By the Mercy of God Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome
And Ecumenical Patriarch
To the Plenitude of the Church
Grace, Mercy and Peace
From the Savior Christ Born in Bethlehem
* * *
“Christ is born, glorify Him; Christ is on earth, exalt Him.”
Let us rejoice in gladness for the ineffable condescension of God.The angels precede us singing: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will among all people.”
Yet, on earth we behold and experience wars and threats of wars. Still, the joyful announcement is in no way annulled. Peace has truly come to earth through reconciliation between God and people in the person of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, however, we human beings have not been reconciled, despite God’s sacred will. We retain a hateful disposition for one another. We discriminate against one another by means of fanaticism with regard to religious and political convictions, by means of greed in the acquisition of material goods, and through expansionism in the exercise of political power. These are the reasons why we come into conflict with one another.
With his Decree of Milan issued in 313AD, the enlightened Roman emperor, St. Constantine the Great, instituted freedom in the practice of the Christian faith, alongside freedom in the practice of every other religion. Sadly, with the passing since then of precisely 1700 years, we continue to see religious persecution against Christians and other Christian minorities in various places.
Moreover, economic competition is spreading globally, as is the pursuit of ephemeral profit, which is promoted as a principal target. The gloomy consequences of the overconcentration of wealth in the hands of the few and the financial desolation of the vast human masses are ignored. This disproportion, which is described worldwide as a financial crisis, is essentially the product of a moral crisis. Nevertheless, humankind is regrettably not attributing the proper significance to this moral crisis. In order to justify this indifference, people invoke the notion of free trade. But free trade is not a license for crime. And criminal conduct is far more than what is recorded in penal codes. It includes what cannot be foreseen by the prescription of statutory laws, such as the confiscation of people’s wealth by supposedly legitimate means. Inasmuch, therefore, as the law cannot be formally imposed, the actions of a minority of citizens are often expressed in an unrestrained manner, provoking disruption in social justice and peace.
From the Ecumenical Patriarchate, then, we have been closely following the “signs of the times,” which everywhere echo the “sounds” of “war and turmoil” – with “nation rising against nation, dominion against dominion, great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues, alongside dreadful phenomena and heavenly portents.” (Luke 21.10-12) In many ways, we are experiencing what St. Basil wrote about “the two types of love: one is feeling sorrow and concern upon seeing one’s beloved harmed; the other is rejoicing and striving to benefit one’s beloved. Anyone who demonstrates neither of these categories clearly does not love one’s brother or sister. (Basil the Great, Shorter Rules, PG31.1200A) This is why, from this sacred See and Center of Orthodoxy, we proclaim the impending new year as the Year of Global Solidarity.
It is our hope that in this way we may be able to sensitize sufficient hearts among humankind regarding the immense and extensive problem of poverty and the need to assume the necessary measures to comfort the hungry and misfortunate.
As your spiritual father and church leader, we ask for the support of all persons and governments of good will in order that we may realize the Lord’s peace on earth – the peace announced by the angels and granted by the infant Jesus. If we truly desire this peace, which transcends all understanding, we are obliged to pursue it palpably instead of being indifferent to the spiritual and material vulnerability of our brothers and sisters, for whom Christ was born.
Love and peace are the essential features of the Lord’s disciples and of every Christian. So let us encourage one another during this Year of Global Solidarity to make every conscious effort – as individuals and nations – for the reduction of the inhumane consequences created by the vast inequalities as well as the recognition by all people of the rights of the weakest among us in order that everyone may enjoy the essential goods necessary for human life. Thus, we shall indeed witness – at least to the degree that it is humanly possible – the realization of peace on earth.
Together with all of material and spiritual creation, we venerate the nativity of the Son and Word of God from the Virgin Mary, bowing down before the newborn Jesus – our illumination and salvation, our advocate in life – and wondering like the Psalmist “Whom shall we fear? Of whom shall we be afraid?” (Ps. 26.1) as Christians, since “to us is born today a savior” (Luke 2.11), “the Lord of hosts, the king of glory.” (Ps. 23.10)
We hope earnestly and pray fervently that the dawning 2013 will be for everyone a year of global solidarity, freedom, reconciliation, good will, peace and joy. May the pre-eternal Word of the Father, who was born in a manger, who united angels and human beings into one order, establishing peace on earth, grant to all people patience, hope and strength, while blessing the world with the divine gifts of His love. Amen.
At the Phanar, Christmas 2012
Your fervent supplicant before God
+ Bartholomew of Constantinople
ARCHBISHOP DEMETRIOS VISITS STORM RAVAGED AREAS IN STATEN ISLAND, NY
NEW YORK – The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America establishes the Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund and designates Sunday November 11, 2012 as a day of prayer and offering on behalf of the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
Archbishop Demetrios of America, on behalf of the Holy Eparchial Synod, issued today an Encyclical (click here ) in which he calls upon all the faithful throughout the Church in America to pray fervently for comfort from above. We offer prayers of remembrance for those who perished and of solace for those who lost family members. We pray for the many who have lost their homes, and for those who are facing uncertainty regarding their jobs and livelihood.
The Archdiocesan Encyclical designates next Sunday a day of prayer for the victims and asks the parishes of our Holy Archdiocese to conduct a special collection for the “Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund,” and the proceeds to be sent to the Archdiocese, which will coordinate the relief efforts with the National Philoptochos, the Metropolis of New Jersey and the Direct Archdiocesan District. Donations by check can also be send directly to the Archdiocese designated for the Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund or made online at: http://www.goarch.org/special/hurricanesandy
The Archbishop continuing the assessment of damages of Hurricane Sandy, visited yesterday Sunday Nov. 4, the Greek Orthodox Church of Holy Trinity / St. Nicholas in Staten Island, N.Y., which has been hard hit by the storm. He presided over the Divine Liturgy and offered a Trisagion prayer service for the repose of the souls of those who lost their lives. He also led the congregation in prayer for strength and comfort from God for all the people who lost their homes, their businesses and property and are suffering in the aftermath. After the liturgy he met families who were affected by the hurricane and together with the community’s pastor, Fr. Nicholas Petropoulakos and National Philoptochos President Aphrodite Skeadas surveyed an area of Staten Island that was ravaged by the storm and suffered tremendous damage and loss. The Archbishop was joined by Greek American NY Assemblywoman Nicole Maliotakis, who is coordinating relief efforts for her constituency and together they met with and spoke to many volunteers, including local AHEPA officials, who were distributing food and supplies or were helping in the cleanup.
Fr. Nicholas Petropoulakos said he appreciated the presence and support of the Archbishop in these difficult times. He said that many families in the parish had extensive water damage and suffered losses in their homes and business. The church, he added, has relatively minor exterior damage. Fr. Nicholas conveyed that the parish has received many calls and offers for help in kind and offers from volunteers from all over the country, and he explained that the church is serving as a collection and distribution center, funneling relief aid to people in need on Staten Island.
For a photo album from the Archbishop’s Staten Island visit the Archdiocese photo gallery: http://www.goarch.org/special/hurricanesandy
Susan W. Haikalis of Walnut Creek, California was elected President of the Orthodox Christian Laity (OCL) at their 25th Annual Conference in Washington DC this month.
Ms. Haikalis is a convert to Orthodoxy and has been involved in a number of groups supporting Administrative Unity of Orthodox Jurisdictions in the US. She participated in Boston with the original GOAL organization and has actively participated in attending OCL meetings for the past 15 years both contributing to discussions and educational programs as well as supporting her husband, Peter Haikalis, in his own leadership in OCL. Ms. Haikalis strongly believes that achieving administrative unity with Orthodox Jurisdictions in the US is critical for the survival of Orthodoxy for our children and future generations.
Ms. Haikalis has served on the Ascension Greek Orthodox Cathedral Philoptochos Board and as a Vice President of the Cathedral’s Parish Council. She has served on the Executive committee of the Cathedral’s Capital Campaign which has raised over 10 million dollars for a Chapel, Parking Facility and Platia. She has recently completed 3 years as the President of the Women’s Board of the Patriarch Athenagoras Institute at the Graduate Theological School in Berkeley, CA. The Women’s Board has an annual commitment to raise a minimum of $30,000 for the Institute which is the only Orthodox Graduate Program in the US with representatives from the multiple Orthodox jurisdictions in the US as faculty, members of the Board of Trustees as well as MA level students. The Institute is also the home for an Orthodox Christian Fellowship group for students.
Ms. Haikalis has spent over 45 years in health care settings, primarily hospitals and outpatient/Home Health, including mental health and developmental disabilities. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan with a Masters in Social Work from New York University. As a health care administrator, she has developed linkages to community organizations such as the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, Visiting Nurses/Hospice, and Regional Centers for the Developmentally Disabled, etc. At Mount Zion Medical Center in San Francisco, she was the administrator responsible for the first hospital based Skilled Nursing Facility in the City in the 1980’s and for over 5 years coordinated all the HIV/AIDS programs in the hospital including an outpatient clinic and an inpatient unit. She also directed the department of Patient and Family Services at Mount Zion and later at California Pacific Medical Center. Her hospital experience has included many years of working with The Joint Commission on meeting standards for a variety of different departments/programs.
From 1994 until 2002, Ms. Haikalis was the Director of Client Services and Treatment Support at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, a major AIDS service provider in the country. The program routinely provided services to over 2000 HIV+ clients each year. She presented papers at the International AIDS Conferences in Durbin, South Africa in 2000 and in Barcelona in 2002 on the impact of permanent housing on treatment adherence for patients with advanced HIV disease.
From 2002 to 2010, Ms. Haikalis was a social work consultant working with the HIV/AIDS Centers of Excellence in San Francisco, other HIV programs in the City and in Marin County HIV/AIDS programs. The San Francisco Bay Area programs provide a full spectrum of services needed by people with HIV/AIDS and her work was focused on improving access to health care, treatment adherence, case management, HIPPA compliance and chart documentation. Ms. Haikalis, as a licensed clinical Social Worker, also maintains a private practice focusing on clients who have difficulty negotiating the current health care system, including helping clients with SSDI and SSI applications.
Ms. Haikalis has served as the National President of the Society for Social Work Leadership in Health Care and was founding President of the Social Work Health Leadership Foundation, a nonprofit organization supporting education, training and research on issues that social workers can have an impact on in the US health care system.
Since 1965, Ms. Haikalis has been working closely with patients impacted by the health care system. Ms. Haikalis has participated as a member of the original Joint Commission Public Advisory Group and served as chair for four years. Helping people effectively use the health care system has been a professional lifetime goal. After retiring from full-time employment, Ms. Haikalis and her husband moved to Rossmoor and enjoy spending time with their two grandchildren (who live in Berkeley), singing in their Greek Orthodox Church Choir and traveling!
We packed 98 IOCC school supply kits on Sunday November 4th, also known as Youth Sunday! They are boxed up & will be sent to IOCC in the coming weeks. There are 9 boxes total filled with School Kits for children in need of school supplies.
We want to thank everyone who participated including ALL of our Youth Ministries. Thank you for supporting IOCC & school children everywhere!
The Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco is holding a retreat for young adults with the theme of giving thanks to God. The retreat is at St. Nicholas Ranch from the evening of Friday, November 16 through Sunday November 18, 2012.
A registration form with more information including directions is available here.
Cost is $95 and includes lodging, and breakfast and dinner on Saturday.
Please submit your payment and registration no later than November 12, 2012.
For additional information or questions, please contact:
Paul Gikas, Director
Youth and Young Adult Ministries
Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco
Cell: 415 525 6803
Encyclical for Great Lent 2012
Let us keep the Fast not only by refraining from food, but by becoming strangers
to all the bodily passions; that we who are enslaved to the tyranny of the flesh
may become worthy to partake of the Lamb, the Son of God, slain of His own will
for the sake of the world, and spiritually may celebrate the feast of the
Savior’s Resurrection from the dead. So shall we be raised high in the glory of the virtues, and through our righteous actions we shall give joy to the Lord who loves humankind.”
—First Apostichon of Vespers from Tuesday of the First Week
As we embark on the journey of Great Lent, it is good and edifying to pause and reflect on the true significance the spiritual endeavor that lies before us. The Church’s hymnography is a trustworthy guide, steering us away from all caricatures of Lent, reminding us of the full scope of our pilgrimage. Great Lent is a time of retreat to help us confirm our life to Christ. Great and Holy Lent is designed to be a period of transformation for us – yes, a time of struggle, but a joyful struggle to become more Christ-like in all that we think, in all that we do, and in all that we say.
Let us keep the Fast not only refraining from food. All too often we focus almost exclusively on what we eat and do not eat. This is important, but it is only part of our task. As Saint Basil the Great wrote, “Fasting is the strength-training of the godly….It is clear that fasting would not only teach self-control in relation to all kinds of foods, but also how to entirely escape and get rid of covetousness, greed, and all kind of evil.” (Sermon 2 On Fasting).
Let us keep the Fast…by becoming strangers to all bodily passions. A fundamental concept in understanding Orthodox Christian spiritual life is passions. These are natural things necessary for life that have mutated and taken control of our lives. We must eat in order to live, but when our life is dominated by food we succumb to the passion of gluttony. Money is a necessity but when our life is centered on the acquisition of wealth, we are controlled by the passion of avarice. Humans need to love and be loved, but often times that love is deformed and we become slaves to the passion of lust. Lent is a time to practice self-control in order to tame these passions that have enslaved us to unhealthy cravings and disorient our life.
During this period of Great Lent, let us examine the essential values that guide us in our actions. Let us reorient our lives so that they are guided by God and His love rather than passionate desires; let us desire nothing more fervently than God and His love. Great Lent is a time of liberation, when we free ourselves from the shackles of things and desires, pursuing single-mindedly a deeper union with God and a more authentic reflection of God’s love. Lent is a time to rejoice that, through self-discipline, we have grown closer to God and have become a more perfect image of God’s compassion, mercy and love. As such, regardless of the struggle, this is a time of joy and hope. Embrace it as such and the joy of the Resurrection will fill the very depths of your existence.
Liberating ourselves from the slavery to passions of the flesh frees us to love God. Without the distractions of the passions, we can be more attentive to our relationship with God. Without destructive passionate goals, our lives are free to be guided by Christ’s command to love God and our neighbor. This is the true meaning of μετανοια (repentance): a reorientation of our lives. And so the Church instructs us that a pure fast includes attentiveness in prayer and works of mercy to the poor.
Let these simple insights guide us during the coming 40 days. Be aware not only of ourselves but of others. Let us be attentive in all aspects of our life not only to our own needs but to the needs of others. Let this be a time when we not only curtail that which impedes us but when we develop the things that make us more Christ-like.
With these few thoughts I invite you to embark joyfully on the journey of the Great and Holy Lent. Do not be burdened by the discipline, but be renewed by the opportunity to grow into deeper communion with God. The discipline is neither easy nor always pleasant, but the results will bring joy to you and those around you. May this be a time of profound spiritual joy for you, your community, your family, and your loved ones. Our hope is in the Lord who never fails!
With Love in Christ,
+ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco
February 27, 2012
Holy and Great Lent
To the Most Reverend Hierarchs, the Reverend Priests and Deacons, the Monks and Nuns, the Presidents and Members of the Parish Councils of the Greek Orthodox Communities, the Distinguished Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Day, Afternoon, and Church Schools, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth, the Hellenic Organizations, and the entire Greek Orthodox Family in America
Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As we begin this season of Holy and Great Lent, we do so in anticipation of the blessings we will receive as we commune with Christ through the special services, observances, and disciplines of our Orthodox Christian faith. We embark on a journey of faith, with the destination of the joy of Pascha before us, knowing that abundant spiritual treasure awaits if we are committed to intensifying prayer and fasting and service to others in charity.
We have begun to prepare our hearts for the impact of Great Lent during the Triodion period and our reflection on repentance and forgiveness. Our resolve to follow the services and disciplines is strong, but we also realize that we face many challenges in navigating the course of the season and realizing the great potential that it has to offer in our relationship with God.
In the days ahead, we will have responsibilities and commitments to fulfill. We may have a family that will need our care and provision. Each day we will have tasks to accomplish, work to do, and obligations to meet. In addition, we know that new challenges will arise and pressures will appear that will make the journey difficult. Our resolve to strengthen our faith through Great Lent will be tested. Many things will compete for the attention of our hearts and minds, challenging us to be faithful to our commitment to deeper communion with God.
In the midst of daily life and during this sacred and solemn season, we must remind ourselves through prayer and reflection that we do not make this journey alone. The services we attend are beautiful and holy times of worship in the presence of Christ and in the company of our brothers and sisters. The disciplines of fasting and giving are disciplines of grace that connect us to the love of God and allow that love to transform us and be offered through us to others. Thus, our resolve and commitment in Great Lent should be strengthened by knowing that His presence and His grace are always with us. We make this journey in Christ. He is the source of the spiritual power we need to remain focused on the meaning of this season. He is also our destination.
As we begin this journey together, I encourage you to keep your eyes looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Each new day reaffirm your resolve to participate in the services and disciplines of Great Lent as you live in the presence of Christ and experience His love for you. May we also remember that making this journey with Him, through the examination of the soul, through self-denial and obedience to the will of God, and through the suffering and pain of His Crucifixion, we will be with our Lord in the glorious light and life of His Resurrection.
With paternal love in Christ,
Archbishop of America
CATECHETICAL HOMILY For HOLY AND GREAT LENT
+ B A R T H O L O M E W
By God’s Mercy Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome
and Ecumenical Patriarch
To the Plenitude of the Church:
Grace and Peace from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
And Prayers, Blessings and Forgiveness from Us
“O faithful, let us joyfully welcome
the divinely-inspired announcement of fasting”
Beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord,
In recent times, we observe an elevated level of concern. Many challenges arise. The world is suffering and yearns for help. Indeed, we are going through a general test. Some people call it a financial decline; others refer to it as a political crisis. So far as we are concerned, it is a matter of spiritual perversion. And a solution exists. Many resolutions are proposed and numerous viewpoints are heard. Yet, the problems persist. People feel deserted and alone. Their deeper nature is ignored. They remain in the gloom of confusion and depression.
Irrespective of the direction or solution proposed, the various answers that are offered cannot redeem humanity. For, from the outset, they render it captive to corruption and death. The Church is the divine-human Lord, who alone can liberate our soul. Upon entering the space of the Church, we enter the atmosphere of divine consolation, of reconciliation between heaven and earth. We are at home. Our spirit is calm. We discover a heavenly beauty and a spiritual maturity, “a holy fragrance capable of reaching the ends of the world.” The Church knows all that we suffer. It speaks the whole truth. And it urges us to face reality as it is; to recognize that we are earth and dust.
The Great Canon of St. Andrew makes mention of repentant tears of and sorrowful mourning, namely the pain of our wounds. Nonetheless, what follows is the rest of the soul, the health of the spirit. We have our Creator and Savior. Through the abundance of His mercy, he has placed us at the intersection of incorruption and mortality. He has not forsaken us. He came to save us. Through His cross, He abolished death. He granted us incorruption of the flesh.
Since, therefore, we are planted with Christ, why are we troubled in vain? Why do we not run toward Him? The Church neither dwells on nor abandons us to corruption. It knows our deeper inclinations and comes to our support and salvation. We need nourishment. Yet, “man does not live by bread alone.” (Matt. 4.4) We also need spiritual understanding; however, we are not bodiless. In the Church, we discover the fullness of life and understanding as a divine-human balance. Away from God, we are perverted and corrupted. Wherever material goods are plentiful and waste is glorified, scandalous temptation and dark confusion prevail.
Wherever human beings live with reverence and receive all things with gratitude and thanksgiving, all things are sanctified. The little is considered blessing; the corrupt is dressed with the glory of incorruption. Human beings enjoy what is ephemeral as a gift from God, while at the same time being nourished from here and now by the pledge of the future life. Not only are problems solved, but even the suffering of trials are transformed into the power of life and a reason for giving glory. When this occurs with our soul, when we find peace and salvation by committing all things to Christ our God, then our mind is illumined. We come to know ourselves and the whole world. We have faith in the One who alone is powerful. This in itself strengthens the faithful. Then, by means of an invisible radiance, it is transmitted as support to all those who hunger and thirst for the truth.
The entire world needs salvation by its Creator and Maker. The entire world needs the presence of the faith and communion of the Saints. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God for all His benefits, as well as for the present period of Holy Lent.
Behold, this is a welcome time; behold, this is a time for repentance.
May we journey through this time of the great fast with contrition and confession so that we may reach the infinite joy of the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to whom is due all glory, honor and worship to the ages of ages. Amen.
Holy and Great Lent 2012
+ Bartholomew of Constantinople
Fervent supplicant for all before God
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is the living embodiment of an ancient tradition. From his historic base in Istanbul, Turkey, the 270th Patriarch of Constantinople claims to be the direct successor of the Apostle Andrew.
Today he’s considered “first among equals” in the leadership of the Greek Orthodox church, and is the spiritual leader of 250 million Orthodox Christians around the world. But few of them are in his own home country.
“We are a small Christian minority,” Bartholomew laments.
“We have suffered because of Greek-Turkish confrontation, struggle, and a lack of mutual trust and confidence. And that is why we lost most of our faithful.”
Turkey’s once-flourishing Greek community is fading away. The country is predominantly Muslim and led by a secular government that’s had a complicated relationship with the patriarchate.
If Turkish laws, demographics and attitudes aren’t changed, Bartholomew could ultimately be the last Patriarch of Constantinople.
“We are not all in despair for the future of our church,” Bartholomew said. “It is not easy, but it is not impossible.”
The Turkish government can veto any candidate put forward for the position of patriarch. And it requires the patriarch be a Turkish citizen. Bartholomew is, but most of those best qualified to succeed him are not.
So the government has proposed offering Turkish citizenship to Orthodox archbishops overseas. Several have applied; so far, none has been approved.
The Turkish government also refuses to recognize the title Ecumenical Patriarch, or Bartholomew’s role as an international religious leader.
Officially, he is viewed as a local bishop who leads a shrinking community of a few thousand Greek Orthodox citizens. Yorgo Stefanopulos is one of them. “I am a curiosity now in Turkey,” he said. “We used to be a minority; now we are a curiosity.”
Stefanopulos is an outspoken leader of Istanbul’s Greek community. About 50 years ago, that community numbered more than 100,000. Today, it’s probably less than 3,000.
He insists that decline was not accidental. Instead, he blames the Turkish government. Decades ago, he said, they targeted ethnic Greeks with nationalist policies, like wealth taxes, property seizures, and campaigns to speak only Turkish in the streets.
Then there was the pogrom in 1955: riots directed against Greeks and Greek-owned property. The violence was later found to have been orchestrated by Turkish authorities.
As a result, Greeks left Istanbul in droves. “The Turkish government somehow managed to do a bloodless ethnic cleansing,” Stefanopulos said. Today’s Turkish government says those events are from the distant past, and they’re now looking ahead to reconciliation.
“Turkey is going through a period of transition,” said Egemen Bagis, the country’s Minister for European Union Affairs. “Turkey’s becoming a much more democratic, much more prosperous, much more transparent society.”
Yet, the government has resisted calls to reopen the patriarchate’s main school of theology.
For more than a century, the Halki seminary educated future Greek Orthodox bishops, theologians and patriarchs, until Turkey’s highest court ordered it closed in 1971. Since then, it’s remained empty, worrying former students like theologian Satirios Varnalidis.
“We want to reopen this school so that we can provide new priests to the Ecumenical Patriarchate,” Varnalidis said. “Otherwise, in a little while our community just won’t have any more priests.”
For years, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has talked of reopening the school. Bagis insists the government is still working on it.
Despite these difficulties, Patriarch Bartholomew is heartened by new signs of hope that his community and his church will survive.
“We have many young people from Greece who want to come and be established in Turkey,” he says. “This is an opposite current than before.”
Haris Rigas is part of that trickle of fresh immigration, which offers perhaps the best hope of reviving Istanbul’s Greek community. “The minute I came I was in love with the city and felt that I had to live here,” he said.
Rigas has been studying the city’s indigenous Greek community. He’s also a musician in a band that plays Rembetiko, a genre of old, mostly Greek, folk songs. His studies and his music are focused on the preservation and promotion of Greek culture.
“The only way for the community to survive is to attain a degree of visibility,” he said. “They’ve played an important historical role in this city throughout the centuries, and I think they should still do it.”
Earlier this month, the Turkish state and the Ecumenical Patriarchate made a historic step towards reconciliation.
Thousands of Orthodox Christians gathered for a prayer service at the ancient cliffside monastery of Sumela, near Turkey’s Black Sea Coast, on August 15. Patriarch Bartholomew conducted a divine liturgy, the first Christian service of its kind at Sumela, in more then 80 years.
Even if Istanbul’s Greek community makes a comeback, some fear that the patriarchate itself may not last much longer, due to demographics and lingering suspicion from the Turkish government.
And the patriarch remains hopeful and resolute. He rejects conjecture that he could be the last Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.
“Absolutely not,” Bartholomew insists. “We trust a divine providence, and the guarantee given to us by our Lord himself, that the church can survive.
“This is our faith, this is our conviction, this is our hope, this is our prayer. And all the rest we leave at the hands of God.”
Amid Furor on Islamic Center, Pleas for Orthodox Church Nearby
by Paul Vitello and Colin Moynihan. Posted 23 Aug 2010. Source.
The furor over plans to build an Islamic center two blocks from ground zero had already been joined by several politicians. On Monday, two politicians were joined in turn by officials of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, who sought to use the controversy to focus attention on their long-stymied effort to rebuild a church destroyed on 9/11 at the foot of the World Trade Center.
At a news conference near the trade center site, church officials appeared with former Gov. George E. Pataki and a Greek-American Congressional candidate from Long Island — both opponents of the Islamic center — to make their case: Government officials who appear to be clearing the way for the center, which includes a mosque, are blocking the reconstruction of St. Nicholas Church, the only house of worship destroyed in the terrorist attacks.
And though church officials did not go quite as far, Mr. Pataki and the candidate, George Demos, drew a sharp line between the rightness of the Greek Orthodox project and the wrongness of the Muslim one.
Mr. Pataki cast doubt on the wisdom of city officials’ allowing a community center and mosque near ground zero when “we don’t know the funding, we don’t know the view of the people behind it.” By contrast, he said, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees the trade center reconstruction site, had failed to “reach out and engage in a dialogue” about rebuilding the church with Greek Orthodox officials, who, he suggested, were a known quantity.
Bishop Andonios of Phasiane, chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, stood beside Mr. Pataki and Mr. Demos, who is seeking the Republican nomination in New York’s First Congressional District. Mr. Demos said, without offering evidence, that the Islamic center would be built with money from Saudi Arabia, “a nation that prohibits people from even wearing a cross or the Star of David.”
But the bishop said he did not intend to fan the bitter dispute over the Islamic Center with his presence at the news conference. “It’s unfortunate that it took a controversy over a mosque to bring attention to the church,” he said. He described that attention as “a silver lining” of the increasingly bitter clash.
On Sunday, demonstrators for and against the mosque faced off across police barricades at ground zero.
Opponents of the proposed Islamic community center, planned as a 13-story building at 51 Park Place, have voiced an array of arguments against it. Some say it is insensitive to the families of those who died at ground zero; others see it as a symbol of triumph for the Muslim terrorists behind the attacks.
Organizers of the project, led by a Sufi imam and a group he founded, the Cordoba Initiative, say the center would help foster understanding among people of all faiths, and stand as a symbol of pluralism and tolerance. Calls to the organizers seeking comment were not returned.
Unlike some religious leaders who have spoken in favor of the Muslim center, including the pastor of Trinity Wall Street, the historic Episcopal church near ground zero, Bishop Andonios said he and other Greek Orthodox leaders remained neutral.
“We didn’t want to say anything that might jeopardize the plans for rebuilding our church,” he said in a telephone interview. “That is our No. 1 concern: building our church.”
Stephen Sigmund, a spokesman for the Port Authority, said there was never any doubt that the church would be rebuilt. In 2008, the authority agreed to accommodate a 24,000-square-foot church building just east of St. Nicholas’s original location on Cedar Street, and promised $20 million to subsidize construction. But the following year, he said, final negotiations broke down over the precise siting and size of the building.
Bishop Andonios said the issues were more complex than that, and he criticized the Port Authority as having “cut off all communications” with church officials. He expressed some discomfort at stepping into the dispute on the side of those who are adamantly opposed to the Cordoba project.
“To us, this is an opportunity for everyone — to see some progress in our negotiations with the Port Authority,” Bishop Andonios said. “But also, for the people involved in the mosque, this controversy is their opportunity to dialogue with the community; to reach a better understanding of people’s sensitivities, perhaps.”
It was the news media, and then a number of political candidates, who first brought attention to the purported disparity in the official treatment of the developers of the Islamic center and of the Orthodox church, the bishop said.
“Some Greek-American newspaper reporters called me first,” Bishop Andonios said. “Then I heard from the candidates. Then it was Fox News.”
Mr. Sigmund, the Port Authority spokesman, said the authority has no oversight of any building outside the ground zero reconstruction zone, including the community and mosque.
BOSTON — Metropolitan Nikitas of Dardanellia, the Director of the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute in Berkley, Calif. traveled to Istanbul to receive his Turkish citizenship. Metropolitan Nikitas (Lulias) is the first – and for the moment only – Orthodox bishop in the United States to have put in an application for Turkish citizenship. Speaking to The National Herald for Istanbul, Metropolitan Nikitas justified his decision to go ahead with process as follows. “If it’s about strengthening the Patriarchate, I’ll do anything.” He qualified his statement by adding “I left behind my home and my parents and went to serve our Patriarchate and Orthodoxy in Asia for ten years.” Metropolitan Nikitas was the inaugural Metropolitan of Hong Kong, before leaving his post in early 2007.
“I have not yet received my citizenship, but Turkish authorities requested that I come and fill out some paperwork,” he explained. He also noted that “they’re treating us wonderfully, and they visited the Patriarchate.”
When asked if any other Orthodox bishops in America will be receiving Turkish citizenship, he replied “I don’t know if any of the hierarchs from the Archdiocese have filed an application.” He also noted that “since I do not belong to the Archdiocese of America, but directly to the Patriarchate, I did not ask, because I don’t want to cause any problems or misunderstandings.” Metropolitan Nikitas continued by saying “and since the Patriarchate mailed me the paperwork, I thought it correct to respond. Since I’m with the Patriarchate, shouldn’t I help it? Shouldn’t I support it?”
When asked what he would do if the Turkish ambassador in Washington, DC requested him to come down on March 25th and demonstrate against Greece, he replied that “I’ll tell him that I have other duties to attend to, and that I teach at the university and cannot make it.”
In response to the question of whether taking on Turkish citizenship creates any problems with his conscience, Metropolitan Nikitas answered that “on the one hand, yes; but then again, doesn’t the Patriarch have the same citizenship?”
Of course, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was born in Turkey, while Metropolitan Nikitas was born in Tampa, Fl. However, as the Metropolitan points out, “I’ll do anything for the Patriarchate. I was born in the United States, but I received my Greek citizenship, and I also hold permanent residency in China.”
Metropolitan Nikitas told TNH that he is not looking to succeed Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. “I didn’t want to become a Metropolitan or a Bishop. I would have been happy just staying in my parish and serving the people of God. At this time, I hold no administrative position. I just want to be an hierarch of our Patriarchate, nothing more.”
When asked his opinion if the Metropolitans of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America would be allowed to become Turkish citizens as well, if they so desired, his response was “go ask them.”
Metropolitan Nikitas’ decision comes after a request made by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, following the current Turkish government’s assent to his request to grant Turkish citizenship to canonical bishops of the Ecumenical Patriarchate living outside of Turkey. This includes bishops living in patriarchal jurisdictions in Greece like Crete and the Dodecanese, as well as bishops from Europe, the Americas, Australia, and Asia.
TNH has learned that none of the hierarchs from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America – including Archbishop Demetrios – have applied for Turkish citizenship, for now at least. The reason for this delay is largely due to the fact that they fear that the matter will be publicized and that the Greek American Community will react harshly to this move.
TNH first reported on this issue back in November 2009, during Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s visit to the United States. Essentially, any bishops of the Ecumenical Patriarchate who desire Turkish citizenship may apply for it to ensure their full participation in the administrative affairs of the Patriarchate – including the right to be candidates for the position of Ecumenical Patriarch and to vote in this election. This development was announced by Patriarch Bartholomew himself, during a dinner with Archbishop Demetrios and the other bishops of the Archdiocese on Sunday Nov. 1, 2009 at the Carlyle Hotel in New York.
During his visit to the U.S., Patriarch Bartholomew brought along the paperwork for the Archdiocese’s bishops to fill out, which he gave to Archbishop Demetrios to pass along to the other Metropolitans.
In addition to Metropolitan Nikitas, TNH has learned that the following hieararchs were called by Turkish authorities to sign paperwork for the processing of their applications.
From the Church of Crete: Metropolitan Eugenios of Ieraptyna, Metropolitan Nektarios of Petra, Metropolitan Andreas of Arkalochorion, and Metropolitan Amphilochios of Kissamos.
From the Dodecanese: Metropolitan Ambrosios of Karpathos and Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Symi.
From Western Europe: Metropolitan Gennadios of Italy, and Metropolitan Michael of Austria (who is also an Austrian citizen).
From South America: Metropolitan Tarasios of Buenos Aires, a U.S. citizen.
From Asia: Metropolitan Sotirios of Pisidia, formerly of Korea.
From Oceania: Metropolitan Amphilochios of New Zealand.
TNH’s sources say that approximately forty bishops have sent in their applications. The previous fifteen were the first to be called.
The Church of Greece is getting ready to assist the Greek people to face the consequences of tough economic measures taken by the government, a church official attending an ecumenical gathering in Geneva has said.
The Archbishop of Athens and All Greece and Primate of the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Greece, Hieronymos II, met on Tuesday, 4 May with the country’s Prime Minister George Papandreou to express the church’s willingness to support the Greek people during the difficult times ahead, said Rev. Fr Gabriel Papanicolaou. A church official, Papanicolaou is attending a 4-6 May gathering of churches’ ecumenical officers organized by the World Council of Churches.
“The church is ready to assist in any possible way”, said Papanicolaou. “We know that the consequences of the measures will be more strongly felt after the summer, so we are getting ready, training parish priests to deal with the crisis.”
According to news reports, as a consequence of the “austerity” measures, the Greek economy is forecast to shrink 4 percent this year and 2.6 percent in 2011. Unemployment has risen to 11.3 percent, a six-year high.
The Church of Greece would stand by the “battered Greek people”, Hieronymos told Papandreou according to the state-run Athens News Agency. The church has a membership of about 10 million in a country whose population is about 11 million. Hieronymos urged “unity, strength and optimism”.
“As a church we need to bring hope to the people”, Papanicolaou explained. “But we also are preparing to supply food, clothes and other relief items, as well as to care for the needs of the people who lose their jobs, assist them with pastoral and psychological attention. The church will stand by the people as it always has.”
The church’s role, according to Papanicolaou, includes reminding the faithful of essential values which help build social cohesion. “This isn’t just an economic or financial crisis”, said Papanicolaou, “but also a crisis of values”. For Papanicolaou, consumerism and greed push people to covet more and more, spending without limits. “We need to recover the spirit of humbleness”, he added.
On 5 May three people died in the Greek capital Athens during a firebomb attack against a bank at the height of massive trade union protests. The previous day, Greek civil servants had shut down schools and hospitals and disrupted flights as they protested against additional wage cuts and tax increases unveiled by the government this week.
In a statement expressing “deepest grief for the tragic loss” of lives, Hieronymos said: “Legitimate protest is totally different from cruel violence that leads to murders.” For the archbishop, Greeks need wisdom and national unanimity “more than ever before”.
According to news reports, Greece’s contracting economy and increasing budget gap has fueled investors’ concerns about the country’s ability to service its debt. Therefore, borrowing costs reached the highest level since before the introduction of the euro currency in 1999.
Papandreou’s austerity measures aim to bring the shortfall within the European Union limit of 3 percent in 2014. In order to achieve that, he has called on Greeks to endure sacrifices in return for an unprecedented 110 billion euro bailout from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.
The unpopular government measures include wage cuts for public workers, a three-year freeze on pensions, and increases in sales taxes and the prices of fuel, alcohol and tobacco.
Predictable and inevitable, but with a way out
“Many in the ecumenical movement have long been warning about the consequences of the current global financial system”, said Dr Rogate Mshana, WCC director of Justice, Diakonia and Responsibility for Creation. “If there are no changes, this system can only produce debt crisis, financial bubbles and economic crashes.”
“For several decades, Western Europe was considered a model of economic development while debt crises were experienced in Africa, Asia, Russia and Latin America”, Mshana said as the euro hit a 13-month low against the dollar. European stock markets were also affected.
“Now”, Mshana added, “there is fear of a contagion effect spreading from Greece to other European countries and some are trying to prevent this from happening by localizing the problem. However, it is a structural problem that cannot be solved by the current bailout and austerity measures.”
For Mshana, the ecumenical and ethical perspectives that emphasize justice over greed are the beginning of a possible way out of the current vicious financial circle.
“The whole financial system as we know it today needs to be dismantled and new rules be put in place”, Mshana said. “We need a new global financial architecture, one that is equitable and sustainable and able to connect the finances with the real economy.”
The Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission, meeting in Chambesy, Switzerland, closed its work on December 16 with a thanksgiving.
The Commission, whose task is to elaborate the agenda of a Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, continued to consider the problem of autocephaly and ways of declaring it – the discussion which began in 1993, and prepared proposals on autonomy and ways of declaring it.
The documents prepared by the Commission will be submitted to a Pan-Orthodox Pre-Council Conference. They stipulate in particular that the ecclesiological, canonical and pastoral prerequisites for granting autocephaly to a particular church region, if requested, are to be assessed by the Mother Church at her Local Council. If the Council’s decision is favourable, the Mother Church is to notify it to the Ecumenical Patriarchate which is in its turn to inform other Local Autocephalous Churches in order to find out whether there is a pan-Orthodox consensus expressed in the unanimity of Councils or Synods of the autocephalous Churches. Expressing the consent of the Mother Church and the pan-Orthodox consensus, the Ecumenical Patriarch is to declare the autocephaly of a petitioning Church by issuing a Tomos of Autocephaly to be signed by the Ecumenical Patriarch and verified by the signatures of the Primates of Orthodox Churches invited for it by the Ecumenical Patriarch.
The question of the contents of the Tomos and the signing procedure will be considered additionally by the next meeting of the Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission.
The Commission has also prepared a document expressing a common position of Orthodox Churches on autonomy and the ways of declaring it, describing the notion of autonomy, the procedure to be observed in declaring autonomy and its consequences.
It was agreed that the initiation and completion of the procedure for granting autonomy to a certain part of its canonical jurisdiction is exclusively under the competence of the respective autocephalous Church. It is noted that in church practice there are different degrees in which an autonomous Church depends on the autocephalous Church that has granted autonomy to it. A petition for autonomy is considered by the autocephalous Church which, having assessed the prerequisites and reasons for this petition and taken a favourable decision, issues an appropriate Tomos defining the territorial boundaries of the autonomous Church and its relationships with the autocephalous Church to which it belongs in accordance with the established criteria of church Tradition. Then the primate of the autocephalous Church notifies the Ecumenical Patriarchate and other autocephalous Orthodox Churches on the declaration of an autonomous Church.
The draft document also provides for measures to find a canonical settlement of an issue in case of differences arising from two autocephalous Churches’ granting the autonomous status to church communities in the same geographical church region.
The question of Diptychs of the Primates of the Local Churches will be considered by the Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission at its next meeting.
Archons News, Washington, D.C., 4/29/2010
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) announced its 2010 recommendations to Congress, the White House, and the State Department, which included keeping Turkey on its “Watch List” as one of the most serious offenders of freedom of religion towards non-Muslim communities.
“Over the past few months USCIRF has visited a number of human rights ‘hot spots’ where freedom of religion is obstructed and related human rights are trampled,” said Leonard Leo, USCIRF chair. “This year’s report offers new and important policy solutions to improve conditions where foreign policy, national security, and international standards for the protection of freedom of religion can and should intersect. The report’s conclusion is clear-the Administration must do more!”
Congress created the Commission in 1998 through the International Religious Freedom Act. It serves to monitor the status of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief abroad, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and related international instruments. It provides independent policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress.
A fifteen-page section is devoted to the current situation in Turkey in which the Commission begins:
“Serious limitations on the freedom of religion or belief continue to occur in Turkey. Turkey’s active civil society, media, and political parties influence the climate for religious freedom and help define the debate about the appropriate role of religion in society. Turkey has a democratic government, and the country’s constitution calls for the protection of the freedom of belief and worship and the private dissemination of religious ideas. Nonetheless, the Turkish government’s attempt to control religion and its effort to exclude religion from the public sphere based on its interpretation of secularism result in serious religious freedom violations for many of the country’s citizens, including members of majority and, especially, minority religious communities. The European Union (EU) continues to find that, despite some improvements since its 2001 bid to join the EU, “Turkey needs to make additional efforts to create an environment conducive to full respect for freedom of religion in practice.” An additional factor influencing the climate during the past year includes the alleged involvement of state and military officials in the Ergenekon plot, which included alleged plans to assassinate the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox patriarchs and to bomb mosques.”
The report continues saying,
“U.S. policy should place greater emphasis on Turkey’s compliance with its international commitments regarding freedom of religion or belief. For instance, the United States should encourage the Turkish government to address the long-standing lack of full legal recognition for religious minorities, including Alevis; Greek, Armenian, and Georgian Orthodox; Roman and Syriac Catholics; Protestants; and Jews. As President Obama noted in his April 2009 address to the Turkish parliament, the United States should continue to urge Turkey to permit all religious minorities to train religious clergy in Turkey, including by reopening the Greek Orthodox Theological Seminary of Halki.”
Regarding the restrictions on legal status of non-Muslim minorities, the report states:
“The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, a peace treaty signed between Turkish military forces and several European powers that formally established the Republic of Turkey, contained specific guarantees and protections for all non-Muslim religious minorities in Turkey. Since that time, however, the Turkish government has interpreted those treaty obligations as limited to the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Jewish communities. Nevertheless, despite this unique status, legal recognition of these three religious minority communities, and guarantees cited, have not been implemented in Turkish law or practice, and the Turkish government continues to use the denial of legal personality to these groups as a mechanism to restrict their rights of religious freedom.
“Furthermore, religious groups that fall outside the Turkish government’s view of the Lausanne Treaty’s definition of religious minorities are severely limited in their right to freedom of religion or belief. Over the decades, the absence of legal personality has resulted in serious problems with regard to minority communities’ right to own, maintain, and transfer both communal and individual property. They also face major obstacles in deciding internal arrangements and training religious clergy. In some cases, these obstacles have led to a critical decline in these communities on their historic lands. The problems for the Christian minorities–including on property rights, education, and in some instances, physical security– partly arise from the fact that most are both religious and ethnic minorities, and therefore are viewed with suspicion by some ethnic Turks.
“In Turkey today, there are about 65,000 Armenian Orthodox Christians, 23,000 Jews, and approximately 1,700 Greek Orthodox Christians. When Turkey was founded in 1923, there were 200,000 Greek Orthodox Christians in the country. By 1955, the number had fallen to 100,000; that year, pogroms against the Greek Orthodox resulted in the destruction of private and commercial properties, desecration of religious sites, and killings. Due to ongoing threats, the Greek Orthodox community’s numbers continued to decline to their present level.
“For more than fifty years, the Turkish government has used convoluted regulations and undemocratic laws to confiscate hundreds of religious minority properties, primarily those belonging to the Greek and Armenian Orthodox communities, as well as those of the Catholic and Jewish communities.”
Further reporting about the restrictions faced by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Armenian Patriarchate, state:
“The Turkish state also has closed minority communities’ seminaries, denying these communities the right to train clergy, and has interfered with their internal arrangements and leadership decisions. For example, the Turkish government still does not recognize the Greek Ecumenical Patriarchate as a legal entity.
“Moreover, it only acknowledges the Patriarch as head of the Greek Orthodox community in Turkey, not as Ecumenical Patriarch, despite Prime Minister Erdogan’s January 2008 statement in parliament that Patriarch Bartholomew’s “Ecumenical” title was an internal church issue. In March 2010, the Venice Commission, a Council of Europe advisory body, stated that there is no factual or legal reason, including the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, for the Turkish government not to acknowledge the status of the Patriarch as “ecumenical,” based on the historically recognized title and prerogatives. The Turkish government also maintains that only Turkish citizens can be candidates to be Patriarch or hierarchs in the Church’s Holy Synod. The Turkish embassy in Washington, DC informed USCIRF in February 2010 that the government had discussed the possible application for Turkish citizenship of the relevant Greek Orthodox Metropolitans in August 2009 in a meeting with the Patriarchate, but no action has been taken.
“In 1971, the government’s nationalization of higher education institutions included the Greek Orthodox Theological School of Halki on the island of Heybeli, thereby depriving the Greek Orthodox community of its only educational institution for its religious leadership in Turkey. Furthermore, in November 1998, the school’s Board of Trustees was dismissed by the General Authority for Public Institutions. The Halki seminary remains closed; according to the Turkish embassy in Washington, DC, as of early 2010, the Turkish authorities continued to explore with the Patriarchate possible venues for its reopening.
“In 2008, the ECtHR ruled in a case brought by the Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate that Turkey was in violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The case concerned the Turkish government’s expropriation of the Greek Orthodox orphanage on the Turkish island of Buyukada. The court unanimously ruled against the Turkish state for improperly taking the orphanage owned by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Turkish government has yet to implement the court’s ruling.
“The Armenian Orthodox community, which is Turkey’s largest non-Muslim religious minority, also lacks a seminary in Turkey to educate its clerics and today only has 26 priests. In 2006, the Armenian Patriarch submitted a proposal to the Minister of Education to enable the Armenian Orthodox community to establish at a state university a faculty on Christian theology with instruction by the Patriarch. To date, the Turkish government has not responded to this request. Additionally, like the Greek Orthodox Patriarch, the Armenian Patriarch lacks legal personality. The Armenian Patriarch reportedly receives about 300 email threats daily, and has two secret police bodyguards who accompany him at all times.
“Due to the Turkish law banning the public wearing of clerical garb, foreign Christian clergy, including Georgian, Greek and Russian Orthodox, were required in 2009 to remove their church vestments before they were allowed to enter Turkey. Christian clerics in Turkey who are Turkish citizens cannot wear their clerical dress anywhere in public.”
Among the several recommendations regarding Turkey, the Commission proposes that the U.S. government should:
- instruct officials to drop their legal case to seize some of the land which is the property of the Mor Gabriel Syrian Orthodox monastery;
- instruct officials to uphold the decision of the European Court of Human Rights and return the orphanage on the Turkish island of Buyukada to the Greek Orthodox Church;
- carry out Prime Minister Erdogan’s 2008 statement that the Ecumenical status of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate should be an internal church issue by granting official recognition to the Ecumenical status of the Patriarch, in line with the 2010 opinion by the Council of Europe Venice Commission;
- permit all religious minorities, including those not covered by the Lausanne Treaty, to train religious clergy, including by as repeatedly and formally requested by every U.S. President since 1971, permitting the reopening of the Halki Seminary, according to Turkey’s international obligations, and allowing for religious training to occur
Art: Powerful symbolism, focused spirituality
By Edward Sozanski
Contributing Art Critic, Philly.com
Icon has become one of the most overworked and clichéd words in the English language, used mostly by those who may never have seen a real icon or understood its significance to people of the various Orthodox sects for whom icons represent the core of religious belief.
It’s refreshing, then, to encounter an exhibition of genuine historical icons, and to be exposed to their powerful symbolism and focused spirituality.
This happens at the Princeton University Art Museum, in an exhibition called “Architecture as Icon.” It’s an international loan show of about 70 objects, jointly organized by the museum and the European Center for Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Monuments in Thessaloniki, Greece.
Painted icons constitute the core of the show, complemented by a selection of related objects such as reliquaries, model churches carved from stone, metal sculptures, manuscripts, and several ivory plaques spanning about 1,500 years.
A simple distinction between Byzantine religious art and that of Western Europe, the province of Roman Catholicism, might be this: Where the latter evolved during the Renaissance into biblical exegesis, Byzantine art continued to primarily embody a mystical sense of the divine.
Where Western art instructed, Eastern art focused on establishing an emotional connection between worshipers and God. The contrast became especially explicit in Russian Orthodoxy, in which churches suffused with a rich panoply of colors, textures, sounds, and smells lifted congregants into a state of devotional ecstasy.
Icons – painted images of Jesus, Mary, and various saints – catalyze this process. In the various Orthodox sects, they’re more than representations of holy personages; these relics of medieval Christianity are regarded as one-way portals into the divine presence.
The icon experience is most intense and meaningful, of course, for Orthodox believers, yet in the proper environment, it’s possible for other Christians and followers of other religions, or even for enlightened nonbelievers, to recognize and appreciate the icon experience.
“Architecture as Icon” creates such an environment. As the exhibition title indicates, the subject – representations of architecture in Byzantine art – is essentially scholarly. Yet, this doesn’t render the show inaccessible to laymen. On the contrary, it’s a splendid introduction to icons for anyone who doesn’t know much about them.
This is partly because the museum’s special-exhibitions gallery isn’t large, so the installation is denser than might be optimal. This magnifies the icons’ collective spiritual aura, producing a palpable religiosity comparable to one that might exist in an Orthodox church.
The scholarly contribution is the assertion that structures in these icons – churches, monasteries, cities – are more than mere background scenery; they constitute symbolic content that’s just as important as the images of saints and other holy types.
This isn’t something that I had noticed or thought about in past encounters with icons, which isn’t surprising. As guest curator Slobodan Curcic, who teaches at Princeton, informs us, art historians hadn’t previously paid much attention to architecture in icons.
Naturally, Curcic has chosen icons and objects that buttress his case, yet a resplendent icon that illustrates a Hymn to the Virgin, from the Russian State Museum, with its figures deployed in front of an imposing, multidomed church, is more than persuasive. The church, symbolically the domain of God, is the most prominent feature of this complex composition.
This isn’t an isolated example, for throughout the show, one becomes aware that architecture, symbolic rather than specifically descriptive, exists as a common element in icons that otherwise tend to consist of frontally stylized figures in hieratic poses.
The prominence of iconic architecture is obvious, for example, in a pair of slender paintings that depict, respectively, the saints Simeon the Elder and the Younger at the top of tall towers. The figures are so firmly implanted in the structures as to seem like extensions of them. (Both Simeons were ascetics who lived atop pillars.)
To the Byzantines, whose empire centered on Constantinople and lasted until 1453, churches were more than houses of worship; they were literally extensions of God’s dominion. This belief is reflected in their lavish interior decorations, which survive in mosaics in Ravenna, Italy, among other places.
A small folding polyptych included in the show – four hinged brass panels containing 20 iconic scenes – could be set up by a worshiper to represent a four-sided church. A short video in the exhibition demonstrates how this portable shrine works.
The architectural thesis is not only readily grasped, but it also helps a novice to make sense of the visual language of icons and of its medieval aesthetic conventions, such as incongruities of scale, lack of perspectival illusion, and spatial dislocations.
In the process, one becomes aware of how materially ornate icons can be, especially the use of gold leaf as a signifier of holiness. Some icons have suffered losses of their leaf, yet the religiosity that permeates them hasn’t been correspondingly diminished.
If you don’t recognize this sacred quality in the icons, they can be appreciated simply as paintings, for their vivid pigments and glowing surfaces, just as some of the objects also express sculptural qualities.
My favorites among the latter are several small churches carved from stone. Some scholars think these might have been reliquaries. Whatever their religious purpose, the church models are elementally powerful compositions of planes and angles, without decoration. The same can be said for a group of metal bases used to hold crucifixes that were carried in procession, all in the form of churches.
The largest of these, a bronze church tower, is a marvelous semiabstract stylization that, oddly, feels contemporary.
The reliquaries and censers (containers for burning incense) make up the exhibition’s “wow factor,” because of both their precious materials and their exquisite design and craftsmanship. Aside from the churches, they are the most explicit architectural statements.
Three pathways through the exhibition, one purely aesthetic and not dependent on doctrinal knowledge, gives “Architecture as Icon” far broader appeal than one would expect for material that isn’t widely understood in America.
Ten years of scholarship and international collaboration have produced a result that satisfies both as an extension of knowledge and as an aesthetic delight.
“Architecture as Icon” continues at the Princeton University Art Museum through June 6. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. Free admission. Information 609-258-3788 or http://artmuseum.princeton.edu.
Belgrade, Serbia – At their afternoon session on April 29, 2010, the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church unanimously adopted the proposal of the presiding Diocesan hierarchs and entered into the Dyptichs of the holy Orthodox Churches the names of Archimandrite Justin Popovic of blessed repose, the spiritual father of Monastery Celije near Valjevo (1894-1979), from now the Venerable Justin of Celije and Simeon Popovic of blessed repose, the abbot of Monastery Dajbabe near Podgorica (1854-1941), from now the Venerable Simeon of Dajbaba.
The liturgical commemoration of Venerable Justin will be celebrated on June 1 according to the old calendar (June 14 according to the new calendar), and the memory of the Venerable Simeon will be celebrated on March 19 according to the old calendar (April 1 according to the new calendar).
The formal celebration of the newly canonized chosen ones of God will be at the Holy Hierarchical Liturgy next Sunday, May 2 at the St. Sava Temple on Vracar, beginning at 9am.
Our Venerable and God bearing Fathers Justin and Simeon, pray to God for us!
Bishop Irinej of Backa
Spokesman of the Holy Assembly of Bishops
Conversation with Abbess Ines, head of the Holy Trinity Monastery in Guatemala
Abbess Ines (Ayau Garcia) – Abbess Ines is the head of the only Orthodox parish in Guatemala – the Monastery of the Holy and Life-Giving Trinity, the “Lavra of Mambre”, under the Patriarchate of Antioch. She comes from an influential and well known family in Guatemala which has produced many outstanding individuals. When [then Catholic] Sister Ines was 36 years old, she made an extreme change in her life, leaving a Catholic monastic order and becoming an Orthodox nun.
Holy Trinity Monastery was founded by Mother Ines and Sister Maria Amistoso in April of 1986. In 1989, the engineer Federico Bauer donated a piece of land on the shores of Lake Amatitlan, not far from Guatemala City, to the monastery. The land is 1188 meters [about 3900 feet] above sea level and is located near Pacaya, one of the most active volcanoes in Central America.
On the day of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker in 1995, the “Act of Creating an Orthodox Church in Guatemala” was signed by Bishop (now Metropolitan) Antonio Chedraoui of Mexico, Venezuela, Central America and the Caribbean (of the Antiochian Patriarchate), and also by the head of the monastery, Mother Ines and her nuns, and 25 parishioners.
Buildings rose on the site donated by Federico Bauer and the consecration of the monastery took place in November, 2007, with 18 participating clerics, who came to Guatemala especially for this occasion.
The iconography in the Monastery church is being done by Russian masters from the International School of Icon Painting, based both in the town of Kostroma in Russia and in the USA.
In 1996, the government of Guatemala gave the monastery control of an orphanage built to house 800 children, the “House of Rafael Ayau” in the country’s capital, Guatemala City. At present they have just over 100 boys and girls – from newborn babies to 16 year old adolescents. The workers at the orphanage give the children a high-school education and familiarize them with basic Orthodox concepts. They also give them professional skills. Soon, the orphanage will be moved to the monastery.
In February of 1997, the church of the Transfiguration of the Lord was blessed in the orphanage building. In the absence of a priest, the services are led by a reader [called Reader’s Services]. Two children’s choirs sing antiphonally, where one choir sings one stanza, and then the other choir sings the next stanza. The exclamations and the dismissal are read by Mother Ines. The parish is made up of Guatemalans, Arabs, Greeks, Russians, and Ukrainians.
Holy Trinity Monastery has fairly large agricultural holdings, where rabbits and fish are raised and vegetables are grown. All that they produce goes to the orphanage.
In July of 2009, Mother Ines came to Russia to visit the holy places and to broaden her ties to the Russian Orthodox Church. The Abbess was accompanied Sister Maria and two teenagers from the orphanage.
This conversation with Mother Ines took place during that visit, on a trip from Sretensky Monastery to the Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra. [lavra: a large monastery]
— Mother Ines, how did you become acquainted with the Orthodox faith?
— When I was 20 years old, I became a Catholic nun, and entered a monastery under the order of the Dormition of the Holy Theotokos. They gave me to read the conversations of St. Seraphim of Sarov with Nicholas Motovilov, and the texts of the Orthodox Liturgy. What I read astonished me to the depths of my soul. One of the nuns showed me several Orthodox icons, including a reproduction of Andrei Rublev’s “Holy Trinity.” I was interested, and I burned with a desire to find the roots of all of this. From that time, I began saying the “Jesus Prayer” [“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”].
I studied theology for ten years – with the Salezians in Guatemala, with the monks of the Holy Spirit in Mexico, with the famous theologian Jean Daniélou in France, and with the Jesuits in Belgium and El Salvador. I continued to be bothered by one question: where are the treasures to be found that I came across at the beginning of my Monastic life? Once, in Brussels, the nun who was in charge of my spiritual growth brought me to a Russian Paschal [Easter] service. It was held in a chapel on the second floor of a private home, but even then, I did not find an answer to my question.
I did not want to serve in Latin America: in those years, because of the spread of “liberation theology”, Church-government relations had become seriously strained. I received permission to go to the Philippines. There, to my amazement, I met more Sisters of the Dormition, who were seeking the same thing I was. We found out about Eastern Rite Catholics, and considered reforming our community to use the Eastern Rite. Unfortunately, most of the Sisters left, and several got married. Only the native-Philippine Sister Maria and I remained. The nuns of my order, which has great influence in the Philippines, asked me to leave the country, because they thought I was spreading revolutionary sentiments.
I went to Jerusalem, where I finally came into contact with real Orthodoxy. Sister Maria came to me from the Philippines, and together we traveled across the Holy Land, started to learn different liturgical services, and talked to priests.
— How did your family take your conversion to Orthodoxy?
— My father is a very educated person, but when I told him that I want to join Orthodoxy, he said “What do you mean? This does not exist in nature!” Nevertheless, our conversation intrigued him. In a few weeks, Dad went to Turkey. When he got there, he hailed a cab, and told the taxi to take him to an Orthodox church where he could see an Orthodox service. After that, he went by ship to the Holy Land, where he did the same thing. From that time, Orthodoxy became for him a reality.
My mother supported my decision right away. She was interested in Russia, and read a lot about it. She read a book about the activities of the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska with great interest. When the Antiochian Bishop Antonio Chedraoui, during his first visit to Guatemala, received some Arabs into Orthodoxy, my mother also went forward and was received into the Orthodox Church through chrismation. Later, my father also became Orthodox.
— How did you join the Antiochian Church?
— Sister Mary and I decided to form an Orthodox monastery in Guatemala. On our way from Israel, we stopped in the Swiss town of Chambésy [not far from Geneva], where we visited Metropolitan Damaskenos Papandreu of Switzerland (Patriarchate of Constantinople). He blessed the opening of our Monastery, and said that we had to join a jurisdiction of one of the Orthodox patriarchates. To do this was not easy. The Orthodox Churches that had a presence in Latin America then did not have a particular interest in the local population. The Patriarchate of Constantinople served the Greeks, the Patriarchate of Antioch – Arabs, the Russian Patriarchate – Russians. Only after asking for ten years did we get accepted by the Antiochian Church’s Metropolitan Antonio (Cherdaoui).
For the registration of a parish, we needed 25 signatures of Guatemalan citizens. We did not have that many parishioners. So my relatives, the relatives of another nun, Sister Ivonne, and our friends also signed the petition.
— Why did your community choose the ancient Russian style when building your church?
— We sincerely love Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church. The crosses on our cupolas are Byzantine, but everything else is Russian: the architecture, the icons, and the frescos. People, when they see the Russian cupolas, understand right away that there is an Orthodox church before them. Our parish keeps to Russian traditions in the services, keeps to the Julian calendar; and the nuns wear the Russian monastic habit.
— Where is the monastery?
— We built the monastery 20 kilometers [about 12½ miles] from Guatemala City, on the top of a hill. Around us there are woods, and not far away, Lake Amatitlan. It is a very beautiful place, although it’s true that it is not entirely fitting for a holy monastery because we are so close to the city and come across the problems that exist in any suburb of a large Latin American city–overpopulation and the drug trade.
—How large is the Sisterhood?
— Three nuns live in the monastery. Besides me, there is Sister Maria Amistoso, who is a native of the Philippines, and Sister Ivonne Sommerkramp who came to the monastery five years after it was founded. She is a Guatemalan with German roots. Earlier, we had more nuns.
— Who performs services?
— We do not have a permanent priest yet. Two times a month, groups of missionaries and volunteers come from places such as the USA, Norway, Japan and other countries; and those groups always have a priest. Russian priests have also been with us: Protopriest Basil Movchanuk – head of the church of Sts. Peter and Paul in Yartsevo, in the Smolensk region; and Protopriest Igor Kropochev – a helper for the missionary department of the Kemerovo diocese.
— Tell us about the monastery’s orphanage please.
— Our orphanage, the oldest and largest in our country, is located right in the heart of Guatemala City. My ancestor, Rafael Ayau, organized it in 1857. He was a philanthropist, and a very pious person. Monks from the charity organization “Caridad” took control of the orphanage from [my ancestor] don Rafael when he, from France, invited them to do so. In 1960, the government deported the members of “Caridad”, and the government itself took over the care of the orphanage. After 40 years, President Alvaro Arsu handed over control of the orphanage, which was in terrible shape, to our monastery. It is unlikely that any other politician would have done that; they are afraid of Orthodox people. Arsu was not afraid, because there were some Orthodox people in his family.
Because of changes in the social laws, our orphanage began to look more like a boarding school. In twelve years, over 1000 children from poor and underprivileged families have gone through our orphanage. All of them are raised in the Orthodox spirit. Many of them return to their parents, but do not break their ties to the monastery, and continue to go to liturgy on Sundays. Over 300 of our orphans have been adopted by Orthodox families, mostly in the USA.
The Russian ambassador to Guatemala, Nicholas Vladimir, had told me that the Russian government grants stipends for higher education in Russia to young people from other countries, and we have taken advantage of that opportunity. Two of our children, Reina and Edgar Rolando, have come with us to Moscow. They will start studying Information [Computer] Science and Engineering at a Russian university in September.
— How are your monastery’s relations with the Catholic Church?
— We have a warm, friendly attitude towards them, but the Catholic Church has been quietly waging war against us, warily, secretly. For example, after we sent our petition to register the parish with the [Guatemalan] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we did not know what happened to it for several years. When President Arsu asked the monastery to take the orphanage under its wing, I said that we could not do it, because we did not officially exist. The President entrusted his lawyer with solving the problem. As it turned out, our documents had been located in the curia the entire time; Catholics had spirited them away. Fortunately, President Arsu then gave the Holy Trinity Parish the status of a jurisdictional body by special decree.
Protestant denominations, of which there are hundreds now, do not worry the Catholics. Orthodoxy puts fear into them. There are several reasons for this, but, the biggest reason is that the Catholic hierarchy fears that the Orthodox Church will convert some of their flock. The Cardinal of Guatemala admitted this to the Russian ambassador.
Nonetheless, it is impossible to escape contact with the Catholic Church. Catholicism dominates Guatemala. My father is a public person; I was a Catholic nun for 16 years; the Cardinal is the cousin of my godfather, and has known me since childhood.
— What are Orthodoxy’s prospects in Guatemala, in your opinion?
— I am convinced that Orthodoxy has a great future in our country. Two priests, one 20 years ago, and another recently, [unofficially] converted to Orthodoxy from Catholicism, and brought their flocks with them. In total, that is over 100,000 people. They consider themselves Orthodox, though they have not been officially joined to the Orthodox Church, and, from my observations, know very little of Eastern Christianity. Among them are Ladinos (descendants of the Spanish) and Indians. Both groups intend to ask for entrance into the Russian Orthodox Church.
— What are your impressions of Russia from your visit?
— I have no words to describe the feelings that I have when I am here. I am astonished by everything: the architecture, and the interior decoration of the churches and monasteries, the architecture of the cities and towns, the nature [flora and fauna]… I especially notice the piety of the people, their deep faith, which they have preserved through decades of the godless Communist regime.
Interview conducted by Miguel Palacio, 16 July 2009.
Translated into English by Adrian Fekula. Translation edited by Br. James Hazen.
Press Release from the Office of the Holy Metropolis of Mexico
In conformity with the canonical responsibility of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the diaspora, and sharing the vision of His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch BARTHOLOMEW, the Holy Metropolis of Mexico is pleased to announce that, in an unceasing and continuing mission outreach ministry effectively being pursued by the Holy Metropolis of Mexico for these past twelve years, with active ministries in Haiti, Cuba, Costa Rica, Colombia, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela, and following months of catechetical and pastoral preparation by the Mitered Archimandrite Andrew (Vujisić), Archiepiscopal Vicar for the Holy Metropolis, and upon the written request and petition of Messrs. Andrew Girón and Michael Castellanos, leaders of a religious community in Guatemala, the heretofore Orthodox Catholic Church of Guatemala (OCCG), has been canonically received into the Holy Metropolis of Mexico.
In announcing this exciting development, His Eminence Metropolitan ATHENAGORAS of Mexico expressed his great pleasure in welcoming the OCCG which was received in its entirety, including their former clergy, seminarians, lay ministers, catechists and affiliated membership into the canonical family of the Orthodox Church. Following their official reception, the leaders of OCCG, Messrs. Andrew Girón and Michael Castellanos traveled to Mexico City where on the weekend of March 19-21, they were ordained to the Holy Priesthood, receiving the title of Archimandrite.
The OCCG has an approximate membership of 527,000 faithful and catechumens, overwhelmingly indigenous, with 334 churches in Guatemala and southern Mexico, with 12 (formerly OCCG) clergymen and 14 seminarians, who are assisted in their pastoral ministry by 250 lay ministers and 380 catechists. The administrative offices of the OCCG are located on 280 acres of land, with a community college and 2 schools with 12 professors / teachers. Additionally, the OCCG has an established monastery located on 480 acres of land. Fourteen students from Guatemala, with full scholarship, are now enrolled in the St. Gregory Nazianzen Orthodox Theological Institute Licentiate degree program. The seminary is fully accredited by the Holy Metropolis’ Department of Education.
The reception of the former OCCG into the canonical fold of the Orthodox Church, is in accord with the ministry of the Holy Metropolis of Mexico which, since 1996 has been answering the command of our Lord to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). By directive of Metropolitan ATHENAGORAS, Mitered Archimandrite Andrew (Vujisić) has now assumed the arduous task of preparing qualified men and women, indigenous to Guatemala and the Latin American culture and experience, for leadership roles in the Orthodox Church, thus advancing apostolic diakonia and outreach into the broader region, and creating an environment, that while fostering respect for indigenous cultures, will develop a proper knowledge and understanding of the Orthodox faith, leading our new Guatemalan family to a spiritual and sacramental life, an Orthodox phronema, and orthopraxia.
Mexico City, April 7th 2010
FROM THE OFFICE OF THE HOLY METROPOLIS
Telephone: (011) 52 55 5294 4460, Fax: 52 55 5294 2678