by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
to His Grace Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
Phanar, January 13, 2014
|Your Grace Archbishop Justin, Beloved Brother in Christ:|
‘Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!’
It gives us the greatest joy to welcome Your Grace as the honoured guest of the Ecumenical Throne, on this your first pilgrimage to the Patriarchate. We hope that Your Grace will be very happy during your time in Constantinople, and that your visit will strengthen the bond of mutual love that exists between our two Churches, the Orthodox and the Anglican.
The friendship between our Churches is not new, but has deep roots in past history. As long ago as the early 17th century Cyril Lukaris, Patriarch first of Alexandria and then of Constantinople, had many contacts with the English Church and State. As a token of his esteem, he sent to King James I the Codex Alexandrinus, one of the three most ancient manuscripts of the Greek Bible, which is now one of the greatest treasures at the British Library in London. Personal contacts between our two communions have been promoted more recently by the Eastern Church Association, founded in 1864 – now known as the Anglican and Eastern Churches Association – and by the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius, founded in 1928. These two societies have fostered countless ecumenical friendships; and without such ecumenical friendships, on the direct and personal level, we cannot hope to build a firm foundation for Christian unity.
Since 1973, as Your Grace will be well aware, there has been an official dialogue, world-wide in scope, between our two ecclesial families. The International Commission for Anglican-Orthodox Theological Dialogue has so far produced three weighty reports: the Moscow Agreed Statement (1976), the Dublin Agreed Statement (1984), and most recently the very detailed Cyprus Agreed Statement (2006), entitled ‘The Church of the Triune God’. The International Commission is now preparing a fourth agreed statement on the Christian understanding of the human person. This will consider, among other topics, the Christian teaching on marriage, and also our human responsibility for the environment, a matter to which we personally, throughout our time as Patriarch, have always attached particular importance. We are fully confident that, under the inspiration of Your Grace, our Anglican-Orthodox dialogue will continue to flourish and to make positive progress.
In its formal title, this dialogue is entitled ‘theological’. But it is of course essential that our theology should always be a living theology. Doctrinal discussion must never be separated from a practical interest in social and philanthropic issues. At this present moment, as Anglicans and Orthodox, we share in particular a joint concern for the situation of Christians in the Middle East, who are confronting increasing problems and, in many places, are undergoing a veritable persecution.
In the past, the rapprochement between our two Churches has been greatly assisted by the exchange of students, and we trust that this will continue. Our Theological School at Halki used to offer scholarships to Anglicans, and when it is reopened – as will happen in the near future (so it may be hoped) - we shall certainly wish to revive this tradition. These exchange students have frequently gone on to become leaders in their respective Churches, and their early inter-Church experience has enabled them to further the cause of Christian unity in highly constructive ways.
Dear Archbishop Justin: during the course of the visit of Your Grace we shall have the opportunity to speak further about these and other subjects. It is a great joy to us that, so soon after your elevation to Canterbury, Your Grace has found it possible to visit the sacred centre of Orthodoxy, the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Indeed Your Grace is more than welcome: please feel entirely at home. From our encounter during these two days, may great benefit come to our Churches. In that spirit we conclude with words from the Divine Liturgy, proclaimed immediately before the recitation of the Creed: ‘Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess the Trinity one in essence and undivided.’