ISTANBUL, Turkey (ELCA) — His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, world Orthodox leader, said that official theological dialogues with Lutherans in the United States will continue, along with a longstanding global dialogue with Lutherans. He made the comment as he hosted an official delegation from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) here Feb. 8.
Leading the official 12-member ELCA delegation is the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop and president of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF).
Bartholomew I began his comments by recounting his recent trip to the United States. He hosted an environmental symposium in Mississippi, visited with business leaders in New York and met U.S. political leaders in Washington, D.C.
He said he discussed the plight of the Orthodox in this country with leaders in the Obama Administration and the U.S. Congress. With only a few thousand Orthodox Christians left in Turkey — and nearly 70 million Muslims — the Orthodox are often the subject of discrimination, the Ecumenical Patriarch said. He said U.S. leaders understood his concerns, though there is still much to do here and abroad.
But the ecumenical patriarch said that as Christians, they must always “remain optimistic and never despair.”
“The Ecumenical Patriarchate has long experience of suffering and patience. We always pray with better expectations to come,” he said.
Hanson said the ELCA delegation was honored to be meeting with the Orthodox, who has maintained a presence here for centuries. “I’m always struck by your faithful witness in the shadow of the cross,” he told the world Orthodox leader. He said Bartholomew I’s visit to the United States was an important teaching opportunity for the Orthodox.
Hanson asked what the ELCA could do to assist the Ecumenical Patriarchate resolve it problems with the Turkish government.
“Pray for us,” Bartholomew I said, “and when you meet with dignitaries of the Turkish state, tell them how important the religious minorities are. We are of a different faith, and we are submitted to discrimination. This is our complaint.”
The Orthodox and the ELCA have maintained a formal theological dialogue in the United States. After completion of the most recent round, the ELCA has awaited the scheduling of a new round of dialogue.
“Our official bilateral dialogue will continue,” Bartholomew I said to Hanson. “We will continue our dialogue because it is the only way to achieve progress. We count on the necessity and success of the dialogue.”
Next year, the Lutheran-Orthodox international dialogue, conducted through the LWF, will celebrate its 30th anniversary, Bartholomew I noted. “We have a long way to walk before we reach full Eucharistic communion. Dialogue is the only way for us as people of good will to solve problems,” he told the ELCA delegation.
“We have much to do, and yet we often forget how far we have come,” Hanson responded, with Bartholomew I nodding in agreement.
Hanson read a prepared statement to the Ecumenical Patriarch, much of which focused on global environmental concerns. Bartholomew I has focused much of his ministry on care for the environment and has been called the “Green Patriarch.”
Responding to global environmental concerns is “a spiritual call to care for the creation entrusted to us by God,” Hanson wrote.
“Human rights, religious freedom, and environmental conservation are concerns that Lutherans share with you in the United States and throughout God’s world,” Hanson wrote. The statement also mentioned the progress that has been made in the U.S. Lutheran-Orthodox dialogue and the international Lutheran-Orthodox dialogue.