Post 424 of 444


October 12, 2008
We offer praise and glory to the Trinitarian God for the spiritual banquet that lies before us and that we are blessed officially to open this afternoon following the successful conclusion this morning of a historical Synaxis, which has gathered the Heads of the Orthodox Churches throughout the world in a powerful and symbolical affirmation of our unity in faith and commitment of purpose as Hierarchs entrusted with leadership of our Churches in the contemporary world. As we assembled here at the Ecumenical Patriarchate, we recognize that, truly, “our ministry … overflows with many thanksgivings to God.” (2 Cor. 9.12)

As we mentioned yesterday in our address to our venerable brother Hierarchs, this Synaxis occurs within the unique context of a great anniversary for the Orthodox Church and, indeed, for the entire Christian world. While according to New Testament scholars the precise date of the birth of St. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, may not be known with any degree of certainty, it is conventionally estimated around the year 8AD, namely two thousand years ago. This has led other Christian Churches, such as the Roman Catholic Church, to dedicate the present calendar year as the Year of St. Paul. In this respect, it was clear that the Orthodox Church, which owes so much to this supreme Apostle, could not do otherwise.

Bearing this obligation in mind, the Ecumenical Patriarchate decided to organize a journey of pilgrimage in certain regions within its canonical confines where St. Paul preached, and fraternally to invite all the other Heads of the most holy Orthodox Churches in order that together we may honor the infinite labors and sacrifices, as well as all that was endured and realized by St. Paul “with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death … on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from [his] own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.” (2 Cor. 11.23-7)

This is why we deemed it appropriate, in the context of these Pauline celebrations, to organize an international and inter-Christian academic Symposium, where select participants – eminent biblical and, indeed, Pauline scholars – from the Orthodox Church as well as from other Christian Churches and Confessions may address and analyze topics related to various dimensions of St. Paul’s life and teaching as we journey in pilgrimage and visit the sacred places where the St. Paul of Tarsus preached and ministered. The final texts of their presentations will be published in a special commemorative volume, which will hopefully contribute in a humble, but substantial way to the field of Pauline studies.

It is a great joy, then, to welcome among us this afternoon – and for the remaining part of our time together in spiritual expedition – distinguished theologians from all parts of the world, representing the major Christian confessions, to introduce to us diverse aspects of St. Paul’s theological message to the nations, inasmuch as he was par excellence the Apostle to the Gentiles. Beloved theologians of the Church, we are at once grateful and indebted to you that you have graciously accepted our invitation to join us and come here despite your demanding programs of teaching and attendance at conferences in order to enrich this extraordinary assembly and exceptional journey. It is our fervent prayer that you will receive, just as you will offer, abundantly of God’s plentiful gifts.

While St. Paul was not the author of systematic treatises, it is generally acknowledged that there is hardly an area of Christian theology or Pneumatology, of Christology or Ecclesiology, of Anthropology or Soteriology, indeed of ethics or ecology, for which St. Paul did not sow the seeds in his “bold” proclamation of the Gospel. Thus, we look forward over the next few days to learning how St. Paul served as apostle and pastor, advocating in this fragile world the hope of the heavenly kingdom. We shall also have the opportunity of hearing the spiritual depth and ecumenical breadth that characterizes the teaching of this ruthless persecutor Saul who converted to the remarkable preacher Paul. We shall be guided through St. Paul’s understanding of the ecclesial dimensions of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the never-ending perfection of the “life in Christ.” We will be introduced to the profound influence that St. Paul had on the early Fathers of the Church, both Eastern and Western; on our appreciation of the role of the Bishop, both in the historical past and in contemporary practice; and also on the notions of race and gender, both in his time and as these bear relevance for our critical times. To paraphrase St. Maximus the Confessor, St. Paul truly serves as a mediator and bridge, uniting earth and heaven, time and eternity, matter and spirit, male and female, East and West.

In order, then, to realize the all-embracing importance and impact of this great Apostle, we have chosen to follow in the footsteps of his missionary journeys through key cities of Asia Minor and Greece. Over the next week, we will quite literally be walking and conversing with St. Paul, discerning his traces and discussing his concepts. And so, in scholarly and spiritual fellowship, we shall travel together from this City to Smyrna-Izmir (one of the cities along St. Paul’s third missionary journey); to Ephesus (where St. Paul met “in the church in the house” of Prisca and Aquila, those “who risked their necks for his life” [cf. Rom. 16.3-5]; it is in Ephesus where Paul also preached that “gods made by human hands are no gods at all” [Acts 19.26]); and to Antalya (the ancient Roman port where St. Paul preached the Gospel and then set sail to Antioch [cf. Acts 14.25]), as well as to Rhodes (where an entire bay is named after the great Apostle, who landed there toward the middle of the first century); and Crete (where Paul left Titus to serve as first bishop). We can only be in eternal awe of St. Paul’s remarkable endurance and perilous travels.

As will undoubtedly become clear from the proceedings of this symposium, the teaching of St. Paul does not simply concern the past; it has – today perhaps more than ever – immediate relevance for our age and for our world. Indeed, his teaching is extremely significant, chiefly with regard to the emphasis on the unity, concord and harmony in the Church as well as the prominence of the dimension of ecumenicity, openness or freedom. For St. Paul, unity on the one hand and ecumenicity on the other hand are at once virtues to which we should aspire as well as gifts from above. Moreover, the concepts of both unity and ecumenicity are not simply metaphorical, but ontological in content. They comprise the very fabric and being of the Church’s inner life and activity in the world.

St. Paul is justifiably considered the theologian of unity and of freedom alike. For, while he perceived the crucial distinction between unity and uniformity, he also professed the critical value of openness or freedom, affirming diversity and discerning the joy of Christ in “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, wherever there is excellence and anything worthy of praise.” (Phil. 4.8) In its catholicity, the Orthodox Church is truly and profoundly “ecumenical.” Nevertheless, this catholicity or ecumenicity is not “universal” – in the etymological sense of the word (from the Latin “tending toward oneness”), in the literal sense of drawing all things to unilateral homogeneity. This, as we underlined yesterday to our brother Bishops during the Hierarchal Synaxis, is the crucial basis of and essential criterion for Paul’s passionate plea for Church unity “in the same mind and purpose.” (1 Cor. 1.10) Nevertheless, at the same time, St. Paul prefers to emphasize “conformity” to the Body of Christ – “until Christ is formed in you” (Gal. 4.19) – rather than “uniformity” in accordance with certain ethical prescriptions. This is a unity that can only be realized in dialogue and collegiality, not in any universal imposition of opinion or doctrine.

Beloved brothers and Sisters in Christ and esteemed theologians of the Churches of God, in welcoming you to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and our historical City, we convey upon you our warmest prayers for a successful memorable Pauline Symposium and close with the words of the Apostle to the Gentiles, assuring you, “then, that you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but rather fellow-citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” (Eph. 2.19)