February 2, 2004
ELCA, LWF Leaders Visit Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul
ISTANBUL, Turkey (ELCA) -- The presiding bishop of the Evangelical
Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) praised His All Holiness Ecumenical
Patriarch Batholomew for his great concern for care of the environment, and
said that people of faith appreciate the patriarch's leadership often
carried out "in the face of adversity."
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson and a 14-member joint ELCA-Lutheran World
Federation (LWF) delegation met with Bartholomew for about 45 minutes Jan.
28 here at the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Hanson also made the visit in his
role as LWF president. He was
accompanied by the Rev. Ishmael Noko, LWF general secretary, Geneva,
Bartholomew is the world leader of Orthodox Christians, which include
churches such as Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox and Antiochan Orthodox
churches. Among patriarchs who lead the many Orthodox churches, Bartholomew
is considered "first among equals."
The ELCA group was originally scheduled to visit Orthodox leaders here
as part of the presiding bishop's March 2003 ecumenical journey, which
included meetings with world church leaders in Geneva, Rome and London. But
the group postponed its trip here until 2004 because of security concerns
related to the start of the U.S.-led war with Iraq. The January trip here
was not announced in advance because of those concerns.
During the audience Bartholomew, Hanson and Noko exchanged formal
statements, and Bartholomew described his trip to dedicate an Orthodox
church building in Cuba, from which he returned earlier in the same week.
"I am here to witness to the growing unity we have in Christ," Hanson
said in his statement. He said the LWF Assembly in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in
July 2003, with the theme "For the Healing of the World," focused on justice
and peace and the healing of divisions within the church.
In his role as ELCA presiding bishop, Hanson said he has "come to
appreciate all the more that Lutherans and Orthodox have much that binds us
together." He noted that followers of Martin Luther hoped to forge strong
ties with Constantinople (Istanbul) and that key agreements have been
reached in the U.S. Lutheran-Orthodox dialogue.
Bartholomew is known in many circles as the "Green Patriarch" because
of his emphasis on care of the environment. Hanson presented Bartholomew
with a copy of the ELCA social statement on the environment, "Caring for
Creation: Vision, Hope and Justice." He also presented the ecumenical
patriarch with a glass mosaic of the ELCA emblem.
"The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) wishes to strengthen its
partnership with Orthodox sisters and brothers in all places and in all
ways," said the Rev. Ishmael Noko, LWF general secretary, in his remarks. A
strengthened partnership, said Noko, would contribute "to the accomplishment
of our efforts in all areas where churches struggle with serious challenges
in the world."
The LWF and the Ecumenical Patriarchate share similar concerns and
commitments regarding conflict resolution and peace building, Noko said. He
underlined the patriarch's "strong dedication to the cause of protecting
God's creation as it has been entrusted to us for good stewardship, with
respect for all life and its environment."
"It is a pleasure and a blessing at the same time to come together as
Christian brothers and sisters," Bartholomew said in his remarks to the
Lutherans. "We really appreciate your visit to our church which is an
expression of the long and good relationship between our two churches."
The Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate has existed for 1,700 years, he
said. For many centuries, the Orthodox Church was the
"center" of all Christianity, and today it is still the center of Orthodoxy,
The Orthodox Church responds to a variety of human needs and seeks
justice for all, Bartholomew said. "Moreover, we work
against all kinds of violence including terrorism," he said. "It is not
surprising that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has been working for the
peaceful coexistence of religious communities here and abroad. We have been
living in a predominantly Muslim environment for centuries and our
Patriarchate has always encouraged people to live together in peace and
harmony, independently of their differences in race, religion and culture."
On Christian unity, the ecumenical patriarch noted that such
relationships can be difficult to develop. "Nevertheless, we have found good
partners in this journey among the Evangelical Lutheran Church," he said.
"We thank God for all the progress we have made together so far. It's
always been a pleasure for us to be with you, to have a theological dialogue
with you and to share with you not only our knowledge but also our spiritual
Bartholomew said Lutherans and Orthodox members should "join our
spiritual forces so as to work constructively and fruitfully"
on environmental matters.
"We take your visit as an opportunity to demonstrate our brotherly love
to you and to renew our commitment to the continuation of our common
spiritual journey toward unity," Bartholomew concluded.
LWF President, Cuba Visit, Monastery Noted
Following the exchange of statements, Bartholomew spoke informally to
the Lutherans. "It seems providential that you would come here in another
capacity," Bartholomew told Hanson. Since the postponement of the originally
scheduled visit here last March, Hanson was elected LWF president and now
represents 63 million Lutherans worldwide, including the 5-million member
When he was a young bishop, Bartholomew said he visited the ELCA
churchwide office in Chicago, and in 1995, he visited the
LWF in Geneva as ecumenical patriarch.
Through the LWF Lutherans are involved in an international theological
dialogue with Orthodox Christians, and in North America the ELCA is in a
dialogue with the Orthodox. Bartholomew noted the "longstanding"
relationship of the Orthodox with Lutheran "brothers and sisters" and said
he encouraged the dialogues "as a continuation of our relationship and
fellowship in Christ."
Bartholomew said he was personally received by Cuban President Fidel
Castro, who offered to translate some Orthodox theological books into
Spanish and proposed opening an Orthodox seminary in Cuba, at which students
would be trained in Spanish. Bartholomew called that "a happy surprise" and
said the proposal was welcome, but he said it is also very important for an
Orthodox monastery on Halki Island near Istanbul to reopen first before
establishing a seminary in Cuba. The ELCA group visited the Halki Island
monastery, known as the Holy Monastery of St. Trinity, Jan. 29.
The monastery, which has trained Orthodox clergy for centuries, has
been closed since 1971, though a small staff remains there to host scholars
who use the library. A grade school is also operated there.
The monastery was closed 33 years ago by a government order which
outlawed privately operated universities, said Metropolitan
Apostolos Daniilidis, monastery abbot. Since then the Orthodox Church has
been working with the government in hopes of reopening the monastery to
seminary students, he said.
-- -- --
Presiding Bishop Hanson's formal statement to His All Holiness
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is at
on the ELCA Web site.
Information about Lutheran-Orthodox dialogues can be found on the
Department for Ecumenical Affairs home page at
on the ELCA Web site.
For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or news@...