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  • Rıdvan Demir

CONVERSATION WITH ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH BARTHOLOMEW – I

Güncelleme tarihi: 24 Nis 2023



(OLIVIER CLEMENT / TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH BY PAUL MEYENDORFF)



This book is one of a series on contemporary Greek theologians by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press and is about the Ecumenical Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church. The text was produced from conversations between Patriarch Bartholomew-I and his old friend, the author, Olivier Clements. They discuss topics like understanding the faith, church and state, Europe, fanaticism, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, and much more. The book was translated from the French in 1997 but unfortunately does not give any information about which language was spoken originally for these conversations.


The author introduces Bartholomew as a friend he met when Bartholomew was a deacon, then priest. Over the years, they continued to meet at a small restaurant on the European shore of Bosporus, Istanbul. According to the author, Bartholomew knows Christianity both in the East and in the West ‘from the inside.’ The book focuses on the Orthodox Church, the Patriarchate, and the Patriarch himself with general sections under the headings: ‘Discover’, ‘Aspects of a Message’, ‘History’, and ‘And Others?’ This final part refers to the Patriarch’s own views from especially long interviews with him. With the Patriarch’s permission, the author added two sections on the Patriarch’s current views of Orthodox spirituality and the first millennium of church history. Therefore, according to author, this book mixes the ancient and modern.


The first chapter explores the Orthodox Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, and Bartholomew-I himself. The Orthodox Church, or Orthodoxy, has been misunderstood as a church, even though the Orthodox Church has approximately 250 million baptized members. This church is one of the largest churches in the world and is truly part of the “one, holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.”


The Orthodox do not deny that they are an ultra-conservative wing of Christianity in many ways, but when the Orthodox Church participates in ecumenical events, like the World Council of Churches, the Patriarch insists on the unity of the Christian faith with the ancient oriental churches, which are the Armenian, Jacobite, Coptic, and Ethiopian churches, erroneously called “monophysite”. With the other brother churches, dialogue is pursued earnestly, although this is really difficult, particularly with Rome. The Orthodox Church is absolutely of Eastern origin. It developed in the eastern Mediterranean and Aegean regions of Antioch, Smyrna, Ephesus, Chalcedon, Nicea, Constantinople, and later in parts of Eastern Europe. Millions of Orthodox Christians now live on different continents and countries, among diverse cultures. For example, Orthodoxy exists in the Arabian Peninsula, Australia, the United States, India, and Northern Pacific region. For many centuries, the Orthodox Church has been pushed between the two great imperialistic forces of (chiefly) Roman Catholicism to the west and Islam to the south east. In the face of these great cultures, the Orthodox traditions have held their ground and continued to flourish.


The Orthodox Church, or eastern regions of the early church, was not always separate from the West. The first seven ecumenical councils included bishops and church leaders from both the east and the west, and these first seven councils, which gathered in Anatolia[1], decided a great deal about the theology of the Church. The first ecumenical council of the Christian church was held in Nicea in 325 AD, after all, which is located in ‘Anatolia’. The third council in Ephesus (431 AD) refused to call Mary ‘theotokos’, mother of God, and Chalcedon (451 AD) affirmed the heavily debated Nicean decision that Jesus has two natures in one person. These councils were accepted by virtually all Christians, including the Eastern Orthodox Church. (p. 7)

In the rise of the new Rome, the period from the 7th century to 1453 AD, Constantinople was conquered by the Turks, and hence, the Byzantine era ended. This change affected many new developments, one of which was the eventual separation of Christian churches in the east from the west (or the reverse.) Even by 1054 AD, the mission vigor of the Church had less power to create unity, and there were certainty many theological differences that precipitated the schism between the eastern and western churches, especially the theology of the Holy Spirit. In addition to theological differences, the churches were, of course, also influenced heavily by political, economic, social and cultural factors. Over the years, the Schism grew.


During the period after Constantinople fell in 1453 AD, many political and economical factors influenced the lives of the separate churches. Most notable among these factors were the Ottoman Empire, the First and Second World Wars, the establishment of Communism and the Soviet Union, etc. These affected the whole Christian Church, not only the Eastern Church. The Western churches were also greatly impacted, not only in their theology, but also in their spiritual, liturgical, and religious life. (p. 19)


The title of “ecumenical” patriarchate of Constantinople refers to the origins of orthodoxy, particularly the ecumenical patriarch of Constantine. The prestige of this city comes from Emperor Constantine and his ‘new Rome’, the capitol of his empire. The symphony between church and state was later called ‘pentarchy’. There are still five great patriarchates: Constantinople, Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. These are considered the ‘five senses’ of the church. Over the next few centuries, Russian, Ukrainian, and Eastern and Southwestern European countries established patriarchies or metropolitanete in orthodox nations (millet [2]). The Ecumenical Patriarch was effected by the I and II Balkan Wars in 1912-13 (before the First World War), the end of the Ottoman Empire, and the emergence of a Turkish nation. These events greatly reduced the patriarchate’s jurisdiction, and even totally transformed it in many circumstances.


When the Lausanne Treaty was made, the system of orthodox ‘millet’ was completed in 1923. Then the Republic of Turkiye was established that same year. The Lausanne Treaty “defined and guaranteed the status of the patriarchate as a religious establishment based in Constantinople and supervising exclusively the spiritual affairs of a minority of Turkish nationals of Greek-Orthodox religion.” A decree of the city government of Constantinople, dated December 6, 1923, ordered that:


“when spiritual and religious elections are held in Turkey, the electors must be Turkish nationals and holders of religious positions within Turkey at the time of the election, and the elected candidate must meet the same requirements.” Thus lay persons, who had previously participated in large numbers in patriarchal elections, were now excluded, as were all metropolitans and bishops residing outside Turkey. Only one clause from the previous statute remained: the “right of the government, when a patriarchal election is being prepared, to remove whomever it wants from the list of eligible candidates.” (P. 28)



Afterwards there were other crises that impacted the region and the Eastern Orthodox Church, including the Aegean Crisis, the Cyprus Island Crisis (1950-1960), and conflicts between Turkey and Greece.[3]


Besides the political discord in the region, the other main problem of the patriarchate is the Church’s theological schools and religious education in Turkey, which is a secular state system. The great problem of education of this kind is that the Patriarchate’s theological school, located on the small island of Halki in the Sea of Marmara, Istanbul, was closed by the Turkish government in 1971. Since then, several schools or centers of study have been established outside Turkey. This creates some problems in different countries, but one of those schools is the Holy Cross School of Theology in Brookline in the USA.


The book discusses the life and family of Bartholomew-I, the Patriarch. The conversations share his education, diplomatic relations, hobbies, work and theological views. Before becoming Patriarch, he was Dimitrios Archondanis, born 1940 on the island of Imbros, Turkey. He was the second boy of four children; the oldest is his sister. His father was quite strict while his mother was extremely gentle. Both are dead now.

The village priest, father Asterios, who had at most completed primary school, and one metropolitan Meliton, who was archbishop of Imbros and Tenedos, played important roles in his education and future life. Dimitrios studied in Halki and had many difficulties (e.g. financial) and had to walk very long distances since there was no car on this small island. He was smart and liked poems and nature. From 1963 to 1968, Deacon Bartholomew had a scholarship from the patriarch to pursue his studies in Europe. He studied first at the oriental institute of the Gregorian University in Rome, then at the Bossey Institute in Switzerland, a school run by the World Council of Churches, and finally at the University of Munich, in Germany.


His specific major was canon law. Patriarch earned his doctorate at the Oriental Institute of the Gregorian University with a theses on “the codification of the holy canons and canonical institutions in the Orthodox Church.” His thesis was published in 1970 by the Patriarchal Institute for Patristic Studies in Thessalonica. After that, Bartholomew assisted the Halki dean and had several religious dignities and jobs in Christian organizations.


He speaks six languages (not counting Latin): Greek, Turkish, French, Italian, English, and German. In 1990, after Meliton’s death, he was elected metropolitan of Chalcedon and became the senior member of the Holy Synod. During those years, his ecumenical role took shape. After the death of Dimitrios [4] in 1991, he presided over the synod. In the name of synod, he informed Ankara, the capitol of Turkey about the death of the Patriarch and presented a list of eligible candidates. After three weeks, one morning, the answer came: “We object to no one; do what ever you wish.” Everybody was excited and Bartholomew (the name of one of the Twelve Disciples) was elected by synod unanimously at age 51.


The author tells about, after becoming patriarch, he visited many Orthodox countries such as Russia, Serbia, Romania, and many European countries. He visited the Lutheran Church of Sweden in 1993, Pope John the II in 1995, and the US president. He participated in many conferences all over the world, particularly in Turkey and Europe. He visited Itzhak Rabbin and Yasser Arafat in Jerusalem and invited all to peace and declared that we are all monotheistic religions from the Abrahamic tradition. He is still working for peace between Muslim Turks and Orthodox Greece to this day.


Turkey is a modern, secular state in which Jews and Christians of all confessions coexist within a Muslim majority. The Greek-Orthodox minority consists of citizens who are well-integrated into the Turkish democratic state. Moreover, Turkish hospitality is traditionally generous. In the Patriarchal residence, one sees a mosaic representing Mohammed II, the Conqueror, with Patriarch Gennadios Scholarios overlooking an alliance guaranteeing the religious rights of the Orthodox. The Patriarchate institution is a spiritual nature. According to Bartholomew, Turkish people are hospitable but include some fundamentalist groups who say, “move out of Istanbul.” He says that is out of the question because Istanbul is the crossroads of the world: a bridge between Europe and Asia, East and West, Christianity and Islam. The Patriarchate considers Istanbul a bridge between peoples, rejecting all walls of division. (P. 55)


In “Aspects of a Message,” Bartholomew’s faith understanding on crucifixion, resurrection, and transforming the world shows a leader who holds that “the word of the cross is, for most people, scandal and folly. But for us who are weak and so few, it is the power of life – and not only for us, but through us, through the Church, for all humanity.” (p. 61) According to him, the resurrection is already present. God is communion and the source of all communion, which is a mystery. Tradition called it the Trinity, or rather, “Tri-Unity” in the third century in the West and the fourth in the East.


Veneration of icons is really important for the church life of Orthodoxy. For Bartholomew nature is also important, especially when he was a child. The Cosmos created by God includes humans and all else held through God’s will. Therefore, all nature reflects divine wisdom, divine beauty and divine truth. Like other traditional Christians, redemption is also important. Jesus’ atonement for our sins through his death on the cross is the great plan of God from the eternal past through the unlimited future. This, too, is a mystery. The church bears the salvation of God to the whole universe, not only for humanity. “The Patriarch, Moslem friends tell him that, in the Koran, all living creatures from an immense community, for which man, halifa vice-regent of creation, is responsible before God.” (P. 107)[5]


Under “History”, the conversations cover freedom, love, church and state, young people and Europe. Overcoming secularization is a crucial question that requires reflection on the tragedy of human freedom, Christ as Liberator, and the courage of liberty. In Christ, liberty means a post-ideological Christianity that strongly affirms that God grants freedom to humanity. If God did not, humanity would be nothing (p. 120) Especially for young people, AIDS and other issues are a concern of the Patriarch. Bartholomew emphasizes teaching love with sex education.[6] Another problem for young people is the use of drugs, alcohol, excessive speed and extraordinary views of life. If the Church says and does nothing, we risk more severe problems.


What is salvation? In Christianity, salvation is a re-birth and life in community. (p. 135) This leads to questions of church and state. In response, the Patriarch focuses on peace. In history, Orthodoxy was assaulted by the Roman Catholic world from the West and Islam from the East. Recently, some Orthodox Christian Serbians attacked Bosnian Muslims, and the Patriarch criticized this many times in conferences (especially in Europe) and in writings that called for peace. (p. 144) Europe has many problems overcoming secularization, and the Patriarch says we must look to the origins of church-state relationships to find peace between our modern religious and secular life.


The other topic of the book is ‘the others’, which are Jews, Buddhists, and Moslems/Muslims. Conversations refer to ‘the other traditions, particularly Abrahamic mosaic and peace in the Middle East and also Mediterranean after talks about on ecumenism and fanaticism. “For Bartholomew, ecumenism is not a luxury, but a duty. He likes to call to mind the undivided church, the spiritual matrix of Europe, where East and West were united and worked together.” (p. 173) Agreement between Rome and Constantinople does not mean ignoring Protestants. For Bartholomew, western Christianity means both Rome and its Reformation. Since 1972, the Orthodox Church has pursued dialogue with Judaism, based on their common roots in the Ten Commandments and belief in the expected messiah (although Jesus was not the messiah for Jews.) Both traditions are against idolatry, and Jesus, his mother, and early actors of Christianity were all Jewish. (p. 195)


Orthodox-Muslim dialogue has had a highly complex and difficult history… at times tragic. Nevertheless, it is very important. There should be high-level academic dialogue with the Orthodox Church. In a letter to the Serbian Orthodox, Patriarch writes that anyone who kills civilians or expels other nationalities from their homes will be excommunicated. His letter for Bosnian Moslems continues: “if this war continues, the only victors will be the Devil and evil.”


The Patriarch mentions Jesus in the Koran/Quran. According to Islam, Jesus is the Messiah, and the Spirit of God. He is also the son of Mary and is the prophet of God. Moreover, Islam accepts that his birth was miraculous. The Patriarch refers to similarities between Christian mysticism and Islamic Sufism through wonderful poems and historical figures. In the Middle East, millions of Christians who are speaking Arabic live among Moslems. A majority of these Christian people are Orthodox. When the Patriarch visited Jerusalem for his pilgrimage, he wrote Yasser Arafat a letter. This letter emphasis peace in the holy land, peace in the Mediterranean, his support for the Palestinian people. (p. 211) According to him, peace is possible between all the children of Abraham.


The author also adds Appendices with Patriarchal texts like letters, prayers, pericopes from gospels, poems for diplomatic relations, etc. (p. 235-261).

[1] Today, it is the Republic of Turkey. [2] The author uses this word which is millet, instead of nation which means nation in Turkish. [3] This crisis is still continuing about ecumenical patriarchate. USA government recognizes the patriarch as ‘ecumenical’, but European governments still noncommittal while Turkish state and government has not been still recognized. This problem will be my final subject of my Church History course. [4] It is very clear that this is different Dimitrios, it is not Patriarch Bartholomew-I [5] See, Koran, Chapter 6:38; 24:41. [6] According to many, this comment and perspective are the true.

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