The Ecumenical Patriarch, His All Holiness Bartholomew I, delivered a public address at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva on 24 April as part of his official visit to Switzerland on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of his enthronement as Ecumenical Patriarch and the 50th anniversary of the Orthodox Centre of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Chambésy.
In his wide-ranging exhortation to the audience, the patriarch discussed the reasons for and accomplishments of the recent Holy and Great Council, convoked in Crete in June 2016, the role of science and technology in contemporary society, the theological imperative of tackling climate change, the plight and prospects of children today, the importance of countering human trafficking and modern slavery, and the need for all Christians to engage those issues in practical ways.
Uniting all these issues, “We must all work together for the promotion of a culture of solidarity, respect for others, and dialogue. Together with the sensitization of consciences, we must participate in concrete initiatives and actions. We need a stronger mobilization on the level of action,” he said.
Reminding his audience that the Ecumenical Patriarchate was instrumental, almost one hundred years ago, in igniting the ecumenical movement and its quest for unity, Bartholomew cited milestones in the church’s and his own engagement with the WCC. Since 1955, the patriarchate has had permanent representation to the WCC in Geneva, currently led by Archbishop Job of Telmessos.
Central to Bartholomew’s range of concerns, the patriarch said, is the strong, ongoing commitment of the Orthodox churches to ecumenism.
“We Orthodox strongly believe that the aim and the raison d’être of the Ecumenical Movement and of the World Council of Churches is to fulfil the Lord’s final prayer, that ‘all may be one’ (Jn. 17:21), which is inscribed on the beautiful tapestry ornamenting the wall of this hall.
“For this reason, the Holy and Great Council stressed that ‘Orthodox participation in the movement to restore unity with other Christians in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is in no way foreign to the nature and history of the Orthodox Church, but rather represents a consistent expression of the apostolic faith and tradition in new historical circumstances.’”
Bartholomew, currently celebrating 25 years as Ecumenical Patriarch and Archbishop of Constantinople, was welcomed to the centre by Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the WCC.
Calling Bartholomew “one of the most respected church leaders of today” in his capacity as leader of the world’s Eastern Orthodox churches,” Tveit drew special attention to the patriarch’s strong moral voice and prophetic witness in the international arena, but also to ordinary Christians, including himself, everywhere.
“I was inspired by the clarity with which he was sharing the most basic and prophetic dimensions of our faith, sharing it with any audience, encouraging them to take the moral high ground in our care for humanity, for human rights, for justice and peace, but also – and particularly – for the whole of God’s creation on this planet earth where we all live,” Tveit said.
Responses to the patriarch’s address were presented by Tveit, WCC associate general secretary Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri and Archbishop Job.
For Tveit, the patriarch’s speech inspired a renewed reflection on the enduring quest and changing character of Christian unity—especially in its work in the world. “Why does what we do in this house and in these organizations inspired by the call to be one as churches have an added value for the human family?” he asked.
Tveit strongly affirmed the patriarch’s call for ecumenical solidarity.
“This way of being mutually accountable in our commitment to dialogue can lead us to liberation and help us to find sustainable new ways forward. The ecumenical dialogue can serve the world as a way of both the cross and the resurrection. Our shared faith in Jesus Christ is in its essence: hope.”
Noting the patriarch’s remarks about “the inviolable and nonnegotiable right” to water and his extraordinary leadership in the area of climate justice, Phiri singled out the consonant work of the WCC and the WCC’s designation in 2016 as a Blue Community for its efforts toward securing clean water and sanitation as a human right. In 2015, she recalled, the WCC urgently called for persons and communities to shun bottled water as a significant step toward water justice, and she urged churches to lead the charge against them.
Hailing the WCC’s Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, Bartholomew reiterated its invitation to all member churches “to work together in a common quest, renewing the true vocation of the church through collaborative engagement with the most important issues of justice and peace, healing a world filled with conflict, injustice and pain.”