Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew praises Pope’s gesture in returning holy relics taken during Crusades
Constantinople (ANA/A. Kourkoulas) – Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomeos I on Saturday praised Pope John Paul for his “historically important” gesture in returning the relics of two saints that were taken from Constantinople (now Istanbul) during the Crusades in 1204.
Speaking during an ecumenical celebration in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican on Saturday, where he received the relics of Saints John Chrysostomos and Gregory the Theologian (Nazianzus) from Pope John Paul, Vartholomeos said that the gesture redressed an injustice and ecclesiastical anomaly committed eight centuries earlier and hailed it as an act that “healed old wounds and prevented new ones”.
“There are no insuperable obstacles when love, justice and peace converge,” the Patriarch added during the ceremony.
An announcement by the Holy See underlined that Saturday’s act was a sign that the Catholic and Orthodox Churches will jointly move toward unity.
Representing Greece at the ceremony were Public Order Minister George Voulgarakis and the Greek ambassadors to Rome and the Vatican.
His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America read in the original Greek, the letter of St. John Crysostom to Pope Innoccentius I, written in the early 5th century.
During the solemn service the relics of the two saints were brought in front of the altar in their alabaster encasements and were ceremoniously turned over to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
The ceremony at St. Peter’s Basilica was attended by hundreds of faithful from around the world including a delegation of Greek Orthodox pilgrims from the United States led by Archbishop Demetrios. Dr. Anthony Limberakis and John Halecky represented the Archons of the “Order of St. Andrew the Apostle,” who have embarked to a spiritual odyssey to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which will also take them to Ankara, Smyrna and Ephesus.
An aircraft carrying the holy relics and accompanied by the Ecumenical Patriarch, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America, Archbishop Gregory of Thyateira, Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Myra and Metropolitan Anthimos of Alexandroupolis left Rome, crossed the Adriatic sea, flew over northern Greece and landed in Constantinople bringing the relics of the two Archbishops of Constantinople back to the city of their See of which they had presided as Archbishops and Patriarchs.
The scene was reminiscent of the Resurrection services as hundreds of faithful holding lit candles, filled the patriarchal compound in the Phanar and awaited the arrival of His All Holiness and the holy relics. Hymns of doxology were chanted, bells tolled joyfully and His All Holiness with the holy relics led the procession through the courtyard to the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George, encircled the altar three times and then placed the holy relics on his throne in honor of the two great fathers of the church who have preceded him in the throne of the Church of Constantinople.
“When we approach and venerate the holy relics with piety we become participants in divine grace and in the gifts of the holy spirit,” said in his message the Ecumenical Patriarch, which was read in English by Fr. Alexander Karloutsos.
The doxology services were attended by an official delegation from the Vatican that traveled with the Ecumenical Patriarch from Rome headed by Walter Cardinal Kasper, the chairman of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity.
On Tuesday Nov. 30, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople celebrates the feast of its patron saint and founder St. Andrew, the first-called Apostle of Christ. His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will preside over the Divine Liturgy with the participation of many hierarchs, heads of autocephalous Orthodox Churches around the world. During the Liturgy the holy relics will be enshrined in the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George.
According to a background document from the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Patriarch Bartholomeos I met John Paul II in Rome on June 29, 2004, at which time he invited the Pope to Istanbul, and also asked if the relics of the saints could be returned from the Vatican, where they are kept in St. Peter’s Basilica, to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. An exchange of letters between the Pope and the Patriarch followed, and this week’s encounter is the result of that correspondence.
“The handing over of the relics,” says the communique, “is a deep encouragement to walk the path of unity: the mortal remains of the two Saints, Patriarchs of Constantinople, who did everything possible to safeguard unity between East and West, venerated in their land of origin, welcomed with great honors in the Church of Rome, which for many centuries has preserved and venerated them, walk once again on the path to the East, thanks to this gesture of spiritual sharing which nourishes and fortifies communion between the Sees of Peter and Constantinople.”
The relics of the two saints were kept in the Holy Apostles church in Byzantium, where the Emperor’s tombs were also located, up until 1204. The relics were removed in looting during the first sacking of Constantinople (now Istanbul) and were taken to Venice, and from there to Rome, where they were placed in St. Peter’s Basilica for safekeeping.