Ecumenical Celebration: Istanbul, Turkey

Ecumenical Celebration: Istanbul, Turkey

Cardinal Walter Kasper
President, Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity

Entering a dialogue of love and truth

On the occasion of the Feast of St Andrew, 30 November, the Holy Father sent a Delegation to Istanbul, Turkey, led by Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. During an Ecumenical Celebration held in the Cathedral of Saint George, the Cardinal delivered the following discourse, addressed to the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I.

Your Holiness,

I have had over the years the great honour of conveying to you, together with this greeting of the apostle Paul, a Message from the Holy Father.

This year, the Holy Father's Message is above all the very relics of St John Chrysostom and St Gregory the Theologian, which were solemnly delivered to Your Holiness three days ago in Rome. These are the relics of your predecessors on the venerable throne of Constantinople, the relics of two Fathers of the Church whom we share and who are highly respected and venerated both in the East and in the West.

Such a Message is the sign and expression of the increasing communion between the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople over the last decades.

After the historical encounter, 40 years ago, on the Mount of Olives in the Holy City of Jerusalem between Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI, a new phase in relations between the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople began. It followed the "night of division" (Patriarch Athenagoras), of "silence" and "waiting" (Pope Paul VI, cf. Tomo Agapis, 110 ff.; 120 ff.). We have entered a dialogue of love and truth.

Your Holiness, during your visit to Pope John Paul II on the Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul you have yourself recognized this encounter as a fundamental milestone.

'Communion with the holy and communion of the holy'

The last 40 years, although not free from tensions, have always been characterized by our genuine and shared will to advance our journey towards full communion. With God's help, important results have been achieved in many personal contacts and through several dialogues. What we celebrate today is the expression and seal of this growing communion in the Holy Spirit.

However, Your Holiness, the words I have just pronounced are not sufficient to express the full depth and meaning of the events which we celebrated in St Peter's Basilica in Rome a few days ago, events which we continue to celebrate today here in the Cathedral of St George.

These relics are not a simple gift or a sign of merely human friendship. They are the relics of two highly venerated witnesses and teachers of our common faith of the first millennium, a faith to which the East and West remained faithful in the second millennium, and to which we are called by our common Lord Jesus Christ to bear witness together in the third millennium.

What unites us is therefore more than human communion; it is a communion in the faith which John Chrysostom and Gregory the Theologian confessed and courageously proclaimed, and for which they fought and suffered; it is a communion in faith in Jesus Christ, true God and true man, and in the confession of the Holy Trinity.

These relics are a sign and testimony of a shared heritage and task, of our duty to proclaim together to all peoples the message of salvation in Jesus Christ (cf. Mt 28:19 ff.).

The significance of this Message, however, is still far deeper than what I have managed to express so far.

These are not dead bones; these are rather the mortal remains of Saints who now live, according to our common faith, in the glory of the Lord.

Thus, they are an epiphany, that is, an actualization of the new life in Jesus Christ to which we are called and which we already share in the celebration of the holy sacraments.

Through the veneration of these relics we enter into contact with the heavenly reality. Our common veneration of these relics is communicatio in sacris, 'communion with the holy and communion of the holy' (koinwnia tou agiou kai koinwnia twn agiwn). The celebrations in Rome last Saturday and here today in the Phanar express the koinwnia tou pneumatoV which the Apostle Paul refers.

The Second Vatican Council saw this koinwnia tou pneumatoV especially in the celebration of the Eucharist. The Council speaks of the Eucharist as the source of the life of the Church and as a pledge of the future glory, whereby we will partake in the divine nature (qeiaV koinwnoi fusewV; cf. II Pt 1:4).

The Council cites St John Chrysostom (In Ioannem Homilia, XLVI): "Hence, through the celebration of the Eucharist of the Lord in each of these Churches, the Church of God is built up and grows in stature" (Unitatis Redintegratio, n. 15).

All Churches of the East and of the West which celebrate the Eucharist should therefore consider themselves as Sister Churches (cf. Paul VI, Breve "Anno Ineunte" of 25 July 1967, in: Tomo Agapis, 386-393).

Christians and Orthodox united  through the one baptism

The communion which is expressed through these relics is for us a source of joy and gratitude to God, the giver of all perfect gifts (cf. Jas 1:17). It is God's Holy Spirit who has given us this bond of communion and who has sustained us despite all misunderstandings, divisions and conflicts, for which we have to ask God and one another for forgiveness. We could say with the Apostle Paul: Eucaristw tw qeou mou pantote peri umwn epi th cariti tou qeou th doqeish umin en Cristw Ihsou (cf. II Cor 1:4).

We are aware that this koinwnia is not yet full communion. Thus, while we give thanks to the Lord, we should at the same time strengthen our will to further our journey towards full communion.

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 (cf. I Cor 12-13; Gal 3:27 ff.); everywhere it should be possible to say together pathr umwn and to pray together the Lord's Prayer.

Finally, we should resume — without delay — the international theological dialogue, which Your Holiness has sustained from the very beginning.

It is the sincere desire of many Christians — and especially of the Holy Father — that this celebration may encourage us to deepen our common understanding in many concrete questions, with the help of God and through the intercession of Mary, the Mother of God (QeotokoV), and of the Holy Fathers of the Church whose relics we venerate.

It should be particularly compelling that these two Saints were two great promoters of peace (eirhnopoioi) (cf. Mt 5:9).

St John Chrysostom admonishes us that our common liturgical expression, "Peace be with you", must not remain a mere formal greeting (Commentary on the Letter of the Colossians, Homily VIII, 4; cf. Commentary on Matthew, Homily XXXII, 6).

Through division, the 'Body of Christ' is torn apart

In the year 364, when peace was established again after a conflict in the Church of Nazianzus, St Gregory stated with sorrow that, through division, the Body of Christ had been torn apart (cf. Oratio VI, 1). He describes the absurdity of such divisions: "We, who love Christ so much, have divided Christ. For the sake of truth, we have lied to one another..., for the sake of peace, we have made war..." (ibid., 3). He adds that in doing so, we have become the laughingstock of unbelievers and the object of contempt of the nations.
Then he says with gratitude to God what we hopefully will be able to say soon: "You allowed us to hate the hatred and lead us to peace. You work through opposites. You divided us so that we may long for one another" (ibid., 8).

He concludes: "We all want to stay together in one spirit, fighting in harmony for the faith of the Gospel... conserving the magnificent tradition which we have inherited from our Fathers. In adoration we prostrate ourselves before the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, adoring the Son in the Spirit. We are baptised into them" (ibid., 22).

These words of the great witnesses and common teachers in the faith admonish us to seek peace, and at the same time they encourage us. Such a peace is a gift of the Spirit of God which is promised to us securely by Jesus Christ.

Therefore, we pray: "The peace and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you; Eirhnh kai h koinwnia tou agiou pneumatoV meta pantwn hmwn".

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
8 December 2004, page 6

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