MIDDLE EAST: Middle East Council of Churches holds Executive Committee meeting, new MECC Secretary-General appointed

BEIRUT / BKERKÉ, Lebanon – In an exceptional meeting of the Executive Council of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC) held on 18 September Dr. Michel Abs was elected new Secretary-General of the Council. He will replace Dr. Souraya Bachaalany whose mandated term is over.

The MECC was expected to have its twelfth General Assembly from 16-19 September but due to the Coronavirus pandemic it was decided to hold an Executive Council meeting only.

The meeting of the Executive Committee of the Middle East Council of Churches was hosted in Lebanon by Syriac Maronite Patriarch Béchara Boutros al-Raï at the Maronite Patriarchal headquarter in Bkerké with the participation of Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch Youhana X Yazigi, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II and Senior Pastor of the National Evangelical Church of Beirut Reverend Habib Badr. Patriarch of the Syriac Chaldean Catholic Church Mor Louis Raphaël I Sako and Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II  participated online.

Syriac Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch Mor Youssef Absi and Syriac Catholic Patriarch Mor Ignatius Younan III are not members of the Executive Committee and did not participate in this meeting.

In his opening remarks Patriarch al-Raï said that the “Christian presence in this East became diminished, and its message limited, and fear dwelt in the hearts of Christians” and that this time of distress and confrontation or as he called it this “ship threatened of getting filled and sinking by strong winds and waves” is a symbol of “the witnessing Church in the sea of our Middle East countries troubled by the winds of conflicts and wars, political, economic, financial and living crises, and the Corona pandemic, and which reached a climax in Lebanon with the Beirut port explosion on August 4, which left many casualties and destruction.”

The Middle East Council of Churches “is invited, in the current circumstances, to work with the churches and their presidents, to confront the waves and winds that ravage their homelands, institutions, people, entities, and cause, with stances of faith and hope”.

This was followed by a speech by Pope Tawadros II, in which he said, “I pray for the Middle East Council of Churches to remain strong, effective and influential and to stay a place for joint work among our Churches” which is in line with the MECC motto: “The Middle East Council of Churches is a regional ecumenical organization, which brings together churches in the East for a common Christian witness in a region where Christ was born, lived, died and resurrected.”

The Middle East Council of Churches is a member of the World Council of Church and was established in 1974. In 1990 the Catholic Churches which have their basis in the Middle East joint.

The Syriac churches which are members of the MECC are the Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Syriac Maronite, Syriac Melkite, Syriac Chaldean Catholic churches, and Syriac Protestant denominations.

The Syriac Assyrian Church of the East and the Syriac Ancient Church of the East are not members although the (Assyrian) Church of the East is a member of the World Council of Churches. Membership of the Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East of the Middle East Council of Churches could have been beneficial for re-unification of Syriac churches. If the two former Church of the East churches would have been MECC members, the MECC could maybe have played a role in re-unification talks. After the passing away in 2015 of the previous patriarch of the Assyrian Church of the East, the Assyrian Church of the East and the Ancient Church of the East held talks for re-unification but the talks failed.

The division of Syriac Christianity over the many Syriac churches and denominations is weakening the position of the Syriac people (Assyrians-Arameans-Chaldeans) in the political field and weakening efforts for more unity as an ethnic and cultural people. In this respect, the MECC could have functioned as a platform for re-unification of Syriac Christianity. For example, the majority of Christian Syriacs belong to the Catholic denomination i.e. the biggest Syriac churches are Syriac Maronite, Syriac Catholic, Syriac Melkite, and Syriac Chaldean Catholic. Whether Syriacs need four Catholic churches is something that could be point of discussion in MECC meetings.