Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Ecumenical Gathering Focuses On Religious Freedom

By FATHER PAUL A. BURKE, Special To The Bulletin | Published May 27, 2010

Holy Spirit Church hosted a Catholic-Orthodox ecumenical gathering April 27 with a ceremony that particularly celebrated religious freedom.

In welcoming both communities, Holy Spirit pastor Msgr. Edward J. Dillon noted that while religious freedom is guaranteed in the United States by the Constitution, other countries do not enjoy that same freedom. Turkey, where the Patriarchate of Constantinople is located, is one of those nations where Christianity is under increasing pressure from the state.

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and His Eminence, Alexios, Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Atlanta, both presided and preached. In his remarks, Archbishop Gregory noted that this was the third time that the Orthodox and Catholic Churches here in Atlanta had come together for prayer and fellowship. He stated that the occasion was a good opportunity “to reflect on the relationship between our two sister churches of Rome and Constantinople.”

He said, “Indeed, since their foundation these two local churches have been linked together by the intimate bonds of history and a common faith. One is the old Rome, the other is the new Rome. Their two patrons, Peter and Andrew, were not only brother apostles but blood brothers as well. All this points to the fact that the many disagreements and divisions that took place over the centuries—scandalous as they were—were really disputes among brothers.”

He added, “Each church retained the ancient apostolic faith; each church remained faithful to the heritage of their paternal founders Peter and Andrew.”

Archbishop Gregory went on to say that when the ancient excommunications between both Churches were “erased from the memory of the Church” on December 7, 1965, much fruit has been borne in ecumenical initiatives between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. He described the interview that the television show “60 Minutes” conducted with His All-Holiness, Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, in which he stated that Christians are treated as “second-class citizens” and that at times, he feels crucified. Archbishop Gregory in his remarks emphasized the importance of both churches’ quest for unity and of the Catholic Church’s solidarity with the Orthodox Church as they face their current plight in Turkey and in other troubled areas of the world.

Archbishop Alexios reaffirmed those same sentiments in his remarks. He noted that “we are living in difficult and often turbulent times.” This is reflected in wars and violence, natural disasters and economic challenges. He stated, “Here in the United States, we are dealing with a society that is not merely ignorant about God, or neutral toward Christianity, but in many ways actively opposes Christ… and Christian believers.”  He emphasized that oftentimes the media does not support religion but rather positions itself against religion.

Archbishop Alexios concluded his remarks by saying, “At this dangerous time in our lives, as we battle against atheism and the powers of this world which threaten our religious freedom, we must join together, to unite in something that should have been done long ago, and like the Prodigal Son, come to our right mind, approaching God with repentance and humility, as leaders, as spiritual fathers and as faithful. Because Resurrection and joy follows Crucifixion.”

Music for the ecumenical service was provided by the traditional choir of Holy Spirit Church and the Greek Orthodox Cathedral Chanters. An icon of the Resurrection was processed through the church and venerated by the clergy.

In attendance were clergy and faithful from both the Catholic Church and Orthodox Church, as well as members of the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of St. George, the Sovereign Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, the Military and Hospitaller Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem and the Order of St. Andrew of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. A reception was hosted in McDonough Hall.

The ecumenical gathering was a beautiful and solemn occasion drawing together the riches of Catholic and Orthodox rituals and traditions. It also reflected the unity that the two faith communities share and that they pray that will be fully realized in the common celebration of the Eucharist.

To receive e-mail updates and further information on ongoing Catholic-Orthodox dialogue and initiatives, contact Father Paul A. Burke, parochial vicar at Holy Spirit Church, Atlanta, at (404) 252-4513 or