GREETING by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
to the group of Roman Catholic and Orthodox Pilgrims from San Francisco
(November 29, 2010)
|Dear brothers in Christ our Lord, Metropolitan Gerasimos and Archbishop George Niederauer|
Dearest visitors to the Phanar, friends and pilgrims,
It is indeed a delight for us to welcome you to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and to the courtyard of the Church of Constantinople, New Rome. We are deeply touched by the extensive spiritual journey that you have undertaken from the western shores of the United States of America through renowned historical cities of Christianity in Europe, a journey that has brought you here through distinguished centers of prominence from the earliest Apostolic times through the golden age of the Fathers.
In fact, having traveled to Rome, the Church founded by St. Peter, and thereafter to Athens and Corinth, where St. Paul preached the Gospel, you have now arrived at the Church of Constantinople, founded by Peter’s elder brother, St. Andrew the “first-called” of the Apostles. This is where St. John (the Apostle of love) and St. Paul (the Apostle to the nations), left their indelible mark. It is here that the early Councils formulated the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, the most fundamental principles of our Christian faith. And it is from here that Christendom also spread to the north as well as to the far east.
Nevertheless, your own city of origin enjoys manifold common roots with the cities you have been blessed to visit during your pilgrimage. For San Francisco bears the name of a saint – St. Francis of Assisi – who has through the centuries commanded the respect of Christians from both East and West through his spiritual contemplation of God and his prayerful adoration of every detail of God’s creation. The unique witness of this eminent mystic and extraordinary monastic in itself draws together the disparate threads of our universal traditions.
During these days, all of you will share the distinct privilege of witnessing the profound fraternal relationship that characterized the first millennium of our two Churches, which were unfortunately – and tragically – divided afterwards for almost another millennium. It took great effort and pioneering leadership by Popes of Rome and Patriarchs of Constantinople to restore the bond that was commissioned by our Lord Jesus Christ, that His disciples “may all be one” (John 17.21).
In our age, as you are well aware, the Church of Constantinople and the Church of Rome initiated a “dialogue of love” (with the exchanges of Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras and Popes John XXIII and Paul VI) as well as a “dialogue of truth” (through the theological dialogue established under our immediate predecessor Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios and the late Pope John Paul II). Today, together with Pope Benedict XVI, we highly value, lovingly protect, and diligently pursue the treasure of this dialogue.
Nevertheless, these events are rare and unique occurrences in the history of our Churches. What will unfold before your eyes today and tomorrow is precisely the bond that has characterized relations between our two Churches over the last decades. For each year, on our respective patronal feasts commemorating their foundation – for the Church of Rome, on June 29th, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul; for the Church of Constantinople, on November 30th, the feast of St. Andrew the Protoclete – the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch send out official delegations, which affirm the seal and confirm the seed of Christian unity and common mission between our two sister Churches. This exchange dates back to the late 1960s, when it was first established by Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI.
Therefore, these days comprise much more than mere exchanges of courtesy. They mark the very glue that holds our two Churches together. And your presence constitutes a critical element of that essential call to Christian unity. For, as we have come to learn, centuries of theological disagreement and division cannot be reconciled simply through intellectual debate. They must be healed through genuine repentance and prayer. More especially, they must be resolved by education and information on – what people frequently refer to as – the “grass roots” but which we prefer to call the pastoral or parish level. Therefore, venerable archbishops and beloved pilgrims, your journey here is vital for Christian unity, comprising an invaluable step in the process of reunification, a priceless gem in the mosaic of the Church as the Body of Christ, as you span the geographical and cultural distance between east and west.
May God bless your spiritual leaders, together with all of you and your families. We wish you a pleasant stay in this city and church. And may you return safely to your homes to celebrate a very Merry Christmas.