In 1972 Shenouda, newly elected Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church, visited the major Chalcedonian/Greek Orthodox Churches to soothe the relations with them. While in Lebanon before the end of his ecumenical tour, he received an invitation from Pope Paul VI for a visit to the Vatican. It was in his Easter message in 1973 that Pope Shenouda III announced to his Coptic people that he accepted the invitation and gestured that Pope Paul VI would send with him a relic of St. Athanasius the Great, one of Shenouda’s great predecessors who defended the faith in the divinity of Christ in the 4th century, to its original place in Egypt. In May 1973, Pope Paul VI received Pope Shenouda III in the Vatican and together they signed a common declaration on the Incarnation of the Son of God. See the Declaration here:
Even when our Orthodox brothers may question the "Development of Doctrine" you can see here how one of their profound theologians, Shenouda, used new expressions of the doctrine to re-present it anew according to the current thought yet he did not rescind what the Coptic Orthodox tradition believed with regard to the doctrine of the Incarnation of Christ; for he willed unity as much as he could push it and in the way he understood in his conscience. May be for him, he was restoring the recognition of the Holy See of Rome of the Coptic theological understanding. In fact the Council of Chalcedon did not condemn Dioscorus, then Patriarch of Alexandria, for any theological error but because Dioscorus dared to excommunicate the Pope of Rome before the Council! This is, in my opinion, a case of the Development of Doctrine since new expressions are used to illuminate an old doctrine. The Ecumenical Second Vatican Council had said it in 1965. It does not mean that the doctrine changes in itself but that the the Church perceives it more fully as she grows in her experience or uses new expressions that fit the culture/language she lives in.
Now we ask ourselves, what do ordinary Christians do to help advance Christian unity? We do not have to be theologians. We do not have to build shrines and churches but at least open up to the great Eastern Tradition which very few know about; learn and dialogue with Orthodox neighbours; live a life of charity towards Christians in pain in the Middle East whether Catholic or Orthodox; help them to survive as Christians; give financially to the cause of many Christians in need there; and appreciate dialogue with moderate Muslims in the Middle East. After all, the Catholic Church gives priority to unity. Unity in Truth starts with the dialogue of love. Today, rich Catholics in the Western hemisphere have an opportunity to help their fellow Christians in the Middle East and alleviate their feelings of helplessness. In a larger context, people of good will need to help a process of permanent and just peace among all citizens of the Middle East. This is certainly not happening today as we see powers of every political and ideological stripe fighting for a larger piece of the land or at least supporting a destabilization of existing peace through armed rebellion in the name of bringing a concept of freedom and risking, in the mean time, many lives. No one can ignore the vicious attacks on Libya by American, French and British bombers to free it from one dictator in the name of supporting freedom while they were creating more tribal divisions in that country as one example. Christian unity will, on the contrary, start the process of peace in the Middle East.
Nice words from our pastors are not enough. Exhortations without real action are empty! If Orthodox Christians are still scared of the Catholic Church fearing she is there to absorb them, Catholics must reassure them that they are valued with their tradition and in the event of full unity their tradition will be fully respected. This is the role that Eastern Catholics are here to play. The Orthodox Churches are part of us since Apostolic times and an opportunity or rather a call for restoring their unity with the Catholic Church is urgent and timely. Orthodox must recognize the only international voice of Christians which is performed by the Pope, Bishop of Rome. Rome still wields the most formidable power in defense of Christians and Non-Christians with her diplomatic relations among nations and is the only sovereign country represented in Arab nations. On the other hand, bishops of the Catholic Church headed by the Bishop of Rome may well pray and work together with those of the local Orthodox Churches to ignite again the fervor for Christian unity in the faithful. As I indicated in my letter to Pope Benedict XVI last October, this year is the 50th anniversary of the start of Vatican II, and would be a great initiative for His Holiness to convoke an Ecumenical Council to which bishops of the Orthodox Churches are invited to participate together with bishops of the Catholic Church to resolve what remains of doctrinal issues and the primacy issue. This same proposal was uttered by Pope Shenouda III in 1974. He thought that differences between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches would be solved within a few weeks of such an Ecumenical Council. Again we must remember history. As Blessed Pope John XXIII was the first Catholic leader to recognize the need of the Catholic Church to enter into ecumenical dialogue with the rest of Christians, so was Shenouda III the first Coptic Orthodox Patriarch to realize and actively enter from his perspective into the same dialogue.
It is in unity that we find strength as Christians. It is in unity that our Christian brothers in the Arab world can survive. The Lord has risen. Let’s imitate Him and strive to follow him as Patriarch Shenouda III did in his energetic work; for the Lord is generous in His love and He has conquered death for us!