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Archbishop of Canterbury meets Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

Tuesday 14th January 2014

The Archbishop of Canterbury affirmed his commitment to the reconciliation of Eastern and Western churches during a meeting with His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew yesterday.

(Credit: Mr Nikolaos Maginas)

The Most Revd Justin Welby was meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew during a two-day visit to Istanbul.

During their meeting Archbishop Justin said that Patriarch Bartholomew had been “an example of peace and reconciliation, politically, with the natural world, and in your historic visit to the installation of His Holiness Pope Francis I.

“Such reconciliation [is] very dear to my heart and is one of my key priorities. It is the call of Christ that all may be one so that the world may see. I will therefore be taking back with me the warmth of your hospitality and also, after our discussions today and tomorrow, a renewed and refreshed focus for greater unity and closer fellowship. We want to carry the cross of our divisions, but be filled with the hope and joy that comes from the grace and the love of Jesus.”

Archbishop Justin travelled to Istanbul on Monday at the invitation of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who, as Archbishop of Constantinople and New Rome, occupies the First Throne of the Orthodox Christian Church.

His visit included an official reception in the Chamber of the Throne, a discussion with the Synodical Committee for Inter-Christian Affairs, and a visit to the Holy Theological School of Halki.

Archbishop Justin told Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew it would be a privilege to welcome him to London in 2015.  

Common statement issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury and His-All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew:

His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and His Grace the Most Revd and Rt Honorable Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury met at the Phanar, Istanbul from 13th-14th January, 2014, for their first meeting since the Most Revd Justin Welby was enthroned as the Archbishop of Canterbury about one year ago. The meeting took place in an atmosphere of friendship and warmth. Both leaders agreed to focus on the continuation of close relations, the importance of the ongoing theological dialogue, and the commitment of the Anglican Communion and the Orthodox Church to greater cooperation for a common witness in an increasingly secular and pluralistic world, particularly in Europe. They expressed concern for the injustice in many parts of the world and prayed especially for the poor, the oppressed, and those caught in war, for peace and justice in the entire world, particularly in the Middle East, but also in other parts of the globe, and for ourselves to be sustained by the help and joy of Jesus Christ. They further agreed to explore avenues for raising greater awareness on environmental issues as well as upholding Christian values of human dignity and religious rights.

Welcome by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to His Grace Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury (Phanar, 13 January 2014)

Your Grace Archbishop Justin, Beloved Brother in Christ:

‘Christ is in our midst!  He is and shall be!’

It gives us the greatest joy to welcome Your Grace as the honoured guest of the Ecumenical Throne, on this your first pilgrimage to the Patriarchate.  We hope that Your Grace will be very happy during your time in Constantinople, and that your visit will strengthen the bond of mutual love that exists between our two Churches, the Orthodox and the Anglican.

The friendship between our Churches is not new, but has deep roots in past history.  As long ago as the early 17th century Cyril Lukaris, Patriarch first of Alexandria and then of Constantinople, had many contacts with the English Church and State.  As a token of his esteem, he sent to King James I the Codex Alexandrinus, one of the three most ancient manuscripts of the Greek Bible, which is now one of the greatest treasures at the British Library in London.  Personal contacts between our two communions have been promoted more recently by the Eastern Church Association, founded in 1864 – now known as the Anglican and Eastern Churches Association – and by the Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius, founded in 1928.  These two societies have fostered countless ecumenical friendships; and without such ecumenical friendships, on the direct and personal level, we cannot hope to build a firm foundation for Christian unity.  

Since 1973, as Your Grace will be well aware, there has been an official dialogue, world-wide in scope, between our two ecclesial families.  The International Commission for Anglican-Orthodox Theological Dialogue has so far produced three weighty reports: the Moscow Agreed Statement (1976), the Dublin Agreed Statement (1984), and most recently the very detailed Cyprus Agreed Statement (2006), entitled ‘The Church of the Triune God’.  The International Commission is now preparing a fourth agreed statement on the Christian understanding of the human person.  This will consider, among other topics, the Christian teaching on marriage, and also our human responsibility for the environment, a matter to which we personally, throughout our time as Patriarch, have always attached particular importance.  We are fully confident that, under the inspiration of Your Grace, our Anglican-Orthodox dialogue will continue to flourish and to make positive progress.

In its formal title, this dialogue is entitled ‘theological’.  But it is of course essential that our theology should always be a living theology.  Doctrinal discussion must never be separated from a practical interest in social and philanthropic issues.  At this present moment, as Anglicans and Orthodox, we share in particular a joint concern for the situation of Christians in the Middle East, who are confronting increasing problems and, in many places, are undergoing a veritable persecution.

In the past, the rapprochement between our two Churches has been greatly assisted by the exchange of students, and we trust that this will continue.  Our Theological School at Halki used to offer scholarships to Anglicans, and when it is reopened – as will happen in the near future (so it may be hoped) - we shall certainly wish to revive this tradition.  These exchange students have frequently gone on to become leaders in their respective Churches, and their early inter-Church experience has enabled them to further the cause of Christian unity in highly constructive ways.

Dear Archbishop Justin: during the course of the visit of Your Grace we shall have the opportunity to speak further about these and other subjects.  It is a great joy to us that, so soon after your elevation to Canterbury, Your Grace has found it possible to visit the sacred centre of Orthodoxy, the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  Indeed Your Grace is more than welcome: please feel entirely at home.  From our encounter during these two days, may great benefit come to our Churches.  In that spirit we conclude with words from the Divine Liturgy, proclaimed immediately before the recitation of the Creed: ‘Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess the Trinity one in essence and undivided.’

Archbishop of Canterbury’s response to welcome message by the Ecumenical Patriarch:

Your All-Holiness, Beloved Brother in Christ,

I thank you most warmly for your welcome and greetings and at the outset bring the greetings from the Anglican Communion and the Church of England. I realise that this is an initial and very short visit, but it is a vital opportunity so soon after my enthronement for us to be able to share and be strengthened through this more personal visit. Your All Holiness has once mentioned that in a world “becoming smaller and smaller distance-wise, the need for personal communication has become imperative.” I see my short visit in that light. To be with you in this holy and historic place is indeed a great privilege. The warmth of your welcome adds to my deep sense of privilege at meeting you. 

This city has left its mark in a diversity of ways upon Christianity as a whole. It was from this city that manuscripts of the Bible in the original languages were received in the West. This city (also renowned as the New Rome) is your seat as the Ecumenical Patriarch, and we continue to benefit from the insight of what the secular and Christian leadership through this link has taught the world church about the relationship between Christianity and the application of worldly power over the years. Your history is more and more important in the increasing confrontations of the world in which religion is used as a pretext for violence that in reality comes from greed and the pride of human beings.

You have demonstrated over the centuries the martyrdom to which we are called in scripture, the call to witness in word and life, a call more important than life itself. The cost of that martyrdom is seen in so many places today. Closest to here we remember and seek the mercy of Christ and intercession of the Blessed Mother on Syria, especially for His Eminence Metropolitan Yohanna Ibrahim of Aleppo of the Syrian Patriarchate of Antioch, and His Eminence Metropolitan Boulos Yazigi of Aleppo and Alexandrette of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, for whom we pray daily. You yourself have been an example of peace and reconciliation, politically, with the natural world and in your historic visit for the installation of His Holiness Pope Francis I. 

Istanbul is at the crossroads between Europe and Asia. It is the place where two great faiths meet. Its significance for trade is enormous and continues to remind us of Turkey’s importance as an industrial and commercial nation. Commerce and trade may be objects of greed, but may in the Grace of God open the way to dialogue between nations. 

Your All Holiness, my distinguished predecessors, Archbishop Robert Runcie in 1982, Archbishop George Carey in 1992 and Archbishop Rowan Williams in 2003 all visited this holy place and have been blessed by the encounter and engagement. As Archbishop Rowan has emphasised during his last visit, our roots go back to the Christian missions of the days of Constantine. He furthermore expressed a particular concern for Eastern and Western traditions of the Church to be reconciled.

Such reconciliation is also very dear to my heart and is one of my key priorities. It is the call of Christ that all may be one so that the world may see. I will therefore be taking back with me the warmth of your hospitality and also, after our discussions today and tomorrow, a renewed and refreshed focus for greater unity and closer fellowship. We want to carry the cross of our divisions, but be filled with the hope and joy that comes from the grace and the love of Jesus.

This can be further developed through the ongoing conversations in the International Commission for Anglican Orthodox Theological Dialogue and through the more informal talks that happen. I can assure you that I will provide the necessary encouragement for our ecumenical journey together.

During the last years we have seen the world changing in a diversity of ways. We have had an economic crisis through a banking system which had lost its way, seeking its own good at the expense of nations and their peoples. There is conflict in many regions of the world, acute poverty, unemployment and an influx of oppressed people driven away from their own countries and seeking refuge elsewhere. In Southern Europe terrible suffering has seized the people, most especially the poor for whom we weep and cry to God. The churches are rising to the challenge, empowered by the Holy Spirit and filled with his compassion. Hence in standing with the poor in love, we may work together. How can we strengthen and help each other bear one another’s burdens?

Your Holiness, I am aware that you are known as the ‘Green Patriarch’. We are grateful for your energy and efforts to raise awareness for preserving and protecting our environment. You have been the leading voice expressing concerns and have initiated a number of seminars and dialogues, also in co-sponsorship with His Royal Highness Prince Philip, to mobilise spiritual and moral forces to achieve harmony between humanity and nature. This third millennium has made us realise that environmental issues require our day to day attention. We are witnesses to global calamities. The Christian Orthodox theological understanding points us all to our natural environment as part of Creation and characterised by sacredness. This is a responsibility for all of us and your contributions will enable us to speak out more intentionally on environmental issues at an individual, national and international level. Abuse and destruction of the environment denies the grace of God. Economic crises tempt governments and people to look to the short term and forget the needs of the generation to come.    

Finally, it is clear to me that our theological dialogues today do face new challenges and I do recognise that there are also some issues that raise difficulties, but I take courage from your words to one of my predecessors:

In spite of such obstacles, we cannot allow ourselves to congeal the love between us which is also manifested in dialogue so “let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us” with the good hope that the Lord of powers and mercy “will not let us be tested beyond our strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that we may be able to endure it” (1Cor. 10:13).

Your All Holiness, this is a vital visit for me and it would be my privilege to be able to welcome you in 2015 to London. I look forward to the remaining time with you and the Patriarchate. There is much that unites us and as we continue to strengthen the bonds of friendship our understanding of each other’s traditions will grow. It is therefore in this spirit that I greet you and ask for your prayers for our ministry. 

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