Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I write to you on behalf of the Holy Eparchial Synod of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America in order to convey to you information regarding the forthcoming visit of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. There, at the Center of Orthodoxy in the Phanar, His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will receive Pope Benedict on the occasion of the Patronal Feast of our Ecumenical Patriarchate, November 30, the Feast of St. Andrew, the First-called Apostle of Jesus Christ.
This visit is of great significance to the Church, as it represents a tangible continuation of the dialogue of love between the Churches of the East and the West which began in 1964 in Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives, when the late Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I met together and lifted the painful anathemas between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church that were issued back in 1054. Since that historic meeting, it has been the practice of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and of the Vatican to send delegations to one anotherʼs Sees on the occasion of their respective Patronal Feasts, the Feast of St. Andrew on November 30, and the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29. On several occasions since 1964, the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch have personally journeyed themselves to Constantinople and Rome for these feasts. It is in this broad historical context that we may better appreciate the significance of the very first visit of Pope Benedict to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the coming days.
This visit is more than symbolic. It carries substantial meaning as an occasion for the Churches of the East and West to come closer to one another in mutual understanding, in accordance with the fervent prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ when He asked His Father that those who believe in Him “may all be one” (John 17:20-21). This visit gives substance to the words of the petition that we pray in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, “For the peace of the whole world, for the stability of the holy churches of God, and for the union of all, let us pray to the Lord.” Thus, this visit is an occasion whereby the words of our prayer have an opportunity to achieve a very real substance.
Finally, the visit of Pope Benedict to the Ecumenical Patriarchate is important on account of its timeliness in our modern world, which has witnessed unprecedented acts of violence without reason, and an erosion of the capacity of human beings to recognize one another as sacred children of God. His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew advocates passionately for peace, tolerance, and reconciliation among all human beings; but he does so under very heavy conditions in a land where notions of religious freedom are approached quite differently than they are in our own country or in European countries. For this reason, the visit of Pope Benedict carries an added dimension, in that it will provide an opportune occasion for two world religious leaders to discuss important issues related to religious freedom, peace among human beings of all faiths, and matters pertaining to global security in our modern world.
This is a momentous occasion indeed, made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit, Whom we pray may protect and illumine all who participate in this historic encounter. Accordingly, on behalf of our Holy Eparchial Synod, I ask for your fervent prayers during this time in the life of our Church and our world, which is a sacred time of hope and of love. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America