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Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew delivers Vesperal homily at St. Theodore of Tyro Church

His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew concluded his apostolic visit to Rome for the commemoration of the Apostles Peter and Paul by celebrating Vespers with Archbishop Demetrios and the accompanying delegation, which was sponsored by FAITH Endowment. The Vespers service commemorated the feast of the Twelve Apostles of Our Lord and was held in the historic 6th century Greek Orthodox Church of the Great Martyr Theodore the Tyro. The Ecumenical Patriarch delivered the following homily to the congregation:

June 29, 2008

Most Reverend Pastor of the Holy Metropolis of Italy and Melite, Gennadios,
Most Reverend Brothers,
Blessed and dearly beloved children of the Church,

We are today celebrating a most joyous event throughout the world, namely the Feast commemorating the Holy Apostles, the supreme and first among the apostles, Peter and Paul, together with the rest of the original 12 disciples of our Lord. With St. Paul, they number 13 brilliant suns, illuminating the spiritual galaxy of the Church with the light of Christ. Thirteen unshakeable pillars, establishing the sacred structure of our faith. Thirteen endless springs, boundlessly emanating the life-giving water of piety.

The commencement of this celebration is today, June 29th, with the two whose martyrdom sanctified this historic city of Rome, namely Paul (the Apostle to the Nations) and Peter (the first to confess boldly the divinity of Jesus Christ). And the climax of this celebration occurs tomorrow, June 30th, with the synaxis of the holy Apostles. Two entire days of respect and gratitude to those holy and wise ones that introduced us to Christ, preached to us the Gospel, revealed to us eternal life, led us to the gate of salvation, escort us throughout life with their heavenly protection, and intercede for us and the whole world to the Lord. Therefore, within the context of this celebration, we have gathered here this evening, inside the sacred and ancient church of St. Theodore of Tire on the Palatine, in order to chant Vespers, worship God and honor with our hymns His reverend Disciples and Apostles of grace.

We decided to travel here and celebrate the Apostles, on the first of the Seven Roman Hills, in order to be present today, together with our honorable entourage, at the Patronal Feast of the senior Church of Rome and in order, in this way, to return the visitation in 2006 of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, who came to New Rome, namely Constantinople, in order to participate in the Thronal Feast of our martyric Ecumenical Throne on the occasion of the commemoration of St. Andrew, the first-called of the Apostles. Therefore, this morning we attended the Papal Mass in the grand Basilica of St. Peter, where we had the opportunity to emphasize jointly with His Holiness our mutual warm sentiments, to note the pain that we feel for the existing division between East and West over the last ten or so centuries, to reaffirm our common desire for the fruitful continuation of the ongoing Theological Dialogue between our two Churches, Orthodox and Roman Catholic, and to underline our focus on the will of our Lord Jesus Christ "that we may all be one," always in truth and in love, grounded on the firm foundation of the pious doctrine inherited from the Church of the first millennium, through the Ecumenical Councils and great Church Fathers - which is precisely why we jointly recited the Symbol of Faith, our Creed from the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople, without additions or changes. And this evening, here in the historic Church of St. Theodore, which stands as witness to faith in Christ over fourteen centuries, and which the late Pope John Paul II of blessed memory generously conceded to us in the year 2000, we served Vespers in honor of the Apostles, united our hearts and voices, praised “with splendid melodies” the One who alone is always and everywhere worthy of praise, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the One Trinitarian God of our Fathers.

It is a particular joy for us that, praying together with us, we have select members of the Greek-American community, brothers and sisters who have traveled a long way with the Most Reverend Archbishop Demetrios in order to accompany their Patriarch in his visit to Rome and experience in common the moving events and celebrations of the Holy Apostles.

Beloved and blessed children of the Mother Church, precisely four years ago, on July 1st, 2004, we formally opened the doors of this beautiful Church, after a general restoration and renovation, made possible through the generous donation of Mrs. Fotini Livanos as well as with the support of other pious Orthodox Christians. This Church already constitutes the pride of the Holy Metropolis of Italy, the center of attention and spiritual refuge for Orthodox faithful living in Rome. Here, beneath the care and protection of Christ's Great Martyr Theodore, every faithful breathes the air of truth, is illumined by the light of the Gospel of Faith, participates in the Sacrament of the Eucharist with the Saints of all ages, is nourished by the Bread and Cup of Life, enjoys the wonder of the Greek Orthodox Tradition, is established in piety and strengthened in daily life, seals one's hope in eternal salvation and preaches the coming Kingdom of God, which is already at hand.

On the occasion of this anniversary, we express once again our fervent thanks both to the Roman Catholic Church, which granted it to us, and to its most gracious and pious benefactor and restorer Mrs. Fotini Livanos with her family, as well as to all those who in any way contributed to its renovation and who continue in every way to work for the regular life of this Church and Parish, and especially the tireless local Hierarch, the Most Reverend Metropolitan Gennadios of Italy and Melite, our beloved brother and concelebrant.

Dear children in the Lord, your spiritual Mother, the Church of Constantinople, always embraces you with all its love and care. It follows with great interest your progress - spiritual, ecclesiastical, and social - daily showering upon you its prayers and blessings. Remain close to Christ! Hold tightly to your Greek Orthodox identity, traditions, customs and practices; indeed, preserve all the sacred and wonderful traditions that you have received from your faithful parents and been taught by our Holy Orthodox Church. Study the Scriptures, offers prayers daily, never grow tired of doing good, always love one another, do not become isolated but be in regular communication with and visit the places of your origin, drawing life from your roots. In short, "Walk as children of light" (Eph. 5.8), so that your entire presence in this blessed city and land may always be edifying for you and your co-citizens alike.

May "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit," through the intercessions of the Theotokos, the Holy Apostles, St. Theodore, and of all the Saints, be with you always, just as you also always have with you the wholehearted prayers and wishes of your Patriarch. God bless you!