Patriarchal and Synodical Encyclical on the Convocation of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church (March 18, 2016)

Post 313 of 445

Prot. No.: 314

† B A R T H O L O M E W 






Our holy Orthodox Church, adorned in purple and fine linen by the blood of her martyrs, the tears of her Saints, and the struggles and sacrifices of her confessors of faith, celebrates today her nameday. Following a century-long struggle, this day was appropriately identified as the Sunday of Orthodoxy, marking the day in which truth shone and triumphed over falsehood through the veneration of holy icons as the bearers of the personal presence and divine grace of the incarnate Son and Logos of God and of His saints. In this way, it was acknowledged and proclaimed for all time that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14), honoring and sanctifying material creation and our body in order to render them partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter, 1:4), partakers in divine grace and life.

On the way to this great and salvific truth—which was attacked by those who refused to venerate holy icons—the triumph of truth over falsehood treaded along the same path followed by the Church from the beginning of her history, namely the truth of conciliarity. The distinction between truth and falsehood—orthodoxy and heresy—is not always easily discernible. Even heretics believed, and continue to believe, that they possessed the truth; moreover, there will always be some who shall consider those who do not agree with their position as “heretics.” The Orthodox Church, in this case, recognizes only one authority: the Council of her canonical hierarchs. Beyond a conciliar decision, the distinction between orthodoxy and heresy is not possible. The Church’s dogmas and holy canons bear the seal of conciliarity. Orthodoxy is the conciliar Church.

The Orthodox Church has always emphasized this ecclesiological authority, and implements it faithfully on the local level. For centuries, this has also occurred on an ecumenical or pan-orthodox level; however, for historical circumstances, it has been interrupted for quite some time. Today, we find ourselves in a position to officially announce from our ecumenical throne that, by the grace of God, and with the consent of all the Primates of the Holy Orthodox Churches, that we will realize a decision taken more than fifty years ago and convene the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church on the island of Crete on June 18-27, 2016. The Council shall begin its work with a pan-Orthodox celebration of the Divine Liturgy in the Holy Church of Saint Menas, Heraklion, Crete, on the great and auspicious Feast of Pentecost. Deliberations shall proceed at the Orthodox Academy in Kolymbari, Chania. Our Modesty shall preside over the Holy and Great Council, with the other Primates of Orthodox Churches at our side; other hierarchs shall participate as members of the Council through the official delegation of these Churches.

The foremost and most important goal of this Pan-Orthodox Council shall be to teach that the Orthodox Church is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, united in the Sacraments—especially in the Holy Eucharist, in the Orthodox faith, but also in conciliarity. To this end, ongoing planning for the Council has occurred through a series of Preparatory Committees and Pre-Conciliar Conferences, ensuring the unanimous spirit of the Council’s decisions and that her message is conveyed in one voice and in one heart.

The issues—already delineated on a pan-orthodox level by the time the convocation of the Council was decided—that shall be reviewed by the Holy and Great Council primarily focus on matters relating to the internal operation and life of the Orthodox Church; for this reason, they must be immediately resolved. Moreover, there are issues pertaining to the relations of Orthodoxy with the rest of the Christian world, as well as the mission of the Church in our time. We certainly recognize that the world awaits to hear the voice of the Orthodox Church on many pressing problems that humanity faces today. However, it was deemed necessary that the Orthodox Church should first settle internal matters before speaking to or addressing the world, which is still considered her obligation. The fact that Orthodoxy will express its conciliarity on a global level after the passing of so many centuries constitutes a first and most decisive step that, by the grace of God, is expected to lead to the convening of further Pan-Orthodox Councils, soon thereafter.

Beloved brethren and children in the Lord,

Great historic events are guided by the grace of God, Who, ultimately, is the Lord of History. We might sow and labor; however, only God multiplies (1 Cor. 3:8). The Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church indeed constitutes a historic event and we therefore place our hope in God for its realization. We call upon the Orthodox faithful in the world—clergy and laity—to pray to the Triune God that He may crown this event with His blessings, fortifying His Church to the glory of His name. We live in critical times and the unity of the Church must serve as the example of unity for a humanity torn apart by divisions and conflicts. The success of the Holy and Great Council concerns every member of the Church, who are invited to share their interests thereon. The texts that have been agreed upon on a pan-orthodox level and which have been submitted to the Holy and Great Council have already been made publicly available to every faithful of good will. These texts are not only intended to inform and update the faithful, but to also elicit their opinions and expectations of the Holy and Great Council.

Having announced this to the plenitude of the Orthodox Church throughout the world on this auspicious day, we pray that the lord God bestow upon His Church and all of you His abundant grace and blessing, and to the world peace at all times in all ways (2 Thes. 3:16).

20 March, in the year of our Lord, 2016

† Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople
Your fervent supplicant to God

† Metropolitan John of Pergamon, supplicant in Christ

† Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver, supplicant in Christ

† Metropolitan Alexios of Atlanta, supplicant in Christ

† Metropolitan Iakovos of the Prince Islands, supplicant in Christ

† Metropolitan Joseph of Prikonisos, supplicant in Christ

† Metropolitan Meliton of Philadelphia, supplicant in Christ

† Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, supplicant in Christ

† Metropolitan Nikitas of the Dardanelles, supplicant in Christ

† Metropolitan Nicholas of Detroit, supplicant in Christ

† Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco, supplicant in Christ
† Metropolitan Maximos of Selymbria, supplicant in Christ
† Metropolitan Amphilochios of Adrianopolis, supplicant in Christ


Catechetical Homily on the Occasion of Holy and Great Lent (2016)

Prot. No. 284

† B A R T H O L O M E W

Beloved and blessed brethren and children in the Lord,

Yet again this year, through the God-inspired words, the holy Psalmist ushers the Orthodox faithful into the “mystery” of Holy and Great Lent, pointing out the benevolence of the Lord and the workings thereof as he cries out, the Lord works mercy and righteousness for all the oppressed (Psalm 102,6). For the Lord satisfies our desire with good things so that our youth is renewed like that of the eagle (c.f. .5).

As we all know, each person, created in the image and the likeness of God, constitutes a temple of the Lord. All the more, those of us who have been baptized in Christ, anointed with Holy Chrism, and grafted onto the olive tree of the Orthodox Church, are temples of the Holy Spirit Who resides in us. This is the case even as we distance ourselves from the Lord by committing sin—voluntary or involuntary—for if we are faithless, He remains faithful (2 Tim 2:13).

Unfortunately, the stain of sin hinders the Grace of the Holy Spirit to work in us. For this reason, our Holy Orthodox Church established the forthcoming period of fasting during Holy and Great Lent to allow us to cleanse ourselves through repentance, and thereby becoming worthy to receive the life-giving Passion and the glorious Resurrection from the dead of our Lord Jesus Christ. The poet of the Great Canon, Saint Andreas of Crete, urges: Come, my wretched soul, and confess your sins in the flesh to the Creator of all. From this moment forsake your former foolishness and offer to God tears of repentance (Great Canon, Monday Ode 1).

The Church, always concerned about our salvation and spiritual perfection, initiates her members into this period of repentance, urging them all to struggle against the materialistic and covetous way of life, which, as a “heavy yoke,” grounds the soul and drags it upon the earth, hindering its ability to spread its wings toward heaven and the kingdom of God.

In this way, through repentance and purifying tears, we are clothed again with our original beauty and our God-spun shroud that we lost after the fall, covering ourselves, instead, with the coat of shame similar to the fig leaves worn by Adam.

The fast and abstinence from food, idle talk, and deceitful thought represent the start of the correct, restrained, and temperate use of material goods, with the common good as its goal. In this way, we eliminate the negative impact that irrational use of goods may have upon society and the natural environment. This, therefore, allows for the prevailing of the philanthropic fast, which should not render judgment over the oppressed, but offer mercy, grace and comfort for them and for us on our journey toward the likeness of God (St. Basil Great).

In this way, a temperate use of goods sanctifies both matter and our lives since perishable matter is not the goal per se of sanctification, but rather, its means. Therefore, according to the evangelical periscope, the fast should constitute a motive for restraint, with a final goal to abound in hope in the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 15:13), according to the word of the Great Apostle of the Nations Paul. This holds true even for today’s poor “Lazarus” and for those seeking refuge.

Furthermore, the true spirit of the fast and of abstinence should not be forgotten, since this is what renders them acceptable to the Lord, as James the Apostles teaches: religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world (James 1, 27). For we shall not obtain grace—offered to us in abundance through the fast and through abstinence—simply by refusing and abstaining from food. The Prophet Isaiah wonders: Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists; is this the kind of fast I have chosen? (Isaiah 58: 4). The Lord declares, through the Prophet, I have not chosen such a fast, but one that asks you to share your food with the hungry, that encourages you to invite the homeless into your home, and to clothe the naked when you see them (Isaiah 58, 5-7).

Especially in our times, the financial and refugee crises, as well as the multitude of hardships that plague the world today offer to us Orthodox Christians the possibility to cultivate the authentic spirit of the fast, linking abstinence from food with acts of charity and solidarity toward our brethren most in need—those who suffer, the poor, the homeless, the refugees, those who have no place to rest their head (Math. 8: 20), and those who are forced by the harsh conditions of war, challenges, and grief to abandon their paternal homes and to travel amid countless risks,  dangers, and sorrows.

When our fast is accompanied by an increase in philanthropy and love toward the least of our brethren in the Lord, regardless of their race, religion, language and origin, then the fast shall ascend to the throne of God as a fragrant incense, and angels shall stand by us while we fast, in the same way they ministered to the Lord in the desert.

We offer our heartfelt fraternal and paternal prayers to all, that the imminent phase the Holy Fast will prove fruitful and sanctifying, replete of  grace and holiness, and that God will render us worthy and without tribulation to enter into the eternal and life-giving Chalice—the life-bearing Side of the Lord—from which sprang as the fountain of deliverance and wisdom (Great Canon, Wednesday, Ode 4)

May the Divine Grace and the abundant Mercy of the Lord be with you all, brethren and children, so that you may receive, through the evangelical ethos, the Gift of the Feast of feasts and the Celebration of celebrations—the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom all glory, dominion, honor, and thanksgiving now and to the endless ages. Amen.

Holy and Great Lend, 2016
Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople
Your fervent supplicant to God



Reflections by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

The Oxford Union
(November 4, 2015)

(Courtesy of the Oxford Union)


Distinguished members of the Oxford Union,
Esteemed administrators, faculty and friends of the University,
Dear students,

It is a unique pleasure and a great privilege to be invited to address this historic academic union. We express our wholehearted gratitude to our hosts and organizers of this exceptional opportunity in a city where over forty years ago, the official theological dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Anglican Communion was established.

Many of you will no doubt be surprised that a religious leader concerned with “spiritual” or pastoral values has been involved with “secular” or political issues. After all, what does preserving the planet have to do with saving the soul? It is widely assumed that climate change and the exploitation of natural resources are matters concerning scientists, technocrats and legislators.

Yet, the preoccupation of the highest spiritual authority in the Orthodox Church, namely the Ecumenical Patriarchate, with the ecological crisis demonstrates that we cannot have two ways of looking at or responding to the world: religious on the one hand and worldly on the other. We cannot separate our concern for human dignity, human rights or social justice from concern for ecological protection, preservation and sustainability. These concerns are forged together, comprising an intertwining spiral that can either descend or ascend.

If we value each individual made in the image of God, and if we value every particle of God’s creation, then we will care for each other and our world. In religious terms, the way we relate to nature and the biodiversity of creation directly reflects the way we relate to God and to our fellow human beings.

This is precisely why only a few months ago, together with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, we jointly signed an article that appeared in the International New York Times in response to a report by the Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change. There, we affirmed together that:

We are now – like never before – in a position to choose charity over greed, and frugality over wastefulness in order to affirm our moral commitment to our neighbour and our respect toward the earth. Basic human rights – such as access to safe water, clean air and sufficient food – should be available to everyone without distinction or discrimination.

This is also why, next month, we shall travel to Paris, which will be the center of the world’s attention and expectation, urging governmental leaders for long-overdue climate action at the United Nations Climate Change Conference.

The role of religion in our world
Dear friends, the first point that we would like to emphasize to you this evening is that religion has a positive and profound role to play in our world. There is a vital sign of our times at the beginning of this new millennium, and that is what we might call “the return of God” – that is to say, the reevaluation of the function and responsibility of religion in the public square. Religion today comprises a central dimension of human life, both on the personal and the social levels. No longer can religion be relegated to a matter of individual preference or private practice.

Religion is becoming increasingly meaningful and momentous in appreciating the past, analyzing the present, and even assessing the future of our world. In our day, religion claims a public face and a social profile; and it is invited to participate in contemporary communal discourse.

Indeed, even as we prepared our address for you today on the role of religion in raising awareness and responding to questions about climate change – an area where we have focused a great deal of our humble ministry over the last twenty-four years – the world is overwhelmed by an unprecedented human crisis with the flight and plight of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East, especially from Syria.

We are nowadays facing a worldwide economic crisis and its social consequences are evident on a global scale. Ultimately, we regard this crisis as a “crisis of solidarity.” Yet, our Church has historically sought to build bridges of interfaith dialogue, ecological awareness and the culture of solidarity between diverse faiths and cultures, as well as between humanity and the natural environment. We are convinced that the future of humanity is related to the establishment of the culture of solidarity.

Solidarity is a term that contains the very essence of social ethos, embracing the pillars of freedom, generosity and justice. It includes the struggle for a just society and the respect for human dignity beyond any division or discrimination of social class, economic status or ethnic origin. We are convinced that the future of humanity is closely related to a culture of solidarity. In many ways, we can speak of a crisis of solidarity and a crisis in the natural environment.

The crisis of solidarity and the ecological crisis
The most serious contemporary threat against such a culture of solidarity is the prevailing economy – what we might call, the fundamentalism of market and profit. We are not qualified economists, but we are convinced that the purpose of economy should be for the service of humankind. It is not by coincidence that the terms economy and ecology share the same etymological root. They contain the Greek word oikos (household). Oikonomia (or “economy”) involves the care or management of our household; oikologia (or “ecology”) implies the study and appreciation of our home; and, by extension, oikoumene (or our “ecumenical” imperative as churches and faith communities) demands maintaining and sustaining our world as a place where we can all live in harmony and justice.

True faith does not release us from our responsibility to the world. On the contrary: it strengthens us to give a witness of reconciliation and peace. Thus, we reject any form of “economic reductionism,” the reduction of the human being merely to homo oeconomicus. In brief, we resist the transformation of society into a gigantic market, the subordination of the human person to the tyranny of consumerism, as well as the identification of “being” with “having” in society.

Wealthy, industrialized countries have unquestionably contributed most to atmospheric pollution. In our effort, then, to contain and reverse global warming, we must honestly ask ourselves: Will we in the West, in more affluent countries, sacrifice our self-indulgence and consumerism? Will we direct our focus away from what we want to what the rest of the world needs? Will we recognize and assume our responsibility to leave a lighter footprint on this planet for them and for the sake of future generations? We must choose to care; otherwise, we do not really care at all.

At stake is not just our respect for biodiversity, but our very survival. Scientists calculate that those most harmed by global warming in the future will be the most vulnerable and marginalized. We know, then, that the ecological crisis is directly related to the ethical challenge of eliminating poverty and advocating human rights. The dignity and rights of human beings are intimately and integrally related to the beauty and – we would dare to say – the rights of the earth itself. After all, who will dare to speak for the voiceless resources of our planet? Who will step up to protect the silent diversity of its species? Will our generation accept responsibility for pushing our environment over the tipping-point?

This underlines what we have been saying for almost three decades – namely, that global warming is a moral crisis and a moral challenge. It is a crisis about and within the human heart. The solution of the ecological problem is not only a matter of science, technology and politics but also, and perhaps primarily, a matter of radical change of mind, of new values, of a new ethos.

For the Orthodox tradition, sin has a cosmic dimension and cosmological impact. The theology of the Orthodox Church recognizes the natural creation as inseparable from the identity and destiny of humanity, inasmuch as every human action leaves a lasting imprint on the body of the earth. This means that human attitudes and behavior towards other people directly impact on and reflect human attitudes and behavior toward creation.

This is why we use the term metanoia, which signifies a shift of mind, a total change of heart, to determine the transformation of our attitudes and actions toward our world. This is very important because, during the last century, a century of immense scientific progress, we also experienced the biggest destruction of the natural environment. Science will inform us about the world; but it cannot reach the depth of our soul and mind. Today, we know; and yet we still continue to act against our knowledge. Knowledge has unfortunately not resulted in metanoia.

The future is open; the choice is ours
Dear friends, the future is open; and the choice is ours, yours. On the one hand, our world is indeed in crisis. Yet, on the other hand, never before in history have human beings had the opportunity to bring so many positive changes to so many people and to the global community. There has never been so much turmoil on our planet; but equally so, there has never been greater opportunity for communication, cooperation and dialogue.

Interfaith dialogue, environmental awareness and the culture of solidarity are responsibilities that we owe not only to the present generation. Future generations are entitled to a world free from fanaticism and violence, unspoiled by pollution and natural devastation, a society that is a place of solidarity. This is the role and responsibility of religion.

As we already noted, the choice is ours! We stand at a critical moment in the history and future of our planet, a time when our human community must choose about the future of our earth community. The protection of our planet’s vitality and diversity is a sacred task and a common vocation. At a summit organized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate three years ago, former NASA climate scientist Professor James Hansen observed: “Our parents honestly did not know that their actions could harm future generations. But we, our current generation, can only pretend that we did not know.”

In conclusion, then, you will now appreciate why a religious leader is concerned with the ecological crisis. We are convinced that we must make the strongest possible call for change and justice at the Climate Conference in Paris next December. This is our ethical and honorable obligation; this is our word of promise and hope to the entire world.

As we stand before you and look into your eyes, we draw a great deal of encouragement, inspiration and hope for a bright future. For your sacred task is undoubtedly to transmit to your colleagues a spirit of openness. It is you that will carry the responsibility for social values, for religion and culture, for freedom and justice, for the respect of otherness, for solidarity with humanity and with the whole of God’s creation. It is you that must educate our world about a vision of participation and a culture of sharing, of existence as coexistence and of life as communion.

It is not too late to act, but we cannot afford to wait; we certainly cannot afford not to act. We all agree on the necessity to protect our planet’s natural resources, which are neither limitless nor negotiable. We are all in this together. People of faith must practice what they preach; citizens of the world must clearly voice their opinion; and political leaders must act urgently and decisively.