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, His Grace Bishop Theodoretos of Nazianzus, and the Reverend Deacon Alexandros Koutsis, arrived to Rome on 27 June 2018 to participate in the Thronal Feast of the Church of Rome. It met on that day for conversations with the members of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. On 28 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:
The great feast of the Holy, Glorious and All-Praiseworthy Chiefs of the Apostles, Peter and Paul, is truly an occasion of much joy and celebration for the Church of Rome—where the saintly apostles received their crown of martyrdom—as well as for the Church throughout the entire oikoumene, which through them received the message of Christ’s Good News. Therefore, we, too, share your festive sentiments and spiritually join in your celebration through the continuation of the blessed tradition of exchanging delegations on the occasion of our respective Thronal Feasts. Your Holiness, our fraternal congratulatory wishes on this feast are personally conveyed through 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, His Grace Bishop Theodoretos of Nazianzus, and the Reverend Deacon Alexandros Koutsis, Secretary of this year’s venerable delegation.
We sing in a hymn for this glorious feast, the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, “citizens of the Jerusalem on high, the rock of the faith, the preachers of the Church of Christ, the pair of the Trinity, the fishers of the world, leaving behind today the things on earth, have journeyed in truth to God, and they implore Him with boldness that our souls may be saved.” (Vespers of the Feast) Their witness of the truth of the Gospel’s message, as well as their testimony in deed throughout the course of their lives up until their martyrdom, serve as a constant reminder to all of us for what the genuine Christian example is in the contemporary world, and, in this sense, is a model and a paradigm. As Apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Hebrews exhorts us, we shall remember them “who spoke the word of God to [us]. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” (Heb. 13:7)
The proclamation of the Gospel of Christ in today’s secularized world, based on the model of the mission of the Glorious Apostles Peter and Paul, is an obligation for both of our Churches. To this end, the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church that convened on the island of Crete in June 2016, emphasised in its Message that “the re-evangelization of God’s people in modern, secularized societies and the evangelization of those who have still not come to know Christ remain an unceasing obligation for the Church.” Christian unity is a required presupposition to efficiently fulfil this mission of the Church. Our common witness in the face of our contemporary world’s numerous challenges constitutes a positive testimony for the Church of Christ and for bringing us closer together to achieving this unity. After all, it is in our common actions that we experience the strength of unity and solidarity becoming increasingly conscious of the misfortune of division.
It is this sense, then, that the theological dialogue, which has continued for nearly forty years between our sister Churches, constitutes a priority and can provide us with much hope. We are especially delighted that the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue is now entering into a new phase and that the Coordinating Committee, which met last September on the island of Leros, has chosen as a topic for the next stage of the dialogue: Towards Unity in Faith: Theological and Canonical Issues. Indeed, jointly reflecting on the theological and canonical issues that remain unresolved is essential to restoring communion between our Sister Churches. As we are aware, drafting committees are already working on this topic, as well as on the very important theme of “Primacy and Synodality in the Second Millennium and Today.” We pray that the Coordinating Committee meeting next November in the Monastery of Bose will succeed in finalizing these two documents. And it is our hope that the divisions of the past may be overcome in order to bring a common witness to our contemporary world “so that with one mind and one voice we may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 15:6)
Of course, our common witness in the world cannot be limited only to theological dialogue, but also should include common action when facing the challenges of our times. Therefore, we were particularly delighted to personally meet with you this past May during our visit to your See, and to address the Centesimus Annus Foundation on their 25th anniversary. In our address, entitled “A Common Christian Agenda for the Common Good,” we reiterated our deep conviction that the future of humanity is related to the resistance against the “crisis of solidarity” by the establishment of a culture of solidarity in the fields of economy and ecology, science and technology, as well as society and politics. As we concluded, we are called to continue our common journey, our theological dialogue, our common struggle and our common Christian witness of love.
Therefore, filled with hope, we look forward to meeting with you and the heads of the Christian Churches of the Middle East in Bari next month in order to pray and reflect on peace and reconciliation. We are certain that our role as Churches is crucial for peace on the earth. True peace in the world is not simply the absence of war but essentially the presence of freedom, justice and solidarity. The world expects our Churches to guide people to the depth of this truth, to a change of mind and life, and to a mutual understanding. In this sense, the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church underlined that “Honest interfaith dialogue contributes to the development of mutual trust and to the promotion of peace and reconciliation. […] True peace is not achieved by force of arms, but only through love that ‘does not seek its own.’ (1 Cor 13:5) The oil of faith must be used to soothe and heal the wounds of others, not to rekindle new fires of hatred.” (Encyclical, par. 17)
Your Holiness, dearest Brother Francis, as we celebrate today the Thronal Feast of the Church of Rome, we repeat our deepest desire for our common advancement on the journey towards the communion of our Churches; as our hymnography claims: “A joyous feast has shone out today on the ends of the earth, the all-honored memorial of the wisest Apostles and their princes, Peter and Paul; and so Rome dances and rejoices. Let us also, brethren, celebrate in songs and psalms this all-revered day” (Aposticha, Vespers of the Feast).
We pray that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ may grant you health, strength, peace and length of days to continue your ministry for the precious souls entrusted to your Papal 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 and remain with much honor and love in the Lord—who we pray will strengthen our faith and lead us towards unity.
At the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the twenty-ninth of June, 2018
Your Holiness’ beloved brother in Christ,
Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch
His Holiness Pope Francis responded with the following address:
Your Eminence, Dear Brothers in Christ,
On this, the eve of the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, I greatly rejoice to meet you who have come to Rome to represent His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Holy Synod. I offer you a heartfelt welcome. Your presence at these celebrations in honour of the principal patrons of the Church of Rome is a sign of the growth of communion between the Catholic Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
To commemorate the Apostles, their teachings and their witness is to be mindful of the common roots of our sister Churches, but also to acknowledge our common mission in the service of the Gospel, for the sake of bringing about a new humanity, ever closer to God.
In many traditionally Christian societies, side by side with radiant examples of fidelity to the Lord Jesus Christ, we see a gradual dimming of the light of faith, which no longer inspires the choices of individuals and public policies. Contempt for the dignity of the human person, the idolatry of money, the spread of violence, a totalizing view of science and technology, the reckless exploitation of natural resources: these are only a few of the grave signs of a tragic reality to which we must not resign ourselves. I agree fully with the words spoken by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew during his recent visit to Rome to take part in the International Conference on “New Policies and Life-Styles in the Digital Age”: “We reject the cynical phrase ‘there is no alternative’… It is unacceptable for the alternative forms of development and the strength of social solidarity and justice to be ignored and slandered. Our Churches can create new possibilities of transformation for our world. In fact, the Church itself is an event of transformation, of sharing, of love and of openness… In our Churches we experience the blessed certainty that the future does not belong to ‘having’ but to ‘being’, not to ‘pleonexia’ but to ‘sharing’, not to selfishness but to communion – nor does it belong to division but to love”.
It is comforting for me to realize that this convergence of views with my beloved brother Bartholomew is being translated into a concrete common effort. Even in recent months, the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Catholic Church have cooperated in initiatives involving important issues such as combating modern forms of slavery, protecting creation and promoting peace. In this regard, I am deeply grateful to His Holiness Bartholomew for having readily accepted my invitation to meet on 7 July next in Bari, together with the Heads of Churches and Christian Communities in the Middle East, in order to pray and reflect on the tragic situation afflicting so many of our brothers and sisters in that region.
It is my prayerful hope that there will be increased opportunities for us Catholics and Orthodox at all levels to work together, pray together and proclaim together the one Gospel of Jesus Christ received from the apostolic preaching, in order to experience ever more fully in our shared journey the unity that by God’s grace already joins us.
Your Eminence, dear Brothers, thank you once more for your presence. Through the intercession of Saints Peter and Paul, and of Saint Andrew, the brother of Saint Peter, may the Almighty Lord grant that we may be faithful heralds of the Gospel. As I invoke his blessing upon us all, I ask you, please, to remember me in your prayers. Thank you.
The delegation was then received for lunch by His Holiness Pope Francis. 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 Saint Peter’s Square.