Statement of the Orthodox Church of Antioch on the Relations between the Eastern and Syrian Orthodox Churches
November 12, 1991
A Synodal and Patriarchal Letter.
To All Our Children, Protected by God, of the Holy See of Antioch:
You must have heard of the continuous efforts for decades by our Church with the sister Syrian Orthodox Church to foster a better knowledge and understanding of both Churches, whether on the dogmatic or pastoral level. These attempts are nothing but a natural expression that the Orthodox Churches, and especially those within the Holy See of Antioch, are called to articulate the will of the Lord that all may be obey, just as the Son is One with the Heavenly Father (John 10:30).
It is our duty and that of our brothers in the Syrian Orthodox Church to witness to Christ in our Eastern region where He was born, preached, suffered, was buried and rose from the dead, ascended into Heaven, and sent down His Holy and Life Giving Spirit upon His holy Apostles.
All the meetings, the fellowship, the oral and written declarations meant that we belong to One Faith even though history had manifested our division more than the aspects of our unity.
All this has called upon our Holy Synod of Antioch to bear witness to the progress of our Church in the See of Antioch towards unity that preserves for each Church its authentic Oriental heritage whereby the one Antiochian Church benefits from its sister Church and is enriched in its traditions, literature and holy rituals.
Every endeavor and pursuit in the direction of the coming together of the two Churches is based on the conviction that this orientation is from the Holy Spirit, and it will give the Eastern Orthodox image more light and radiance, that it has lacked for centuries before.
Having recognized the efforts done in the direction of unity between the two Churches, and being convinced that this direction was inspired by the Holy Spirit and projects a radiant image of Eastern Christianity overshadowed during centuries, the Holy Synod of the Church of Antioch saw the need to give a concrete expression of the close fellowship between the two Churches, the Syrian Orthodox Church and the Eastern Orthodox for the edification of their faithful.
Thus, the following decisions were taken:
- We affirm the total and mutual respect of the spirituality, heritage and Holy Fathers of both Churches. The integrity of both the Byzantine and Syriac liturgies is to be preserved.
- The heritage of the Fathers in both Churches and their traditions as a whole should be integrated into Christian education curricula and theological studies. Exchanges of professors and students are to be enhanced.
- Both Churches shall refrain from accepting any faithful from accepting any faithful from one Church into the membership of the other, irrespective of all motivations or reasons.
- Meetings between the two Churches, at the level of their Synods, according to the will of the two Churches, will be held whenever the need arises.
- Every Church will remain the reference and authority for its faithful, pertaining to matters of personal status (marriage, divorce, adoption, etc.).
- If bishops of the two Churches participate at a holy baptism or funeral service, the one belonging to the Church of the baptized or deceased will preside. In case of a holy matrimony service, the bishop of the bridegroom’s Church will preside.
- The above mentioned is not applicable to the concelebration in the Divine Liturgy.
- What applies to bishops equally applies to the priests of both Churches.
- In localities where there is only one priest, from either Church, he will celebrate services for the faithful of both Churches, including the Divine Liturgy, pastoral duties, and holy matrimony. He will keep an independent record for each Church and transmit that of the sister Church to its authorities.
- If two priests of the two Churches happen to be in a locality where there is only one Church, they take turns in making use of its facilities.
- If a bishop from one Church and a priest from the sister Church happen to concelebrate a service, the first will preside even when it is the priest’s parish.
- Ordinations into the holy orders are performed by the authorities of each Church for its own members. It would be advisable to invite the faithful of the sister Church to attend.
- Godfathers, godmothers (in baptism) and witnesses in holy matrimony can be chosen from the members of the sister Church.
- Both Churches will exchange visits and will co-operate in the various areas of social, cultural and educational work.
We ask God’s help to continue strengthening our relations with the sister Church, and with other Churches, so that we all become one community under one Shepherd.
12 November 1991
Patriarch Ignatios IV
of the Greek Antiochian Church
Patriarch Ignatius Zakka Iwas
of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch