After almost two years of careful preparation, the first meeting of a new pastoral consultation between Orthodox and Catholics in England took place in Oxford in February this year. The second meeting took place on 29 September, during which they drew up a statement on the plight of Christians in the Holy Land.
The consulation is jointly sponsored by the Fellowship of St Alban & St Sergius and the Society of St John Chrysostom, the sister societies for East-West unity founded within a year of each other in the 1920s. The initiative has the blessing of the chairman of the Department for Dialogue and Unity of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales, Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham, and of Archbishop Gregorios of the Greek Orthodox archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain, and Archbishop Elisey of the Russian Orthodox diocese of Sourozh.
Consultation will involve common pastoral concerns, and promote mutual understanding, contact and exchange, including theological dialogue that can contribute to greater unity among the two Churches in the setting of contemporary society in the UK and also disseminate in this country the work of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church.
At the first meeting, the Consultation looked at the place and education of Orthodox children in Roman Catholic schools, as well as present developments in the international dialogue. The second meeting in London reviewed these discussions, and also began to examine questions of marriage and family life with a view to the Synod of Bishops of the Catholic Church.
The lifetime of the Consultation is five years in the first instance and will conclude with a final report. Reports and statements may also be issued along the way.
At the end of their September meeting, the Consultation issued a message of solidarity and support for the Christians and their Churches in Iraq and Syria at the present moment of their suffering, dispersal and witness for the sake of faithfulness to Christ.
The members are:
For the Fellowship of St Alban & St Sergius
Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia (Orthodox Co-Chairman and Patron of the Fellowship)
Archpriest Stephen Platt (Orthodox Co-Secretary and General Secretary of the Fellowship)
Protopresbyter Ian Graham, rector of the Orthodox Parish of the Holy Trinity, Oxford
Dr Julia Konstantinovsky, University of Oxford (Sister Seraphima, Monastery of St John Baptist, Tolleshunt Knights)
Dr Brandon Gallaher (Lecturer in Theology, University of Exeter)
For the Society of St John Chrysostom
Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham (Catholic Co-Chairman and Patron of the Society)
Father Mark Woodruff (Catholic Co-Secretary and Vice-Chairman of the Society)
Bishop Robert Byrne CO (Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham)
Sister Benedict Gaughan osb (Convenor of the East-West Monastic Meetings at St Mildred’s Priory, Minster Abbey)
Anthony O’Mahony (Director of the Centre for Eastern Christianity, Heythrop College University of London)
Joint message on the plight of Christians of the Middle East:
The Catholic & Orthodox Pastoral Consultation in England, meeting in London for its 2nd Session, wishes to add its voice of support and union in prayer to the Apostolic Churches of Iraq and Syria, their Patriarchs and all their people, to the message of solidarity in prayer and hope from the 13th Session of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, that met earlier this month in Amman, Jordan.
At the present moment of their suffering, dispersal and witness for the sake of faithfulness to Christ, we pray for their continued growth, strength and enduring presence in the Middle East in peace and safety, as integral members of their societies’ history, identity and future.
Increasingly, these very Churches in diaspora are becoming close to us in England as the Christians of the Middle East seek safety and a future in the West. Already they are forming part of the developing character and shape of the Christian Church in Britain as a whole, not least as we seek the restoration of our unity in the one Body of Christ. To them and to their bishops among us we also extend our heartfelt concern and prayer for the security and deliverance of their families and fellow Church members in their homelands.
Above all we pray for a peace that is just, in which those of all faiths may live in harmony and freedom, Christian refugees can return to restore their Churches, wrongs are put right through mutual and equal respect, enemies reconciled and hope for the future assured.
Fr Mark Woodruff Archpriest Stephen Platt Society of St John Chrysostom Fellowship of St Alban & St Sergius