The Eucumenical Patriarch and the Pope - Seeking Unity

“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” (Psalm 133:1)

What a beautiful phrase from Holy Scripture – “for brethren to dwell in unity.” Our world is full of divisions -  some divisions imposed on us from history, others we’ve inherited from our forbearers and family, certain divisions created by our own attitudes and perceptions, and plenty of divisions furthered by our sinfulness and shortcomings.

Too often we separate ourselves from others, creating the “us verses them” categories – by color, by ethnicity, by religion, by social/economic class, by politics, by gender, by athletics, by so many divisions. And yet, a central part of the Good News that Jesus Christ brought into the world was that in Him, we can heal our divisions, we can unite with one another through the power of His divine love. As St. Paul so eloquently stated, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free; there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:23-24)

Jesus Himself highlighted this unity in His high priestly prayer prior to His passion and resurrection, when He encouraged his followers by saying, “I pray that all may be one, as You, Father are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us.” (John 17:21)

Last Sunday, we witnessed a beautiful expression of this desire for unity when Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the first among Orthodox bishops worldwide, and Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, came together to celebrate the feast of St. Andrew at the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople/Istanbul. This was the second time this year that the heads of the two ancient churches came together as a sign and witness of their desire for unity. For 1000 years, the Christian Church was largely united, followed by the past 1000 years when many divisions have separated the followers of Jesus Christ.

Yet despite the historical and theological differences that created these separations, Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis are building bridges to draw closer together, and are praying for this unity of spirit. Listen to parts of the two joint statements they wrote during their interaction in Jerusalem in May, and in Constantinople last week:

While fully aware of not having reached the goal of full communion, today we confirm our commitment to continue walking together towards the unity for which Christ our Lord prayed to the Father so "that all may be one" (Jn 17:21).

We look forward in eager anticipation to the day in which we will finally partake together in the Eucharistic banquet… 

There is likewise an urgent need for effective and committed cooperation of Christians in order to safeguard everywhere the right to express publicly one's faith and to be treated fairly when promoting that which Christianity continues to offer to contemporary society and culture.

Indifference and mutual ignorance can only lead to mistrust and unfortunately even conflict… We call all  to pursue and to strengthen interreligious dialogue and to make every effort to build a culture of peace.

Patriarch Bartholomew went on to highlight:

The cold love between us has been rekindled, while our desire to do everything in our capacity so that our communion in the same faith and the same chalice may once again emerge has been galvanized.

How can humanity survive tomorrow when it is severed today by diverse divisions, conflicts and animosities, frequently even in the name of God?

[While] many people place their hope on science; others on politics; still others in technology, yet none of these can guarantee the future, unless humanity espouses the message of reconciliation, love and justice; the mission of embracing the other, the stranger, and even the enemy.

We no longer have the luxury of isolated action. The modern persecutors of Christians do not ask which Church their victims belong to. The unity that concerns us is regrettably already occurring in certain regions of the world through the blood of martyrdom.

And Pope Francis noted the common faith which binds us:

I think of the many Orthodox, Catholics and Protestants who come together … not because they ignore the differences which still separate us, but because they are able to see beyond them; they are able to embrace what is essential and what already unites us.

This ecumenical meeting of the spiritual leaders of our Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, and their words of reconciliation and unity, offer a great witness to each one of us to always strive for dialogue, mutual understanding, and ultimate reconciliation with one another. Let us reflect on the divisions that we hold in our own lives, and which separate us from others, and let us work toward “embracing the other, the stranger, and even the enemy.”

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