The Patriarch of the Assyrian Church has explained that the recent, renewed proposal put forward by Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, head of the Chaldean Church in Iraq, that the two Churches merge into one Church of the East, is not something the Assyrians can consider.
Speaking in an interview with the consultant in ecumenical dialogue, Benoit Lannoo, Mar Awa III, who was elected head of the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East in September last year, said that while the goal of the two Churches is “full unity” the two traditions understand the idea differently.
“Ecumenism is a thoughtful and lengthy process”, and “Roman Catholic ecclesiology is also evolving,” Mar Awa III pointed out.
In an important step forward in 1994 the Assyrians and the Vatican agreed that their Christology and Mariology, although different, are equivalent. And in 2017, they reached an agreement on the sacraments.
“There has [also] been agreement on joint pastoral activities in 1997, as well as on joint catechetical programmes,” Mar Awa III pointed out. “And a working group has been thinking about a re-unification of the Assyrian and Chaldean Churches for a quarter of a century now.”
However unlike Cardinal Sako, the
Assyrian patriarch does not talk about a union. “Of course not, because
we have always been autocephalous, but never ‘under Rome’… So let us, as
good friends, agree to disagree.”
Mar Awa III said that in 2013 when Islamic State was laying waste the region, Sako told him that “we Assyrians could not survive without Rome”. “With all due respect and sympathy, we have survived for centuries without Rome. The work for our ‘full unity' must be done using other acceptable models. We are also closely monitoring the progress of the official dialogues between Rome and the various Orthodox Churches,” Mar Awa III explained.
At the interreligious meeting of Sant’ Egidio in Rome at the end of October, Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for promoting Christian Unity, spoke at length with Patriarch Awa III.
“Our official dialogue is presently
comparing biblical and patristic models of the Church in our two
traditions, which is very useful work,” Awa III said.