Vatican City, 30 November 2014 (VIS) – After celebrating Holy Mass in the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, Francis transferred at midday to the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Phanar, the world centre of Orthodoxy.
The Orthodox Church has 300 million faithful, present especially in Eastern and Northern Europe, along the north-east coast of the Mediterranean and in the Middle East. It consists of various patriarchal Churches who maintain their autonomy while remaining linked to each other in a spirit of faith. The Ecumenical Patriarchate is the “primus inter pares” with respect to the other Orthodox patriarchates, and co-ordinates their activities. Its ecclesiastical jurisdiction includes not only Istanbul, but extends also to four other Turkish dioceses, Mount Athos, Crete, Patmos and the Islands of the Dodecanese and, following emigration, dioceses in Central and Western Europe, the Americas, Pakistan and Japan. Finally, it is the point of reference for Orthodox faithful throughout the world in territories not under the direct jurisdiction of the other Orthodox patriarchates. For centuries, the seat of the Patriarchate was next to the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia. Following the fall of Constantinople in 1453, it was transferred from 1601 to the quarter of Phanar. The Ecumenical Patriarch is His Holiness Bartholomaios I, whose commitment to inter-orthodox cooperation and ecumenical dialogue is well-known, as well as his interest in the protection of the environment, earning him the moniker “the green Patriarch”.
The Pope was received by the Patriarch in the Church of St. George, where an ecumenical liturgy took place in which both prayed for the unity of God's holy Churches. After Bartholomaios' discourse, Pope Francis addressed those present.
“Each evening brings a mixed feeling of gratitude for the day which is ending and of yearning trust before the oncoming night. This evening my heart is full of gratitude to God who allows me to be here in prayer with Your Holiness and with this sister Church after an eventful day during my Apostolic Visit. At the same time my heart awaits the day which we have already begun liturgically: the Feast of the Apostle Saint Andrew, Patron of this Church. In the words of the prophet Zachariah, the Lord gives us anew in this evening prayer, the foundation that sustains our moving forward from one day to the next, the solid rock upon which we advance together in joy and hope. The foundation rock is the Lord’s promise: 'Behold, I will save my people from the countries of the east and from the countries of the west… in faithfulness and in righteousness'.
“Yes, my venerable and dear Brother Bartholomaios, as I express my heartfelt 'thank you' for your fraternal welcome, I sense that our joy is greater because its source is from beyond; it is not in us, not in our commitment, not in our efforts – that are certainly necessary – but in our shared trust in God’s faithfulness which lays the foundation for the reconstruction of his temple that is the Church. 'For there shall be a sowing of peace'; truly, a sowing of joy. It is the joy and the peace that the world cannot give, but which the Lord Jesus promised to his disciples and, as the Risen One, bestowed upon them in the power of the Holy Spirit”.
He continued, “Andrew and Peter heard this promise; they received this gift. They were blood brothers, yet their encounter with Christ transformed them into brothers in faith and charity. In this joyful evening, at this prayer vigil, I want to emphasise this; they became brothers in hope. What a grace, Your Holiness, to be brothers in the hope of the Risen Lord! What a grace, and what a responsibility, to walk together in this hope, sustained by the intercession of the holy Apostles and brothers, Andrew and Peter! And to know that this shared hope does non deceive us because it is founded, not upon us or our poor efforts, but rather upon God’s faithfulness”.
“With this joyful hope, filled with gratitude and eager expectation, I extend to Your Holiness and to all present, and to the Church of Constantinople, my warm and fraternal best wishes on the Feast of your holy Patron”.
Francis and Bartholomaios then recited the Lord's Prayer together in Latin and imparted their blessing, the Pope in Latin and the Patriarch in Greek, after which they retired to the second floor for a private meeting.