His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew On the Quest for the Unity of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches

The Ecumenical Patriarchate is committed to the movement to restore the visible unity of the churches. This conviction is rooted in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. As the good shepherd, our Lord came to heal and to reconcile us with the Father. On the night he gave himself up for the life of the world, our Lord prayed for the unity of his followers.

As members of His Church, therefore, we too have a profound obligation to share in the divine action of reconciliation. In celebrating the Resurrection, we proclaim the divine victory over all the forces of division and alienation. With the Apostle Paul, we declare: "God was in Christ reconciling Himself to the world and has given us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18).

Mindful of its historic obligations, the Patriarchate has taken a role of leadership in the contemporary ecumenical movement. From the earliest days of the 20th century, the Patriarchate issued a number of encyclicals, which dealt with the topic of the unity of the Church.

Since that time, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has consistently reminded all of the tragedy of Christian disunity. The disunity of Christians is contrary to the will of our Lord. Our disunity is a scandal, which weakens our witness to the Gospel of Christ and our mission in the world. Our disunity does not give glory to our God of reconciliation.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate has been an ardent proponent of genuine efforts among Christians to overcome animosity and misunderstandings. The Patriarchate has called upon the churches to come out of their isolation, and to enter into dialogue for the sake of reconciliation and the restoration of visible unity. The Ecumenical Patriarchate has reminded the followers of Christ of the prayer of the Lord for their unity. He prayed "that they may be one even as you Father are in me and I in you, may they also be one in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me" (John 17:21). We all need to hear clearly this powerful prayer of our Lord today.

We remember with much joy that this dialogue began forty years ago in Jerusalem. There, on the Mount of Olives in 1964, our predecessor Patriarch Athenagoras, of blessed memory, met with Pope Paul IV, of blessed memory. Coming from the West and the East, from Old Rome and New Rome, these humble servants greeted each other as pilgrims and brothers in Christ. Mindful of Our Lord's prayer for unity, they prayed together. They exchanged the kiss of peace. And, they vowed with God's help to begin a new process of reconciliation, which would lead to the restoration of community between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church.

At the time, Patriarch Athenagoras declared: "May this meeting of ours be the first glimmer of dawn of a shining and holy day in which the Christian generations of the future will receive communion in the holy body and blood of the Lord from the same chalice, in love, peace, and unity, and will praise and glorify the one Lord and Savior of all."

The historic meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem opened up a new era in the relations between our churches. Their meeting eventually led to many new contacts between Rome and Constantinople. It led in 1965 to the historic ‘Lifting of the Anathemas of 1054.' It led to the development of formal theological dialogues…We give thanks to God for these holy and faithful bishops. They were inspired by our Lord's prayer for the unity of his followers. May their words and actions be a powerful example for us now and in the days ahead.

We know that the process of reconciliation is not always easy. The division between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church has persisted for centuries. Yet, we firmly believe that, with the guidance of the Risen Lord, our differences are not beyond resolution. Moreover, we believe that we have a solemn obligation to our Lord to heal our painful divisions. For this reason, we must be persistent in our prayer. We must increase our expressions of love and mutual respect. We must strengthen our theological dialogue.

Our reconciliation will not take place without fervent prayer for unity. Through our prayer, we open ourselves up to the healing presence of our Heavenly Father. By praying together for the unity of the churches, we profess our willingness to participate in God's reconciling activities both in our churches and in our societies.

Our reconciliation will not take place without countless acts of love, forgiveness and mutual respect. Through these actions, we unite ourselves consciously with our Lord who manifested God's mercy and love. By expressing our love together, we become the persons through whom Christ continues to work in our world today.

Our reconciliation will not take place without theological dialogue. Through our dialogues, we seek the guidance of the Spirit who will lead us in all truth. By speaking to one another with love and respect, the Spirit can guide us to express together the Apostolic Faith today in a manner which is life giving and healing.

We can never accept a superficial unity, which neglects the difficult issues, which separate us at the table of the Lord. With prayer and with love, we must examine fully and honestly all the theological issues which divide us. The unity which our Lord desires for us as Orthodox and Roman Catholics must always affirm the faith of the Apostles and must sustain the good order of the Church.

The division between our Churches is not simply the result of theological differences. The division has been compounded by political, economic, and cultural factors over the centuries. The division also has been aggravated by historical actions which have had tragic consequences both for the churches and for the world.

During this year (2004), we recall with profound sadness the sack of the City of Constantinople in 1204. Eight hundred years ago, Western Crusaders entered this city and plundered it. This tragedy reflected the complex political and commercial factors of the day. However, the event profoundly aggravated the relations between the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople. Some historians have expressed the opinion that the Fourth Crusade and the temporary establishment of a Western hierarchy by Rome in the East may truly mark the beginning of the schism. There is no doubt that the tragedy of the Fourth Crusade deepened the animosity between the Christian West and the Christian East especially among the laity.

We deeply appreciate the fact that His Holiness Pope John Paul II has recognized the disastrous consequences of the Fourth Crusade in 1204. During his visit to Greece in the year 2001, His Holiness Pope John Paul II declared that the crusaders "turned against their own brothers in the faith." His Holiness asked the Lord for forgiveness for the sins "by action or omission of members of the Catholic Church against their Orthodox brothers and sisters."

We are deeply moved by the plea for forgiveness by His Holiness Pope John Paul II. It is another expression of his desire to heal the division between our churches. With gratitude to our Lord, we recognize the Pope's sincerity and we honor his request for forgiveness. To his prayer, we also declare: May our good and merciful God forgive all who sin against the unity of the Church and may He guide all believers on the path of reconciliation.

Now, we must resolve not to undertake actions which can further divide the Orthodox Church and Catholic Church.

"May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another in accordance with Jesus Christ so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 15:5).

To Him be glory now and forever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

From a Greeting by
His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
Orientale Lumen Conference
The Ecumenical Patriarchate
May 12, 2004

Address at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin

"The Imperative of Inter-Religious Dialogue in the Modern World"

Most Reverend Grand Chancellor Archbishop Zycinski, Most Learned and Reverend Rector Dr. Stanislaw Wilk, Esteemed Members of the Senate, Most Learned Professors and Students of the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Your Eminences and Graces, Distinguished Guests, Beloved children and people of God:

We gratefully accept this invaluable honor of being received into the doctoral college of this esteemed Roman Catholic academic institution. We welcome this privilege as recognition of the sacred ministry of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, an Apostolic institution with a history spanning seventeen centuries, throughout retaining its See in Constantinople.

Introduction: The Legacy of Pope John Paul II

The mission of your institution clearly states that: "The memory of our Patron requires from us a constant reflection upon John Paul II's legacy and teaching." For over a quarter of a century, the late Pope John Paul II shepherded the Church of Rome, standing as a symbol of unrelenting stability and hope in an age of widespread turmoil and despair. Undoubtedly, his tenure was inspired by an abiding faith as well as by the difficult circumstances that his home country Poland suffered for so many years under totalitarian oppression. This is an experience of martyrdom, with which the Orthodox Church can easily identify.

This desire for peace led the late Pope to assume initiatives that transcended political, cultural, and geographic boundaries. During his historical visit to the Holy Land in 2000, he potently observed at a ceremony in the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial that "to remember is to pray for peace and justice. Only a world at peace, with justice for all, can avoid repeating the terrible crimes of the past."

On the very same day, at a gathering of Christian, Jewish and Muslim faithful, His Holiness pointed out that the monotheistic Faiths rooted in the City of Peace, Jerusalem, share a common view of human dignity and human responsibility. This view is based on their shared reverence for the One God who created humankind in His divine image. It is also grounded on their common pursuit of justice, peace and religious freedom.

Orthodox Theology and Religious Freedom

Christianity challenges the concept of the human person as merely an economic entity or consumer. The Christian tradition insists that every human person is "an animal called to deification" (zōon theoumenon), to use the words of Saint Gregory Nazianzus.[1] We are creatures called to share in God's glory and become "partakers of divine nature." (2 Pet. 1.4) The most important fact about our humanness is that we are formed in the image of God. (Gen. 1.26) We have the capacity and freedom to offer the world back to God in thanksgiving, and it is only in this act of offering that we become genuinely human and truly free.

Of course, freedom is not only personal but also interpersonal. As human beings, we cannot be genuinely free in isolation. We can only be genuinely free in a community of other free persons. To refuse to share is to forfeit liberty. This indeed is specifically what is implied by the Christian doctrine of God. As a contemporary Orthodox theologian expresses it: "The being of God is a relational being: without the concept of communion it would not be possible to speak of the being of God."[2]

And if we are formed in the image of the Trinity, it follows that everything said about God also applies to humankind. We are called to reproduce on earth, so far as this is possible, the same reciprocal movement (perichoresis) of mutual love that in heaven unites the three persons of the Trinitarian God. This we seek to do not only on the level of our interior life of prayer but also more broadly on an economic and political level. Our social program is the doctrine of the Trinity, a God in communion. Every form of community – the workplace, the school, the city, the nation – has as its vocation to become a living icon of the Trinity. Such is surely part of the role of religion in a changing world: namely to promote freedom among human beings as the basis of encounter and communion.

The Initiatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

There is a symbolical image that adorns the entrance to the central offices of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul. It is a magnificent mosaic depicting Gennadios Scholarios, first Ecumenical Patriarch of the period under Ottoman occupation. The Patriarch stands with hand outstretched, receiving from the Sultan Mehmet II the "firman" or legal document guaranteeing the continuation and protection of the Orthodox Church and through the period of Ottoman rule. It is an icon of the beginnings of a long coexistence and interfaith commitment.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate has always been convinced of its wider role and ecumenical responsibility. This inspires its tireless efforts for Orthodox unity throughout the world as well as its pioneering efforts for ecumenical dialogue. Some of the highlights of this dialogue include the historic meeting between Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI in 1964, which led to the mutual lifting of the anathemas from 1054, and the equally historic visit between the late Pope John Paul II and our predecessor Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios in 1979, which led to the announcement of the theological dialogue between our two churches. The visit of the present Pope Benedict XVI to Turkey in 2006, in response to our invitation to attend the Thronal Feast of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, led to a renewal of that commitment to dialogue.

However, even at the cost of defamation for "betraying" the Gospel, we have never restricted such engagements merely to Christian confessions. Standing as it does on the crossroads of continents, civilizations and cultures, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has always served as a bridge between Christians, Moslems, and Jews. Since 1977, it has pioneered a bilateral inter-religious dialogue with the Jewish community (on such topics as law, tradition, and social justice); since 1986, it has initiated bilateral interfaith dialogue with the Islamic community (on such matters as peace, justice, and pluralism); and since 1994, it has organized a number of international multi-faith gatherings for the purpose of deeper conversations between Christians, Jews and Muslims (on such issues as tolerance). 

The Importance of Interfaith Dialogue

We hear it stated often that our world is in crisis. Yet, never before in history have human beings had the opportunity to bring so many positive changes to so many people simply through encounter and dialogue. While it may be true that this is a time of crisis, it must equally be underlined that there has also never been greater tolerance for respective traditions, religious preferences and cultural peculiarities.

This does not mean that differences on the level of doctrine are insignificant or inconsequential; for, a difference on the level of doctrine leads to a different worldview and, accordingly, a different way of life. Accordingly, then, we do not approach dialogue in order to set our arguments against those of our opponents in the framework of conflict. We approach in a spirit of love, sincerity and honesty. In this respect, dialogue implies equality, which in turn implies humility. Honesty and humility dispel hostility and arrogance. Just how prepared are we in dialogue to respect others in dialogue? How willing are we to learn and to love? If we are neither prepared to receive nor willing to learn, then are we truly engaging in dialogue? Or are we actually conducting a monologue?

True dialogue is in fact a gift from God. According to St. John Chrysostom, fourth-century Archbishop of Constantinople, God is always in personal dialogue with human beings. God always speaks: through Prophets and Apostles, through saints and mystics, even through the natural creation itself; for, "the heavens declare the glory of God" (Psalm 19.1). Dialogue is the most fundamental experience of life and most powerful means of communication. Dialogue promotes knowledge, abolishes fears and prejudice, and broadens horizons. Dialogue enriches; whoever refuses dialogue remains impoverished. Finally, dialogue seeks persuasion, not coercion. This is why interfaith dialogue is crucial.

Conclusion: The Imperative of Interfaith Dialogue

Religious leaders bear a special responsibility not to mislead or provoke. Their integrity plays a vital role in the process of dialogue. In the mid-fourteenth century, St. Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), Archbishop of Thessalonika, conducted theological discussions with distinguished representatives of Islam. One of the Muslim leaders expressed a wish that the time would come, when mutual understanding would characterize the followers of both religions. St. Gregory agreed, noting his hope that this time would come sooner than later. It is our humble wish that now will be that time. Now, more than ever, is the time for dialogue.

We would not be so naïve as to claim that dialogue comes without cost or danger. Approaching another person – or another belief, another culture – always comes with a risk. One is never certain what to expect: Will the other suspect me? Will the other perceive me as imposing my own belief or way of life? Will I compromise – or perhaps lose – what belongs uniquely to my tradition? What is the common ground on which we can converse? What, if any, will be the fruitful results of any dialogue? These questions plague the mind when we approach for dialogue. Yet, we are convinced that, in the moment when one surrenders one's mind and heart to the possibility of dialogue, something sacred happens. In the very willingness to embrace the other, beyond any fear or prejudice, a mystical spark is kindled and the reality of something – or Someone – far greater than us takes over. Then, we recognize how the benefits of dialogue far outweigh the risks. We are convinced that, in spite of cultural, religious and racial differences, we are closer to one another than we could ever imagine.


[1] Oration 38.11.

[2] John Zizioulas [currently Metropolitan of Pergamon], Being as Communion. Studies in Personhood and the Church, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press: New York, 1985, p. 17.