By ACNS staff with reporting from the Press Office of the Ecumenical Patriarchate
The Ecumenical Patriarch said today he hoped for a continuing exchange of Orthodox and Anglican students to aid the two Churches' relationship.
His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who occupies the First Throne of the Orthodox Christian Church, was speaking today during his welcome of the Anglican Communion's spiritual head Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
He said, "In the past, the rapprochement between our two Churches has been greatly assisted by the exchange of students, and we trust that this will continue. Our Theological School at Halki used to offer scholarships to Anglicans, and when it is reopened – as will happen in the near future (so it may be hoped) – we shall certainly wish to revive this tradition.
"These exchange students have frequently gone on to become leaders in their respective Churches, and their early inter-Church experience has enabled them to further the cause of Christian unity in highly constructive ways."
Archbishop Welby is on what has been described as an 'intensive two-day visit' that will include official reception in the Chamber of the Throne, and a discussion with the Synodical Committee for Inter-Christian Affairs.
It was clear from both the Orthodox leader's welcome speech and his official toast that he very much welcomed the visit: "It is a great joy to us that, so soon after your elevation to Canterbury, Your Grace has found it possible to visit the sacred centre of Orthodoxy, the Ecumenical Patriarchate."
His All-Holiness also celebrated the growing relationship between the two Churches: "In the year 1837 the English traveller Robert Curzon visited the Ecumenical Patriarch at the Phanar, and was greatly surprised to find that His All-Holiness had never heard of the Archbishop of Canterbury. 'Archbishop of what?,’ said the Patriarch with some scepticism. 'Who is he?’
"Today, we are happy to affirm, our two Churches are somewhat better acquainted! You come here, dear Archbishop Justin, not as a stranger but as a friend, as a valued colleague and ally whom with all our heart we welcome most warmly. We hope that this will be the first of many visits."
He also made reference to the shared theological dialogue the International Commission for Anglican-Orthodox Theological Dialogue whose drafting committee are coincidentally meeting together in the Anglican Communion Office in London this week.
Archbishop Welby has said he hopes the visit will help to develop greater fellowship between the two churches and contribute to the goal of Christian unity.