The Patriarch at Fordham

October 28, 2009

Yesterday the Patriarch of Constantinople was in New York to receive an honorary doctorate of laws at Fordham University; I drove up to the Bronx to attend the ceremony. I had brought with me my camera, and, while I was there sitting in the University Church, listening to the various dignitaries give their speeches, I remembered that the camera has a feature that records sound and video, which I had never tried using before. So I attempted to record the Patriarch’s address. Unfortunately, there was enough memory in the camera only to record about three quarters of the address; my transcription of that recording is given below. In one or two places, I cannot be sure that I interpreted the Patriarch’s words correctly; I have made note of these places by footnotes.

I will preface my transcription with the official order of ceremonies, and with the text of the citation that was read aloud by the Reverend Robert B. Grimes, S.J., dean of Fordham College at Lincoln Center, upon the Patriarch’s receiving of his honorary degree.

Musical Prelude Solemn Entry | Richard Strauss
Rejoice, O Mother of God | Sergei Rachmaninoff
The Cherubic Hymn | Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov
Processional Ti Ipermacho, traditional Orthodox hymn
Welcome Stephen Freedman,
Senior Vice President / Chief Academic Officer
Invocation His Excellency Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan,
Archbishop of New York
Greetings from the University The Reverend Joseph M. McShane, S.J.,
President of Fordham University
Greetings from the Holy See His Eminence Edward Cardinal Egan,
Papal Delegate of His Holiness Benedict XVI
Conferral of the Honorary Degree Joseph M. McShane, S.J.
John N. Tognino,
Chair, Fordham University Board of Trustees
Musical Interlude Polychronion, traditional Orthodox hymn
The Fordham University Choir
Robert Minotti, Director
Address Discerning God’s Presence in the World
His All Holiness Bartholomew,
Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome
and Ecumenical Patriarch
Benediction His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios,
Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America
Recessional The Great Gate of Kiev
from Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky

His All Holiness Bartholomew,
Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome
and Ecumenical Patriarch

“War in the name of religion is war against religion.”

Since his enthronement in 1991, His All Holiness Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, has been an apostle of peace. Not the peace of the earthly city, which, as St. Augustine made clear, was simply a temporary cessation of violence; but the peace of which Christ spoke when He assured His disciples, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14: 27). This peace is the communion that Christ shares with God the Father. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit it becomes possible for all of God’s creation to share in the peace of divine-human communion. As a missionary of the peace of Christ, His All Holiness carries forward the apostolic legacy of his renowned predecessors: Saint Andrew, the First-Called Apostle; Saint Gregory the Theologian; Saint John Chrysostom; and Saint Photios the Great, who commenced the conversion of the Slavic people.

His All Holiness’ tireless efforts to repair the brokenness of creation caused by human avarice have earned him the beloved epithet “the Green Patriarch.” He has constantly proclaimed to the global community the sacramental potential of all creation; that the Holy Spirit, as the Orthodox Prayer of Pentecost states, “is everywhere present and fills all things.” God is present in creation, but the beauty of the divine glory is only experienced when humans relate to their fellow creatures in a Eucharistic spirit. His All Holiness has embodied this presence to the world both as minister of the Eucharist, in which his authority as “First Among Equals” throughout Orthodox Christianity is most visible, and through his tireless efforts to protect the waters of the world by organizing environmental symposia regarding the Black Sea, the Danube River, the Baltic and Adriatic Seas, and, most recently, the Mississippi River.

As spiritual leader of more than 300 million Orthodox Christians throughout the world, the Ecumenical Patriarch has worked in close and brotherly association with Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. These three Holy Fathers have recognized that the Christian mission to be an image of divine-human communion and an apostle of peace to the world is hindered by the schism between the “sister churches.” The Ecumenical Patriarch has welcomed Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and has visited the Vatican on numerous occasions, signaling his commitment to the reconciliation of the two churches through a dialogue of truth and love.

As a Christian leader in a non-Christian country, His All Holiness has championed human rights, especially the right to religious freedom and economic equality. He has initiated peace and reconciliation efforts throughout the world; he has visited Muslim countries and met with their leaders; he has visited Israel and met with the World Jewish Congress. The Ecumenical Patriarch spearheaded the Berne and Bosphorus Declarations condemning violence in the name of religion. Both in word and in deed, the ministry of His All Holiness is truly ecumenical, bringing the peace of Christ to the far corners of the Earth.

For his remarkable service to the world community and for the principles that he continues to uphold, we, the President and Trustees of Fordham University, in solemn convocation assembled and in accord with the chartered authority bestowed on us by the Regents of the University of the State of New York, declare His All Holiness Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, Doctor of Laws honoris causa. That he may enjoy all the rights and privileges of this, our highest honor, we have issued these letters patent under our hand and the corporate seal of the University on this, the 27th day of October in the year of our Lord two thousand and nine.

The Patriarch’s address: Discerning God’s Presence in the World

Fr Joseph McShane, esteemed members of the board of trustees, and beloved brothers of the Society of Jesus, ἐξοχότατοι κυρίου πρέσβεις [1], most learned professors and students, distinguished guests, beloved children and people of God:

It is with sincere gratitude that we accept this invaluable honor of being received into the doctoral college of this esteemed Jesuit school; we welcome this privilege as a recognition of the sacred ministry of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, an apostolic institution with a history spanning seventeen centuries, throughout retaining its see in Constantinople. Yet, our Church is no worldly institution. It wields no political authority. Instead, it leads by example, coordinating Pan-Orthodox Christian unity by virtue of a primacy of love and honor, a ministry emanating from its supra-national authority. This universal consciousness gave rise to the first seven ecumenical councils, articulating the symbol of faith or Nicean Creed, and established the New Testament canon. It also gave birth to churches from the Caspian to the Baltic, and from the Balkans to Central Europe. Today its jurisdiction extends to the Far East, Western Europe, Australia and America. Of course, this ecumenicity constitutes both an ancient privilege and a lasting responsibility, demanding an open ministry within our own communities, communions, among other Christian confessions, as well as towards the world’s faith-communities. Within our ecumenical initiatives, the International Theological Dialogue with our sister Church of Rome, instituted in the ’60s as the Dialogue of Love, and continued today as the Dialogue of Truth, comprises our foremost encounter of speaking the truth in love, “Caritas in Veritate,” as it is the title of the recent encyclical of his Holiness the Pope.

A concrete example of this encounter here at Fordham is the Orthodox Christian Higher Studies Program, which is the first of its kind at a major university in the United States, as it is already said. This program complements the existing annual Orthodoxy in America lecture, and the Orthodox Christian Fellowship, and demonstrates a practical synergistic spirit, modeling for Orthodox and Roman Catholics everywhere a shared common purpose, based in truth and in love.

Nevertheless, our purpose this evening is not to outline to you the manner in which the ecumenical imperative defines our Church, but rather, to inspire in all of you the primacy of ecumenicity, or the value of opening up in a world that expects us always to be prepared to give an answer to everyone that asks us to give a reason for the hope within us: διδόναι λόγον παντὶ τῷ αἰτοῦντι περὶ τῆς ἐν ἡμῖν ἐλπίδος.

In this regard, we would like to draw your attention to three dimensions of opening up, or ecumenical consciousness. One, opening up to the heart. Two, opening up to the other. And three, opening up to creation.

Opening up to the heart (the way of the spirit).

As faith communities and as religious leaders, it is our obligation constantly to pursue and persistently to proclaim alternative ways to order human affairs, ways that reject violence and reach for peace. Human conflict may well be inevitable in our world, but war certainly is not. If the twenty-first century will be remembered at all, it may be for those who dedicated themselves to the cause of tolerance and understanding. Yet, the pursuit of peace calls for a reversal of what has become normal and normative in our world. It requires conversion (μετάνοια, or “metanoia”), and the willingness to become individuals and communities of transformation. The Orthodox Christian spiritual classics emphasize the heart as the place where God, humanity, and world may coincide in harmony. Indeed, the Philokalia underlines the paradox that peace is gained through witness, through μαρτυρία, received not as passivity or indifference to human suffering, but as relinquishing selfish desires and acquiring greater generosity. The way of the heart stands in opposition to everything that violates peace. When one awakens to the way within, peace flows as an expression of gratitude toward God’s love for the world. Unless our actions are founded on love, rather than on fear, they will never overcome fanaticism and fundamentalism. In this sense, the way of the heart is a radical response, threatening policies of violence and politics of power. This is why peacemakers threaten the established law [2]. Indeed, the Sermon on the Mount, ἡ ἐπὶ τοῦ ὄρους ὁμιλία τοῦ Κυρίου, shaped the pacifist teaching of Leo Tolstoy, whose work, The Kingdom of God is Within You, was opened [3] by the writings of the Philokalia, and, in turn, profoundly influenced both the nonviolent principles of Mahatma Gandhi and the civil rights activism of Martin Luther King. Sometimes, the most provocative message is loving our enemy and doing good to those who hate us.

Some may announce the “End of Faith,” or the “End of History,” blaming religion for violent aberrations in human behavior; yet never was the peaceful protest of religion more necessary than now. Never was the powerful resistance of religion more critical than today. Ours is the beginning, not the end, of either faith or history.

II. Opening up to the other (the way of dialogue).

This is why the inter-religious gatherings, initiated by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, are crucial for paving the way toward peaceful coexistence between the world’s peoples. Such dialogue draws people of diverse religious beliefs and cultural traditions out of their isolation, instituting a process of mutual respect and meaningful communication. When we seek this kind of encounter, we discover ways of coexisting in spite of our differences. After all, historical conflicts between Christians and Moslems are normally rooted in politics, and not in religion. The tragic story of the Crusades is a telling example, bequeathing a legacy of cultural alienation and ethnic resentment. Speaking, then, of an inevitable and inexorable “Clash of Civilizations” is incorrect and inappropriate, especially when such a theory posits religion as the principal battleground on which such conflict is doomed to occur. National leaders may provoke isolation and aggression between Christians and Moslems, or else demagogues may mobilize religions in order to reinforce national fanaticism and hostility. However, this is not to be confused with the true nature and purpose of religion. Christians and Moslems lived alongside each other during the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, usually supported by their political and religious authorities. In Andalusia, Spain, believers in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam coexisted peacefully for centuries. Such historical models reveal possibilities for our own pluralistic and globalized world.

Moreover, any theory about the “Clash of Civilizations” is invariably naive, inasmuch as it oversimplifies differences between peoples, cultures, and religions. How ironic that religion promotes a more liberal position than the realism of a political scientist!

The visit in November 2006, on the occasion of our patron’s feast, the Feast of St. Andrew, by Pope Benedict XVI, our elder and beloved brother, to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople (Istanbul) was historical not only for relations between the Eastern and Western Churches, but also for Christianity and Islam. The then-newly elected pope continued a tradition established by his predecessors, the late Popes Paul VI and John Paul II, who both visited the Phanar, in 1967 and 1979 respectively. Requiescant (both) in pace. We affectionately recall how Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, an extraordinary leader of profound vision and ecumenical sensitivity, a tall man with piercing eyes, would resolve conflict by inviting the embattled parties to meet, saying to them, Come, let us look one another in the eyes. This means that we must listen more carefully, look one another more deeply in the eyes. As St. Nilus of Ancyra wrote (ὁ Ἅγιος Νεῖλος Ἀγκύρας): “You are a world within the world. Look inside yourself, and there you will see God in the whole of creation.” Each of us comprises a living icon to the divine Creator, and we are, furthermore, always, whether we know it or not, closer to one another, in more ways than we are distant from one another, closer than we might ever suspect, or even imagine.

And the last point: Opening up to creation (the way of the earth).

Speaking of icons, when it comes to God and creation, leads us to our final point. For nowhere is the sense of openness more apparent than in the beauty of Orthodox iconography and in the order of God’s creation. In affirming sacred images, the Seventh Ecumenical Council in Nicaea (787)…. [4]

* * *

[1] I.e., “most-exalted priests/emissaries of the Lord.” Probably, in particular, a reference to the Papal Delegate, His Eminence Edward Cardinal Egan.

[2] The recording here was a bit unclear; it is possible that the Patriarch said “world,” not “law.”

[3] Again, the recording was a bit unclear. It is possible that he said “authored,” not “opened.”

[4] Unfortunately, at this point my camera ran out of space for recording video. What I recall was the final point the patriarch made in his address, summing up the whole of it: “Openness to the heart, openness to the other, openness to creation. Without these, there is no true discerning of God’s presence in this world.”

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