Istanbul (AsiaNews) - With a strong and heartfelt appeal for "the unity of the Church," the only way "to address the problems of the modern world," work began yesterday at the pan-Orthodox meeting in Fanar. The summit was organized by the ecumenical patriarchate, to celebrate the Pauline year, and is characterized by the presence of Church leaders and representatives from the entire Orthodox world, meeting together after many years. Among those present is Patriarch Alexy of Moscow, and for the first time, the attendance of the patriarch of Cyprus has not been blocked by the Turkish authorities.
Bartholomew opened the work by recalling that the apostle Paul is perhaps "the first theologian of Church unity," a fundamental characteristic since its foundation, as expressed by Jesus Christ in the prayer pronounced shortly before his passion (John 17:20-23). "And it was precisely Paul," Bartholomew recalled, "who was the first to develop the concept of Church unity, fighting more than any of the other apostles in order that it be realized."
His zeal in spreading the message of Christ was strong, but just as strong was his "personal agony" at falling short of his goal: "Nothing else," the patriarch continued, "made Paul as sad as the lack of unity among Christians (Galatians 5:15). For Paul, the schism in the Church was a terrible and repugnant fact, because it meant dividing the Body of Christ," seeing that it was precisely the apostle of the Gentiles who reminds us how the "Church is the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ." "Have we ever asked ourselves," continued the ecumenical patriarch, "what Paul would say today at the indifference of many of us toward the ideal of the unity of Christians, and of the universal Church?"
Bartholomew I recalled the teaching of Paul, aimed at "healing divisions, when in order to resolve the problems facing the emerging Church, he participated in the first synod of the apostles in Jerusalem (Acts of the Apostles, 15)." Although he knew his ideas were correct, St. Paul understood that "the more correct way was synodal - collegial - handling of Church affairs." This value is still relevant today, as Bartholomew recalled, denouncing the attempts "of small groups or individuals to impose their ideas," without respecting the criterion of "collegiality" as foreseen by the "Pauline paradigm" that is at the basis of the Church, because this does not exist "for itself, but for all creation."
"And for this reason," Bartholomew continued, "we must be present and act as peacemakers in the socio-economic problems that afflict the contemporary world, and have grave consequences for all creation," like the "indiscriminate use of natural and human resources." This is the reason why the see of the ecumenical patriarchate, since 1989, has worked with various initiatives for the protection of the environment.
The patriarch issued an appeal for "interreligious dialogue," to reject "fanaticism": "Evangelization is a duty, but it must not be done in an aggressive way, as has happened especially in Western Christianity, or through deceit." It must be based upon the values of "charity, modesty, and respect."
Finally, Bartholomew called for "greater closeness among the Orthodox," so that they may not appear to be "a confederation of Churches."
He ended by saying that "the role of Constantinople after the schism with the Church of Rome consists precisely in offering its diakonia in the Orthodox world, through the synodal instrument, without reducing the importance of autonomy." Because, concludes the ecumenical patriarch, "if this point of reference, sanctioned also by the canons of the Church, is lost, the autonomy of the Orthodox Churches then becomes a factor of division." "Because," he recalled, "the authoritarian concept of primacy is not in the tradition of Orthodox ecclesiology, but our unity is based on our awareness."
And the patriarch of Antioch, after Bartholomew's speech, declared that "we have a single primus in the Orthodox world, that of Constantinople."