It’s time for a pop quiz: Who is the “first-called” of the twelve apostles?
St. Peter? Sorry. You’re wrong!
St. Andrew? Congratulations! You’re right!
The Successor of St. Andrew was just in our country, even spending a week in New York.
You may not have been aware of his visit, since – – no surprise – – the story of his uplifting, affirming, and blessed presence here in the United States did not unfortunately seem to attract the attention of a press that often seems tone-deaf to the “good news” of religion.
Just as His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, the Bishop of Rome, is the Successor of St. Peter as pastor of the Church Universal, so is His All Holiness, Bartholomew, the Archbishop of Constantinople, the Ecumenical Patriarch, the Successor of St. Andrew.
Another pop-quiz: did St. Peter and St. Andrew know each other prior to their call from Jesus to follow him as an apostle?
Yes! They were brothers!
Tragically, in a somber chapter of Church history, Successors of St. Peter and Successors of St. Andrew have gone through a lengthy “family feud” that has resulted in the saddest and most enduring fracture in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, with Catholics looking to the Bishop of Rome, and Orthodox allied with the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul, Turkey).
Thank God, this family rift is being patiently, tenderly, slowly, yet effectively healed. One fondly recalls the epochal visit of Pope Paul VI to Patriarch Athenagoras in Constantinople forty-five years ago. Since then, the successors of Peter and Andrew have indeed again become brothers, and there is genuine hope for unity. It was moving to hear Patriarch Bartholomew speak so lovingly and respectfully of his friendships with both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
I had the honor of being in the company of His All Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew, a number of times during his recent, historic visit. He is extraordinarily warm, engaging, perceptive human being; he is a holy, humble, loving man, with a prophetic voice on pressing issues such as world peace, the danger of religious extremism, protection of the environment, and efforts for ecumenical and inter-religious concord. The difficult situation in his own local church in Istanbul, where religious liberty is less than ideal, only increases my admiration for him.
Our Orthodox brothers and sisters look to him as their “older brother,” the “first among equals,” with a primacy of honor whose voice is given particularly reverent attention as the Eastern Orthodox Christians continue to live as faithful disciples of Jesus.
Here in New York, we are blessed with the gracious presence of the Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, His Eminence, Archbishop Demetrius, who hosted Patriarch Bartholomew. In my only seven-and-a-half months as archbishop, I have come to appreciate him very much, and have developed a deep affection for him, and for my other brother bishops from the Orthodox community, and very much look forward to working with them.
The Greeks have a word for it: Axios! “Worthy!” That’s what I chant to our beloved Ecumenical Patriarch. I hope he comes back soon.