By Christopher Wells
Pope Francis on Thursday received members of a delegation representing the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, the primus inter pares (first among equals) of the heads of the autocephalous churches the make up the Eastern Orthodox Church.
At the audience, Pope Francis welcomed the delegation as a “a sign of the growth of communion between the Catholic Church and the Ecumenical Patriarch,” while also recalling “the common roots of our sister Churches.”
The Holy Father spoke in his address about a “gradual dimming of the light of faith” in many traditionally Christian societies, marked by “contempt for the dignity of the human person, the idolatry of money, the spread of violence, a totalizing view of science and technology, [and] the reckless exploitation of natural resources.” Quoting Bartholomew, Pope Francis said we must reject the “cynical phrase ‘there is no alternative.’” Rather, “our Churches can create new possibilities of transformation for our world.”
He continued, “It is comforting for me to realize that this convergence of views with my beloved brother Bartholomew is being translated into a concrete common effort.” Among those common efforts, he noted initiatives aimed at combating modern forms of slavery, protecting creation, and promoting peace. The Pope also looked forward to a meeting with the Heads of Churches and Christian Communities of the Middle East, which the Ecumenical Patriarch will also be attending.
“It is my prayerful hope,” Pope Francis said, “that there will be increased opportunities for us Catholics and Orthodox at all levels to work together, pray together and proclaim together the one Gospel of Jesus Christ received from the apostolic preaching, in order to experience ever fully in our shared journey the unity that by God’s grace already joins us.”
The now customary audience is taking place in the context of the mutual exchange of delegations for the feasts of the heavenly patrons of respective Churches: the visit of the Orthodox delegation to Rome for the feast of Sts Peter and Paul being reciprocated with a Catholic delegation to Constantinople (modern Istanbul) for the feast of St Andrew at the end of November. The delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarch is being led by Archbishop Job of Telmissos, the co-president of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, who is accompanied by Theodoretos, Bishop of Nazianzos, and Deacon Alexander Koutsis.