Istanbul, 12 July. Continuing with steadfast faith on the way of ecumenical dialogue despite the criticism, despite the many difficulties, following the example delineated by Patriarch Athenagoras in his time. Commemorating his great predecessor in the see of the Phanar 40 years after his death, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios I of Constantinople reaffirmed with
determination that the dialogue with the other Christian denominations, starting with the Catholic Church, is now a way of no return. For it is “only through dialogue that it is possible to attain agreement, rapprochement and reconciliation” among the baptized in Christ.
In the background, therefore, is the figure and example of Athenagoras, the Orthodox Patriarch who died on 7 July 1972 and who courageously unfolded “new horizons for the Ecumenical Patriarchate”, particularly through the historic and fraternal encounters he had with Pope Paul VI with whom, as is well known, the reciprocal excommunications were revoked. And this is not all. Patriarch Bartholomaios also recalls Athenagoras' ability to open other important “windows for Orthodoxy”, namely, the Patriarchal Centre in Geneva, the Orthodox Academy in Crete and the Patristic Studies Centre in Thessalonica. The effective collaboration of the Orthodox Patriarchate with the World Council of Churches fits into this context, he points out. Yet today, as then, Bartholomaios emphasizes, it is a way that is not exempt from pitfalls or, at times, from harsh criticism, which also comes from within the Orthodox world itself. “Patriarch Athenagoras was criticized at the time for the openness he had demonstrated. Our Ecumenical Patriarchate, then as now, is continuously criticized for the ecumenical dialogue it pursues, as if it were our wish to sell Orthodoxy. Nothing is more unfounded. And yet today is no longer the epoch of egoistic withdrawal into self, autarchy and self-sufficiency”. On the contrary, not only is “ecumenical dialogue” the line that our Church, the Church of Constantinople”, has taken; it is is also a line that is “permanent and steadfast”.