Photo: The Tablet

Photo: The Tablet – June 2017

The Orthodox Church has been taking an active and increasing interest in the person and works of Martin Luther lately, according to His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. The Constantinopolitan primate expressed this opinion during a speech at Germany’s Tübingen University on May 30, the day after receiving an honorary doctorate for his work in promoting the Orthodox-Protestant dialogue, as part of the celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, reports the Catholic news agency The Tablet.

The Patriarchate of Constantinople entered into a bilateral theological dialogue with the Evangelical Church of Germany in 1969.

As previously reported, during his own visit to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople in September 2016, Heinrich Bedford-Strom, Chairman of the Council of German Evangelical Churches, told His All-Holiness that “it would be a special honor” if the patriarch would attend the celebrations in Wittenberg and Tübingen.

The patriarch accepted, and arrived in Stuttgart on Sunday, May 28, and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Evangelical Theology and History Department in Tübingen the next day. He was also presented with the German translation of his book Encountering the Mystery, and attended a two-day symposium on Evangelical and Orthodox theology.

In his speech, His All-Holiness stated that interesting is growing in the Orthodox Church particularly in Luther’s concept of freedom, which he views as of “epochal significance.” Patriarch Bartholomew welcomes this new direction of investigation, as Luther’s ideas on freedom were a turning point in the history of the understanding of freedom, and are therefore very important for Christianity’s engagement with the modern world that bears a notion of self-centered freedom, which ultimately leads to self-isolation and which is far removed from the Christian understanding of freedom as a gift of God.

The teaching of Luther, who, conversely, Romanian elder Cleopa (Ilie) referred to as “the second Arius,” is thus very important for Orthodox Churches, he stated, as their belated dialogue with the modern world is now “in full swing.”

The Patriarch also spoke often about the fruits of the contemporary dialogue, reports the site of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, emphasizing, among other things, that Eucharistic ecclesiology has opened up new ways of discussing ecclesiological issues, noting that the term “theosis” is now approached positively by many Lutheran theologians.

“He stressed that the intercultural dialogue must continue and that many of its positive effects in the past must be made known, and not neglected, but stressed the need for theological scholars to become new, dynamic theologians with a spirit of dialogue and with an ecumenical orientation,” the patriarchate reports.