2014 will be remembered as a time when Christians of the Eastern Orthodox (Greek) tradition and the Western Catholic (Latin) tradition drew closer to healing the Great Schism that formalized their separation 960 years ago. As Pope John Paul II wrote about Christian unity in 1995, “The Church must breathe with her two lungs.”
This year Pope Francis comes from Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew comes from Constantinople to meet and embrace as brothers in the church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem. They commemorate the historic encounter of their predecessors, Pope Paul and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, in the Holy City fifty years ago. With a happy coincidence, the Julian and Gregorian calendars align the movable date of Easter this year so that the central mystery of the Christian faith, the death and resurrection of Jesus, is celebrated simultaneously in the East and the West.
As an ecumenical institution whose history roots it in both the East and the West, the Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem has long brought together Christians of all orientations to collaborate spiritually and charitably according to the chivalric tradition. This has earned it the endorsement of popes and patriarchs. The restoration in modern times of the Order's magistral seat to Jerusalem, the Mother Church and holiest place for all Christians, allows it to breathe with both lungs, as well as to form bonds of friendship and cooperation with its Jewish and Muslim neighbours.
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Deepening its commitment to protect the Church and promote Christian values in the Orthodox East, the Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem has in this century been engaged in a number of charitable initiatives in the Republic of Serbia. These activities have been promoted principally by the Grand Priory of France, guided by Chevalier Nigel Atkins, with the strong support of TRH Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia and Princess Barbara of Liechtenstein. Close collaboration with civil and ecclesiastical authorities has ensured harmony with the spirit, tradition and laws of the Serbian Orthodox Church and state, members of which will be the founders of the Commandery of Serbia later this year.
His Holiness the Archbishop of Peć, Metropolitan of Belgrade-Karlovci and Serbian Patriarch Irinej has been following developments, learning of the Order's ecumenical dimension and its mission of healing body, mind and spirit, and has given his blessing to the formation of the Serbian national jurisdiction.
Patriarch Irinej most recently invited the Grand Chancellor, the Representatives for the Holy Land and the Balkans and local postulants to the celebration of his 'Slava', the annual veneration of his family's patron saint – who happens to be Saint Lazarus. The Divine Liturgy in the cathedral of Saint Michael the Archangel, Belgrade, was followed by an audience and private reception in the patriarchal residence. The opportunity was taken to brief the Minister of Justice and a bishop of the Holy Synod about the established legal framework and forward planning for Saint Lazare Serbia.
As a sign of spiritual closeness, the Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem was honoured to be presented on this occasion with a copy of an icon of the Mother of God as 'the Milk-Giver', blessed by the Patriarch. Having originated in the fifth century monastery of Mar Saba in the Holy Land, the icon has travelled to Mount Athos (the Hilandar monastery) and many holy places in Europe and Asia, as evidenced by the stamps on the rear. It will now return to the Holy Land to assume a place of honour at the seat of the Order of Saint Lazarus in Jerusalem.