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Bartholomew I - the 'green' patriarch

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    2005.11.01 Daily Targum: Bartholomew I - the green patriarch Religion and Spirituality in a Globalized World By Michael Rossi Published: 11/1/05 Down a
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 4, 2005
      2005.11.01 Daily Targum:

      Bartholomew I - the 'green' patriarch

      Religion and Spirituality in a Globalized World
      By Michael Rossi
      Published: 11/1/05

      Down a small, narrow alleyway deep within the interior neighborhoods
      of Istanbul, Turkey, is the residence of Ecumenical Patriarch
      Bartholomew I, of Constantinople, and spiritual leader to the world's
      350 million Orthodox Christians. Unlike the Pope or the Dalai Lama,
      however, Bartholomew receives considerably less press coverage and
      media attention outside countries and communities where Orthodox
      Christianity is the majority. As a Christian leader living in
      overwhelmingly Muslim Turkey, most Turkish citizens do not even know
      of his existence, or his office. Despite the low profile, Bartholomew
      is considered one of the most progressive and forward-thinking
      religious leaders of our time, championing environmental awareness,
      drug awareness, sex education and interreligious dialogue.

      The Ecumenical Patriarchate remains something of an enigma in our
      present world. Its residence is in Istanbul, though almost every
      Orthodox Christian still calls it Constantinople, not so much in
      defiance of present politics, but in nostalgic memory that harkens
      back to a time when the city and nearly the entire boundary of
      present-day Turkey and Greece formed the core of Christian Byzantium,
      the successor to the Roman Empire. The patriarchs were the spiritual
      leaders of the Eastern, or "Greek," Church, and essentially served as
      "popes" of the East.

      The Patriarchate can trace its lineage back to St. Andrew the
      Apostle, and has remained in Constantinople up to the present day,
      long after the Turkish conquest of Byzantium in 1453. Conditions have
      certainly been rough at times, especially during periods of
      nationalist tension between Greece and Turkey. The Greek community of
      Istanbul now numbers around 3,500, a dwindling shadow of what was
      once 150,000 strong at the turn of the 20th century. The Great Church
      of Hagia Sophia, one of the greatest churches and architectural
      masterpieces in history, was first converted into a mosque and then
      into a museum.

      Like the situation of the Dalai Lama and Tibet with the Chinese
      government, religious minorities in Turkey have certainly been victim
      of statewide stifling of religious and linguistic pluralism in recent
      times. The famed Greek Orthodox theological school of Halki has
      remained closed since 1971 by the Turkish government to combat what
      it believes to be "anti-Turkish rhetoric" and "religious propaganda."
      In order to enter the Patriarchal Residence, one must walk through a
      metal detector because of numerous bomb scares by Muslim zealots and
      Turkish nationalists over the years. Unlike the Dalai Lama who is
      forced into exile, the Patriarchate remains in Constantinople under
      less strict but equally difficult positions.

      However, these conditions, Bartholomew says, give him the resolve to
      encourage interreligious dialogue with his fellow Turkish Muslim
      neighbors and to transform his church from a specifically Greek
      Church into a "global" institution. Since his inauguration to the
      ecclesiastical throne of Constantinople in 1991, Bartholomew has been
      an outspoken critic of environmental abuse, especially throughout
      Eastern Europe, and has worked closely with scientists, ecologists
      and fellow theologians making environmental concerns a central policy
      of political and religious concern. He has declared polluting to be a
      "sin" against creation and "a sacrilege" of the duties given to
      mankind to protect earth and nature.

      Environmental destruction also takes place within our own bodies, he
      says. Whether we commit physical acts of self-inflicted violence in
      the form of drug abuse or unprotected sex, or mental violence in the
      form of over-consumption and vainglorious narcissism, we pollute our
      bodies as much as our rivers, oceans, forests and air. In an address
      given in Venice in 2002 before signing a dual declaration for
      environmental awareness with then Pope John Paul II, the Patriarch
      argued, "We are to practice a voluntary self-limitation in our
      consumption of food and natural resources. Each of us is called to
      make the crucial distinction between what we want and what we need.
      Only through such self-denial, through our willingness sometimes to
      forgo and to say, "No" or "Enough" will we rediscover our true human
      place in the universe. … Greed and avarice render the world opaque,
      turning all things to dust and ashes. Generosity and unselfishness
      render the world transparent, turning all things into a sacrament of
      loving communion - communion between human beings with one another,
      communion between human beings and God. This need for an ascetic
      spirit can be summed up in a single key word: sacrifice. This exactly
      is the missing dimension in our environmental ethos and ecological
      action."

      Self-indulgence also comes in the form of religious fundamentalism
      and xenophobia. His words on environmental awareness belies parallel
      references to the "pollution of religion" in the form of "selfish"
      and "unscrupulous" theologians and demagogues of all faiths, dumping
      what he calls "religious waste" into our churches, mosques and
      synagogues. Much religious xenophobia in the world he says stems from
      historical grievances and unresolved transgressions.

      The Patriarchate of Constantinople is no stranger to such conflicts,
      as it stands as the most enduring symbol of Greece's Byzantine past,
      in what was once the capital of a great multiethnic, multilinguistic
      empire that at one point stretched from Spain to Syria. In 1994, the
      Patriarch spearheaded, along with other major religious leaders of
      Turkey and Greece, what has become known as the Bosphoros
      Declaration, denouncing all forms of religious fundamentalism that
      embraces violence, xenophobia, warfare and the physical harm of
      others, especially toward women and children. Directly influenced by
      religious tension in the Balkans, the Middle East and in former areas
      of the Soviet Union, Bartholomew stood side by side with his Muslim
      and Jewish colleagues in Turkey, calling for an end to all violence
      perpetrated in the name of God, declaring that "a crime committed in
      the name of religion is a crime against religion."

      The Patriarch's efforts to embrace environmentalism on physical,
      moral, and spiritual grounds is part of his broader agenda to
      modernize his church and bring it out of its perceived distant and
      insular positions after centuries of foreign domination and self-
      imposed seclusion. With the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and
      the rediscovery of religion and traditional values by society,
      Bartholomew's goals have been met with widespread acceptance from all
      sides of the political and religious spectrum. In trying to
      demonstrate that the Patriarchate and the Orthodox Church can come to
      symbolize a renewed Byzantine cosmopolitanism, Bartholomew is seeking
      to find common ground with his Christian and Muslim neighbors who
      share similar concerns for how their societies and communities will
      develop and cooperate in a globalizing and modernizing world.

      Turkish Istanbul, much like Byzantine Constantinople, stands as a
      bridge between Europe and Asia, between Greece and Turkey, between
      East and West, between Christianity and Islam. Bridges, the Patriarch
      says, unites people, not divides them. As Turkey moves closer to
      European integration, and as society continues to look for guidance
      in spirituality in an age of consumption and competition, perhaps we
      need to pay closer attention to such hidden jewels who have been in
      our midst all along. For the spiritual leader of one of
      Christianity's oldest and most traditional churches, he definitely
      reflects and embodies modern concerns for all societies and
      communities, truly living up to his title, "Ecumenical" Patriarch.

      Michael Rossi is a political science department graduate student. His
      column, Religion and Spirituality in a Globalized World, runs
      alternate Tuesdays.

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