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from issue no. 11 - 2006

ORTHODOX. The Primate of the Church of Greece on a visit to the Church of Rome

Pilgrim in the steps of Peter and Paul

«The heart of the life of each Christian is prayer. It is his open window toward God. Without it the ecumenic movement would also be a tree without roots». Interview with the Archbishop of Athens Christodoulos, after his meeting with the Pope

Interview with the Archbishop of Athens Christodoulos by Gianni Valente

His Beatitude Christodoulos, Archbishop of Athens, allows the energetic and sanguine bent of his character to show outwardly. That is the reason for the surprize of those who saw him be moved almost to tears on 14 December last, in the Basilica of Saint Pauls outside the Walls, at the moment in which the cardinal archpriest Andrew Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo presented him with two links from the chain that according to tradition held Saint Paul bound in his prison in Rome.
Only two weeks after Benedict XVI’s visit to Turkey, the visit of Christodoulos to the Church of Rome – a meeting and lunch with the Pope, a doctorate honoris causa in Jurisprudence conferred by the Pontifical Lateran University, visits to the basilicas and the catacombs – has confirmed the promise of novelty that marks the relations between the Church of Rome and Orthodoxy at the present moment.

Benedict XVI and His Beatitude Christodoulos, archbishop of Athens 
and of all Greece, sign the Common Declaration, Vatican Apostolic Palace, 
14 December 2006

Benedict XVI and His Beatitude Christodoulos, archbishop of Athens and of all Greece, sign the Common Declaration, Vatican Apostolic Palace, 14 December 2006

Beatitude, you were the first archbishop of Athens to come to visit the Church of Rome and meet its bishop since the times of the Eastern schism …
CHRISTODOULOS: We have come to Rome, See of our venerated brother, Pope Benedict XVI, as pilgrims in the footsteps of the holy apostles Peter and Paul, to be living signs of reconciliation, peace and love. We have come to offer but also to receive collaboration in a Europe that is losing its Christian identity. We leave very contented, because the bishop of Rome has made us understand that he knows the actual problems very well and is willing to join us in bearing shared witness to our secularized European society.
In the meeting with the Pope you began by emphasizing that you had come to Rome to pray at the tombs of the apostles Peter and Paul.
CHRISTODOULOS: For us Orthodox the veneration of the tombs of the martyrs and of the apostles is a living source, which supports and encourages our Christian life toward perfection, according to the Gospel of Christ. The first Christians, amidst the persecutions, did everything to preserve as a precious treasure the relics of those who having been eyewitnesses became heralds of the gospel of Christ, as Saint Luke writes. From the early centuries of Christianity the real reason that urged pilgrims to come to Rome was the desire to pray at the tombs of the apostles. A culminating and unforgettable moment in my spiritual experience was the visit to the tombs of Peter and Paul, princes of the apostles, of whom the second is the heavenly patron but also the founder of our holy and apostolic Church of Athens and of Greece. We have prayed with intensity and trust in these places that are holy to all of Christianity.
Last September the work of the mixed Committee of Theological Dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox resumed. What according to you is the proper way of dealing with the difficult subject of the primacy and of authority in the Church?
CHRISTODOULOS: The mixed Committee of Theological Dialogue between the Roman-Catholic and the Orthodox Churches proceeds with dedication, with patience and coherence in its difficult work. This work is undertaken under the coordination and supervision of the Holy Primatial Church of the Ecumenic Patriarchate of Costantinople, that we – as Church of Greece – support with a great sense of responsibility towards history.
As far as the subject of the authority of the bishop of Rome is concerned we feel “in good hands”, seeing that His Holiness Pope Benedict has always affirmed that «Rome must not demand from the East, as regards the doctrine of the primacy, more than was formulated and lived during the first millennium»!
In the Orthodox field, on the sidelines of the workings of the mixed Committee, an intense debate has opened on the role of the Ecumenic Patriarchy …
CHRISTODOULOS: The Orthodox Churches must make decisions in a synodal fashion, also in theological dialogue with the Catholic Church. But in the bosom of Orthodoxy the Ecumenic Patriarchate has the duty of coordinating and encouraging unity in making such decisions concrete.
Metropolitan Ioannis of Pergamum, Orthodox co-president of the mixed Committee, has suggested that the solution to the issue of the primacy can be sought on the basis of two axioms: “Where there is the Eucharist there is the Church”, and “there cannot be synodality without primacy, there cannot be primacy without synodality”…
CHRISTODOULOS: They are two good points of reference to begin the dialogue on a controversial issue.
At times it seems as if unity among Christians is a focus of interest only for restricted ecclesiastical circles. What is the simplest path whereby all believers can contribute on the way to unity?
CHRISTODOULOS: The heart of the life of each Christian is prayer. It is his window open toward God. Without it the ecumenical movement would be a tree without roots, condemned to die sooner or later. I congratulate 30Days on every fine and useful initiative in that direction!
You have described Pope Ratzinger as «an eminent theologian, an assiduous researcher into the Greek Fathers of the East». How do you think of the approach of Benedict XVI and his collaborators towards the Orthodox Churches?
CRHISTODOULOS: His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI is an intellectual of international renown, a sage of our time. He is a great scholar and friend of Orthodoxy. We expect a great deal from him and we are sure that with his energies and his charisma he will leave his mark on relations among Christians. He has beside him a very learned, able, informed and serious man in the Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone. He is our true friend and we are certain that he will give his maximum contribution to relations between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches! We are willingly close to both with our incessant prayer to the Lord, giver of all good!
Did you in any way chance to invite Benedict XVI to Greece for a pilgrimage in the footsteps of Saint Paul?
CHRISTODOULOS: A visit of the Pontiff to Greece doesn’t depend only on our good intentions but also on the program and pastoral necessities of the Pope himself. Greece is a country famous for its generous hospitality and it is open to all. At the opportune moment it will know how to rise to the historic occasion, as it did during the historic visit to Athens of the great pope of sacred memory John Paul II, in 2001.

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