matter of some importance. Perhaps it is not. In any case, we live in a time when even political differences are discussed around the conference table and peaceful and amicable solutions sought by all. The church can afford to do no less.
Our age is characterized by notable advances in the sphere of communications, and is therefore rightly termed and age of unity and of coming together. In this connection we recall the noble efforts of Archbishop Nathan Soderblom of Sweden who took the initiative for the “Universal Christian Conference” which met in Stockholm as long ago as 1925. We have also followed with keen interest the deliberations of the Ecumenical Council held last November in Vatican City under the spiritual leadership of Pope Paul the sixth of Rome.
This Conference may not be able to come to conclusions here and now. Yet it behaves the leaders of the churches to begin to seek ways and means of reconciliation and collaboration.
As noted in your agenda, you are to consider the problem of peace, because the world today is facing a great dilemma: the catastrophically weapons which are the result of human ingenuity menace the word to the point of annihilation, and the human race is more than ever in need of the prayers and support of the church. In this face we have another ground for cooperation with all the Churches of the world. As the followers of Christ let us not forget how often our case has suffered through disunity.
We would like to refer in conclusion to the question of social welfare in the modern world. For a country can achieve much more in this field if supported by the Church. The will of God will be realized and humanity can achieve progress in both spiritual and material fields in a healthy society.
We consider it a great blessing to us and to our people that your Holinesses have come to bless our land with your sacred presence. Our people and our Church rejoice to welcome Your Holinesses in our midst.
Holy Fathers, as the spiritual descendants of the Apostles of Christ, you have an eminent responsibility, which responsibility would include the improvement of the relations of laity with clergy and of church with society.
We hope and trust that God will guide the discussion here according to His will and that His power will assist Your Holinesses in finding common solutions to common problems in the spirit of amity and concord. May God who helped the 318 Fathers of the Council of Nicea enlighten and help us all.
WELLCOME SPEECH DELIVERED BY A REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ETHIOPIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH TO THE PARTICIPATS OF THE PRE- CONFERENCE CONSULTATION
Esteemed Fathers and revered Brothers
We in Ethiopia are indeed delighted that you are with us and that we join with you in service for the next few days. So let me, on behalf of the Ethiopia Orthodox Church, His Imperial Majesty’s Government and of my own, take this opportunity to extend to you our warmest and most sincere welcome to our Church and country. You are responsible leaders and theologians of some of the most ancient and renewed Churches in the world and you have come to Ethiopia as the officially chosen delegates of your own respective communities. So we consider it an honor to welcome you and a great privilege to entertain you.
You have come to Ethiopia to perform a glorious piece of work, and it is quite fitting that it has been so arranged that you will begin it on these days of the Feast of Christmas. Our lord Jesus Christ was born more than nineteen centuries ago in that lowly manger in Bethlehem. He came into the world to bring peace on earth by uniting man with God and man with man. He lived on earth and died on the cross. But He rose again from the dead and is present with us to lead us in the way of peace.
On these blessed days you have come together to work under His leadership and guided by the Holy Spirit to lay the foundation of a renewed spirit to lay the foundation of a renewed spirit of forward movement in our Churches, a movement which should contribute to growth and enable all those who are called by the name Christian to drew closer together and express the fullness of unity, for which our Lord earnestly prayed. We know that this is a very great task, but we hope that God will guide you to make a good start towards its fulfillment. The conference of the Heads of our Churches, which is to follow your consultation, will rely on your labors for their decisions. So the success of the Conference will depend upon what you will be doing during these few days. Our earnest support in prayer goes with you, and we believe that God who has brought you here will be with you guiding you in all your thinking and activities.
We trust that you will enjoy your stay with us. Once again let me assure you that you are most welcome in Ethiopia, and that you may count on us that we will do our best to make you happy and comfortable in every way possible.
REPLY OF H. MORAN MAR IGNATIUS YACUB III
Your Imperial Majesty, Holy Fathers and Brothers beloved clergy and people.
It is with deep sense of gratitude to Almighty God that we stand here on this occasion, and the joy which we feel in the depths of our hearts is beyond words to describe. Your Majesty has offered us a memorable opportunity to meet in your beautiful capital. While listening to the speech of your Majesty, we are reminded of the episode at the Council of Nicea in 325, when following the inaugural oration of Emperor Constantine, St. Eustathius of Antioch delivered an address praising the Emperor. Although we consider ourselves unworthy to take the place of that illustrious soul, as a successor of his on the holy see of the Apostle Peter we deep it our most pleasant privilege to speak these few words following your Majesty. In calling this historic Conference, your Majesty has shown yourself a worthy successor of the faithful Emperors in Christian history who have served the cause of the Church in their respective generations. While thanking your Majesty for convening this Conference, may we express our most sincere gratitude to the government and people of Ethiopia as well as to the Ethiopia Orthodox Church.
As the meeting of Heads and leaders of our sister Orthodox Churches of the East, this Conference is a great event for our Churches. Through we have a common heritage of Orthodox faith, our Churches have not had an opportunity of meeting together in this way for many long centuries. But now God has, through his servant Haile Sellassie I, the Lion of Juda and the glorious Emperor of Ethiopia, made it possible for us to come together. In fact, from the time when our humble self was elevated to the holy see of the Apostle peter, we have been praying God to open the way for a meeting of our Churches, and when two of our brother Metropolitans visited Ethiopia soon after our installation, we had sent through them an appeal to your Majesty urging you to convene it. Now your Majesty has, out of your own gracious decision, called this Conference and we of the Syrian Orthodox Church all over the world rejoices in it.
It is fitting on this occasion for me to say that as the ruler of Ethiopia your Majesty is a person whom we hold in the highest esteem. We remember you always in the celebration of our Liturgy. In so doing, we follow the worthy instruction of our distinguished Fathers like Mar Dionysius Bar Salibi in the twelfth. They have enjoined on us that we should remember the kings of Ethiopia in our Eucharistic Service, as they share the same faith with us. Even our Churches have very close relationship with each other at least from the forth century. So we have record that St. Frumentius who was the first Archbishop of Ethiopia had come from Tyre within the province of our see. Mar Jacob Baradaeus in the sixth century visited Ethiopia, and that about the same time the Nine Saints settled down in this country leaving their home in Syria. We are indeed happy that we are able to visit this great land, its Church and people.
Our Churches have indeed inherited the Orthodox faith from our Fathers. But we have not always manifested its meaning through the redeeming powers of divine love to a world which is hungry for it. That is one reason why our Churches have not been able to make the Gospel of Christ more real to our non-Christian neighbors. Through this conference we shall not only strengthen the bond of unity which exists among us, but shall also seek to reexamine the ways in which our true faith should transform our people. Besides, we shall agree together on practical programs of common action to make our Christian witness more effective in the world. With these concerns in mind, we pray that Almighty God may so order our deliberations that our Conference may give a new start to our ancient Churches.
To you Imperial Majesty and to the people of Ethiopia, especially to our brethren in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, we and our Bishops bring the warmest regards of the Syrian Orthodox Church all over the world. We have with us in this conference our exalted Brother, Mar Baselios Augen I, the Catholicos of the East, leading a delegation of his ancient Church in India. It gives us great joy to see that in spite of his old age our beloved brother has journeyed from far-off India to Ethiopia to take part in this Conference. May we convey to Your Majesty, the church and people of Ethiopia the warmest greetings also of the Syrian Orthodox Church of India.