Phanar, 30 November 2018


Your Eminence, Kurt Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, and members of the official Delegation of the sister Church of Elder Rome. We welcome you to the Phanar on the occasion of our Thronal Feast, and we are honored to receive the festal wishes and fraternal love of His Holiness Pope Francis. We ask Your Eminence to please reciprocate to His Holiness, our brother, our sincere gratitude for sending, once again, a Delegation from the Church of Rome in order to participate in the festivities of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Thronal Feast. For an entire millennium, our Churches shared a common journey, united in faith and the common cup of the Eucharist, as well as in a common witness to the world and diakonia to the people of God. Today—through the goodwill of the Triune God and the intercessions of the Most Holy Theotokos and all the saints—we strive to restore our tragically broken unity to its fullness through a dialogue of love and truth, which was inaugurated by our venerable Predecessors.

For over half a century, we have reaped the splendid fruits of the dialogue of love. The first expression of this dialogue was the historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem, the mutual lifting of the Anathemas, the establishment of the practice of exchanging visits between our sister Churches as well as other initiatives, which ultimately all bore witness to the power of love in Christ—which unites the divided. It is in this spirit, then, that the Orthodox Diaspora in Western Europe received multidimensional support, permission to use churches and chapels was granted, scholarships were offered to Orthodox students, and various social initiatives were enacted. This “dialogue of life” advanced mutual learning, overcame prejudices, produced mutual trust, and gave prominence to our common Christian archetypes.

The formal theological dialogue between the Orthodox and the Roman-Catholic Churches is the second pillar of our relationship—a feat that is inconceivable without the parallel dialogue of love. As we continue this “dialogue of truth,” which has as its focus “Primacy and Synodality in the Second Millennium and Nowadays,” it is our conviction that this topic will strengthen and nourish our formal dialogue in the coming years. Indeed, this theological discourse is increasingly difficult due to the complexity of the topics of concern, which have divided our Churches for centuries. Nevertheless, the determination to continue this journey toward desired unity has not been weakened for our side, as was affirmed by the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church in Crete. We are servants of the pre-eternal Word of God, “through Whom all things were made,” Who saved the race of Adam from the tyranny of Hades through His Incarnation, Cross and Resurrection, and will come again to judge the living and the dead and renew the entire world. It is inconceivable that the Church of Christ would remain indifferent to the divisions within it, and not to pray and strive to overcome them. Theological minimalism and ecumenistic utopianism—which Walter Cardinal Kasper, Your Eminence’s predecessor, called “Kuschel-Ökumene”—together with pessimism and negativity toward the perspective of a positive outcome of the ecumenical endeavor, are not good counselors for us. To those who are fundamentally opposed to ecumenism and dialogue, we emphatically say that not only are they not authentic defenders of ecclesiastical tradition, as they regard themselves to be, but they also misinterpret and manipulate authentic tradition and—through their incognizant zeal—divide the people of God. As the Holy and Great Council proclaimed, the Orthodox Church’s “one,” “common” goal in all of its theological dialogues is “the ultimate restoration of unity in true faith and love.” (Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World, § 12) The common cup of the Divine Eucharist presupposes a common faith—a full agreement on the confession of faith. It is in the Divine Eucharist that the theandric mystery of the Church is contained and the unity of the ecclesiastical Body is expressed. In the theology of St. Nicholas Cabasilas, the Church “is signified in the mysteries” (N. Cabasilas, Sacrae Liturgiae Interpretatio, 150, 452), the Eucharist, and “through these sacred mysteries, as through the windows, the sun of righteousness enters into this dark world.” (N. Cabasilas, De Vita in Christo, 150, 504)In our theological dialogue, the relationship between unity in faith and Eucharistic communion is determined by this principle; however, it is unfortunate that in the Ecumenical Throne’s ongoing effort to grant Autocephaly to the people of God in Ukraine—as has also happened in the past in similar cases, in order to bring peace to Ukraine and prevent further divisions, thereby relieving the suffering of Ukrainian people and strengthening the unity and stability of the Orthodox Church—the sister Church of Russia, as a reaction to Ukrainian Autocephaly, ceased Eucharistic communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In this instance, the Eucharist, the core of ecclesiastical life, is being freely used and with complete disregard of the existing unity in faith as a means of applying pressure under the guise of the preservation of unity in Orthodoxy, which is thus, cut off from unity in faith—without which there is no communion “in the mysteries”—and is connected with secular criteria that become the measure of the Church’s character, which is “not of this world.” This stance of the Patriarchate of Moscow is deprived of theological and ecclesiological foundation, and is contrary to the Tradition of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Your Eminence and dearly beloved Kurt Cardinal Koch, The Church of Christ has the duty to contribute to the transfiguration of the world, in which the life of the Church unfolds and will continue to do so in the journey toward the “last days.” The Church resolves problems; it does not create additional ones for man. We are certain that the dialogue between the Roman-Catholic and Orthodox Churches promotes, in general, the spirit of dialogue, and facilitates our Christian testimony to the contemporary world. We strive together to preserve, to defend and to cultivate the exalted spiritual values of Christianity within the secularized, technocratic, economistic, individualistic and eudemonistic cultural environment in which the repulsion of “Transcendence” weakens the creative powers of man and nourishes cynicism and indifference toward our neighbor. Another great problem today is the explosion of religious fundamentalism, which offers arguments that are well-received among those who deny God, thereby nourishing intolerance and violence.Where there is love and solidarity, God is present. Genuine faith, which approaches man on the basis of his divine origin and in relation to his eternal destination, strengthens our respect for our fellow man, our spirit of diakonia, and our struggle for peace and justice. In this spirit, the Ecumenical Patriarchate seeks out dialogue with contemporary culture and civilizations, and expresses Orthodoxy’s witness to the challenges of our time. We also commend the numerous parallel initiatives of His Holiness Pope Francis of Rome. This year, we had the opportunity to meet with him twice in Italy. The first meeting took place within the framework of the “Centessimus Annus – Pro Pontifice Foundation’s” anniversary event at the Vatican in May, where we delivered our address entitled “A Common Christian Agenda for the Common Good.” The second meeting took place in Bari, in July, for the promotion of peace and the protection of Christians in the Middle East. It is our steadfast conviction that the common initiatives for addressing the great problems of our time, together with a common Christian witness, function as a means of support for our theological dialogue and strengthen the journey towards ecclesiastical unity.

With these thoughts, then, we welcome you and your honorable entourage with sentiments of love and honor to the Venerable See of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, praying that the Savior of the World, who is glorified in His Holy Apostles Andrew and Peter—the founders of our Churches, brothers and imitators of His Passion—may bless and strengthen our ministry and ecclesiastical witness in the world, for the glory of His heavenly name.