The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople: A Ministry of Universal Reconciliation
Speech by His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America
In a Special Academic Convocation
At the Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, Connecticut
On the occasion of receiving an Honorary Doctor's Degree in Humanities
November 9, 2005
Most Reverend Bishop Lori,
Esteemed President of Sacred Heart University Dr. Anthony Cernera,
Distinguished Members of the Board of Trustees,
Honorable Deans, Faculty and Members of the Administration,
Dear Students, Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am deeply thankful to God and to you for the honor that you as Sacred Heart University have graciously bestowed upon me by giving me an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degree today. But I am even more thankful for the opportunity simply to be with you today because it affords us all an occasion to contemplate together our common heritage as Christians. Indeed, I see this afternoon as a type of ecumenical encounter, not a formal one by any means, but, nonetheless, a significant encounter whereby we may come and look into one another's eyes to try to understand the complexities of our human condition, our shared Christian heritage, and the effects of two millennia of history upon it.
This warm and inviting phrase, Come and look into one another's eyes, was used by the late Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras throughout his ministry in the arena of rapprochement between the Christian churches, especially between Orthodox and Roman Catholic. It is a phrase that suggests a great potential for dialogue, healing and reconciliation.
And it is fitting that we begin with this phrase because it alludes to the important and historic encounter that we should all remember between Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI in 1964, an encounter that resulted in the so-termed lifting of the anathemas that had painfully divided the Churches of the East and West since 1054. Though in many respects life-changing, this episode between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras must not be viewed in isolation, as an encounter emerging out of happenstance. Rather, it was the result of intensive ecumenical labors for centuries by Christians of varying denominations and places in history, and which, through the power of the Holy Spirit, found expression in a visible, unifying, and palpable way. Today, I wish to talk about these and other labors which are particularly related to the multi-faceted ministry of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in the modern world.
The ministry of the Ecumenical Patriarchate may be aptly termed a ministry of reconciliation with three areas of focus: a) the ecumenical dialogue among Christians, b) the inter-religious dialogue among Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and c) the universal call to all human beings for reconciliation with our natural environment. I am concentrating particularly on the reconciliatory ministry of the Ecumenical Patriarchate because I have plenty of relevant data available. In several cases, I presuppose, of course, the concomitant involvement to dialogue of the late Popes Paul VI and John Paul II.
Part A: The Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Ministry of Reconciliation
Area 1. The Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Dialogue among Christians
As I mentioned, the history of Christian ecumenical dialogue has long-standing origins. The Ecumenical Patriarchate has been a part of the so called "ecumenical movement" since its beginnings. Its resolute and firm commitment to ecumenical dialogue is the result of its living out its beliefs in real action. It seeks to live and breathe the prayerful petition of the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom: For the peace of the whole world, for the stability of the holy churches of God, and for the u n i o n of all, let us pray to the Lord. An even more expressive example is to be found in the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great, which includes the petition, Visit us with your goodness, Lord. Put an end to the schisms of the churches.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate's involvement with ecumenical dialogue dates back as early as the 16th century with the so-called "Augsburg-Constantinople" encounter. This encounter consisted of a series of short exchanges between the Lutheran theologians of Tübingen and Ecumenical Patriarch Jeremiah II. These exchanges were of considerable interest in terms of the theological doctrinal differences and similarities posed between the Lutheran reformers and the Orthodox theologians. Though we cannot call those exchanges "dialogues" in the formal sense of the term, they were, nonetheless, cordial exchanges that were indicative of greater things to come in the history of ecumenism.
The modern ecumenical movement proper may be viewed as being formally facilitated by the 1930 Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops in Canterbury. Though there had been several informal exchanges in the 19th century between the Anglican communion and the Orthodox, the 1930 Lambeth Conference represents a significant period in the activity of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in terms of sustained ecumenical dialogue, and also as showing the role of the Ecumenical Patriarch as primus inter pares, or first among equals, in organizing the efforts of the other autocephalous Orthodox Patriarchates in ecumenical activity. At the 1930 Lambeth conference, the Ecumenical Patriarch Photios II arranged for a delegation of the Orthodox Church to be sent to Canterbury under the leadership of the Patriarch of Alexandria. Here, Resolution 33 of the 1930 Lambeth Conference is particularly demonstrative. This resolution, in part, reads:
"The Conference heartily thanks the Oecumenical Patriarch for arranging in co-operation with the other patriarchs and the autocephalous Churches for the sending of an important delegation of the Eastern Orthodox Church under the leadership of the Patriarch of Alexandria, and expresses its grateful appreciation of the help given to its Committee by the delegation, as well as its sense of the value of the advance made through the joint meetings in the relations of the Orthodox Church with the Anglican Communion." Report of the Lambeth Conference, 1930But this was certainly not the beginning of ecumenical activity with the Ecumenical Patriarchate as it concerned dialogue with other Christians. We may look to a rather prominent encyclical issued in 1920 by the Ecumenical Patriarchate addressed "Unto the Churches of Christ Everywhere", an unprecedented encyclical of global scope urging all Christian churches to take concrete actions to come closer together in their common faith. This encyclical reads, in part:
"We consider… that above all, love should be rekindled and strengthened among the churches, so that they should no more consider one another as strangers and foreigners, but as relatives, and as being a part of the household of Christ and 'fellow heirs, members of the same body and partakers of the promise of God in Christ' (Ephesians 3:6)."
Since the issuance of that encyclical in 1920, followed by the 1930 Lambeth Conference, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has continued an active role in ecumenical dialogue among Christians. Significantly, we may note its role as a founding member of the World Council of Churches in 1948, in which it is still very active, maintaining offices today at its Geneva headquarters.
In addition to these numerous inroads to dialogue that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has made with Protestant Churches, its continuing dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church since the 20th century has resulted in a rapprochement that continues to grow with the passing of every year. The highly visible and historic meeting of Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras with Pope Paul VI in 1964, resulted in some very tangible expressions of dialogue and reconciliation. First, it led to the establishment of local dialogues and exchanges between theologians in various countries throughout the world. Just one year later in 1965, the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation was established. This represents one of the longest, continuously running dialogues between Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholic Christians in the Western Hemisphere. The North American Consultation has consistently produced joint theological statements elaborating upon significant doctrinal aspects of the Christian faith that have done much to nurture the bonds of unity between our two churches. Recent examples are the agreed statement of the Consultation issued in 1999 entitled "Baptism and 'Sacramental Economy,'" and the agreed statement issued in 2003 entitled "The Filioque - A Church Dividing Issue?"
Further examples of what can be characterized as the dialogue of love between the Churches of Rome and Constantinople include, among others, two very tangible expressions. The first is the exchange of visiting delegations on the patronal feasts of the churches, the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29, for Rome, and the Feast of St. Andrew on November 30, for Constantinople, respectively. On some occasions, these exchanges have included visits from the Pope or the Patriarch himself. A second expression of the ongoing dialogue of love between the two churches was marked by the very historic occasion of the return in November of 2004 from Rome to Constantinople of the Holy Relics of two Archbishops of Constantinople, St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom. This return was made possible by Pope John Paul II's gracious granting of a request made by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to return the relics of his predecessors to Constantinople after having been in Rome for over 800 years. That such a request could be made and granted is a testimony to the genuine sincerity of the dialogues between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Roman Catholic Church, which we pray will continue under the ministry of Pope Benedict XVI. It is also a testimony to the active presence of the Holy Spirit in the reconciliation process of Christendom.
Area 2: The Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Inter-religious Dialogue among Jews, Christians, and Muslims
In addition to the tremendous work that has been accomplished, by the grace of God, in the area of ecumenical dialogue among Christians, the Ecumenical Patriarchate's constant attention toward inter-religious dialogue is equally worthy of mention. As a citizen of Turkey, His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has developed a natural sensitivity to the need for dialogue with Islam. This sensitivity arises not only from his many personal friendships with local people of Turkey, but also from his ideological background as a Greek Orthodox Christian living in the position of an ethnic and religious minority within a predominantly Muslim society. His commitment to dialogue with Islam is sophisticated, grounded in his Orthodox faith, and initiated with the conviction that such dialogue is necessary for the promotion of peace, justice, and tolerance in our world. It was in this spirit that Patriarch Bartholomew visited such Islamic countries as Bahrain (2000), Iran, Qatar, Azerbaijan and Libya (2002-2003). Yet, his activities have gone beyond Islam and included vibrant dialogues with Judaism as well.
He organized several dialogues among Jews, Christians, and Muslims that have been of major significance in the arena of peace and tolerance. The first of these was the historic Conference on Peace and Tolerance in Constantinople in 1994, co-sponsored by the "Appeal of Conscience Foundation." This Conference produced the oft-cited "Bosphorus Declaration," which affirmed the Berne Declaration of 1992 that "a crime committed in the name of religion is a crime against religion."
Since that meeting in 1994, Patriarch Bartholomew has been at the forefront of organizing international inter-religious conferences to confront the evils of religious fanaticism and intolerance. He was among the first of the major world religious personalities to organize a meeting of religious leaders from the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths very soon after the tragic events of September 11, 2001. This meeting convened in Brussels, Belgium, on December 19-20, 2001, producing the "Brussels Declaration," in which it was stated: "We unanimously reject the notion that religion leads to an inevitable conflict of civilizations. To the contrary, we propagate the constructive and educational role of religion in the dialogue between civilizations."
In addition to these inter-religious gatherings, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has extended its dialogue activity to political, governmental, and economic organizations. The Patriarch initiated a particularly constructive dialogue nearly 10 years ago with the European People's Party Christian Democrats Group of the European Parliament. Since 1996, this dialogue has grown in significance and in the numbers of its participants. Today, it may accurately be regarded as one of the European Parliament's most active, continuous, international, and inter-religious dialogues. The last meeting of this dialogue, the ninth thus far, took place in Constantinople last month. I had the honor of participating in it. The topics were "A Free Society Founded on Truth - Truth Making People Free," and "Religious Freedom - A Life-Giving European Value." I cannot begin to tell you how much this dialogue has grown in terms of the composition of its makeup on inter-religious levels as well as by the number of highest level governmental representatives from various European nations who were in attendance as active participants. It is just another example of how dialogues, initiated by the Church, dominated by the quest for truth, and fostered by love and honesty, can become creative contributions to reconciliation and peace.
Area 3: The Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Reconciliation of Human Beings with the Natural Environment
A third major focus of the Ecumenical Patriarchate's ministry in the modern world as a ministry for global cooperation and reconciliation is the natural environment. Patriarch Bartholomew's commitment to the sanctity of the Creation as a gift from God to be protected is reflected in his many and continuous pertinent efforts.
Starting in 1995, he began to host a series of seafaring environmental symposia, aimed at bringing together experts in religion and science, as well as political representatives, to focus attention on critical areas of environmental concern. The first symposium, for one week, took place on a boat in the Aegean Sea. Since 1995, four similar environmental symposia have followed on board vessels in the following areas of heavy environmental damage: the Black Sea (1997), the River Danube (1999), the Adriatic Sea (2002), and the Baltic Sea (2003). Additional environmental symposia are currently being planned for the Amazon River in July, 2006, and for the Caspian Sea in July, 2007, respectively.
What is significant, if not unparalleled, about these environmental symposia is the level of dialogue that takes place: There is the general dialogue between religion and science, then, the dialogue among the representatives and leaders of the monotheistic religions that are participants, the dialogue among the scientists themselves, and the dialogue among the various governmental representatives who are invited to embark upon the vessel at each port of call. Perhaps what is most significant about the level of this kind of dialogue is its universal and ultimate call to reconciliation, namely, the reconciliation between humankind and the natural environment itself. This act of reconciliation extends to all human beings in the world at all times, truly aiming toward what may best be described as an ultimate rapprochement.
Part B: The Difficult Conditions of the Ecumenical Patriarchate under which it Exercises its Ministry of Reconciliation
Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect concerning all efforts toward reconciliation and the union of all that the Ecumenical Patriarchate continuously undertakes, is the fact that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has been living under very heavy and oppressive political conditions.
Sadly, and especially in the last 5 years, the Turkish government has intensified its efforts to restrict the free exercise of the religious activity of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. It has subjected the Ecumenical Patriarchate to even tighter regulations concerning its properties and to closer monitoring of its religious activities than perhaps ever before in its history. Let me be more specific on this issue, which deals in essence with serious deprivations of basic religious rights.
1. The deprivation referring to the Ecumenical Patriarchate's title "Ecumenical"
The first such deprivation is the consistent denial by the Turkish government of the Ecumenical Patriarchate's use of the title "Ecumenical." This title was granted to the Ecumenical Patriarch in the sixth century in recognition of his occupying the See of Constantinople, which was the center of the Empire, or oikumene. This title has been used by every other foreign government in the world to refer to the Ecumenical Patriarch, and it is universally used by the other Christian Churches to refer to the Ecumenical Patriarchate just the same.
Despite this wide recognition of the Ecumenical Patriarch's status as leader of the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians, the Turkish government's official position is that the Patriarch is not Ecumenical Patriarch, but simply and only the religious leader of the Greek Orthodox minority population of Turkey, which though once numbered in the hundreds of thousands, today stands at a population of approximately 2,000-3,000. This policy has led to some rather embarrassing situations for the Turkish government. An example of such a situation occurred in 2003, when the Apostolic Nuncius in Ankara, Turkey, used the title "Ecumenical" to refer to the Ecumenical Patriarch in a special invitation letter. The invitation was issued for a lecture by the Ecumenical Patriarch in honor of Pope John Paul II on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of his papacy. In this instance, the Turkish government responded to the invitation by prohibiting any of its personnel from attending the event because the invitation letter used the title "Ecumenical" for Patriarch Bartholomew.
2. The Deprivation Relevant to the Ecumenical Patriarchate's Legal Status
Related to the refusal of the Turkish government to recognize the title of the Ecumenical Patriarch, but significantly more damaging, is the refusal of the Turkish government to give legal status to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. As with all non-Muslim religious minority institutions in Turkey, the Ecumenical Patriarchate is recognized as a Turkish institution, subject to the policies and restrictions of the Turkish Office of Religious Affairs. As such, the Ecumenical Patriarchate does not enjoy a legal status as an independent entity. This affects its ability to petition the Turkish government for adequate redress. It also affects its ability to press its claims, objectively recognized as legitimate, I might add, in international courts as "The Ecumenical Patriarchate." Instead, the individual person of the Ecumenical Patriarch must bear the burden of relying on his personal legal status to represent the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Ecumenical Patriarchate, as such, does not enjoy legal personality.
3. The Restrictions on Property Ownership and Use
The third deprivation of basic religious rights is the restriction on property ownership and use. In 1936, Turkey's Law on Foundations No. 2762, placed Orthodox Christian property under the administration of a General Directorate of Foundations (Vakifs), which exists to this day. The Directorate of Foundations has the power to dissolve foundations, seize foundation property, dismiss foundation boards of trustees without judicial decisions, and intervene in the management of foundation assets and accounts.(1) In addition, according to a 1974 ruling of Turkey's highest court, the government of Turkey forbids the buying or selling of real estate acquired by minority foundations after 1936. Property belonging to these foundations and acquired since that time has reverted to the State without remuneration.(2)
To date, a total of 136 properties belonging to one important Patriarchal entity, namely, the Baloukli hospital, have been forced to cede to the state in accordance with this ruling. The Baloukli hospital is a private hospital of the Ecumenical Patriarchate that administers care without discrimination to all Turkish citizens, with a quite advanced center for the treatment of alcoholism and drug abuse. To make matters worse, the government recently imposed an unbearable retroactive tax upon the very same Baloukli hospital, leading it to unavoidable bankruptcy.
Recently, the highest court of Turkey ruled that the government could confiscate a very large and historic orphanage belonging to the Greek Orthodox community on the island of Pringhipo on the grounds that it had fallen into disuse. In reality, the government had repeatedly refused over the course of decades to issue the necessary permits for the maintenance and repair of the structure.
Needless to say that in addition to the Baloukli and the Pringhipo confiscations, hundreds of other Patriarchal properties have been arbitrarily confiscated in the recent years by the Turkish government.
4. The Deprivation of the Right to Education and Training of Clergy
I am concluding with one more deprivation of fundamental religious rights. This is the continuing closure of the Patriarchal Theological School of Halki, the sole seminary for the training of the Greek Orthodox clergy of the Patriarchate. This closure was the result of a law passed in 1971 by Turkey, and it represents more than an interference by the State in matters of education. It constitutes a direct violation of the basic right of a religious community to prepare its clergy and its spiritual leaders.
At present, there are some promising inroads that are being made toward reopening the School, but there have also been unkept promises by the government and shifting political interests that have prevented this from occurring.
In spite of overwhelming difficulties and burdens from internal governmental conflicts, the Ecumenical Patriarchate stands today as a witness of Christian martyrdom and hope. Its achievements, efforts, and genuine desire to reconcile all human beings with one another in a spirit of love, even though it operates from a position of what the world may consider weakness is an iconic reflection of the power of the Holy Spirit. Its agonies and joys capture what St. Paul was trying to express as he was reflecting upon the Lord's encouraging example, My grace is sufficient for you: for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). The Ecumenical Patriarchate is a modern, eloquent example of power made perfect in weakness.
For us, however, the Ecumenical Patriarchate is an example of the reconciliation and love to which we are commonly called as Christians, who through coming together and looking in each other's eyes might find a common resolve to work toward the unity that has been the fervent prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ when He asked His Father that those who believe in Him…may all be one (John 17:20-21).
I thank you for your kind attention this afternoon, and I express to you once again my gratitude for this great academic honor that you have bestowed upon me.
(1) 2004 E.U. Regular Report on Turkey's Progress Towards Accession, COM (2004) 656 final at 43-44.
(2) 2000 European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, Second Report, note 15, para. 26.
Source: Address given by His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios to Sacred Heart University