We offer glory and thanks to God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Trinity one in essence and undivided – for this blessed opportunity to warmly welcome all of you once again to our historic city of Constantinople. This is the spiritual center of an age and region which served as home to all of the early Great and Ecumenical Councils of the undivided Christian Church in the first millennium.
We recognize the presence of many eminent speakers, hierarchs and academics, including clergy, monastics, and laity – and we thank them in advance for their esteemed attendance and invaluable contribution. In this regard, we also express our appreciation to Mr. Jack Figel for organizing this third meeting of Orientale Lumen in Istanbul. As all of our forefathers of the Great Councils of the Church experienced, we too can repeat: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together.” (Psalm 132:1)
We have followed the deliberations of your international land local gatherings since they began in Washington DC in 1997. From the outset, these conferences have expressed a special appreciation for the “Light of the East,” exploring the rich spiritual and theological heritage of the Orthodox Church in the spirit of the Apostolic Letter, Orientale Lumen, by His Holiness Pope John Paul II. This inheritance can also guide us in healing the wounds of our Christian divisions. For, over many years, such Conferences have provided a valuable opportunity for members of the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Church to meet together, pray together, and study together. It is to this healing of divisions and unity of mind that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has been dedicated through the centuries but most especially over the last century.
1. In many ways, this journey toward visible and sacramental unity namely, our dedicated and continual response to the Lord’s command that, as His disciples, we “may all be one” (John 17:21) is one of the most important elements of the Church’s conciliar nature. Thus, the Councils of our Church are precisely a commitment to Christian unity. They articulate the necessary critical steps for overcoming political and doctrinal division, or ecclesiastical and theological estrangement. They formulate fundamental guidelines for the definition of community boundaries and evasion of general pitfalls. The Councils are, first and foremost, gatherings of unity and assemblies of communion. They are, therefore, essentially liturgical occasions for leaders of the Church to “love one another so that with one mind [they] may confess Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” as we chant each Sunday in the Divine Liturgy of our venerable predecessor on the Throne of Constantinople, St. John Chrysostom.
2. If conciliar gatherings are primarily assemblies of unity and communion, they are also gatherings of the Spirit or charismatic meetings. They are essentially Pentecostal events, where deliberation and discussion – indeed, even difference and divergence result in “avoiding all schisms”(I Corinthians 1:10) and resolve in “maintaining unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:6) It is only when we are gathered together in Openness and fellowship, when we dialogue in love and truth, that we can be sure that the Paraclete is guiding our steps in the way of the Lord. It is only when we can sincerely and humbly surrender individual arrogance or institutional pride that we can be assured of discerning the way of the Spirit.
It is, as the early monastics of the Egyptian desert liked to say, only when we “give blood that we may receive the Spirit.” (Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Abba Longinus) It is when the Apostles of Christ gathered together to deliberate candidly on the common problems that they encountered as the early Christian community that they were able confidently to claim that the Holy Spirit was speaking to them, in them, and through them. In the inspired words of the Apostolic Council, but also the opening phrase of every Ecumenical Council through the ages: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us …” (Acts15.28)
3. Finally, if conciliar gatherings are liturgical and Pentecostal events, they are also timely gatherings and contemporary meetings, mandated by the historical circumstances and current conditions of the Church in a particular age and place. It is important to remember that councils or synods whether the Apostolic Synod in the early Church or the Great Councils through the centuries have always convened in response to specific needs and problems, as a result of distinct predicaments and challenges. In this regard, in October 2008, during the 5th Synaxis of the Heads of the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches throughout the world, we affirmed our obligation and commitment to advance the preparations for the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, already commenced through Pan-Orthodox Pre-Conciliar Consultations. Moreover, we emphasized the importance of activating the 1993 agreement of the Inter-Orthodox Consultation of the Holy and Great Council in order to resolve the pending matter of the Orthodox Diaspora. Consequently, at the initiative and invitation of the Mother Church of Constantinople, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, representatives of the local Orthodox Churches have unanimously attended – since the First Pan-Orthodox Conference held in 1961 in Rhodes – several meetings, most recently the 4th Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference held in 2009 in Chambesy. Thereafter, a number of Episcopal Assemblies have met throughout the Orthodox world in preparation for the Holy and Great Council, which we fervently pray will soon be convened for the glory of God and the edification of His people in order that we may speak “with one voice and one heart” to the contemporary world, which “always asks us to be accountable for the hope that is in us, with gentleness and reverence.” (I Peter 3:15)
With these modest observations about the conciliar nature of our Church – that is to say, the understanding of councils as gatherings of unity, as assemblies of the Spirit, and as crucial responses to contemporary demands we convey upon all of you our Patriarchal wishes and paternal prayers for a successful conference in this city, where so much of the conciliar activity of the Orthodox Church occurred over the span of a thousand years.”
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)