After more than a century, Patriarch Bartholomew celebrated Mass in Eastern Thrace
The area, in European Turkey, is part of the Diocese of Selymbria. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, it was emptied of its Christian population. The Mass was celebrated outdoors because there are no churches. An Orthodox ecumenical and interfaith diocesan centre will open soon.
Istanbul (AsiaNews) – After more than a century, an ecumenical patriarch celebrated Mass in Eastern Thrace (European Turkey), a first in the so-called Archdiocese of Selymbria (Silivri).
Until 1922, the area was home to a large Christian community, which disappeared after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the large-scale exchange between Greece and Turkey of their respective Muslim and Christian populations.
The occasion was the feast of Saint Nectarios, with the Mass celebrated on 11 November in the Orthodox calendar. The saint, who is revered among Orthodox, was born in Selymbria and died there in 1920, after considerable missionary work as a bishop in Cyrenaica.
Nothing but ruins remain of the ancient Christian presence. For this reason, the celebration took place not in a church, but in the open in the place where the Acropolis of Selymbria once stood.
Many believers from neighbouring Greece came for the Mass. The mayor of Silivri, Özcan Işıklar, was also present. Thanks to the behind-the-scene work of the metropolitan bishop with local authorities, the mayor succeeded in obtaining all the Turkish permits needed to set up a diocesan office, which will operate as an ecumenical and interfaith centre.
In his homily, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew stressed in fact the interreligious dimension, telling those present that above religious ideologies there is a common God, for whom all sincere believers in him must contribute to the common good of the human race, without focusing on oneself or speculating.
The prelate noted that true faith is not a harbinger of destruction but helps people to understand themselves so that they can live in peace.
Bartholomew emphasised "the humility of the great son of the ecumenical patriarchate and of this land", describing Saint Nectarios as a trailblazer of ecumenism in the late 19th century. For example, he would rebuke Orthodox bishops who did not want to have relations with fellow bishops of other Christian confessions.
Quoting the saint, the patriarch said: "The bishop who refuses to embrace his brothers from a different confession or refuses to work with them for the common good of the Church of Christ acts only for his own interests, expresses a false zeal, with no feeling of charity, the true essence of our faith in Christ.”
"According to Saint Nectarios where charity prevails, light and truth dominate. Hence, the masters of hatred are disciples of the devil, since sweet and bitter cannot flow from the same source. Only humility in accordance with Christ is the true source of life and virtue."
At present, these words take on a certain importance following the decision of the Moscow Patriarchate not to participate any longer in the ecumenical dialogue between Rome and the Orthodox world under Constantinople’s leadership.
Silivri Mayor, Özcan Işıklar, called Saint Nectarios a true saint of peace. Under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his neo-Ottoman Turkey views itself as the heir to the tradition of ecumenical tolerance, and is no stranger to concessions to the minorities that still survive in Turkey.
For his part, Bartholomew has often reminded Erdogan that all of the country’s minorities have been part of its history for hundreds of centuries.