Something Is Stirring in Our Church
With gratitude we offer glory above all to the holy God of our Fathers for having deemed us worthy of manifesting, through this fraternal Synaxis of ours as well, “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4.3) and of witnessing to our world the unity, peace and love, which bind us in Christ. We express our sincere thanks to each one of you, my brothers, for the effort you have undertaken in order to come to this city, rich in history and significance, so that we may accomplish the gathering of the Primates of the local holy Orthodox Autocephalous and Autonomous Churches. Many of you have suggested and proposed such a Synaxis both to my predecessor, the late Patriarch Demetrios, and to our modesty in the recent past.
These suggestions, together with the invitation on my part, as well as the response by all the brethren who were able to accept it are manifestations of our conviction that something extraordinary is happening today in the world and in our Church, which lives and moves in the world without belonging to this world (Jn 17.16). All of this increases our responsibility as shepherds of the people of God and as, by God’s grace, Primates of our local Churches. It imposes even greater vigilance, action and coordination of our resources, requiring a manifestation, at all cost, of unity, concord and unanimity to the outside world, during this present critical and historic moment, in spite of any possible internal difference of opinion, so typical of every family.
The Power of Tradition
At this moment, the world expects the salvific word of Orthodoxy. The hour of Orthodoxy – out of a sense of duty and as a result of her capabilities – has tolled to the contemporary world. Guided by the holy Scriptures and by sacred Tradition, we are blessed in the Orthodox Church to treasure the authentic teaching, not only about the Triune God, but also about humanity created in the image of God and about irrational creation.
Together with the Apostles, the Martyrs, the Fathers and the Saints from every region and from each era, we confess the apostolic faith which we celebrate particularly when we stand around the holy Altar offering the divine Eucharist, as we shall do together, with God’s help, during the great feast of Orthodoxy. All of us together, as a single body nourished by the Holy Spirit, glorify God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in various tongues and in different places “from the rising to the setting of the sun” (Ps 113.3).
We honor our brothers in the faith who remained loyal to our Lord and Savior during periods of difficulty or even persecution, particularly during recent years. We have been encouraged by their witness. We have been strengthened by their prayers. In troublesome times, God “has not been left without a witness” (Acts 14.17). May their memory be eternal! Now, when the clouds and storms have passed, we are called as Primates and as Orthodox Churches to offer our irenic witness to those near and afar. Again, our witness will not be easy. Many forces are today working against us in order to reject the reality of God and diminish the dignity of the human person. However, we completely place our trust in the Lord God. We know that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Mt.11.30).
Beloved brothers, this present holy Synaxis of ours invites us, at the commencement of Holy and Great Lent, in fear of God, to recall our responsibilities as Shepherds of Orthodoxy before peoples and nations for which Orthodoxy constitutes the only hope. Once again, we commend ourselves and each other, our whole life and ministry, and our fellow-Christians and Churches, to Christ our God. He calls each of us to be the “light of the world” (Mt 5.14) and the “salt of the earth” (Mt 5.13) And He exhorts us: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Mt.5.16).
A Critical Presence
If this is true in heaven, and if it is true from the time that the Church began, it is more valid today, since the Lord gave many of us new opportunities to fulfill His commandment to preach the Gospel to all of creation. In many parts of the world, at this very moment, great social and political changes are taking place. And we recognize the deep yearning which exists in the hearts of many people for Christ and His Church. In these times, we believe that the Lord is calling us not only to be vigilant, so as to maintain our faith, but also to have the courage to declare this faith everywhere, that the world may in the end believe (Jn 17.21) and be saved. Our times demand prophesy.
Holy brothers in Christ, our deliberations here have been carefully and meticulously prepared by our plenipotentiary representatives who gathered together at our Patriarchal Metochion in Ormylia, Chalkidiki. To them we express our thanks and pleasure. One of the topics with which we will concern ourselves here is that of our relations with Christians outside of Orthodoxy in conjunction with the events taking place in the countries of the former “iron curtain.” As this topic is included on the agenda of our fraternal Synaxis, there also appears to be great interest in this by the non-Orthodox. Certainly, our communication and our dialogue with our brothers outside of the Orthodox Church imply neither the acceptance of their doctrinal positions nor the depreciation of the historical teachings of our Orthodox faith. We humbly consider that dialogues are beneficial in our search for ways to overcome differences and in our effort to enlighten others our positions, without however sacrificing anything essential to our faith. Our Orthodox Church, containing the fullness of truth, also has a corresponding responsibility to contribute to the healing of divisions among Christians.
Although we recognize the responsibility of our Church, “which, according to the Apostle, has no spot or wrinkle through deviation from the ancient forms, never having ac cepted or added or subtracted any kind of doctrinal innovation.” Nevertheless, sometimes influenced by assaults against the Church, we often begin to be shaken in the fulfillment of our responsibility to offer unceasing witness to our faith.
Articulating the Faith
What can we say about the ecological problem, about missionary activity, about schisms existing in the body of the Church, on the position of Orthodoxy within a united Europe, and about the other topics which have been included in the memoranda, which you, my brother Primates, have co‑authored and signed? All these are so current and timely burning issues, which rightly attract our attention and assume priority among many others, which cannot for the moment be included in the agenda of our sessions here.
On those subjects which have been selected, a lengthy and comprehensive discussion took place in the Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Committee of our Synaxis, which has also prepared, on behalf of us all, the text presented to us. We believe that this text adequately expresses our common positions on the topics to which we have referred, so it may become the basis for a text of our Message to our Christians and to the world, which will be proclaimed in the context of our fraternal liturgical concelebration. Therefore, let us love one another, so that with one mind we may confess the faith of the Apostles, the faith of the Fathers, the faith of the Orthodox, the faith which sustained the universe.