Pope addresses challenges to Christian faith

The Orthodox Church News Magazine
Editorial of Pascha/Pentecost 2008
Volume 44

During his recent visit to the United States in April 2008, Pope Benedict XVI met with leaders and representatives of US Christian churches, communities, and organizations. The setting was an ecumenical prayer service at Saint Joseph’s, a parish church in Manhattan founded in the 19th century for German Catholic immigrants. The simple yet dignified ceremony included an address by the Pope.

A central theme in the address was the current challenge to Christian faith in secularism and relativism. The passages below offer examples of the main thoughts conveyed by the Pope.

“...Of grave concern is the spread of secularist ideology that undermines or even rejects transcendent truth. The very possibility of divine revelation, and therefore of Christian faith, is often placed into question by cultural trends widely present in academia, the mass media and public debate. For these reasons, a faithful witness to the Gospel is as urgent as ever. Christians are challenged to give a clear account of the hope that they hold [cf. 1 Peter 3:15].

“Too often those who are not Christians, as they observe the splintering of Christian communities, are understandably confused about the Gospel message itself…. We must first recall that the unity of the Church flows from the perfect oneness of the triune God. In Saint John’s Gospel, we are told that Jesus prayed to His Father that His disciples might be one, ‘just as You are in me and I am in You’ [John 17:21]. This passage reflects the unwavering conviction of the early Christian community that its unity was both caused by, and is reflective of, the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Only by ‘holding fast’ to sound teaching [2 Thessalonians 2:15; cf. Revelation 2:12-29] will we be able to respond to the challenges that confront us in an evolving world. Only in this way will we give unambiguous testimony to the truth of the Gospel and its moral teaching.”

At the beginning of his address, Pope Benedict acknowledged the ecumenical work of the National Council of Churches, Christian Churches Together, the Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, and many others.

After the conclusion of the ecumenical prayer service, the leader of one of the major Protestant churches in the US noted in a conversation with me that, notwithstanding significant differences between the Catholic Church and other Christian churches and communities, only the Pope can convene the broad spectrum of Christians to an ecumenical prayer service. In attendance were Orthodox (Eastern and Oriental) hierarchs; “main line” Anglican, Protestant, Pentecostal, and conservative Evangelical leaders; representatives of the great diversity of Protestant organizations and communities; and representatives of ecumenical organizations.

For the Orthodox Churches, the message of Pope Benedict was welcome. The Pope’s assessment of the present challenges to Christians in mission and in the quest for Christian unity is deeply shared by the Orthodox. And the Pope’s articulation of the ways in which these challenges must be met is in harmony with the Orthodox understanding and vision.