Today, associate director of Ecumenical Affairs for the Archdiocese of Boston Vito Nicastro shares the significant of the issuing of Thursday’s joint letter between the Catholic archbishop and the Greek Orthodox metropolitan of Boston.
Above, Cardinal O’Malley joins Metropolitan Methodios at the Cathedral of the Annunciation for the Greek Orthodox celebration of the Easter Vigil April 19. Photo courtesy Alexander Mavradis
The reason why each and every one of us as Christians needs to play a part in the work for Christian unity is rooted in fidelity: Fidelity to the Church, to the Gospel, and to the Lord. That is why the Holy Father Pope Francis is going to meet Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and other Christian leaders May 24-26. It is also why Cardinal Seán with Metropolitan Methodios of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston issued a joint letter to their clergy and faithful on May 21.
Vatican II taught us that Christian unity was one of its principal aims; that “The attainment of union is the concern of the whole Church, faithful and shepherds alike;” and that the work “extends to everyone, according to his or her talent” (Decree on Ecumenism, 1 and 5). Just like in evangelization, the Church has no superfluous personnel.
And the link between ecumenism and evangelization is fundamental. “Discord among Christians is the greatest obstacle to evangelization,” said the Holy Father in March. And Jesus’ dying wish for us was that we all be one (John 17:21) “so that the world may believe.” If we are evangelizers, one of our goals each day should be to make some mark for Christian unity.
How do we do that? Everyone can pray for it. Everyone can offer it silently at the intentions of Mass – in general and in particular ways. Everyone can strive for greater personal holiness – drawing closer to the meeting point of all Christians, Jesus. Everyone can examine himself or herself for over-generalizing about other Christians.
They say, “Blood is thicker than water.” But what if the blood is the blood of the Cross and the water is the water of Holy Baptism? Then both form a bond which eternally connects all Christians into a family. We can all hold our thoughts, words, and actions to the standard of utmost charity towards our brothers and sisters. All of us can learn more about them. All of us can build relationships. All of us can see the world differently in light of this bond.
There is much more we can do to make a difference. The Church has given us guidance and exhortation, and providence has given us the circumstances in our city and in our lives to make the unity – albeit incomplete and imperfect–which we already share a living reality. In our region, one of the greatest opportunities for this is the presence of a wide range of Christian communities from all over the world, including the Greek Orthodox. Their Metropolis (like an archdiocese) is led by His Eminence, Metropolitan Methodios. Together, the cardinal and metropolitan – building on their predecessors – are continuing to actualize on the ground the intentions of the Holy Father and other Christian leaders to work toward unity.
That’s what the joint letter of May 21 is about. It is a fruit of the realization on the local level of the progress made so far towards completing the remarkable unity we Orthodox and Catholics already share. The letter is rare – something that happens perhaps once or twice a decade. It is significant in the way it links what we do with the Holy Father’s trip and all that our Churches have done building up to it. It is yet another manifestation of communion between our local Church and the Church of Rome – and communion is what it’s all about in the quest for complete Christian unity.
The joint letter describes a little bit of our relationship between the metropolis and the archdiocese. There is much more than one short letter could contain. At midnight on this past Easter Eve at the Cathedral of the Metropolis the metropolitan gathered with his clergy and faithful for the Easter Vigil. With the church nearly dark and all holding unlit candles, the cardinal arrived from having concluded the Easter Vigil in our cathedral. The metropolitan gave him the Gospel to read, and together they proclaimed the Resurrection as light passed from candle to candle symbolizing the life of Christ which we all share.
Only full unity between us is enough. That is why Pope Francis with Eastern Catholic Patriarchs is going to pray with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Armenian Christians and many other Christian representatives at the empty tomb from which that Easter light shines. Only full unity is true to the nature of the Triune God as communion. Only full unity obeys the will of Jesus, and therefore loves him. Only full unity is the goal set by the Magisterium. Only full unity honors the bond of our Baptism and eternal relation in Christ. Only full unity is coherent with the message of the Gospel of reconciliation. Only full unity empowers our compassion and unfetters our evangelization.
*First published on The Boston Pilot, republished with permission
Today, Dr. Vito Nicastro, the associate director of the archdiocese’s Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, shares about the rich ecumenical gathering initiated by a visit from His Grace Bishop Elias Toumeh, Antiochian Orthodox bishop of Pyrgou in Syria.
Originally published in the 4/4/14 edition of the the Boston Pilot. Reprinted with permission.
Above, Vito Nicastro, associate director of the archdiocese’s Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs; Rev. Dr. Rodney Petersen, executive director of the Boston Theological Institute; Bishop Elias Toumeh, Antiochian Orthodox Bishop of Pyrgou; and Rev. Luke Veronis, Director of the Missions Institute of Orthodox Christianity at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology are pictured at Costas Consultation of the Boston Theological Institute, March 28. Courtesy photo.
“Hello, Bishop? Would you mind picking up two prisoners, driving them alone behind enemy lines into a war zone, and completing a prisoner exchange for two kidnapped Christians?” This paraphrases part of the experience related by His Grace Bishop Elias Toumeh, Antiochian Orthodox bishop of Pyrgou in Syria, to an academic convocation March 28 in Brookline which was also an ecumenical gathering of Christians united in listening to his peoples’ plight.
Hostage exchange is not even the most heartbreaking part of his ministry as a Syrian bishop. When his phone rings, he does not know if it is another request to come and collect the body of one of his flock. “In the last three years, I learned what it means to be a bishop. It is about being ready to be sacrificed at any moment for the people.”
And his people were the centerpiece of the message, in my impression. The message Bishop Elias brought was Jesus, as witnessed in the life of the Christians of Syria. “We have no enemies. We carry no weapons.” His church instead has become a relief center trying to cope with needs ranging from traumatic stress among children to hygiene supplies. They have built a Peace Center for Children – children of many Christian and non-Christian backgrounds. “We teach them to care for each other.”
A glance at the crowd listening to Bishop Elias told of the bond between Christians. “If one part of the body suffers…” (I Cor. 12:26) The gathering was the Costas Consultation of the Boston Theological Institute, a consortium of 10 theological schools and seminaries of Greater Boston. This year’s host was Hellenic College/Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. There was a large crowd, perhaps over 150, of Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants. There were professors and students from Andover Newton Theological School, Boston College, Boston University School of Theology, and Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. There were Evangelicals from Unite Boston and Emmanuel Gospel Center; there were mainline Protestants including the head of the Massachusetts Council of Churches; there were Catholics of several stripes including representatives of the lay ecclesial movement The Community of Sant’Egidio; and there were Orthodox of many Churches: Antiochian, Greek, and Romanian. Bishop Elias himself, like many Middle Eastern Christians, has a deep ecumenical background – and a doctorate from Rome.
This diverse group came together in Christian solidarity around the suffering of the Syrian churches. We came first of all to listen and learn. When we Americans hear about Syria on the news it can seem an enigma to us. Most of us think it is a Muslim nation; few know it is historically composite, with a strong Christian presence. Even fewer of us realize how deep the Christian presence runs. Paul was converted to Christ in Syria. Christians were first called Christians in Syria. St. Peter was bishop of Antioch in Syria for seven years before he went to Rome. This is our family in the Triune God. They are precious members, giving witness at great cost. We were there to support them. Once again, as in the Christian Unity Martyrs’ Prayer service of Jan. 25, one of the themes was “you are not forgotten.”
Two bishops have already been kidnapped in Syria and are still missing after almost a year. Priests, Religious, and people of many traditions have been abducted. For all these centuries, Christians have kept the faith, literally, in Syria. Except now, Syria has not kept the Christians. Bishop Toumeh described a Syria which held approximately 2 million Christians three years ago. Now he believes approximately one-third have emigrated, one-third are displaced within Syria, and one-third are left in their homes. He compares their situation to that of the Churches in Iraq. And Syria as a country, he says, is losing a generation. Children have put aside toys and have ordinance collections.
It is not a problem for one Church only, but for all Christians. Subsequent to Bishop Toumeh’s address, news came out that Kessab, Syria, the last Armenian town in the Mediterranean region to survive the 1915 genocide, has been the subject of attacks from Islamic rebels. The result of all of this adversity is the need and desire for deeper Christian unity. As the Holy Father has said, we are living in the age of “the ecumenism of blood.”
Bishop Toumeh said the first need is to stop the violence and begin a political process, then bring in humanitarian aid. After that, economic growth is the key to providing jobs to prevent emigration and thereby save the Christian presence in Syria. At that point, he said, Christians can reclaim the confidence of their historic leadership role in concert with the other parts of Syrian society in the land of their ancient heritage.
Last Saturday, more than 500 people of various cultures and denominations gathered to remember and honor those who have gone before us and died for their faith in Jesus Christ.
Dr. Vito Nicastro, associate director of the archdiocese’s Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs noted that it was the largest gathering of its kind in his 23 years with the office.
It was incredible to see how this event brought together the body of Christ in the city. I identify with what the Coptic Orthodox priests wrote, that “It is the blood of the martyrs that we honor; because of their blood shed, we glorify God. It is because of their blood that was shed, that we gather together in prayer. It is because of their blood that was shed, that we are able to build relationships between the different churches. It is because of their blood shed, that Christians are encouraged and strengthened in their faith.”
Read the article published in the Boston Pilot here: http://thebostonpilot.com/article.asp?ID=16917
Watch the video interview:
Watch the prayer-length of the service here: