Orthodox leader Bartholomew I of Constantinople has become the first ever Ecumenical Patriarch to speak to the General Assembly of the Synod of Catholic Bishops in Rome, following years of tension between the churches - who both claim primary apostolic authenticity.
The opening ceremony in the Sistine Chapel, which was attended by more than 400 cardinals, bishops, priests, religious (monks and nuns) and lay people, began with a few brief words of introduction by Benedict XVI.
In his English-language talk, Bartholomew I highlighted how this "is the first time in history that an Ecumenical Patriarch is offered the opportunity to address a Synod of Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church, and thus be 'part of the life' of this sister Church at such a high level. We regard this as a manifestation of the work of the Holy Spirit leading our Churches to a closer and deeper relationship with each other, an important step towards the restoration of our full communion".
"It is well known that the Orthodox Church attaches to the synod system fundamental ecclesiological importance. Together with primacy, synodality constitutes the backbone of the Church's government and organization. ... Therefore, in having today the privilege to address your Synod our hopes are raised that the day will come when our two Churches will fully converge on the role of primacy and synodality in the Church's life, to which our joint theological commission is devoting its study at the present time".
"We have explored", he concluded, "the patristic teaching of the spiritual senses, discerning the power of hearing and speaking God's Word in Scripture, of seeing God's Word in icons and nature, as well as of touching and sharing God's Word in the saints and sacraments. Yet, in order to remain true to the life and mission of the Church, we must personally be changed by this Word. The Church must resemble the mother, who is both sustained by and nourishes through the food she eats. Anything that does not feed and nourish everyone cannot sustain us either. When the world does not share the joy of Christ's Resurrection, this is an indictment of our own integrity and commitment to the living Word of God".
Following the Patriarch's talk, the Pope thanked him for his words assuring him they would be studied and examined by the Synod. "This too was a joyful experience", he said, "an experience of unity, perhaps not perfect but real and profound."