Constantinople and Rome: hopeful signs
In the past year, there have been frequent exchanges in the relations
between Rome and Constantinople.
In this same year, His Holiness Bartholomew I visited Rome twice: for
the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul (29 June) and to receive from the Holy
Father John Paul II the gift of part of the relics of St John Chrysostom
and of St Gregory the Theologian [Nazianzus] (27 November), accompanied
by the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Catholic Delegation whose visits to
the Phanar for the Feast of St Andrew (30 November) have now become a
Relations have evolved from a situation of tension to a reaffirmation
of the common commitment towards full communion and an intensification
of fraternal contacts.
The two visits of Patriarch Bartholomew to Rome and the warm and
respectful welcome that the Church of Rome and the Holy Father
personally offered to him and his entourage have re-established the
atmosphere of brotherhood and trust that at the beginning of the year
seemed to have declined.
The request of the Greek Catholic Church of Ukraine to be recognized
as a new Patriarchate gave rise to deep concern in the Patriarchate of
Moscow, hence, also in the Ecumenical Patriarchate which had submitted
this request to all the Orthodox Churches. Patriarch Bartholomew I had
presented the problem in serious terms to the Holy Father in his Letter
of 29 November 2003.
In this Letter, he stated among other things that were this request
to receive recognition, it might "nullify the effort being made to
continue the theological dialogue between the Orthodox Churches and the
Roman Catholic Church, which, after the failure of the Baltimore
meeting, was going through a critical stage", and would strengthen "the
diffidence to your Church that has been constantly growing among the
The intensification of relations, both by personal contact and by
correspondence, led to a more realistic understanding of the situation.
A truly enlightening element was the short but heartfelt and succinct
Address that the Holy Father made to Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, Major
Archbishop of Lviv, and the members of the Permanent Synod of the
Greek-Catholic Church of Ukraine on 3 June 2004. The Holy Father said
among other things: "I therefore share in your aspiration to obtain a
full juridical and ecclesial status that is firmly grounded in the
canonical and conciliar discipline. I share in your prayers and in your
suffering, awaiting the day established by God on which, as Successor of
Peter, I will be able to. approve the mature fruit of your ecclesial
development" (L'Osservatore Romano English edition [ORE],
16 June 2004, n. 2, p. 11).
The Ecumenical Patriarch's subsequent visit to Rome for the Solemnity
of Sts Peter and Paul (29 June) afforded him the opportunity for another
personal meeting with the Holy Father, for conversations with the
Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and for taking part in
the celebration for the feast day in St Peter's Basilica.
The Patriarch's participation in the Eucharistic liturgy at which the
Pope presided followed the programme of the past visits of Patriarch
Dimitrios (1987) and Bartholomew I himself (1995): full participation in
the Liturgy of the Word, joint proclamation by the Pope and by the
Patriarch of the profession of faith according to the
Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed in Greek and as the conclusion, the
final Blessing imparted by both the Pope and the Patriarch at the Altar
of the Confessio.
This celebration emphasized that prayer is the true heart of all
ecumenical research and that in prayer we can find the strength to
continue to do God's will in the search for full communion, which will
be marked by the full concelebration of the Eucharist.
The Pope also invited Patriarch Bartholomew to Rome to celebrate the
40th anniversary of the first meeting of rapprochement of Pope Paul VI
and Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem (January 1964) after so many
centuries. This meeting paved the way to direct relations, giving rise
to increasingly fraternal relations between the Churches of Rome and
Constantinople, a spirit that gradually extended to other Orthodox
The same spirit also enlivened the meeting between John Paul II and
Bartholomew I. In the Common Declaration that concluded the visit, the
Pope and the Patriarch said: "Our meeting in Rome today also enables us
to face certain problems and misunderstandings that have recently
surfaced. The long experience of the 'dialogue of charity' comes to our
aid precisely in these circumstances, so that difficulties can be faced
serenely without slowing or clouding our progress on the journey we have
undertaken towards full communion in Christ" (Common Declaration,
1 July, n. 8; ORE, 7 July 2004, p. 9).
In the Fathers' footsteps
The second important meeting this year focused on the relics and the
commemoration of two Holy Fathers, venerated in both East and West: St
Gregory the Theologian (330-390) and St John Chrysostom (349-407), both
Archbishops of Constantinople. Their relics are kept in St Peter's
Basilica in Rome.
Some Byzantine nuns transferred the relics of St Gregory Nazianzus
the Theologian to Rome in the eighth century in order to save them from
destruction during the outbreak of iconoclasm.
At first they were kept in a church in Campo Marzio where they
remained until 1580, when Pope Gregory XIII, paying them special honour,
had them moved to St Peter's.
The relics of St John Chrysostom, who died in exile, were taken to
Constantinople at the orders of Emperor Theodosius. There they remained
until the time of the Latin Empire of Constantinople (1204-1258), when
they were moved to Rome and St Peter's. In 1990, they were placed in the
Chapel of the Choir of the Canons.
At the end of his visit to Rome in June 2004, the Ecumenical
Patriarch Bartholomew I asked the Holy Father for the relics of these
two great Saints, his predecessors on the Throne of Constantinople. The
Pope agreed to give part of them to him. In August the relics were
officially recognized and their whole history pieced together.
The ceremony for their veneration and their presentation to Patriarch
Bartholomew I by the Holy Father was held in St Peter's Basilica on 27
November 2004. Passages from the writings of these two Holy Fathers were
read at the Liturgy of the Word to mark the occasion.
That same day, accompanied by the Catholic Delegation led by Cardinal
Walter Kasper, who was about to leave for the Ecumenical Patriarchate
for the Feast of St Andrew, the relics were transferred to the Phanar
and placed in the left aisle of the Patriarchal Church of St George.
Before returning to Istanbul, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I
commented to Vatican Radio very positively on the event.
"I am deeply moved", he said, "and very happy. Not only I,
also the whole of the Church of Constantinople, and, I can say without
reserve, the whole of Orthodoxy, the whole of the Christian East. This
is truly a historic event that is due to the good will of His Holiness
And he added a personal assessment: "I consider this event as the
most important one in my patriarchal service in the past 13 years. We
are grateful to His Holiness".
The relics of the two Doctors of the Church, until now kept in Rome
and in fact thereby saved from dispersion, now rest in part in the
Church of which they were Pastors and in part in Rome. The two saints
will be God's intercessors for the restoration of full unity.
Reactivating theological dialogue
"Suspicion and misrepresentation between Orthodox and Catholic
Christians should therefore be overcome; everywhere Orthodox and
Catholics should recognize each other as Christians who, through the one
Baptism, are part of the one Body of Christ.... Finally, we should
the international theological dialogue, which Your Holiness has
sustained from the very beginning" (ORE, 8 December 2004, p. 6).
This was the opinion of Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the
Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, which he expressed in
his address to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in the Cathedral
of St George at the Phanar (30 November 2004), on the occasion of the
Feast of St Andrew.
The matter of the theological dialogue was present in all the most
important contacts this year. Since the last Plenary Assembly held in
Baltimore (2000), it has not yet been possible to organize a meeting of
the Joint Commission because of difficulties that arose on the topic
under discussion (the theological and canonical implications of
Uniatism). They were caused partly by internal reasons within the
Commission and in part by reasons concerning various Orthodox Churches.
Nevertheless, the declared intention of all the Orthodox Churches
remains: to seek the most harmonious ways to revive the dialogue. The
Ecumenical Patriarchate, which for Pan-Orthodox matters is entitled to
take and coordinate initiatives, is involved in this prospect.
A reflection of it can be found in the above-mentioned Common
Declaration of Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Bartholomew. They declare
that the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue "is
still a suitable instrument for studying the ecclesiological and
historical problems that are at the root of our difficulties, and for
identifying hypothetical solutions to them. It is our duty to persevere
in the important commitment to reopen the work as soon as possible. In
examining the reciprocal initiatives of the offices of Rome and of
Constantinople with this in view, we ask the Lord to sustain our
determination, and to convince everyone of how essential it is to pursue
the 'dialogue of truth'" (Common Declaration, n. 7; ORE, 7
July 2004, p. 9).
Patriarch Bartholomew I, as Cardinal Kasper recalled in Istanbul, has
always favoured the dialogue and the continuation of its work by the
Joint Commission. The Patriarch also confirmed this demanding approach
in the tribute he addressed to the Pope on 29 June 2004. He said:
"It is impossible that the Word of the Lord fall into the void, be
unrealizable or leave us indifferent in our reaction to it. Therefore,
with sincerity and sparing no effort, we are seeking ways to continue
the dialogue, as the unique route, for the time being, to communion
between our Churches, given that fundamental divergences do not yet
permit communion in the Body, Blood and Spirit of Our Lord Jesus Christ"
(Opening Address, 29 June 2004; ORE, 7 July 2004, p. 5).