Meeting of the Ecumenical Patriarch with Pope John Paul II, Vatican, 29 June 2004
With sentiments of both joy and sorrow we come to you on this important feast day of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, to express our love for you, Your Holiness, and for all the members of our Sister Church of Rome, which is celebrating her patronal feast day. We rejoice with you who are rejoicing, but we regret that what would have completed the joy of both of us is lacking, that is, the re-establishment of full communion between our Churches.
Today we are focusing our attention on the joyous 40th anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem in 1964 of our Predecessors of venerable memory. It was an encounter that put an end to the process of our mutual separation and was the start of a new journey to draw our Churches closer together.
During this new journey, many steps have been taken towards a reciprocal rapprochement. Dialogues have been initiated, meetings have taken place and letters have been exchanged; love has grown, but we have not yet attained the desired goal. In 40 years, it has not been possible to eliminate the differences that have accumulated in more than 900 years.
Hope, which proceeds with faith and with love that is ever hopeful, is one of God's important gifts. We too hope that what it has not been possible to achieve up to now will be attained in the future, and we hope in a near future. Perhaps it will be a distant future, but our expectation and our love are not constrained by temporal limits. Our presence here today very clearly expresses our sincere desire to remove all the ecclesial obstacles that are not dogmatic or essential, so that we may concentrate our concern on the study of the essential differences and dogmatic truths that have divided our Churches until now, as well as on the way of living the Christian truth of the united Church.
Far from wishing to associate our name with goals that only the Holy Spirit can obtain, we do not attribute to our actions a greater efficacy than that which God will deign to grant them. Yet, demonstrating all our longing, we work tirelessly with a view to what we pray for every day: "the union of one and all". Since we know from the priestly prayer of Our Lord Jesus Christ how necessary our unity is, so that the world may believe that He comes from God, we collaborate with you in order to reach this unity, and we urge everyone to pray fervently for the success of our joint efforts.
The unity of the Churches of which we are speaking and for which we ask your prayers is not a worldly union like that of the unions of States, or of corporations of persons and structures, through which a higher level of organizational union is created. This is very easy to achieve, and all the Churches have already set up various organizations in which context they collaborate in various sectors.
The unity to which the Churches aspire is a spiritual quest whose aim is to live spiritual communion with Our Lord Jesus Christ in person. It will be possible when we have all acquired "the mind of Christ", "the love of Christ", "the faith of Christ", "the humility of Christ", "Christ's disposition to self-sacrifice" and, in general, when we live everything that pertains to Christ as He lived it, or at least when we sincerely desire to live as He wants us to.
In this very delicate spiritual endeavour, difficulties emerge that are due to the fact that most of us human beings all too often propose our own positions, opinions and assessments as if they were expressions of Christ's thought, of Christ's love and generally speaking, of Christ's Spirit. Since these personal judgments and evaluations, and at times even personal experiences, neither coincide with one another, nor with the lived experience of Christ, disagreements arise.
By means of inter-ecclesial dialogues, we seek in good faith to understand one another with a superabundance of love; just as we also seek to ascertain in what way and why our experiences expressed with different dogmatic formulas differ. We are not making abstract discourses on theoretical matters on which our position has no consequences for life. We are seeking among a multitude of lived experiences that are expressed in different ways, what correctly, or at least as fully as possible, expresses the Spirit of Christ.
Remember the behaviour of the two disciples of Christ when the inhabitants of a certain region would not receive Him. The disciples were indignant and asked Christ if He wanted them to bid God to send down fire from heaven to consume those who refused to welcome Him. The Lord's answer was the same as the answer given to so many Christians down the centuries: "You do not know what manner of spirit you are of; for the Son of man came not to destroy men's lives but to save them" (cf. Lk 9: 55-56).
In the course of the centuries, certain members of the faithful have asked Christ time and again to approve deeds that did not correspond with his mind. Rather, they attributed to Christ their own opinions and teachings, claiming that one or other was interpreting the Spirit of Christ. From this stemmed disagreement among the faithful who, as a result, split into groups, assuming the form of the different Churches that we have today.
Today our common efforts seek to live the Spirit of Christ in a way he would have approved had he been asked. Such a lived experience implies purity of heart, disinterested aims, holy humility, in short, Holiness of life. Differences that have accumulated and age-old concerns prevent us from seeing clearly and delay our common understanding of the Spirit of Christ that will be followed by the ardently longed for unity of the Churches, namely, their union in Christ, in his same Spirit, in his very Body and in his very Blood. Of course, from the spiritual point of view, the acceptance and realization of an external union makes no sense so long as diversity about his Spirit continues.
Thus, it is understandable that it is not a levelling out of the traditions, customs and habits of all the faithful that is sought; all that is being sought is to live in common the person of the one, unique and unchanging Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit, communion in the lived experience of the Incarnation of the Logos of God and of the coming down of the Holy Spirit in the Church, as well as of the common experience of the event of the Church as the Body of Christ recapitulating all things in Himself. This sought spiritual experience constitutes the supreme experience of human beings, constitutes their union with Christ and, consequently, dialogue on this point is the most important of all. We have therefore asked and are asking Christians to pray fervently to Our Lord Jesus Christ that He will direct their hearts to reaching the goal of this aspiration, so that once it is obtained, please God, we will be able to celebrate every ecclesial celebration in full spiritual Communion and Joy. Amen.
Cf. An interview of Patriarch Bartholomew on problems of the union * A union of Orthodoxy with the papal clergy will destroy Christianity permanently * Metropolitan Kirill and the problem of the union of the churches * Pope Benedict XVI, The Papal Science * Ὁ Νέος Ἑλληνισμὸς καὶ ἡ Δύση * Τὸ βιο-μηχανικὸ πρόταγμα * Constantinople and Rome : A Survey of the Relations between the Byzantine and the Roman Churches * Constantinople, Hellenism and the West * The endless Fall of the infallible See : 1329, The Condemnation of Meister Eckhart * Greek Orthodoxy - From Apostolic Times to the Present Day * The Symbol of Faith * The Orthodox Church * A History of the Byzantine Empire * Byzantium : heir to the Graeco-roman antiquity
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