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Ecumenical Institute for the Middle East

Posted 1/15/2016

In July 12th, 2015, Phase One of the Ecumenical Institute for the Middle East begun. Supported by the World Student Christian Federation in the Middle East, this Institute aims at an academic ecumenical upbringing. The session was held at Saint Augustin Center, a property of Saint Augustin’s Maronite Parish in Kafra, Mount Lebanon.

This session that took place for 3 weeks gathered 40 students coming from youth movements of churches from different Arabic countries (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Sudan, Palestine, and Jordan), in addition to participants from Theology institutes and colleges, hoping to gain an ecumenical training academically. 25 lecturer and instructor from different domains participated in the session.  

The program of the session included daily condensed lessons, in addition to some lectures. At the end of each week, a number of ecumenical visits were organized. As for the highlights of the program, they included biblical studies from both the Old and New Testament from different churches ‘perspectives. The traditions of many churches were introduced by experts: Syriac, Orthodox, Coptic, Catholic, Evangelical and Armenian. A special emphasis was given to the Ecumenical Movement in the study program, focusing on its timeline from the division and its consequences, through ecumenical conventions, and to the reunion attempts that advanced in the 20th century and carries on until today, in addition to numerous ongoing dialogues. Many ecumenical organizations were discussed, such as the World Council of Churches, the Middle East Council of Churches, and the World Student Christian Federation. On the analytical level, the students, alongside with their instructors, studied the current reality of Eastern Christianity and its diversity and challenges, in addition to the current Christian presence and its meanings in midst of an endless current of violence.
Additionally, the consequences of the current situation on Faith, Theology and Church’s Visions were discussed in general, in an attempt to answer “What is the role of the Ecumenical Movement today? And what is the role of the youth in this establishment?” As for the ecumenical visits, they included meetings with Bishop Georges Khodor, the Catholicos Aram Keshishian, Patriarch Sfeir and Partriarch Bechara El Raee, and the Coptic Pope Tawadros. The students also visited the Holy Valley of Qannoubine, Saint Elias Monastery in Chaouiyeh,and the Evangelical Center in Ain Qassis. The students also studied the Kairos Palestine: “A Moment of Truth” a document issued by several Palestinian Churches and received recognition in numerous Christian headquarters. Finally, the program included sessions regarding Christian-Muslim ongoing dialogues, with a participation from Adyan Center.

The Ecumenical Training session that was held is considered the main component of the Institute’s curriculum, followed by an optional online session that engulf a number of specialized lessons. The Institute also offers a third phase for students opting for research in ecumenical fields as a practical step that complements the theoretical sessions.

The students participating in the first session of ecumenical training engaged in building an interactive expertise with other participants through praying together, studying together, living together and being happy together, in addition to the program of visits and meetings that the Institute considers as a crucial part of its aim.

The Institute’s Inauguration ceremony was held on Friday, July 31st, 2015 in the hosting center at 6 pm, attended by representatives of different churches. After a common prayer presented by the students from different liturgical traditions, the speeches were initiated by Bishop Boulos Matar, the host of the training. He emphasized the importance of reviving the Ecumenical movement and involving the youths in it. Brother Gabriel Habib related the history of the Ecumenical Movement’s emergence in the Middle East and students’ role in it in our present day; the students are once again required to revive this movement, holding newer visions that can adapt with the liturgical, spiritual and daily reality. He believed that the Ecumenical Institute for the Middle East is a huge sign of hope in this violent time.

A representative of the Lutheran Bavarian church in Germany spoke, ensuring the importance of the collaboration’s continuity, between his church and the Institute. He believed that the ongoing violence in the Middle East will not dethrone the traditionally-rich churches in the Middle East. He considers this Institute a bright light in its students and will. Pastor Habib Badr praised the will and efforts that led to the rise of this Institute, considering that searching for a way to strengthen its relationship with the Middle East Council of Churches is only natural under these circumstances.

The Institute also had a speech presented by its dean Zahi Azar, that ensured that the Institute stems from the church and works for its sake. He considered the Institute an open space for the Church’s youths to meet, pray, and work for a future that a witnessing church can benefit from, overcoming the issue of numbers and violence, and guaranteeing its identity as Christ’s Church. Azar also used quotes from Bishop Georges Khodor and concluded his speech by a wish Father Lev Gillet had: the church must add one additional sacrament to its existing ones, the sacrament of the other, so it remains always worried and in search for its Lord.

Azar invited Father Gaby Hachem, the academic dean of the Institute, to present a word. Father Hachem ensured that this Institute, with its students and instructors, is a will of openness towards the Holy Spirit through the critical circumstances that the Church is undergoing. He added that the conclusion of the Institute’s session is but a beginning for the students to plant the seeds of what they gained in their churches, movements and schools for God to bless our efforts.
Miss Elsy Wakil reviewed the timeline of the Institute’s emergence with other administrators in the World Student Christian Federation. She emphasized the idea that finally saw light with the general administration of the Federation. Wakil thanked all attendees, Church representatives, with a special thanks to Bishop Georges Khodor who provided care and guidance throughout the years until this dream became true.
The speeches were mingled with a broadcast of two movies prepared by the students, reviewing their impressions of what they lived, studied and did throughout the session, added to their common prayers and pictures of their daily activities.
With a silent theatrical sketch, the students of the Institute sent a loud but firm scream portraying their hope to overcome the division and work towards unity.

 

 

The ceremony was concluded by a distribution of graduation certificates, followed by a cozy cocktail that Bishop Georges Khodor attended along with the participants.