The Delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate at the Thronal Feast of the Church of Rome

The Delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, consisting of His Excellency Archbishop Job of Telmessos, co-president of the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, the Very Reverend Ambrosios Chorozidis, Grand Synkellus of the Ecumencial Patriarchate, and the Very Reverend Archimandrite Agathangelos Siskos, Librarian of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, arrived to Rome on 26 June 2017 to participate in the Thronal Feast of the Church of Rome. On 27 June, they were received by His Holiness Pope Francis in a private audience, in the presence of His Eminence Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, His Excellency Brian Farrell, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity,  and Monsignor Andrea Palmieri, Under-Secretary of the Pontifical Council.

At the audience, Archbishop Job of Telmessos read the following letter from His All-Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, addressed to His Holiness Pope Francis:

Your Holiness,

Today, we celebrate with you the honourable memory of the Holy, Glorious, and All-Praiseworthy Chiefs of the Apostles, Peter and Paul, who received their crown of martyrdom in the imperial city. We share in the joy of this feast by perpetuating the blessed tradition of exchanging official visits through delegations on the occasion of our respective Thronal Feasts. Our fraternal congratulatory wishes on this feast are conveyed to Your Holiness and expressed in person by our Patriarchal Delegation led by His Excellency Archbishop Job of Telmessos, co-president of the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between our two sister Churches, the Very Reverend Ambrosios Chorozidis, Grand Synkellus of the Ecumencial Patriarchate, and the Very Reverend Archimandrite Agathangelos Siskos, Librarian of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and secretary of our venerable delegation to you this year.

The commemoration of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul reminds us of their common witness and ministry in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, which led them, ultimately, to their martyrdom. The Church was established on Christ, through the confession, witness and blood of the Holy Apostles, as our Lord foretold: “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Hence, after Saint Peter confessed Jesus Christ as the Messiah, the Son of the living God, our Lord said: “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18). For this same reason, Saint Paul spoke of his mission in these words: “To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer, and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to the people and to the Gentiles” (Acts 26:22-23).

Tertullian recognized the blood of the Apostles and later of the Christian Martyrs as a seed for the Church. Addressing those who persecuted Christians, he said: “We spring up in greater numbers as often as we are mown down by you: the blood of the Christians is a source of new life” (Apologeticus, 50). The death of the martyrs is a testimony of Christ’s death on the Cross and a witness to His third-day, glorious Resurrection from the Tomb, both of which lead us to everlasting life in His Kingdom. For this reason, we celebrate the feast of the holy martyrs brightly with the joy of the Resurrection and in the joyful anticipation of the glory of the Kingdom to come, as witnessed by the first martyr, Archdeacon Stephen, at the moment of his martyrdom: “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:56).

The Church, throughout her history, during different epochs and times, has been persecuted; however, the blood of her martyrs was a source of strength in faith and a witness of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. As the Bride of Christ, the Church, is still called to martyria today, as it faces new forms of persecution and oppression. Over the last few years, we have witnessed with great sorrow the attacks targeting Christians and their places of worship. Our sister Churches stand in solidarity with all persecuted and oppressed Christians of our times, and at this very moment, we call to remembrance “those who are in mines, in exile, in harsh labour, and those in every kind of affliction, oppression, necessity, or distress”.

Today, we call to mind the joy we experienced being with Your Holiness in Egypt two months ago, a land which is continuously watered by the blood of Christian martyrs. We prayed with you for the people of Egypt, for unity, peace and justice in the world, in the church of Saints Peter and Paul in Cairo near Saint Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, which became a few months ago a sacred martyrion.

 This was a significant moment for us, and for the world. It was in Cairo that, together with Your Holiness, we addressed an International Conference on Peace, sharing together the conviction that there cannot be any violence nor justification of terrorism in the name of religion. Together with you, we underlined that violence is the negation of fundamental religious beliefs and doctrine, that true faith does not release humans from being responsible for the world, and emphasized the importance of respecting human dignity and the need for supporting struggles aiming to attain justice and peace. We reminded our contemporary world that humanity demands from religion today honesty and openness to cultivate love, solidarity and compassion. This can be achieved also through interreligious dialogue which has the aim of overcoming religious fundamentalism and demonstrating that religions can and should serve as bridges between people, as instruments of peace and mutual understanding and respect between human beings. This interreligious dialogue is further strengthened through the deeper rapprochement of divided Christians.

Therefore, we are convinced that our common witness before the numerous challenges of our contemporary world constitutes a positive testimony for the Church of Christ and for bringing us closer to unity. This is indeed the commandment of our Lord and Saviour: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). Over fifty years ago, our sister Churches have engaged into a dialogue of love that has led us into a dialogue of truth. With this in mind, we place great emphasis on the theological dialogue being conducted for nearly forty years between our sister Churches. We were particularly pleased to learn that the fourteenth meeting of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue, last September in Chieti, between our Churches was conducted in an atmosphere of fraternal collaboration and mutual theological exchange, successfully producing an important common document on primacy and synodality in the first millennium. Thus, this Commission has proposed new steps on our common path towards unity. Now, the Commission will be entering a new phase of the dialogue. It is our prayer that the Coordinating Committee scheduled for September on the island of Leros will be fruitful by producing a common theme and a methodology for the next stage of our discussions.

Your Holiness, dearest Brother Francis, as we celebrate today the Thronal Feast of the Church of Rome, we reiterate our deepest desire for our common advancement on the journey towards the unity. We pray that our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ may grant you health, strength and peace, so that you may continue your diakonia to the precious souls entrusted to your primatial care and wisdom.

Conveying to Your Holiness, the venerable Hierarchs and the Christ-loving faithful of your Church, our warmest greetings, we embrace you fraternally with a “holy kiss” and remain with much love and honour in Christ Jesus, the Lamb once slain who lives forever.

At the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the twenty-ninth of June, 2017

Your Holiness’ beloved brother in Christ,

+ Bartholomew,

Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch

His Holiness Pope Francis responded with the following address:

Your Eminence,

Dear Brothers in Christ,

I offer you a warm welcome and I thank you for being here for the celebration of Saints Peter and Paul, the principal patrons of this Church of Rome.  I am most grateful to His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and to the Holy Synod for having sent you, dear brothers, as their representatives, to share with us the joy of this feast.

Peter and Paul, as disciples and apostles of Jesus Christ, served the Lord in very different ways.  Yet in their diversity, both bore witness to the merciful love of God our Father, which each in his own fashion profoundly experienced, even to the sacrifice of his own life.  For this reason, from very ancient times the Church in the East and in the West combined in one celebration the commemoration of the martyrdom of Peter and Paul.  It is right to celebrate together their self-sacrifice for love of the Lord, for it is at the same time a commemoration of unity and diversity.  As you well know, the iconographical tradition represents the two apostles embracing one another, a prophetic sign of the one ecclesial communion in which legitimate differences ought to coexist.

         The exchange of delegations between the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople on their respective patronal feasts increases our desire for the full restoration of communion between Catholics and Orthodox, of which we already have a foretaste in fraternal encounter, shared prayer and common service to the Gospel.  In the first millennium, Christians of East and West shared in the same Eucharistic table, preserving together the same truths of faith while cultivating a variety of theological, spiritual and canonical traditions compatible with the teaching of the apostles and the ecumenical councils.  That experience is a necessary point of reference and a source of inspiration for our efforts to restore full communion in our own day, a communion that must not be a bland uniformity.

Your presence affords me the welcome opportunity to recall that this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the visit of Blessed Paul VI to the Phanar in July 1967, and of the visit of Patriarch Athenagoras, of venerable memory, to Rome in October of that same year.  The example of these courageous and farsighted pastors, moved solely by love for Christ and his Church, encourages us to press forward in our journey towards full unity.  Fifty years ago, those two visits were events that gave rise to immense joy and enthusiasm among the faithful of the churches of Rome and of Constantinople, and led to the decision to send delegations for the respective patronal feasts, a practice that has continued to the present.

I am deeply grateful to the Lord for continuing to grant me occasions to meet my beloved brother Bartholomew.  In particular, I recall with gratitude and thanksgiving our recent meeting in Cairo, where I saw once more the profound convergence in our approach to certain challenges affecting the life of the Church and the world in our time.

Next September, in Leros, Greece, there will be a meeting of the Coordinating Committee of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, co-chaired by Your Eminence and Cardinal Kurt Koch, at the gracious invitation of Metropolitan Paisios.  It is my hope that the meeting will take place in a spiritual climate of attentiveness to the Lord’s will and in a clear recognition of the journey already being made together by many Catholic and Orthodox faithful in various parts of the world, and that it will prove most fruitful for the future of ecumenical dialogue.

Your Eminence, dear brothers, the unity of all his disciples was the heartfelt prayer that Jesus Christ offered to the Father on the eve of his passion and death (cf. Jn 17:21).  The fulfilment of this prayer is entrusted to God, but it also involves our docility and obedience to his will.  With trust in the intercession of Saints Peter and Paul, and of Saint Andrew, let us pray for one another and ask the Lord to make us instruments of communion and peace.  And I ask you, please, to continue to pray for me.

The delegation was then received for lunch by His Holiness Pope Francis and later met for conversations with the members of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. On 28 June the delegation attended the meeting of the Consistory for the creation of new Cardinals and on 29 June the Solemn Mass for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul at the Vatican.