Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa
It is with great joy that we take this opportunity to communicate with you during this significant meeting that is taking place in Nicosia , the capital of Cyprus , the island that gives birth to heroes. We wish, from the outset, to thank the main sponsors that organized this meeting, the Archbishop of Cyprus Chrysostomos II and the leaders of the Community of St. Egidio for this initiative that is concerned with Ecumenism, Christianity, Unity and Peace between Nations.
My dear friends,
Our ever-memorable predecessor and spiritual father, Patriarch Parthenios III, who served as President of the World Council of Churches for many years, had characterized Africa as the “continent of the future”. Our presence here, as Head of the Orthodox Church of this long-suffering continent, declares that for Africa , the theme of our gathering is an issue of crucial significance linked to survival and existence.
The African Nations through the ages embraced the faith of various religions, churches and confessions. Within this environment of cultural pluralism and significant social, economic and existential problems, they seek to peacefully coexistence.
It is within this environment that the Church of Alexandria remains steadfast in her faith. Together with her attempts to alleviate material needs, she teaches love, peace and equality of all people of all races and languages, thereby revealing the ecumenical character of the Holy Orthodox Church of the martyrs, the ascetics, the confessors and the Great Ecumenical Teachers, chief among whom were the lofty eagles of theology – Origen, Pantaenus, Clement of Alexandria and our holy predecessors, Athanasius the Great, Cyril and John the Merciful. As Dr Samuel Kobbia, the General Secretary of the WCC said during his visit to the Patriarchate on June 20, 2008, our Church is an ancient and historic Church that contributed decisively to the formation of Christian doctrine and life.
The Apostolic and Patriarchal Throne of St. Mark carries this great trust. It shares, together with our whole Orthodox Church, in our Lord’s concern “that they may be one”. For many years now, our church has conscientiously followed the path of desired unity through the Pan-Orthodox and inter-Christian dialogues. Exercising discretion and sobriety, our Church has an unbroken presence as full member of the WCC, the Council of Churches of the Middle East , the Pan-Orthodox Council of Churches. She takes part in the dialogues with the Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Old Catholics and Pre-Calcedonial Christians as well as with the other great monotheistic religions such as Islam and, by extension, the Muslim World. This dialogue specifically, is an obligation as we live and move within the hospitable Islamic environment and our lives are linked with those of our Muslim brothers, creatures of the same God and believing in the One God.
The Orthodox Church, therefore, does not reject dialogue. On the contrary, she seeks it. The ecumenical path constitutes her nature and tradition. No one can remain solitary and enclosed within one’s self, selfishly holding onto the “precious pearl” of the Gospel for one’s self. The “One Christ” and the “One Flock”, “the unity of all” under the one Saviour and Lord, that we ceaselessly pray for during the celebration of the Bloodless Sacrifice on the Holy Altar – this is the obligation of all. And we assure you that the Venerable Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa will continue to offer its “spiritual currency” in this common effort.
At this point, allow me to mention two points that declare the self-consciousness of the Orthodox Church with regard to the Ecumenical Movement.
a) The Orthodox Church, over the past two thousand years, has borne witness of her existence in the world and continues to bear witness to the pure and genuine Christian faith of the Lord and the Holy Apostles till the end of the ages. She does not seek the Truth within the context of the theological dialogues with the other Christian Confessions. She possesses this Truth and bears witness to the Apostolic Tradition and the Unchanging Patristic Doctrine to all those who genuinely search to discover the roots of the correct Christian faith. This is what her mission is centered on – the passing-on of the light of the true faith to the nations “not knowing the truth”.
b) In 1986 in Geneva of Switzerland, the Second Inter-Orthodox Pre-Conciliar Committee of the Great and Holy Synod, convened. In its agenda was the topic “the Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Movement”. The Committee declared formally and emphatically that:
1. “The Orthodox Church has the deep conviction and ecclesiastical self-consciousness that she constitutes the bearer and gives witness to the faith and the traditions of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church . She resoundingly believes that She holds a pivotal place within the contemporary Christian World with regard to the aim of Church unity”.
2. “The Orthodox Church praying ceaselessly for the stability of the Holy Churches of God and for the union of all”, takes part in the Ecumenical Movement from its very inception and contributed to its formation and subsequent evolution. This is due to the deeper ecumenical spirit of the Orthodox Church that throughout her history, laboured for the recovery of the Christian unity, lost particularly in the 5th, 11th and 16th centuries. Thus, the Orthodox participation in the Ecumenical Movement is not at all foreign to the history of the Orthodox Church. It constitutes a recent attempt at expressing the Apostolic Faith within new historical conditions and confronting new existential demands.”
From the above mentioned points, we can clearly see the preconditions set forth by our Church for the ongoing dialogues. She has a deep awareness of her own responsibility in the recovery of the unity of the Christian world.
Let us, therefore, look at the significance and meaning of Christian unity and the desired fruits it can offer today’s world.
According to St. John of Damascus, “Unity” is defined as “the perichoresis of differing parts without being obliterated” (Fount of Knowledge, 25, PG 94, 665). This definition contains all the elements showing the correct way of encounter between inter-ecclesiastical and inter-Christian perceptions. To ignore them would mean to reject the historical sojourn of Christianity itself.
1. The recognition that there are today, within the Christian family, different “parts” – that is, Churches and Confessions.
2. The honest intention to eradicate all attempts of “obliterating” or “wiping-out” those parts for that desired unity, and
3. The “perichoresis” as an honourable situation of creating bonds of familiarity, understanding and deeper communion between the Christian groups.
Unity, of course, cannot be the result of compromises and surrenders. Nor can it be the creation of “finalizing things” or the enforcement of decisions by unacceptable means. Unity, as described by St. Paul in his epistle to the Galatians (5:22), is the result of the Grace of the Holy Spirit. It is not enforced by numerical majorities or worldly power. It encompasses only the loving intention of understanding and respecting our other Christian brethren. Love is our own contribution and deposit of pure Truth. This is done in a spirit of humility, without intention of compromise, syncretism or a spiritual arrogance. It is this method alone that is known to the Orthodox Church. It is this method she accepts and keeps to in her long tradition, defined by the Holy Apostles and the God-bearing fathers of the Seven Ecumenical Councils.
My dear brethren,
We live in a time characterized by extreme spiritual problems and barriers. We live in a new social framework that divinizes individualism. Emotions and sentiments have lost ground to harshness. The clarity of mind gave way to material confusion, grandeur to misery, dialogue to defensive introversion, fanaticism and fear of otherness, the mystery of communion with our fellow man has given way to fraternal conflicts.
“Hear, O sons of Israel , the Word of the Lord, the accusation of the Lord upon those who dwell in this land, ‘ is no faithfulness or love in the land and the people do not acknowledge me as God’.” (Hosea 4:1).
This is the reality of our world. It expresses the dimensions of the created and uncreated, the experience of rejection and denial, of division and of fall. The change in man from being a person “in the image and likeness of God” to being a rational being without faith, without hope and, significantly, with the desire to embrace the ‘other’ is truly nightmarish.
When confronted with this situation, the Christian Communities must be able to respond in an essential, unifying, indivisible and responsible way. The timeless teaching of our holy predecessor, Cyril of Alexandria, echoes what is the responsibility of all of us:
“We, who are burdened with the responsibility of the priesthood, answer not only for ourselves, but for all those that believe in Christ”.
Let us instruct humanity with our own example, the common effort towards the desired unity, love, understanding, tolerance and solidarity.
I hope and pray that the difficult conditions of today’s multi-cultural reality bring us closer to understanding one another so that we all live the truth of our faith as handed down to us by the Fathers of the One, Holy and Undivided Church of the first centuries. Our world offers a vast supply of philosophies, information, technical knowledge and sciences. What is in short supply is love for God and our fellow man, the honest and essential communication between people, co-operation and help for one another, agreement in perception – the elements that constitute the substance of unity.
We, the shepherds and Fathers of the Christian nations, having tasted the sweet nectar of the unifying desire and sharing in this God-given experience within a fragmented world, let us beseech the Almighty Lord to bring to all the nations and peoples of the earth, peace and brotherhood, concord and love, justice and equality.
“Work for peace and the God of Love and Peace will be with you”(II Cor. 13:11).
I thank you.