Week of Unity 2014 and the prospect of the visit of the Pope Francis and HH. Bartholomaios

n Jerusalem and the Holy Land, the traditional territories of the local patriarchates, in particular the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Week of Christian Prayer for Unity started on Saturday 25th of January 2014 with the Complines (Apodeipnon) of the Greek Orthodox community at the Golgotha, inside of the Holy Sepulcher or Anastasis. It ended on Sunday 2nd of February with the Evening prayer or Esperinos at the Greek Catholic Church of the Annunciation (Jaffa Gate, Greek Melkite).

Along the week, the program remained quite unchanged as compared with what has been organized for many years: each day, a visit to some denomination in an order that does not change: the Anglicans/Episcopal Cathedral of Saint George, The Armenian Patriarchate, The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, the Syrian Orthodox Convent of Saint Mark, The Cenacle (Upper Room/Coenaculum), the Ethiopian Church from Monday, 01/26 to Saturday  02/02

The theme of the year was “Has Christ been divided ?”
(1 Cor 1:1-17)

defined as follows:

“The theme of the Week of Prayer for 2014 was prepared in Canada, a country that is marked
by diversity in language, culture, and even climate. Canada also embodies diversity in the
expression of Christian faith. Paul’s letter addresses us within our diversity and invites us to
recognize that as Church in our particular places we are not to be isolated or to act against
each other, but rather to recognize our interconnection with all who call on the name of the
Lord. The Apostle highlights two central elements of Christian discipleship in which we are
fundamentally bound to Christ: baptism and the cross of Christ. Our vocation is the
proclamation of the good news, the very gospel to which we have responded in faith and joy.
We must share this message with the world. Paul’s conclusion challenges us to ask ourselves
if we have the good news in Christ in order to share it with each other, or if we carry division
in the name of Christ, thus, in Paul’s words, emptying the Cross of its power.”

The text of reference is:

1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,


2 Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:


3 Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.


4 I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ;


5 That in every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge;


6 Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you:

7 So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:


8 Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.


9 God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.


10 Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.


11 For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.


12 Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.


13 Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?


14 I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius;

15 Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name.

16 And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other.


17 For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.

Most denominations did present the Week as focusing on Saint Paul’s question “Is Christ divided?” which led led the Apostle of the Gentiles to give some very clear explanations, to begin with that he was glad he did not baptize any of the Corinthians he was writing to. The purpose is that Christ cannot be divided. The question turns to be an affirmation and a conviction of faith: the Lord Jesus of Nazareth that the Father rose from the dead, remained and no one can break him down or acquire him. He possesses and sustains the Church. But the people using his name and acting in acts of redemption and salvation, thought that Christ somehow belonged to one or to others, e.g. Appolo, Cephas (Peter) or anybody else.


Paul had to face the situation because this was the very first steps of the new faith, directly rooted in the Jewish tradition. There was no pre-determined “Credo” except that the Lord was risen by the power of his Father and the God of all humankind.


Things are quite different at the present. Centuries have past and we all are aware that faith in the resurrection of the Lord is a real question for many people inside of the Church(es). All the commandments of Christ, that are in force and reinvigorate the Commandments given by the Bible, are included in the Commandment to act “in the Love of the One God and the love of our neighbor/fellowman” (Leviticus 18:19). We can twist around as much as we want, this simple verse is far from being evident, clear to, and also inside of each Church, far more when considering the incredible historical fragmentation that still goes on and is so visible in Jerusalem. The whole world is present in our place, showing the width, breadth of the Word as it has been proclaimed and spread throughout the world till now, each day.


Thus, in Jerusalem, we are “reacting, interested” in “unity” without really being “involved or concerned”. Each group, denomination, congregation, Church exists and has been present locally for ages, though some did arrive lately: the Protestants, but also some Catholics (White Fathers, Benedictines, i.a.). Church meet for a period of one week and the visitors are mostly Westerners or non-locals. The Arab faithful are mostly working, Israeli ones too and all the Christian “guest-workers” or expats (India, Philippino, Ethiopia, Africa or other countries) would not show or they do not feel concerned as the Eastern Orthodox (Romanians, Russians, Georgians, Serbs, and the locals of so many origins) because the Orthodox Churches do not locally participate in the Week.

I got the blessing of Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem and All Palestine to be present at the meetings throughout the Week and to welcome and explain the tradition at the Treasury of the Holy Sepulcher after the Compline/Apodeipnon. New Archbishop Isidoros of the Holy Sepulcher nicely welcomed the guests and I accompanied them to see the relics and historic icons, also to have a drink and some sweets.


Roman Catholic Nuncio Giuseppe Lazzarotto, who represents the Vatican in Jerusalem and Palestine, did show along with many visitors. We do not participate in the Week but we are not absent. Over the week, the Franciscan Media Center deployed their manpower of many photographers and “reporters” and this is quite a normal thing for a body that has been present in the region for so many centuries. They are important, represent the Holy See of Rome in Jerusalem and in the vast territories of the Middle-East from Cyprus to Egypt through Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, Israel and Palestine, Malta. The role of “peace-maker” initiated by Saint Francis of Assisi is meaningful for all of us in the region. It contrasted with the general ignorance and plunders that had accompanied the Crusaders in their lack of understanding and knowledge of the Eastern Traditions of the Churches, in particular within the limina of the Roman Empire Church and five initial Patriarchates that freely developed from 1700 years ago, by the time of Saint Constantine and Helena.


The main question on that day was “what do you think of the coming visit of Pope Francis to Jerusalem”? Journalistically speaking the question can only be a sort of “flash”, real focus. There is a collusion between the peaceful actions of the Saint in the region and the visit of the Bishop of Rome in May. Collusion and/or confusion?

The Pope does not come alone. He does not come on a sort of “lonely and pastoral pilgrimage” that would include the visit to the Holy Sites and to the local communities. Popes John Paul II (2000) and Benedict XVI (2009) did arrive to pay a visit that was strictly “Roman Catholic”.


At the present, whereas this year is concerned, things are quite different.

Pope Francis will journey to the Holy Land and Jerusalem for a special reason: 50 years ago, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople met on the Mount of Olives in order to re-connect between the Far Western Europe Roman See of Rome and the Eastern Orthodox Churches of the same Roman Empire, represented by “Primus inter pares” Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople and New Rome. This was a major event, not only emotionally or in the face of History. Both parties did know that they had split. Intriguingly enough, after the Second Council of Vatican was finished, the See of Rome strongly developed in all countries and regions without really taking care of the evolution of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. It led the Western Church to “swelling up” as being the true and only one authentic See rescued from the other schismas that had happened along with History, from the time of the Early Church and the canonical Patriarchates of the Roman Empire. This poin of view is quite common and significantly reduces the existing Body of Christ.

The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios had suggested about a year ago that he could meet with the Bishop of Rome in Jerusalem to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the encounter and the “lifting of the anathemas”, at least between Rome and Constantinople. The problem of the “anathemas” remains a pending issue, due to the fact that the Churches that only have freed themselves from the yoke of communism (Russia i.a.) twenty years ago, had not officially expressed their consent and would hardly recognize such a decision for the moment. They have first to resolve different theological and “geo-strategical” issues. The encounter at Jerusalem – Mount of Olives took place fifty years ago… We should measure that the communistic regimes as in Russia and the satellite countries, thus the revival of the Church has just happened in view to all the layers of historic relationships between the concerned Church jurisdictions! They all need to discuss, re-connect, take time because of the tantamount changes that occurred in all the Churches, in particular between East/West and Jerusalem.


In 1964, neither Pope Paul VI nor Patriarch Athenagoras met by themselves. Of course, things have been planned by their respective “staffs”. But the host was Patriarch Benediktos of Jerusalem. He was the local patriarch at that time, as Jerusalem was still divided and they met on the Jordanian side.


At this point, this year, the encounter at the Holy Sepulcher will take place under the hospitality of Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem and All Palestine: he will not only welcome Pope Francis but also the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios, both being welcomed by the Church of Jerusalem. It means that 50 years after the event, the three Heads of major Churches will gather at the Church of the Resurrection, the Anastasis (as we call the Holy Sepulcher). This is new. The Kerygma spread from Jerusalem and it remains the unique city in the world from where things were launched and developed through the Roman Empire, to begin with.


This time, the local Church and its head will witness to the value of long-age history of unity, hardships and splits, estrangement over centuries of strong embattlements and mutual denial.

The local context is totally different: while the Holy Sites of Christianity and Islam are confided to King Abdullah of Jordan, the Jewish State of Israel ensures the security and openness of the Holy Sepulcher/Anastasis, which is also totally new.


It will be incumbent upon Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem to host two leaders of the two first bodies of the initial Pentarchy that developed in the diaspora, i.e. outside of Jerusalem and the Land of Israel – some would prefer to refer to “Palestine”, but names were and remain evident as “Land of Canaan” and “Land of Israel” as mentioned in the Bible and the New Testament (Matthew 2:20). There is a point that is rarely considered, but has been discussed by Hans Urs von Balthasar, namely that all the Church bodies as “Local Churches” are in the exile, away from Jerusalem though continuously widening and opening up the Redemption the all humankind (Cf. my book on priesthood “Les Portes Royales”, 1989).


It makes sense that in the Orthodox traditions, Baptism is being performed with some waters brought form the Jordan River, a trend that has been developing among many other jurisdictions. The local Church of Jerusalem can be “duplicated” in many countries, in particular in Russia (New Jerusalem Monastery). The City of Jerusalem encompasses and gathers in all the nations and is also declared as the final vision of the ends of times, the “eschaton” (Apocalypse 3:12).

This is why I refer to the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity at the Golgotha. This is the only place in the Holy Sepulcher and in Jerusalem, the Holy Land, where – according to the Eastern Orthodox tradition –  all souls can be reminded at the Divine Liturgies. The unity of the Church is shown by the very place where the Lord Jesus Christ died for the redemption of all the living and the dead and those to come.

When the two patriarchs of the East and the West met in 1964, they did so in the name and common memory that has developed through the Mediterranean space, the Roman Empire. For unclear theological reasons, the Bishop of Rome has “canceled” his title and office of being the “Patriarch of the West”. It was not the case in 1964. Both Paul VI and Athenagoras had a strong knowledge of the burden of a terrible estrangement developed in the past that drifted away from the original and kernel Mother Church of Jerusalem. There, the Gates of Faith to the Gentiles had been opened by a synodal act taken in 49-52 AD who where native Jews (Acts of the Apostles 15). It was headed by the Disciples and Apostles of Jesus of Nazareth to enlarge the community till the ends of the world.

In 1964, the Church of Jerusalem could welcome the two patriarchs “of the dispersion” as the representatives of the initial Pentarchy born in the Roman Empire. It was the consequence of a long reflection mainly carried out by the Catholic Church about how to assemble the scattered faithful of all Christian jurisdictions, in particular those considered as “schismatics”, i.e. the Orthodox and various bodies of the Eastern and Ancient Churches. There were positive and negative aspects to the movement. The Catholics – this remains quite real even at the present though not really conscious in their actions – do not relate to Eastern Traditions and would prefer to focus on the Petrine mission, inherited from the “first Apostle”. Any encounter in Jerusalem, at the Holy Sepulcher/Anastasis of two diaspora members of the initial Pentarchy does interrogate on the role of each Disciples called by the Risen Lord. There is not only one style of mission (Saint Peter), but various ways from Jerusalem to Constantinople (Alexandria and Antioch) to measure all methods and faithful paths to unity and mutual full recognition.

During this Week of Prayer or Christian Unity 2014 in Jerusalem, there has been a “one-minded” if not “naturally, historically one-side-oriented” way of thinking of the upcoming visit of Pope Francis to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Indeed, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is basically “catholic”; the Franciscan Media, in their report on the Week also mentioned the profound desire of Saint Francis of Assisi to gather all together and sustain a strong dialogue among the faithful. The reporter wrote that “The faithful of Jerusalem gathered together with the Greek Orthodox Church to participate in a religious office at the Holy Sepulchre” (“To Together Have Faith”, Custodia Terræ Sanctæ”). There was a bit more as all could be assembled at the site of the death and not far from the place of the Resurrection of the Lord. This should not allow any focusing on one jurisdiction against or opposed/parallel to another. It means that all believers, without exception, are overshadowed by the Lord’s Presence beyond and in spite of all pending separations. Subsequently, no jurisdiction can claim to be first or last, as this does not depend of any human decision, intention or will.

Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem will host the two patriarchs as those who lead the main Sees that led to the spreading of the Word of God, at least from inside of the Roman Empire. Today, the Pentarchy is challenged by other Churches that re-surface after long periods of absence among the acting realities of the Church.

From 1964, the revival and re-deployment of many Orthodox and Catholic Churches in the world along with the Protestant groups and denominations show that the unity has to be re-defined with much precision: there are territories where all possible structures are present. Orthodox and Catholic bodies are prozelytizing without any reflection upon a possible joint-ministrying to the considered populations together and in “una voce” both Catholics and Orthodox”. This als oproves how far we are indeed from any real “lifting of the anathemas” and advance toward “possible Communion”. The breach is very deep and endures.

This is why the phrase “Is Jesus divided” has taken another meaning at the moment, from the time of the collapse of communism and the rebirth of some Churches. In the Mystery of the Resurrection, there is no “jurisdiction”. One belongs to a Church for different reasons. But we are called to true “oneness” and even if the “liturgical and governmental rites and rules” can be diversified, the Church is “one beyond the own will of the faithful”. Dogmatic differences, misunderstanding need to be repaired and healed, but this cannot be achieved by simple ascertainments. Dogmatic formulas cannot be used in such a context because certitudes should first give way to openness and reconsidering of the Mystery of the Church in its totality.

The encounter at the Holy Sepulcher in May 2014 will be short. It has to be followed by real theological discussions à parité. This will take a long time before the Churches may get to their flocks positively. Numerous incidents in different regions of the world (Ukraine, America, Africa, Asia and Europe) show the hardships that have to be overcome.

Finally – this is quite an essential point  though a problematic one – that may not be face with much understanding: in 1964, things were rather evident to all: Jerusalem was under the Arab and Hashemite rule, i.e. under Islamic LAw (cf. Achtiname, the Edict given by Omar Ibn Al-Khattab to Patriarch Sophronios) and this situation had not really changed over the centuries. It was the same context in which Saint Francis had to get his allowances to visit Jerusalem and the Holy Land.

Since 1967, especially as 47 years of Israeli presence and control over the most Holy Sites of Christianity, thus the Holy Sepulcher, things evolve in a way that had not been envisoned by the Churches, definitely not by Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, nor Patriarch Benediktos of Jerusalem. The context is brand new and quite challenging for the Churches. Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem was the archdeacon of the Patriarch of Jerusalem. He inherits new unexpected conditions and features.

There are contacts between the Churches and the Jews. They only start as they often have slightly and slowly shown throught history in a context of non-equal dialogue (Cf. Hans Urs von Balthsar “Einsame Zwiesprache mit Buber”). Since 1964, Judaism in Israel has continuously been scanning the history of the Land, its traditions, backgrounds without real considering the pertinence of the existing Churches in its midst. There are exceptions, some scholars, the population is often very interested in Christianity in the country. They would apprehend it as a “foreign matter”, which is not correct since Christianity – volens nolens – is and will always be at home in Israel as in the Fertile Crescent. It was born here: stones and pilgrims make it real beyond the tragedies of history.

The three patriarchs [I maintain the Bishop of Rome as being a “patriarch”] will gather at the Anastasis, the Church of the Resurrection with the benevolent but real “control and assistance” of Israeli State Bodies. It should also raise theological and not political reflection.

The Orthodox Church have not changed their attitude toward Judaism. The Second Council of Vatican supposedly changed things; indeed there is a slight recognition of the Jews in Nostra Ætate. It is a slight mention in an interfaith document. Other international Conferences of the Catholic Bishops in the world did issue some reflections. Equal dialogue should not be emotional, but theological and this is much more difficult to achieve.

If we consider the relationships as defined in 1964 by Rome and Constantinople, Catholics and Orthodox (Eastern Orthodox of New Rome), the meeting allowed to finalize the Roman “Ecumenical” Council that was merely a “pan-Catholic” council and not and “ecumenical one”. This is not pondered by the way the Churches mirror their connections. There are only 7 (seven) Ecumenical Councils that are totally common to both the See of Rome and the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchates and canonically recognized Churches.

This means that, at the present, there has not been any in-depth correction or true Ecumenical (Catholic and Orthodox) review of the positions of the Church toward Judaism fifty years ago and this must be considered adequately, without suspicion but with much patience, hope and true faith.

av (protopresbyter) Aleksandr (Winogradsky Frenkel)

Patriarchate of Jerusalem

2014-01-31/02-13. Adar I, 13, 5774. Rabî Akhir 13, 1435.

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