“The arena of the virtues has opened; those who desire to compete may enter, girding themselves with the good struggle of fasting.” (Triodion, Cheesefare Sunday) Or, better, the arena has always remained open, from the time that the All-Merciful Lord of Glory deemed it worthy to assume our nature. Since then, through His Church, he invites every person to participate in the boundless gifts of the grace of the Holy Spirit, particularly during this blessed period of Holy and Great Lent.
Beloved children in the Lord, the boundless goodness of our God, who is truly worshipped in the Trinity, created the human race solely out of love in order to render us human beings – to the degree that is possible for human nature – sharers and participants of the grandeur of His sacred glory. This is the exclusive purpose of life at all times. Indeed, in order to achieve this purpose, the holy and inspired tradition of the Orthodox Church comes to our support, instructing, interpreting and including the entire spectrum of the spiritual life by means of various struggles, with which the faithful must always advance courageously.
Through the holy Sacrament of Baptism, each Christian received the grace of the Holy Spirit. If we begin to love God with all our heart, then this grace transmits to us in an incomprehensible way the wealth of its benefits. Whoever wishes to retain this experience of grace should strive with great joy to renounce from the soul the benefits of the present age in order to acquire the hidden wealth of true life. To the same degree that the soul advances in this spiritual struggle, the sacred gift of divine grace reveals the Lord’s goodness concealed in the depth of the soul in order to become the sure guide in the manifold spiritual struggle. (St. Diadochus of Photike, Century 77)
This spiritual struggle is ongoing for every faithful. Therefore, it requires us to start anew each day, each moment. “The time has come for the beginning of spiritual struggle, the victory of demons, the armor of virtue, the conduct of angels, the boldness before God.” (Lauds, Cheesefare Sunday) Great Lent precisely resembles a constant beginning of spiritual regeneration and renewal. This is why the hymnographer of the Triodion correctly orientates us toward its proper content, stating that bodily fasting by renouncing certain foods cannot result in remedy and is even despised by God as false, unless it is accompanied by purity that results from renouncing the spiritual passions (Lauds, Wednesday of Cheesefare Week).
Of course, focusing the intellect on the work of knowing God, in order to return it from passionate dispersion, comprises a toilsome and time-consuming labor. However, it is necessary and definitive for our spiritual wellbeing and social life. The way of virtue appears difficult and extremely unpleasant to those who undertake the journey; yet, not because it is actually like this, but because human nature has become accustomed to the ease of pleasure. For those who have succeeded in reaching the middle of this journey, in fact it appears pleasant and effortless (St. Diadochus of Photike, Century 93).
Frequently, those who cannot understand the great mystery of this piety consider the Orthodox ascetic tradition as negative and as leading to deprivation of creativity, of original initiative, of enjoyment in life’s pleasure. Nothing could be further from the truth. All that was created by God was created “very good” and offered to us in order to delight in and enjoy in order for us to give continual glory to our Benefactor. The commandments of God guide us and inform us in the proper use of these divine gifts, so that our body, mind and soul, together with all the material gifts, may be truly joyful and beneficial for our life. On the contrary, the arrogant, independent and contemptuous use of material gifts offered to us by the Creator result in entirely different goals to God’s expectations, leading us to depression, anxiety and misfortune, even though appearing to satisfy human pride momentarily.
Our Savior, who is truly divine and truly human, who is incomprehensibly known to the humble and those capable of receiving His uncreated grace, the Lord of glory and Lord of history, who directs our soul and mind, who contains the universe in His divine providence – from the smallest particle of His creation to the most inconceivable aspect of our world, is eternally the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (John 14.6) Just as the hypostatic source of Life could not possibly be held by death, which was crushed through His resurrection, so too there could not possibly be any positive human life without participation in the life-creating Body of the Risen Christ, the Orthodox Church, and the inspired Holy Tradition. In brief, the Lord reigns forever, while the ideas of the proud are proved false. Or, as St. Diadochus so wonderfully says: “There is nothing poorer than a mind endeavoring to philosophize about God without God.”
Beloved children in the Lord, upon entering the arena of Holy and Great Lent, we paternally exhort you not to be afraid or lazy in assuming the most important task of your life, namely the spiritual arena of work. Instead, be courageous and strong, so that you may purify your souls and bodies of all sin in order to reach the Kingdom of God, which is granted already from this life to those who seek it with sincerity and with all their soul.
May the grace of God and His boundless mercy be with you all.
The Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve sees Pittsburgh mission as 'centerpiece' of national effort
This message is also available for download in 8 other languages. Click on the language to download the pdf.
The National President of the the Ladies Philoptochos, Aphrodite Skeadas along with her husband Peter recently visited and spoke at St. Demetrios Church and the Headquarters of the Orthodox Christian Network in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Here she speaks of the sacred work of the Ladies and also their Partnership with OCN as we spread the message of the Gospel to the world.
As the return of the Büyükada Orphanage to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate was completed this week, the patriarchate's attorneys have begun a similar process for the return of other buildings that belong to foundations of Turkey's Greek minority.
The title deed for the orphanage was delivered on Monday. Cem Sofuoğlu, an attorney representing the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, received the title deed for the Orthodox orphanage for boys and then delivered it to Patriarch Bartholomew. The decision by the Foundations General Directorate to return the orphanage to the patriarchate marks the first time that the Turkish government has returned a seized property to a minority group.
The patriarchate once had 90 churches in İstanbul and on the islands of Gökçeada (Imbros) and Bozcaada (Tenedos), the deeds of which belong to the foundations of each church. The Foundations General Directorate arbitrarily assumed the management of 24 of these foundations, together with their property and claimed to have the right to rent or transfer these properties -- churches, schools, etc. -- to third parties.
Ankara decided to return the orphanage to the patriarchate following a decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), which ruled that the Turkish government had to return the orphanage to the patriarchate and pay 6,000 euros for non-pecuniary damages and 20,000 euros for costs and expenses.
The orphanage, one of the largest wooden buildings in the world, was bought by the patriarchate in 1902 and its management was handed over to the Büyükada Greek Orphanage Foundation in 1903. The orphanage housed Greek orphans from 1903 until 1964, when it was transferred to nearby Heybeliada. The building on Büyükada was left abandoned and eventually suffered further damage from a fire in 1980.
The ownership status of the Greek orphanage has been the subject of much debate between the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and the Foundations General Directorate, a powerful state institution that has been dealing with the fate of 2,235 properties owned by 147 foundations run by minorities.
Sofuoğlu has requested that some 23 other properties, including three buildings that belong to Turkish Greek minority foundations on Bozcaada (Tenedos) Island should be returned as well. Among those buildings are Salkımsöğüt Aya Terapi Ayazama (holy spring) and Primary School, Edirnekapı Aya Yorgi Orthodox Church, Fener Katip Muslahattin Aya Yorgi Greek Church, Edirnekapı Greek Primary School, Vefa Panayia Church and Ayazma, Büyükada Aya Yorgi Greek Monastery and Heybeliada Aya Yorgi Greek Monastery.
Meanwhile, one area in which both the patriarchate and the international community would like to see progress is on the issue of the Greek Orthodox seminary on Heybeliada, which remains closed. The Halki Seminary was closed in 1971 based on a law that put religious and military training under state control.
The Turkish government is warm to the idea of opening the seminary but expects steps from the Greek government in return regarding the Turkish minority's needs in Greece. The Turkish Education Ministry has already researched possible legal avenues that would allow for reopening the seminary. Doing so would also require changes to laws, which the government is unlikely to do on the eve of the 2011 elections.
The Ministry of Education had recommended that the seminary be put under its authority or that of the Higher Education Board (YÖK); however, the patriarchate has rejected both suggestions.
The patriarchate has also encountered serious problem in terms of how it has been perceived by the Turkish Republic. It has been described as a “threat” in national security documents, which were only recently updated to eliminate hostile wording as the Turkish government takes positive steps regarding democratic and religious freedoms.
Ankara is now expecting the Greek government to take some steps as well, for example, increasing the number of Turkish teachers in Celal Bayar High School in Komotini (Gümülcine) and allowing Fethiye Mosque in Athens to be restored to its original use. Ankara also points out that Athens is the only European capital without a mosque for its 200,000 Muslims and that the Greek government should implement its long overdue project of building a mosque in the city.
Istanbul, Turkey - Turkey complied with a European Court of Human Rights ruling on Monday and returned a 19th-century orphanage to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul, the center of Orthodox Christianity around the world.
The move is likely to appease the European Union which also calls on the Turkish government to reopen a Greek Orthodox seminary and return dozens of other properties such as school buildings and churches seized from Jewish and Christian foundations decades ago.
"It is an important development to show respect for law, democracy and minorities," said Cem Murat Sofuoglu, an attorney for the patriarchate, after receiving the title deed. "A right has been taken back."
Turkey took control of the 19th-century building in 1997, many years after it was abandoned, on the grounds that it belonged to another foundation and had fallen into disuse.
The Patriarchate, however, said the government had refused to issued the necessary permits for the maintenance and repair of the structure, one of the largest wooden buildings in the world. The European court ruled in June that the land was registered to the patriarchate, giving it de facto legal status to the building.
Turkey is also under pressure to reopen a theology school on an island outside Istanbul that trained generations of church leaders, including Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, until it was closed by Turkey in 1971. The official argument for the seminary's closure is that a religious institution without government oversight is not compatible with the secular institutions of Turkey, a country where all Muslim clerics are trained and paid by the government.
The patriarchate says Ankara refuses to open the seminary because it wants to prevent the church from raising new leaders. The church's leader has to be a Turkish citizen, which makes it difficult for the dwindling Greek community of several thousand to produce any candidates. But in a move to address that problem, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government recently granted Turkish citizenship to 12 senior clerics at the Ecumenical Patriarchate, so that they could succeed the 70-year-old Bartholomew.
The patriarchate in Istanbul dates from the Orthodox Greek Byzantine Empire, which collapsed when the Muslim Ottoman Turks conquered the city in 1453.
OCN to offer on site coverage of this historic event. Stay tuned starting Nov 14, 2010.
NEW YORK – The Order of St. Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America, will hold an International Religious Freedom Conference entitled “Religious Freedom: Turkey's Bridge to the European Union,” on November 16-17, 2010 at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium.
The two-day conference will bring together scholars, religious freedom and human rights advocates, journalists, diplomats, parliamentarians, religious leaders, representatives of the Government of Turkey, lawyers and members of minority communities that will focus on religious freedom. Speakers will analyze issues of religious freedom confronting the religious minorities in Turkey and propose answers.
“Religious freedom constitutes a most valuable gift from God, since it affects directly and substantively our relationship with Him. It is the open way of communication with our Creator. Therefore, a conference dedicated to religious freedom becomes a bridge between humanity and God and by extension a bridge connecting people, nations, cultures and religions,” said Archbishop Demetrios talking about the upcoming conference.
The conference is sponsored by the Order of St. Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America and the Pammakaristos Brotherhood of Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Europe, in cooperation with the Patriarchal Liaison Office of the Orthodox Church to the European Union.
Archbishop Demetrios of America will offer an introductory address at the opening dinner at the Conrad Brussels Hotel, the evening of Monday Nov. 15. The Conference will be held in the European Parliament and will begin Tuesday, November 16. Dr. Anthony Limberakis, National Commander of the Order of St. Andrew will welcome the participants along with Rodi Kratsa Tsagaropoulou, vice-president of the European Parliament. Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, director of the Liaison Office of the Orthodox Church to the European Union will read the Patriarchal Exhortation, and Archbishop Demetrios will follow him with the keynote address.
Additionally, the list of the distinguished speakers includes: Archbishop Aram Ateshian, Armenian Church, Archbishop of the Armenians in Turkey – Mustafa Akyol, Journalist and Political Commentator – Egemen Bagis, Turkish Government, Minister for EU Affairs and Chief Negotiator – Orhan Kemal Cengiz, Lawyer, Human Rights Defender, and News Paper Columnist – Cole Durham, BYU Law School, Susan Young Gates University Professor of Law and Director, International Center for Law and Religious Studies, J. Reuben Clark Law School – Steven Ealy, Senior Fellow, Liberty Fund – Dilek Kurban, Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation, Program Officer Democratization Program, Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation – Mario Mauro, Member of the European Parliament, Italy – Johny Messo, Syriac Universal Alliance, President – Claudio Monge, DoSt-I (Dominican Study- Institute) – Muna B. Ndulo, Professor of Law, Cornell Law School, Director of Cornell's Institute for African Development, Human Rights Advocate and Humanitarian – Otmar Oehring, Director, Human Rights Office, Missio Society – Emre Oktem, Professor, Galatasaray University – Pietr Omtzigt, Member of the Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe – Jaime Mayor Oreja, Member of the European Parliament, Spain – Elizabeth Prodromou, Vice Chair, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom – Patrick Gregor Puppinck, Director, European Center of Law of Justice – George Rockas, Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate – Bican Sahin, Assistant Professor, Hacettepe University, and President of Association of Liberal Thinking – Odysseus F. Sassayiannis, Administrateur, EFG Bank (Monaco) – Rabbi Arthur Schneier, President, Appeal of Conscience Foundation – Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel to the American Center for Law and Justice, Washington, D.C. and to the European Center for Law and Justice, Strasbourg, France – James J. Silk, Lawyer, Human Rights Defender – Renate Sommer, Member of the European Parliament, Germany – Konrad Szymanski, Member of the European Parliament, Poland – Rodi Kratsa Tsagaropoulou, Vice President of the European Parliament – Riza Turmen, Former Judge, European Court of Human Rights – Lakis Vingas, Representative of the Minority Foundations at the General Directorate of Foundations Assembly – Angela Wu, Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, International Law Director, Washington, D.C. and – Mine Yildirim, Researcher at the Institute for Human Rights at Åbo Akademi University.
Ecumenical Patriarch Receives Officers of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America
Sep 27, 2010 - NEW YORK – On Tuesday, Sept. 21, His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew received the Officers of the Assembly of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North and Central America at the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul. His All Holiness had invited the Officers through the cooperation of Archbishop Demetrios of America, the Chairman of the Assembly, who also led the delegation to the Phanar for a substantive meeting. The other Officers included Archbishop Justinian of Naro-Fominsk (Moscow Patriarchate, Vice-Chairman), Archbishop Antony of Hierapolis, (Ecumenical Patriarchate – Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, Treasurer), and Bishop Basil of Wichita and Mid-America (Patriarchate of Antioch – Antiochian Archdiocese, Secretary). Also in attendance at the meeting were Archimandrite Bartholomew Samaras, Deputy Secretary of the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Archpriest Igor Vyzhanov of the Moscow Patriarchate, and Frs. Mark Arey and John Chryssavgis of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. Vice Chairman Metropolitan Philip (Patriarchate of Antioch – Antiochian Archdiocese) was unable to attend.
Message of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew for the Indiction and the Day of the Protection of the Environment
B A R T H O L O M E W
NEW YORK - As is well known, on September 11, 2001 our city and nation suffered a terrorist attack of unparalleled proportions. In addition to the tragic and horrific loss of almost 3,000 innocent victims, a number of whom were members of our own community, the world witnessed the unimaginable collapse of the Twin Towers. When the second Tower fell, it landed on and erased all traces of the Greek Orthodox Christian Church of St. Nicholas, the only house of worship destroyed that day. Opened in 1916 by a group of Greek immigrants, the church not only served the spiritual needs of its parishioners but was also a sacred space in which people of all ethnic and religious backgrounds working in the surrounding area would often stop, light a candle and spend a few moments in prayer and reflection.
Thursday, August 19, 2010 - The Clergy of Holy Resurrection Serbian Orthodox Cathedral in Chicago, Illinois, regret to inform the brothers and sisters of our God-protected community that His Eminence Metropolitan +CHRISTOPHER, our beloved Archpastor and spiritual father, has reposed in the Lord on August 18, 2010 at 7:45 pm, following a short and serious illness at the age of 82.