Pope offers prayers as pan-Orthodox council opens on Crete

IMAGE: CNS/Sean Hawkey

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — As the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church
opened with only 10 of the 14 Orthodox churches represented, Pope Francis
offered his prayers.

After reciting the Angelus prayer June 19, the pope
had thousands of visitors in St. Peter’s Square join him in praying a Hail Mary for “all of our Orthodox brothers and sisters.”

Pope Francis noted that the day was Pentecost on the Julian
calendar followed by the Orthodox. “Let us unite ourselves to the prayer
of our Orthodox brothers and sisters, invoking the Holy Spirit so that it would
assist with its gifts the patriarchs, archbishops and bishops gathered in the

The pope’s daily tweet repeated his message: “Let us
join in prayer with our Orthodox brothers and sisters for the Holy and Great
Council of the Orthodox Church opening today in Crete.” Ecumenical
Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, who is presiding over the council meetings,
retweeted the pope’s message.

In his homily at the Cathedral of St. Minas in Heraklion, Crete, Patriarch Bartholomew insisted the Orthodox Church is united in its faith in
Christ and in church doctrine. “The Orthodox Church is one, but reveals itself
in the world through its individual local vines, which are unbreakably and
indivisibly attached to one — to one church, to one body,” he said.

The patriarch did not directly address the absence of
delegations from the Orthodox churches of Bulgaria, Antioch, Georgia and
Russia, which is the largest of the Orthodox churches. Although they had agreed
in January to attend, the absent churches cited a variety of reasons for staying
away, ranging from jurisdictional disputes to objections to the procedures
adopted for the meeting. The patriarchs of the 10 participating churches had
met separately June 17 and sent last-minute pleas to the four churches to

In his homily, Patriarch Bartholomew said the Orthodox
bishops need the council “so as to adopt the appropriate measures to
protect the faithful from the prevailing errors” present in the world
today. “The number of religious factions that are attempting to lead the
Orthodox faithful astray are in the hundreds.”

“Regardless of our different opinions, we Orthodox
Christians ought to point out that the only road on our course in this world is
unity,” the patriarch said. “Of course, this road demands a living
sacrifice, much work and is achieved after great struggle. It is certain that
this council of ours will contribute toward this direction by creating a
climate of mutual trust and understanding through our meeting in the Holy
Spirit and through an edifying and sincere dialogue.”

The unity of the Orthodox Church, he said, “does not
take on the form of a federation, nor does it stem from congregating around
some mortal figure. It proceeds from and is made complete by our common faith,
which is synonymous with salvation, with eternal life.”

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