Churches: Unity and Diversity!
Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako
Unity in Core, Diversity in Form
Churches were established in an environment of diverse cultures, languages, different traditions and geography, yet united by one faith in essence.
Unity is not a formal human assembly, nor a system in the form of parliament. Moreover, it doesn’t mean to dissolve private identities and cast them into one pattern (uniformity). Unity means rather to preserve the one common faith, respect the leadership of each Church, its tradition, liturgy, nationality and its language. Unity means that the Churches communicate with each other, cooperate and join hands in harmony.
Unity fits in with the nature of the Church: “Holy Father, keep those you have given me.. so that they may be one like us” (John 17/ 11). Unity gives a feeling of joy, refreshment and strength to carry the mission.
This essential unity is found in “Objective Truth”, expressed in Christological statements between the Catholic Church and most of the Apostolic Orthodox Eastern Churches. This unity of faith is real and not fictional, and everyone recognizes it. It is essentially a theological unity (inside) based on the unity of the Holy Trinity and under its “patronage”: One God in essence and three Persons (Trinity) in operation, manifestation and expression. Unity is the fruit of faith and prayer. While diversity is in administrative (authority – presidencies), cultural and nationality. Therefore, the Church is “one and diverse”.
What Unites us is Far Greater than What Divides us
We find in the Apostolic Eastern and Catholic Church, what is called as an Apostolic Tradition (the Apostolic succession) for priestly ordination, where the Patriarch in his Church is the father and head “pater et caput”. Further, it has the same sacraments, a special liturgy, traditions and laws that do not intersect in essence with each other.
The ecumenism lies in diversity and pluralism. It begins within one parish, one diocese, one patriarchate, and then between Churches. As Pope Francis said in his address to the clergy in Kazakhstan on September 15, 2022: “The strength of this priestly and holy people lies precisely in its ability to draw richness from this diversity, by sharing with one another who we are and what we have. Indeed, our “littleness” is magnified when it is shared”.
I have thoroughly studied our oriental heritage as well as the writings of the “Church Fathers”. Hence, I do not see anything that prevents the merging of the Chaldean Church and the Assyrian Church of the East under the name of the Church of the East. The same thing applies to the Syriac Catholic Church and the Syriac Orthodox Church under the name of the Syriac Church of Antioch. So is the case with other Churches where they share in common land, liturgy, language, heritage and history …etc. There is no harm in being Chaldean, Assyrian, Syriac, or an Arab as far as nationalism is concerned. Through our history, these Churches embraced a number of peoples, nationalities and languages. However, it is possible to study such a “unitary project” thoroughly by a courageous dialogue, so that we can guarantee the future and an influential presence in our societies. This project is important because of our current situation as minority in the East due to injustice and immigration that forced our people to be scattered today in “diaspora”. In comparison, it is worth mentioning here that Christians were the vast majority in the first seven centuries AD!
On the same subject, I was really delighted to read the name of the Assyrian Sister Church displayed as: “the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East” during the inauguration of their Patriarchate in Erbil (September 12, 2022).
Unity is in Taking Care of People and Their Concerns
We are called to assume our religious, human and national responsibilities, so it is not enough for Churches to talk about theological issues only, but also about the common good “Res Publica”. This unity in faith and love should emerge and be highlighted in our public relations, taking care of nature and people, their problems, fears, aspirations, and standing by their side in defending justice, social equality,in order to enjoy living in peace, freedom and dignity.
We shouldn’t be afraid of facing challenges… Some people keep criticizing me for what they use to call as “interfering in politics”. Frankly, I do not interfere in politics, as much as I defend our citizenship, oppressed people, and urge government to build a civil regime. I am not affiliated with a particular party, and I do not receive “bribes” from anyone.
We must be trained to understand the human, social and political aspect in order to develop our skills and ultimately play our role as “Churches”, following the steps of Jesus Christ “ I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full” (John 10/ 10). We have to address the heart of Christians and non-Christian as Christ spoke them… This testimony among us provides credibility to our “homilies” and behavior.
Challenges of Ecumenical Work
- Churches need a new vision, a new plan to deal with Christians and non-Christians, because the world has changed. In order to create a very strong bond between our Churches we are required to focus on:
- Formation of the clergy and the faithful on openness,
- Renewal of theological and spiritual education focusing on unity, serving communion-ship and mission.
- Among the requirements of Christian faith, I would like to list the followings:
- to open up to the present
- to recognize the signs of God’s presence in order to move forward in our unity, love, service, and testimony
- to strengthen the Christian presence in this turbulent East
- to face challenges with hope.
- to get rid of the ecclesiastical and national / ethnic fanaticism as well as self-centeredness…
Finally, I would like to conclude with: Whoever does not accept openness and change “mummifies” himself!