It gives me great pleasure to greet Your All Holiness on behalf of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and cordially to welcome you to Finland with the words of the Psalmist: “How good and pleasant it is to dwell together in unity.” (Psalm 133).
The Christian faith calls us to show hospitality, and to live and pray with and for each other. I am grateful not only for the time you have taken to visit us, but also for the hospitality representatives of our church have enjoyed when visiting Your All Holiness at the Ecumenical Patriarchate – a pleasure I myself have enjoyed, as has Bishop Irja Askola of Helsinki just a few weeks ago. And I am happy to observe that in spite of the distance this is the second time in three years we have met in Finland.
This speaks vividly to me of the ecumenical encounter and friendship between Christians of the East and West that is part of our daily life and witness in Finland. Indeed, that the visit of Your All Holiness honours the celebration of the ninetieth anniversary of the Orthodox Church of Finland's autonomy is greatly appreciated not only by Orthodox and Lutherans, but by everyone in Finland. And I am especially glad that distinguished guests from the Orthodox Church of Estonia have joined these celebrations, as they also mark the anniversary of their autonomy. If one member [of the body] is honoured, all rejoice together with it. (1. Cor 12:26)
In any case, I can say with confidence that Finnish, and indeed European, Ecumenism would be much the poorer without Orthodox participation. I think this was one of the key findings of this summer's General Assembly of the Conference of European Churches in Budapest, when we affirmed how much we need each other. Without the Orthodox participation, there would be no CEC. This applies no less to other traditions, my own included, whose presence and participation blesses us all. So it is indeed “good and pleasant … to dwell together in unity.”
However, the unity for which the Psalmist calls extends far beyond friendly relations between the different Christian traditions, for it encompasses all people and the whole world, the true oikoumene. In this respect, we have heard your call to “repentance for our sinfulness in destroying the world instead of working to preserve and sustain its ever-flourishing resources reasonably and carefully.” This is a call to which we all need urgently to respond, whether or not we are people of faith, as members of humanity. We have but one world, and it suffers the consequences of human greed, which degrades the infinite value of every human being created in the image of God, and mars the beauty and integrity of all creation.
As Christians, we must share in the task of caring for the world God has given us with other people of good will. In this work, our churches share a common mission to cultivate the ethical landscape of our people by preaching the word of God, not only in words but also in prophetic deeds, joining Your All Holiness in service of the welfare of all creation.
Alongside our ethical stand in affirming the value of all creation, we are called no less to be heralds of the hope so needed by a world afflicted by human sinfulness. This is the hope to which the Apostle Paul refers in the passage we have just heard from his Epistle to the
Romans. (Romans 8:18-25) As Christians and as Christian churches, we are united by this hope and we look for the day when the Psalmist’s vision of brotherly love and unity is finally and completely fulfilled. We are united not only by our common roots, but also by our common hope in the providence and kingdom of God.
With these words I wish to welcome Your All Holiness to Finland, and assure you of our prayers that Almighty God may give you strength and wisdom in your important ministry for the benefit of all people and the whole world.
And now, may I introduce to Your All Holiness:
Bishop Simo Peura of Lapua
Bishop Matti Repo of Tampere
Bishop Kaarlo Kalliala of Turku
Bishop Irja Askola of Helsinki
Bishop Jari Jolkkonen of Kuopio
Bishop Tapio Luoma of Espoo
(The General Secretary of the Bishops’ Council, Revd Dr Jyri Komulainen)
Finally, I wish to introduce Bishop Teemu Sippo, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Helsinki, who chairs the Finnish Ecumenical Council.