Come into the shelter of Catholicity

Sermon by His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Mr. Bartholomew at the Divine Liturgy on the Sunday of Pentecost (June 12, 2022)

Most Holy Archbishop of Ohrid Mr. Stephen, together with your honourable company,

Venerable representatives of the sister Churches of Jerusalem and Cyprus,

Holy and God-loving brothers Hierarchs,

Your Excellency, Madam Consul,

Honourable Archons officials,

Beloved Children in the Lord,

And when the day of Pentecost was fully come (Acts 2:1)… “the Comforter descended from Heaven, the guardian and enlightener of the Church, the leader of souls, the ruler of those who are in storm, the guide of the lost to light, the rewarder of those who strive and the crowner of those who have conquered”[1].

It is this descent of the Holy Spirit, which we celebrate today and recall the sacred events before, and after it, because in the mystery of the Divine Eucharist we see the completeness of faith, that is, we live the Church. Because “if the Spirit were not present, there would be no Church; and since the Church exists, it is very clear that the Spirit is present”[2]. The Church spreads this effective and redemptive truth to the four corners of the world, because the word of the Lord is true and certain: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. And so, this river brings joy at the same time to the whole city of God, that is, to the Church of those who have their citizenship in Heaven; moreover, every intellectual creature, from the supernal powers to the human souls, must understand the city rejoiced by the flow of the Holy Spirit”[3].  

“The grace of the Spirit, because it came and established for reason, springs from every source and does not cease, nor is emptied, nor stops”[4]. So this, let us repeat, spring of the inexhaustible gifts of the Holy Spirit, is possessed by the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, as the most precious treasure. For two thousand years it proclaims to every human the Christ-spoken appeal come and see (John 1:47), with the aim, through the freedom of will and personal endeavour, everybody to become experienced in the Spirit’s gifts.

“When the grace of the Spirit sees someone who yearns with longing [for Him] and is with awakened mind, he gives him by himself the rich grace”[5].

The Church represents the gift of the Holy Spirit in the world. Without the Church, it would not be possible for faith in Christ to be established in the world. Without the Church, which is the Holy Body of Christ, faith would not be action, life, endeavour, struggle, falls, repentance, hope, enlightenment, cross and resurrection of people, but mere theories and ideas without meaning. The Church is the fulfilment of the Promise of the Father. The Church is a permanent and constant Pentecost. In the Church there is no satiety and end. On the contrary, the expectations and the movement towards the Eschaton mean permanence, truth, rooted life and communion with what is in the Triune God.

The permanent Pentecost, the Church of Christ, is not, therefore, idealism and theory; it is the absolute balance of differences, that is, marriage of earthliness with the breath of the Holy Spirit. As the two natures of the Lord Jesus Christ, the divine and the human, are immutable, unchangeable and inseparable, united in His one hypostasis and one does not surpass the other, so in the Church the grace of the Holy Spirit endows and this grace maintains and defines its institutional dimension. Great and ineffable is the Mystery of the Church. Great is the gift of the Church to mankind. Great, wonderful and awe-inspiring are the works, which through the power of the legislative Holy Spirit, have been achieved in the Church, to lead it to all truth.

Therefore, this institutional organization of the Church does not represent its side manifestation, but its essential and vital expression. The structure of the Church and the system of its composition are part of the faith and apostolic legacy. The apostolic mission of the Church is not only a historical product, but is mainly a constant flow of the Holy Spirit in its life. The Holy Tradition (written and unwritten), which is its only source, is nothing else, but the eternal presence of the Comforter, which never ceases to be and does not change. Of course, the church life was not incomprehensible, because the enlightening life of the Church was not monolithic and unambiguous. The multitude of gifts of the Holy Spirit, mixed with the expressions of personalities, have intertwined ways and paths for the salvation of each faithful. In the Church there are no dead ends. Having in mind that the goal and the end is the salvation of all, the Church finds ways to overcome the obstacles and heal the problems.

Thoughtfully and wisely, the Holy Ecumenical Councils of the Church planted a seedling of truth and set up the watering and the canons for divine cultivation. The Divine Fathers, guided by the Holy Spirit, sealed to the path, which leads towards the Eschaton, and furthermore, being familiar with the liquidity of human nature, set up walls and fences for the preservation of the immaculate faith. Thus, laid on the seemingly weak shoulders of the Constantinople Archbishop the cross of the sacred canonical supervision of Christ’s Body in the East, that is, to judge the Bishops of the Universe, and determined, at first glance unusual, but as the practice of the Church showed – the best, wise and holy exceptions within its structure. Without such legislation, the diversity of church life would be a hopeless labyrinth and the questions that arise over time and years would only get tangled and increased. We do not consider it necessary to give individual examples to manifest this precious heritage for the whole Church, because to this day the Eastern Holy Church of Christ is being guided to the right path from this heritage.

We do not speak with human praise, but bearing the wounds of the Lord Jesus, we confess the truth, we preach the grace; do not hide the benefaction, as we have been assigned to act.

Let each of you imagine what the Church would be like, without the grace that flows from the Ecliton. Those who oppose and challenge, today, what has been said before, are among those who have received their faith and their structure from this same church reality. We regret that we are forced to speak of them, but necessity requires it, in order to reveal the truth. The Great Church of Christ in Constantinople is the mother, nourisher, educator and heirloom of each of her children. She does not use her responsibilities for show and self-satisfaction. She gives herself, sacrifices, strives, struggles, oversees with judgment, inspires, reminds, prays and participates in the favourable, but also in the unfavourable matters of the local Churches.

History shows this, the present confirms it. The venerable and respected Patriarchal Thrones in the East would not have existed without this bloody and painful exhaustion of the Great Church of Christ. Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and that, although small, but well and holy founded Church of Cyprus would not have existed without the care and providence of the Ecumenical Patriarchs throughout the ages. They preserved the sacred heritage of the Holy Spirit as the apple of their eye, always looking to His renewing grace and power; and the development of things confirmed their decisions. However, unfortunately, the greatness and selfless goodness of the Mother Church, is considered as indifference, weakness and inability by the beneficiaries of her nobility. The newly raised and newborn Churches feel, by misinterpreting or rather distorting the truth, that they can establish new principles and perspectives in the Church.

When the canonical work of the Church is interpreted with greed and when the fact of how it was leavened in its life is ignored, then we have distortions that rise to schism. “Schisms did not arise from division in relation to faith, but from division of opinion, due to human rivalry” [6], according to the voice of the Golden-mouthed John. A wrong interpretation that now arises, extremely dangerous and harmful for the Orthodox Church, is the one that sees all autocephalous church formations as absolute fullness, which has no need of even the smallest support and help, and feels the communion in the Holy Spirit as a compromising obligation without meaning and essence.

Let us not forget that the local autocephalous Churches emerged mainly from the oppressive ethno-phyletist atmosphere of the descendants of liberalism, from the poor understanding of the Enlightenment and of the dogmatic principle – Nation-State, State-Church – which should not be so.

Churches formed and maintained by state power are condemned to decay and disappearance, if they do not abandon secularism and conformity to the passing systems. The autocephalous Churches have a duty to serve for the salvation of the faithful and to serve the unity of faith with the most inner warm and trembling heart – with deeds, not with words. The intra-Orthodox unity has no pluralistic principle, but abundance of truth in faith and in practice.

The Archbishop of Constantinople is not only the one who once emancipated, but the one who, with canonical obligation and unchangeable duty, constantly keeps the well-being of the Holy Churches of God. The unshaken unity of Constantinople with the ancient Patriarchates and the uninterrupted joint movement of the Mother Church with them gave the opportunity for united expression towards creation and establishment of the principles and conditions of the so-called Autocephalous Churches. To this day, everything that is done in the sacred and holy place of the Universal Cathedral – the humble but always bright Phanar, is signed without the slightest deviation “in the Patriarchates” – such a marriage, such a coexistence, such an inseparable mixing, such an unmixed identity, such a unity with such abundance of expressions, appearances and manifestations. That unity pours over and founts Phanar into the Universe. That is the Spirit which we are servants and ministers of.

You have undoubtedly felt this security, Most Holy Archbishop of Ohrid Mr. Stephen, and because of your long-term problems, you, together with your honourable Hierarchy, with the immaculate clergy, with the Christ-loving people and with the venerable monastic orders, resorted to our, according to the canonical recognition, prime court.

The court of Constantinople is merciful, brotherly and healing. It is not a court of authority, extermination and self-praise. It is a medicine and a cure. It is a pain because of the problem and joy for the solution. The restoration of full church communion with you and in continuation, the ecclesiastical establishment of the institutional structure for your existence, in this specific historical moment, gives reason for everything we have emphasized so far. It also gives ground for the further work, because the Great Church of Christ in Constantinople cuts the ingratitude and cruelty of those who were healed through the grace of the life-giving Holy Spirit.

Take care of yourselves, brothers! Come into the shelter of Catholicity. Romanism is not a manifest national identity, but rather an ecclesiastical one. The Great Church gives all its properties to its children as an inheritance. It gives them patience, gentleness, reconciliation, meekness, goodness, hope, love; in a word, all the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Now is the time to revise the ecclesiology of self-sufficiency and introvertness in its bad manifestation. Look after everything we entrusted you with and multiply your talents. Stability is needed. The insecurity of belonging, as well as the poorly introduced terminology of Slavophone and Hellenophone Orthodoxy, do not represent real dilemmas. The Orthodox Church is one and indivisible. We do not have the luxury to divide and diminish ourselves. You know better than anyone else, how disproportionately high is the price for discord and stubborn insistence.

We paternally urge you to trust heartily in your Mother Church; to entrust your care to its providence and parental care; to listen to what the Spirit of the Church tells it; to be persistent in prayer and in breaking bread; to strive for the better and for the redemptive. We repeated it and also previously already expressed it in the delivered Act for the restoration of the Eucharistic communion, that we are willing – of course, within the framework of the ecclesiastical and acceptable practice – to bend over and devote ourselves even more to your issues. Your further progress depends solely on your personal behaviour and your choice.

Most Reverend Archbishop of Ohrid, Mr. Stefan, at the end of our historic co-service with you today in this our Patriarchal Church of the Decollation, we direct our words, our minds, and hearts towards all our beloved children of the Most Holy Ohrid Archbishopric in the Republic of North Macedonia, both leaders and followers, those present here.

We are especially delighted by the personal presence of His Excellency, the Prime Minister of the North Macedonia, Mr. Demetrius Kovachevski, and together with him, his other ministers and associates, as well as by the large number of faithful children of the Church from this blessed land. You filled this glorious Temple and gave another dimension to today’s feast of Pentecost – both conciliar and personal to us. We believe that this event means a complete understanding on your part about the greatness of the gift of the Mother Church to your people, but also about the responsibility that you bear, by entering as of today into the Orthodox World. Fire-enlightened by the grace of the Comforter, we pray, beg and ask from the life-giving Holy Spirit, Who is the Re-newer and the all-powerful, and the one who heals the wounds, filling the human shortcomings and examining our hearts – to strengthen you in the truth, to multiply you in faith, to enlighten you in the struggle for the Church. So we, your common father and representative, the first and the last among the Bishops of the Eastern Holy Church of Christ, can spiritually rejoice for you and for your deeds. May in them be glorified the honourable and magnificent name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, always, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

[1] Κυρίλλου Ἱεροσολύμων, Κατήχησις ΙΖ’ Φωτιζομένων, PG 33, 985 B

[2]  Ἰωάννου τοῦ Χρυσοστόμου, Εἰς τὴν ἁγίαν Πεντηκοστήν-Ὁμιλία Α’, PG 50, 459.

[3] Βασιλείου τοῦ Μεγάλου, Ἑρμηνεία εἰς τὸν ΜΕ’ Ψαλμόν, PG 29, 421 C.

[4]  Ἰωάννου τοῦ Χρυσοστόμου, Ὑπόμνημα εἰς τὸν ἅγιον Ἰωάννην τὸν ἀπόστολον καὶ εὐαγγελιστήν-Ὁμιλία ΝΑ’, PG 59, 284.

[5] Ἰωάννου τοῦ Χρυσοστόμου, Λόγος παραινετικὸς εἰς τὴν εἴσοδον τῆς ἁγίας Τεσσαρακοστῆς-Ὁμιλία Γ’, PG 53, 32-33.

[6] Ἰωάννου τοῦ Χρυσοστόμου, Ὑποθέσις τῆς πρὸς Κορινθίους πρώτης Ἐπιστολῆς-Ὁμιλία Γ’, PG 61, 23.