Metropolitan Nicholas' Homecoming at Halki

December 1, 2005

CONSTANTINOPLE - After a long, three year absence, His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas was finally able to make a much desired pilgrimage to the Holy Mother and Great Church of Christ, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Accompanied by the present writer, His Eminence journeyed over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend to the Queen of Cities, Constantinople, in order to participate in the celebrations attending the Patronal Feastday of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the feast of the Holy First-Called Apostle Saint Andrew, the founder and protector of See of Constantinople.

After a difficult year of illness and continuing treatments, with the prayers of the clergy and faithful of the Carpatho-Russian Church in America and his innumerable friends throughout America and the world, His Eminence entrusted his journey to his dual patrons, Saints Nicholas and Nectarios, that they might accompany him to the City that belongs to the Mother of God, and for which all Orthodox Christians pray. Through her holy prayers, Metropolitan Nicholas arrived safely in Constantinople, and after a day of rest, he made his appearance at the Phanar, the Sacred Center of the Orthodox Faith, where, within the Patriarchal Compound and the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George the Trophy-bearer, the American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church was canonized and her first Hierarch, the thrice-blessed Metropolitan Orestes (Chornock) was ordained bishop.

As the porters and clergy recognized Metropolitan Nicholas, who was ascending the steps to the Gate of the Holy Martyr Patriarch Gregory V, every face broke into a wide smile and many eyes filled with tears of joy.

The Metropolitan stood before the Gate where Patriarch Gregory was hung by the Ottomans on Pascha Sunday 1821. He prayed and kissed the Gate that has been shut since that holy martyrdom and shall ever remain so. (Later, in the Cathedral of Athens and All Greece, His Eminence would reverence the Holy Relics of the martyred Patriarch, for they are enshrined in a magnificent marble tomb in the Cathedral of the Annunciation.)

Immediately upon entering the Patriarchate (which has been housed in the Monastery of St. George the Trophy-bearer since 1601), Metropolitan Nicholas went to pray in the Cathedral, and venerate the great treasures that are present there: the Holy Relics of Saints Euphemia (the very Relics that Metropolitan Orestes brought back from Constantinople to place in the antimensia that are on many Altars in the Diocese), St. Theophano and St. Solomone; a portion of the Column of the Flagellation from the Praetorium in Jerusalem; the Icon of Panaghia Pammakaristos; and, thanks to the initiative of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Returned Relics of two of the greatest Patriarchs of Constantinople - St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom.

When His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew learned of the Metropolitan's presence within the compound, he invited him to accompany him to the beloved island of Halki, where His All Holiness was to host a prominent journalist.

Traveling over the Sea of Marmara on the Patriarchal yacht, Metropolitan Nicholas reflected on his days at the Halki Seminary, over 40 years ago.

As the dome of Aghia Sophia loomed in the background and the panorama of the City spread out before the calm Sea, His Eminence reminisced with His All Holiness. Many of the faithful of the Carpatho-Russian Diocese are aware how in 1962, with the blessings of Metropolitan Orestes and the sponsorship of the Exarch of the Ecumenical Throne, Archbishop Iakovos, the future Metropolitan Nicholas Smisko traveled to Constantinople and the famous Theological School of Halki.

Those years were not only formative for the young priest Nicholas, but were of great service to the Church, for the then Patriarch Athenagoras assigned the priest Nicholas to serve to Russian Churches (St. Andrew and St. Elias) in the Galata neighborhood of the City. The love of Patriarch Athenagoras for the young priest Nicholas was a reflection that the Patriarch had for the Carpatho-Russian people and the Diocese of which he was the godfather. It was Patriarch Athenagoras (then Archbishop of America) who sponsored the canonization of the Carpatho-Russian Diocese into the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

When the boat had completed the one hour trip from the City to Halki, Metropolitan Nicholas boarded a horse-drawn carriage with the Patriarch (there are no automobiles allowed on the island), and together they wound around to the top of the Island, where the Seminary sits with a commanding view of Constantinople, Chalcedon and all the Princess Islands that are strewn like lilies in the dark waters Sea of Marmara.

The Seminary of Halki, closed by the Turkish government since 1971 on the grounds that no religious schools are permitted in the secular state of Turkey, occupies the site of the famous 9th Century Monastery of the Holy Trinity, founded by St. Photios the Great, himself Ecumenical Patriarch.

Upon their arrival, Metropolitan Nicholas made for the Church of the Holy Trinity, which stands in the midst for the grand 19th century buildings of the Seminary. After venerating the precious icons, he found his way to the very monastic stall (Gk., "stasidion") where he had worshiped so many times during his years there as a student. He was greeted warmly by the current Abbot of the Monastery, His Eminence Metropolitan Apostolos of Moschonisia and introduced to many pilgrims who had come from Greece for the feast of St. Andrew. After a little roaming through the halls and classrooms and replete with good memories, His Eminence joined the Patriarch for a small luncheon and then returned to Constantinople.

That evening, Metropolitan Nicholas was invited to serve for the Feastday of St. Andrew with His All Holiness and eleven other Hierarchs of the Throne and from around the world. But before that Liturgy, there were other causes of celebration and joy.

Throughout the days that preceded the Feast of the First-Called Andrew, the Patriarchate is teeming with visitors from all over the world. Clerics of every rank, Orthodox and heterodox, diplomats from within the consular community in Constantinople and overseas, print and television journalists, and a whole host of pilgrims swell the courtyard that borders the Patriarchal Cathedral and the Holy House of the Sacred Myrrh (the Myrrhophylakeion-- where Metropolitan Nicholas assisted in the Blessing of the Sacred Chrism three years ago, his last time in Constantinople).

Among all these visitors was a very special one for the Metropolitan, a former student at Christ the Savior Seminary in Johnstown and a devoted spiritual son of His Eminence. With great eagerness, the newly elected Bishop for the Ukrainian Church in Great Britain sought out the Metropolitan. His Grace, Bishop-Elect Andrej Peshko (as a student at Christ the Savior, "Bogdan") embraced the Metropolitan with joy and love, kissing his hand and smiling broadly. His Grace Andrej had come to the Phanar in order to officially accept his election to the episcopacy and pay his respects to the Patriarch. But he was anxious to see Metropolitan Nicholas, knowing that not a few days hence, on the Feast of St. Andrew old style (Dec. 13), the Metropolitan will be one of his three consecrators, appointed by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

On November 30th, with the relics of St. Andrew the First-Called presented for veneration, His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew celebrated the Divine Liturgy with twelve Hierarchs of the Throne and from around the world. His Eminence, Metropolitan Nicholas was among those honored to serve. As the Liturgy was chanted in Greek, Slavonic, Carpatho-Rusin, Ukrainian and English, the delegation of the Roman Catholic Church, led by Cardinal Walter Kasper, the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, followed the Divine Service with the crowds who had come for the feast. Monks and nuns, many bishops and priests, even the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople lined the the monastic stalls of the St. George Cathedral.

It has been a tradition for many years that on their respective feasts (November 30 for New Rome, Constantinople, and June 29 for Old Rome) that Delegations be sent and that greetings be read. At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, His All Holiness delivered the traditional address to the Roman Church Delegation and among his words were these very important thoughts on the purpose of dialogue.

"Our invitation for dialogue addresses all people, regardless of faith or standing, and its final goal is for all to learn the truth that is in Christ and to taste the great delight that derives from knowing Christ.

Certainly, the course of unification of all has levels and stages of progress, an is an issue that goes beyond the lifetime of many. The anticipated goal of this dialogue is not the personal victory of one side of the participants over the other; the goal is to discover a ray of truth and to jointly accept it. The discovery and acceptance of the first ray of truth should then lead to the discovery of yet another one, and so on. The fullness of the truth, however, cannot be obtained or ensured by means of accuracy in its expression, because it is chiefly an ontological reality; it is an experience in Christ; it is Christ. Living in Christ cannot be achieved by means of intellect alone. It also requires a genuine grafting into Him, as into a well-cultured olive tree (Rom. 11:23), the Communion of His Body and Spirit (1 Cor. 10:16), the ascent to Mt. Tabor and participation in the Transfiguration (Matt. 17:2-6), so that we will be enlightened by the Uncreated Divine Light and recognize Jesus, Who is walking with us in a different guise and is made known 'in the the Breaking of the Bread' (Luke 24:35)."

After the response of the Catholic Cardinal, all the Hierarchs in attendance retired for a luncheon hosted by the Patriarch.

Later that evening, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew received Metropolitan in a private audience. His Eminence made presentations on behalf of the Diocese and there was a personal exchange of gifts. His All Holiness was jubilant at the good health of the Metropolitan and expressed his fervent desire that His Eminence would return to the Mother Church even every year. In fact, His Eminence will join His All Holiness for the Great Blessing of the Waters at Tarpon Springs, Florida in January for the 100th anniversary of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Tarpon Springs.

The Patriarch closed their meeting by extending a special invitation to the Metropolitan to be present at any inaugural ceremonies, should their shared Alma Mater, the Theological School at Halki, be reopened.

With blessings and joy, Metropolitan Nicholas departed from the Queen of Cities this morning, December 1st. He will be in Athens, where St. Paul the Apostle preached the Gospel, and will celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas on the new calendar on Tuesday December 6th. Later on that same day, His Eminence will be received by the American Ambassador to Greece, Charles Ries, at the American Embassy.

- Contributed by Father Mark Arey