World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Jerry Pillay is visiting the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople, Turkey, from 10-11 March. This is the first official visit of the WCC new general secretary to a member church since assuming his duties on 1 January 2023.
Recognizing the enduring relationship between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the WCC fellowship of churches, Pillay said: “We are deeply determined to work together for unity and reconciliation regardless of the challenges of the times, with the Gospel at the core and as the foundation of this common commitment, with courage, sharing our witness for the care of God’s creation.”
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew warmly received the WCC general secretary and the delegation members, reaffirming at all levels the commitment of the Patriarchate to the ecumenical work.
Pillay referred extensively during the discussions to the significant role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the fellowship as a founding member of the WCC, and the importance of the pioneer work that has been done diachronically by Bartholomew to call for the protection of the environment.
Their meeting was preceded by the collaboration of the WCC delegation with the Ecumenical Patriarchate`s Synodal Commission on inter-Christian and interfaith dialogues, discussing a range of issues covering amongst others the inter-orthodox relations in a post-assembly frame, the war in Ukraine, and possibilities of common action at an ecumenical and humanitarian level. Special emphasis was given to the planning of events in 2025 for the 1700thanniversary of the Council of Nicaea.
“WCC will never abandon dialogue,” Pillay underlined. “Truth must never fear dialogue, which is at the core of the council`s mission. On the basis of mutual understanding and faith-based diplomacy we are ready to prepare for our member churches the spaces that will facilitate them to come together in the spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness,” Pillay stated. “We are in a position of introducing and accompanying them as well in the international organisations platforms, to be used at their benefit raising awareness on topics of their specific interest.”
With reference to the recent earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, Pillay said: “I would like to express once again our deep pain for the unprecedented loss of lives and our determination to stand in solidarity as a fellowship with the victims of the earthquakes, preparing possible plans to support the people affected and the churches destroyed.”
Upon the completion of the discussions on 10 March, Pillay said: “This first meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was a great encouragement to me personally in my leadership, an inspirational encounter with a church leader truly ecumenical, and a reconfirmation of the deep commitment of the Patriarchate to strengthen and vitalize the WCC fellowship at all levels.”
On 11 March, the WCC delegation visited the Holy Trinity Monastery and the Theological School of Halki, on Heybeliada Island in the Marmara Sea of Istanbul, which was closed by Turkish authorities in 1971 and has not been permitted to reopen. The Halki School was the patriarchate’s main theological seminary until its closure but remains in complete repair and ready for the day when it is allowed to reopen.
“This is a clear case of Christians living in a context where the Christian community is experiencing a decline in their members and carries a cross, struggling to maintain its religious rights,” Pillay stated. “The reopening of Halki is directly connected to the right of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to secure its continuity and future on these grounds, and to ensure the formation of its younger generation.” He added: “It is a pity that such great facilities in the school cannot be used to its full to continue with the original intention for Christian unity and ecumenical endeavours.”
Pillay was accompanied on the visit by WCC staff members Xanthi Morfi and Georges Lemopoulos.
On 12 March, Pillay will attend Divine Liturgy, presided by the Ecumenical Patriarch, at the Church of Saint Theodore at Vlanga, followed by a welcome lunch from the local community in his honour.
Photos: Nikos Papachristou / Ecumenical Patriarchate