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Meeting of the New Student Circle in Constantinople 2014

Joseph Ratzinger and Orthodoxy




















Journey of the new group of students to Constantinople to commemorate the fraternal kiss 50 years ago [1]


From May 1st to 4th, 2014, the New Student Circle Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI. as part of the annual national meeting in Constantinople/Istanbul, on the one hand to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the fraternal kiss between Pope Paul VI. and to commemorate the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I and to appreciate this act, on the other hand to treat the topic "Joseph Ratzinger and Orthodoxy" scientifically. The group of students was accompanied by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. appointed mentor of the circle, Curia Cardinal Kurt Koch, as well as three members from the "old" circle of students. The gathering began on May 1 with a visit to the Chora Monastery (now a museum) and a Eucharistic celebration in the Roman Catholic Church of St. Anthony in Pera, presided over by Cardinal Kurt Koch. We especially remembered the fraternal kiss and prayed for both church leaders, Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew.


On the second day, after the morning service, we visited the Church of Divine Wisdom, Hagia Sofia, which is now a museum. We admired the frescoes and the construction of the "great church of Constantinople" and stopped in silent prayer at special places during the tour of the church building - any public prayer is forbidden. After the tour of the church, we drove from the Istanbul port to the island of Halki. There, the Abbot of the Chalci Monastery, Metropolitan Elpidophoros Lambriniadis of Brusa, gave us a warm welcome during lunch. After physical refreshment, we held the first scientific meeting in the abbot's hall of the Halki monastery and seminary. Incidentally, this seminar has been closed by the Turkish authorities since 1971. Prof. Dr. Ioannis Kourempeles, Orthodox guest speaker from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, presented reflections on “A Pope of the Logos in the Logos of a Pope – The Christology of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI. from an orthodox perspective”. In his presentation, Kourempeles presented the main features of Ratzinger's Christology and presented them as compatible with the own Christological accents of orthodox theology. presented in his writings, one of the many elements on which Orthodox and Roman Catholic theology agree. Kurt Cardinal Koch presented a response to Kourempeles' lecture but, as he said, found it difficult to find points in the presentation with which he disagreed. He stressed the danger of a "dechristologization" of theology and underlined the convergence between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches on Christology. After the interesting and long theological discussion, we were given a tour of what has been known as the "Halki Seminary, which has been closed since 1971" and were able to see the seminar rooms and gardens of the monastery. The day concluded with an Orthodox Vespers service in the Holy Trinity Church of the monastery, presided over by Metropolitan Elpidophoros. At the end of Vespers, a small replica of Our Lady of Halki was presented to the Cardinal and the members of the two groups of disciples as a protection and commemoration of that day. In the evening we drove back to Constantinople as planned.



The next day, after the morning Eucharist in St. Anthony's Church, we visited the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. After attending the Divine Liturgy in the Church of St. George of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, we were shown around the church and the premises of the Patriarchate. Among other things, we were able to venerate here the Pillar of the Martyrdom of Jesus Christ and a number of relics, especially those of St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory the Theologian, which were restored by Rome on November 27, 2004 and now have a special place in received from the Georgskirche.


After the tour, we held the second scientific part of the gathering at the Great School of Genos, the school of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul. First of all, His Excellency the Orthodox Bishop of Avidos and Professor at the Theological Faculty of the University of Athens, Kyrillos Katerelos, gave a lecture on the topic "The Abolition of the Anathema between East and West according to Joseph Ratzinger". He outlined the historical context of the 50th anniversary of the fraternal kiss between Pope Paul VI. and Patriarch Athenagoras and shed light on the events that followed from today's perspective. Stefanos Athanasiou   then presented important parts of his doctoral thesis to the group of students for discussion.


After this unit of work, His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew awaited the New Circle of Disciples in the throne room of the Patriarchate. In his speech he found very praising words for Pope Benedict XVI. He saw the legacy he created continuing in Pope Francis. The Patriarch expressed his particular joy at the inclusion of Orthodox members in the New Circle of Students and wished them all success in their activities. The words of welcome from Cardinal Kurt Koch and the two speakers of the new student group, PD Dr. Michaela C. Hastetter and Prof. Dr. Christoph Ohly, were extremely cordial and aroused great joy in the Ecumenical Patriarch. He then greeted each member personally and presented each with a booklet documenting the return of relics from Rome. After a round of introductions by the members of the two student circles, the guests dined together with the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Metropolitans of the Synod of Constantinople in the patriarchal dining room. In order to spare the guests the return to the aforementioned school with its steep ascent, the Patriarch made his throne room available to the members of the New Student Circle for the final round on his own initiative. This meant a generous gesture. After all this, the members of the New Circle of Disciples and their guests were shown the Golden Horn, the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus, as well as the bays of Constantinople and Chalcedon during a cruise.


On the last day, a patriarchal and synodal liturgy was celebrated in the Baloukli monastery, where the tombs of the patriarchs are located, attended by the members of the two groups of disciples. Before that, they had the opportunity to visit the Tombs of the Patriarchs, where they particularly stopped and said a prayer at the tomb of Patriarch Athenagors I. After the liturgy, the Patriarch bid farewell to each member by presenting the Andideron and signed a greeting card to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. together with the members of the student groups and the invited guests.


The visit of the New Circle of Disciples in Constantinople and the warm hospitality on the part of the Patriarchate was thus a prelude to the meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew in Jerusalem, where the fraternal kiss between Pope Paul VI. and Patriarch Athenagoras should be commemorated.

Stefanos Athanasiou


[1] The trip took place at the invitation of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and was planned as a so-called National Meeting of the New Student Circle.
















Photos: © Stefanos Athanasiou

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