Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the ELCA, participated in a ceremony Nov. 15 at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC) at which the seminary returned a rare 9th-century Greek manuscript of the complete New Testament to the Greek Orthodox Church.
The manuscript, known among biblical scholars as Codex 1424, was one of many manuscripts taken in 1917 from the Kosinitza Monastery near the Greek city of Drama. It came into the possession of a European book dealer and was purchased in 1920 by Levi Franklin Gruber, who later became president of Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary, one of LSTC’s predecessor schools.
His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, in the United States, received the manuscript from James Nieman, president of LSTC.
In her remarks during the ceremony, Eaton said, “Lutherans cherish our relationships with the Orthodox Church in the United States and around the world. Nearly 50 years ago, the fourth preparatory meeting of the Pan-Orthodox Conference encouraged ecumenical dialogue with the Lutheran World Federation, the global Lutheran communion.”
“The action of a Lutheran seminary returning this 9th-century New Testament manuscript to the Greek Orthodox Church is an expression of the essential partnership between theological education and Lutheran-Orthodox relations,” Eaton said. “What will happen here today, and in the days to come, is important not only to the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago but also to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and to our global communion, the Lutheran World Federation. For us as Lutherans, now in the 500th year of the Reformation, this is an important step toward reconciliation and an inviting witness to the world as we claim together the central place of God’s Word, made flesh in Jesus Christ.”
“This constitutes a remarkable act of ecumenical activity,” said Archbishop Demetrios, addressing the gathering. “We have the dialogues—they are productive, interesting. They take plenty of time, patience, tolerance, doubts. But here is a plain, clear act of real ecumenism, a real bringing together.”
Archbishop Demetrios and Nieman will bring the manuscript to Greece later in November, where they will participate in ceremonies held by the Greek Orthodox Church.
“Alongside our delight in handing it to you comes deep sorrow. Today we lose something dear, a close associate, a treasure beyond reckoning that nothing can repair,” said Nieman in his remarks. “That’s what makes it a true gift. We give it not expecting return but in freedom knowing the joy it brings you, our friends in Christ. We hope that returning it to its rightful home may show our mutual faithfulness in declaring the good news of Jesus Christ that these very pages contain and which both our communions confirm.”
In her closing remarks Eaton said, “Now we pray for the manuscript’s safe return and for all those people yet to come who will be formed as followers of Christ in their encounter with it. Finally, we ask God to continue to mutually enrich and nourish us as we travel this journey together.”