Catholic and Coptic Orthodox leaders in England are encouraging unity between the two churches as society grows increasingly hostile to religion.
“We're facing serious threats of increased secularism and marginalization of religion in general and Christianity in particular,” said Coptic Orthodox Bishop Angaelos.
“As members of first-century churches we really need to both live and introduce people to the wealth, meaning and value of what it means to witness and live our Christianity today,” he stressed.
On Jan. 23, Bishop Angaelos and the Catholic Archbishop of Southwark Kevin McDonald met in London to release the book, “Joint Statements between the Catholic and Oriental Orthodox Churches.”
Both leaders are co-chairmen of the Catholic-Oriental Orthodox Regional Forum, whose members compiled the statements in an effort to increase awareness on Catholic and Oriental Orthodox similarities, rather than differences.
The book includes remarks by Pope Benedict XVI as well as leaders from the Syrian, Coptic and Armenian Orthodox Churches.
Its release comes during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which runs from Jan. 18-25, and is being observed by over 300 churches and Christian communities around the world.
“It's very easy to become theoretical about theology and forget that we are talking about our faith in the incarnate Word, in salvation, and in the presence of God,” Bishop Angaelos remarked at the event.
“We forget to speak in communion of what we can have in common.”
Bishop Angaelos gave the example of the time he sent a letter of support to the Catholic Church when it refused to facilitate adoptions for same-sex couples in the U.K., as both churches hold the same views against it.
“When you're in a dialogue, it's not about compromise, its about reaching deeply into the biblical routes in such a way that convergence can be developed,” Archbishop McDonald said. “The purpose of publishing this book is precisely to engage people in this process at a local, grass-root level.”
“We're not talking about agreed statements from theologians that have yet to be ratified,” he said. “We're talking about agreed statements to which the Catholic Church is already committed.”
Bishop Angaelos observed that these “differences will be resolved because Christ makes one promise about one flock and one shepherd and we will be unified one day.”
He noted upcoming global events in the U.K., such as the 2012 summer Olympics and Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee of 60 years on the throne, as times when the churches should speak with “a very clear Christian voice.”
If “our faithful don't see us working together, it's pointless to preach about love, forgiveness and acceptance from the pulpits,” Bishop Angaelos said.
He also hopes to hold shared prayer gatherings between the two churches in the future and to involve more locals.