Every second Saturday of the month, Divine Liturgy in English of Sunday - Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family, Duke Street, London W1K 5BQ.
4pm Divine Liturgy. Next: 13th November 2021

Very sadly, the Divine Liturgy in English at 9-30 am on Sundays at the Holy Family Cathedral, Lower Church, have had to be put on hold. Until the practicalities we cannot use the Lower Church space. Hopefully this will be resolved very soon. Please keep checking in here for details.

Owing to public health guidance, masks should still be worn indoors and distance maintained. Sanitisers are available. Holy Communion is distributed in both kinds from the mixed and common chalice, by means of a separate Communion spoon for each individual communicant.

To purchase The Divine Liturgy: an Anthology for Worship (in English), order from the Sheptytsky Institute here, or the St Basil's Bookstore here.

To purchase the Divine Praises, the Divine Office of the Byzantine-Slav rite (in English), order from the Eparchy of Parma here.

The new catechism in English, Christ our Pascha, is available from the Eparchy of the Holy Family and the Society. Please email johnchrysostom@btinternet.com for details.

Sunday 23 May 2010

Pope Benedicts address at the Moscow Patriarchate's Concert or Russian Music in Rome

"Praise the name of the Lord, give praise, O servants of the Lord. Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing to his name, for he is great. Thy name, O Lord, endures forever, thy renown, O Lord, throughout the ages. Alleluia."

Venerable Brothers, Illustrious Gentlemen and Ladies, Dear Brothers and Sisters:
We have just heard in a sublime melody the words of Psalm 135, which interpret our sentiments of praise and gratitude to the Lord, as well as our intense interior joy for this moment of meeting and friendship with our beloved brothers of the Patriarchate of Moscow.

On the occasion of my birthday and of the fifth anniversary of my election as Successor of Peter, His Holiness Kirill I, patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, wished to offer me, along with the most appreciated words of his message, this extraordinary musical moment, presented by Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, president of the Department for External Relations of the Patriarchate of Moscow, and author of the symphony that has just been performed.

Hence, my profound gratitude goes first of all to His Holiness patriarch Kirill. I address to him my fraternal and cordial greeting, hoping profoundly that praise to the Lord and commitment to the progress of peace and harmony between pe oples will increasingly unite us and make us grow in harmony of intentions and actions. Hence, my heartfelt thanks to Metropolitan Hilarion, for the greeting he addressed to me, congratulating him for his artistic creativity, which we have been able to appreciate. With him I greet with profound affection the delegation of the Patriarchate of Moscow and the illustrious representatives of the government of the Russian Federation. I address my cordial greeting to the cardinals and bishops here present, in particular Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and to Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, who, with their dicasteries and in close collaboration with the representatives of the patriarchate, organized the "Days of Russian Culture and Spirituality in the Vatican." Moreover, I greet the illustrious ambassadors, the distinguished authorities and all of you, dear friends, brothers a nd sisters, particularly the Russian communities present in Rome and in Italy, who are participating in this moment of joy and celebration.

Sealed on this occasion in a truly exceptional and thought-provoking way is the music, the music of Russia yesterday and today, which was proposed to us with great mastery by the National Orchestra of Russia, directed by maestro Carlo Ponti, by the Synodal Choir of Moscow, and by the Horn Capella of St. Petersburg. I am profoundly grateful to all the artists for the talent, commitment and passion with which they present to the whole world the masterpieces of the Russian musical tradition.

Present in a profound way in these works, of which today we have heard significant passages, is the soul of the Russian people, and with it the Christian faith, which find an extraordinary expression precisely in the Divine Liturgy and the liturgical singing that always accompanies it. There is, in fact, a profound original bond , between Russian music and liturgical singing: In the liturgy and from the liturgy is unleashed and begins to a great extent the artistic creativity of Russian musicians to create masterpieces that merit being better known in the Western world. Today we have had the joy of hearing passages of great Russian artists of the 19th and 20th centuries, such as Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. These composers, in particular the latter, have been able to take recourse to the musical-liturgical patrimony of the Russian tradition, elaborating it again and harmonizing it with musical motifs and experiences of the West and closer to modernity. In this line, I believe, should also be situated the work of Metropolitan Hilarion.

In music, therefore, already anticipated and in a certain sense realized is the encounter, the dialogue, the synergy between East and West, as well as between tradition and modernity. The Venerable John Paul II thought in fact of a similar unitarian and harmonious vision of Europe when, in presenting again the image suggested by Vyacheslav Ivanovich Ivanov of the "two lungs" with which Europe must breathe again, he hoped that there would be renewed awareness of the profound and common cultural and religious roots of the European Continent, without which today's Europe would be deprived of a soul and marked by a reductive and partial vision. In fact to reflect these problems better a Symposium was held yesterday, organized by the Patriarchate of Moscow, by the dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity and by that of Culture, on the subject "Orthodox and Catholics in Today's Europe. The Christian Roots and Common Cultural Patrimony of East and West."

As I have stated on several occasions, contemporary culture, particularly European culture, runs the risk of amnesia, of forgetfulness and, therefore, of abandonment of the extraordinary patrimony fostered and inspired by the Christian faith, which constitutes the essential vertebral column of European culture, and not only of European culture. The Christian roots of Europe, in fact, are constituted not only by religious life and the testimony of so many generations of believers, but also by the inestimable cultural and artistic patrimony, pride and precious resource of the peoples and countries in which the Christian faith, in its different manifestations, has dialogued with cultures and art, has animated and inspired them, fostering and promoting as never before the creativity of the human genius.

Today, also, these roots are alive and fecund, in the East and West, and they can, more than that, must inspire a new humanism, a new season of authentic human progress, to respond effectively to the numerous and at times crucial challenges that our Christian communities and our societies must face, beginning with secularization, which not only leads to doing without God and his plan, but w hich ends by denying human dignity itself, in a society regulated solely by egotistical interests.

Let us make Europe breathe with its two lungs again, let us again give a soul not only to believers but to all peoples of the Continent, let us promote confidence and hope again, rooting them in the age-old experience of the Christian faith! At this moment, the consistent, generous and courageous witness of believers cannot be lacking so that together we can look at our common future, a future in which liberty and the dignity of every man and woman are recognized as a fundamental value and that openness to the Transcendent is valued, the experience of faith as constitutive dimension of the person.

In the passage by Mussorgsky, entitled "The Angel Declared," we have heard the words addressed by the Angel to Mary and, hence, addressed also to us: "Rejoice!" The reason for joy is clear: Christ has resurrected from the sepulcher " ;and has risen from the dead." Dear brothers and sisters, the joy of the risen Christ animates and encourages us and supports us in our journey of faith and Christian witness to offer authentic joy and solid hope to the world, to offer valid reasons for confidence to humanity, to the peoples of Europe, whom I entrust to the maternal and powerful intercession of the Virgin Mary.

[Speaking in Russian, he said:]

I renew my gratitude to patriarch Kirill, to Metropolitan Hilarion, to the Russian representatives, to the orchestra, to the choirs, to the organizers and to all those present.

[In Italian, he concluded:]

May the Lord's abundant blessings descend on all of you and on your loved ones.

The Middle Eastern Synod in its Geopolitical and Pastoral Context: Bishop William Shomali of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem

This address was delivered on May 13 2012 in Jerusalem by Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. The synod on the Middle East will take place in Rome from 10-24 October, 2010.


Dear brothers and sisters,

Thank you for organizing this conference to prepare better yourselves for the upcoming Middle Eastern Synod. After all, this Synod is meant for you too. You have understood this and have thus assiduously answered the questions posed in the lineamenta.

You will surely be the first to implement the eventual recommendations of the Synod. Thank you for your essential and valuable cooperation. You m en and women religious of the Holy Land continue to be at the forefront of the Church's witness to Christ's love for all men and women, irrespective of religion and race. Your testimony in the field of charity, education and health care is unique and irreplaceable.

The Synod of the Catholic Church for the Middle East concerns Arab and non-Arab countries that spread over a vast geographical area from Egypt to Turkey, from Iran to Israel and right through to the Gulf, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Cyprus. It includes directly or indirectly 14 million Christians in a population of 330 million inhabitants, among whom we find Arabs, Turks, Iranians, Greeks and Jews. This synod will focus on this very complex and diverse situation.

It's true that in these last years we have seen a Synod for Lebanon and another for the Holy Land. One might feel entitled then to pose the following question: "Instead of so ambitious a Synod for the entire Middle East, why not o rganize a special Synod for each of those countries that has not yet had one? Why should Lebanon and the Holy Land redo the same work?" The answer lies in the fact that the number and complexity of problems and challenges facing the Middle East are too large to be handled by the various single dioceses and churches separately. In addition, our globalized world makes a synod dealing comprehensively with all our common problems under the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff necessary, "cum Petro et sub Petro".

The Synod sets forth two main goals:

1 - Confirm and strengthen Christians in their identity through the Word of God and the Sacraments.

2 - Giving new life to the ecclesial communion between the sui iuris Churches so that they might provide an authentic witness of joyful and attractive Christian life.

One peculiarity of the Middle East is the large number of sui iuris Eastern Churches that have taken root here: the Mel kites, Syrians, Maronites, Copts, Armenians and Chaldeans. These churches need to live their liturgical and linguistic particularity on the one hand, and a greater communion among themselves on the other. Currently, this communion leaves something to be desired. They also need pastoral and liturgical renewal. The Latin Church went through this change at the Second Vatican Council, which revolutionized its liturgy and ecclesiology and gave it a new openness to the world. The Eastern Churches are in need of a similar revolution so that they might be able to adapt and modernize and thus better meet the needs of their congregations today.

So much for the introduction to the theme of our conference. Now let's get into the details.

I. The geopolitical situation in the Middle East

1- Turkey. This country has 72 million inhabitants (source: wikipedia), with a Muslim majority. Christians number 100,000, slightly more than 1 per thousand. Turkey is a secul ar country, separating state and religion (Islam). It

is seeking to give a good impression to gain entry into the European Community. To Turkey's credit you could cite the secularization introduced by Ataturk in 1924; on the negative side we must cite the Armenian genocide, for which Turkey refuses take responsibility and the partition of the island of Cyprus between Turks and Greeks, for which it also bears responsibility.

2- Iran. In this country Shia Islam is dominant in all sectors of society. 72 million are Muslim, while Christians - predominantly Armenians and Assyrians - number only 200,000. News from Iran report the existence of an active Baptist community, which has made thousands of converts to Christianity (about 10,000 known conversions). But a convert finds himself treated as a renegade, a traitor to Islam and a backer of the chief enemy: America. Iran is rich and supports the Shia of Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza for religious and ideological re asons. This country has territorial ambitions in the Gulf where there is a large and forcefully muted Shiite minority.

3- Saudi Arabia and the UAE. 33 million people live in this oil rich region. The various political regimes have differing attitudes towards Christians; it goes from respect - as in Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Dubai - to the intransigence and lack of freedom - as in Saudi Arabia. While Qatar has allowed the construction of a large church that can hold 5000 faithful, Christians in Saudi Arabia, numbering around half a million, are not allowed to gather for prayer. They meet secretly in private homes to pray on Sunday, running the risk of repercussions. Another problem is posed by the existence of a large number of Christian immigrant workers, often deprived of their elementary social and religious rights. In addition, militant Islam takes advantage of these immigrant workers' economic embarrassment in order to convert to them to Islam. There are a number of converts each year, who are promised substantial material benefits.

4- Egypt. The number of Copts is not yet certain. Local government statistics speak of 6 million whereas the Coptic Church speaks of 12 million. The figure of 10 million is certainly closer to the truth. Clashes between Muslim and Coptic communities are frequent. The Egyptians are the most religious people in the world in terms of pious practice, but also in terms bigotry. The Copts feel despised and deprived of many rights, especially their freedom of worship (as demonstrated in the difficulty of building a church) and freedom of conscience. Their occupy an insignificant place in society and government. As an example: out of 454 Egyptian parliamentarians, only three are Christian, or less than 1%, while the percentage of Christians in Egypt is 10% at least.
"In Egypt, the rise of political Islam on the one hand and the, in part, forced disengagement of Christians from the civil so ciety on the other, make their lives subject to intolerance, inequality and injustice. In addition, by means of the media and the schools this Islamization penetrates into Christian family life, modifying their mentality so that they unconsciously conform to an Islamic world view." (Instrumentum laboris).

5- Iraq. The U.S. invasion decimated the Christian community. Before 1987, it numbered 1.25 million followers, mostly Chaldeans. Today they are less than 400,000. One of the great disasters of this century is the massive exodus of Iraqi Christians due to the insecurity and harassment of which they are victims. In Iraq, the war unleashed forces of evil in the country, among varying political streams and religious denominations. It has taken a toll on all Iraqis, but the Christians have been among the main victims because they represent the smallest and weakest of Iraqi communities. Even today, global politics completely fail to take them into account. This is in addition to other calamities that have struck the Christians of the Middle East in the past two centuries:
- The genocide of one million and half Armenians in Turkey in 1915;
- The genocide against the Maronites in 1860 and the Lebanese Civil War caused the exodus of many Christians;
- The constant emigration of Christians from the Holy Land for more than a century.

6- Syria. The situation of One and a half million Christian Syrians seems tranquil under the Syrian Baath, which rests on the support of minorities, the Asad family itself being from the Alawite minority. But there is always the fear an unexpected change and turnaround. In Iraq, for example, Christians enjoyed many privileges during Saddam's regime. It seems that all it takes is a dethroning to open Pandora's Box against the Christian population. A phobia with regards to upheavals still exists in the Arab world, given that state policy often depends on the alternatively benevolent or malevolent attitude of the family or party in power, rather than a durable popular mind-set.

7- Lebanon: Christians are divided on both the political and religious planes, and nobody possesses a plan acceptable to all. The political balance achieved in 1943 when the Christians made up 55% of the total population does not currently reflect the situation on the ground. The Shiites, who are becoming ever more numerous and stronger, are demanding more authority in Parliament. The current balance of power is weak. Lebanon must attain to the position of a mature democracy and leave behind its absurd confessionalism without bloodshed.

8- Jordan is a quiet country. The Christians feel safe and enjoy religious freedom, with representatives in parliament and in government. We have witnessed the warm welcome that the Jordanian King and Government gave to Pope Benedict XVI. Despite this, freedom of conscience does not exist. It is something that w e observe in all Arab countries. Islam claims to be the religion of truth, the only truth. The other religions are only tolerated. Therefore it is not permissible for a Muslim to abandon the truth for error. Change of religion is perceived as a betrayal of society, culture and nation, three realities primarily built upon a religious tradition.

9- Palestine and Israel: The conflict between Palestinians and Israelis has lasted for over 80 years including six violent confrontations, to which we must add the two general Intifadas. It is an ideological conflict that does not appear close to finding a solution in the short term. The economic situation and lack of security have obliged a large part of the Palestinian Christians to emigrate. The Palestinian diaspora numbers somewhere around 500,000, the majority located in Chile.

II. Identifying Some of the Major Problems Facing the Synod

The survey has allowed us to identify the major problems face d by Christian communities in the Middle East:

- An emigration that has weakened the fabric of Christian life. This emigration has also opened the eyes of moderate Muslims who see in this exodus an impoverishment of Arab society and the loss of moderate elements. Many Palestinians intellectuals - including Faisal Husseini, the current Grand Mufti of Palestine, Tayseer Tamimi, the Grand Magistrate, President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad - have said that the departure of Christians has been a loss for all Palestinians and will end up setting Jewish and Muslim extremism face to face. Christians are a moderate element that attracts Western sympathy for the Palestinian question. In addition, in the past, the Christians of Lebanon, Egypt, Syria and Palestine participated in the progress and development of their respective societies. With their numbers reduced, making up but a small percentage of the total population, their presence becomes insigni ficant, providing all the more reason for this remnant to emigrate.

Conversions to Islam. It is true that few Christians become Muslims. But given the small number of our communities, every one counts. In Egypt, it is estimated that up to 15,000 young Christian girls become Muslim for reason related to marriage. Each year, similar cases occur in Palestine and Jordan. Each time it's a tragedy for the family, which looks upon this conversion as a betrayal in front her religion and herself. In the majority of cases, the girl is considered lost because the girl completely loses touch with her family. Conversion does not affect girls only. Foreign workers in the Gulf countries are also victims. In order to continue to find work, conversion to Islam helps tremendously. Counting just the small emirate of Dubai, the number of men and women who went over to Islam in 2008 was 2,763. They belonged to 72 different nationalities.

The rise of political Islam : "The rise of political Islam from the period of around 1970 is a striking phenomenon that affects the region and the situation of Christians in the Arab world. This political Islam includes various religious currents who aim at imposing an Islamic lifestyle on Arab, Turkish or Iranian societies, and all those who live there, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. For these currents, detachment from Islam is the source of all evils. The solution is thus the return to Islamic origins. Hence the slogan: Islam is the solution [...] To achieve this end, some do not hesitate to resort to violence." (Instrumentum Laboris).

- The Ghetto Mentality: "Religion is regarded as an identifier that not only differentiates but may also divide and be used to generate a closing off of relationships and hostility. The danger lies in turning in on ourselves and in fear of the other. We must both strengthen the faith and spirituality of our faithful and strengthen the soci al bonds and solidarity among them, without falling into a ghetto mentality" (Instrumentum Laboris).

III. Synod's Response to the expectations of Middle Eastern Christians

The Church does not claim to offer prefabricated solutions to all the problems facing Christians living in the Middle East. The situation of each church, or even every believer, is unique and there is no perfect solution for all. Instead, the Church indicates the places and ways to arrive at the solution to these problems and offers three important paths:

1- It is necessary to form Christians in reading and living the Word of God

In the Middle East there is a lot of piety and much popular devotion. But the Word of God has not yet taken its rightful place in the spirituality of the Christian people. Lectio divina has remained the privilege of an elite. One must expend great effort in order to initiate people in reading the Bible and meditating on it. Part of the success of the sects is their contact with the Word of God, plus the fact they have communities everywhere that are fervent and attract those in search of warmth.

The Holy Scriptures, written in our land and in our languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek), with literary and cultural expressions that we feel as our own, will guide our thinking. The Word of God is read in the Church. These Scriptures, transmitted and meditated upon in our sacred liturgies, have come to us through church communities. They are an indispensable reference for discovering the meaning of our presence, our communion and our witness in the current context of our respective countries.

Here is a response to Lineamenta concerning the Word of God: "God's Word directs and gives meaning and significance to life, transforming it radically. It blazes paths of hope, and provides a vital balance in our triple relationship with God, ourselves and others. Moreover, it is a help for f acing the challenges of today's world. Thus it ought to be the reference for Christians in educating their children, particularly with regards to the experience of forgiveness and charity. Some families do indeed find there their inspiration in educating their children.

2- We need to form Christians in forgiveness, reconciliation and openness to the other

The Middle East is torn by bloody conflicts, producing implacable hatreds and resentments. Kurds, Iranians, Palestinians, Israelis and Lebanese have suffered terribly, and their wounds have yet to close much less heal. Sometimes religion is mixed in as the background to the conflict in order to ideologize and consolidate it. The solution lies not in retaliation, which creates a vicious circle of endless violence, but rather in dialogue and forgiveness. This will be the long-term work of educators. Christians have their contribution to make in resolving political or religious conflicts.

Being open to the ot her also has a religious dimension. While visiting the Holy Land, Palestine and Turkey, Pope Benedict XVI insisted on meeting with Muslim leaders. He did the same with the Hebrew religion in order to encourage dialogue. He knows that the future of humanity depends on our efforts in this way.

Being open to the other also has an ecumenical dimension. Among the responses to Lineamenta we find these relevant lines: "All the divisions between Churches of the Middle East are the bitter fruits of the past, but the Spirit works with the churches to bring them together and break down barriers to that visible unity willed by Christ; "...that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (Jn 17:21)

The major divergence between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches is in how we understand of primacy of the Bishop of Rome. In his encyclical U t unum sint(Numbers 88-96, especially 93 and 95), Pope John Paul II accepts responsibility for "Finding a way of exercising the primacy which, while not in any way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation, taking into account the dual Latin and Eastern canonical tradition. "

3- We need to form Christians in considering their presence here as a vocation and not as their fate

Christians living in the Middle East are rooted in a certain culture and language, and live with other peoples with whom they share a language, history and many traditions. Christians should not feel that they are foreigners. They are called to be witnesses of Christ in those countries where they live. To flee their countries of origin means to escape reality. We need to encourage Christians to live with faith and joy in the land of their ancestors. Their departure weakens the few who remain, who then also seek to leave.

The faithfu l expect their pastors give them clear reasons for their mission in each country. It is not for us to be anything other than authentic witnesses of the Risen Christ present in His Church through the Holy Spirit, in those countries where we were born and where we live, countries that are characterized not only through a process of political and democratic maturation, but, unfortunately, also by conflict and instability.

Another factor that could help to limit emigration: to make Christians more aware of the meaning of their presence and the need to engage, here and now, in public life. Everyone in his own country bears the message of Christ to his society. This message is to be carried forward even in difficulties and persecution.


I would like to conclude with some testimonies regarding the religious and clergy that came out in the responses to Lineamenta:

"The responses underscore the importance of Christian witness at all levels: first of all, in consecrated life, which is present in our country to varying degrees. The first mission of men and women religious is prayer and intercession for the society; for greater justice in politics and economics, more solidarity and respect in family relationships, stronger courage to denounce injustice, more honesty in order to not become embroiled in local disputes or in seeking personal interests. Such is the ethic that pastors, men and women religious and religious educators need to propose, with a marked consistency in our personal and communitarian lives as well as our social, charitable and educational institutions. And all of this so that our faithful might be ever truer witnesses of the Resurrection in society."

"The formation of our clergy and faithful, in homilies and in catechesis, must give to the believer the authentic meaning his or her faith, and give him also an awareness of his role in society in the name of that faith. The believer must be taught to seek out and recognize God in everything and everyone, contributing his efforts to render present in our society and our world, through the practice of personal and social virtues: social-justice, honesty, uprightness, hospitality, solidarity, openness of heart, moral purity, fidelity, etc.. "

"The ministers of Christ, consecrated men and women, and all those who seek to follow Him more closely, bear a heavy spiritual and moral responsibility in our community: they should be a model and an example for others. The community expects them to live the Gospel values concretely in an exemplary manner. It is not surprising to see that many of the faithful on their part desire a greater simplicity of life, a real detachment from money and worldly comforts, a radiant and transparent practice of chastity and moral purity. The Synod would like to be of service in this sincere examination of conscience so that we might discover our strengths to promote and develop them, and uncover our weaknesses in order to receive the courage to correct them."

Saturday 22 May 2010

Patriarch Kirill's Message to Benedict XVI at Concert in Rome

This is a translation of the message of the 20th May 2010 from Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill I of Moscow and All Russia, to Benedict XVI on the occasion of the concert sponsored by the patriarchate in the Holy Father's honour. The event marked the Pope's fifth anniversary of his pontificate, and closed the "Days of Russian Culture and Spirituality in the Vatican."

Your Holiness, Beloved Brother in Christ,
Eminences, Excellencies, Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Ladies and Gentlemen:

My heartfelt greetings to Your Holiness, as well as to all the participants in the concert of Russian sacred music, organized by the Pontifical Council for Promoti ng Christian Unity, by the Pontifical Council for Culture, and by the Department of External Relations of the Patriarchate of Moscow.

For the first time in history, three exceptional music groups -- the Russian National Orchestra, the Synodal Choir of Moscow and the Horns Chapel of Saint Petersburg -- meet today in Paul VI Hall, in the Vatican, to perform works of great Russian composers. Present in the Hall are the head of the Catholic Church, representatives of the episcopate and clergy, monks and nuns, laymen. All this makes the moment you are living an event of great importance in the history of cultural exchanges between our Churches.

Music is a particular language that gives us the possibility to communicate with our hearts. Music is able to transmit sentiments of the human spirit and spiritual states that words cannot describe.

To understand a people, it is necessary to listen to its music. And this applies not only to Or thodox liturgical music, of which today some of the best realizations will be performed, but also to the work of the Russian composers written for concert halls. In the years of persecutions against the Church and of the dominance of State atheism, when the majority of the population did not have access to sacred music, these works, together with the master works of Russian literature and figurative art, contributed to take the evangelical proclamation, proposing to the secular world ideals of great moral and spiritual depth. "Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with timbrel and dance; praise him with strings and pipe!" (Psalm 150: 3-4). These words of the Psalm, which will also resonate today in your Hall, enable us to see that music can be permeated with the spirit of prayer and contemplation of God. Even secular music can transmit a spiritual content.

I pray for God's support to Your Holiness and to all the guests and participants in the concert.

Thursday 20 May 2010

US Priest at the head of the Pontifical Oriental Institute

WASHINGTON, D.C., MAY 17, 2010 thanks to Zenit.org

Benedict XVI appointed Jesuit Father James McCann, head of the U.S. bishops' conference Office to Aid the Church in Central and Eastern Europe, as rector of the Pontifical Oriental Institute.

The bishops' conference announced the appointment today of Father McCann, 61, who is expected to take up his position at the Rome institute in September.

The conference's general secretary, Monsignor David Malloy, affirmed that "Father McCann has shown dedication to efforts of U.S. Catholics to help the church in Russia, Central and Eastern Europe."

The secretary continued: "He has represented the bishops well both here and abroad.

"With clear vision and a keen observance of need, he has seen that funds collected for the church in Russi a, Central and Eastern Europe are wisely spent on rebuilding the Church where it is most challenged and has been instrumental in educating men and women, especially through the priesthood and religious life, for Church ministry."

James McCann was born in Chicago. He joined the Society of Jesus in 1967 and was ordained a priest in 1979.

The priest has a licentiate in theology from Centre Sèvres in Paris, a master's degree in Russian and Eastern European Studies from Yale University, and a doctorate in Politics with a specialization in Russia and Eastern Europe from Princeton University.

He has worked in Germany, Russia and Kazakhstan. The conference communiqué noted that the priest "brings significant understanding to his position of service to the oriental churches, which are the focus of the Pontifical Oriental Institute."

The institute was established for the study of Eastern Christianity in 1917 by Pope Benedict XV, and entrusted to the Society of Jesus in 1922 by Pope Pius XI.

Saturday 15 May 2010

Vatican Publishes Book by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow

ROME, MAY 14, 2010 thanks to Zenit.org

The Vatican Publishing House is publishing a book by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and of All Russia.

This gesture follows a similar move of the Moscow Patriarchate, which last December published a book with texts from Benedict XVI regarding European culture.

Now, the Italian-language book with addresses by the Russian Orthodox patriarch, titled "Liberta e Responsabilita alla Ricerca dell'Armonia" (Liberty and Responsibility in the Search of Harmony) will be officially presented on Monday at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan.

The work brings together the most important addresses on human rights given by Patriarch Kirill. In it, he wrote, "We have a common vision with the Pope on the protection of the dignity of man in Europe."

For this reason, he said, "today the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church are the only ones naturally allied in the hard struggle against the liberalist and secularist ideology."

"In the West there is the desire to relegate the faith to the private realm in a way that is almost worse than the Soviet regime did in our country," the patriarch wrote.

To overcome it, he added, the Church will have to enter "into a serious dialogue, devoid of prejudices, with lay and liberal humanism," but without falling into the temptation of "unilateralism."

"It is a harsh analysis but full of hope," stressed Pierluca Azzaro, professor of politics at the university and the book's editor. "Pope Benedict XVI and Patriarch Kirill exhort Christians of East and West not to be conformed to the mentality of this century."

"They invite all of us to profess our creed in the Church founded by Christ the Savior, to defend liberty as an indisputable but not unlimited value: by its most profound nature, liberty is, and always will be, linked to truth," Azzaro said.

Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, who signed the volume's introduction, stated, Patriarch Kirill "puts one on guard in an incisive and passionate way against a 'new generation of rights' that shelter in their interior true and genuine degenerations of the authentic dignity of the person."

The volume will be presented by Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, archbishop of Milan and president of the Giuseppe Toniolo Institute of Higher Studies, and Adriano Roccucci of the Roma Tre University.

Addresses will be given by Lorenzo Ornaghi, rector of the Sacred Heart university; Anatoly Torkunov, rector of the Moscow St ate Institute of International Relations of the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry; Edmondo Caruana, publishing director of the Vatican Publishing House; Giuseppina Cardillo Azzaro, president of the international association "Sophia: Russian Idea, Idea of Europe."

The presentation will end with a speech by the chairman of the Department of External Affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate, Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev of Volokolamsk.

The publication of the book also leads up to the May 20 inauguration in Rome of the Italian-Russian Academy "Sapientia et Scientia."

The project has received the blessing of the Holy See and of the Moscow Patriarchate, and the official approval of the Italian and Russian States.

The Academy - which aims to be a stable meeting place for representatives of the Church and of the civil societies of Italy and Russia - will carry out its activities at the Villa Sciarra in Rome.

May 15th 2010 - Orientale Lumen 15 Years On

May 15th will see our first major Conference for some time, to celebrate 15 Years since the Apostolic Letter, Orientale Lumen.

This will take place in the academic space of Heythrop College, University of London. It will be the opening event of their new Centre for the Study of the Eastern Churches, whose founding director will be Anthony O'Mahoney.

But the conference itself is sponsored and supported by the Society of St John Chrysostom, the Institute of Orthodox Christian Studies at Cambridge and the Monastic East-West meetings hosted by Minster Abbey.

The key conference participants will be

  • Our president, the Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Revd Vincent Nichols
  • Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia
  • Anthony O'Mahoney, director of the new Centre for the Study of the Eastern Churches
  • Mother Nicola of St Mildred's Priory, Minster Abbey
  • Archimandrite Demetrios Sharbaq of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch (whose paper on the Petrine Primacy in the current edition of One in Christ is well worth reading)
  • Dr Aidan Nichols OP, of Blackfriars, Cambridge
  • Dr Iwan Dacko, President of the Centre for Ecumenical Studies, Ukrainian Catholic University, Lviv
  • Dr Simon Marincak, Director. Michael Lacko Centre for East-West Spirituality, Kosice, Slovakia
  • Dr Marcus Plested, Academic Director, Institute of Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge

The aim of the day is to 'capture' in an academic space the progress, challenges and achievements of Orthodox-Catholic relations since Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI began the current move towards reconciliation in the 1960s, and the progress of the joint theological commission, especially in its present phase. We will also look at the particular contexts for Catholic-Orthodox ecumenical engagement and moves towards recovering full communion, in Antioch, Ukraine and the interpenetration of the Latin Catholic and Byzantine Orthodox and Greek Catholic diaspora.

Participation is by invitation owing to restrictions on space. If you would like to be invited, please email the Society

Monday 10 May 2010

Metropolitan Filaret of Belarus: Time to move towads unity

Thanks to Zenit.org, May 6, 2010 - By Jesús Colina

The time is now for the Orthodox and Catholic Churches to take a step toward unity, and for Benedict XVI and the Orthodox patriarch of Moscow to meet, says the Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus.

Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk and Sluck said this Tuesday at the international conference held in Rome on "The Poor Are the Precious Treasure of the Church: Orthodox and Catholics Together on the Path of Charity." During the conference, which was promoted by the Sant'Egidio Community, participants reflected on the reception of the most frail in our societies, the testimony of the Fathers of the Church, and the challenges dictated by new social problems.

According to Metropolitan Filaret, the time has come to take decisive steps toward unity, reported the country's Catholic news service. The Orthodox leader added that both Churches seek to establish full unity, and stressed that he has come to this conclusion based on the fraternal dialogue and the meetings that they have held with representatives of the Catholic Church. If Benedict XVI and Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia were to meet, it would be a first for the two pastors of Rome and Moscow. Metropolitan Filaret's statements coincide with the announcement of the "Days of Russian Culture and Spirituality in the Vatican," which will be held May 19-20, and which will culminate with a concert offered to Benedict XVI by Kirill I. The musical event will include compositions of Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, president of the Department for Foreign Relations of the Patriarchy of Moscow. On Wednesday, Metropolitan Filaret visited the Holy Shroud of Turin and Cardinal Severino Poletto, archbishop of Turin. "The impression is so profound that one cannot express the joy one feels," commented the Orthodox representative after seeing the Shroud. Metropolitan Filaret, in this post since 1978, received the recognition of "Hero of Belarus" in 2006, by decision of president Alexander Lukashenko, in recognition of the service to the spirituality of his country.

Friday 7 May 2010

Metropolitan Filaret of Belarus - Time for Greater Unity between Catholics and Orthodox

By Jesús Colina

VATICAN CITY, MAY 6, 2010 thanks to Zenit.org

The time is now for the Orthodox and Catholic Churches to take a step toward unity, and for Benedict XVI and the Orthodox patriarch of Moscow to meet, says the Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus.

Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk and Sluck said this Tuesday at the international conference held in Rome on "The Poor Are the Precious Treasure of the Church: Orthodox and Catholics Together on the Path of Charity."

During the conference, which was promoted by the Sant'Egidio Community, participants reflected on the reception of the most frail in our societies, the testimony of the Fathers of the Church, and the challenges dictated by new social problems.

According to Metropolitan Filaret, the time has come to take decisive steps toward unity, reported the country's Catholic news service.

The Orthodox leader added that both Churches seek to establish full unity, and stressed that he has come to this conclusion based on the fraternal dialogue and the meetings that they have held with representatives of the Catholic Church.

If Benedict XVI and Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia were to meet, it would be a first for the two pastors of Rome and Moscow.

Metropolitan Filaret's statements coincide with the announcement of the "Days of Russian Culture and Spirituality in the Vatican," which will be held May 19-20, and which will culminate with a concert offered to Benedict XVI by Kirill I.

The musical event will include compositions of Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, president of the Department for Foreign Relations of the Patriarchy of Moscow.

On Wednesday, Metropolitan Filaret visited the Holy Shroud of Turin and Cardinal Severino Poletto, archbishop of Turin.

"The impression is so profound that one cannot express the joy one feels," commented the Orthodox representative after seeing the Shroud.

Metropolitan Filaret, in this post since 1978, received the recognition of "Hero of Belarus" in 2006, by decision of president Alexander Lukashenko, in recognition of the service to the spirituality of his country

Thursday 6 May 2010

Buses of Christian Students Bombed in Iraq

MOSUL, Iraq, MAY 3, 2010 thanks to Zenit.org

Four people were killed and 171 were wounded Sunday when a bus convoy carrying Christian students to the University of Mosul was attacked.

Chaldean Archbishop Emil Nona told the Italian bishops' news service about the "devastating" explosion.

There was first an explosive device and then a car bomb that reached three of the buses. Each bus takes about 50 students, ranging in age from 18 to 26.

After the explosions, dozens of the young people were taken to hospitals in Erbil. Seventeen continued in graved condition.

"We are seeing another, the umpteenth, attack against Christians," Archbishop Nona said. "The violence continues without relief."

An auxiliary of the Chaldean Patriarch, Bishop Shlemon Warduni of Baghdad, lamented today that no one in the administration had spoken out to express solidarity with the Christian community.

"Truly, we do not know what to do with this violence," he said.

Redemptorist Father Bashar Warda lamented that the attack was particularly shocking because it was not against soldiers or the military, "but just students, who had their books, their pens and their dreams to grow up and serve their county."

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Pre-Synodal Council for the Special Assembly on the Middle East

Ecumenism and Collaboration are Keys for the Catholic Church in the Middle East

VATICAN CITY, MAY 3, 2010 thanks to Zenit.org
The pre-synodal council for the Special Assembly for the Middle East is underlining the urgency of a convinced ecumenical commitment and respectful collaboration with Jews and Muslims.

The third meeting of the council for the Middle East of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops was held April 23-24 in Rome, the Vatican press office reported today.

It noted that "the objective of the Special Assembly for the Middle East is twofold: to confirm and reinforce Christians in their identity through the Word of God and the sacraments, and to revive ecclesial communion between the particular Churches, so that they can offer a genuine Christian witness, in contact with the other Churches and ecclesial communities."

Quoting St. John's Gospel, the communiqué added: "Hence the urgency of a convinced ecumenical commitment, 'that all may be one, so that the world will believe.'"

It pointed out that, "despite the difficulties of the present moment," the Church in the Middle East, "trusting in Divine Providence, remains confident in a future of peace, of justice and respectful collaboration with those belonging to Judaism and Islam, for the good of all the inhabitants of the region."

In this preparatory meeting of the synod for the Middle East, which will be held October 10-24 in the Vatican, participants continued to fix the foundations for the reflection that will take place on different questions, among them the Christian witness in Muslim-majority societies.

In this sense, the communiqué explained that "the future synod will also be a precious occasion to examine thoroughly the religious and social situation, to give Christians a clear vision of the meaning of their being active witnesses of Christ, in the context of societies of Muslim majority."

It added, "An attempt will be made, therefore, to proceed to a reflection on the present situation, not easy given the conflicts and instability which cause the exodus of the population, including not a few Christians."


The members of the pre-synodal council highlighted the "joy and gratitude" with which they received the invitation to participate in the Eucharistic Celebration presided over by Benedict XVI in Nicosia, during his June 4-6 trip to Cyprus.

During the celebration of that Mass, the Pope will distribute the Instrumentum laboris of the synod to the pastors of the Mideast Churches.

The communiqué explained that the two-day meeting was attended by all the m embers of the pre-synodal council for the Special Assembly for the Middle East except for Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, Chaldean patriarch of Babylon, Iraq.

The secretary-general of the Synod of Bishops, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, opened the meeting. Other members of the council gave addresses on the ecclesial situation in the socio-political context of the regions of the Middle East.

As well, the council worked on an outline of the Instrumentum laboris, the assembly's working document.

The members worked to integrate the various contributions of the Eastern Churches, the episcopal conferences, the Vatican dicasteries and several religious institutions into an "organic scheme."

"Once written in its definitive form," the scheme "will serve the Synodal Fathers as a study document and order of the day for the debate in the Synod Hall," explained the communiqué.

Thirte en ecclesiastical authorities form part of the pre-synodal council. These include: Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, Maronite patriarch of Antioch, Lebanon; Cardinal Ivan Dias, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples; and Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

The council also includes: Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue; Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches; Patriarch Antonios Naguib, patriarch of Alexandria of the Copts, Egypt; Patriarch Ignace Youssif III Younan, patriarch of Antioch of the Syrians, Lebanon; Gregorios III Laham, patriarch of Antioch for the Greek Melkite Church; Nerses Bedros XIX Tarmouni, Catholic patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenians, Lebanon; Archbishop Fouad Twal, Latin patriarch of Jerusalem; Archbishop Ramzi Garmou, archbishop of Teheran of the Chaldeans and president of the Ir anian episcopal conference; Bishop Luigi Padovese, president of the Turkish episcopal conference and apostolic vicar of Anatolia; and Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly.

The synod's theme is "The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness. 'Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul' (Acts 4: 32)."

Saturday 1 May 2010

Galliciano - Calabria Grecanico

Galliciano is located in the heart of the 9 Greek speaking villages of Calabria in the deep South, the extreme tip of the Italian boot, a place known as Aspromonte.The villages are the following:

Bova, Bova Marina, Condofuri, Chorio di Roccaforte, Chorio Roghudi, Roghudi, Amendolea, Roccaforte del Greco and finally Galliciano.
Another large Greek speaking village, Pentedattilo, which has the same name as the mountain range in Cyprus, has been abandoned.The total Grecanico population of all the villages is about 9,000. Of these, very few understand the Grecanico language and even fewer speak it. Of all the Greek speaking villages, Galliciano has preserved and retained many aspects of the Greek cultural heritage. It is the place where the language of Homer is still spoken, and where many cultural traditions trace themselves back to Greece. Perhaps the fact that it is the most isolated of all the villages which make up the Greek speaking zone of Calabria is an indication of that.

Sadly the Greek language spoken in this region for thousands of years is rapidly dying off. The village of Galliciano is the last stronghold of this ancient culture and it is called the Acropolis of Hellenism in Calabria. Recently a Greek Orthodox church was build in the village and it was also visited by the Orthodox ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in 2001.

Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyivan Patriarchate) on Church Unity

From Risu:

On April 8, 2010, at the press conference Prospects of Establishing One National Church in New Political Conditions, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate, Patriarch Filaret, expressed his opinion that the unification of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) with Ukrainian Orthodox Church is quite possible and likely.

He believes, however, that it can happen only when the three branches of Ukrainian Orthodoxy—the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church—unite as one national church recognized by the world, reports Ukrinform. According to the patriarch, today "good relations have been established between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church." He noted that there are quite powerful forces in the Greek Catholic environment which would like to unite with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. According to the hierarch, serious grounds for such unification must be ripe first of all among the believers of the UGCC.

Encyclical from the Ecumenical Patriarch for the Sunday of Orthodoxy 2010

By God’s Grace Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch
To the Fullness of the Church, Grace and Peace
From our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

Our most holy Orthodox Church today commemorates its own feast day, and – from this historical and martyric See of the Ecumenical Patriarchate – the Mother Church of Constantinople directs its blessing, love and concern to all of its faithful and dedicated spiritual children throughout the world, inviting them to concelebrate in prayer.

Blessed be the name of the Lord! Those who endeavored over the ages to suppress the Church through various visible and invisible persecutions; those who sought to falsify the Church with their heretical teachings; those who wanted to silence the Church, depriving it of its voice and witness; they all proved unsuccessful. The clouds of Martyrs, the tears of the Ascetics, and the prayers of the Saints protect the Church spiritually, while the Comforter and Spirit of Truth leads it to the fullness of truth.

With a sense of duty and responsibility, despite its hurdles and problems, as the First-Throne Church of Orthodoxy, the Ecumenical Patriarchate cares about protecting and establishing the unity of the Orthodox Church, in order that with one voice and in one heart we may confess the Orthodox faith of our Fathers in every age and even in our times. For, Orthodoxy is not a museum treasure that must be preserved; it is a breath of life that must be transmitted and invigorate all people. Orthodoxy is always contemporary, so long as we promote it with humility and interpret it in light of the existential quests and needs of humanity in each historical period and cultural circumstance.

To this purpose, Orthodoxy must be in constant dialogue with the world. The Orthodox Church does not fear dialogue because truth is not afraid of dialogue. On the contrary, if Orthodoxy is enclosed within itself and not in dialogue with those outside, it will both fail in its mission and no longer be the "catholic" and "ecumenical" Church. Instead, it will become an introverted and self-contained group, a "ghetto" on the margins of history. This is why the great Fathers of the Church never feared dialogue with the spiritual culture of their age – indeed even with the pagan idolaters and philosophers of their world – thereby influencing and transforming the civilization of their time and offering us a truly ecumenical Church.

Today, Orthodoxy is called to continue this dialogue with the outside world in order to provide a witness and the life-giving breath of its faith. However, this dialogue cannot reach the outside world unless it first passes through all those that bear the Christian name. Thus, we must first converse as Christians among ourselves in order to resolve our differences, in order that our witness to the outside world may be credible. Our endeavors for the union of all Christians is the will and command of our Lord, who before His Passion prayed to His Father "that all [namely, His disciples] may be one, so that the world may believe that You sent me." (John 17:21) It is not possible for the Lord to agonize over the unity of His disciples and for us to remain indifferent about the unity of all Christians. This would constitute criminal betrayal and transgression of His divine commandment.

It is precisely for these reasons that, with the mutual agreement and participation of all local Orthodox Churches, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has for many decades conducted official Panorthodox theological dialogues with the larger Christian Churches and Confessions. The aim of these dialogues is, in a spirit of love, to discuss whatever divides Christians both in terms of faith as well as in terms of the organization and life of the Church.

These dialogues, together with every effort for peaceful and fraternal relations of the Orthodox Church with other Christians, are unfortunately challenged today in an unacceptably fanatical way – at least by the standards of a genuinely Orthodox ethos – by certain circles that exclusively claim for themselves the title of zealot and defender of Orthodoxy. As if all the Patriarchs and Sacred Synods of the Orthodox Churches throughout the world, who unanimously decided (Cont. next pg.)

on and continue to support these dialogues, were not Orthodox. Yet, these opponents of every effort for the restoration of unity among Christians raise themselves above Episcopal Synods of the Church to the dangerous point of creating schisms within the Church.

In their polemical argumentation, these critics of the restoration of unity among Christians do not even hesitate to distort reality in order to deceive and arouse the faithful. Thus, they are silent about the fact that theological dialogues are conducted by unanimous decision of all Orthodox Churches, instead attacking the Ecumenical Patriarchate alone. They disseminate false rumors that union between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches is imminent, while they know well that the differences discussed in these theological dialogues remain numerous and require lengthy debate; moreover, union is not decided by theological commissions but by Church Synods. They assert that the Pope will supposedly subjugate the Orthodox, because the latter submit to dialogue with the Roman Catholics! They condemn those who conduct these dialogues as allegedly "heretics" and "traitors" of Orthodoxy, purely and simply because they converse with non-Orthodox, with whom they share the treasure and truth of our Orthodox faith. They speak condescendingly of every effort for reconciliation among divided Christians and restoration of their unity as purportedly being "the pan-heresy of ecumenism" without providing the slightest evidence that, in its contacts with non-Orthodox, the Orthodox Church has abandoned or denied the doctrines of the Ecumenical Councils and of the Church Fathers.

Beloved children in the Lord, Orthodoxy has no need of either fanaticism or bigotry to protect itself. Whoever believes that Orthodoxy has the truth does not fear dialogue, because truth has never been endangered by dialogue. By contrast, when in our day all people strive to resolve their differences through dialogue, Orthodoxy cannot proceed with intolerance and extremism. You should have utmost confidence in your Mother Church. For the Mother Church has over the ages preserved and transmitted Orthodoxy even to other nations. And today, the Mother Church is struggling amid difficult circumstances to maintain Orthodoxy vibrant and venerable throughout the world.

From the Ecumenical Patriarchate, this sacred Center of Orthodoxy, we embrace all of you lovingly and bless you paternally, praying that you may journey in health through the holy period of contrition and asceticism known as Holy and Great Lent in order that you may become worthy of celebrating the pure Passion and glorious Resurrection of our Savior Lord with all faithful Orthodox Christians throughout the world.

Sunday of Orthodoxy 2010

The Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and the Claim of Rome to Preeminence

From the March 2010 issue of The Word, magazine of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America)

by Deacon Gregory Roeber, Professor of Early Modern History and Religious Studies, Department of History, Penn State University

The Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul is very ancient, and at the same time, the last historically to be preceded by preparation with a lengthy fast. The Feast is described, in the Byzantine tradition, technically as a "third class/ Vigil rank commemoration" — and in the West as the " Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul." Though it does not rank with Pascha, Nativity, Theophany or Pentecost, it is still very important, as it is the patronal feast of the Patriarchate of Antioch. Most Christians, however, identify Saints Peter and Paul with the city – Rome –where they were martyred, according to tradition. Why Rome? And why does the city and its bishop, and the memory of the two Apostles, matter?.

The Akathist Hymn to the Holy Apostles gives us an important clue, incorporating what we find in the Scriptures as well: Saint Peter is given the place of honor. The Hymn addresses the Head of the Church first – Christ, the Good Shepherd, who "said unto thee, O first-enthroned Peter: If thou lovest Me, feed My sheep." The same Christ admonishes the other apostles about the suitability of the former persecutor Saul of Tarsus (quoting here Acts 9:15); Christ confirmed "thee, O preeminent Apostle Paul: He is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear my name before the gentiles." But Christ then addresses the entire college of the apostles with the universal commission of the Gospel of Matthew – to preach to all the nations.
These themes – the primacy of Peter, Paul as the last-called but Peter’s equal before God, and the collegial nature of the apostles’ approach to difficulties – is reflected in the opening of the Akathist Hymn. The Hymn recognizes the primacy of Peter, the linkage of the Church of the Circumcised and the Uncircumcised in the two apostles’ dual ministries, and the collegial obligation of all the apostles and their successors, the bishops of the Church, to spread the Gospel, at the risk of martyrdom, if necessary. The hymn’s scriptural teaching is confirmed in the theology of some of the early fathers, including Saint Irenaeus of Lyon and the Montanist theologian Tertullian. Taken together, they provide us with a proper view of a Petrine ministry, Rome, and the role of a primacy among the bishops for Orthodox Christians in the 21st century.

The commemoration of the apostles’ deaths began around the year 258 during the persecution of Christians under the emperor Valerius. Oral tradition held that the apostles had perished under the emperor Nero sometime in the 60s. Given his Roman citizenship, Paul was granted the privilege of execution by beheading, but Peter, as a Jewish Christian deemed an enemy to the cult of imperial worship was crucified first, according to tradition. The site on the Vatican Hill was, from before the time of Constantine, believed to be the place where Peter’s relics had been hidden. Over an earlier structure whose ruins were excavated in the 1940s beneath the present Renaissance building, the emperor Constantine had constructed that first basilica. The Basilica of Saint Peter is not the cathedral church of the bishop of Rome, but a memorial church where the apostle’s relics have been revered since the fourth century. In 258 the remains of the two apostles had been moved to prevent the persecutors from desecrating them, and a common date chosen to honor them both. By ancient oral tradition, it was Peter who suffered death first, and Paul perhaps a day later. According to Farmer and Kereszty’s Peter and Paul in the Church of Rome, that tradition has left traces in "graffiti on the walls of San Sebastiano near the via Appia [that] show that the cult of Peter and Paul was firmly established there in the first half of the third century," (that is, by the early 200s).
That cult of veneration sprang from the connection between the two men revealed in Holy Scripture. The two knew of each other before Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. The account in Acts does not remember Paul after his conversion journeying to talk to Peter (as Paul in the Letter to the Galatians reveals he did). After being sent to Antioch by the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), Paul’s argument with Barnabas (vs. 39) "became so sharp that they parted from one another," a reminder that the apostles didn’t always get along swimmingly, as indeed Peter and Paul did not. In his own confession made to the Galatians about his conversion, Paul revealed that he did not go to Jerusalem immediately, but spent time in Arabia. After three years in Damascus, however, when he did arrive in Jerusalem, he visited Peter, not James, the head of the Christian community in the city (Galatians 1:17–18). His choice reflected what he had been taught, since he reminded the Church at Corinth that when Christ arose from the dead "he appeared to Cephas [that is, Peter]; then to the twelve; then he appeared to about five hundred brethren at the same time …; then he appeared to James; then to all the apostles" and finally, "last of all, as to one born out of due time, he appeared also to me" (1 Corinthians 15:3–7). In Galatians Paul names those among the "pillars of the church in Jerusalem" who decided that Paul and Barnabas should "go unto the Gentiles, and they [that is, James, Cephas and John] unto the circumcision" (Galatians 2:7–9).

The Scriptures make no attempt to disguise the disagreements between the first and the last of the Apostles that reflected deep division within the broader Church. In Acts Chapters 10 and 11, Luke records Peter’s vision prior to the arrival of Cornelius in which he was instructed not to call unclean anything God has made clean. Tensions and disagreements about the relationship of the Church of the Circumcised to the Uncircumcised persisted, and had to be resolved by conciliar meetings, quite obviously tense and probably unpleasant. Paul says bluntly that he opposed Peter "to his face" (Galatians 2:11) on the question of converted Gentiles being circumcised and observing the Mosaic Law. That this former Pharisee who confessed that he was "zealous for the traditions of my fathers" (Galatians 1:14) should become the defender of the Gentiles as equal heirs of the promises made to ancient Israel figures as one of the more astonishing reminders that God acts in strange ways. The Scriptures point to Paul’s acknowledgment of Peter’s primacy among the apostles, do not hide disagreements between them, and note the important consensus among the "pillars" of the Church in Jerusalem, and the resolution of conflict in the college of the apostles.

It is not this scriptural relationship, however, that actually attracted the attention of the Church fathers. As Farmer and Kereszty note, "the most important early patristic texts which speak of the martyrdom of Peter, and his role in the foundation of the church of Rome (1 Clement, the Letter of Ignatius of Antioch to the Romans and the Letter of Bishop Dionysius of Corinth to the Bishop of Rome) do not speak about Peter alone. Paul is always joined with Peter. The two are associated as apostles, martyrs, and the founders of the church of Rome. The two most prominent theologians of the second century, Ireneaus and Tertullian, continue this early tradition."

Were the Church fathers trying hard to get beyond the obvious disagreements by insisting on pairing these two giant personalities as martyr-founders? It would seem so. Having been in Rome himself in 177 AD, Irenaeus informs us in his Against Heresies that it would take too long to "enumerate the successions of all the churches," but he emphasizes instead the tradition – that which was handed down – about "that very great, oldest, and well-known church, founded and established at Rome by those two most glorious apostles Peter and Paul, received from the apostles, and the faith she has announced to men, which comes down to us through the successions of bishops … ."

Irenaeus and the other fathers knew their Scriptures, and they did not mean to imply that Peter and Paul "literally" founded the many house churches that may have sprang from the synagogues in pagan Rome. Paul’s Letter to the Romans addresses no particular bishop or elder in the imperial capital and that fact was as well known to Saint Ireneaus as it is to us. Instead, as the Montanist writer Tertullian of North Africa, like Irenaeus, concluded, what everyone remembered was their common witness – that the two apostles "poured their whole teaching along with their blood" into what gradually became a unified church in that city under one overseer or episkopos, his deacons and presbyters. As Allen Brent in his Imperial Cult and the Development of Church Order observes, what Irenaeus, along with St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Cyprian and other early writers emphasized, was a connection of bishops "in communion with all other father bishops … [and] the See of Rome … as a focus of unity. The Catholic Church thus became an alternative imperium, presided over by bishops in communion with each other, which now stands in stark contrast to pagan Imperial Order."

The post-apostolic writers were not, therefore, much interested in the historical founding of Christianity in Rome. Rather, theirs is a theological meditation about the importance of martyrdom – the witness of the faith – and it is this apostolic faith that is the key to the two apostles’ importance: they shed their blood along with countless others in the very heart of the pagan empire. That point, recognized by Tertullian in the 200s, informs a sermon delivered in the early 400s by another North African, St. Augustine of Hippo (Sermon 295). St. Augustine notes that the Apostles share the same feast even though they suffered on different days: "Peter went first, and Paul followed. And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles’ blood. Let us embrace what they believed, their life, their labors, their sufferings, their preaching, and their confession of faith." 

Placing the confession of faith first and last in his list – giving it, in classic Latin oratorical style, the place of honor – the Bishop of Hippo points to the central and important aspect of the feast. This same emphasis can be seen in a sermon by Pope Leo the Great, who reminded his listeners that "Rome owes its high position to these Apostles. The whole world, dearly beloved, does indeed take part in all holy anniversaries, and loyalty to the one Faith demands that whatever is recorded as one for all men’s salvation should be everywhere celebrated with common rejoicings. But … it is to be honored with special and peculiar exultation in our city, that there may be a predominance of gladness on the day of their martyrdom in the place where the chief of the Apostles met their glorious end … through whom the light of Christ’s gospel shone on thee, O Rome, and through whom thou, who wast the teacher of error, wast made the disciple of Truth." Leo concludes by insisting that "no distinction must be drawn between the merits of the two … because they were equal in election, alike in their toils, undivided in their death."
Would this story be the same if the two apostles, before their later journeys to Rome, had been martyred in Antioch? Would that city, where the followers of Christ were first called Christian (Acts 11:26), not have assumed the kind of preeminence that the capital city of the Empire received instead? This may appear to be pointless speculation, but it is not. Important though Antioch was, its bishop never (as far as we know) was addressed by the term pope or papa (meaning "father"); however, this term of address to the bishop of Rome was also "from the third century … of the titles of the bishop of Alexandria" (Andrew Louth, Greek East and Latin West). The understanding of Rome as the first among the bishoprics did not arise because of the political structure of the empire, that is, it was not defended because of "civil pre-eminence, [but] rather … on its status as an unequivocally apostolic see." The term "’apostolic see’ – apostolica sedes – was first used by Pope Damasus (366-84) (Louth). If apostolic presence alone explained Rome’s primacy, however, Antioch surely might have had the prior claim? In truth, the reverence shown for the Church in Rome by the majority of Christians who lived in Asia Minor and Africa, not Europe, did not have anything to do with political considerations, or even just the fact that apostles had once been there.(1)

Instead, Rome, rather than Antioch, came to be revered for a more somber reason. Had the Christian community in Jerusalem, for example, been martyred for the faith, instead of being warned not to perish alongside their rebellious neighbors in the year 70, presumably Jerusalem, had it not been totally destroyed, could also have claimed a preeminently "apostolic" witness. The martyrdom of the Apostle James in that city already counted for much. Instead, as Christianity became first tolerated, and then gradually the official faith of the Empire, Rome acquired the preeminence that is reflected in all of the ecumenical councils’ surviving documents and canons. The gradual displacement of Alexandria by New Rome between the first Council of Nicea in 325 and the reaffirmation of the new capital see’s status of honor by Chalcedon in 451 never cast doubts on Rome’s primacy and orthodoxy. Saint Athanasius the Great fled westward to the bishop of Rome’s protection against his Arian enemies, and Rome continued to witness even at the risk of imperial displeasure, a fact acknowledged by no less an eastern saint than Maximus the Confessor. It was no accident that he made his way to the Lateran Synod of 649 to aid in the condemnation of heresies whose toleration was being promoted by the emperor. Though never personally present at any of the great councils held in the East, the bishops of Rome through their legates played a critical role in articulating the confession of faith – spelling out the implications of Peter’s assertion of what flesh and blood had not revealed to him but the Father: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:17).

If we take seriously the primacy of Peter and his ministry, we are constantly reminded of Peter’s frailty, and the brashness of his faith because of his loving relationship with Jesus. Warned that Satan desired to sift him like wheat, Peter must have reflected often later in life on Jesus’ words that, nonetheless, "I have prayed for you so that when you return to me, you will strengthen your brethren." St. John’s Gospel not only reaffirms that Christ appeared first to Peter after his resurrection – as Paul reminded his readers as well – but that Jesus predicted Peter’s martyrdom: "When you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish" (John 21:18).

It is the degree to which Peter – and any bishop of the church anywhere in the world – is willing, like the Good Shepherd, to lay down his life for his sheep that explains the veneration in which the ancient church held both of the apostles, the place where they witnessed, and those who came after them. The persecutions in Rome were, in the last half of the third and the beginning of the fourth century, particularly harrowing. Each of the bishops and their deacons was systematically hunted down and killed by imperial authorities. As a result, a kind of "succession crisis" in the wake of these deaths led the priest Novatian to expect election to the bishopric, only to be passed over. In the resulting conflicts that produced letters exchanged with Cyprian of Carthage in North Africa, one important point emerged: the honor in which Rome was held was an honor based on that Church’s history of heroic martyrdom. Both then and subsequently, regional councils pursued their own business and did not wait for Rome’s approval to deal with their own local disciplinary matters; furthermore, appeals to Rome, including appeals from Christians in the East, stemmed from the universal conviction that Rome was a martyr church, not primarily that it had a legal or juridical claim. The identification of Peter and Paul with Rome is a theological one, and their deaths there, their ultimate confession of faith, is the foundation of "apostolicity" in Orthodox Catholic Christianity, then, and now. (See J. E. Merdinger’s Rome and the African Church in the Time of Augustine for a good survey of the relationship of the African Church to Rome.)

Any "definition" of a "primacy" in the universal Church begins and ends as the Akathist Hymn does – addressing the "most glorious Apostles who laid down your lives for Christ and beautified His pasture with your blood." The definition of primacy must focus on who most closely resembles the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep, as the Apostles and Martyrs did. That is why many Orthodox theologians have said that among the many accumulated titles now attached to the bishop of Rome, the most appropriate and theologically correct is also one of the most ancient: "the servant of the servants of God," the title adopted by Pope Saint Gregory the Great, the Dialogist (590–604).

What the continuing dialogues between the Orthodox and the separated bishop of Rome will eventually produce is known only to God. Within the Orthodox community itself, a universal honor of Saints Peter and Paul begins with our own examination of how we, both individually, and collectively, centered on the Eucharist, reflect, or fail to reflect the confession of faith handed down from Peter and Paul with all the holy Apostles. If we are inclined to become dismayed at the absence of the original "first see" from the Orthodox communion, or downhearted about the Primus who struggles to survive in semi-captivity in Istanbul, or troubled by any absence of servanthood among bishops in North America, we should take heart. We have the witness of the Church’s own first apostle – the stumbling, but always penitent Peter who was willing to listen to the sometimes abrasive Paul, and who in the end fulfilled the prophecy Christ made about his laying down his life to strengthen the faith of all the brethren. That peculiar charge of suffering servanthood is given to all the bishops of the Church, but it is not theirs to bear alone. We also, by virtue of our baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ, are given the power by the Holy Spirit, whatever our calling in life, to be His witnesses and to rejoice in the communion of all the saints.


1. For a succinct summary of the claim that Rome’s primacy was either of divine origin (Pope Damasus’ Decretum Gelesianum) versus the claim that it was purely honorific in terms of the size and centrality of the imperial capital, see John Meyendorff, Imperial Unity and Christian Divisions: The Church 450-680 A.D. (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1989), 59-66.