Your Eminence Walter Cardinal Kasper and other brothers in Christ who make up
the Delegation of the Church of Rome, the representatives of His Holiness our
brother the Pope of Rome John Paul II,
Beloved brothers and children in the Lord,
We express our warm thanks and of our Holy and Sacred Synod for your spiritual support in the spiritual work of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This support is witnessed by your participation at our Patronal Feast. We especially thank His Holiness our brother the Pope of Rome John Paul II for sending his representatives, present today in our midst, whom we ask to communicate to him the warm wishes of all of us for the strengthening of his health.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate is the co-ordinator and communicator of the unity of the Most Holy Orthodox Churches. It has performed its mission for one and one half millennium, especially during the last millennium after the schism between the East and West, sometimes under very difficult circumstances for the Orthodox Church.
This day, during which we celebrate the sacred and venerable memory of the Founder of the Church of our City, St. Andrew the First-Called Apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ, we remember her historic course and her important role that she has played in history. The City politically developed to a See in the capital of an empire, which lasted for one millennium and therefore its Church became the centre of the most significant events of this climactic period. Even when this empire fell, the Church of Constantinople was charged with the spiritual leadership over the Orthodox Christian population of many nations, which were governed by a state authority of a different religion.
All throughout this period of sixteen centuries of historical ecumenical-ecclesiastical responsibility, the Ecumenical Patriarchate experienced the unity of all faithful in Christ as one ontological reality. The unity of citizens of a multinational society is a political event which covers the differences but does not secure the absolute unity of soul and spirit. Hence, the appearance of splits and conflicts between political regimes and their final destruction and fall does not come as a surprise.
What causes a surprise and an unexpected event is the appearance of splits and divisions in the bosom of the Church of Christ, which, according to the Creed, is “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.” The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians pointing out that within the Church there is no difference between Jew and Greek, free man and slave, man and woman, because they are all one in Christ. This is simultaneously an ontological reality and a duty assigned to the faithful. It is also simultaneously a gift from God but also a commandment from Him.
Therefore, the divisions that have been known from the first centuries of Christianity mean that the ontological transfiguration of the faithful into one body of Christ has not been achieved. This is not because God denied His grace, but because humanity has not accepted its conditions. God wills all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. He knocks on the door of everybody’s heart, which is disposed and freely accepting, in order to make their hearts His permanent dwelling. The failure of this unity means a more general failure in the spiritual life in Christ.
The Apostle Paul, the deep explorer of the human soul and its processes, in his letter to the Ephesians during a spiritual experience poetically exclaims the presuppositions of the unity of the faithful in Christ. “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Ephesians 4:1-6).
One body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, are the conditions for the unity of all faithful in Christ. Wherever even one of these conditions does not exist, the disunion and individualism of the faithful are the unavoidable consequences with the known and painful result that we experience today. Many ecclesiastical bodies, many spirits, many hopes, many “Lords”, many faiths and finally many opinions on the Christian God, makes everyone wonder if Christians, who confess through their Creed that they believe in one God, really do believe in one God; or having different understandings of the one and only God, think and act as if they believe in many different Gods.
The saddest part of the great split of Christians is that the majority of them do not realize that it is a downfall and a call to repentance and reunification, but accept it and put forward theories and arguments to legitimize it, reminding us of the psalmist who declares, “I find excuses for committing my sins”. Christians are very comfortable with how they are and live, that is, they excuse their divisions into many confessions, that is, into many faiths with many baptisms and many spirits and hopes. This is proved in the comparison of the passive and sometimes self-satisfying state of each Christian to the painful prayer of the Lord before the last moment of his incarnate and earthly life, when He was continuously asking His Father and God “that” all who will believe in Him “may be one”.
Many assert that they believe in Christ but they neglect the commandment of their unity that comes from His prayer. They try to justify their faith, which deviates from the faith of the other Christians, with theories that legitimize their differentiation. This means that they set forth their perceptions on unity instead of what Christ commanded for unity. Their perceptions are found in the unified structure of the Churches under one ecclesiastical administration, even if under this same ecclesiastical jurisdiction are believers which have different faiths, as characteristically happens in the case of Uniatism; or in the ideological faith in Christ as each one understands him, as happens with numerous Protestant Confessions; or in the belief of the achievement of unity in diversity, that is a diversity of faiths and beliefs and not in externals. But the union of diverse faiths is not the unity that the Apostle Paul experiences and states to us as unity in the one and same faith in Christ and His body that is His Church.
All of these theories through which an effort is made to legitimize the present division prove that the human will is set above the divine one and that each individual is satisfied with what he is. He does not want to loose his autonomy and belong to the one Body and the one Spirit of Christ but adheres to his own beliefs and choices. On the contrary, he has the certainty that his own choice of faith is the correct one and believes that all others should belong to this faith. He refuses to be a part of another Christian faith. The result of this is the legitimacy of the split is perpetuated and becomes legitimized as if in accordance to the will of Christ, in spite of His agonizing prayer that all Christians may be one, according to the example of His unity with the Father.
The non-Orthodox Christians that listen to these words might say that the Orthodox Church is obliged to accept some of the positions supported by their Churches so the desired unity may be achieved. This opinion ignores that the contents of the Christian faith does not fall under the authority of each faithful and cannot be disposed by him as his own possession. The faithful is obliged to keep the faith that has been entrusted to him, not as an ideological and mental fossil, but as a living application of life. A different faith implies a different way of life towards some issues, but, as has been said, it is not under the authority of the faithful to determine which is the Christian ethos and what is the content of the Christian commandments.
This determination was made by the Lord and was transmitted through the Apostles orally and sometimes written through their letters. The rejection of the living Tradition by the faithful of the Protestant Confessions has caused a total or complete reliance on the faith among them and the ultimate legitimatization of each ones personal choice as the unique criterion of the truth. It is obvious that such a perception about the truth, expressed by various contradicting opinions and ways of life is logically and from an ecclesiastical point of view unacceptable. Certainly the truth is one since the Apostle Paul says that there is one faith, one baptism and one Lord. Therefore, we faithful must aim to see the one icon of Christ and be transfigured into it. If each one sees the icon of Christ in a different way and each tends to resemble that which he sees, the result is many faiths and many Lords according to the individual’s choice.
However, we have the ability to be one in Christ by the grace of God but we have to realize that according to the Apostle Paul “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). In order to achieve this we should not put forward our own opinion about the Lord and about the contents of faith in Him and in His teaching as correct, but to investigate which is the faith of the Ancient Church that was experienced and expressed by the Apostles and Holy Fathers.
This seeking for the common fundamental Christian faith in our times, when we faithful have been divided into many Christian confessions, can be performed only through dialogue in love and truth. For this reason the Ecumenical Patriarchate conducts dialogues with everyone who accepts it without being afraid that it will be affected. It is willing to understand the reasons for the divisions and the ways of bringing all back to the one Faith, one Baptism, one Lord. This is why it is opposed by argumentation to every action which tends to stabilize the existing division and to promote methods of unity that deviate from the apostolic ideal and that promise human and administrative-ecclesiastical unification, without simultaneously returning to the one Faith, one Baptism, the one icon of Christ, which everyone must look at and imitate. Among the methods of the union of the Christian Church that we reject, we also include the methods of so-called Unitism. However, we support the efforts of the World Council of Churches and of all the other inter-ecclesial and inter-Christian organizations, in which faithful of various Christian Confessions participate, not as a kind of unity, which cannot be achieved since there is a difference of faith, but as an opportunity of dialogue and witness to our hope “until we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive. But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:13-15).
The solution to the problem of unity among Christians lays in what we just heard from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: In the unity of the knowledge of the Son of God. Everything else follows. Without this unity of the knowledge of the Son of God everything else is not able to achieve the unity of the faith and the unity of the Churches.
We wholeheartedly wish that our Lord Jesus Christ reveals to all those who invoke and bear His name the true icon of His face so that we all reach the unity of His knowledge which will bring together the unity of all Christian Confessions. But until the arrival at this difficult achievement we will be conducting dialogues with all in the spirit of reconciliation and understanding, “speaking the truth in love” and witnessing our hope which is also the only hope of the whole world even if it knows it or ignores it.
May the grace of God and His abundant mercy be with all of you.
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Thursday, March 06, 2014
At the invitation of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Primates of all the Orthodox Autocephalous Churches will gather from March 6-9, 2014, for a Sacred Synaxis at the Phanar in order to deliberate on matters pertaining to the entire Orthodox Church throughout the world and procedural issues for the convocation of the Holy and Great Synod, whose preparation is coming to an end. Read more...
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