UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH OF THE USA
OFFICE OF PUBLIC RELATIONS
Inauguaration of St. Paul Year!
His Eminence Archbishop Antony and His Grace Bishop Daniel have recently traveled to Constantinople to meet with His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew in order to present the Patriarch with an update on major developments in the life of the Church: consecration of His Grace Bishop Daniel, consecration of St. Thomas Chapel at All Saints Camp, the 61st Annual UOL Convention as well as to discuss various matters in the life of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church throughout the world and especially in Ukraine.
His Eminence Archbishop Antony was also invited by the Patriarch to join the official delegation of the Patriarchate to Vatican. Patriarch Bartholomew traveled to Rome to join Pope Benedict XVI in celebrating the feast day-- the patronal feast of the Rome diocese-- and in opening the special Pauline Year that the Pope has declared. His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew and the official delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate joined the bishop of Rome in a Vespers service on June 28, the eve of the feast, at the Roman basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls, inaugurating the Pauline Year, which begins under the banner of search for Christian unity.
"Bring us back together again, from all our divisions": Pope Benedict XVI's prayer for Christian unity marked last Saturday's opening of the Pauline Year, which is intended to celebrate the two thousandth anniversary of the birth of the apostle to the gentiles. The desire for unity was also expressed in the words spoken by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who prayed side by side with the Pope:
“Your Holiness, beloved Brother in Christ,
Dearest faithful in the Lord,
It is with solemn joy that we stand for vesperal prayer in this splendid and ancient temple of St. Paul “Outside the Walls” in the presence of numerous devout pilgrims from throughout the world on the occasion of the formal and festive opening of the Year of St. Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles.
The radical conversion and apostolic kerygma of Saul of Tarsus literally shook history in its entirety and shaped the very identity of Christianity. This great man profoundly influenced such classical Church Fathers as St. John Chrysostom in the East and St. Augustine of Hippo in the West. Though he never met Jesus of Nazareth, nevertheless St. Paul received the Gospel directly “from the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Gal. 1.11-12)
This sacred venue “Outside the Walls” is surely most appropriate for the commemoration and celebration of a man who married the Greek language with the Roman mindset of his time, once and for all shedding Christianity of any narrow mentality and forever forging the catholic ground of the ecumenical Church.
May St. Paul’s life and letters continue to inspire us, “so that people all over the world may believe in Christ.” (Rom. 16.27)”
Before entering the basilica of St Paul's Outside the Walls, the Pope, accompanied by the Patriarch and representatives of other Churches, walked in procession around the four-sided portico of the basilica: next to the Pauline Door, Benedict XVI lit the first candle of the brazier that will remain lit for the entire Pauline Year, until June 29, 2009. After him, the gesture was repeated by the Hiss All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew and the representatives of the other Churches. In conjunction with the celebrations of the Catholic Church, the Pauline Year was inaugurated in Damascus as well - this city of the apostle's conversion - with the participation of all the Christian communities: Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant. The inauguration of the Year was proclaimed, in the name of all the Christian communities the city, by the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius IV. In Turkey, the modern-day location of Tarsus, the city of St Paul's birth, the Year was opened a few days in advance, on the 22nd. In Tarsus, as of today, there are officially no Christians or churches. For this year, permission has been requested for the use of the old church of St Paul, officially a museum, as well as many other churches in Turkey.
"Who is Paul?" This is the question that the Pauline Year, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, addresses to us today. "Teacher of the gentiles, apostle and proclaimer of Jesus Christ", the pope recalled, "this is how he characterizes himself in a retrospective look at the course of his life. But with this, our attention is not directed only to the past. 'Teacher of the gentiles' - this title is open to the future, to all peoples and all generations. St. Paul is not for us [only] a figure of the past, whom we recall with veneration. He is also a teacher, apostle and proclaimer of Jesus Christ for us as well. We have therefore gathered not to reflect on a history left behind forever. Paul wants to speak with us - today".
"In the letter to the Galatians", he continued, "he provided for us a very personal profession of faith, in which he opens his heart to the reader of all times, and reveals the deep driving force of his life. 'I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me' (Gal. 2:20). Everything that St. Paul does begin from this centre. His faith is the experience of being loved by Jesus Christ in a completely personal way; it is the awareness of the fact that Christ has faced death not for some anonymous person, but out of love for him - for St. Paul - and that, as the Risen One, he still loves him. Christ has given himself for him. His faith comes from being transfixed by the love of Jesus Christ, a love that shakes him to his core and transforms him. His faith is not a theory, an opinion about God and the world. His faith is the impact of the love of God on his heart. And thus his faith is itself love for Jesus Christ".
In the "search for the interior physiognomy of St Paul", Pope Benedict XVI then evoked the words that Jesus spoke to him on the road to Damascus, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?", in order to highlight how in these words there is an "identification" between Christ and his Church. It is "the Lord himself", then, who asks: "How could you have lacerated my body? Before the face of Christ, this word becomes at the same time an urgent request: Bring us back together again, from all our divisions. Make this a reality again today: there is only one bread, because we, although we are many, are only one body".
"We hope that the life and Letters of St Paul", echoed His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew, "may continue to be for us a source of inspiration 'so that all nations may be obedient to faith in Christ' (cf. Rom. 16:27)". "The radical conversion and apostolic kerygma of Saul of Tarsus", he had said shortly before this, "'shook' history in the literal sense of the term, and moulded the very identity of Christianity". "This sacred place outside the Walls is without a doubt eminently suited for commemorating and celebrating a man who established a marriage between the Greek language and the Roman mentality of his time, stripping Christianity, once and for all, from any mental restriction, and establishing forever the catholic foundation of the ecumenical Church".
His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the Orthodox Church of St. Theodore in Rome stated:
“We are today celebrating a most joyous event throughout the world, namely the Feast commemorating the Holy Apostles, the supreme and first among the apostles, Peter and Paul, together with the rest of the original 12 disciples of our Lord. With St. Paul, they number 13 brilliant suns, illuminating the spiritual galaxy of the Church with the light of Christ. Thirteen unshakeable pillars, establishing the sacred structure of our faith. Thirteen endless springs, boundlessly emanating the life-giving water of piety.
The commencement of this celebration is today, June 29th, with the two whose martyrdom sanctified this historic city of Rome, namely Paul (the Apostle to the Nations) and Peter (the first to confess boldly the divinity of Jesus Christ). And the climax of this celebration occurs tomorrow, June 30th, with the synaxis of the holy Apostles. Two entire days of respect and gratitude to those holy and wise ones that introduced us to Christ, preached to us the Gospel, revealed to us eternal life, led us to the gate of salvation, escort us throughout life with their heavenly protection, and intercede for us and the whole world to the Lord. Therefore, within the context of this celebration, we have gathered here this evening, inside the sacred and ancient church of St. Theodore of Tire on the Palatine, in order to chant Vespers, worship God and honor with our hymns His reverend Disciples and Apostles of grace.
We decided to travel here and celebrate the Apostles, on the first of the Seven Roman Hills, in order to be present today, together with our honorable entourage, at the Patronal Feast of the senior Church of Rome and in order, in this way, to return the visitation in 2006 of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, who came to New Rome, namely Constantinople, in order to participate in the Thronal Feast of our martyric Ecumenical Throne on the occasion of the commemoration of St. Andrew, the first-called of the Apostles. Therefore, this morning we attended the Papal Mass in the grand Basilica of St. Peter, where we had the opportunity to emphasize jointly with His Holiness our mutual warm sentiments, to note the pain that we feel for the existing division between East and West over the last ten or so centuries, to reaffirm our common desire for the fruitful continuation of the ongoing Theological Dialogue between our two Churches, Orthodox and Roman Catholic, and to underline our focus on the will of our Lord Jesus Christ “that we may all be one,” always in truth and in love, grounded on the firm foundation of the pious doctrine inherited from the Church of the first millennium, through the Ecumenical Councils and great Church Fathers – which is precisely why we jointly recited the Symbol of Faith, our Creed from the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople, without additions or changes. And this evening, here in the historic Church of St. Theodore, which stands as witness to faith in Christ over fourteen centuries, and which the late Pope John Paul II of blessed memory generously conceded to us in the year 2000, we served Vespers in honor of the Apostles, united our hearts and voices, praised “with splendid melodies” the One who alone is always and everywhere worthy of praise, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the One Trinitarian God of our Fathers…
Dear children in the Lord, your spiritual Mother, the Church of Constantinople, always embraces you with all its love and care. It follows with great interest your progress – spiritual, ecclesiastical, and social – daily showering upon you its prayers and blessings. Remain close to Christ! Hold tightly to your Greek Orthodox identity, traditions, customs and practices; indeed, preserve all the sacred and wonderful traditions that you have received from your faithful parents and been taught by our Holy Orthodox Church. Study the Scriptures, offers prayers daily, never grow tired of doing good, always love one another, do not become isolated but be in regular communication with and visit the places of your origin, drawing life from your roots. In short, “Walk as children of light” (Eph. 5.8), so that your entire presence in this blessed city and land may always be edifying for you and your co-citizens alike.
May “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit,” through the intercessions of the Theotokos, the Holy Apostles, St. Theodore, and of all the Saints, be with you always, just as you also always have with you the wholehearted prayers and wishes of your Patriarch. God bless you!”
In the basilica where the body of the Apostle to the gentiles is kept, the baptistry is converted into an "ecumenical chapel" for the occasion. In the new chapel was placed the altar that contains the relics of Saint Timothy of Antioch (martyred in 311) and of other unidentified fourth century martyrs. The altar was removed from the sepulcher of Saint Paul in 2006, "to make the sarcophagus of the apostle visible". The chapel “is intended to offer our brother Christians who request it a special place for prayer, for their individual groups that come on pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Paul, or so that they can pray together with Catholics, without the celebration of the sacraments" states the press office of Vatican City.