At First Ever Meeting between Bulgarian Patriarch and Roman Pontiff, Pope John Paul II
Donates Church in Rome to Orthodox Church
Sofia, May 24 (BTA) - Patriarch Maksim and Pope John Paul II
conferred for more than 40 minutes here Friday in the first ever
meeting between a Primate of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and
a Roman Pontiff. The Head of the Roman Catholic Church arrived
on an official visit and Apostolic Journey to Bulgaria on
At the meeting, which took place at the Holy Synod headquarters
in central Sofia, the two spiritual leaders read addresses in
which both mentioned the Feast Day of Sts Cyril and Methodius,
which is celebrated on Friday, Walter Kasper, Cardinal President
of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
(PCPCU), said after the meeting. Cardinal Kasper made a
statement for the press on behalf of the Holy See.
"We welcome you and the delegation that accompanies you to the
land of Bulgaria and to the ancient Bulgarian capital Sofia,
which bears the name of the Holy Wisdom of God," Patriarch
Maksim of Bulgaria told Pope John Paul II as they met at the
"Before the official conversion of the Slav-Bulgarian people to
Christianity, this God-saved city was honoured to welcome
apostolic successors in the person of the bishops attending the
Council of Sardica in 343, which confirmed the principal dogma
of the Church of Christ: the belief in the Triune God," the Head
of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church noted.
He noted that the true-believing Bulgarian people was born in
the bosom of the Christian faith and has used it to regenerate
spiritually and survive down the ages. "With pure faith and
knowledge of God, the Holy Isapostolic Brothers Cyril and
Methodius and their devout disciples, during the reign of the
God-wise King Boris-Mihail, Christianizer of the Bulgarian
People, dawned on the soils and hearts of Slavdom thirsting for
true evangelical spiritual enlightenment," the Patriarch said.
"Bulgaria remained loyal to the testament of Cyril and
Methodius. This is the stake and the power of today's
celebration, entered in the calendar of church and people as Day
of Bulgarian Education and Culture and of Slav Letters," Maksim
He thanked for the opportunity affored to envoys of Bulgaria,
religious dignitaries and cultural figures, to pay homage to the
tomb of St Constantine Cyril, the Slav Bulgarian Enlightener,
in Rome annually on the occasion of May 24.
"Your visit here will enable you to familiarize yourself with
the legacy of the great cause of the brothers Cyril and
Methodius, which is reverently preserved in our church and has
been incarnated in the souls of the saints of our people," the
Patriarch told the guest.
Maksim noted that, alongside the day's festive celebrations, the
sad fact that the West seceded from the East in the mid-11th
century cannot be ignored. "Still, we are convinced that
Christ's sacrificial love is strong and patient and expects
everybody to come to achieve knowledge of the truth which has
been preserved and is professed in the Holy Orthodox Church,"
the Bulgarian spiritual leader said.
"Aware of our duty as bearers of the light of Jesus, we make
steady efforts towards affirmation of truth and justice,
preservation of the values of human culture and civilization,
and establishment of peace on earth and good will among men," he
Calling on everybody to follow this road of salvation mapped out
by the Lord, Patriarch Maksim concluded his address by the
greeting, "Christ Is Risen!"
In his address, Pope John Paul II said: "I am happy to meet with
you today, 24 May. [Å] Today the Lord enables us to meet
personally and to exchange 'the kiss of peace'." "This first
time in history that a Bishop of Rome visits this land and meets
you and the Holy Synod is rightly a moment of joy, because it
is a sign of a gradual growth in ecclesial communion," the
Pontiff observed. "I come to you with a sense of esteem for the
mission which the Orthodox Church of Bulgaria is undertaking,
and I wish to express my respect and appreciation for your
commitment to the good of the people of this land."
"Christ our Lord founded a single Church, while we today appear
to the world divided, as if Christ himself were divided. 'Such
division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the
world, and damages that most holy cause, the preaching of the
Gospel to every creature' (Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis
Redintegratio, 1), the Holy Father said. In his words, " the
estrangement between Catholics and Orthodox has never
extinguished in them the desire to restore full ecclesial
communion, so that the unity for which the Lord prayed to the
Father might be manifested more clearly. Today we can give
thanks to God that the bonds between us have been much
"In broaching this theme, we cannot fail to look to the example
of unity offered in the first millennium in very concrete ways
by the holy brothers Cyril and Methodius, whose memory in your
land is so vivid and legacy so profoundly felt. Their witness is
relevant even to those who, in the field of politics, are
working to bring about European unification. In searching for
its own identity, the Continent cannot but return to its
Christian roots. The whole of Europe, both West and East,
expects Catholics and Orthodox to work together for the defence
of peace and justice, human rights and the culture of life," the
"The example of Saints Cyril and Methodius is above all
emblematic for the unity of Christians in the one Church of
Christ. They were sent to Eastern Europe by the Patriarch of
Constantinople in order to bring the true faith to the Slav
peoples in their own tongue; and in the face of obstacles placed
on that path by the neighbouring Western dioceses, which
claimed that it was their responsibility to bring the Cross of
Christ to the Slav countries, they came to the Pope in order to
have their mission confirmed (cf. Encyclical Epistle, Slavorum
Apostoli, 5). For us, therefore, they are as it were 'the
connecting links or spiritual bridge between the Eastern and
Western traditions, which both come together in the one great
Tradition of the universal Church. For us they are the champions
and also the patrons of the ecumenical endeavour of the sister
Churches of East and West, for the rediscovery through prayer
and dialogue of visible unity in perfect and total communion,
'the unity which...is neither absorption or fusion', [but which]
is a meeting in truth and love, granted to us by the Spirit'
(ibid., 27)," the Pope observed in his address.
"As we meet today, I am glad to recall the many contacts between
the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church of Bulgaria,
beginning with the Second Vatican Council, to which the latter
sent observers. I am confident that these direct contacts, which
happily have increased in recent years, will also have a
positive impact on the theological dialogue in which Catholic
and Orthodox are involved through the relevant Mixed
International Commission," John Paul II said.
As a token of willingness to deepen the contacts between the
Catholic Church and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, the Pope
offered the Bulgarian Orthodox community in Rome for their
worship the use of the Church of Sts Vincent and Anastasius at
the Trevi Fountain and presented, as a gift to the Bulgarian
Orthodox Church, a famous relic of St Dasius, a martyred Roman
soldier slain at Durosturum (now Silistra, Northeastern
Bulgaria) circa AD 300. The relic was requested by the Holy
Synod after the Fifth Council of Clergy and Laity at the end of
2001 restored the Metropolitan See of Silistra. For the time
being, the relic will be preserved at the Holy Synod chapel.
Cardinal Kasper described Orthodox-Catholic relations as
intensive and expressed the hope that they will deepen. "The
dialogue between the two churches is very important for the
future integration of Europe," he said. "Certainly, we should
realize that the differences between the Orthodox and the
Catholic Churches are not that deep, that far more things bring
us together," Cardinal Kapser said. In his opinion, the two
churches have a common task to "re-discover the Christian roots
Asked about his idea of the ways the two churches could narrow
the gap between them, the PCPCU Cardinal President answered
that there are two ways: oecumenism in truth and in love.
A future visit of the Patriarch to Rome was not discussed at the
meeting, the Cardinal also said.
The Bulgarian Orthodox Church presented to the Pope an icon of
Prince Boris I Christianizer of the Bulgarian People. "The
Bulgarian Orthodox Church has always been desirous of
communion," Metropolitan Neofit of Rousse said, speaking on
behalf of the Holy Synod. Asked whether this meeting can be seen
as an important step towards the unity of the two churches, the
Metropolitan answered: "The Catholic Church hardly has a
special interest in achieving unity first with the Bulgarian
"Patriarch Maksim's wish was to call on the Catholic world to
take bolder steps towards increasing closeness with Orthodoxy,"
Metropolitan Neofit said.
"This meeting was a meeting of goodwill, ushering in a new
closeness and friendship. The questions of faith can be
discussed precisely in a friendly atmosphere and milieu," the
Metropolitan stressed. "The Bulgarian Orthodox Church has always
been desirous of communion, but along lines of friendship
through the churches," he went on to say.
In his opinion, the Catholic Church should conduct the dialogue
and pursue a future increase of closeness with the official
representatives of the Orthodox Churches.
At the end of the meeting, the Pope and the Patriarch had a
brief informal conversation in Russian. The guests were treated
to Troyan plum brandy, coffee and nuts.