This week, I leave once again to join the Patriarchal Support team that will assist with the commentary for the historic visit of Pope Francis to the Ecumenical Patriarchate on the occasion of the Thronal Feast of St. Andrew.
My mind still has vivid memories of the Pilgrimage we covered when the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch met in Jerusalem in May, praying side by side in the Holy Sepulchre, where yours truly has been seven times to lay my life before the Lord. It was a moving experience for me personally, as two men of peace met to share what we have in common and to attempt to ease that in which we differ.
My colleagues and I will join media professionals from the Vatican to offer relevant commentary on not only the details of the Feast of St. Andrew but also the significance of this visit. Formal visitations of this nature are not merely photo ops but opportunities to address the world on matters of common concern to all Christians. Public demonstrations of charity and fraternal good will are essential in today’s quick-to-judge society, which is torn apart by religious conflict, violence, and rising indifference to Christian witness in the public sphere.
We Orthodox still have differences with the Catholic Church, and there are theologians who examine these differences very carefully. Even so, we should not shy away from talking and interacting with people of the Catholic faith. They are our neighbors; they may even be the spouses of our children. We cannot pretend that we live in isolation. The problems of modernity demand solidarity and common action. As His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has said: “Dialogue is a necessary precondition of mutual understanding; and mutual understanding is a precondition of mutual trust as well as of the ability to cooperate and to coexist.”
Truth be told, the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch represent more than 20% of the world’s population. As Christians living in the modern world, both Orthodox and Catholics have a voice that should be heard. Obviously, much of modern society has disregarded the path put before us to holiness by our Lord Himself. The teachings we once held so sacred concerning the human person and the dignity and integrity of the image and likeness of God in each of us are being compromised every day. In this context, the Christian voice seems deafening to some…and, for many, there is no voice at all because whenever we speak someone cries foul.
Yet Christians must speak — with a firm and public voice that is also soft and compassionate. The recent ecumenical efforts of our Church have already yielded substantial fruit and brought public attention to important matters. As Fr. Emmanuel Lemelson, the President of the Lantern Foundation, observed in a recent press release: “More progress has been made towards reconciliation of the two Churches under the leadership of His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis than has been made in nearly a millennium, and this progress comes at a critical moment. Christians are facing unprecedented persecution in our modern era, and a veritable attempt to eliminate their very existence just beyond the Turkish border, in the specter of this historic meeting, [calls] to mind the urgency to heal the wound that exists between East and West…”
We can love someone yet still disagree with them. Even those who lack the fulness of the truth still have much to offer and remain precious in the sight of God. As Elder Sophrony has written, “Only the one, single Church can hold the fulness of grace. But all the other churches have grace because of faith in Christ, yet not in fullness.” Without a doubt, we experience the fulness of grace only in Orthodoxy. Yet our common faith in Christ is a real bond between us and other Christians, most especially with the Latin West, with whom we share many centuries of common experience.
Because of our common bond, and out of obedience to our Lord, we must continue to seek after unity in the fulness of the truth. We must also continue to be light and salt in the modern world, standing together with our Catholic brethren against the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and against the modern attack on the dignity and freedom of the human person. During this historic visit, the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Pope will be signing a common declaration, addressing the world and its powers about these and other matters of pressing concern for all Christians. Public testimony is never just a photo op.
Please watch the Orthodox Christian Network’s Facebook page and website for more information about the live, international TV broadcast on EWTN and other outlets.
It will be an historic week, and I give glory to God that I can be a part of it. I ask for your prayers.
Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network. You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+.