Christodoulos´ Address to John Paul II in Athens

“Our Joy Is Overshadowed by the Fact of Our Division”

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ATHENS, Greece, MAY 10, 2001 ( Here is the text of the speech by Orthodox Archbishop Christodoulos of Athens and All Greece directed to John Paul II on May 4 during the Pope´s visit. The Holy Father responded with a historic petition for God´s forgiveness for the sins of Catholics against the Orthodox.

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Address by the Archbishop of Athens and all Greece,
to Pope John Paul II of Rome

Your Holiness, Pope John Paul II of Rome, we bid You welcome!

We feel it a special honor that the Primate of the Church of Rome has expressed his desire to visit us as the Primate of the Orthodox Church in Greece while on a pilgrimage in our Homeland. We are especially moved by the fact that at the center of this pilgrimage stands the figure of the Apostle Paul, founder of our Church. His teaching to the Athenians laid the foundations for the spiritual identity of all Christian peoples, especially those of Europe. By this teaching was revealed to us the gift of the love of God and of our redemption in Christ. Truly, «while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we are now justified by His blood much more shall be saved by Him from wrath. For if while we were enemies were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved in His life». (Rom. 5, 8 – 10)

A Pope of Rome is visiting Athens for the first time in history. This event brings us joy. Our joy however is overshadowed by the fact of our division. Dogmatic and ecclesiological reasons, existing for a millennium, poison the atmosphere and negate the necessary conditions that would have allowed for your visit to be fruitful and to have borne results. The anathemas have been lifted, by the grace of God. The causes that brought them about however, have not.

In spite of the above, the Church of Greece wishes to address to You, through me, a word of love and truth, devoid of conventional courtesies, because only if we «speak the truth in love» (Eph. 4, 15) and admit our errors can we hope to arrive unto the unity of faith.

Your Holiness,
Understandably a large part of the pleroma of the Church of Greece opposes your presence here, though St. Mark of Ephesus, expressed our tradition when he said in Ferrara, while addressing Pope Eugene IV in 1438: «Our Head, Christ our God… does not tolerate that the bond of love be taken from us entirely». (PO, xvii, 198)

We wish to explain the reactions of this people because Your visit to the city of Athens functions as an unusual stimulus for «cleansing of ecclesial memory» from the traumatic experiences, that resulted from the unbrotherly behavior of the western Christian world towards the Orthodox peoples through the second millennium, since the Great Schism of 1054.

These reactions express not only explicit censure of the unacceptable acts of violence perpetrated against concerned Orthodox peoples, but also the demand of Orthodox conscience for a formal condemnation of injustices committed against them by the Christian West. This would facilitate the advancement of a spirit of constructive dialogue in our bilateral relations. The Orthodox Greek people, more than other Orthodox peoples, senses more intensely in its religious consciousness and national memory the traumatic experiences, that remain as open wounds inflicted on its vigorous body, as is known to all, by the destructive mania of the Crusaders and the period of Latin rule, as well as by the unlawful proselytizing of the Latin Unia. Yet until now, there has not been heard even a single request for pardon.

Indeed, on many occasions in our history, our people bitterly noted that the powerful Church of Rome denied it during difficult moments; that, she frequently oppressed its ecclesial conscience; and that, she wronged it even with regard issues of its national concern. It would be useless for us to set forth a list of events, either from among those that belong to the past, or among those that remain as sores on the historical body of the Church. The problem of Unia, for example, which constitutes the basic reason for the blockage of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox theological dialogue. That which is important is that we await a courageous word to be uttered by Your lips, the word of a Christian Bishop that speaks to our heart. This word must set the foundation stone on which shall be built understanding, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Surely Your bold word will not automatically resolve our dogmatic and ecclesiological differences. This shall be achieved with the grace of God through a sincere theological dialogue, which already has been taking place over the last two decades, albeit facing hurdles. The dialogue in truth between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches must be based on the common Apostolic faith of the undivided Church of the seven Ecumenical Councils and on our Patristic Tradition. «We seek», together with our Holy Father St. Mark of Ephesus, «and we pray for our return to that time when, being united, we spoke the same things and there was no schism between us». (Acta Graecorum, p 53)

In this common course we have as illustrious examples the God – bearing Fathers of the Church of the first millennium, both Eastern and Western. They illumined, and continue to illumine both by their word and deed, the spiritual course of the Church in this world. Thus they showed themselves not only as brilliant examples of men who placed the greater interest of the Church of God, before all personal or worldly expedience, but also as the diachronically fixed criterion for the continuous confirmation of the healthy functioning of ecclesiastical memory.

Your Holiness, representing the two thousand year historical course of Western Christendom, is well aware of the priceless contribution of the Greek Holy Fathers of the East to the formation of the spiritual legacy of the Christian world of the West, as for example Saints Athanasius the Great, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Irenaeus of Lugdunum, Maximus the Confessor. Without them the establishment of Western Tradition in its entirety would have been difficult, if not impossible. This can be readily seen in the declarations concerning the relations of the Roman Catholic with the Orthodox Church made by the Second Vatican Synod (1962-1965). Thus, Your Holiness in the recent encyclical «Ut unum sint» proposed that all differences that have disrupted the communio in sacris, be dealt with on the basis of the Patristic and the wider ecclesiastical Tradition of the first millennium.

Your Holiness also is well aware that the Orthodox Church, having held firmly on to the common Tradition of the first millennium, lives and experiences the entire mystery of Divine Economy in Christ, in the Holy Eucharist par excellence, not simply as remembrance, but as continuous manifestation of the Holy Spirit, Who composes and sustains the entire institution of the Church. In it also is preserved the resounding voice of the Western Fathers, as for example of Saints Cyprian of Carthage, Ambrose of Milan, Augustine of Hippo, Leo of Rome, Gregory Dialogus, Martin the Confessor Pope of Rome et al. Through their voice was strengthened the communion of faith in the bond of love. We yearn therefore to return to this unity. Henceforth, «being eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace» may we reach that point when we all confess «one body and one Spirit, just as we were called to the one hope that belongs to our call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all». (Eph. 4, 3 – 6)

Walking uprightly, we wish to work, with the Lord’s blessing, for the formation of a United Europe. We hail Your decision to recognize the enlightening and civilizing mission in Europe of our Greek Saints Cyril and Methodius, from Macedonia. The time has come for
us to work together in order to welcome the Slavic, Baltic and other European peoples, both those who are Orthodox and those who are not, and Cyprus, into the bosom of United Europe.

It should be noted that, even though the Apostolic island of Cyprus groans for a quarter century as a result of barbarous partition, a victim of brutal ethnic cleansing, having suffered hecatombs of dead and missing martyrs on behalf of liberty, living through constant vandalism and looting of its most beautiful Christian monuments, she has not heard even one statement of sympathy on the part of Your Holiness, even though You have frequently and justifiably intervened on behalf of different peoples of our planet.

The time has come for us to coordinate our efforts to assure that Europe remain a Christian land, away from the apparent tendency to transform her nations into atheist states (états laiques), denying their Christian identity. The time has come for us to work for a United Europe, that respects its minorities as well as the freedom of each of its peoples to retain its faith, its language, its culture and its tradition, in other words, its spiritual identity.

Having always before us His will, we shall work, neither to increase the influence of one Church at the expense of another, nor to reinforce our superiority on the basis of secular criteria, that are foreign to our spirituality, but in order to contain the insatiable appetite of injustice, to relieve the suffering of God’s children, to offer to man of the twenty first century the one Gospel of life, grace and freedom; to put forth the hope of faith to contemporary man who, while inundated by material goods and technological achievements, greatly suffers from the lack of hope, inner peace and certitude.

Your Holiness,
We wholeheartedly wish You a blessed stay in our homeland. Even more, we wish that Your visit constitute the beginning of positive developments in the great matter of the unity of all, and that it should be for the glory of God.


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