28 November–1 December 2017


Message of Pope Francis

Though away from Rome on my Pastoral Visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh, I wish to extend my fraternal best wishes to Your Holiness and to the members of the Holy Synod, the clergy, the monks, and all the faithful gathered for the Divine Liturgy in the Patriarchal Church of Saint George for the liturgical commemoration of Saint Andrew the Apostle, brother of Simon Peter and first-called of the Apostles, the patron saint of the Church of Constantinople and of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. When the deacon invites those gathered during the Divine Liturgy to pray “for those who travel by land, sea, and air”, I ask you, please, to pray also for me.

The Delegation I have sent is a sign of my spiritual solidarity with your prayer of thanksgiving and praise for all that our Almighty and Merciful God has accomplished through the witness of the Apostle Andrew. In like manner, the Delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate welcomed in Rome last June demonstrated its spiritual closeness to us as we celebrated the wonderful deeds that God, the source of all good, accomplished through the Apostles Peter and Paul, patron saints of the Church of Rome.

The Apostles proclaimed to the ends of the earth, through their words and the sacrifice of their lives, what they themselves had seen, heard and experienced - the Word of Life, our Lord Jesus Christ, who died and rose for our salvation. Making our own this proclamation enables us to enter into communion with the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit, which is the very foundation of the communion that already unites those baptized in the name of the Most Holy Trinity (cf. 1Jn 1:1-3). Catholics and Orthodox, by professing together the dogmas of the first seven Ecumenical Councils, by believing in the efficacy of the Eucharist and the other sacraments, and by preserving the apostolic succession of the ministry of bishops, experience already a profound closeness with one another (cfUnitatis Redintegratio15). Today, in thanksgiving to the God of love, in obedience to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ and in fidelity to the teaching of the Apostles, we recognize how urgent it is to grow towards full and visible communion.

It is a source of joy to learn that on the eve of the feast of Saint Andrew, during a meeting attended by Your Holiness, the fiftieth anniversary of the visit of Pope Paul VI to the Phanar on 25 July 1967 was commemorated. That historic moment of communion between the Pastors of the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople brings to mind the words of Patriarch Athenagoras in welcoming Pope Paul VI to the Patriarchal Church of Saint George, where you are gathered today. I believe that these words can continue to inspire the dialogue between our Churches: “Let us join together what was divided, wherever this is possible, by deeds in which both Churches are involved, giving added strength to the matters of faith and canonical discipline which we have in common. Let us conduct the theological dialogue according to the principle [of] full community in the fundamentals of the faith, liberty both in theological thought, where this is pious and edifying and inspired by the main body of the Fathers, and in variety of local customs, as was favoured by the Church from the beginning” (Tomos Agapis, Vatican-Phanar (1958-1970), pp. 382-383).

I offer my heartfelt gratitude to Your Holiness for the generous and warm hospitality extended by the Metropolis of Leros of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, under the pastoral care of His Eminence Paisios, to the members of the Coordinating Committee of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. I wish to encourage anew this theological dialogue. The consensus reached by Catholics and Orthodox on certain fundamental theological principles regulating the relationship between primacy and synodality in the life of the Church in the first millennium can serve to evaluate, even critically, some theological categories and practices which evolved during the second millennium in conformity with those principles. Such consensus may enable us to envisage a common way of understanding the exercise of the ministry of the Bishop of Rome, in the context of synodality and at the service of the communion of the Church in the present context. This sensitive task needs to be pursued in an atmosphere of mutual openness and, above all, in obedience to the demands that the Holy Spirit makes of the Church.

Your Holiness, beloved brother in Christ, in recent months I have followed with great interest your participation in significant international events held throughout the world regarding the care of creation, peaceful coexistence among peoples of different cultures and religious traditions, and the presence of Christians in the Middle East. Your Holiness’s commitment is a source of inspiration, support and encouragement for me personally for, as you well know, we share these same concerns. It is my fervent hope that Catholics and Orthodox may promote joint initiatives at the local level with regard to these issues, for there are many contexts in which Orthodox and Catholics can already work together without waiting for the day of full and visible communion.

With the assurance of my continued remembrance in prayer, it is with sentiments of warm affection that I exchange with Your Holiness a fraternal embrace of peace.


Greeting of Patriarch Bartholomew

Your Eminence and beloved brother in Christ,
Kurt Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity,

Dear members of the Official Delegation of the sister Church of Elder Rome,
It is with fraternal love that we greet your presence here at the Phanar. These visits ate not simply formalities, but rather opportunities to communicate face to face. Today, our meeting in and of itself constitutes a contribution to the dialogue of our Churches.

Some four decades have passed since the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue commenced its deliberations between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church, and we rejoice in the dialogue’s progress. Hitherto the dialogue has focused on what unites us. The Chieti statement clearly formulated what we confess with one mouth and one heart as a common legacy on essential matters, such as primacy and synodality, according to the first millennium of the Church’s historical journey. “Throughout the first millennium, the Church in the East and the West was united in preserving the apostolic faith, maintaining the apostolic succession of bishops, developing structures of synodality inseparably linked with primacy, and in an understanding of authority as a service (diakonia) of love” (§20). This common inheritance constitutes a central point of reference and a source of inspiration for Orthodox and Roman Catholics on our journey towards unity that we so deeply desire today.

However, it appears that the time has come for us to be diligently concerned with the obstacles related to the restoration of full communion between our Churches, not in order to return to the futile conflicts of the past, but rather together to analyze these issues and be steered toward solutions acceptable to both sides. For this reason, we congratulate the Coordinating Committee of the Theological Dialogue, which convened and deliberated last September on the island of Leros, reaching a conclusion in formulating the central theme for the next phase of the dialogue, namely: “Toward Unity in Faith: Theological and Canonical Challenges”, while proposing to draft a text entitled: “Primacy and Synodality in the Second Millennium and Today”. We commend the efforts of the Co-Chairmen and members of the Joint International Committee for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church, and we express our appreciation to the participants for all that they have offered and continue to offer.

For an entire millennium, the Church was united in faith, in the Holy Chalice of the Eucharist, in piety, in holiness of life and in ministry. It is this unity that we strive to rediscover through the dialogue of truth in love, which began thanks to the blessed initiative of our memorable Predecessors and has already borne fruit in a variety of ways, advancing in a spirit of mutual trust, without reductionist outbursts that do not serve the work of unity.

We express our joy and satisfaction for the fact that the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church that convened in Crete raised its “common awareness of the necessity for conducting inter-Christian theological dialogue” (Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World, §23), wherein “the common goal of all is the ultimate restoration of unity in true faith and love” (§12). “This dialogue should always be accompanied by witness to the world through acts expressing mutual understanding and love” as well as by the effort of “all Christians, inspired by common fundamental principles of the Gospel, to attempt to offer with eagerness and solidarity a response to the thorny problems of the contemporary world, based on the prototype of the new man in Christ” (§23). Common witness and common initiatives, in the face of the numerous challenges of our contemporary world, always aspire to the benefit of humankind and the peace of the world, while reinforcing our journey toward unity.

It is in this spirit that, last April in Cairo, we participated with His Holiness Pope Francis in the International Conference on Global Peace, organized by the Islamic Al-Azhar University and the Muslim Council of elders, where we stated the following: “We are convinced that the contribution of religions remains definitive in our common search for peace. After all, for religions, genuine peace in the world is not simply the absence of military conflict, but essentially the presence of freedom, justice and solidarity. Religions must guide people to the depth of this truth, to a change of mind and life, as well as to mutual understanding. This is indeed the core of our religious traditions. For this reason, humanity is entitled to expect from us more than we are presently giving. The greatest challenge for religions is to develop their potential for love, solidarity and compassion. That is what humanity expects from religion today.”

Our visit to Egypt and our prayer for peace, justice and reconciliation, demonstrated that violence constitutes a denial of the fundamental principles of religion, and that religious faith does not excuse humanity from its responsibility for a more compassionate world, for the protection of people’s dignity and of God-given freedom. More recently, on the occasion of the World Day of Prayer for Creation on September 1st, we issued a Joint Message with Pope Francis, where we highlighted our concern for the common household of humanity, as well as for the negative social consequences resulting from a degradation of the natural environment – for all people in general, but especially for the more vulnerable inhabitants of our planet. The Joint Message concludes as follows: “We urgently appeal to those in positions of social and economic, as well as political and cultural, responsibility to hear the cry of the earth and to attend to the needs of the marginalized, but above all to respond to the plea of millions and support the consensus of the world for the healing of our wounded creation. We are convinced that there can be no sincere and enduring resolution to the challenge of the ecological crisis and climate change unless the response is concerted and collective, unless the responsibility is shared and accountable, unless we give priority to solidarity and service.”

Our Churches are obligated to function as a positive challenge for the world, providing answers to existential questions and keeping the gates of heaven open. Modern man believes that it is possible to attribute his own desired meaning to life. While we do not consider it appropriate for us to judge contemporary culture exclusively on the grounds of “sinful criteria”, as if ours is the supreme period of disdaining values, we wish to underline that the contemporary effort, especially in the secularized West, to alienate oneself from God – dismissing faith in God as lack of freedom and identifying rejection of faith or even God with supreme independence – constitutes a modern expression of the original sin, which was the attempt by Adam and Eve to discover freedom far from or without God. For us Christians, true freedom and blessedness are achieved through faith in God and the observance of His commandments. There is no true meaning outside of the liberating Truth. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32). Christ is the Truth; and the life in Christ is “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15).

With these thoughts and fraternal sentiments, we wholeheartedly welcome you to the feast of our Sacred Center of Orthodoxy. We express our sincere gratitude to His Holiness Pope Francis of Rome for sending his venerable Delegation to Phanar for our Thronal Feast. We entreat our Lord Jesus Christ, through the intercessions of the founders of our Churches and brother Apostles, Saints Andrew and Peter, the unwavering preachers of faith and imitators of His passion, to bless the Gold-pleasing ministry and work of the Churches of Elder and New Rome, for the glory of our benevolent God who is worshiped in Trinity.