GREETING By His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the Delegation of the Church of Rome at the Thronal Feast of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (Phanar, November 30, 2016)
Your Eminence, beloved brother in Christ, Kurt Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, and members of the official Delegation of the most holy Church of elder Rome, conveying the fraternal wishes of His Holiness Pope Francis of Rome to the Church of New Rome on the occasion of its Thronal Feast,
We welcome you wholeheartedly on this auspicious day to the Phanar, the Sacred Center of Orthodoxy, which the four last Popes of Rome – Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis – visited in order to bear witness to and seal the new period of relations between our two Churches.
We believe in the power of personal communication, which establishes solid spiritual bonds. This is why we, too, continue the blessed tradition of our venerable predecessor Athenagoras, whose encounter in Jerusalem with Pope Paul VI in January 1964 was described as “the most significant event in the Church’s history since the Reformation.”1 Indeed, this historical meeting of the Primates in Jerusalem resulted in a substantial change of attitude in relations between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, accelerating the commencement of their theological dialogue.
The Mixed Commission of this Theological Dialogue this year has a new Orthodox Co-Chairman, His Excellency Archbishop Job of Telmessos, who succeeds His Eminence Metropolitan John of Pergamon, one of the most important theologians of our time. We express on this occasion, too, our gratitude and thanks to our brother Metropolitan of Pergamon, even as we wish the new Co-Chairman strength from above in the very responsible task that he is called to fulfill with Your Eminence Cardinal Koch. Beloved brother in Christ, we express our sincere thanks to you for your hard workas Co-Chairman for the advancement of this dialogue in a spirit of mutual respect and ecumenical responsibility.
As emphasized by the first Orthodox Co-Chairman of the Mixed Commission of the Theological Dialogue between our Churches, His Eminence Archbishop Stylianos of Australia, as a supreme spiritual endeavor, theological dialogue “not only requires the unceasing accompaniment of prayer both before and after the dialogue itself. In fact, in and of itself, dialogue is the most sacred form of prayer.”2
Your presence here, dearest brothers from Rome, at this joyous feast of the Church of Constantinople, commemorating the First-Called of the Apostles and martyr of truth, St. Andrew, who endured “an inverted crucifixion,” is in and of itself a contribution to the matter of dialogue between our Churches, which was and remains a dialogue of love in truth and a dialogue of truth in love.
We are especially delighted that, along with our theological dialogue, there are common initiatives that unfold and demonstrate the social mission of the Church of Christ, which in turn serve to support the dialogue and promote shared spiritual and charitable traditions.
It is the conviction of His Holiness Pope Francis and ourselves that the problem of reconciliation and peace, of justice and solidarity, cannot be resolved – while the deepest existential quests of humanity cannot be satisfied – without the contribution of faith in the living God. Contemporary estrangement from Christian tradition in secular societies only accelerates the expansion of gratification and the reduction of compassion.
With His Holiness Pope Francis of Rome, we share the same concerns, the same goals, and the same attitudes with regard to responding to the modern social and humanitarian crisis. Both of us underline the social content of freedom, love and solidarity; we both emphasize relationships and not isolation, being and not having, as well as fellowship and not greed. We resist any idealization of individualism and consumerism. We strive for a fairer world, for respect of human rights, and especially for the right of religious freedom.
The problems of refugees disturb us. We labor to resolve and heal human pain. We recall with affection our meeting in Lesbos last April, in the presence also of His Beatitude Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens, in order to support the refugees and immigrants, thereby highlighting the magnitude of the issue and contributing to a broader mobilization for its solution.
Our recent encounter with Pope Francis in Assisi and our joint prayer for peace further solidified our shared conviction that our Churches must intensify their efforts against fanaticism, injustice and violence, but also toward the establishment of a culture of solidarity.
We are capable of surviving without destroying the environment. We are capable of living without hatred. We are capable of coexisting in love and concord. Service is the essence of true freedom.
We agree about the need for special care toward our youth. Unfortunately, today, countless children and young adults suffer not only from lack of nourishment, undernourishment and hunger, but also from lack of meaning in life, since contemporary societies are oriented toward materialistic sense of economy and are therefore unable to provide spiritual nourishment, which would quench their existential thirst. Responding to this challenge of our youth is a crucial obligation.
Our Christian faith is a source of dynamism and love, demanding of every believer personal action and collaboration, in the unfailing conviction that the God of love, “who provides all things charitably” while blessing and increasing the seed that we plant. (Cf. 1 Cor. 3.7-8) The characteristic of an ecclesiastical ethos is that it is “in the world” but “not of the world.” The life and witness of the Christian believer is daily nurtured by the prayer: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6.9-10)
This spirit of a divinely-given and divinely-supported witness was also expressed and emphasized in the blessed decisions of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, which convened in June of this year on the island of Crete, and especially in its Encyclical and Message to the people of God and all people of good will. We express our gratitude to Your Eminence for your presence as an observer at this Council, together with His Grace Bishop Brian Farrell. We thank you, Your Excellency Minister Amanatidis, as well, for your sincere interest in our Council.
Your Eminence and dearly beloved Kurt Cardinal Koch,
Our most holy Churches were founded by two carnal brothers, disciples and apostles of our Savior, Saints Andrew and Peter, who “renounced their fishing nets” and followed their Teacher in faith and sincere love (cf. 2 Cor. 6.6 and 1 Tim. 1.5), “catching instead human souls in their nets, through the fishing rod of their preaching.”3 As imitators and partakers of Christ’s passion, they drank the cup of martyrdom on the cross, just as He did.
The First-Called and Chief of the Apostles are greatly honored in Rome and Constantinople. The loving communion between our two Churches, together with their loving presence in the world, is nurtured by the witness and martyrdom in Christ of their saintly founders. As the saving communion of God and the world, the Church is called to be the “beautiful love” (Song of Songs 7.6) in order to transform the present age in the light of the eschatological Kingdom.
With these thoughts and feelings, we greet your presence at the Phanar on this festive occasion. We convey our heartfelt wishes to our brother and friend Pope Francis on his forthcoming 80th birthday, thanking him once again for sending the honorable Delegation of the Church of Rome to the City of Constantine, as well as for his fraternal wishes on our 25th anniversary as Patriarch on the venerable Throne of Andrew the First-Called, who “called out to Peter in a stirring way”: “Peter, my carnal brother, we have found the Messiah, the one that was proclaimed by the law and the prophets. Behold, then, let us cling to this true life.”4
May the intercessions and supplications of these brother Apostles before the divine throne be our strength and support in our common journey toward unity as well as in the establishment of peace in today’s troubled world. Amen.
1 G. Konidaris, “Die Bedeutung der Begegnung zwischen dem Ökumenischen Patriarchen und dem Papst, Januar 1964),” in Sonderheft der Internationalen Beziehungen. Zeitschrift für Aussenpolitik: Das Ökumenische Patriarchat von Konstantinopel, January 1966, 91-97, at 96.
2 “The Ethos of Dialogue, Part II,” in The Voice of Orthodoxy 31, July 1982, 74.
3 From the Vespers for the Feast of St. Andrew the First-Called Apostle.
4 Second Canon to St. Andrew the Apostle, fourth Ode.