08/16/2021, 16.34
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Bartholomew, ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, marks 60 years of priesthood

by NAT da Polis

“Dialogue and mutual knowledge between Christians, and between Christians and [the members of] other faiths, mainly our Muslim brothers here, can smooth out corners and clear up misunderstandings and fears that have no reason to exist.”

Istanbul (AsiaNews) – A Eucharistic liturgy at the ancient Orthodox shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Sumela (Sümela), near in Trebizond (Trabzon), marked the end of the celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the diaconal ordination of the ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

Celebrations began last Friday, 13 August, on the island of Imvros (Gökçeada in Turkish), the patriarch’s birthplace. The choice of places was not accidental.

By starting the event on his native island to which he is very attached, Bartholomew also wanted to remember the 6,000 Greek Christians who lived on those lands before the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923.

With the latter, Imvros and the island of Tenedos (Bozcaada in Turkish) came under Turkish jurisdiction with Turkey required to grant full autonomy to the local population, a commitment the Turkish authorities have never respected. On the contrary, following a policy of ethnically cleansing religious minorities they forced the local population to emigrate.

After the indigenous population was reduced to a few dozen people, the island was repopulated with settlers from Anatolia and lifers at a local open prison who were allowed to commit abuses against the population.

In the last decade however, thanks to Bartholomew's work, the island has been repopulated with 500 Greek Orthodox from the diaspora who had retained Turkish citizenship. Thus, in 2013 a school was reopened with 43 students.

Thanks to the ecumenical patriarch’s work and initiatives, the mistrust between the two communities has disappeared and people are looking forward for a better shared future. The role of the Church in this case was fundamental.

The monastery of Our Lady of Sumela has been a point of reference for Christians who lived along the Black Sea coast for almost 15 centuries. However, with the birth of Kemal Ataturk's Turkey, the monastery was closed, looted and abandoned to the elements.

The famous icon of Our Lady, which according to tradition was painted by the Evangelist Luke, was taken by monks to Greece.

Later Turkish authorities, to develop the local tourist industry, restored the site, which was in ruins. Since 2010, after almost a century, they allowed the celebration of a Mass in honour of the Assumption every 15 August.

In 2015, because of further restoration, the Patriarchate was not authorised to hold Mass. In 2020, with the conclusion of the restoration work, permission was granted again to celebrate Mass on 15 August.

However, the ecumenical patriarch refused to participate, sending a delegation in his place. This was interpreted as a show of displeasure towards President Recep Erdoğan’s decision to turn Hagia Sophia and the monastery of Saint Saviour in Chora (Kariye Camii) back into mosques.

In the Sumela shrine, the celebrations for the patriarch’s 60 years of priesthood honoured a man who did not come from Constantinople elites, but grew up amid a thousand difficulties and privations.

The son of a small village barber as he proudly describes himself, Bartholomew graduated from the theological school in Chalki, and was able to embrace the new ideas of Athenagoras and Melito on the importance of ecumenical dialogue, also thanks to his studies during Vatican II in Rome, which the patriarch defines as his second home.

He is a cultured polyglot with an extraordinary ability to promote new ideas that help the development of human consciousness within the Christian tradition.

His initiatives on environmental protection and interfaith dialogue are points of reference in his 30 years on the patriarchal throne in Constantinople.

During last Saturday’s vespers for the Dormition of the Mother of God in Trabzon’s Holy Mary Catholic Church, he stressed the importance for Christians of the Theotokos and on being brothers in Christ.

“When brothers come together, when they pray and work together, when they know how to recognise and overcome with love even the small differences that separate them, then the joy in heaven will be irrepressible. Today we certainly perceive this joy, the exultation of all those who have prayed and worked together here.

“This is an opportunity to commemorate before God who can do everything, the mournful event that struck this community fifteen years ago (the killing of Fr Andrea Santoro) from which came, however, new strength and ability to forgive and to engage in dialogue.

“Dialogue and mutual knowledge between Christians, and between Christians and [the members of] other faiths, mainly with our Muslim brothers here, can smooth out corners and clear up misunderstandings and fears that have no reason to exist.”

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