Lutheran-Evangelical Churches

A D D R E S S OF HIS ALL-HOLINESS ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH B A R T H O L O M E W TO BISHOP DR. MUNIB A. YOUNAN, PRESIDENT, AND REVD MARTIN JUNGE GENERAL SECRETARY OF THE LUTHERAN WORLD FEDERATION Saturday, Phanar/Istanbul, 26 March 2011

Dear Bishop Munib Younan, President of the Lutheran World Federation
Revd. Martin Younge, General Secretary
Beloved Sisters and Brothers in the Lord,


During this time of Great Lent, it is with great joy that we welcome all of you to the Phanar, the See of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This visit is characterized as a spiritual visit, as a pilgrimage to many Holy places, where in the Ancient Times of the Undivided Church, the Apostles themselves taught the Good News, and martyrs and confessors performed many miracles by their faith and witness. You are visiting this ancient and historic City, where Christianity has been vibrant for two thousand years and has survived despite difficulties, hostilities and dangers.

Indeed it is a joy and a blessing to have you here. We very much appreciate your visit in your capacity as new President of the Lutheran World Federation together with its new Secretary General and Staff, and we welcome your visit as an expression and recognition of the long and good fraternal relationship between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Lutheran World Federation.

Lutherans and Orthodox share a long history of ecumenical relations since the 16th century, from the correspondence between the Tübingen Lutheran theologians and Ecumenical Patriarch Jeremiah II. Since 1981, this relationship has been deepened through the Joint International Lutheran-Orthodox Theological Dialogue.

Today, we are faced with the urgent need to look afresh at our vision and expectations of the ecumenical movement in the 21st century. The Ecumenical Patriarchate is committed to promoting dialogue with other Christian Churches and the ecumenical movement as a whole.  It offers its witness and shares the richness of its theological and ecclesial tradition in the search for unity among the Churches, in an effort towards reconciliation and peace, in a desire to serve the manifold needs of our world, and in the protection of creation as a gift of God entrusted to humanity.

We live in a world of constant changes and new challenges, where wars and conflicts continue to take place in many regions, where many people still struggle for freedom, justice and for their national and socio-political identity. It is also a world where nations are in the process of appropriating the European idea of a united Europe and globalization touches the daily life of many people. In such a world, Christian Churches cannot remain indifferent.

Indeed, the Churches are actively involved and participating in this long process of change by continuing to proclaim faithfully with Christian hope and by bearing witness in a communion of faith, life and mission, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ our Savior. In this new phase of history, it is absolutely necessary for the Churches around the world to be in permanent dialogue and to seek a better and closer collaboration and fellowship.

Today, ecumenism needs fresh reflection with respect to the concept of "repentance" or "metanoia," in its relationship to the Churches, and it has to abandon past stagnation caused by keeping theology and ecclesiology in particular as prisoners of human weakness and personal interest.

The Churches, through their bilateral dialogues, are trying precisely to bring the importance and significance of "koinonia" or "communion," of the Tradition of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, to the hearts of people, in order to renew their ecclesial and sacramental life, according to the message of the Gospel.

On the other hand, the purpose of dialogue includes the search for new ways of reflection; a review of the theological and historical presuppositions, and even misunderstandings, of the different traditions, that have accumulated throughout history; and efforts to facilitate the overcoming of obstacles and hostilities of the past and present. This would show that the Churches have understood that the fulfillment of God's Kingdom in a communion of unity does not depend only on God's will and grace, but also on our own willingness and cooperation.

As an institution, the Ecumenical Patriarchate exists and remains active for more than seventeen hundred years. For many centuries, our Church was the center of all Christianity. Today it remains the center of Orthodoxy. This does not imply that we impose upon others. This would be contrary to the teaching and the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Ecumenical Patriarchate is an instrument of service, of diakonia, as the coordinating center of the local Orthodox Churches. 

However, being first among equals is not a question of honor or dignity. It is a great responsibility for us and we are well aware of this. We must bear on our shoulders the burden of the people. We have to respond to all callings of many people in need, of those in famine, danger or injustice. Moreover, we work against all kinds of violence, including terrorism. It is not surprising that the Ecumenical Patriarchate works for the peaceful coexistence of all Religious Communities here and abroad: we have lived in a predominantly Muslim environment for centuries and our Patriarchate has always encouraged people to live together in peace and harmony, independently of differences in race, religion or culture.

As a last word, we would like to remind you of what we said in 1995, during our visit to the World Lutheran Federation in Geneva: ″... even the encounter of the very ancient Orthodox Church and the young Church of the Reformation could not be realized during the days of Luther; this became a reality today, in these days of Inter-Christian dialogue of love and truth. Indeed, our Churches are conducting seriously a dialogue which, we are sure, will allow our better acquaintance, mutual understanding, and reconciliation.″

Especially nowadays when the world is facing tremendous problems, such as those we mentioned earlier, as well as the priority of preserving the integrity of the creation, all of us - Lutherans and Orthodox alike - should join spiritual forces to work constructively and fruitfully.

This year, our Theological Dialogue celebrates thirty years since its beginning in Espoo in 1981. Three decades of theological dialogue and encounter between Lutherans and Orthodox. We are convinced that the work of the dialogue will be evaluated for continuation in a spirit of fraternal friendship and Christian fellowship. Church unity has to be fulfilled only by a return to our common roots of the Apostolic times and through the tradition of the Ecumenical Councils and the Patristic teaching of the Undivided Church, in a spirituality of togetherness and in the communion of our Lord's command that "all may be One" (Mt. 17:21).

Your visit to our Church on a Sunday dedicated to the veneration of the Holy Cross is very symbolical. Here, for centuries, we live by carrying the Cross of Passion through suffering, persecution and struggle for survival. Indeed, the same Cross unites us in solidarity and suffering, particularly as you, Bishop Younan, personally strive for human rights, justice and peace for your people. Yet, all of us still resist in the anticipation of Christ's Resurrection, which is our daily spiritual hope. 

We beseech the God of peace and love to grant you good health, strength and enlightenment from above, and to bestow upon all of you His grace, in order that you may continue your ministry and diakonia for the glory of His Holy name and for the sake of all His suffering people.   

We trust that you will enjoy your stay in this historical and fascinating City, and that you will appreciate our friendship in Christ. Wishing you a pleasant time here, we warmly welcome all of you once again to our City and to our Church.