Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew: Unity in God’s Time

From “Unity as Calling, Conversion and Mission,” the opening address of His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the Plenary of the World Council of Churches’ Commission on Faith and Order event, “Called to be One Church” (Crete, Greece, October 7, 2009):

We should not be frustrated by our human limitations, which unfortunately determine our disagreements and divisions. Our ongoing and persistent pursuit of unity is a testimony to the fact that what we seek will occur in God’s time and not our own; it is, by the same token, the fruit of heavenly grace and divine kairos.

[ … ]

… genuine humility demands from all of us a sense of openness to the past and the future; in other words, much like the ancient god Janus, we are called to manifest respect for the time-tested ways of the past and regard for the heavenly city that we seek (cf. Heb. 13.14). This “turning” toward the past and the future is surely part and parcel of conversion.

[ … ]

… it is the preservation of creation as the proper way of worshipping the Creator and the promotion of tolerance and understanding among religions and peoples in our world. Working closely together on issues of ecological awareness and ecumenical dialogue is a crucial reflection of the “everlasting covenant” (verses 25-26), whereby Ezekiel’s God proclaims: “I will be their God and they shall be my people … forevermore” (verses 27-28).

[ … ]

If, then, we are to submit to the authority of God, the authority of the kingdom, then we must be authentic and prophetic in our criticism of the world’s consumerism. We must remember and remind our faithful that the land – and all the fullness thereof – belongs to the Lord (cf. Psalm 24.1), that the world’s resources must be oriented toward others.

[ … ]

Beloved brothers and sisters, the unity that we seek is a gift from above, which we must pursue persistently as well as patiently; it is not something that depends solely on us, but primarily on God’s judgment and kairos. Nevertheless, this sacred gift of unity is something that also demands of us radical conversion and re-orientation so that we may turn humbly toward our common roots in the Apostolic Church and the communion of saints, but also so that we may entrust ourselves and submit to God’s heavenly kingdom and authority.


  1. How can you have unity with people who do not believe the events in the Bible are real? The EP should evangelize this group not compromise with this group.

    Also, every time I hear apophaticism these days, I cringe. All kind of shenaigans are justified by a misunderstanding of apophaticism. In some circles apophaticism is the new relativism.

    • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

      Right you are Andrew. The term “apophaticism” functions these days to mean “you can’t really know the Orthodox faith so I am going to tell you what it is”, and then people take license to say whatever is on their mind. Ideas end up floating in space, a kind of pick and choose Christianity but Orthodox style.

      (I am not implying that His All Holiness is doing this of course, merely confirming that I see the same misuse of the term in many places as well.)

  2. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Is anyone troubled (like I am) with the reference to the “ancient god Janus?” Yes, there is some value in the ancient mythology (myth is narrative after all, and narrative organizes knowledge and makes it coherent and comprehensible), but in this context the reference to Janus functions authoritatively; it clarifies (and thus justifies?) the thesis that the unity of the Churches is a function of (chronos and) kairos.

    Why is the meaning of a biblical reference (Heavenly City) clarified by a reference to a mythological explication of time and purpose? Further, given that the speech is primarily a moral exhortation, doesn’t it implicitly posit two centers of authority — scripture and Greek (pre-Cappadocian Hellenism) mythology?

    Granted, the “ancient god Janus” is mentioned only in passing. But why mention it at all?

    • I’m not sure who looks worse in all this: the EP who thought this might somehow clarify his point (when in fact it distracts, at best) or the audience for whom such a reference was assumed to be appropriate.

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