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Orthodox patriarch says he will visit Nicaea with Pope in 2025

Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew give blessing

AFP PHOTO | VATICAN MEDIA

Daniel Esparza - published on 05/17/24

Nicaea, where the first ecumenical council was held -- from which we get the Nicene Creed -- is now Iznik, Turkey.

The Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, revealed during a visit to Lisbon, Portugal, that Pope Francis is considering a visit to Turkey with him in 2025. Although the Vatican hasn’t yet confirmed the trip, the Patriarch said on May 16 that a mixed Orthodox-Catholic commission is working on the preliminary arrangements.

If the Pope makes the trip, it would be his second visit to Turkey as pope. The main reason for this visit would be to mark the 1,700th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea, which took place in what is now Iznik, Turkey.

Pope Francis already stated in February 2023 that a meeting was being prepared for the 1,700th anniversary of the Council.

And during an exchange between the Pope and Patriarch in 2014, the Patriarch announced their wish to meet again in the city of Nicaea in 2025.

This important event in Christian history happened from May 20 to July 25, 325 AD, and helped shape the foundations of Christian doctrine.

“Next year marks the 1,700th anniversary of the first ecumenical council in Nicaea, currently Iznik, not far from Istanbul,” Patriarch Bartholomew told journalists in Lisbon, according to The Pillar. “His Holiness Pope Francis wants to celebrate this very important anniversary with us. He plans to visit our country, meet with us in Constantinople at the Patriarchate, and then proceed to Nicaea for the anniversary celebrations.”

A joint trip to Nicaea would be a deeply symbolic gesture, as the site represents a time in Church history before the split between East and West.

To make the pilgrimage happen, a group of four Catholics and four Orthodox will meet in Istanbul soon to finalize the details, according to Bartholomew. “As a head of state, His Holiness Pope Francis will also talk with the Turkish government about his visit and participation in the celebrations,” the Patriarch added.

Unity amid differences

The potential joint celebration of this anniversary by both Orthodox and Catholic Christians underscores the growing ecumenical relations between the two traditions. Despite their differences in theology and doctrine, the relationship has improved a lot –especially since the historic 1964 meeting between Pope St. Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras in Jerusalem.

The upcoming anniversary of the Council of Nicaea offers a chance for both Churches to celebrate the millennium of their shared heritage.

Pope Francis has been clear that he wants to foster unity and friendship with the Orthodox Church. A potential visit to Turkey in 2025 would be a powerful gesture of this commitment, celebrating a key moment in Christian history that shows unity rather than division.

As both Churches will soon observe the millennium of the 1054 schism — just 30 years from now — Pope Francis’ efforts to build bridges with the Orthodox Church are vital.

The Patriarch and the head of the Catholic Church are very close and have met on numerous occasions. The Pope has said that his 2015 encyclical Laudato si’ was inspired by the patriarch; the Orthodox Church has celebrated since 1989 the annual “Day of Prayer for Creation” on September 1. Since 2015, that day is also the “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation” for the Catholic Church.

Easter?

The anniversary of the Council of Nicaea is a chance to celebrate a step towards greater communion, which reflects the Pope’s vision of a united Christian witness in the modern world.

There is also talk that next year could mark the beginning of a shared date for Easter, which would be another symbolic, and practical, step toward full unity. In 2025, providentially, the date of Easter for both calendars falls on the same day, April 20.

The year is also a Jubilee for the Catholic Church, giving yet another impetus to the desire to work toward unity.

In his Bull of Indiction for the Jubilee of 2025, Pope Francis affirmed that the anniversary of the Council of Nicaea is an “invitation” to all the Churches to make progress “towards visible unity.” He also raised the possibility of finding a common date to celebrate Easter.

Tags:
EcumenismHistoryOrthodoxyPope Francis
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