The ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople has in fact invited the two Churches to a meeting next month in a yet-to-be determined location to smooth over the dispute caused by the 1996 decision of the Church of Estonia to break from Moscow.
The reason is that divisions are unseemly for an Orthodox world so richly endowed in traditions.
The ecumenical patriarch will be represented by the Metropolitan of Pergamon, Ioannis Zizioulas, whilst the Church of Estonia will send the metropolitan of Tallinn. Moscow has yet to respond to the invitation and it is still possible that it may reject it.
Promoting a meeting between the two Orthodox Churches was the last event in a week that ended in a series of prayers for Christian unity. On this occasion a Turkish prime minister, Recep Erdoğan, spoke for the first time about the ecumenical role played by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Later his words were also echoed by his foreign minister, Ali Babacan, who observed that ancient taboos must be overcome.
The evocative celebration of Byzantine Vespers in Saint George’s Church, in the Fanar, seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, marked the conclusion of the prayer for Christian unity.
Representatives from all Christian confessions present in Istanbul stood side by side with the ecumenical patriarch as did many young people from abroad.
Indeed it was no accident that it all took place before the relics of Saint John Chrysostom, which Pope John Paul II returned in 2004, a sign that Christian unity is a duty.
In his brief but telling homily Patriarch Bartholomew said that prayer was necessary but so were working hard and early.
He explained that the Fanar, in co-ordination with other Churches, is a member of many organisations that promote dialogue geared towards Christian unity in order that full communion may be speedily achieved.
Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima, secretary of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, outlined the history of the dialogue between Christians, stressing the historical significance of the joint statement made in Ravenna by Catholics and Orthodox.
The speech Bartholomew made before the new bishop of Hong Kong Nektarios received his crucifix was also significant. In it he stressed the importance of Christian witness in the lands of the East.
He noted that for the Ecumenical Patriarchate it is very important to propose the message of Our Lord to those who want to meet the real God and feel that eastern religions—even though they might possess some seeds of truth—are still far from satisfying the search for the true witness of the truth.
“We cannot disappoint them,” said Bartholomew. “Ignorance, suspicions, cultural and political prejudices, intolerance, the legacy of the past and some errors we Christians made give rise to hard-to-solve situations, creating less than friendly attitudes towards Christian missionaries. This is why, as members of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, we must make sacrifices for one’s fellow man as did Saint Paul whose birth 2,000 years ago we celebrate this year.”
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