His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in evocative, elegant, and yet detailed and simple language replied to our question “how are you, Your All-Holiness, spending the days of compulsory quarantine due to the coronavirus?”
He opened his heart and spoke in its language. And when the heart speaks, especially the heart of the Ecumenical Patriarch, “the First without equals” (Primus sine paribus), as does His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America in an historic article, then unquestionably the words spoken and the message are of special historic significance.
Certainly the fact that he made such a humane and warm gesture, going beyond the limitations of protocol and rules is in itself historic and an honor for our newspaper, The National Herald, and of course, for the Church of America, the Greek-American Community, and Hellenism throughout the World because its articles are read “in all the nations.”
We received messages from the United States, Canada, Belgium, England, Germany, Austria, France, Greece, the Monastic Community of Mount Athos, Alexandria of Egypt, Johannesburg, and Australia just to mention some countries and cities. It was also republished by many websites that deal with ecclesiastical issues and themes.
I was touched by the telephone call from hierarchs from the United States, Greece, Europe, and elsewhere who have only good and respectful words to say about Patriarch Bartholomew. A hierarch from America wrote among other things in an e-mail that “I think a lot about our Patriarch and I pray for him,” and he thanked The National Herald for the article.
A hierarch from Greece told me over the phone that he read the article three times and he was deeply touched because the Patriarch of Orthodoxy opened his heart to us.
In the two paragraphs which follow, Patriarch Bartholomew described so accurately the climate and the quarantine that exists at the most venerable center of reference and the visible unity of the Orthodox Church of the Oikoumene. Let us remember what he said:
“All this time I have been living with my beloved spiritual children and associates – the members of the Patriarchal Court – in the Phanar, which is now closed to visitors. This is something new for us here, for under normal conditions we have a lot of visitors every day throughout the year: official visits, individuals from Constantinople or from abroad who come for various specific reasons or to receive the Patriarchal good wishes and blessing, groups of pilgrims, schools, mainly from Greece, etc.
“Now there is absolute silence and calm, especially at night, when there is not even a trace of a passerby in the surrounding streets. And the cafes and shops that have recently sprouted in our neighborhood, these are hermetically sealed.”
Those who have stayed for a few days or even a couple of hours at the Phanar understand fully all that the Patriarch said because they have seen with their own eyes and experienced that the Patriarchate is usually full of life, movement, and activity. Patriarch Bartholomew receives prelates of Orthodox Churches from around the world, heads of state, ministers and members of Parliaments from Greece, Europe, and elsewhere, theologians, monks, delegations representing the Bishop of Old Rome, pilgrims, and a variety of Greek-Americans – just about anybody. He has something to say to each one depending to his interests, capacity, and mother tongue because Patriarch Bartholomew speaks seven languages.
But when the bells ring for the Vesper Service his priority is the worship and glorification of God. Patriarch Bartholomew loves the Sacred Services of the Church. We saw him in the picture accompanying the interview standing in his place in the back of the Patriarchal Chapel during the Apodeipnon Service. We also saw him as a humble monk engaging in a conversation with a friendly cat which was looking at him with awe and reverence, as if it had sensed that its interlocutor was the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church whose statute through Apostolic Succession pervades many centuries up to the Apostle Andrew, the First Called Disciple of Christ – Bartholomew is the 270th successor of St. Andrew.
And really, who is going to remind Kirill of Russia or Anastasios of Albania of these staggering realities in order for them to stop behaving with irreverence, ingratitude, and unbrotherly conduct toward Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew? After all, Kirill is who he is, but what is unacceptable is the attitude of Anastasios because what he is today he owes to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. But he continues to play games with the recognition of the Autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. And he appears to be trying to be supportive of his ousted friend Demetrios, who led the Archdiocese of America to the brink of disintegration. But make no mistake, History will write history with its own words.
I make no mention to some other matricides (μητραλοίες) with respect to the Mother Church, who are in Greece and also in the Greek-American community because I consider them insignificant, dolorous doctrinaires of small mindedness, and truly I admire the forbearance of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. After all, some things can’t be taught; they are matters of inborn ethos. And one of those things is the respect and the love for the Genos – the Nation. Bartholomew is exactly that, the Patriarch of the Genos.