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Christians of East and West Must Give Common Witness: Pope Francis Writes Patriarch Bartholomew
By Deacon Keith Fournier
December 4th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
Pope Francis' reference to the Patriarch as my brother Andrew showed the fraternal affection said to exist between them already. However, it did much more. It pointed back to the ancient bond in which the Church will find its path back to full communion, the brotherhood of Simon (Peter) and Andrew. Will the Two Lungs of the Church, East and West Breathe Together Again? I believe that they will, and sooner than many expect. This recent letter from Peter to Andrew is one more sign of the movement of the Holy Spirit toward that glorious day. May it be a seed of the coming full communion between the two sister Churches
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - Pope Francis sent a letter to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I on the Patronal feast of St Andrew the Apostle. The content of this letter signals a growing movement toward the day when the two lungs of the Church, East and West, breathe together again.
I pray daily for the full communion of the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. I do so because I believe it is the will of God that "All May be One" (John 17: 21). I am persuaded that the healing of the division between the two sister churches will unleash a profound renewal of the entire Church at the dawn of this new missionary age. I believe that the gifts found in the whole Church will enrich both East and West and assist us in the One mission which we must face together in our One Lord.
I am a revert, one who returned to my Catholic faith as a young man, I walked the way home by way of the early Church Fathers. Had I not had been baptized a Catholic of the Latin Rite; I might have become an Eastern Christian. As the decades of my life have unfolded, including my ordination as a Deacon and years of theological study, my vision and viewpoint have become profoundly Eastern. I have long prayed with icons and love the Divine Liturgy. However, I cherish the unity that comes with the gift of the Chair of Peter.
For a number of years I had the privilege of regularly serving the Divine Liturgy and I miss it. I love the Liturgy, East and West, however I find the depth of the Mystery is beautiful captured in the Liturgy of the East. Pope Francis has often noted his deep appreciation of the beauty of the Liturgy of the Eastern Church and its capacity to help those who participate enter into the mystery. There is a Latin maxim that addresses the centrality of worship in the life, identity and mission of the whole Church; "Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi". It means that the law of prayer or worship is the law of belief and the law of life. Or, even more popularly rendered, as we worship, so will we believe and live!
Worship is not some kind of add on for a Catholic or an Orthodox Christian. It is the foundation of Catholic and Orthodox identity; expressing our highest purpose. Worship reveals how we view ourselves in relationship to God, one another and the world into which we are sent to carry forward the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ. How the Church worships is a prophetic witness to the truth of what she professes.
Good worship becomes a dynamic means of drawing the entire human community into the fullness of life in Jesus Christ, lived out in the communion of the Church. It attracts - through beauty to Beauty. Worship informs and transforms both the person and the community which participates in it. There is reciprocity between worship and life.
I also long for the full communion of East and West because my oldest son is an Orthodox Christian. He, his wife and their children are all practicing Orthodox Christians. The more I visit them these days the more I appreciate the beauty of the interweaving of faith and life which comes with Eastern Christianity and its practices. Yet, the more painful our separation at the Altar, the Eucharistic Table, also becomes. I believe the pain gives me a glimpse into the very heart of the Lord who longs for our unity.
I watch for every sign that the two lungs of the One Church are beginning to fill with the one breath of Divine Life, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit alone can animate the One New Man, Jesus Christ, to heal the division which has gone on for too long in His Body. I watch with the eyes of living faith.Some tell me that I see these developments with Rose Colored glasses. If I do see through the color of rose, it is because the color symbolizes the hope which comes from faith in the Resurrection of Christ Jesus. It is also because of my bedrock conviction concerning His one plan for His One Church.
The move toward full communion between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches is prompted by the Holy Spirit. I maintain it is the most important development of the Third Christian Millennium. It has extraordinary implications for the West, indeed for the whole world, at a critical time in history. I believe it will result in the healing of the wounds which for too long have separated the Church. I believe that Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew have begun to travel down the road together.
In his first papal message Benedict XVI proclaimed, Nourished and sustained by the Eucharist, Catholics cannot but feel encouraged to strive for the full unity for which Christ expressed so ardent a hope in the Upper Room. The Successor of Peter knows that he must make himself especially responsible for his Divine Master's supreme aspiration. Indeed, he is entrusted with the task of strengthening his brethren (cf. Lk 22: 32). With full awareness, therefore, at the beginning of his ministry in the Church of Rome which Peter bathed in his blood, Peter's current Successor takes on as his primary task the duty to work tirelessly to rebuild the full and visible unity of all Christ's followers. This is his ambition, his impelling duty.
Pope Benedict placed the commitment to the full communion of the Church at the forefront of his Papacy. This was evident in his love, respect and repeated overtures toward our Orthodox brethren, whom we recognize as a full Church and whose priesthood and Sacraments we also recognize. Some wondered, after his act of selflessness in handing the office on to another, what would happen to the ground gained with our sister Church, the Orthodox Church. Pope Francis made it very clear. He continues the work toward the day when the two lungs of the Church, East and West, breathe together again. Interestingly, Pope Francis literally has only one lung due to an illness as a teenager.
On March 20, 2013 Pope Francis addressed the ecumenical guests who had attended his installation. He began with warm words to the Orthodox brethren, specifically addressing Patriarch Bartholomew, First of all, heartfelt thanks for what my Brother Andrew told us. Thank you so much! Thank you so much! The two had met in a private meeting. The Patriarch of Constantinople expressed his hope that the two could meet in Jerusalem later this year and issued an invitation of historic significance. That meeting will occur.
Pope Francis' reference to the Patriarch as my brother Andrew showed the fraternal affection said to exist between them already. However, it did much more. It pointed back to the ancient bond in which the Church will find its path back to full communion, the brotherhood of Simon (Peter) and Andrew. Will the Two Lungs of the Church, East and West Breathe Together Again? I believe that they will, and sooner than many expect. This recent letter from Peter to Andrew is one more sign of the movement of the Holy Spirit toward that glorious day. May it be a seed of the coming full communion between the two sister Churches.
After welcoming with joy the delegation which Your Holiness sent to Rome for the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, it is with the same joy that I convey, through this message entrusted to Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, my spiritual closeness on the feast of Saint Andrew, Peter's brother and the patron saint of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
With the heartfelt affection reserved for beloved brothers, I offer my prayerful best wishes to Your Holiness, to the members of the Holy Synod, to the clergy, monks and all the faithful, and - together with my Catholic brothers and sisters - join your own prayer on this festive occasion.
It is for me a source of great reassurance to reflect on the depth and the authenticity of our existing bonds, the fruit of a grace-filled journey along which the Lord has guided our Churches since the historic encounter in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, the fiftieth anniversary of which we will celebrate shortly.
God, the source of all peace and love, has taught us throughout these years to regard one another as members of the same family. For indeed we have one Lord and one Savior. We belong to him through the gift of the good news of salvation transmitted by the apostles, through the one baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity, and through the holy ministry.
United in Christ, therefore, we already experience the joy of authentic brothers in Christ, while yet fully aware of not having reached the goal of full communion. In anticipation of the day in which we will finally take part together in the Eucharistic feast, Christians are duty-bound to prepare to receive this gift of God through prayer, inner conversion, renewal of life and fraternal dialogue.
Our joy in celebrating the feast of the Apostle Andrew must not make us turn our gaze from the dramatic situation of the many people who are suffering due to violence and war, hunger, poverty and grave natural disasters. I am aware that you are deeply concerned for the situation of Christians in the Middle East and for their right to remain in their homelands.
Dialogue, pardon and reconciliation are the only possible means to achieve the resolution of conflict. Let us be unceasing in our prayer to the all-powerful and merciful God for peace in this region, and let us continue to work for reconciliation and the just recognition of peoples' rights.
Your Holiness, the memory of the martyrdom of the apostle Saint Andrew also makes us think of the many Christians of all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities who in many parts of the world experience discrimination and at times pay with their own blood the price of their profession of faith.
We are presently marking the 1700th anniversary of Constantine's Edict, which put an end to religious persecution in the Roman Empire in both East and West, and opened new channels for the dissemination of the Gospel.
Today, as then, Christians of East and West must give common witness so that, strengthened by the Spirit of the risen Christ, they may disseminate the message of salvation to the entire world. There is likewise an urgent need for effective and committed cooperation among Christians in order to safeguard everywhere the right to express publicly one's faith and to be treated fairly when promoting the contribution which Christianity continues to offer to contemporary society and culture.
It is with sentiments of profound esteem and warm friendship in Christ that I invoke abundant blessings on Your Holiness and on all the faithful of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, asking the intercession of the Virgin Mother of God and of the holy apostles and martyrs Peter and Andrew. With the same sentiments I renew my best wishes and exchange with you a fraternal embrace of peace.
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