JERUSALEM – His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and His Holiness Pope Francis celebrated a fifty-year milestone today, continuing the legacy of their predecessors Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras. Meeting at the Apostolic Delegation in the Old City of Jerusalem, the worldwide heads of the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches signed a Joint Declaration affirming their commitment to and anticipation of full sacramental unity in obedience to the commandment of Jesus Christ that his “disciples may be one.” They also expressed their profound concern for the plight of Christians in the Middle East and reaffirmed their fervent commitment to respect and protect God’s creation. Finally, they underlined the importance of dialogue among the world’s religions.
After the Joint Declaration was signed, the two global Christian leaders proceeded to the Church of the Resurrection, where they venerated the Holy Sepulcher, the Tomb of Christ. Following some private moments in the Cenotaph, they offered an ecumenical prayer of thanksgiving, which was attended by other local Christian leaders and faithful from all over the world. In his address, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew said:
Fifty years ago, two great church leaders, the late Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, cast out fear; they cast away from themselves the fear which had prevailed for a millennium, a fear which had kept the two ancient Churches of the West and East at a distance from one another. And so here we are with His Holiness Pope Francis, as their successors, following in their footsteps and honoring their heroic initiative. We have exchanged an embrace of love, even as we continue along the path toward full communion with one another in love and truth in order that the world may believe that no other way leads to life except the way of love, reconciliation, genuine peace and fidelity to the Truth.
The decision to commemorate the 1964 meeting of Paul VI and Athenagoras was initiated by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew during the installation of the new Pontiff in March of 2013. This was the first documented occasion in history that an Ecumenical Patriarch attended the installation of the Bishop of Rome. During those celebratory days, the agreement to commemorate this remarkable anniversary was born in their private meeting.
Subsequently, both leaders announced their intention to meet in Jerusalem to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the meeting of their predecessors, Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras. That meeting, in 1964, was the first time an Ecumenical Patriarch and a Pope assembled in over five hundred years. The historic encounter led to the Lifting of the Anathemas (December 7, 1965) that had separated the two Churches since 1054.
Homily by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the Joint Prayer Service
(Holy Sepulcher, May 25, 2014)
“Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.” (Matt. 28.5-6)
Your Holiness and dearly beloved brother in Christ,
Your Beatitude Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem, much loved brother and concelebrant in the Lord,
Your Eminences, Your Excellencies, and very reverend representatives of the Christian churches and confessions,
Esteemed brothers and sisters,
It is with awe, emotion and respect that we stand before “the place where the Lord lay,” the life-giving tomb from which life emerged. And we offer glory to the all-merciful God, who rendered us, as His unworthy servants, worthy of this supreme blessing to become pilgrims in the place where the mystery of the world’s salvation transpired. “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Gen. 28.17)
We have come as the myrrh-bearing women, on the first day of the week, “to see the sepulcher” (Matt. 28.1), and we too, like they, hear the angelic exhortation: “Do not be afraid.” Remove from your hearts every fear; do not hesitate; do not despair. This Tomb radiates messages of courage, hope and life.
The first and greatest message from this empty Sepulcher is that death, “this last enemy” of ours (see 1 Cor. 15.26), the source of all fears and passions, has been conquered; it no longer holds the final word in our life. It has been overcome by love, by Him, who voluntarily accepted to endure death for the sake of others. Every death for the sake of love, for the sake of another, is transformed into life, true life. “Christ is risen from the dead, by death trampling down death, and to those in the tombs He has granted life.”
Do not, then, be afraid of death; but do not also be afraid of evil, despite any form that this might assume in our life. The Cross of Christ amassed all the arrows of evil: hatred, violence, injustice, pain, humiliation – everything that is suffered by the poor, the vulnerable, the oppressed, the exploited, the marginalized and the disgraced in our world. However, rest assured – all of you who are crucified in this life – that, just as in the case of Christ, the Cross is followed by the Resurrection; that hatred, violence and injustice have no prospect; and that the future belongs to justice, love and life. Therefore, you should work toward this end with all the resources that you have in love, faith and patience.
Nonetheless, there is another message that emanates from this venerable Tomb, before which we stand at this moment. This is the message that history cannot be programmed; that the ultimate word in history does not belong to man, but to God. In vain did the guards of secular power watch over this Tomb. In vain did they place a very large stone against the door of the Tomb, so that none could roll it away. In vain are the long-term strategies of the world’s powerful – everything is eventually contingent upon the judgment and will of God. Every effort of contemporary humanity to shape its future alone and without God constitutes vain conceit.
Lastly, this sacred Tomb invites us to shed another fear that is perhaps the most prevalent in our modern age: namely, fear of the other, fear of the different, fear of the adherent of another faith, another religion, or another confession. Racial and all other forms of discrimination are still widespread in many of our contemporary societies; what is worst is that they frequently even permeate the religious life of people. Religious fanaticism already threatens peace in many regions of the globe, where the very gift of life is sacrificed on the altar of religious hatred. In the face of such conditions, the message of the life-giving Tomb is urgent and clear: love the other, the different other, the followers of other faiths and other confessions. Love them as your brothers and sisters. Hatred leads to death, while love “casts out fear” (1 John 4.18) and leads to life.
Fifty years ago, two great church leaders, the late Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, cast out fear; they cast away from themselves the fear which had prevailed for a millennium, a fear which had kept the two ancient Churches, of the West and East, at a distance from one another, sometimes even setting them up against each other. Instead, as they stood before this sacred space, they exchanged fear with love. And so here we are, as their successors, following in their footsteps and honoring their heroic initiative. We have exchanged an embrace of love, even as we continue along the path toward full communion with one another in love and truth (Eph. 4.15) in order “that the world may believe” (John 17.21) that no other way leads to life except the way of love, reconciliation, genuine peace and fidelity to the Truth.
This is the way that all Christians are called to follow in their relations among themselves – whatever church or confession they belong to – thereby providing an example for the rest of the world. The way may be long and arduous; indeed, to some it may occasionally seem like an impasse. However, it is the only way that leads to the fulfillment of the Lord’s will “that [His disciples] may be one.” (John 17.21) It is this divine will that opened the way traveled by the leader of our faith, our Lord Jesus Christ, who was crucified and resurrected in this holy place. To Him belong glory and might, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, to the ages of ages. Amen.
“Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God.” (1 John 4.7)
Speech by Pope Francis During The Holy Sepulchre Ecumenical Celebration
(Jerusalem – 25.05.2014)
In this Basilica, which all Christians regard with the deepest veneration, my pilgrimage in the company of my beloved brother in Christ, His Holiness Bartholomaios, now reaches its culmination. We are making this pilgrimage in the footsteps of our venerable predecessors, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, who, with courage and docility to the Holy Spirit, made possible, fifty years ago, in this holy city of Jerusalem, an historic meeting between the Bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople. I cordially greet all of you who are present. In a special way I express my heartfelt gratitude to those who have made this moment possible: His Beatitude Theophilos, who has welcomed us so graciously, His Beatitude Nourhan Manoogian and Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa.
It is an extraordinary grace to be gathered here in prayer. The empty tomb, that new garden grave where Joseph of Arimathea had reverently placed Jesus’ body, is the place from which the proclamation of the resurrection begins: “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised, as he said.
Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead'” (Mt 28:5-7).
This proclamation, confirmed by the testimony of those to whom the risen Lord appeared, is the heart of the Christian message, faithfully passed down from generation to generation, as the Apostle Paul, from the very beginning, bears witness:
“I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). This is the basis of the faith which unites us, whereby together we profess that Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of the Father and our sole Lord, “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead” (Apostles’ Creed ). Each of us, everyone baptized in Christ, has spiritually risen from this tomb, for in baptism all of us truly became members of the body of the One who is the Firstborn of all creation; we were buried together with him, so as to be raised up with him and to walk in newness of life (cf. Rom 6:4).
Let us receive the special grace of this moment. We pause in reverent silence before this empty tomb in order to rediscover the grandeur of our Christian vocation: we are men and women of resurrection, and not of death. From this place we learn how to live our lives, the trials of our Churches and of the whole world, in the light of Easter morning. Every injury, every one of our pains and sorrows, has been borne on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd who offered himself in sacrifice and thereby opened the way to eternal life. His open wounds are the cleft through which the torrent of his mercy is poured out upon the world. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of the basis of our hope! Let us not deprive the world of the joyful message of the resurrection! And let us not be deaf to the powerful summons to unity which rings out from this very place, in the words of the One who, risen from the dead, calls all of us “my brothers” (cf. Mt 28:10; Jn 20:17).
Clearly we cannot deny the divisions which continue to exist among us, the disciples of Jesus: this sacred place makes us even more painfully aware of how tragic they are. And yet, fifty years after the embrace of those two venerable Fathers, we realize with gratitude and renewed amazement how it was possible, at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, to take truly significant steps towards unity. We know that much distance still needs to be travelled before we attain that fullness of communion which can also be expressed by sharing the same Eucharistic table, something we ardently desire; yet our disagreements must not frighten us and paralyze our progress. We need to believe that, just as the stone before the tomb was cast aside, so too every obstacle to our full communion will also be removed. This will be a grace of resurrection, of which we can have a foretaste even today. Every time we ask forgiveness of one another for our sins against other Christians and every time we find the courage to grant and receive such forgiveness, we experience the resurrection! Every time we put behind us our longstanding prejudices and find the courage to build new fraternal relationships, we confess that Christ is truly risen! Every time we reflect on the future of the Church in the light of her vocation to unity, the dawn of Easter breaks forth! Here I reiterate the hope already expressed by my predecessors for a continued dialogue with all our brothers and sisters in Christ, aimed at finding a means of exercising the specific ministry of the Bishop of Rome which, in fidelity to his mission, can be open to a new situation and can be, in the present context, a service of love and of communion acknowledged by all (cf. JOHN PAUL II, Ut Unum Sint , 95-96).
Standing as pilgrims in these holy places, we also remember in our prayers the entire Middle East, so frequently and lamentably marked by acts of violence and conflict. Nor do we forget in our prayers the many other men and women who in various parts of our world are suffering from war, poverty and hunger, as well as the many Christians who are persecuted for their faith in the risen Lord. When Christians of different confessions suffer together, side by side, and assist one another with fraternal charity, there is born an ecumenism of suffering, an ecumenism of blood, which proves particularly powerful not only for those situations in which it occurs, but also, by virtue of the communion of the saints, for the whole Church as well.
Your Holiness, beloved brother, dear brothers and sisters all, let us put aside the misgivings we have inherited from the past and open our hearts to the working of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of love (cf. Rom 5:5) and of truth (cf. Jn 16:13), in order to hasten together towards that blessed day when our full communion will be restored. In making this journey, we feel ourselves sustained by the prayer which Jesus himself, in this city, on the eve of his passion, death and resurrection, offered to the Father for his disciples. It is a prayer which we ourselves in humility never tire to make our own: “that they may all be one… that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21).
(photos by Dimitrios Panagos and John Mindala)