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, His Grace Bishop Maximos of Melitene, and the Reverend Deacon Vosporios Magafas, Codex Writer of the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, arrived to Rome on 27 June 2019 to participate in the Thronal Feast of the Church of Rome. On 28 June, they took part in the conversations with the members of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. During the meeting they discussed current issues of the two Churches as well as future steps of the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Churh and the Orthodox Church. The next meeting of the Coordinating Committee is planned for this coming November at the Monastery of Bose (Italy) to continue the study of a text entitled «Primacy and Synodality in the Second Millennium and Today». They were then 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, 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,

Once again, the light of the feast day of the holy, glorious and all-praiseworthy Chiefs of the Apostles, Peter and Paul, has dawned. Therefore, we join in the celebration of our sister Church of Rome, “who presides in love,” (St. Ignatius, To the Romans) conveying our fraternal congratulatory wishes to Your Holiness, expressed in person through our Patriarchal Delegation, which is sent on the occasion of the Thronal Feast of your Church in accordance with the established blessed tradition.

Today, the Church of Rome, where the Chiefs of the Apostles have received the crown of martyrdom, is filled with light. As Saint Gregory Palamas once said on this feast, “the appearance to us this day of both these luminaries together brightens the Church, for their meeting produces a wealth of light, not an eclipse. […] Light is not produced by one and received by the other in such a way that the latter’s radiance would vary sometimes depending on the distance between them. Rather, both share equally in Christ, the everlasting Source of eternal light, and have attained the same height, glory and radiance. That is why the coming together of these lights signifies their solidarity and support for one another, illuminating the souls of the faithful twice over.” (Homily 28, 4)

The solemnity of today is indeed a synaxis, a gathering, a coming together inviting our sister Churches to embrace in charity. Unfortunately, due to various difficulties of our common history, the light of today’s synaxisis darkened by the fact that our sister Churches cannot yet share in the common cup of the Eucharistic synaxis. Nevertheless, the restoration of communion between our Churches remains our sincere hope, the main object of our prayers and the goal of the dialogue of truth established between our Churches.

We are delighted that the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between our Churches, which is now working for almost forty years, has progressed on a meaningful document on “Primacy and Synodality in the Second Millennium and Today.” As we are informed, the Coordinating Committee that met last November at the hospitable Monastery of Bose fulfilled an important step forward, and we pray that the future meeting next November will succeed in finalizing a text to be discussed at the next plenary of the commission. Indeed, reflecting together on this important topic is essential in order to restore communion between our Sister Churches.

Our common participation in the Eucharistic synaxis presupposes that we are progressing together on the same path. In fact, walking together (synodos) is another image of the Church, or rather, another definition of the Church. For this reason, synodality derives its origin from the very depths of the mystery of the Church. It is not merely a matter of canonical tradition, but of fundamental theological and ecclesiological truth. Without synodality, the unity of the Church is severed, the sanctity of its members is reduced to mere individual morality and articulation about virtue, catholicity is sacrificed in favor of particular individual, collective, national and other secular interests or intentions, and the apostolic message falls prey to various heresies and ruses of human reason.

Your Holiness has repeated on several occasions that the path of synodality is the way that God expects of the Church in the third millennium. But as the Ravenna document of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue underscored, synodality is mutually interdependent on primacy. This means that synodality must be considered in the context of primacy, just as primacy must be considered in the context of synodality. (Ravenna Document, 43)

In times of trouble in the world and within our respective Churches, reflecting on primacy and synodality is extremely important not only for restoring communion between our sister Churches, but also for the stability of our respective Churches. As your illustrious predecessor in the see of Rome, Pope Benedict, once formulated, “if the Church in the very depth of her being coincides with the Eucharist, then the presidency of love carries with it a responsibility for unity, which has a significance within the Church yet, at the same time, a responsibility for distinguishing what is Christian as against worldly society.” (J. Ratzinger, Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith: The Church as Communion, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005, p. 233-234)

In this spirit, we were glad to join you last July in Bari with the heads of the Christian Churches of the Middle East, where we gathered together to pray and reflect on peace and reconciliation. The location of Bari, where the relics of Saint Nicholas of Myra, venerated by both the Catholics and Orthodox, are kept, was certainly a symbol of this strong desire for unity. And as the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church underlined, “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, 17)

Your Holiness, dearest Brother Francis, as we celebrate today the Thronal Feast of the Church of Rome, we reiterate our commitment for our common advancement on “the coming together” of our Churches. We pray that internal problems within our respective Churches may neither harm nor stop this blessed goal. In this sense, may our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ grant you health, strength and perseverance in your primatial ministry.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 love and honorin Christ our God, whom we beseech to strengthen our common efforts and lead us towards unity.

At the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the twenty-ninth of June, 2019

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 a cordial greeting and a warm welcome to you, the distinguished members of the Delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate whom my beloved brother Bartholomew and the Holy Synod have sent on the occasion of the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. Your presence manifests the solid bonds existing between the Churches of Rome and Constantinople, and our common effort to journey towards the fullness of communion for which we long, in obedience to the clear will of Jesus (cf. Jn 17:21). The feast of Saints Peter and Paul, which falls on the same day in the liturgical calendars of East and West, invites us to renew the charity that generates unity.

At the same time, this feast reminds us of the apostolic courage of proclamation, which also entails a commitment to respond to the new challenges of the present time. This, too, is fidelity to the Gospel. With regard to such concern for today’s situation, I like to think of the attention given by the Ecumenical Patriarch to the protection of creation; it has been a source of inspiration for me as well. Given the alarming ecological crisis that we are experiencing, promoting care for our common home is not only, for us believers as for all others, a pressing need that can no longer be deferred, but also a concrete way to serve our neighbour in the spirit of the Gospel. I likewise see as a positive sign the cooperation between the Catholic Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate concerning other timely questions, such as efforts to combat modern forms of slavery, the need to accept and integrate migrants, displaced persons and refugees, and the promotion of peace at various levels.

Last month, during my pastoral journeys to Bulgaria and Romania, I had the joy of meeting Patriarchs Neofit and Daniel and their Holy Synods, and was able to admire the faith and wisdom of those Pastors. On such occasions, as in my different meetings with my brother Bartholomew and with other Heads of Churches, I have been able to appreciate the spiritual richness present in Orthodoxy. I assure you that I left those countries with a greater desire for communion. I am increasingly convinced that the restoration of full unity between Catholics and Orthodox will come about through respect for specific identities and a harmonious coexistence in legitimate forms of diversity. The Holy Spirit, for that matter, is the one who creatively awakens a multiplicity of gifts, harmonizes them and brings them into authentic unity, which is not uniformity but a symphony of many voices in charity. As Bishop of Rome I wish to reaffirm that, for us Catholics, the purpose of dialogue is full communion in legitimate forms of diversity, not a monotonous levelling, much less absorption.

For this reason, I consider it valuable in our encounters to share our roots, to rediscover the goodness that the Lord has sown and made grow in each of us, and to share it, learning from one another and helping each other not to fear dialogue and concrete collaboration. The scandal of divisions not fully healed can only be removed by the grace of God as we journey together, accompanying in prayer each other’s steps, proclaiming the Gospel in harmony, working to serve those in need and dialoguing in truth, without allowing ourselves to be conditioned by past prejudices. Thus, in that sincerity and transparency which the Lord loves, we will grow closer to one another and come to appreciate more fully our own identity. We will grow in knowledge and mutual affection. We will experience the fact that, for all our differences, there is indeed much more that unites us and inspires us to move forward together.

Your Eminence, dear Brothers, I thank you for your visit and for your kind expression of closeness. I ask you to convey my warm fraternal greetings to His Holiness Bartholomew and to the members of the Holy Synod. And I ask you also, please, to keep for me a place in your prayers. May God the Almighty and Merciful, through the intercession of the Holy Apostles Peter, Paul and Andrew, the brother of Peter, bless and sustain our efforts on the path to full communion.

The delegation was then received for lunch by His Holiness Pope Francis.

On 29 June the members of the delegation attend the Solemn Mass for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul at Saint Peter’s Square.