Bishop of ancient Christian church warns on Protestant dialogue

November 4, 2010

HONG KONG

The Assyrian bishop in the United States says his ancient church that was one of the first in China will not have any official dialogue with Protestant churches that support the blessing of homosexual partners or the ordination of women.

Bishop Mar Awa Royel, the president of an inter-church relations commission of the Assyrian Church of the East, told a Hong Kong audience earlier in October that the church is committed to ecumenical dialogue but that it will not support dialogue with churches that it believes deviate from the teachings of Jesus Christ.

He said that the Assyrian Church had all but ceased ecumenical dialogue with Anglicans since the 1970s, but said the church wished to establish itself again in the world’s most populous nation.

“We did not follow the dialogue with the Anglicans because of the ordination of women and the blessing of homosexual marriage, even though there have been many requests from the Anglicans for an official dialogue,” Bishop Awa said.

“The Church of the East has not officially cut off dialogue with the Anglican church,” he clarified Oct. 8. “But it has sort of gone into oblivion because of the ordinations of women and gays, and the blessing of gay marriages.”

The Assyrian Church was once referred to as the Nestorian Church, and had earlier been regarded as heretical and faced persecution.

The bishop said that the Assyrian Church had “suffered for a long time bearing Christ’s cross, so it would uphold the truth and not compromise.”

Bishop Awa paid his first visit to Hong Kong from Oct. 5-11 and met leaders from the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant churches in the city. The bishop said his church had been the first to bring Christianity to China in the 7th century, but it now had no adherents there.

He is the first Assyrian bishop to be born in the United States. He has been the bishop of the California diocese of his church for two years.

Awa said that the Assyrian Church has a particular concern for the Christian communities in Iraq, one of the places from which the church originated.  He urged all Christian leaders to work together for the welfare of Christians in Iraq.

The Assyrian Church of the East, with its leader Nestorius, was condemned at the Council of Ephesus in AD 431 over its understanding of who Jesus Christ was. It resolved some of its differences with the Catholic Church in 1994, when the two churches signed a common declaration.

The church is now a member of World Council of Churches.

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