The Ecumenical Patriarch has finished his visit to Finland, undertaken in celebration of the 90th anniversary of our Church’s autonomy. Before Finland His All-Holiness was in Estonia, where the Orthodox Church was also celebrating its 90th year of autonomy.
This was the second time in three years that the Patriarch has come to bless His most Northern Church. Such frequency of visits, although certainly welcomed by the local Orthodox, tells of the Patriarch’s own concern about Finland remaining under His omophorion. Some of us believe in Orthodox ecclesiological teaching, that is, that the “natural state” of a local church is autocephaly rather that autonomy. In this discussion, though, it has been obvious for a long time that theology is theology — and politics is politics — both in East and West.
Patriarch Batholomew is, personally, a great man. He is well-read, speaks several languages, and has a genuine spiritual tone in his speech. He is sensitive to the world’s big issues, like ecology and human suffering. It is both his, and Metropolitan John’s (of Pergamon), common emphasis that man has not only the role of a caretaker on earth, but also that of a priest. This means there is a clear Christian contribution to even secular discussions on man’s responsibility for the whole of creation. Part of a responsible attitude towards the environment is to bring offerings to God. For us Orthodox, this means precisely the Eucharistic celebration. It is a question of good and protective deeds, as well as an attitude of humility and awe.
The Ecumenical Patriarch’s own position in Turkey has been of concern for many Orthodox Christians around the world. The situation has improved — and we all hope that this improvement continues. The Patriarchate’s situation, existing under pressure from the surrounding society, can be seen, indeed, as special blessing in some ways. Namely, our Patriarch has had to concentrate on essential things. No external pompousness or luxury. Dignity – yes; splendor – no. Small in numbers and weak in earthly power – and yet great in spirit and strong in faith. This is the core attitude of the Gospel, and one the Patriarch manifests in every way.
We have every reason to expect the Patriarch to become the “spiritual leader of all Orthodox Christians in the world”, as the Patriarchate itself already likes to call him such. However, an emphasis on things Greek occasionally hinders the ecumenical nature of the Patriarchate. We Finns and Estonians could rightly ask if it is only ethnic Greeks who can be members of the Holy Synod in Constantinople? Many of us have learned to live with this situation — but it does not mean we like it or that we agree with it.
Let us hope that one day, our Ecumenical Patriarchate will become as truly universal as it already claims to be.