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, 2017)
|Your Eminence and beloved brother in Christ, Kurt Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity,|
Dear members of the Official Delegation of the sister Church of Elder Rome,
It is with fraternal love that we greet your presence here at the Phanar. These visits are not simply formalities, but rather opportunities to communicate face to face. Today, our meeting in and of itself constitutes a contribution to the dialogues of our Churches.
Some four decades have passed since the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue commenced its deliberations between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church, and we rejoice in the dialogue’s progress. Hitherto the dialogue has focused on what unites us. The Chieti statement clearly formulated what we confess with one mouth and one heart as a common legacy on essential matters, such as primacy and synodality, according to the first millennium of the Church’s historical journey. “Throughout the first millennium, the Church in the East and the West was united in preserving the apostolic faith, maintaining the apostolic succession of bishops, developing structures of synodality inseparably linked with primacy, and in an understanding of authority as a service (diakonia) of love” (§ 20). This common inheritance constitutes a central point of reference and a source of inspiration for Orthodox and Roman Catholics on our journey towards unity that we so deeply desire today.
However, it appears that the time has come for us to be diligently concerned with the obstacles related to the restoration of full communion between our Churches, not in order to return to the futile conflicts of the past, but rather together to analyze these issues and be steered toward solutions acceptable to both sides. For this reason, we congratulate the Coordinating Committee of the Theological Dialogue, which convened and deliberated last September on the island of Leros, reaching a conclusion in formulating the central theme for the next phase of the dialogue, namely: “Toward Unity in Faith: Theological and Canonical Challenges,” while proposing to draft a text entitled: “Primacy and Synodality in the Second Millennium and Today.” We commend the efforts of the Co-Chairmen and members of the Joint International Committee for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church, and we express our appreciation to the participants for all that they have offered and continue to offer.
For an entire millennium, the Church was united in faith, in the Holy Chalice of the Eucharist, in piety, in holiness of life and in ministry. It is this unity that we strive to rediscover through the dialogue of truth in love, which began thanks to the blessed initiative of our memorable Predecessors and has already borne fruit in a variety of ways, advancing in a spirit of mutual trust, without reductionist outbursts that do not serve the work of unity.
We express our joy and satisfaction for the fact that the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church that convened in Crete raised its “common awareness of the necessity for conducting inter-Christian theological dialogue” (Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World, § 23), wherein “the common goal of all is the ultimate restoration of unity in true faith and love” (§ 12). “This dialogue should always be accompanied by witness to the world through acts expressing mutual understanding and love,” as well as by the effort of “all Christians, inspired by common fundamental principles of the Gospel, to attempt to offer with eagerness and solidarity a response to the thorny problems of the contemporary world, based on the prototype of the new man in Christ” (§ 23). Common witness and common initiatives, in the face of the numerous challenges of our contemporary world, always aspire to the benefit of humankind and the peace of the world, while reinforcing our journey toward unity.
It is in this spirit that, last April in Cairo, we participated with His Holiness Pope Francis in the International Conference on Global Peace, organized by the Islamic Al-Azhar University and the Muslim Council of elders, where we stated the following: “We are convinced that the contribution of religions remains definitive in our common search for peace. After all, for religions, genuine peace in the world is not simply the absence of military conflict, but essentially the presence of freedom, justice and solidarity. Religions must guide people to the depth of this truth, to a change of mind and life, as well as to mutual understanding. This is indeed the core of our religious traditions. For this reason, humanity is entitled to expect from us more than we are presently giving. The greatest challenge for religions is to develop their potential for love, solidarity and compassion. That is what humanity expects from religion today.”
Our visit to Egypt and our prayer for peace, justice and reconciliation, demonstrated that violence constitutes a denial of the fundamental principles of religion, and that religious faith does not excuse humanity from its responsibility for a more compassionate world, for the protection of people’s dignity and of God-given freedom.
More recently, on the occasion of the World Day of Prayer for Creation on September 1st, we issued a Joint Message with Pope Francis, where we highlighted our concern for the common household of humanity, as well as for the negative social consequences resulting from a degradation of the natural environment—for all people in general, but especially for the more vulnerable inhabitants of our planet. The Joint Message concludes as follows: “We urgently appeal to those in positions of social and economic, as well as political and cultural, responsibility to hear the cry of the earth and to attend to the needs of the marginalized, but above all to respond to the plea of millions and support the consensus of the world for the healing of our wounded creation. We are convinced that there can be no sincere and enduring resolution to the challenge of the ecological crisis and climate change unless the response is concerted and collective, unless the responsibility is shared and accountable, unless we give priority to solidarity and service.”
Our Churches are obligated to function as a positive challenge for the world, providing answers to existential questions and keeping the gates of heaven open. Modern man believes that it is possible to attribute his own desired meaning to life. While we do not consider it appropriate for us to judge contemporary culture exclusively on the grounds of “sinful criteria,” as if ours is the supreme period of disdaining values, we wish to underline that the contemporary effort, especially in the secularized West, to alienate oneself from God—dismissing faith in God as lack of freedom and identifying rejection of faith or even God with supreme independence—constitutes a modern expression of the original sin, which was the attempt by Adam and Eve to discover freedom far from or without God. For us Christians, true freedom and blessedness are achieved through faith in God and the observance of His commandments. There is no true meaning outside of the liberating Truth. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Christ is the Truth; and the life in Christ is “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).
With these thoughts and fraternal sentiments, we wholeheartedly welcome you to the feast of our Sacred Center of Orthodoxy. We express our sincere gratitude to His Holiness Pope Francis of Rome for sending his venerable Delegation to the Phanar for our Thronal Feast. We entreat our Lord Jesus Christ, through the intercessions of the founders of our Churches and brother Apostles, Saints Andrew and Peter, the unwavering preachers of faith and imitators of His passion, to bless the God-pleasing ministry and work of the Churches of Elder and New Rome, for the glory of our benevolent God, who is worshiped in Trinity.