The Joint Committee of Orthodox and Catholic Bishops met for the twentieth time from October 7 to 9, 2003. The meeting took place at the Center for Continuing Formation at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, Maryland, and was hosted by the Baltimore Archdiocese. The Committee is co-chaired by Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb of Mobile and Bishop Seraphim of Ottawa and Canada, who was serving in that capacity for the first time. Archbishop Nicolae of the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in America and Canada was welcomed as a new member of the Committee.
The main theme of discussion was the relationship of the Orthodox and Catholic churches with Islam. From a Catholic perspective, Dr. John Borelli, Associate Director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the USCCB, gave a presentation on the work of various Catholic dialogues with Islam both at the national and international levels. This was followed by a talk by Archimandrite Daniel Byantoro, the founder of the Orthodox Church in Indonesia, who spoke on issues involved in Orthodox relations with Islam. In a later session, Imam Mohamad Bashar Arafat spoke to the bishops about Islam and its relations with Christianity, and about his work as founder and director of the Civilizations Exchange and Cooperation Foundation in Baltimore.
The bishops also considered two other themes during the meeting. On Tuesday evening October 7, presentations were made on Youth Ministry by Rev. Mark A. Leondis, Director of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese’s Office of Youth & Young Adult Ministries, and by Rev. Brett Hoover, CSP, Director of Paulist Young Adult Ministries in New York. The relationship between bishops and priests was the topic of discussion on Thursday morning October 9. Papers on this theme were presented by Bishop Dale Melczek of Gary and by Metropolitan Nicholas of Amissos.
The customary exchange of information about major events in the lives of the two churches also took place. These included the visit of Romanian Patriarch Teoctist to Rome and Orthodox-Greek Catholic relations in Romania; the new Charter for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and new titles for metropolitans; developments in SCOBA; the situation of the Serbian Orthodox Church and the visit of a Serbian Orthodox delegation to the Vatican in February 2003; Relations between the Vatican and the Moscow Patriarchate and establishment of Catholic dioceses in Kazakhstan; the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, its relations with Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and developments in the USA; the presence of a Vatican delegation in Athens in February 2003; developments in the International Orthodox-Catholic dialogue; the “Christian Churches Together in the USA” initiative; the papal encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, April 2003; an update on the work of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation; the symposium on Petrine Ministry that was held in the Vatican in May 2003; the presence of a delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the Vatican in June 2003 that was led by Archbishop Demetrios of America; and statements by our churches on same-sex marriages.
On Wednesday evening Cardinal Keeler presided over a Vespers service in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, after which he invited the bishops to dinner in his residence.
The next meeting of the Joint Committee is scheduled to take place October 5-7, 2004, at the headquarters of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA in South Bound Brook, New Jersey.
The Joint Committee of Orthodox and Catholic Bishops was established in 1981. It has issued agreed statements on Ordination (October 1, 1988), A Pastoral Statement on Orthodox/Roman Catholic Marriages (October 5, 1990), a Statement of support for the historical Christianity in Eastern Europe and former Soviet Union (September 19, 1991), a Communiqué on Eastern Europe (October 2, 1992), and a Statement on the Catholic-Orthodox Dialogue at the Dawn of a New Millennium (October 4, 2000). All these texts are now available on the USCCB website at: http://www.usccb.org/seia/dialogues.htm.
The Catholic members of the Committee currently include Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb of Mobile (Co-Chairman), William Cardinal Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore, Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati, Bishop Tod D. Brown of Orange, Bishop Robert Mulvee of Providence, Bishop Dale Melczek of Gary, Bishop Nicholas Samra, Auxiliary of the Melkite Greek Catholic Eparchy of Newton, and Rev. Ronald G. Roberson, CSP (staff).
The Orthodox members are Bishop Seraphim of Ottawa and Canada (Co-Chairman, Orthodox Church in America), Archbishop Peter of New York (Orthodox Church in America), Archbishop Vsevolod of Scopelos (Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA), Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese), Metropolitan Christopher (Serbian Orthodox Church), Metropolitan Nicholas of Amissos (Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Diocese), Archbishop Nicolae (Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in America and Canada), and Bishop Dimitrios of Xanthos (Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, staff).