Benedict XVI arrived in Istanbul this afternoon and prayed with
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I at the Patriarchal Church of St.
George. The two leaders offered conciliatory words and mentioned the
steps in ecumenism already taken by their predecessors.
Following a short welcome in the See of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Pope Benedict and Patriarch Bartholomew processed into the gilded church amongst a pack of prelates, photographers, and security forces and to the continuous ringing of bells.
The two took their place at the head of the Church as Orthodox cantors intoned traditional Christian prayers. Following the ceremony Bartholomew formally welcomed the Pope to Istanbul, “with sincere joy and satisfaction.”
The Ecumenical Patriarch recalled the tremendous significance the city of Constantinople/Istanbul has had in the life of the Church, as well as the previous visits of Popes Paul VI and John Paul II to his Orthodox predecessors. “We are, both of us, as their successors and as successors to the Thrones of Rome and New Rome equally accountable for the steps - just, of course, as we are for any missteps - along the journey and in our struggle to obey the command of our Lord, that His disciples ‘may be one,’” Patriarch Bartholomew said.
“It was in this spirit, too,” Bartholomew reminded, “that we traveled to Rome only months later to attend the funeral of Pope John Paul.”
“We are deeply grateful to God that Your Holiness has taken similar steps today in the same spirit,” Patriarch said to the Pope. “We offer thanks to God in doxology and express thanks also to Your Holiness in fraternal love.
“Beloved Brother, welcome,” Bartholomew concluded, “Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord."
Following the Patriarch’s words Pope Benedict offered his own, using Bartholomew’s fraternal welcome as a starting point and beginning his with a line from the 133rd Psalm, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity" (Ps 133:1).
The Pope also began his remarks by recalling the various steps already taken in reconciling the two Churches. “I wish above all to recall the courageous decision to remove the memory of the anathemas of 1054,” the Holy Father said, referring to the act by which Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras removed the mutual excommunications of the Bishops of Rome and Constantinople - excommunications which signaled the final break between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
Benedict noted that the joint declaration of Paul VI and Athenagoras, “written in a spirit of rediscovered love,” in 1965 was read in a celebration held simultaneously in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and in the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George.
“It is on this foundation of mutual love that new relations between the Churches of Rome and Constantinople have developed,” the Pope added.
The Holy Father also noted the deep history of the Church of Constantinople and the,
“rich harvest of martyrs, theologians, pastors, monastics, and holy men and women which those Churches brought forth over the centuries.”
“May this meeting,” Pope Benedict concluded, “strengthen our mutual affection and renew our common commitment to persevere on the journey leading to reconciliation and the peace of the Churches.”
Following their remarks the two prelates reverenced the relics of St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory of Nanzianzus. Both Saints had served as Bishops to the Church of Constantinople and are revered by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
During his remarks, Patriarch Bartholomew mentioned the relics and noting the step taken by Pope John Paul II to return the relics to the possession of the Patriarchy. The relics had been carried to Rome during the Fourth Crusade.