Your Eminence Kurt Cardinal Koch and the honorable entourage of the official delegation of our sister and elder Church of Rome,
Your Eminence Reinhard Cardinal Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising, President of the Catholic Conference of Bishops in Germany,
It is with profound love and particular honor that we greet your presence here as bearers of the fraternal charity and congratulatory wishes of His Holiness Pope Francis, our dearly beloved brother, to whom we express our fervent gratitude personally and on behalf of our most holy Church of Constantinople for the gracious participation once again of his Church, through your person, in this year’s celebration of our thronal feast. It is with special joy and thanks that we recall the personal presence of His Holiness among us on this auspicious occasion last year, for which we once again express our fervent thanks; for we appreciate this presence as a manifestation of Christ’s love, which according to the Apostle “compels us” (2 Cor. 5.14), and as support and solidarity for our Church in the struggle to bear witness to the Gospel in the contemporary world.
Today’s thronal feast of our Church is in many ways a common feast for both of our Churches, of elder and new Rome alike. This is because our founders, the Apostles Peter and Andrew were brothers in the flesh but also because, in accordance with the holy Gospel reading that we heard during today’s Divine Liturgy, they both encountered the Lord and acknowledged Him as the Messiah and Savior of the world. Since that time, for almost an entire millennium, the two Churches founded by their preaching and martyrdom journeyed in the same faith, united in the one chalice of life, sharing the same Fathers and teachers, honoring the same saints and in particular the Most-Holy Theotokos. It is this full communion and union that both Churches now seek to rediscover, transcending and healing the wounds inflicted on the body of the Church during the second millennium, through the dialogue of love and truth that commenced at the historical initiative of the late venerable leaders of our two Churches and by God’s grace continues to this day.
Among these initiatives, the dialogue of love began with an exceptionally symbolical Act on the part of both Churches, namely the lifting in 1965 of the anathemas, through which the Churches of Rome and Constantinople were – for reasons known to God – separated during the Schism of 1054, the start of unfortunate events that ensued in relations between the Churches of East and West for the next thousand years. This year, we are celebrating the fiftieth anniversary since the historic Act of the lifting of the anathemas, and we offer glory to the God of love for obliterating from our hearts every trace of malicious memory for whatsoever disrupted the fraternal relations of our Churches during the second millennium; for “cleansing our memory” has reestablished us as “sister Churches” in pursuit, through the dialogue of truth, of full reconciliation of our union in the communion of the Eucharistic Table. Blessed be the name of the Lord for this restored love, which we pray will remain seamless to the ages!
We reap and enjoy the wonderful fruits of this “dialogue of love” each day in the life of our faithful, especially in the Diaspora and in countries that historically always belonged to the jurisdiction of the Church of Rome, where the peaceful and creative coexistence and cooperation between Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians is particularly strong. One such place of positive and fraternal collaboration between clergy and laity of both our Churches is Germany; this is why we take this opportunity of the presence of Your Eminence, Reinhard Cardinal Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising, President of the Catholic Conference of Bishops in Germany, to express – both to you personally as to the local Church that you head – the warm thanks of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and of our Modesty for the manifold and invaluable assistance that you provide to our beloved brother Metropolitan Avgoustinos of Germany, as well as to the Orthodox clergy and faithful there, for the smooth management of their work and ministry by means of a wonderful collaboration with their Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. We pray that this harmonious coexistence and cooperation may be strengthened and developed continually and increasingly for the progress of the unity of Christ’s Church and the promotion of the Gospel message in our contemporary world.
Moreover, it is with great attention and vigilant prayer that we also follow from this sacred Center the advancement of the “dialogue of truth,” that other pillar in the bilateral relations between our two Churches, which from 1980 to this day steadily accompanies the “dialogue of love.” We know and acknowledge the difficulties that this dialogue is undergoing, especially in its present phase, when it is examining thorny issues such as Primacy in the Church; however, we are encouraged in ascertaining that solid and proper foundations for resolving this matter have already been established with the exceptional common text of Ravenna, which creates the context and conditions for exercising Primacy in the Church, which is a primacy of service, rooted in the very nature of the Church and extremely necessary for the fulfilment of its ministry in the world. We profoundly appreciate the labors of Your Eminence Kurt Cardinal Koch and your Orthodox co-chairman in the commission for dialogue, His Eminence Elder Metropolitan John of Pergamon; and we pray that this Dialogue may continue its work, supported by the finest theological resources and faraway from every form of interests beyond witnessing to the truth in love.
This journey toward restoration of full unity between our Churches is carried out in a world torn apart by hatred and much turmoil. Each day we witness conflicts and assaults, often against innocent people, even in the name of God. The victims of these circumstances include Christians in lands where the Church of Christ emerged and was established, who are obliged at times to flee their ancestral homes and at other times to endure torture and even death. Human personhood and life itself are prone to lose their value, while the world is engulfed in an unprecedented darkness. Our heart aches from pain and anguish; our prayer to the God of love intensifies as it implores divine intervention. At the same time, we are increasingly obliged as believers in Christ to become witnesses of the Gospel of peace and charity “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation” (Phil. 2.15) so as to be first in providing an example of reconciliation and love. Perhaps never before has the reconciliation of Christians proved so mandatory and imperative as today.
May the Lord, through the intercessions of St. Andrew the First-Called of His Apostles, whom we commemorate today, and his brother St. Peter the Apostle, on whose preaching and martyrdom our two Churches was founded, increase the love the unites us in the bond of peace, for the benefit of humanity which is suffering so much and for the glory of our God-in-Trinity.
With these thoughts and sentiments, we welcome you on this festive day, once again wholeheartedly thanking you and His Holiness our brother Bishop of Rome, who sent you, together with all your Church.
“May the God of love and peace be with you” (cf. 2 Cor. 13.11). Amen!