Istanbul, December 1, 2014 Independent Balkan News Agency
By Spiros Sideris
The Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis is an author and theologian who serves as advisor to the Ecumenical Patriarch on environmental issues. In January 2012, he received the title of Archdeacon of the Ecumenical Throne by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
Revered, at a crucial time for world peace and the upsurge of religious extremism, do you consider important the approach of the Orthodox and the Catholic Church; Can the two churches help in the dialogue for peace and how;
There is no doubt that a more united Christianity is far stronger and more influential than a divided, isolated Christianity. After all, the two leaders of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Roman Catholic Church represent over one quarter of the world’s population. This means that, together, they can certainly speak out more authoritatively on social and moral issues of our time, but also address more constructively the political and economic challenges of our world. If we are not yet united in doctrine and the sacraments, we can at least respond to the painful and critical reality of the poor, the persecution of Christians and other minorities, the suffering of victims of war, and the instability of refugees in the Middle East.
Over the last decades there has been an open dialogue with the aim being the convergence of the two Churches. How close are we to overcome the schism that separates the Orthodox and Catholic Church for centuries? What are the issues that take longer to resolve. Doctrinal, liturgical or issues “power” is the real problem;
About fifty years ago, in response to the courageous initiatives of Popes John XXIII and Paul VI with Patriarch Athenagoras, there began a “dialogue of love”, which included closer communication and cooperation between our two Churches. Then, in 1980, the “dialogue of truth” was established by Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Demetrios in order to examine together – on equal terms – the theological issues that still divide us. To this day, there have been a number of common, agreed statements produced by this dialogue on such matters as the Holy Trinity, the Sacraments and the Church. If we are honest with ourselves and each other, we must admit that there is more that unites us than divides us as churches.
However, at the same time, there are significant theological differences, which must be studied and discussed openly and critically in order to determine what the next steps should be toward a restoration of unity. It is significant that, exactly 35 years after Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Demetrios decided to establish the international commission for theological dialogue, we have come to the point of discussing the thorny issue of primacy and collegiality in the Church. I think that the Christian Churches of East and West have never imposed uniformity in liturgical or even canonical matters. However, the problem of primacy and authority in the Church will have to be clarified – indeed, I would say it needs to be clarified not only between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox theologians, but also within the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches themselves.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate spatially is located in a Muslim country, Turkey. Is there a dialogue between the two religions? Could the Patriarchate act as a facilitator of Peace in the Muslim world, to become the Apostle of Peace and how?
There is a powerful symbolical image in the foyer at the entrance to the central offices of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul. It is a magnificent mosaic depicting Gennadios Scholarios, first Ecumenical Patriarch of the period under Ottoman occupation. The Patriarch stands with hand outstretched, receiving from the Sultan Mehmet II the “firman” or legal document guaranteeing the continuation and protection of the Orthodox Church and the protection of its traditions throughout the period of Ottoman rule. It is an icon of the beginnings of a long coexistence and interfaith commitment, whose legacy is still felt and lived by Greeks, Turks and others in the region.
Grounding his efforts on a 550-year history of coexistence with Muslims in the Middle East, Patriarch Bartholomew has organized a series of bilateral conversations and theological discussions with Muslim leaders throughout the region. Indeed, there have been numerous such dialogues organized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, dating back to 1986. Moreover, in order to strengthen that dialogue, he has traveled extensively to Libya, Syria, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Azerbaijan, Qatar, Kazakhstan, and Bahrain and met with political and religious figures in those countries, which no other Christian church leader has ever visited. As a result, the Patriarch has earned greater credibility and achieved greater opportunity to create bridges between Christianity and Islam than any other prominent Christian leader.