On November 13, 2018, His Holiness Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II arrived to Greece on his first official visit to the Church of Greece.
He is accompanied by their Eminences: Mor Selwanos Boutros Al-Nemeh, Archbishop of Homs, Hama, Tartous, and Environs, Mor Athanasius Touma Dakkama, Patriarchal Vicar in the United Kingdom, Mor Clemis Daniel Kourieh, Metropolitan of Beirut, and Very Rev. Raban Joseph Bali, Patriarchal Secretary and Media Office Director.
His Holiness and his accompanying delegation moved directly to the Holy Archbishopric of Athens, where His Holiness met for the first time with His Beatitude Ieronymos II, Archbishop of Athens and all Greece, in the presence of their Graces Archbishops of the Church of Greece.
In his welcoming speech, His Beatitude warmly welcomed His Holiness and the accompanying delegation. He spoke about the history of the relation between the two Churches. He also spoke about the challenges that we are facing, especially with connection to keeping the Orthodox faith and identity, emphasizing that unity is the only way to face these challenges.
He pointed out that “the means of communication and cooperation available nowadays give us the opportunity to get to know more about one another, especially in these difficult times.” “At this time” His Beatitude added, “the great weapon in the hands and hearts of Christians is to pray together and for each other, and above all, to cooperate and unite in the face of the many current and common challenges they are facing”.
His Holiness then gave an address in which he expressed his great spiritual joy to meet His Beatitude in Athens, for the first time since His Holiness’s Enthronement in May 2014. He said that the aim of this meeting is “to share with our dear brothers and sisters that same good news (the Evangelion), and give witness to the whole world, of our faithful and serious work towards full communion between our two Churches”.
His Holiness recalled the history of relation between the two churches, and the several meetings which took place between the heads of the two churches since 1992. He also spoke about the academic collaboration between the two churches.
Then, His Holiness noted the progress of the ecumenical journey between the two churches, especially through the Joint Commission of the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Churches and the Oriental Orthodox Churches. He expressed his “fervent hope that we will be led by the Holy Spirit to together declare our full communion through the resumption of the bilateral official theological dialogue”.
His Holiness added: “We know, Your Beatitude, that we share the same vision of the Church of God as one Bride of our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Eph 5:27), and one single flock (cf. Jn 10:16; 21:15) of the Good Shepherd, and His one Holy Body (cf. Rom 12:5; 1 Cor 12:27, Col 1:18; Eph 1:23)”. He expressed his “strong desire and readiness to look for new ways that will bring our churches even closer to each other, paving the way for the Orthodox world, to establish full communion”. “We believe”, His Holiness added “that this step will be a breakthrough towards the complete unity of the ‘One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church’”.
Speaking about the severe economic crisis in Greece, His Holiness said “we unite with you in prayer for the good of the beloved Greek people”. He added “we are grateful to find the state, the Church, and the community – despite this crisis – stretching the hand of help and support to the persecuted brethren in the Middle East, especially the suffering Syrian people who continue to experience a new exodus from their country and seek shelter and refuge here in Greece”.
His Holiness pointed to the case of the two abducted archbishops of Aleppo Boulos Yaziji and Mor Gregorius Youhanna Ibrahim; he remarked that “the inaction of the super powers and the international community concerning this humanitarian issue is greatly bothering us”.
He concluded by asking the Lord Jesus Christ to “grant us to taste His goodness and celebrate our belonging to His one Church unified altogether around the same Eucharistic table of life”.
At the end, His Holiness and His Beatitude exchanged gifts as tokens of mutual love and respect.