Thronal Feast of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

The Ecumenical Patriarchate honored the memory of its founder, the Holy Apostle Andrew the First-Called on 30 November 2022 with a solemn Divine Liturgy presided by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in concelebration with their Eminences the Senior Metropolitan Apostolos of Derka and the Metropolitans Nikandros of Irinoupolis, Polykarpos of Italy, Isaia of Tamasos and Orini (Church of Cyprus), Stephanos of Kallipolis and Madytos, Elpidophoros of America, Gerasimos of Petra and Cheronissos, Kyrillos of Ierapetra and Sitian Vissarion of Spain and Portugal, Andrew of Saranta Ekklesies and Archbishop Agapitos of Vyshhorod (Church of Ukraine) in the Patriarchal Church of St. George, at the Phanar. The homily was preached by His Eminence Metropolitan Bartholomew of Smyrna.

The Divine Liturgy was attended by the official delegation of the Church of Rome headed by His Eminence Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, by His Eminence Archbishop Nektarios of Anthedon (Representative of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem), as well as by the Very Reverend Archimandrite Georgios Christodoulou (Chief Secretary of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece), His Excellency Mr. Christodoulos Lazaris (Ambassador of Greece in Ankara), Mrs. Georgia Sultanopoulou (Consul General of Greece in the City), Mr. Roman Nedilskyi (Consul General of Ukraine in the City), as well as many clergy, monastics and faithful from the City and from abroad.

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

Your Eminence Cardinal Leonardo Sandri with the Esteemed members of the official delegation of the sister Church of Elder Rome, 

We greet with great joy your presence at the Phanar to honour together the venerable memory of Andrew the First Called of the Apostles, founder and patron of our Church. We thank cordially our brother Pope of Rome Francis, who kindly sent you to the Phanar, bearer of his festive message of love and honor, in continuation of the established tradition by patriarch Athenagoras and pope Paul VI of exchange of visits of delegations from both sides on the occasion of the Thronal Feasts of our two Churches. We invite Your Excellency to convey to our holy brother the sincere thanks of the Church of Constantinople and of our Modesty.

Three weeks ago, we had the blessing and the joy of being together with our beloved brother Pope Francis during the Bahrain Forum for Dialogue which was dedicated to the theme “East and West for Human Coexistence”. It was for the participants an opportunity to reflect together on the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together. Within the framework of the forum, Christian leaders of various Churches and Confessions prayed with in an Ecumenical Meeting and Prayer for Peace. As the Kingdom of Bahrain Declaration stated, whenever hatred, violence and discord are preached, God’s name is desecrated.

Unfortunately, we still witness today how religion can still be manipulated to justify war and the use of violence. The disastrous ongoing war in Ukraine between Christian brother peoples deeply sadden us and constitutes a great challenge. With regard to these unacceptable events, it is important to remember that the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church (Crete, 2016) condemned unambiguously war stating: “The Church of Christ condemns war in general, recognizing it as the result of the presence of evil and sin in the world” and that “resolutely condemns the multifaceted conflicts and wars provoked by fanaticism that derives from religious principles.” (The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World, D1, D3).

The Council of Crete also stressed that, “the peace of Christ is the ripe fruit of the restoration of all things in Him, the revelation of the human person’s dignity and majesty as an image of God, the manifestation of the organic unity in Christ between humanity and the world, the universality of the principles of peace, freedom, and social justice, and ultimately the blossoming of Christian love among people and nations of the world” (Ibid., C1). In this spirit, the Council proclaimed that “the Orthodox Church considers it is her duty to encourage all that which genuinely serves the cause of peace (Rom 14:19) and paves the way to justice, fraternity, true freedom, and mutual love among all children of the one heavenly Father as well as between all peoples who make up the one human family” (Ibid., C5).

In Bahrain, Pope Francis pointed out that for the effective common Christian witness (martyria) in the world, it is necessary to be reconciled among ourselves so that we can speak with one voice and with one heart. It is moreover with this precise desire to facilitate Christian winess that the Ecumenical Movement was born at the beginning of the last century, in accordance to Christ’s words “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35).

In the context of our inter-ecclesiastical relations and bilateral theological dialogue, we are particularly pleased by the importance given by our brother, Pope Francis, to the principle of synodality of the Church, which he has described as the major way for the Church of the third millennium. We are following with great interest all the discussions on this question in the Synod of bishops of the Roman Catholic Church on synodality which began last year and which continues until next year and whose theme is: “For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission”.

Certainly, synodality is not simply an institution or a model of administration of the Church aiming communion and unity, neither a question of active participation of all the members of the Church. In this sense, synodality ought not to be confused with democratization, neither should it be understood as taking decision by the principle of majority. The purpose of synods is not a gathering as an end in itself, but the preaching of the Gospel to the people of God and to the world, and the more effective witness to Christ, which implies to listen to the word of God, to the Holy Spirit, and to one another, to develop a spirit of discernment (diakrisis) and a culture of dialogue.

Our bilateral theological dialogue in the last seventeen years has been focused on the question of synodality. The document of Ravenna, issued in 2007, reminded us that we cannot conceive primacy without synodality and synodality without primacy. Also, it has been also underlined that the exercise of primacy and synodality takes place on three levels: the local, the regional and the universal. These three levels have been included in the document of Chieti, issued in 2016, dedicated to the subject: “Synodality and Primacy during the First Millennium: Towards a Common Understanding in Service to the Unity of the Church”.

During the last six years, the Joint International Commission for the theological dialogue between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church has been working on a document entitled “Primacy and Synodality in the Second Millenium and Today.” The aim of this document is to reach a common reading of the difficulties that have arisen between the two Churches during the second millennium, and how they might be overcome in the present by promoting a more synodal Church. We pray and hope that the next plenary session of the Commission, which will take place in Alexandria in Egypt in June of the upcoming year under the generous auspices of His Beatitude Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa Theodoros, may finalize this document and thus contribute to the promotion of the restoration of communion between our two sister Churches by cultivating a spirit of synodality.

Your Eminence, dear Brothers and beloved children in the Lord,

Sharing the same Eucharistic chalice presupposes that we are progressing together on the same path. Walking together on the same path is precisely what the Greek word synodos means. Therefore, the synod is not only an image (eikon) or an institution of the Church, but rather the precise definition of the Church, as our holy predecessor, Saint John Chrysostom, has properly formulated: “The Church (ekklesia) is the name for college and synod” (On Psalm 149, PG 55, 493).

With such feelings, singing and glorifying the benevolent Giver of all goods, we address wholeheartedly the welcome to Your Excellency and the other members of the delegation, thanking you once again your participation in the celebrations of the Thronal Feast of the Holy and Great Church of Christ. We kindly ask you to convey the personal greetings of our Modesty to our holy brother Pope Francis. We pray the Almighty and all Merciful God, that through the prayers of the Holy Apostles and brothers Peter and Andrew, He may strengthen His people in the accomplishment of His holy will and His Divine commandments, and bless all of us on our synodal way towards the desired unity between the Orthodox Church and Roman Catholic Church, which will become the basis to give a unfailing witness of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, “our hope” (1 Tim. 1:1), and for our struggle for the people of the whole world. Christ is in our midst!

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

On the occasion of this year’s liturgical commemoration of the Apostle Andrew, the first-called brother of Peter, I am pleased once again to be represented at the Phanar by a delegation of the Church of Rome at the celebrations of the holy patron of the Church of Constantinople and of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. I have asked the delegation to convey to Your All Holiness the assurance of my fraternal affection and my heartfelt prayer for you and for the Church entrusted to your care. I likewise offer cordial greetings and good wishes to the members of the Holy Synod, and to the clergy and lay faithful taking part in the Divine Liturgy in the Patriarchal Church of Saint George.

The meeting of the Church of Rome with the Church of Constantinople on the occasion of their respective patronal feast days is an expression of the depth of the bonds uniting us and a visible sign of our cherished hope for ever deeper communion. The full restoration of communion among all the believers in Jesus Christ is an irrevocable commitment for every Christian, for the “unity of all” (Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom) is not only God’s will but an urgent priority in today’s world. Indeed, today’s world is greatly in need of reconciliation, fraternity and unity. The Church, then, ought to shine forth as a “sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race” (Lumen Gentium, 1).

Much attention has rightly been placed on the historical and theological reasons at the origin of our divisions. This shared study must continue and develop in a spirit that is neither polemical nor apologetic but marked instead by authentic dialogue and mutual openness. We must likewise acknowledge that divisions are the result of sinful actions and attitudes which impede the work of the Holy Spirit, who guides the faithful into unity in legitimate diversity. It follows that only growth in holiness of life can lead to genuine and lasting unity. We are called, then, to work towards the restoration of unity between Christians not merely through signed agreements but through fidelity to the Father’s will and discernment of the promptings of the Spirit. We can be thankful to God that our Churches are not resigned to past and current experiences of division, but, on the contrary, through prayer and fraternal charity are seeking instead to achieve full communion that will enable us one day, in God’s time, to gather together at the same Eucharistic table.

As we journey towards that goal, there are already many areas in which the Catholic Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate are working together for the common good of the human family by safeguarding creation, defending the dignity of every person, combatting modern forms of slavery, and promoting peace. One of the most fruitful areas of such cooperation is interreligious dialogue. Here I gratefully recall our recent meeting in the Kingdom of Bahrain on the occasion of the Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence. Dialogue and encounter are the only viable path for overcoming conflicts and all forms of violence. In this regard, I entrust to the mercy of Almighty God those who have lost their lives or have been wounded by the recent attack in your own city, and pray that he will convert the hearts of those who promote or support such evil actions.

Invoking upon you Almighty God’s gifts of serenity and joy, I renew my expression of good wishes for the feast of Saint Andrew, and exchange with Your All Holiness a fraternal embrace of peace in the Lord.

Rome, from Saint John Lateran, 30 November 2022