Paramus, NJ – On December 8, 2019, choirs representing the various families of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches gathered in celebration of the Nativity of Christ Our Lord at St. Mark’s Syriac Orthodox Cathedral for a Pan-Orthodox Christmas Concert. The choirs – along with an audience of approximately seven hundred faithful – were welcomed to the Cathedral by His Eminence Mor Dionysios John Kawak, Archbishop and Patriarchal Vicar of the Syriac Orthodox Archdiocese of the Eastern United States. “You are not our guests this evening,” His Eminence declared, “This is your home!”
The spirit of that sentiment was echoed by His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros – Chairman of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America (ACOBA) and Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America – in his opening remarks. After thanking His Eminence Mor Dionysios, His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros declared, “The harmony of music serves the ecumenical conversation between our Churches. Our quest for unity and communion requires us to explore new areas where Christians can come together, work together, sing together and bear witness together to the fullness of Christ’s teaching, sacrifice and resurrection, for the life of the world.”
During the course of the evening, choirs representing the Armenian, Byzantine, Antiochian, Ethiopian, Coptic, Serbian, Syriac, and Russian Orthodox traditions chanted Nativity hymns unto Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Theotokos, much to the delight of the assembled faithful.
His Grace Bishop David – President of the Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches (SCOOCH), Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of New York & New England, and Patriarchal Exarch of the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of North America – closed the evening with a rousing address, declaring, “There is only one word to describe tonight’s event: ‘Wow!’…the Cathedral is over-packed with people tonight, which shows, really, how much we have this very strong desire for our unity, and we take every opportunity to come together as brothers and sisters in Christ…Tonight’s event was truly a glimpse of Heaven, because as it is mentioned in the Book of Revelation, ‘that before the Throne were multitudes from all nations, all tribes, all people, and from all tongues…'”
His Grace recounted that the genesis of the event lay in the visit of a delegation of Oriental Orthodox bishops to His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros to congratulate His Eminence in the wake of his enthronement, which led to the renewal of the dialogue between the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches of the United States via the Joint Commission of Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches convened by SCOOCH and the ACOBA.
“We really feel we are one today,” His Grace Bishop David continued, “And we feel no difference. And we feel the love that we have for each other…we are truly one in Christ. Jesus Our Lord wants us to be one, as He prayed, ‘that they may be one’. Tonight we have sent a message to all our leaders throughout the world that we can work together as much as we can in whatever way is allowed.”
His Grace concluded by declaring that God willing, the Pan-Orthodox Christmas Concert will be the first of many joint Eastern Orthodox-Oriental Orthodox events initiated by the ACOBA and SCOOCH.
In addition to the above mentioned hierarchs, His Grace the Right Reverend Irinej, Bishop of the Eastern American Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church, was also in attendance.
The proceeds of the concert will go to aid the persecuted Christians of Syria.
In addition to the official photos accompanying this article – generously provided by Mr. Dimitrios Panagos – please watch this space for an album of additional photos from the concert.