Conference of the Oriental Orthodox Churches (COOC)
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,
INAGURAL AND CONCLUDING SPEECH OF HIS IMPERIAL MAJESTY HAILE SELASSIE AT THE CONFERENCE OF ORIENTAL ORTHODOX CHURCHES IN ADDIS ABABA (1965)
….. 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 all men, that We have invited Your Holinesses and Venerable Fathers to our capital city.
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 it, is the will of God and ought to be an inspiring example to all men. It should always be a help and not a 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 church 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 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 differences 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 origin 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 her hospitality, and this is not the first time she has welcomed 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 have been received with high honour and great respect. To mention only a few among those who are canonized in the Ethiopian church the Nine Saints who came from different countries of the Middle East and Abune Gebre-Menfus-Kidus are examples. These 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 provided 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 neighbours ceased to be Christians 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 the 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 for 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 to properly fulfil Our clear duty, and secondly, because Our long cherished desire has now met with fulfilment. 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 co-operation. There is no doubt that work done through a co-operative spirit shall meet with success. Christ affirmed:
“… That if two of you shall 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 Churches 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 an 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 final conclusions here and now. Yet it behoves the leaders of the Churches to begin to seek ways and means of reconciliation and collaboration.
Seek Unity, Peace
As noted in your agenda, you are to consider the problem of peace, because the world today is facing a great dilemma: the catastrophical weapons which are the result of human ingenuity, menace the world 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 fact we have another ground for co-operation with all the Churches of the world. As the followers of Christ let us not forget how often our cause has suffered through disunity.
We would like to refer in conclusion to the question of social welfare in the modem 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 the 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, 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 discussions 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.
Jan. 15, 1965.
Venerable and Holy Fathers,
In listening to the profound spiritual message conveyed by your closing addresses and appreciating the happy outcome of your sustained efforts, our heart has been touched by profound gladness. It should therefore be clear to the whole world from the result of your work that your Holiness have guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit to accomplish your task in love and unity.
The great common tasks accomplished by this Conference in unison bestowed on the true faith and true order of the Oriental Orthodox Church the admiration of the whole world.
As Solomon says, physical distance can not be a barrier to love. Likewise, the distances among your respective countries have been abolished by proximity of your hearts. You have thus been able to speak with a single tongue and think with a single mind. We thank Almighty God for enabling us to witness the realization of our dream in the successful outcome of this historical Conference.
We are therefore happy to express to you our readiness, fortified by the results of this Conference, to invite you and the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and also other churches at the late date. We ardently hope that we shall meet once again in the not distance future.
As we stated at the inauguration of this Conference, to meet together, to take council with one another, and to act in mutual cooperation, has proved a most fruitful method both in the secular and spiritual fields. Henceforth the way is open for you to follow this fruitful path and to this end, our help and assistance will always be forthcoming since we support your efforts and ideas out of an unshakable conviction that it is our spiritual duty to do so.
We are gratified in particular to note that the work of this Conference has been concerned purely with religious spiritual matters, free from extraneous political considerations. This is only fitting and proper, for the church, as a symbol of peace, must follow the path of peace in all parts of the world. In this connection we are glad to note that our evangelistic mission in the world has received due emphasis in your deliberations, together with the recognition of the Christian duty to pray for the rights o man and peace in the world. For world peace can only be made abiding by the grace of God, through the prayer of the Holy Fathers. The truth of this cardinal fact is evident to all mankind.
We ardently hope that Almighty God shall bless the implementation of your important resolutions and decisions, just as He made possible the successful convening and conclusion of this historic Conference.
WELCOME 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 re-examine 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.
The Oriental Orthodox Churches Addis Ababa Conference January, 1965
Edited by the Interim Secretariat
Oriental Orthodox Conference
Addis Ababa – August, 1965