His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew On the Quest for the Unity of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches
The Ecumenical Patriarchate is committed to the movement to restore the visible unity of the churches. This conviction is rooted in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. As the good shepherd, our Lord came to heal and to reconcile us with the Father. On the night he gave himself up for the life of the world, our Lord prayed for the unity of his followers.
As members of His Church, therefore, we too have a profound obligation to share in the divine action of reconciliation. In celebrating the Resurrection, we proclaim the divine victory over all the forces of division and alienation. With the Apostle Paul, we declare: "God was in Christ reconciling Himself to the world and has given us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18).
Mindful of its historic obligations, the Patriarchate has taken a role of leadership in the contemporary ecumenical movement. From the earliest days of the 20th century, the Patriarchate issued a number of encyclicals, which dealt with the topic of the unity of the Church.
Since that time, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has consistently reminded all of the tragedy of Christian disunity. The disunity of Christians is contrary to the will of our Lord. Our disunity is a scandal, which weakens our witness to the Gospel of Christ and our mission in the world. Our disunity does not give glory to our God of reconciliation.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate has been an ardent proponent of genuine efforts among Christians to overcome animosity and misunderstandings. The Patriarchate has called upon the churches to come out of their isolation, and to enter into dialogue for the sake of reconciliation and the restoration of visible unity. The Ecumenical Patriarchate has reminded the followers of Christ of the prayer of the Lord for their unity. He prayed "that they may be one even as you Father are in me and I in you, may they also be one in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me" (John 17:21). We all need to hear clearly this powerful prayer of our Lord today.
We remember with much joy that this dialogue began forty years ago in Jerusalem. There, on the Mount of Olives in 1964, our predecessor Patriarch Athenagoras, of blessed memory, met with Pope Paul IV, of blessed memory. Coming from the West and the East, from Old Rome and New Rome, these humble servants greeted each other as pilgrims and brothers in Christ. Mindful of Our Lord's prayer for unity, they prayed together. They exchanged the kiss of peace. And, they vowed with God's help to begin a new process of reconciliation, which would lead to the restoration of community between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church.
At the time, Patriarch Athenagoras declared: "May this meeting of ours be the first glimmer of dawn of a shining and holy day in which the Christian generations of the future will receive communion in the holy body and blood of the Lord from the same chalice, in love, peace, and unity, and will praise and glorify the one Lord and Savior of all."
The historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem opened up a new era in the relations between our churches. Their meeting eventually led to many new contacts between Rome and Constantinople. It led in 1965 to the historic ‘Lifting of the Anathemas of 1054.' It led to the development of formal theological dialogues…We give thanks to God for these holy and faithful bishops. They were inspired by our Lord's prayer for the unity of his followers. May their words and actions be a powerful example for us now and in the days ahead.
We know that the process of reconciliation is not always easy. The division between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church has persisted for centuries. Yet, we firmly believe that, with the guidance of the Risen Lord, our differences are not beyond resolution. Moreover, we believe that we have a solemn obligation to our Lord to heal our painful divisions. For this reason, we must be persistent in our prayer. We must increase our expressions of love and mutual respect. We must strengthen our theological dialogue.
Our reconciliation will not take place without fervent prayer for unity. Through our prayer, we open ourselves up to the healing presence of our Heavenly Father. By praying together for the unity of the churches, we profess our willingness to participate in God's reconciling activities both in our churches and in our societies.
Our reconciliation will not take place without countless acts of love, forgiveness and mutual respect. Through these actions, we unite ourselves consciously with our Lord who manifested God's mercy and love. By expressing our love together, we become the persons through whom Christ continues to work in our world today.
Our reconciliation will not take place without theological dialogue. Through our dialogues, we seek the guidance of the Spirit who will lead us in all truth. By speaking to one another with love and respect, the Spirit can guide us to express together the Apostolic Faith today in a manner which is life giving and healing.
We can never accept a superficial unity, which neglects the difficult issues, which separate us at the table of the Lord. With prayer and with love, we must examine fully and honestly all the theological issues which divide us. The unity which our Lord desires for us as Orthodox and Roman Catholics must always affirm the faith of the Apostles and must sustain the good order of the Church.
The division between our Churches is not simply the result of theological differences. The division has been compounded by political, economic, and cultural factors over the centuries. The division also has been aggravated by historical actions which have had tragic consequences both for the churches and for the world.
During this year (2004), we recall with profound sadness the sack of the City of Constantinople in 1204. Eight hundred years ago, Western Crusaders entered this city and plundered it. This tragedy reflected the complex political and commercial factors of the day. However, the event profoundly aggravated the relations between the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople. Some historians have expressed the opinion that the Fourth Crusade and the temporary establishment of a Western hierarchy by Rome in the East may truly mark the beginning of the schism. There is no doubt that the tragedy of the Fourth Crusade deepened the animosity between the Christian West and the Christian East especially among the laity.
We deeply appreciate the fact that His Holiness Pope John Paul II has recognized the disastrous consequences of the Fourth Crusade in 1204. During his visit to Greece in the year 2001, His Holiness Pope John Paul II declared that the crusaders "turned against their own brothers in the faith." His Holiness asked the Lord for forgiveness for the sins "by action or omission of members of the Catholic Church against their Orthodox brothers and sisters."
We are deeply moved by the plea for forgiveness by His Holiness Pope John Paul II. It is another expression of his desire to heal the division between our churches. With gratitude to our Lord, we recognize the Pope's sincerity and we honor his request for forgiveness. To his prayer, we also declare: May our good and merciful God forgive all who sin against the unity of the Church and may He guide all believers on the path of reconciliation.
Now, we must resolve not to undertake actions which can further divide the Orthodox Church and Catholic Church.
"May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another in accordance with Jesus Christ so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 15:5).
To Him be glory now and forever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
From a Greeting by
His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
Orientale Lumen Conference
The Ecumenical Patriarchate
May 12, 2004
ADDRESS by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on Councils and Conciliarity. Kadirga Center for Visual Art (October 1, 2010)
It is with sincere joy that we accepted to address your international conference organized by the UNESCO Chair on Religious Pluralism and Peace in the context of the year when Istanbul is celebrating its prominence as the cultural capital of Europe. This assembly is exploring the recent studies on the Councils of the Church with respect to new challenges that these present for theology and history. In this context, we shall also hear presentations about the extraordinary work of the Conciliorum Oecumenicorum Generaliumque Decreta and the Mansi 3.
We welcome you to this magnificent city, which bridges two entire millennia of Christian civilization and two continents of literary culture. Within this remarkable city, the Church of Constantinople was founded by St. Andrew, the "first-called" of the Apostles, while the Ecumenical Patriarchate has a history spanning seventeen centuries, during which it retained its administrative offices in this very city.
Moreover, this entire region is filled with significance for the Christian Church. All of the earliest councils of the Church, which provided the definitive and formative doctrine of the Christian faith, were held in neither Italy nor Greece, but in Asia Minor. Moreover, it is here that St. John (the Apostle of love) wrote his Gospel; and it is here that St. Paul (the Apostle to the nations) traveled to visit the earliest apostolic communities.
The Orthodox Church is certainly characterized by this profound sense of continuity not only with the times but also with the documents and teachings of the Apostolic Church. In particular, with regard to its faith and practices, and as the bearer of an uninterrupted living tradition of true faith lived out in its worship and life, the Orthodox Church adheres to the decisions of the first seven Ecumenical Councils.
In this respect, then, the project of the critical edition of the great councils of the Christian churches – both in manuscript as well as in digital form, collecting all the acts and documents of the councils of the Church throughout the centuries, in all languages and alphabets – lies at the very core of Orthodox doctrine and at the heart of Orthodox spirituality. Allow us to outline briefly the reasons for the importance of this exceptional cultural event.
(i) The Conciliar Nature of God
For the Orthodox Church, conciliarity derives from the very essence of God. The fundamental doctrine of the Holy Trinity – the teaching about God as three distinct persons, rather than as a monolithic deity – underlies all our theology. Salvation, too, is always understood in personal terms; it implies personality and involves communion. The entire concept of God in relation to humanity and the world is a way of fellowship and sharing.
The classical description of the conciliar nature of God is found in the Book of Genesis, a source respected by all three of the monotheistic religions. It is also artistically depicted in the masterpiece by Andrei Rublev, whose famous icon reveals the three persons of the Holy Trinity sitting around the chalice of communion. It is the story told in the eighteenth chapter of the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah as they welcome three strangers in the Palestinian desert.
(ii) The Conciliar Nature of the Eastern Church
It is on the teaching about the Holy Trinity, and not on any worldly concept of authority and power, that the entire conciliar and hierarchical structure of the Orthodox Church rests. For the Orthodox Church does not have a centralized authority or leadership, instead comprising a constellation of independent and equal sister churches, among which the Ecumenical Patriarchate possesses historically and traditionally the first rank.
In this regard, the Ecumenical Patriarchate bears a primacy of honor and service within Orthodox Christianity throughout the world. Its authority does not lie in administration, but rather in coordination. This is not a sign of weakness, but precisely of conciliarity. For the Church of Constantinople serves as primary focal point of unity, fostering consensus among the various Orthodox Churches.
Therefore, the appearance of the acts of the ancient councils is an invaluable contribution to the understanding of the mind of the early Church. It is our fervent prayer and hope that this publication will take into consideration the distinction among the various councils, some of which dealt with critical issues of theological doctrine, while others resolved matters of canonical order and yet others included decisions concerning more confessional, administrative, liturgical, and pastoral matters. The Ecumenical Patriarchate would gladly assist toward this purpose by providing guidance with regard to the Councils of the Orthodox Church, particularly of the second millennium.
(iii) The Conciliar Nature of our Future
Finally, the notion of conciliarity has captivated the interest of the entire Orthodox world in recent years, as the Heads of the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches met in Istanbul in October, 2008, and declared their commitment to the process of preparation for the Holy and Great Council, which will – with the grace of God – be held with the participation of all the Sister Orthodox Churches as soon as the particular canonical difficulties are overcome and the appropriate procedures are realized.
In this regard, the Synaxis of 2008 decided to activate the 1993 agreement of the Inter-Orthodox Consultation of the Holy and Great Council in order to resolve the pending matter of the Orthodox Diaspora. As a result, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in its status and responsibility as the coordinator of pan-Orthodox matters, has already called and will continue to call pan-Orthodox meetings, to which all of the autocephalous churches are invited.
Beloved conference participants,
From our brief remarks on the importance of the councils of the early centuries for the very teaching and life of the Orthodox Church in our day, you will admire why the work of preserving the precious acts of these councils is an invaluable service to the entire world.
It is a task for which all Orthodox Christians are forever grateful and which, in many ways, was influential in inspiring the revival of Orthodox interest in the developments and decisions of the early Church. And it is a task that shapes the very mission and vision of the Orthodox Church in the future.
We therefore sincerely congratulate all those involved in the sacred project of preserving the acts of the Church Councils for posterity and wholeheartedly pray that the fruit of these efforts will be increasingly embraced and appreciated by people of our time – both religious and secular, both concerned scholars and the wider public. For this reason, we also applaud the initiative to honor such projects within this festive cultural year for the city of Istanbul.
May God bless all of you.