Feast of St. Andrew Celebrated at Ecumenical Patriarchate

Friday, December 2, 2005

ISTANBUL - (Constantinople) Turkish Daily News

Wednesday was the Feast of St. Andrew, the apostle of Christ who is considered to be the founding saint of the Orthodox Church in Istanbul. It was a time of fellowship and collegiality as guests from the United States, Greece and elsewhere came to join the Greek Orthodox patriarch and members of the Orthodox community in celebrating the occasion.

St. Andrew is thought to have been the first disciple to follow Jesus Christ during his ministry and as such occupied a powerful position among Christ's followers, although he had started life as a fisherman. He also convinced his more famous brother, St. Peter, to be a follower. Afterwards, St. Andrew traveled to Byzantium, Greece and southern Russia. Later he was martyred by the Roman governor in Patrae on an X-shaped cross that is now the flag of Scotland. St. Andrew is the patron saint of Russia and Scotland as well as being the founding saint of the Greek Orthodox Church.

The ceremony at the Church of St. George at Fener, where the worshippers gathered, was a solemn one as befits such occasions. The patriarch was joined by Cardinal Walter Kasper, who is the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity and who represented Pope Benedict XVI in Rome, a delegation from the Roman Catholic Church in Rome, a group of Archons, who are an important part of the Greek Orthodox Church in the United States, and members of the diplomatic corps in Turkey.

On this occasion the patriarch's message was one of dialogue between the Roman and Greek Orthodox churches. He stressed the difficulty of achieving such a dialogue that could take years to develop after so much time had passed. There are matters of doctrinal differences, and he pointed out that there were those who felt that making any compromise would be to sell out. On the other hand, the patriarch made clear that there would be no doctrinal compromise to reach a successful conclusion to discussions aimed at bringing the Roman and Greek Orthodox churches closer together.

Patriarch Bartolomeos has long been an advocate of dialogue as a means of reaching an understanding -- not just between churches. He has preached peace and tolerance at every turn, initiating meetings on these very subjects ever since he became patriarch.

There are those who doubt his motives, who accuse him of trying to set up a mini-Vatican, of trying to exert his influence, which is totally spiritual, over Orthodox believers throughout the world, for other ends. This is as true in Turkey as it is in Greece. Those who suspect his motives don't know him and are unable to see him for what he really is and what he is really doing. A soft-spoken man with a dignified air about him, he has long been interested in the environment and environmental issues, an interest he pursued long before becoming patriarch. He has added to this a passionate interest in reconciliation, tolerance and peace. His invitations to discussions on these issues include members of the Muslim community, starting with the head of the Religious Affairs Directorate in Turkey.

The reception, held at the Patriarchate in Fener on Wednesday night, was a reflection of his interests. The many people who attended were of differing backgrounds and interests. From the delegation from Rome to the Archons from the United States, from the Greek Orthodox community in Istanbul to Turkish journalists, the reception showed the wide-ranging contacts of the patriarch.

Cordially welcoming his guests, Bartolomeos stressed that the Patriarchate was a religious institution and has been called the "ecumenical" Patriarchate since the earliest centuries of Christianity. Its intent was and is to look after the spiritual needs of its followers wherever they might be found. He pointed out that this was basically a coordinating role such as convoking inter-Orthodox councils, filling vacancies when there was no other way to do so. While it might enjoin unity or the careful observation of doctrine, it would not interfere with internal administration on its own.

A major theme of the patriarch's address was to reject the idea that the Patriarchate was involved in or might become involved in politics. "We, as the ecumenical Patriarchate, do not become involved in politics. We do, however, maintain our Christian convictions, for it is our religious duty to do so: Convictions that redound on the social situation of the various peoples and seek an amelioration of the circumstances of human life. We advocate, for instance, the equality of men and women and their equitable treatment before the law, without being heedless of the distinct ordering of the roles that each gender fulfills on account of its natural attributes. ... We believe that everybody has the right to live in a healthy and clean natural environment."

He then turned to the issue of human rights, declaring respect for them "to be utterly indispensable." He continued, "Indeed we believe that general social prosperity, which averts criminality and disturbance on the part of the disenfranchised by abolishing this class, rests on the wise and benevolent handling of unavoidable social disparities."

"All of these matters are, of course, related to politics, but we are not driven by political motives. We are impelled solely by humanitarian considerations and we range ourselves alongside all good efforts undertaken in this respect and support them wherever they may arise."

The patriarch reiterated his wish that Turkey would become a full member of the European Union and expressed his hope that this would come about in a short period of time. "We are gladdened by the European prospects of our country and support it on its path toward accession, for we believe that through accession to the European Union after the legislative, administrative and spiritual adjustments, not only shall religious freedom be better protected, as well as minority issues be dealt with more effectively, but the prosperity of the Turkish people shall increase."

As part of the St. Andrew celebrations, a two-day seminar is being held that started last night. In the coming days, we will be reporting more fully on the subjects that were discussed.

By Gul Demir & Niki Gamm

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