Homily By His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew During the Divine Liturgy at the Church of St. Paul (Chambésy-Geneva, January 24, 2016)
Your Beatitudes and most honorable Brothers in Christ, Primates and Venerable Representatives of the Most Holy Orthodox Churches,
Beloved and precious children in the Lord, blessed people of God,
Assembled here during these days at this sacred Center of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Chambésy for the sessions of the Synaxis of the Primates of the most holy Orthodox Churches, and already in the midst of our deliberations with the grace of the Paraclete, we have the joy and blessing of concelebrating at this time in order to glorify the All-Holy Name of the Trinitarian God, who grants all of us an abundance of gifts and benefits.
Therefore, as we surround the Holy Altar with profound joy, already comprising one body and one blood with our Lord, we also commune with one another “in the bond of love” and “in the breaking of bread,” giving thanks first and foremost to our Thrice-Holy God for the blessing of the communion that we all share in Him and subsequently to all of You, the most honorable and most holy Primates, as well as the esteemed Representatives of our Brothers in the local Orthodox Churches that were unable to be with us in person, for Your dedicated and dignified response to our invitation.
Your presence and participation demonstrates the significance and value of our Synaxis, whose results and proceedings will definitively contribute to our common journey, to the credible witness and completion of preparation for the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church. We especially rejoice that, through the common Chalice of Life, we are sealing the unity and love of us all, strengthened by the Divine Eucharist, the Body and Blood of the Lord, in order to accomplish the very responsible and arduously difficult task of this Synaxis and our ecclesiastical ministry everywhere in general.
This Synaxis of the Primates of the most holy Orthodox Churches constitutes, as one Body, yet another proclamation of the unity of the Orthodox Church and affirmation of the voice of St. Paul, the apostle to the nations: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call: one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph. 4.4-6)
Likewise, our presence expresses the focus of all on Conciliarity as an essential dimension of Church life, as a central function of the ecclesiastical body and as a principle of unity in the Church. In this way, we promote this fundamental principle that vitalizes the communion of our Churches even while respecting their identity. This bond of love, which revitalizes the Church in time and space, is the expression of its catholicity. Catholicity and conciliarity are interdependent in the Church. From the outset, Councils functioned as the expression and guarantee of catholicity for the Church of Christ.
All of us are well aware of the burden and responsibility of serving as leaders in the local most holy Churches, especially in changing and demanding times when the witness of the Orthodox Church, as a voice of unity and martyrdom, is rendered necessary and mandatory not only for the Orthodox or Christian people but for the entire world. Our holy Church bears the responsibility of promoting and witnessing to “the whole truth” for the salvation of the flock that was entrusted to us as well as for the edification of all people of goodwill throughout the world.
At the end of our Synaxis, we shall be in a position to know about the particular details of the forthcoming Holy and Great Council. We fervently pray that no impediment shall prevent this ultimate mission of the Church of Christ. We are convinced that, in light of this event, each one of us would like to hear the silence that is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, during that description of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15.13), in order that, through the grace of the All-Holy Spirit, we may be able to decide with the synergy of the same Spirit (Acts 15.28) about the convocation of the Holy and Great Council.
We mystically and sacramentally discern the voice of St. Paul through the centuries, as we heard in today’s Epistle reading, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance” (1 Tim. 1.15), as we appreciate the supreme significance of this ascertainment with regard to the way of our holy Church. Indeed, the saying is trustworthy, brethren and children in the Lord, and it is in this trustworthiness of the saying, of the word of God and the Church, that we move and have our being, in the hope of preserving this faithfulness and conviction as an authentic experience along our common way through history. And at the same time, it is deserving of full acceptance inasmuch as this word does not simply comprise a theory or teaching, but the very way of man’s journey from creation “in the image of God” to “the likeness” of eternal life “with all the saints.”
We clearly perceive the voice of St. Paul bearing witness to the foundation of obedience in the Church and its canonical shepherds through the perpetual and ever timely exhortation to every ecclesiastical flock: “Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” (Heb. 13.17) St. Paul proclaimed this apostolic conscience of responsibility when he underlined: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” (1 Cor. 4.1-2) These words of the apostle to the nations doubly affirms the obligation and responsibility both of the flock that owes obedience to those who are vigilant for their formation in Christ as well as to us as shepherds that will have to give an account to God as the righteous judge.
It is in this spirit today, as shepherds and shepherded, at this moment around the Holy Altar wherefrom springs true life and eternity, that all of us receive joy and strength on our way of struggle in this life, “looking to Jesus the founder and perfecter of our faith.” (Heb. 12.2) The Synaxis of the most holy Primates of the Orthodox Churches firstly constitutes a Eucharistic event inasmuch as it has a doxological character. Without the Sacred Mysteries that are the mark of the Church, there can be no true communion of persons; no dialogue can be fruitful or constructive. This is why our Eucharistic Synaxis in the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries forms the basis and principal source of every other activity – whether administrative, pastoral, charitable or other – that essentially comprise an extension of the Divine Liturgy, the liturgy beyond the liturgy or the liturgical ministry, also extending to every detail and dimension of human life.
Our Synaxis, together with the forthcoming Holy and Great Council, are both ecclesiastical actions par excellence because administration in the Church constitutes a gift that is equal in value to all other gifts; this is why it is not relegated to an inferior status, as some people deliberately endeavor to reduce it in order to promote or project other supposedly more “spiritual” gifts. The Theology of our holy Church well knows and ceaselessly witnesses to the fact that Eucharistic communion is the source of every ecclesiastical ministry but also the guarantee and foundation of true life in Christ for our faithful, for whom his or her liturgical identity permeates every aspect of their life. Consequently, even this Synaxis of Their Beatitudes the Primates of the most holy Orthodox Churches throughout the world can especially declare “the unity of the faith and the communion of the Holy Spirit” in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, so that all of the initiatives, activities and decisions of this important Inter-Orthodox Church Body may constitute a prolongation and reflection of our Eucharistic and liturgical unity, the fruit of the All-Holy Spirit that conducts the sacraments and constitutes “the whole institution of the Church.”
In this spirit, then, of defining and acknowledging even the administration of our holy Church as a charismatic service – a Church that is afflicted but never overcome as the Ark of salvation for the human race – all of us who bear the Cross of this sacred responsibility must constantly invoke the grace and mercy of God for the safe navigation of the Church.
The tenacious voice of St. Paul, who assures us that “we are convinced that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things” (Heb. 17.18), arguably also indicates and reflects the Pan-Orthodox reality in the modern world, as this is witnessed by the participation and presence of all of You here, Your Beatitudes and dearly beloved Brothers. In this conviction of our common agony and love for the most holy Orthodox Church, we trust in and look forward to the most beneficial proceedings and necessary decisions during our deliberations these days, as the fruit and result first and foremost of prayer and of the invocation of the All-Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds, for the glory of God and the edification of the souls entrusted to us all over the world.
Dear brothers and children in Christ,
For decades, in this Orthodox Centre of Chambésy, under the direction of the late Metropolitan Damaskinos Papandreou of blessed memory and today of His Eminence Metropolitan Jeremiah of Switzerland, the secretary for the preparation of the Holy and Great Council, whom we thank for his intensive work, we have worked in order to establish in a more precise way the place and vocation of Orthodoxy in the world, by recognizing the evolution of our ecclesial landscape and social transformations. This period of preparation has been long. It was nevertheless necessary in order to enable the development of a synodal and catholic conscience in the frame of Panorthodox fermentations. This work serves already as a light for the life of our Church and constitutes a source of spiritual enrichment. For this reason we may apply the words of St. Cyprian of Carthage on the nature of the Orthodox Church: “Thus also the Church, illumined by the light of the Lord, sheds forth its rays over the whole world; yet it is one light which is everywhere diffused, for the unity of the body is not separated. Its fruitful abundance spreads its branches over the entire world. It broadly expands its rivers, liberally flowing; yet its head is one, its source one; and it is one mother, plentiful in the results of fruitfulness: from her womb we are born, by her milk we are nourished, by her spirit we are animated.” (De Catholicae Ecclesiae Unitate, 5)
We are now standing at the crossroads of history. For the major difficulties that our contemporaries are encountering require responsibility that exceeds our ecclesial institutions. Christ is in the midst of history. Christ is in the heart of our life. He walks within time. He passes by us, just as He did in Jericho with the blind man. According to today’s Gospel reading, can we hear him in the crowd? Can we see him, lost as we are in our poverty and mendacity? According to the commentary of St. Ephrem the Syrian, “when our Lord saw that the eyes of the blind man’s heart were open while the eyes of his body were blind, He enlightened the eyes of the body just as those of the heart in order that when the blind man chose to hasten towards Him, he would clearly see his Savior.”
The advent of the Holy and Great Council will serve as a testimony to the unity of the Orthodox Church. Its convocation, which we invoke by our prayer in the upcoming days, will mark a decisive step in the life of our Church. The Council is not merely an event, but must be understood as an all-encompassing process that deploys itself in the past as well as in the future. We are determined to proclaim the message of Orthodoxy. We acknowledge that the only way to exit from the confessional isolationistic temptations passes through dialogue in constant exchange with the “other,” whether our neighbour, Christian or not, or whether society in general, whether other religions or the entire creation, in order to invalidate the irreversible clash of civilisations which tempts the most worried of our coreligionists. Orthodoxy is a culture of dialogue through which God speaks to the world. God is identified with the Word, as St. John the Theologian states: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1.1)
Nevertheless, in order to give consistence to the life and ministry of our Church, we must promote open and honest dialogue, without any compromise with what we are and with the hope that is within us, but also without any compromise with the compassion and love that we owe to the world. This is certainly the ambivalence mentioned in the famous Epistle to Diognetus, when it states: “Christians are in the world but not off the world.”
It is our duty to listen and at the same time to speak this Word of God: in favor of persecuted Christians and minorities endangered throughout the world; in support of hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing from war and suffering uprooting; in advocacy of the most vulnerable persons who are rejected; in defense of victims of terrorism and fundamentalism misuse religion and abuse it for political reasons or even for purely nationalistic interests. Our hope is that the Council will serve as a catalyst for all of humanity, thanks to the power of unity that it will bear among the different Orthodox Churches.
Today, we pose a historical marker. And we entrust to the prayer of a larger number the advent of the Holy and Great Council. We are attached to the theological continuity of our faith in Jesus Christ, expressed in the teaching of the Apostolic Church and the Church Fathers. If our Tradition is so rich and truly alive, it must discover the appropriate words that speak to the challenges of our time. This was indeed the prophetic intuition of our predecessor, the late Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, who confided to Olivier Clément: “The Great Council that we are preparing will enable the people of our Church to live their faith in a better way. It will try not only to adapt our Tradition to the contemporary world, but will replenish it with the power of inspiration and renewal. Thus, it will be an ecumenical event. Renewal cannot be separated from sharing and from unity.”
Conciliarity – which, as we have emphasized, is inseparably linked to the eucharistic identity of the Church – is an expression of the experienced “shared,” according to Nicholas Cabasilas, ecclesiastical freedom of the blessed loving communion among persons. The “mystery of the Church,” as a renowned contemporary theologian observes, refers “to the mystery of the Trinitarian God, to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.” In this sense, conciliarity comprises a primary charismatic expression of the Body of the Church.
In this spirit of shared conviction and expectation, in a dialogue of love and freedom, we already intensely feel that the all-powerful grace of the All-Holy Spirit fills the hearts of all of us, supporting the work that we do in our successful and productive ministry for the benefit of the Orthodox Church and for the glory of the All-Holy Name of our God, who is worshipped in Trinity.
As we conclude our address to Your love, we urge and entreat You with fraternal affection, profound solicitude and much esteem, with the words of the Apostle Paul: “May the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ” (Heb. 13.20-21); “to the king of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Tim. 1.17)