.- Pope Benedict XVI successfully completed his top objective today in Istanbul, joining Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I in celebrating one of the most solemn feasts of the Orthodox calendar, the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle. Both the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Holy Father offered words during the Byzantine liturgy celebrating the Patron of the Church of Constantinople and brother of St. Peter. The Holy Father recommitted himself, during his homily, to seeking the reunification of the two Churches.
The Holy Father was invited to join the Patriarch for this important feast shortly after his election as Pope and the celebration was the primary reason for his trip to Turkey.
The Pontiff arrived at the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George to the ringing of numerous bells, which in the Orthodox tradition signals the call to prayer and honors important visitors. According to a press release from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, “The ringing of the church bells at the Ecumenical Patriarchate joyfully celebrated Pope Benedict’s arrival and the of visit Orthodox-Catholic relations.”
As the traditional Orthodox Doxology was intoned, the Patriarch took his place at the episcopal throne and Pope Benedict took a seat of honor across from him. The Pope prayed silently during the liturgy, standing to embrace Patriarch Bartholomew and exchange a kiss of peace.
"The kiss of peace is a sign of reconciliation,” noted Fr. Dositheos Anagnostopoulos, Patriarchal Press Officer, “a symbol of fellowship of the faithful in the Holy Spirit.”
The Patriarch offered a theology of the Liturgy during his homily, considering the ancient nature of the Orthodox liturgy and its unification of heaven and earth.
“Your Holiness and beloved brother in Christ,” Patriarch Bartholomew told Pope Benedict during his homily, “this con-celebration of heaven and earth, of history and time, brings us closer to each other today through the blessing of the presence, together with all the saints, of the predecessors of our Modesty, namely St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom,” mentioning again his thankfulness for the returning of the relics of these two Saints by Pope John Paul II.
“The Liturgy teaches us to broaden our horizon and vision, to speak the language of love and communion, but also to learn that we must be with one another in spite of our differences and even divisions,” Bartholomew continued. “In its spacious embrace, it includes the whole world, the communion of saints, and all of God's creation. The entire universe becomes ‘a cosmic liturgy,’ to recall the teaching of St. Maximus the Confessor. This kind of Liturgy can never grow old or outdated.”
The Patriarch concluded his remarks by offering a prayer of thanksgiving for the presence of the Successor of Peter, “on the festive commemoration of the Apostle founder and protector of this Church,” St. Andrew. “Once again, we gratefully greet this presence as a blessing from God, as an expression of brotherly love and honor toward our Church, and as evidence of our common desire to continue – in a spirit of love and faithfulness to the Gospel Truth and the common tradition of our Fathers – the unwavering journey toward the restoration of full communion among our Churches, which constitutes His divine will and command. May it be so.”
Following the Patriarch’s words, Pope Benedict also offered a reflection on the communion of the two Churches and two Apostles. “Today, in this Patriarchal Church of Saint George, we are able to experience once again the communion and call of the two brothers, Simon Peter and Andrew, in the meeting of the Successor of Peter and his Brother in the episcopal ministry, the head of this Church traditionally founded by the Apostle Andrew. Our fraternal encounter highlights the special relationship uniting the Churches of Rome and Constantinople as Sister Churches,” the Pope said.
The Holy Father recalled, once again, the steps taken by Popes Paul VI and John Paul II and recommitted himself to, “advancing along the road towards the re-establishment – by God’s grace – of full communion between the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople.”
“I can assure you,” the Pope continued, “that the Catholic Church is willing to do everything possible to overcome obstacles and to seek, together with our Orthodox brothers and sisters, ever more effective means of pastoral cooperation to this end.”
Benedict also reflected on the, “even more urgent and necessary,” cooperation of the successors of Peter and Andrew for the evangelization of the world. The need for the two Churches to work together extends not only to new lands, where Christianity is not established, the Pope continued, but even in Europe, where the Christian tradition is being eroded. “The process of secularization has weakened the hold of that tradition; indeed, it is being called into question, and even rejected,” Pope Benedict lamented. “In the face of this reality, we are called, together with all other Christian communities, to renew Europe’s awareness of its Christian roots, traditions and values, giving them new vitality.”
“Our efforts to build closer ties between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches are a part of this missionary task. The divisions which exist among Christians are a scandal to the world and an obstacle to the proclamation of the Gospel,” the Pope said.
During this Feast of St. Andrew, the Holy Father also mentioned a theological sticking point which stands between the two Churches, “the issue of the universal service of Peter and his Successors.” However, the Pontiff added, the disagreement on the issue of the primacy of Peter is one, “which we hope to overcome, thanks also to the theological dialogue which has been recently resumed.”
Continuing the plan laid out by Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict invited Patriarch Bartholomew to cooperate in, “identifying ways in which the Petrine ministry might be exercised today, while respecting its nature and essence.”
“May our daily prayer and activity be inspired by a fervent desire not only to be present at the Divine Liturgy,” the Holy Father concluded, “but to be able to celebrate it together, to take part in the one table of the Lord, sharing the same bread and the same chalice. May our encounter today serve as an impetus and joyful anticipation of the gift of full communion. And may the Spirit of God accompany us on our journey!”
Following the liturgy, the two prelates processed to the balcony of the Chief Secretariat’s Synod where they offered a joint blessing to the crowd below.
The two also read and signed a mutual Declaration concerning Orthodox Christian and Roman Catholic relations later in the day.