Istanbul (AsiaNews) – The ancient Orthodox rite of the blessing of the waters was celebrated by the ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew with the launching of a cross to sea, to symbolise the Baptism of Christ. The ceremony took place in the Golden Horn, in Istanbul, a short distance from the Patriarchal See.
The rite, long desired and inaugurated by Bartholomew in 2003, was attended by representatives of the diplomatic corps, from other Christian confessions and thousands of people who had come from abroad, beneath the discreet by watchful eye of the police, present to avoid further provocations by members of the ultra-nationalist group the Grey Wolves. But this year, for the first time, they abstained from disturbing the ceremony. In the past they would gather shouting slogans against the rite.
Shortly before the beginning of celebrations, speaking to those groups which had come from abroad, Bartholomew expressed his optimism for the future of the Christian world and of the Patriarchate in Turkey. He invited the faithful to accompany the Patriarchal See’s work through prayers, moral aid and pilgrimage. “In this corner of our city – Bartholomew said - there is a century’s old institution at the service of Our Lord, the great Church of Christ, where for hundreds of years now the dreams, hopes, memories and desires of the Christian world have found refuge. Our Patriarchate hopes and prays that a spirit of peace, charity, brotherhood and solidarity, will prevail in our world”.
The title of ecumenical Patriarchate – which the authorities do not want to recognise – and the situation of Christian Orthodox in Turkey where instead dealt with by Bartholomew in an interview Sunday with the well respected daily newspaper Zaman, which is very close to the current government.
“We – he explained – do not want to be like the Vatican. The title of Ecumenical Patriarchate dates back to the 6th century, but does not indicate a State. This is against the founding principals of Orthodoxy: State and Church are two separate entities and they must remain as such”. “Instead it indicates, the primacy among Orthodox churches, so that when someone must confront problems for which he has difficulty in finding a solution, then he turns to us to ask for our contribution and help”. Bartholomew highlighted the importance of having the Patriarchal see for Turkey and expressed the hope that in 2008 authorities will recognise its role and allow the theological college of Halki to be re-opened. “We are citizens of this country – he added – we pay taxes, rightly so, we vote, but we want to to have the same rights as our Muslim fellow citizens”.
Asked to comment in the end on the decreasing number of Orthodox in Istanbul, he replied that “if Orthodox citizens were content with their lives here they would not leave. Evidently they do not feel safe. And their loss has certainly impoverished the nation”.
It must be noted that the Patriarch thanked the authorities for allowing mass to be celebrated in the church of St Nicolas in Mira and in particular the Minister for Culture, who granted 30 thousand euros for restoration work.
In the end the Ecumenical Patriarch also sent his season’s greetings to AsiaNews, remarking that he will be in Rome in March next for the 90th anniversary of the Pontifical Oriental Institute, where he obtained his doctorate, and that on March 6th he will meet with Benedict XVI. (NT)