The Winter of Our Discontent

The Ecumenical Patriarch
addresses the Presiding Bishop
of the Episcopal Church

 

BISHOP GRISWOLD, Presiding Hierarch of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, our beloved brother in the Lord:

With deep and heartfelt joy we welcome you to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the ancient See of Saint Andrew the First-Called Apostle. With gratitude to God we receive you with the apostolic salutation: "Grace and peace be unto you from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ."

We also extend our greetings to the esteemed members of your entourage, whom we welcome as friends, as indeed they are, for we have known some of them for many years. Through you, we also wish to offer our patriarchal blessings and benedictions to all of the bishops, clergy, and pious faithful of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America.

We are pleased that, following your election as the Presiding Bishop, you have continued the old and venerable custom, established by your eminent predecessors, to visit the heart of our Holy Church here in our beautiful and historic City, the Queen of Cities.

We hope that this visit will be the first of many, for your presence here signifies the fervour of our brotherly affection and the strength of our mutual commitment to cooperate and collaborate as we carry out the work of the Gospel.

Whenever the venerable Ecumenical Throne receives the heads of Churches as our honoured guests, it is for us an occasion of great rejoicing, and all the more so when we receive a spiritual shepherd in whom we recognize so clearly the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity, as we do in your person. We hope that your pilgrimage to the spiritual centre of Orthodoxy - to its churches, monasteries, shrines, museums, and archaeological monuments - will lead you to regard our City to truly be the age-old bridge uniting both East and West, as it indeed has been for nearly two millennia.

The second millennium after Christ will soon come to a close. Our millennium began tragically with the division of the seamless garment of Christ, His holy Church, namely, with the separation between the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Church. Subsequent centuries have seen the continued lamentable process of fragmentation and disruption of communion between believers in Christ, both in the East and in the West.

We glorify God, nonetheless, because, in His guiding wisdom, the wounds of division that have afflicted the people of God for so many centuries are beginning to heal. And we now humbly bow before Him in thanksgiving for deeming us worthy to take part in this blessed process of healing.

We speak, of course, of the recent, considerable efforts that the Churches around the world have been undertaking to mend these divisions, efforts such as our ongoing theological dialogues that have lead to the signing of agreed statements on matters of faith and ecclesiastical practice. In particular, we recognize the value of the work of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, as well as the joint statements of Leunberg, Porvoo, and Waterloo. These activities indeed show that the centuries-old barriers of isolation and estrangement between those who bear the name of Christ are finally giving way and the foul odour of deadly separation is being overcome by the sweet "fragrance of life unto life" (II Cor. 2:16).

Your visit this day is in part an outcome of our prayers and efforts for continued growth and understanding between our Churches, with the hope of attaining a common witness - a shared martyria - through word, deed, and sacrament, unto the world around us. The faithful of our Churches in the United States have a critical role to play in this endeavour, through the promotion of Christian fellowship, the cultivation of theological understanding, and the development of joint social actions. Such fraternal acts will ultimately assist us all in progressing toward our common hope and prayer for unity, so that as disciples of Jesus Christ, we may be one, even as our Triune God is One.

The Holy Church of Constantionple - the Church of dialogue - remains faithful to the tradition and patristic teaching of the ancient, undivided Church. For, following the words of Saint Basil the Great, we also desire "that the body of Christ, having returned to unity in all its parts, may be made perfect, and that we may not only rejoice at the good fortune of others, as we do now, but may also see our own Churches recover their ancient glory of Orthodoxy" (Epistle XCII).

Therefore, the Ecumenical Throne is dedicated and will continue to promote the cause of Christian unity. From long experience, however, we know that the path to our common and sacred goal is long and difficult. It demands selfless and tireless effort, good will, and love. As we traverse this straight and narrow way, we must first and foremost open our hearts to receive strength and direction from the Spirit of Truth Himself, the promised Comforter and Paraclete, the very animator of our life in Christ who will lead us forward with boldness and conviction.

With this in mind, we must now recognize and contend with the current ecumenical malaise that has impeded our mutual undertakings. In recent times, there has been a cooling of relations, a loss of our initial drive to accomplish the task set before us. Never before in the history of the Ecumenical Patriarchate's participation in inter-Christian relations -- which includes full membership in the World Council of Churches since its foundation in Amsterdam in 1948 and participation in the Conference of European Churches, as well as in other regional and national Christian councils, has this situation been so troublesome. This has caused many, perhaps rightfully so, to proclaim this period to be the "winter of ecumenism."

For this reason we are disheartened. We are also saddened because the current strain and disappointment of some of our sister Orthodox Churches in the direction that our ecumenical partnership has taken, has caused them to withdraw for a time from certain ecumenical activities as a way of expressing their uneasiness over particular issues. Their concerns are indeed legitimate, especially in the matter of missionary activities and open proselytism within their local ecclesiastical jurisdictions by outside agencies, or in the matter of changing criteria for ordination to holy orders. We, nonetheless, wish to affirm that by the grace of God and our honest, forthright reflection and commitment to the truth, even these obstacles can be overcome.

Once again, beloved brother, we welcome you into our midst. We hope you will enjoy our hospitality to the fullest and take advantage of the cultural and historic offerings of this City. With our whole heart we pray for the love, mercy, and peace of Almighty God upon you and the honourable members of your entourage, so that in length of days and strength of soul as you may continue your service and ministry with dedication unto the glory of the Lord's most holy Name.

The grace of God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - be with you. Amen.


PHANAR, JUNE 8, 1998

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