Gianni Valente, Istanbul, 11/30/2014
“The one thing that the Catholic Church desires, and that I seek as Bishop of Rome, is communion with the Orthodox Churches,” Pope Francis said in the most important moment of his visit to Turkey. This communion “does not signify the submission of one to the other, or assimilation. Rather, it means welcoming all the gifts that God has given to each.” Underneath the vaults of the Church of St. George, the see of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the beauty of the mysteries of the Christian faith permeate through the liturgy celebrated for the feast of the patron saint Andrew, with the traditional rituals of prayers and litanies chanted by the American choir, lights and candles, incense and the sign of the cross. Words and silence. But what really filled people’s hearts with awe during today’s liturgy at the Phanar, were the words of fraternal charity the Pope and the Patriarch addressed to one another before the congregation. Prophesying full communion between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, the two bishop shepherds, the Successors of St Peter and his brother Andrew become pioneers in showing the People of God the path to follow, step by step. “The cold love between us has been rekindled,” Bartholomew said, “while our desire to do everything in our capacity so that our communion in the same faith and the same chalice may once again emerge has been galvanised.”
The Ecumenical Patriarch had only words of warmth and friendship for his “brother in Christ Bishop of Senior Rome”. Above all, he acknowledged that Francis “offer[s] to [His] Orthodox brothers and sisters the aspiration that during Your tenure the rapprochement of our two great ancient Churches will continue to be established on the solid foundations of our common tradition.”
Pope Francis and Bartholomew then exchanged the kiss of peace before consecrating the holy gifts of the Eucharist.
Pope Francis gave an immediate and generous response to the hope expressed by the Ecumenical Patriarch on behalf of all his Orthodox brothers. In his speech, which he read out in the presence of the Metropolitans of the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and all faithful gathered – including diplomats, fraternal representatives of other Churches, benefactors of the Patriarchate and political leaders, among them the Greek Minister for Foreign Affairs, Evangelos Venizelos – the Bishop of Rome spoke of the importance of preserving “the rich patrimony of the Eastern Churches,” “This regards not only their liturgical and spiritual traditions, but also their canonical disciplines, sanctioned as they are by the Fathers and by Councils, which regulate the lives of these Churches.” The Pope then assured everyone present that “to reach the desired goal of full unity, the Catholic Church does not intend to impose any conditions except that of the shared profession of faith”. The Pope’s message was unprecedented and crystal clear: the Catholic Church is prepared to put aside any demands and claims to supremacy.
In their addresses, both the Pope and the Patriarch re-evoked the unity of the Eastern and Western Church throughout the first century of existence. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches needs to look back at this time for inspiration, to find efficient ways of re-establishing full communion between them. This proposed trip back in time is not an attempt to foster ancient theological and doctrinal precepts: “For what is the value of our fidelity to the past unless this denotes something for the future?” Bartholomew asked. The leaders of the two Churches also agreed that ecumenism is not an end in itself: the unity of Eastern and Western Christians must be re-established in order to allow the Church to fulfil its mission for the good of today’s men and women in a more efficient way. The emergencies, the tragedies and the miseries of today make the division between those who come in the name of Christ even more scandalous and unacceptable. “Indeed,” Bartholomew said, “ even as we are preoccupied with our own contentions, the world experiences the fear of survival, the concern for tomorrow.” Pope Francis echoed his words, pointing out that the poor, the victims of conflicts and the young, “are among those implore our Churches to live deeply our identity as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Unemployment among youth “can give rise to criminal activity and even the recruitment of terrorists,” the Bishop of Rome pointed out. The young, “who today implore us to make progress towards full communion,” - Francis said referring to the meetings organized by the Taizé community as an example – “do this not because they ignore the differences which still separate us, but because they are able to see beyond them; they are able to embrace what is essential and what already unites us.”
Patriarch Bartholomew pointed to the new Christian martyrs as leading the way before all other baptised faithful, on the path toward unity, by practicing what Pope Francis defined as “the ecumenism of blood”. “We no longer have the luxury of isolated action,” Bartholomew stressed. “The modern persecutors of Christians do not ask which Church their victims belong to. The unity that concerns us is regrettably already occurring in certain regions of the world through the blood of martyrdom. Together let us extend our hand to people of our time; together let us extend the hand of Him, who alone can save humankind through His Cross and Resurrection.”
Bartholomew and Francis: Unity is necessary - Vatican Insider