BOSTON – His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew agreed to “open his heart” in a perhaps unprecedented way to his flock, to the Greek-American Community and Hellenes everywhere. In his exclusive interview with The National Herald Patriarch Bartholomew shared the story of how he spends his days in isolation due to the coronavirus.
The coronavirus epidemic has not merely brought about changes, it has imposed radical changes in everyday life and in great and high level institutions, and, of course, upon their leaders. It was not possible for the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the First-Throned See of the Orthodox Church of the Ecumene (οικουμένη) with its numerous responsibilities, and its First Bishop throughout the Orthodox Church, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, to be left untouched.
The National Herald first asked, “how are you, Your All-Holiness, spending the days of compulsory quarantine due to the coronavirus?”
His All-Holiness answered willingly, with words that where simple, clear, and at times emotional, as follows:
“I thank The National Herald’ for the opportunity to communicate with its dear readers in a difficult time for all, when humanity is being tested by the pandemic, and during which we are all called, more than ever, to intensify our prayers to the Lord, and to show, individually and collectively, responsibility, patience, understanding and solidarity.
“Answering your relevant question, first of all, I thank the Holy God that we are all ‘safe and sound’ in the Patriarchate, and I beg and beseech Him to help humanity get through this great adventure, which will surely change many things in its course toward the future, as quickly as possible.
“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. In the morning and in the afternoon we all celebrate Orthros and Vespers together at the Patriarchal Church, in which the clergy of the Court sang from the heart the difficult courses of chants for all the holy days, with the Patriarch and Abbot of the Great Monastery of Orthodoxy celebrating and blessing prayerfully from our Holy Center and ‘from the center of our hearts’ the whole world, the whole Oikoumene, and each of our fellow human beings.
“During the day, everyone in the Patriarchate deals with the tasks and responsibilities of their ministries, and some who are continuing their postgraduate or doctoral studies work on writing their papers. I am proud of them and encourage them, because the Phanar has always had and must have learned clergymen who will cultivate the theological literature and will always be ready to ‘give a word to the inquirer about the hope that is within us.’
“Personally, all these days, without audiences and without the usual heavy load of correspondence, I deal with the current issues of the Patriarchate, I respond to requests and messages, and most importantly, these weeks have been a unique opportunity for me to reread and sort out old outstanding documents, through which on the one hand I remembered respected and beloved persons who passed through the courtyards of the Mother Church or served it from various quarters, many of them with whom I collaborated from time to time and was taught by them. On the other hand, I have not been able to find out about many things that have happened during my service here at the Phanar. For almost half a century now, I have been by the Grace of God at the Phanar, either as the Director of the Private Office of Patriarch Demetrios for about twenty years, or as the Ecumenical Patriarch for almost thirty years. For all this I praise the God of our Fathers, ‘from Whom comes every good and perfect gift.’
“In the evening after dinner, we read all together the Apodeipnon Service (The after dinner prayers) in the Private Patriarchal Chapel of St. Andrew. We watch various historical DVDs and films about important ecclesiastical events. We saw, for example, the millennial anniversary of Mount Athos with Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras and other Patriarchs present, the then-King of the Greeks Paul, the ecological symposia of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, documentaries about the School of Halki and the Schools of the Omogeneia in Istanbul, the old pilgrimages to Pontos, etc.
“Also, I take advantage of the time of the day to satisfy the desire that I always have to study or go through books that I receive and that the daily workload does not allow me to read, and to enrich my knowledge, as knowledge has no limits and no end.
“In conclusion, all this time of silence, contemplation, prayer, has been and is, apart from its very negative aspects for many of our fellow human beings, a unique opportunity for each of us to exercise self-control, to delve into the essentials of life and thoughts about tomorrow, which we trust in God’s charity and providence.
“It is self-evident that all this does not prevent us from constantly thinking of bedridden patients and asking for God’s mercy for them from the Physician of souls and bodies, Who cured the paralytic of Bethesda, as we heard in the Gospel passage of last Sunday. We must be in solidarity with those who are suffering and their relatives, bearing each other’s burdens.
“For the Ecumenical Patriarch, with so many responsibilities and so many duties, this period is another opportunity for more prayer ‘for the peace of the universe and the stability of the Holy Churches of God and for the unity of all.’ Our refuge and hope is Christ, Who has promised to be with us until the end of the time.”