Following the exchange of statements, Bartholomew spoke informally to the Lutherans. "It seems providential that you would come here in another capacity," Bartholomew told Hanson. Since the postponement of the originally scheduled visit here last March, Hanson was elected LWF president and now represents 63 million Lutherans worldwide, including the 5-million member ELCA.
The newly appointed president of the 63-million member Lutheran World Federation visited the leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians as an extended effort to strengthening ecumenical movements around the world.
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the LWF and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was accompanied by a 14 member ELCA delegation and the LWF general secretary, the Rev. Ishmael Noko. Together the group visited the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul Turkey.
The ELCA group was originally scheduled to visit Orthodox leaders here as part of the presiding bishop's March 2003 ecumenical journey, which included meetings with world church leaders in Geneva, Rome and London. But the group postponed its trip here until 2004 because of security concerns related to the start of the U.S.-led war with Iraq. The January trip here was not announced in advance because of those concerns.
During the audience Bartholomew, Hanson and Noko exchanged formal statements, and Bartholomew described his trip to dedicate an Orthodox church building in Cuba, from which he returned earlier in the same week.
"I am here to witness to the growing unity we have in Christ," Hanson said in his statement. He said the LWF Assembly in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in July 2003, with the theme "For the Healing of the World," focused on justice and peace and the healing of divisions within the church.
In his role as ELCA presiding bishop, Hanson said he has "come to appreciate all the more that Lutherans and Orthodox have much that binds us together." He noted that followers of Martin Luther hoped to forge strong ties with Constantinople (Istanbul) and that key agreements have been reached in the U.S. Lutheran-Orthodox dialogue.
"The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) wishes to strengthen its partnership with Orthodox sisters and brothers in all places and in all ways," said the Rev. Ishmael Noko, LWF general secretary, in his remarks. A strengthened partnership, said Noko, would contribute "to the accomplishment of our efforts in all areas where churches struggle with serious challenges in the world."
The LWF and the Ecumenical Patriarchate share similar concerns and commitments regarding conflict resolution and peace building, Noko said. He underlined the patriarch's "strong dedication to the cause of protecting God's creation as it has been entrusted to us for good stewardship, with respect for all life and its environment."
"It is a pleasure and a blessing at the same time to come together as Christian brothers and sisters," Bartholomew said in his remarks to the Lutherans. "We really appreciate your visit to our church which is an expression of the long and good relationship between our two churches."
On Christian unity, the ecumenical patriarch noted that such relationships can be difficult to develop. "Nevertheless, we have found good partners in this journey among the Evangelical Lutheran Church," he said. "We thank God for all the progress we have made together so far. It's always been a pleasure for us to be with you, to have a theological dialogue with you and to share with you not only our knowledge but also our spiritual experience."
Bartholomew said Lutherans and Orthodox members should "join our spiritual forces so as to work constructively and fruitfully" on environmental matters.
"We take your visit as an opportunity to demonstrate our brotherly love to you and to renew our commitment to the continuation of our common spiritual journey toward unity," Bartholomew concluded.