Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople’s newest encyclical encourages dialogue between the Orthodox Church and other Christian churches and laments those who are “unacceptably fanatical” in challenging such dialogue. He specifically condemned the false rumors spread about Catholic-Orthodox dialogue.
Patriarch Bartholomew’s patriarchal and synodal encyclical was dated Feb. 21, Orthodoxy Sunday, when the Orthodox Church celebrates the defeat of the iconoclastic heresy.
His letter began by noting the failure of those who tried to suppress, silence or falsify the Orthodox Church. He said that the Ecumenical Patriarchate cares about “protecting and establishing” the unity of the Orthodox Church in order that the Orthodox Christian faith may be confessed “with one voice and in one heart.”
Orthodoxy, he said, must be promoted with humility and interpreted in light of each historical period and cultural circumstance.
“To this purpose, Orthodoxy must be in constant dialogue with the world. The Orthodox Church does not fear dialogue because truth is not afraid of dialogue,” Bartholomew continued, saying that a Church enclosed within itself would no longer be “catholic.”
Dialogue with the outside world must first pass through all those who call themselves Christian, he wrote.
“We must first converse as Christians among ourselves in order to resolve our differences, in order that our witness to the outside world may be credible,” the Patriarch continued, citing Jesus’ prayer that all his disciples “may be one.”
From this source, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has conducted official Pan-Orthodox theological dialogues with the larger Christian Churches to discuss divisions in faith.
He noted that although these dialogues are conducted “with the mutual agreement and participation of all local Orthodox Churches,” they are challenged in “an unacceptably fanatical way” by some who claim to be defenders of Orthodoxy.
Such opponents raise themselves above episcopal synods and risk creating schisms, the Patriarch warned.
He also accused some critics of distorting reality to “deceive and arouse the faithful” and of depicting theological dialogue not as a pan-Orthodox effort, but an effort of the Ecumenical Patriarchate alone.
“They disseminate false rumors that union between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches is imminent, while they know well that the differences discussed in these theological dialogues remain numerous and require lengthy debate; moreover, union is not decided by theological commissions but by Church Synods,” Bartholomew wrote. “They assert that the Pope will supposedly subjugate the Orthodox, because the latter submit to dialogue with the Roman Catholics!”
According to the Patriarch, such critics also engage in condescension towards efforts aimed at achieving Christian unity and wrongly condemn them as representing “the pan-heresy of ecumenism.”
“Beloved children in the Lord, Orthodoxy has no need of either fanaticism or bigotry to protect itself. Whoever believes that Orthodoxy has the truth does not fear dialogue, because truth has never been endangered by dialogue,” the Patriarch stated. “Orthodoxy cannot proceed with intolerance and extremism.”
Patriarch Bartholomew encouraged Orthodox believers to have “utmost confidence” in their Mother Church.
He closed his encyclical letter with a prayer of Lenten blessing, asking that readers become worthy of celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ with all faithful Orthodox Christians.