Orthodox archbishop makes historic address to USCCB assembly

His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros, Chairman of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States, spoke of a “dialogue of love” between the two faiths and the potential for increased unity in a historic address to the Fall General Assembly of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Elpidophoros said he had “heartfelt joy” being with his “brother bishops of the USCCB,” and that Tuesday, Nov. 16, marked the first time in the history of the United States that Orthodox leadership had been present at the USCCB’s general assembly. He was joined by several other Orthodox bishops who were present as observers. 

Archbishop Jose Gomez, the president of the USCCB, and Bishop David Talley, chairman of the committee on ecumenical and interreligious affairs, arranged for the Orthodox delegation to join the assembly. Gomez invited Elpidophoros to address the assembly. 

“As you are well aware, a few weeks ago we had the honor and blessing to welcome His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew for a historic visit to this country during which he met some of you either in Washington, DC, or in New York City,” said Elphidoros. He thanked the bishops for their “warm and ecumencial presence” with the patriarch. 

Elphidoros quoted Patriarch Bartholomew’s address to the Ecumenical Reception at the National Council of Churches, where the patriarch stated that a “dialogue of love” between the faiths was the future for the two churches, and that the 21st century “should become the century of the restoration of unity.” 

“Today, I am convinced, as I present myself in front of my brother hierarchs, that this dialogue of love, initiated by Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in 1964 in Jerusalem, continues with a particular density in this blessed country,” said Elphidoros. 

This “dialogue of love” should be modeled by the relationship of Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew, explained the archbishop. In 2013, Bartholomew became the first Archbishop of Constantinople to attend a papal enthronement, and the two have worked together, along with other faith leaders, to discuss the best approaches on societal issues. 

This dialogue between Catholicism and Orthodoxy “is a clear manifestation of our common desire for unity and communion on both a global and local level,” said Elphidoros, and he said that the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation “should not be shy” about what it has accomplished in its existence. 

 “Since 1965 — at the happy coincidence of the reestablishment of Catholic-Orthodox relations and the Second Vatican Council — this Consultation has produced thirty-two documents, reports, and statements,” he said. “Some of them became real references for theologians, and for our Churches to walk together towards unity.”

These writings, he said, are the “real fruits” of the collaboration between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, fruits that serve to “nourish both our communities.” 

In addition to the publications, Elphidoros said that the improving relationships between the two faiths produce spiritual fruits as well. 

“Every year the Assembly of Bishops together with the USCCB offer the opening prayer at the March for Life,” he said. “Just a few months ago, the Assembly of Bishops also signed on to an Amicus brief supporting the sanctity of life.”

Looking ahead, Elphidoros said that the Orthodox Christians are “very interested” in the synodal process, particularly the October 2023 Catholic Synod of Bishops, and would be interested in providing input as the preparations for the synod begin. 

“I am convinced that the future and mission of Catholic-Orthodox relations in the USA is to continue to bear witness to God’s presence in the world, faithful to the Spirit of Jerusalem that we received as a legacy,” he said. 

“Ecumenical dialogue bears in itself a synodal dimension that explores the meaning and praxis of the very nature of the Church structure and mission,” said Elphidoros, adding that while international dialogue is studying the interdependence between synodality and primacy, “perhaps, in our American context, as we dedicate our energy and time to sharing this important issue and reflecting together, it will bear fruit in due course.” 

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Elphidoros closed his speech by thanking the bishops, saying he hopes that “there will be many more opportunities to come together as brothers.” 

He then gave Archbishop Gomez a silver pectoral cross from the Hagia Sophia, “the universal cathedral of Christianity,” as a symbol of his “love and appreciation.”

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