Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Homily by Archbishop Job of Telmessos at the Orthodox Divine Liturgy Celebrated at the Shrine of the Holy Face of Manoppello

Homily at the Orthodox Divine Liturgy
During the 14th Plenary Session of the Joint International Commission of Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches
Manoppello Sanctuary, September 18, 2016.

Eminences, Excellences, Reverend Fathers, Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

On this Sunday after the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, we heard the words of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ addressed to each one of us: “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mk 8:34). By His sacrifice on the Cross, our Lord and Saviour has offered himself once for all for the salvation of all, as we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews: “having been offered once to bear the sins of many” (Hb 9:28).

The mystery of our salvation has been accomplished by the sacrifice of Christ on the Golgotha and through His Resurrection. This event became the foundation of our faith as well as the central event of our ecclesial life. Through baptism, which is our incorporation to Christ and our entrance into this ecclesial life, we have participated in mystery in the death of Christ and in His Resurrection, and we have “put on Christ” (Ga 3:27). Therefore, we can appropriate to ourselves the words of Saint Paul in today’s epistle: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Ga 2:20).

As Saint John Chrysostom has noted, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ does not oblige us, neither constrain us to be saved, but invites us, through our free-will, to participate in His heritage. “If anyone wishes to come after me…” He says! In order to follow Him, we need to renounce to three things: first to deny ourselves, secondly to take our cross, and thirdly to follow Him.

To deny ourselves means to leave out our individualism, our egoism, and our egocentrism, which according to His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios of Albania is the greatest problem and danger in the ecclesial life. To take our cross means to be ready to die for Christ, to be a martyr, that is to be a witness for Christ and for His Gospel. We must therefore be courageous in the testimony we bring about Christ in our contemporary society. To follow Christ means to practice and to incarnate in our life all the Christian virtues, so that we might say that is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us (Ga 2:20).

Thus, by choosing freely to follow Christ, putting aside our egoism and egocentrism, being ready to witness Christ by every little deed in our daily life and reflecting thus the image of Christ around us, we will progress with Him on the path towards His Kingdom.

Today, with the blessing and on the invitation of His Eminence Archbishop Bruno Forte, the local archpastor of the local Roman Catholic diocese, we, the Orthodox members of the Joint International Commission of Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches have the great blessing to celebrate this Divine Liturgy here, in this sanctuary of Manoppello, where the holy relic of the image of Christ not made by human hands is kept since the beginning of the XVIth century.

According to some scholars, this veil corresponds to the soudarion, the cloth mentioned in the Gospel of John, that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head and that was lying separate from the linen in the empty tomb, after His Resurrection (Jn 20:7). According to another tradition, recorded in the Acta Pilati, this would be the holy face of Christ printed on a veil, the veil of Veronica. On the way to the Golgotha, Veronica encountered Christ and gave him a veil to wipe off the blood and sweat, and the image of His face was then imprinted on the cloth.

Venerating this holy relic of the Passion and of the Resurrection of Christ, which unites East and West, Jerusalem and Manopello, we are invited to encounter Christ by being His true disciples, by denying ourselves, taking our cross and following Him. We are called to receive Him in the Eucharist, and therefore, the sad situation that we, divided Christians, cannot share the same Chalice, as it is the case today at this Divine Liturgy, is a scandal and a wound in the Body of Christ that must be healed.

A very important and significant event in that perspective was the lifting up of the anathemas of 1054 between the Churches of Rome and Constantinople at the end of the Second Vatican Council on December 7, 1965. Since that significant event, our Churches are now standing in the situation they were before the imposition of the anathemas, that is a state of rupture of communion (akoinonesia), due to historical events and theological disputes. This state of rupture of communion has to be resolved through the theological dialogue our Churches have engaged into since 1980, which has precisely as a goal the restauration of the full communion between our sister Churches, through the resolution of theological disagreements.

As the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church has declared last June, “the Orthodox Church, which prays unceasingly for the union of all, has always cultivated dialogue with those estranged from her, (…) she has played a leading role in the contemporary search for ways and means to restore the unity of those who believe in Christ. (…) The contemporary bilateral theological dialogues of the Orthodox Church and her participation in the Ecumenical Movement rest on this self-consciousness of Orthodoxy and her ecumenical spirit, with the aim of seeking the unity of all Christians on the basis of the truth of faith and Tradition of the ancient Church of the seven Ecumenical Councils” (Relations, 4-5). This is why the Holy and Great Council has also underlined that “the Orthodox Church considers all efforts to break the unity of the Church, undertaken by individuals or groups under the pretext of maintaining or allegedly defending true Orthodoxy, as being worthy of condemnation” (Ibid., 22).

Eminences, Excellences, Reverend Fathers, Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

It is in this spirit that we, the Orthodox members of the Joint International Commission of Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church have come together with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters to Chieti, and are now working together towards a common understanding of synodality and primacy, one of the most delicate questions in the relationship between our two sister Churches.

May the Lord, whose image not made by human hands we venerate and who invites all of us to deny ourselves, take our cross and follow him, inspire our work for the unity and the glory of His Church, and for the salvation of His people. To Him, glory and adoration to the ages of ages. Amen.

Archbishop Job of Telmessos

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