Under the theme “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27), the 12th General Assembly of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) met in Egypt, a first since its establishment, with participation of the member churches of the four ecclesiastical families that make up the Council: the Eastern Orthodox family, the Orthodox family, the Catholic family, and the Evangelical family, through 16 – 20 May 2022.
Participating were the presidents of the MECC: Mor Ignatius Aphram II, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East and Supreme Head of the Syriac Orthodox Church throughout the world; John X, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East for the Greek Orthodox Church; Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, Patriarch of the Chaldeans in Iraq and the world; and Reverend Dr Habib Badr, Head of the National Evangelical Union in Lebanon; heads of member churches or their representatives; Secretary General Dr Michel Abs; members of the Executive Committee; and the MECC team, in addition to participation of representatives of churches and ecumenical bodies.
The final statement of the Assembly read:
“We thank God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and we praise Him for the abundance of His graces and gifts, as He gathered us in this General Assembly to pray and be encouraged by His presence in our midst, and to be strengthened to continue our witness to our faith in our land, where the Lord Jesus was born, grew up and completed His plan of salvation.” The gathering came after the difficult time of Coronavirus pandemic which prevented meetings.
The General Assembly expressed its gratitude to Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi who received the patriarchs and heads of churches, and appreciated his assertion that “Christian brothers in all Arab countries are an integral part of the fabric of the entire Arab society”, and his efforts for societal peace, combating terrorism, and working to build the new republic. The Assembly also thanked Pope Tawadros and the Coptic Orthodox Church for hosting the General Assembly with love and generosity at the Logos Centre, the Papal headquarters at the Monastery of Anba Bishoy in Wadi Natroun, and the Evangelical Church in Egypt for the contribution it made to the General Assembly.
The opening session saw Pope Tawadros, the Presidents of the MECC, the Heads of Churches or their representatives, and the Secretary General speak, stress their support for the council’s work and message, their adherence to their common testimony and their roots in that part of the world despite difficult conditions. It discussed and commended the reports of the Secretary General and the various departments of the Council, dealing with the meeting’s theme along theological and socio-economic approaches. It also dealt with the themes of Christian witness and ecumenical relations, Diakonia and social service, Communication and advocacy, Dialogue and social cohesion, and Organisational development and sustainability.
The Assembly renounced violence and fanaticism in all kinds and forms, rejecting extremism, terrorism, exclusion and discrimination based on religion, race, colour, gender, and others. It called for solidarity with the marginalised and vulnerable, refugees and displaced persons, and appealed to the international community to help them return to their lands.
It also declared its respect for freedom of belief, consolidating the values of citizenship and “a common life with our Muslim brothers”.
As to Jerusalem, the Assembly stressed the duty to preserve holy places, reminding the international community of the importance of strengthening Christian presence in the City of Peace.
Officials and decision-makers were urged to address the crises in various countries of the Middle East, especially the deteriorating economic situation, in order to put an end to the suffering that burdens peoples, “which requires a pause of conscience to uphold common interest above all considerations”.
Christian presence was stressed by the General Assembly as being at the core of the entity of this East. “Christians have made great contributions to building their countries and their prosperity, and they will remain rooted in this land and genuine partners in its renaissance and building its present and future, no matter how intense the storms and challenges are.”
The final statement said the General Assembly looked with pain at the emigration, especially of the young, from their lands in the Middle East. It called on those who emigrated to maintain their connection to their mother countries and not to waste their possessions.
The General Assembly appealed to international powers and decision makers to work hard and diligently to release all those kidnapped, especially the Archbishops of Aleppo, Paul al-Yazji and Mar Gregory Youhanna Ibrahim, priests and civilians, with a prayer that the Lord protects them and brings them back safely.
Climate change came into focus with the General Assembly underlining the Climate Summit COP 27 to be held in Sharm al-Sheikh, Egypt, next November. It affirmed “our role and responsibility as good stewards of creation”.
Four presidents representing the four ecclesiastical families that constitute the MECC were elected. For the Eastern Orthodox family: Bishop Anthony, Metropolitan of Jerusalem and the Near East for the Coptic Orthodox Church; for the Orthodox family: John X, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East for the Greek Orthodox Church; for the Catholic family: Raphael Pedros XXI Minassian, Catholicos, Patriarch of Cilicia for the Armenian Catholic Church; for the Evangelical Family: Reverend Dr Paul Haidostian, President of the Federation of Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East.
Members of the new Executive Committee were elected, and Secretary General of the Council, Dr Michel Abs who had been elected by the Executive Committee at its meeting in Lebanon in September 2020, was confirmed.
The General Assembly elected three of the current presidents of the council, whose terms have expired, as Honorary Presidents: Mor Ignatius Aphrem II, Patriarch Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako, and Reverend Dr Habib Badr.
“Finally,” the statement read, “we raise a prayer for the stability of the Middle East, the end of wars and conflicts, the lifting of epidemic and inflation, and the establishment of peace in the East and the world .. We ask mercy for the victims of violence, and consolation for the afflicted. We walk courageously in the paths of our lives, and we continue our witness to our faith, and our fidelity to the Gospel of love, joy and peace, holding on to our land and the heritage of our fathers and grandfathers, and trusting the words of the Lord: ‘Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid’ (Matthew 14:27).”
21 May 2022