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Analysis: Bartholomew of Imvros and the Ecumene

November 24, 2020

The interview of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew published in last week’s edition made and continues to make the rounds of the United States of America and the World while it is republished widely by many ecclesiastical and non-ecclesiastical sites and publications.

We received countless of messages from many and from everywhere, hierarchs, theologians, government and diplomatic officials, priests, monastics, Archons of the Patriarchate, and the faithful people of our parishes in the United States and also from Greece, Europe, Australia, and even Africa.

Unquestionably it was an unusual interview because it consisted of words spoken from the heart of the ‘First’ without equals of the Orthodox Church beneath under the Orthodox sky (της υπό τον ουρανό Ορθόδοξης Εκκλησίας).

Furthermore, it was a unique interview in his 29 year patriarchy. The pious and brilliant pupil was born in the beautiful but much-suffered island of Imvros, who grew up in poverty and with many difficulties, but he filled his heart and his existence with rich charisms which brought him to the First Throne of the Orthodox Church. His good parents, Christos and Merope Archontonis, who I had the joy and the honor to meet in person, the faithful and conscientious priest of his village Fr. Asterios, Metropolitan Meliton of Imvros, his teachers at the elementary school and his professors at the Theological School of Halki, all the above cultivated his soul and his character and led him to the supreme ecclesiastical rank without losing his humbleness, his friendliness, and his affability.

Patriarch Bartholomew is a grown up man with a child’s heart. He is the Patriarch of love, peace, and reconciliation but at the same time he is strict when the life of Church and of those who advance it is placed in doubt and subversion. The meeting and the decisions of the Holy Synod of October 8th, 2020 regarding the ecclesial life of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America spoke strongly to every part of the United States and the World. After all, the Archdiocese of America is an Ecclesiastical Eparchy of the Ecumenical Throne and its care belongs to the Ecumenical Patriarch himself.

Patriarch Bartholomew doesn’t simply love Imvros, he adores it. It is the place where he opened his crying eyes to the miracle and also the enigma of life. It was at the school of his village of Sts. Theodori where he learned to verbalize the Godly things and the learnings of the ‘Genos’, the Greek nation.

His answer to my question about how was life when he was growing up in Imvros it touched me so deeply because he reminded me of my own island, Lesvos, which is a short distance from Imvros, a real pearl in the blue waters of the Aegean Sea.  Here is his answer: “It was difficult, but it was beautiful. That is how I remember it. Most people were involved with agriculture, farming, and beehives. This is why, with the expropriation of our lands by the Turkish Government in 1964 (but primarily with the closure of the minority schools and the establishment of an open prison on the island), the residents were mournfully compelled to abandon their homeland and journey abroad. There were of course also those who labored in necessary professions and trades. But in our village, there was no water at home; we would carry it with jugs from public fountains. And we had no electricity; I would study for classes under the light of an oil lamp, and we would buy the oil from the village store. We had wonderful customs and traditions, festivals and weddings where village musicians (my uncle would play the zither). On name days, villagers would exchange visits and offer classic treats like almond sweets and baklava. Unfortunately, as in all communities, large and small, we also had cases of disagreement and conflict, mostly related to property – differences over property boundaries that would end up in court and rattled the peaceful atmosphere of peaceful coexistence among the residents.”

His All Holiness will spend Holy Week and Easter of the year 2021 in his homeland, Imvros, where he is going to chant the hymn of victory against corruption and death: “Christ is risen from the dead.” That hymn will be heard everywhere not only by those who continue to dwell on this earth, but also “those in the tombs,” who are waiting and expecting the Resurrection.   

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