Thronal Feast of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

The Ecumenical Patriarchate honored the memory of its founder, the Holy Apostle Andrew the First-Called. On Monday 30 November 2020, a solemn Divine Liturgy was presided by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in concelebration with their Eminences Metropolitans Theoleptos of Iconium and Metropolitan Maximos of Selyvria in the Patriarchal Church of St. George, at the Phanar. The homily was preached by the Chief Secretary of the Holy Synod, the Very Reverend Archimandrite Ioakeim Billis.

The Divine Liturgy was attended by the official delegation of the Church of Rome, headed by His Eminence Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, as well as by His Excellency the Prime Minister of Ukraine Mr. Denys Shmyhal, acompanied by members of his cabinet, and a delegation of the autonomous Orthodox Church of Finland.

At the end of the Divine Liturgy, the Ecumenical Patriarch addressed the official delegation of the Roman Catholic Church with these words:

Your Eminence, beloved brother in Christ Kurt Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, and members of the Formal Delegation of the Church of the Elder Rome,

We greet your presence at the celebrating Phanar with profound love and special honor, as bearers of the festive wishes of His Holiness Pope Francis. We ask Your Eminence to convey to His Holiness, our brother, the wholehearted gratitude of the Church of Constantinople and our own personal thanks for sending this honorable Delegation, as well as for the gracious participation of the Church of the Elder Rome in the joy of this Thronal Feast of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, despite the difficulties still caused by the pandemic of the coronavirus Covid-19.

As a result of this health crisis, for the first time in over five decades, it was not possible for the Ecumenical Patriarchate to send its own formal Delegation to the Thronal Feast of our sister Church of Rome last June. It is for the same reason that it was impossible to realize the consultation of the Coordinating Committee of the Mixed Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches scheduled for last September. Nevertheless, as we have officially been informed, the drafting of the pertinent text is in progress, and we hope that with God’s blessing and grace, the Coordinating Committee will convene next year (2021) and expeditiously prepare the plenary assembly of the Commission for Dialogue.

The difficulties that periodically appear to hinder the progress of our theological dialogue are associated with the complex nature of the topics being discussed, which have concerned and divided our two Churches and theology for many centuries. We are advancing beyond any theological minimalism and ecumenical utopianism, with realism and confidence in God’s providence. Our desire for a stable journey toward the desired unity remains constant, in accordance with the command of the leader of our faith. For our part, this was also confirmed by the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, according to which, the common objective of all in our theological dialogues is “the ultimate restoration of unity in true faith and love.” Differentiation is only permitted in the methodology that is adopted, inasmuch as this is mandated by the distinctive character of the problems of any bilateral dialogue; but “the aim is one in all of the dialogues.” (Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World, § 12)

For us it is particularly significant that the “dialogue of truth” in love, which this year marks forty years of life and fruitful outcomes, is accompanied by initiatives toward a joint witness in the world before the contemporary thorny issues, by actions inspired by the fundamental principles of the Gospel, the prototype of the human person renewed in Christ, in mutual trust and remarkable collaboration.

We share the same concerns, similar sensitivities, and identical views with His Holiness our brother Francis, with regard to addressing the great challenges of our time. Both of us support initiatives that promote peace and reconciliation. Both of us emphatically express the philanthropic message of the Church for the expansion of fraternity and solidarity, of social justice and of the respect of human rights. Both of us participate in the effort to respond to the causes and consequences of the immense current crisis involving refugees and migrants. Both of us are distressed by the frequent tragic instances of violence in the name of God and religion. All of these matters reveal once again the value of interfaith dialogue, of peace and cooperation among religions, for the sake of avoiding such extreme conditions and circumstances, but also for the purpose of transcending mistrust and establishing mutual respect.

The recent Encyclical Fratelli Tutti of His Holiness Pope Francis exceptionally proves the multidimensional care of the Church of Rome about the great social challenges. In the same vein, three years ago we commissioned a group of esteemed Orthodox theologians, assigning to them the responsibility of drafting a document – based on the positions of the Holy and Great Council, which are grounded on theological principles of our tradition – about the social ethos in the Orthodox Church. This text was published last March, in print and on the internet, with the title For the Life of the World. The Social Ethos of the Orthodox Church, and has already provoked fertile conversation.

Ethical and anthropological issues have today acquired such critical timeliness that there is discussion in ecumenical circles about a “paradigm change.” We most definitely cannot allow the reduction of pluralism to some moral minimalism, which would profoundly jeopardize social integrity, to also lead to division in Christian identity and dissension in ecclesiastical life. The Church of Christ cannot accept “parallel monologues” or “coexistence of opposites” within its fold; nor can it adapt its divinely-inspired ethical and anthropological principles to the “alternative choices” of the contemporary secularized civilization. The very life of the Church constitutes an invulnerable response to questions about anthropology and ethos. The gap generated – and increasingly escalating – about these matters on the ecumenical level obstructs the progress of inter-Christian dialogues.

In this spirit, we believe that the formulation of a mutually acceptable Christian anthropology and the practical respect of its principles would comprise an important support for the development of relations between our Churches. We shall then journey together in the dialogue of love and truth, but also in “the dialogue of life,” experiencing the renewal and freedom in Christ, while providing a credible joint witness to the world of the hope that is within us.

Your Eminence and dearly beloved Kurt Cardinal Koch,

The Thronal Feast of the Church of Constantinople is a common day of celebration for the Church of Rome as well, because their founders – the brothers Andrew and Peter, as we also heard in today’s Gospel reading – encountered Jesus together and recognized in Him the Messiah and Savior of the world (cf. John 1.35–43).

We offer glory to the Lord and Giver of all gifts for the blessing of our personal meeting with His Holiness our brother Pope Francis during our visit to Rome last October in order to participate in the 36th International Meeting of Prayer for Peace on the theme “No One is Saved Alone – Peace and Fraternity,” organized by the Community of Sant’Egidio, but also for the award ceremony bestowing upon our Modesty the Honorary Doctorate in Philosophy by the Pontifical University Antonianum. Every encounter person-to-person with our brother Pope Francis represents a special experience of fraternity that reinforces the desire and agony of us both to move forward in our journey toward the common Eucharistic Cup.

With these words and festive sentiments, we welcome you wholeheartedly on this auspicious day at the Phanar, even as we pray for a swift mitigation to the perilous pandemic and an effective resolution to its social and economic repercussions. May our God, the Giver of all good things – through the intercessions of His Holy Apostles, of Saints Andrew and Peter, imitators of his passion on the Cross, and founders of our Churches – bless His people and strengthen all of us in the witness and service of the Gospel of salvation, that His most sacred Name may be glorified. Amen.

Following the address of the Ecumenical Patriarch, Cardinal Kurt Koch responded by reading the following message of Pope Francis of Rome:

To His All Holiness Bartholomew
Archbishop of Constantinople
Ecumenical Patriarch

On the feast of the Apostle Andrew, beloved brother of Saint Peter and patron saint of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, I joyfully convey my spiritual closeness to Your All Holiness once again through the delegation. I join you in giving thanks to God for the rich fruits of divine providence manifest in the life of Saint Andrew. I likewise pray that through his powerful intercession our Lord, who called him to be among his first disciples, will abundantly bless you, your brothers in the episcopate and members of the Holy Synod, and all the clergy, monks and lay faithful gathered for the Divine Liturgy celebrated in the Patriarchal Church of Saint George at the Phanar. Calling to mind the charity, apostolic zeal and perseverance of Saint Andrew is a source of encouragement in these difficult and critical times. Giving glory to God also strengthens our faith and hope in the one who welcomed into eternal life the holy martyr Andrew, whose faith endured in time of trial.

I recall with great joy the presence of Your All Holiness at the international meeting for peace held in Rome on 20 October last, with the participation of representatives of various Churches and other religious traditions. Together with the challenges posed by the current pandemic, war continues to afflict many parts of the world, while new armed conflicts emerge to steal the lives of countless men and women. Undoubtedly all initiatives taken by national and international entities aimed at promoting peace are useful and necessary, yet conflict and violence will never cease until all people reach a deeper awareness that they have a mutual responsibility as brothers and sisters. In light of this, the Christian Churches, together with other religious traditions, have a primary duty to offer an example of dialogue, mutual respect and practical cooperation.

With profound gratitude to God, I have experienced this fraternity at first hand in the various encounters we have shared. In this regard, I acknowledge that the desire for ever greater closeness and understanding between Christians was manifest in the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople before the Catholic Church and other Churches engaged themselves in dialogue. This can be seen clearly in the encyclical letter of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate addressed to the Churches worldwide exactly one hundred years ago. Indeed, its words remain relevant today: “When the several Churches are inspired by love, and place it before everything else in their judgment of the others and in relation towards each other, they will be able, instead of increasing and widening the existing dissentions, to lessen and diminish the same as far as possible; and by promoting a constant brotherly interest in the condition, the stability, and the prosperity of the other Churches, by their eagerness in watching what is happening in those Churches, and by obtaining a more accurate knowledge of them, and by their readiness to give, whenever occasion arises, a hand of help and assistance, they then will do and achieve many good things to the glory and profit both of themselves and of the whole Christian body, and to the advance of the matter of the union”.

We can thank God that relations between the Catholic Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate have grown much over the past century, even as we continue to yearn for the goal of the restoration of full communion expressed through participation at the same Eucharistic altar. Although obstacles remain, I am confident that by walking together in mutual love and pursuing theological dialogue, we will reach that goal. This hope is based on our common faith in Jesus Christ, sent by God the Father to gather all people into one body, and the cornerstone of the one and holy Church, God’s holy temple, in which all of us are living stones, each according to our own particular charism or ministry bestowed by the Holy Spirit.

With these sentiments, I renew my warmest best wishes for the feast of Saint Andrew, and exchange with Your All Holiness an embrace of peace in the Lord.

Rome, Saint John Lateran, 30 November 2020


While welcoming  the Prime Minister of Ukraine Mr. Denys Shmyhal, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew announced his future visit to Ukraine, in August 2021, at the invitation of the President of Ukraine, Mr. Volodymyr Zelensky, on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of independence of the country.