Venerable and Holy Fathers. On this occasion when you Venerable Heads of the Oriental Orthodox Churches are assembled together in our capital city, it is appropriate to demonstrate our joy by singing with the Psalmist, "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity" (Ps. 133: 1)
The Unity of the Church, as Your Holinesses well know it, is the will of God and ought to be an inspiring example to all men. It should always be a help and not a hindrance to the unity of men of different religions.
As church history testifies, the church fathers, from the Apostolic period up to the Third Council (4th century A.D.), did hold Councils to formulate the doctrines of the church and to draft rules of church administration.
It is with the hope that your meeting will contribute in a significant way to the unity of the Church, and indirectly to the unity of all men, that We have invited Your Holinesses and Venerable Fathers to our capital city.
Today not only the church, but also the political powers of the world are frequently meeting, leaving their differences aside, to tackle common problems, and find ways and means for the achievement and preservation of world peace. The church should not overlook this great task because she is the origin of peace and fraternity.
Our own Church is as ancient as our faith, and her history is replete with accounts of the unswerving faith of our people, the inspiring heroism of our martyrs, the Holiness of our saints. The history of our nation has always been closely related to the history of our Church. and the Church has been both the rallying point and the inspirer of our national unity.
Christianity has flourished in Our country, keeping its original features and character through the centuries. As a nation we have a great debt to the church for our cultural heritage.
Ethiopia has been from ancient times well known for her hospitality, and this is not the first time she has welcomed holy fathers like yourselves. From the 4th century A.D. onward monks and saints have come from Egypt, Syria and other Christian countries to Ethiopia and have been received with high honour and great respect. To mention only a few among those who are canonized in the Ethiopian church the Nine Saints who came from different countries of the Middle East and Abune Gebre-Menfus-Kidus are examples. These holy fathers, preaching and establishing monasteries in various parts of Our country have greatly contributed to Ethiopian Christianity. Therefore, many churches and monasteries are dedicated to them in undying memory of the spiritual services which they rendered to our country.
In ancient times, when the Faith of the whole Church was one, Our country had the closest relations with the Emperors of Christian Byzantium. At the time when several Christian peoples in the North became subservient to non-Christian powers, our country gladly provided asylum to thousands of Christian refugees. It had equally given asylum from religious persecution at an earlier date to the followers of the founder of Islam. Only when our own immediate neighbours ceased to be Christians did our contacts with our fellow-Christians in the North and East become difficult to maintain.
Ethiopia, an island of Christianity, has made her own distinctive contribution to the Christian faith; for, ever since her conversion to Christianity she has remained faithful, her age-old ties with the Apostolic church uninterrupted. For this reason she is universally renowned as the faithful daughter of St. Mark of Alexandria. The opportunity we have today to discuss our common interests and problems together is the fruit of that ancient unity. To defend the faith and to preserve our ancient ties with your respective countries, our fathers the Emperors of Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people have exerted great efforts all through our history. We are grateful to all of them.
It is therefore with great joy that We welcome Your Holinesses to Our land and to Our Church. Your Holinesses bring with you sacred memories from the ancient past. Your presence bere is a pledge and token of the desire of all Christians to be one.
Ever since We ascended the historic throne of Ethiopia, We have considered it Our duty to call for a meeting of the churches who belong to the same fold. We were praying to God for His help in achieving this holy purpose, so that He may grant it to us to see this event. In ancient times the Byzantine emperors used to summon the councils. Our sincere wish from the very beginning was to see these churches meeting to discuss their common interests and decide on their common problems. This wish is in actual fact fulfilled today, and We are happy to witness it. Therefore, We thank Almighty God first because He has enabled Us to properly fulfil Our clear duty, and secondly, because Our long cherished desire has now met with fulfilment. Henceforth the matter will demand the spiritual unity and hard work of Your Holinesses. For strength can be achieved through unity, and success is the fruit of co-operation. There is no doubt that work done through a co-operative spirit shall meet with success. Christ affirmed:
- ". . .That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my father which is in heaven." (Math. 18: 19)
For centuries past our Orthodox Churches have been without contact. Perhaps that which still divides the two groups is a matter of some importance. Perhaps it is not. In any case. we live in a time when even political differences are discussed around the conference table and peaceful and amicable solutions sought by all. The Church can afford to do no less.
Our age is characterized by notable advances in the sphere of communications, and is therefore rightly termed an age of unity and of coming together. In this connection We recall the noble efforts of Archbishop Nathan Soderblom of Sweden who took the initiative for the "Universal Christian Conference" which met in Stockholm as long ago as 1925. We have also followed with keen interest the deliberations of the Ecumenical Council held last November in Vatican City under the spiritual leadership of Pope Paul the Sixth of Rome.
This Conference may not be able to come to final conclusions here and now. Yet it behoves the leaders of the Churches to begin to seek ways and means of reconciliation and collaboration.
Seek Unity, Peace
As noted in your agenda, you are to consider the problem of peace, because the world today is facing a great dilemma: the catastrophic weapons which are the result of human ingenuity, menace the world to the point of annihilation, and the human race is more than ever in need of the prayers and support of the Church. In this fact we have another ground for co-operation with all the Churches of the world. As the followers of Christ let us not forget how often our cause has suffered through disunity.
We would like to refer in conclusion to the question of social welfare in the modern world. For a country can achieve much more in this field if supported by the church. The will of God will be realized and humanity can achieve progress in both the spiritual and material fields in a healthy society.
We consider it a great blessing to Us and to Our people that Your Holinesses have come to bless our land with your sacred presence. Our people and Cur Church rejoice to welcome Your Holinesses in our midst.
Holy Fathers, as the spiritual descendants of the Apostles of Christ you have an eminent responsibility, which responsibility would include the improvement of the relations of laity with clergy and of church with society.
We hope and trust that God will guide the discussions here according to His will and that His power will assist Your Holinesses in finding common solutions to common problems in the spirit of amity and concord. May God who helped the 318 Fathers of the council of Nicea enlighten and help us all.
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