Address of His Holiness
Mor Ignatius Aphrem II
Patriarch of Antioch and All the East
and Supreme Head of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church
during the official visit to the Church of Athens
November 13, 2018, in Athens – GREECE
(Makariótate, Arhepiscope Athinón kai pásis elládos, en Christóu adelfé)
Dear Brother in Christ,
It gives us great spiritual joy to meet you here in Athens for the first time since our enthronement by the grace of God as Patriarch of Antioch and All the East in May 2014. Following the footsteps of St. Paul, we come from Antioch to Athens, recalling his mission in this blessed city. During his second journey, St. Paul brought the Gospel, Evangelion or ‘good news’ to the city, and taught the men of Athens a “new doctrine” (cf. Acts 17: 19), and proclaimed to them – instead of the unknown god that they were worshipping (cf. v.23), “God, Who made the world and everything in it”; God, “in Whom we live and move and have our being” (v.24 & v.28).
Today, we also come from Antioch to Athens, yet this time to share with our dear brothers and sisters that same good news, and give witness to the whole world, of our faithful and serious work towards full communion between our two Churches. We feel that the Greek and Syriac culture that Antioch inherited from the early times is an asset that allows us to better understand the cultural background of both our Churches and to search together, in our patrimony and traditions, for the things that bring us closer together and unite us.
As we joyfully progress on our ecumenical journey, we wish particularly to recall that milestone in the relations between the two churches, which is the historic meeting between our predecessors Archbishop of Athens Seraphim of blessed memory, and Patriarch of Antioch Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas of blessed memory, more than twenty five years ago, on May 4, 1992. Here in Athens, the two heads of the Churches met and exchanged the holy kiss and embrace of peace. We also remember the meeting between Patriarch Zakka and Archbishop Christodoulos of blessed memory, in Syria, on April 22, 1999; we make our own the words of His Beatitude Christodoulos then: “The historic relations between the Church of Greece and the Syriac Church of Antioch, were, are, and will always remain strong and fruitful”.
We, likewise, remember your Beatitude’s meeting with Late Patriarch Zakka I, in 2009, here in Athens, where our predecessor decorated you with the Great Holy Cross of St. Ignatius Theophorus – the highest decoration offered by our Syriac Orthodox Church.
We have with us in our delegation two Archbishops who graduated from the University of Athens. They were among many of our clergy who benefited from scholarships provided by the Foreign Ministry of the Greek Republic and by the Holy Synod of our sister Church of Greece. These graduates cherish the great knowledge they acquired concerning the faith and the spiritual heritage of our sister Church in Greece.
We wish to echo the first agreed statement of the Joint Commission of the Theological Dialogue between the two families of orthodox churches, which states the following: “we have inherited from our fathers in Christ the one apostolic faith and tradition, though as Churches we have been separated from each other for centuries”. It is our 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 between the Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches which has started in 1985 and which brought our churches closer to each other.
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). In the Second Agreed Statement of the Joint Commission of the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches, our theologians state the following:
“We have now clearly understood that both families have always loyally maintained the same authentic Orthodox Christological faith and the unbroken continuity of the apostolic tradition, though they have used Christological terms in different ways.”
Therefore, we express our 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. This can be achieved by implementing the agreement expressed in the same Second Agreed Statement which says: “Both families agree that all the anathemas and condemnations of the past which now divide us should be lifted by the Churches in order that the last obstacle to the full unity and communion of our two families can be removed by the grace and power of God”. We believe that this step will be a breakthrough towards the complete unity of the “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church” all over the world, especially in this time of difficult trial and suffering.
Innocent people continue to suffer in different places all over the globe from crises, disasters, and wars. Orthodoxy, in particular, is being attacked in an attempt to destroy the foundation of Christianity all over the world. The situation here in Greece, amidst the severe economic crisis, continues to worry us; we unite with you in prayer for the good of the beloved Greek people. However, 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.
We, likewise, wish to thank you for your continued prayers and efforts to bring back our two beloved metropolitans of Aleppo Boulos Yaziji and Mor Gregorius Youhanna Ibrahim who have been forgotten by the worldly powers. The inaction of the super powers and the international community concerning this humanitarian issue is greatly bothering us.
Let us pray together for the victims of terrorism and of all the ongoing conflicts and wars in the world.
As we see the world moving back from the belief in the One true God – Creator of the world and everything in it, towards the unknown god, we ask the Lord from this holy place, few meters away from the Areopagus, for His grace to bring all humans to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalms 34:8).
May our Lord Jesus Christ grant us to taste His goodness and celebrate our belonging to His one Church unified altogether around the same Eucharistic table of life.
Enoméni en Christóu agápi
 Syriac Orthodox Patriarchal Journal, year 37, volumes 184-186, 1999, p. 313.
 First Agreed Statement, Joint Commission of the Theological Dialogue between The Orthodox Church And The Oriental Orthodox Churches, 1989.