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Letter to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

29 August 2007

Geneva, 29 August 2007

Your All Holiness,

"Grace, mercy and peace be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love!" (2 Jn).

Warmest greetings to you from the World Council of Churches.  This letter comes from the headquarters of the WCC and the Ecumenical Center in Geneva as a sign of support in a time of concern for Your All Holiness.  It is an expression of the worldwide solidarity that exists among WCC member churches of every continent for the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul.

We write as a result of recent developments, especially the decision of the Supreme Court of Appeals and subsequent acts by judicial authorities in Turkey which have again challenged your Patriarchate's  long-established use of the title 'Ecumenical'.  We also recall our letter of May 2007 to the Turkish ambassador in Geneva, when violence and threats against church members there included threats to your person.  Please know that amid these troubles you have our firm support in the fulfillment of the Patriarchate's important religious ministries.

The term 'Ecumenical' holds great significance for Christians.  It is precious to all who understand the call of churches to affirm life, seek unity and serve their neighbors.  It has a unique and historic importance to the world's 300 million Orthodox believers. The title 'Ecumenical' is given only to the Patriarchate of Constantinople, as 'first among equals' among those entrusted with the leadership of the Orthodox world.  In consequence and over many centuries, it has become the name by which the Patriarchate is known throughout the world.

Your ecumenical standing was amply recognized when the Moderator and Officers of the World Council of Churches met in your Patriarchate in Phanar, Istanbul, in December last year.  As officers of the world's largest ecumenical organization, they especially noted the historic role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in promoting fellowship and cooperation among Christian churches and confessional families around the world.

They noted that the Church of Constantinople's "ecumenical" commitment has been tangibly manifested in  your Patriarchate's historic standing and its many initiatives:

  • A leading role since the earliest centuries of the Christian church with recognition of the title 'Ecumenical' since the 6th century;
  • The establishment of relations by the Ecumenical Patriarch Jeremiah with Reformation theologians in Europe in the 16th century;
  • The development of relations with the Church of England in the 19th century;
  • Becoming the first church in the world to plan for an international ecumenical institution such as the WCC, with the Patriarchal Encyclical of 1920 (at the time when the modern state of Turkey was being formed);
  • Bringing together in the name of Christian unity, after centuries of separation, the Primates of the churches of Rome and of Constantinople, including the visit of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI with Your All Holiness in Phanar, Istanbul, in 2006;
  • Facilitating and coordinating theological dialogues between the Orthodox churches, other Christian churches and confessional families, thus creating bridges across denominational borders.

The many "ecumenical" initiatives undertaken by your Patriarchate are not limited to promoting dialogue only among Christians. Your All Holiness has personally become a leading figure of the contemporary ecumenical movement by continuing the long-standing tradition of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and playing an especially active role in the fields of:

  • Inter-religious dialogue and collaboration between Christians, Muslims and Jews, including your emphasis on the multi-religious character of the great city where you live;
  • Reconciliation among peoples and cultures;
  • The protection of the natural environment, a matter that is poignantly ecumenical in the current era.

For all these we are grateful.  We cherish your leadership in the global ecumenical movement.  We are also grateful for the permanent support offered to the World Council of Churches by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

We wish you to know of our whole-hearted appreciation of the authenticity and importance of the Ecumenical Patriarchate as an institution and the Ecumenical Patriarch as an office within the wider church world.

By copy of this letter member churches of the WCC are being invited to pray for you and to offer other expressions of solidarity. Meanwhile, we note that the Conference of European Churches has also assured you of their support and intends to raise the present concern at the forthcoming Third European Ecumenical Assembly in Sibiu, Romania.

Finally, we note with satisfaction that, despite the current difficulties, there is also recognition and appreciation being accorded to you and to the Patriarchate from within Turkish society.  These sentiments are well placed.  They are a credit to the nation.

They are a reminder of the high regard in which many around the world hold the Turkish people.  We pray that such positive estimations may be widely heard and clearly understood.  We trust that these attitudes will eventually carry the day as a true reflection of the constitution of your country and of the outlook of its people.

Yours in our common Lord,

Samuel Kobia
General Secretary