To his Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI17/3/2006
Protocol No. 1343+ C H R I S T O D O U L O S
Dispatch No. 173
Pope Benedict XVI,
Warmly greeting You in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ I ask that You please accept my heartfelt prayers for health, longevity and strength from on High, in Your important and lofty Ministry. After due consideration, I have decided to write to Your Holiness in regard to a matter, recently carried in the Media, which has raised some concern in quarters of our Church. Specifically, it concerns the dropping of the traditional title of "Patriarch of the West" from Your Holiness' official titles as they are listed in the new Annuario Pontificio. Of course this could be due to--and we hope that such is the case--an editorial oversight or a printing error, and nothing more. Should, however, this not be the case, then please allow me to share with Your Holiness, the unease of many who feel that by dropping the title of "Patriarch of the West" our theologians, who are once again about to engage in mutual dialogue, will be deprived of a common basis upon which they could build the reunification of our Churches, a reunification that we all desire. For us Orthodox, the Pope of Elder Rome has always been the Patriarch of the West, the successor of the Apostles Peter and Paul who founded the Church of Rome, the first in honour, primus inter pares, and he who presides in Charity, and it is only logical that upon this title, within the framework of the ancient pentarchy (agreed upon at the Council of Constantinople of 879 and signed by the Legates of Pope John VIII) of the first millenium that we can build the reunification of the One Undivided Church.
Contrary to assertions by some Western scholars carried in the Press, who ascribe the title to the Pontificate of Pope Pius IX, the title of Patriarch of the West is fundamentally important for the ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church. Moreover, allow me to observe that this beautiful title is not only ancient and historic but also important even in terms of the Catholic Church alone, for during the execution of his duties, it is as Patriarch of the West that the Bishop of Rome promulgates laws, appoints bishops, etc. for the Latin Church.
Further, the argument that the title hinders the establishment of several patriarchates in the West and therefore should be suppressed, is groundless. Surely, after all these centuries no one can, in all seriousness, reduce the ecclesial identities of all the particular Churches in the West to that of the Roman Church. Such a reductive notion would, among other things, deny the importance of the identities of the great Primatial Sees of the West, some of which in the past had, or even today still retain their own liturgical uses, e.g. Lyons, Braga, and Toledo, not to mention the Ambrosian usage of Milan and the Sarum usage of Salisbury. All these Sees, while retaining their importance still come under Rome, the ancient Patriarchate of the West.
Without wishing to appear to interfere, it is with the profoundest benevolent respect and in the spirit of fraternal love and mutual concern for the promotion of Christian Unity that I share this deep concern of ours with You.
Trusting that Your Holiness will give the matter Your most careful attention, I am pleased, once again, to assure You of my heartfelt sentiments of sincere esteem and fraternal love in Christ.
Athens, 17 March 2006
ARCHBISHOP OF ATHENS AND ALL GREECE