Boston pilgrims greeted by Orthodox Patriarch

ISTANBUL -- Boston’s Catholic and Orthodox pilgrims made their way from the heart of the Church in the West to the heart of the Church in the East arriving in Istanbul -- formerly known as Constantinople -- on Sept. 20.

The group of nearly 100 pilgrims set out from Boston Sept. 16 on a 10-day ecumenical pilgrimage, led by Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley and Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Methodios. During their three days in Rome, the pilgrims not only visited St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican, but were able to visit the basilicas of St. Mary Major and St. Paul Outside the Walls, where they were given the opportunity to kiss the chains of St. Paul. Before leaving Rome, the pilgrims attended the Holy Father’s Wednesday general audience at the Vatican in which the pope greeted Cardinal O’Malley and Metropolitan Methodios. They prayed vespers at the Church of St. Theodore, the church John Paul II gave to the Greek Orthodox in Rome.

Upon arriving in Istanbul, the pilgrims visited sites of great significance in the Orthodox faith, including the Hagia Sophia, the former cathedral of the Church in the East, where the group of pilgrims participated in a celebration of great vespers with Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I Sept 22.

At the conclusion of the vespers service, Cardinal O’Malley and Metropolitan Methodios extended their greetings and made brief addresses to the patriarch.

In his remarks, Cardinal O’Malley cited the example of the close relationship between Boston’s Catholic and Orthodox Communities and pledged to work toward the goal of Christian unity.

“It is my pleasure to come here with my esteemed brother, his Eminence Metropolitan Methodios of Boston to manifest in this pilgrimage the fruition of a deeper relationship between the sister churches in Boston,” Cardinal O’Malley began.

The cardinal cited instances in which the Vatican and the Orthodox Church have collaborated in recent times.

“We in Boston have also exchanged many expressions of the love and solidarity,” he continued, underscoring that his friendship to Metropolitan Methodios is an example of that solidarity.

“Dialogue needs to be in the context of such relationships in order to bear fruit,” Cardinal O’Malley continued.

Concluding his remarks, Cardinal O’Malley pledged himself “to keenly do all that I can, with God’s help, to hasten the full physical unity, the restoration of priceless communion between the churches of East and West to the spread of the kingdom and the glory of the Most Holy Trinity.”

Metropolitan Methodios echoed Cardinal O’Malley’s sentiments, adding that it is his hope “that our pilgrimage may be a forerunner of many pilgrimages -- from the United States and throughout the world -- to Rome and Constantinople, so that our brothers, Orthodox and Roman Catholic alike, may come to pray.”

The metropolitan also prayed that all Christians “may see that [God’s] will is that, one day, we may all be one.”

Speaking to the patriarch, Metropolitan Methodios also called for the reopening of the Orthodox seminary on the Turkish Island of Heybeli, most commonly referred to by its Greek Name, Halki.

The Halki seminary was established in 1844 on the island of Heybeli, the second largest of the Princes’ Islands. It was the main school of theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church’s Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Earlier in the day the Boston pilgrims had paid a visit to the island seminary that was closed by the Turkish government in 1971 when the country outlawed all private religious institutes of higher learning.

“The time has come for open,” stressed Metropolitan Methodios.

After the cardinal and metropolitan spoke, Patriarch Bartholomew offered his remarks.

“It is with sincere pleasure and paternal joy that we humbly welcome you,” Patriarch Bartholomew began.

Speaking to the group, he noted that this pilgrimage is much more than tourism.

“[You are] participating in the journey toward reconciliation to which Christ calls all of his disciples.”

Patriarch Bartholomew stressed that creating unity among the churches of the East and the West, “requires openness -- to learn from one another -- and faithfulness -- to work with one another.”

“It is only in this way that we will gradually create the necessary conditions to overcome prejudice, to appreciate differences and to discern the roots of our faith,” he said.

“This means that all of us -- both you and me -- from our own particular position and unique perspectives, are called to engage in and explore ways of overcoming barriers,” he said.

Later in the evening the patriarch held a special audience with the pilgrims. After greeting each pilgrim personally, he presented them with a small golden cross to mark the occasion.

After making stops in Rome and Istanbul, the pilgrimage was to conclude in St. Petersburg, Russia with visits to such sites as St. Isaac and Kazan Cathedrals and the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.