The feast of St. Andrew the First-Called has special meaning for the churches of Ukraine. According to ancient legend, St. Andrew travelled up the Dnipro River and, seeing the hills where Kyiv stands today, he stopped and blessed them, foreseeing that one day a great city would rise there. St. Andrew also became the patron of the Church of Constantinople, the Church from which we received Christian faith. St. Andrew reminds us of our Christian roots and stands as a symbol of the Church united as one in faith: two brothers, Peter and Andrew, embracing in one spirit, one love, one Lord. That brotherly unity was what spurred the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople to heal the wounds of the past and rebuild the Church’s unity. 65 years ago this week Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras issued a historic declaration of regret for past wrongs, offensive words and deplorable events which occurred between their churches. They concluded their statement with these words:
[We] hope, nevertheless, that this act will be pleasing to God, who is prompt to pardon us when we pardon each other. They hope that the whole Christian world, especially the entire Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church will appreciate this gesture as an expression of a sincere desire shared in common for reconciliation, and as an invitation to follow out in a spirit of
trust, esteem and mutual charity the dialogue which, with God’s help, will lead to living together again, for the greater good of souls and the coming of the kingdom of God, in that full communion of faith, fraternal accord and sacramental life which existed among them during the first thousand years of the life of the Church.
In that spirit, Pope Francis has called all Catholics to renew their commitment to ecumenism and not fear being the first to extend our hand in love to our fellow Christians. He said “we should not wait for others to first extend their hand to us.” In a letter he reminded the bishops of the Church, that “the service of unity is an essential aspect of the mission of every Bishop, who is the ‘visible source and foundation of unity’ in his own Particular Church.”
In a letter to the head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity Pope Francis wrote: At this moment, my thoughts turn to my beloved Brothers, the heads of the different Churches and Christian communities, and to all our brothers and sisters of every Christian tradition who are our companions on this journey. Like the disciples of Emmaus, may we experience the presence of the risen Christ who walks at our side and explains the Scriptures to us. May we recognize him in the breaking of the bread, as we await the day when we shall share the Eucharistic table together.
As St. Andrew journeyed up the Dnipro, bringing the Gospel of Christ to all he met, so now Pope Francis reminds us all that we are invited on a journey to rebuild the unity of the Body of Christ and “if we undertake the journey with Christ, He Himself will bring that unity about.”