Carrying the Cross of Christ Together in Solidarity and Suffering

LWF General Secretary Rev. Martin Junge and President Bishop Munib A. Younan meet with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

(l/r) LWF General Secretary Rev. Martin Junge and President Bishop Munib A. Younan present Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew with a Liberian cross fashioned from spent bullet casings as a symbol of the concern for peace and justice shared by the two church communions. © LWF/K. Rieth

LWF Leaders Visit Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople

CONSTANTINOPLE, Istanbul/GENEVA, 31 March 2011 (LWI) – The cross was one of the important points during a meeting in Constantinople between leaders of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader of the 250 million Orthodox Christians around the world.

LWF President Bishop Munib A. Younan and General Secretary Rev. Martin Junge, on their first official visit with the Ecumenical Patriarch, 24 to 28 March, participated in the distinctive Orthodox liturgy for the third Sunday in Lent, which includes special veneration of the Holy Cross. Carried through the assembled worshippers in a procession, the cross is placed on a bed of flowers as a reminder that the cross of humiliation becomes at Easter a tree of life.

Bartholomew described the timing of the LWF visit as “very symbolical.” For centuries, he said, “we live by carrying the Cross of Passion through suffering, persecution and struggle for survival. Indeed the same Cross unites us in solidarity and suffering, particularly as you, Bishop Younan, personally strive for human rights, justice and peace for your people. Yet, all of us still resist in the anticipation of Christ’s Resurrection, which is our daily spiritual hope.”

Junge took up similar themes as he presented the Patriarch with a Liberian cross made out of spent bullets from that country’s civil war. All around the world, he said, “there is violence and suffering. Yet in the cross we see that God, who in Christ endured even the cross, is present also today in such painful circumstances.”

In his greeting, Younan identified three ways in which Lutherans and Orthodox can be united in response to human need. These include a shared vision for a just peace for all the people of the Holy Land; advocacy for freedom of religion; and care for all creation. He also invited Orthodox leaders to seize the festivities surrounding the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 as an opportunity to promote reconciliation and unity.

Echoing the Patriarch’s message to the July 2010 LWF Eleventh Assembly in Stuttgart, Germany, Younan said “there can be no deviation” from the long path which will lead to unity at the table of the Eucharist.

The Lutheran delegation included Dr Kathryn Johnson, LWF assistant general secretary for Ecumenical Affairs, and Rev. Sven Oppegaard, advisor to the LWF president. Georges Lemopoulos, deputy general secretary of the World Council of Churches, accompanied the delegation.

In discussion with members of the Synodical Commission on Inter-Christian Affairs, both Lutherans and Orthodox appreciated the achievements of 30 years of bilateral theological dialogue as “essential and irreversible.” Both sides agreed that in the future the dialogue should address the major challenges facing the church with greater intensity.

At the beginning of his stay, the LWF president had the opportunity to visit the Orthodox theological seminary on the island of Halki, which was closed by government authorities in 1971. The church is still awaiting authorization to reopen the school. Bishop Younan expressed his hope that the church in Turkey would soon be able once again to have theological formation for its leaders in its local setting.

In saying farewell, the Ecumenical Patriarch told the Lutherans to “Think of us as your friends.”