Back to top

Ecumenical Family celebrates Holy Family


Dr Abs reflects on the cross and an icon

This year the Middle East Council of Churches is fifty years old. Its General Secretary, Orthodox scholar Dr Michel Abs is based in Beirut and looks forward to special events across the Middle East and North Africa.

Dr Abs is an enthusiastic advocate for all things ecumenical. He believes that the Church is essentially one, and that it ignores that at its peril. He believes there are huge dangers in the creeping European movement away from religion. He sees the differences between Churches to be more a consequence of cultural difference, inevitable in an international movement, than in doctrinal difference. “Each Church has its own charisma,” he says.

In the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity we do not actually pray for but rather in the Church, as members of one body.

His ecumenical enthusiasm is not always greeted in the same spirit within his own Greek Orthodox Church, but he is unrepentant. His theologian wife was originally Protestant and it was a Plymouth Brethren member who brought comfort to his father on his deathbed. Ecumenism comes to him naturally. He has no time for petty division, and as such is a great advocate in his role as General Secretary.Dr Abs with a background of images and icons

Asked about the particular charism which the Anglican Church brings to the Council, he speaks about the example of openness and kindness which the Church exhibits, and the examples of leadership that the bishops of the region display. He speaks warmly of those he knows best, Archbishop Hosam and Archbishop Samy. He believes they have a profile in society which makes the Christian voice heard. “They are a good example for everyone,” he says; “when Archbishop Hosam comes to Beirut all the Church leaders are happy to meet with him. He creates a milieu for encounter.”

Dr Abs does not agree with raising money to provide a lavish series of celebrations in this fiftieth year. He believes it would be immoral to do so at a time when so many people are experiencing poverty. Nevertheless, there was a musical concert in Beirut to launch the year attended by 9000 people, and there will be a lower-key recital of music which he describes as a mixture of Islamic, Christian and popular hymn music in a church at the end of the year at which Church leaders and representatives will be present.MECC 50 year anniversary banner

Throughout the year, themed seminars will be organised on a country by country basis, with the themes related to the Biblical and early Christian history associated with each place. So in Syria the theme will be the Conversion of St Paul. In Jordan/Palestine it will be the Baptism of Jesus. In Cyprus it will refer to the part the Island played in launching the Gospel worldwide. The first of the series will be in Egypt when the theme will be Egypt as a refuge for the Holy Family. Appropriately that will be launched on Holy Family Day, June 1st and Dr Abs believes that in Egypt that will be noted nationally.

If the events go well and the ecumenical appetite is whetted, there will not be long to wait for another opportunity to celebrate. Next year is the 1700th anniversary of Nicaea.