Catechetical Homily at the Opening of Holy and Great Lent

+ BARTHOLOMEW

By God’s mercy Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch

To the Plenitude of the Church

May the Grace and Peace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ be with you together with our Prayer, Blessing and Forgiveness

With the grace of God, the giver of all gifts, we have once again arrived at Holy and Great Lent, the arena of ascetical struggle, in order to purify ourselves with the Lord’s assistance through prayer, fasting and humility, as well as to prepare ourselves for a spiritual experience of the venerable Passion and the celebration of the splendid Resurrection of Christ the Savior.

In a world of manifold confusion, the ascetic experience of Orthodoxy constitutes an invaluable spiritual asset, an inexhaustible source of divine knowledge and human wisdom. The blessed phenomenon of ascesis, whose spirit pervades our entire way of life – for “asceticism is Christianity in its entirety” – is not the privilege of the few or chosen, but an “ecclesial event,” a communal good, a shared blessing and the common vocation for all faithful without exception. The ascetical struggles, of course, are not an end in themselves; the principle that “ascesis exists for the sake of ascesis” is not valid. The purpose of ascesis is the transcendence of one’s own will and the “mind of the flesh,” the transferal of the center of life from individual desire and the “right,” toward love that “does not seek its own,” in accordance with the scriptural passage: “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of the other.” (1 Cor. 10.24)

Such is the spirit that prevails throughout the long historical journey of Orthodoxy. In the New Miterikon, we encounter an excellent description of this ethos to renounce “our own” in the name of love: “Some hermits from Scetis once approached Amma Sarah, who offered them a container with basic provisions. The elders set aside the good food and consumed the bad. The righteous Sarah said to them: ‘You are truly monks from Scetis’”[1]This sensitivity and sacrificial use of freedom is foreign to the spirit of our age, which identifies freedom with individual assertions and claims for rights. Contemporary “autonomous” man would never have consumed the bad food, but only the good, convinced that in this way he expresses – while authentically and responsibly employing – individual freedom.

This is where the supreme value of the Orthodox concept of human freedom lies. It is a freedom that does not demand but shares, does not insist but sacrifices. The Orthodox believer knows that autonomy and self-sufficiency do not liberate humanity from the shackles of the ego, of self-realization and self-justification. The freedom “for which Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5.1) mobilizes our creative capacity and is fulfilled as rejection of self-enclosure, as unconditional love and communion of life.

The Orthodox ascetical ethos does not know division and dualism; it does not reject life, but rather transforms it. The dualistic vision and denial of the world is not a Christian concept. Genuine asceticism is luminous and charitable. It is a characteristic of Orthodox self-conscience that the period of fasting is permeated by the joy of the Cross and the Resurrection. Moreover, the ascetic struggle of Orthodox Christians – much like our spirituality and liturgical life in general – communicates the fragrance and radiance of the Resurrection. The Cross is found at the heart of Orthodox piety, but it is not the final point of reference in the life of the Church. Instead, the essence of Orthodox spiritual life is the ineffable joy of the Resurrection, toward which the Cross constitutes the way. Accordingly, during the period of Great Lent, the quintessence of experience for Orthodox Christians is always the yearning for the “common resurrection.”

Pray, then, precious brothers and sisters in the Lord, that we may be deemed worthy, with the grace and support from above, through the intercessions of the Theotokos, as first among the saints, and of all the saints, that we may run the race of Holy and Great Lent in a way that is fitting and joyous before Christ, joyfully exercising, in obedience to the rule of church tradition, the “common struggle” of fasting that extinguishes the passions, constantly praying, helping the suffering and needful, forgiving one another and “giving thanks for all things” (Thess. 5.18), in order that we might venerate with a devout heart the “Holy, Saving and Awesome Passion” as well as the life-giving Resurrection of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory, power and thanksgiving to the endless ages. Amen.

Holy and Great Lent 2019

✠ Bartholomew of Constantinople

Fervent supplicant for all before God

[1]P.V. Paschos (ed.), New Miterikon (Athens: Akritas Publications, 1990), 31.

Message By His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew On the 85th Anniversary of the Holodomor

 

(UOCUSA) Beloved children in the Lord: May God’s grace and peace be with you.

As every year, we are communicating with all of you with a heavy heart from the historic and martyric Mother Church of Constantinople while prayerfully commemorating the Holodomor of the Ukrainian People, the tragic and inhumane events of the years 1932-1933, when countless human beings lost their lives through deliberate and brutal famine.  This tragedy inscribes itself among other atrocities against humanity and God’s creation committed over the twentieth century, the most violent in history thus far.

As we pray for the repose of the victims’ souls and for the healing of this painful wound in the conscience of your blessed Nation, we remind all people of goodwill that the Church does not tolerate injustice or any type of force that undermines social cohesion.  Rather, it underscores the social teaching of the Christian Gospel and promotes diakonia and philanthropy. Orthodoxy’s responsibility is to serve as a positive challenge for contemporary humankind, a God-inspired perspective of life and an expression of authentic freedom.

When remembering the past and learning from its tragedies, we ought to move ahead into the future with compassion and forgiveness.  For, it is in the Church, the mystical Body of Christ, that we are spared from sorrow and suffering, while at the same time we find strength to forgive and love all people.  Our Ecumenical Patriarchate is strong because it has a sacrificial love and acts through humility and the Cross.  His story is filled with martyrdom and sacrifice for the world, for all peoples and for all nations.  The Church of Constantinople, as the Mother Church, is the incarnation of the free love of Christ, who does not crucify but is crucified, who sacrifices His soul for His friends – for all men.

For this reason, it is inconceivable that the Ecumenical Throne – which according to the Holy Canons is responsible for the unity and stability of Orthodoxy – would remain indifferent when an Orthodox people, such as the Ukrainian people, suffer and seek a solution to the ecclesiastical problems that have tormented them for centuries.  Therefore, we intervene by obligation – always on the basis of authentically ecclesiastical, truly universal and purely supra – national criteria – for the truth and tradition of the Church, the defense of canonical order and the identity of Orthodoxy, all for the purpose of building up the body of Christ, not for ourselves and not for demonstrating worldly strength and power.  By remaining indifferent, we would be left with no excuse before God and history.

This great responsibility of the Mother Church, the Holy and Great Church of Christ, certainly has no limits.  That is why, just as we have granted autocephaly to all local Churches, the Holy and Sacred Synod has similarly decided to grant autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, which is tormented in many ways, so that she, too, may join the plentitude of Orthodoxy in unity and internal peace.  Only the First Throne of Orthodoxy, the Church of Constantinople, holds this high responsibility according to the Holy and Sacred Canons.

May God grant rest to the souls of all the victims of the Holodomor, and may He grant all of you, dear children, patience in trials, as well as love and forgiveness for one another.  May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  Amen.

At the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the 24thof November, 2018

The fervent supplicant befoe God,

+BARTHOLOMEW

Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch

Ecumenical Patriarch’s Letter for the Opening of the Great and Holy Lent

CATECHETICAL HOMILY ON THE OPENING OF HOLY AND GREAT LENT

+ B A R T H O L O M E W
By God’s Mercy
Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch

To the Plenitude of the Church
May the Grace and Peace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
Together with our Prayer, Blessing and Forgiveness be with You

We offer a hymn of thanksgiving to the Triune God, who has rendered us worthy once more to reach Holy and Great Lent in order to fight the good fight of ascesis and turn towards the “one thing that is needful” (Luke 10:42).

In a world averse to asceticism, in the presence of contemporary de-sanctification of life and domination of self-centered and self-indulgent ideals, the Orthodox Church insists on a Lenten period of spiritual struggle and “venerable abstinence” for its children in preparation for Holy Week, the Passion and Cross of Christ, so that we may become witnesses and partakers of His glorious Resurrection.

During Great Lent we are called to experience the creative and salvific economy of the Trinitarian God more deeply and to partake in the eschatological inclination, direction and progression of ecclesiastical and spiritual life more tangibly. We become conscious of the tragic impasse of the self-serving arrogance of the Pharisee, the hard-heartedness of the elder son in the Parable of the Prodigal, the callous disregard for hunger, thirst, nakedness, sickness and abandonment of our neighbor, according to the gospel account of the future judgement. We are encouraged to imitate the repentance and humility of the Publican, the return of the Prodigal to the household of the Father, in whose Grace he trusts, as well as those who show mercy to the needy, Gregory Palamas’ life of prayer, John the Sinaite’s and Mary of Egypt’s life of ascesis, so that strengthened through the veneration of the holy icons and the precious Cross we may arrive at a personal encounter with Christ the life-giver who arose from the tomb.

During this blessed period, the communal and social character of spiritual life is revealed with particular emphasis. We are not alone; we do not stand alone before God. We are not a sum of individuals but a community of persons, for whom “existence” means “coexistence”. Ascesis is not individualistic but an ecclesiastical event and achievement—our participation as believers in the mystery and sacraments of the Church, a struggle against selfishness, a practice of philanthropy, a Eucharistic use of creation and a contribution to the transfiguration of the world. It is common freedom, common virtue, common good and common adherence to the rule of the Church. We fast as defined by the Church and not as we individually please. Our ascetic effort functions within the framework of our relations with other members of the ecclesial body, as participation in events, initiatives and actions, which constitute the Church as a community of life and of “truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Orthodox spirituality is inextricably bound to participation in the entire life of the Church, which culminates in the Divine Eucharist; it is a piety that is nurtured by the Church and expressed as Church.

The period of Great Lent is not a period to highlight religious or emotional extremes or superficial sentimentalities. From an Orthodox perspective, spirituality does not mean turning towards the spirit and the soul, which fosters a dualistic reduction of matter and body. Spirituality is the permeation of our entire existence—spirit, mind and will, soul and body, our entire life—by the Holy Spirit, which is a spirit of communion. Accordingly, then, spirituality means transforming our lives into church, a life inspired and guided by the Comforter, a genuine bearing of spiritual gifts, which presupposes our own free cooperation and participation in the sacramental life of the Church, a godly way of life.

Venerable Brothers and beloved faithful in the Lord,

When spirituality is authentic, it cannot also be fruitless. Whoever truly loves God also loves one’s neighbor everywhere as well as creation in its entirety. This sacrificial love that “never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8) is a Eucharistic act, the fullness of life on earth, the foretaste and truth of the last times. Our Orthodox faith is an inexhaustible source of empowerment, enabling us in spiritual struggle, God-loving and philanthropic action, and generous bearing of fruit in the world for the benefit of all. Faith and love constitute a uniform and uninterrupted experience of life in the Church. The practice of ascesis, fasting and philanthropy in the Holy Spirit and communion of the Church comprises a barrier preventing ecclesial piety from becoming a religious idol and barren introversion or individualistic feat.

The Spirit of God blows unceasingly in the Church, where God is forever “with us”. In these holy days of Great Lent, we are called to intensify our ascetic struggle against selfish attitudes, to be in “constantly waiting in prayer” (Romans 12:12), “living in humility and practicing acts of mercy” (Abba Poemen), living virtuously and mercifully, forgiving others and exercising love toward one another, glorifying God as the Giver of all that is good, and thanking Him for His abundant gifts. “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

Therefore, we invoke on all of you the strength from above so that we may all, with a burning and cheerful desire, welcome this Holy and Great Lent. We wish you “a smooth journey through the fast” and bestow our Patriarchal blessing to our venerable brother hierarchs in Christ, as well as the beloved spiritual children of the Holy and Great Church of Christ throughout the world.

Holy and Great Lent 2018

† Bartholomew of Constantinople
Your fervent supplicant before God

Patriarchal Proclamation of Christmas 2017

Prot. No. 1123

PATRIARCHAL PROCLAMATION FOR CHRISTMAS

BARTHOLOMEW
By God’s Mercy Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch
To the Plenitude of the Church.
Grace, Mercy and Peace from the Savior Christ Born in Bethlehem.
* * *
Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, dear children,

nativity_htmBy the grace of God, we are once again deemed worthy to reach the great feast of the birth of the divine Word in the flesh, who came into the world to grant us “well-being,”{1} remission of sin, of captivity to the works of the law and death, in order to grant us true life and great joy, which “no one can take from us.”{2}

We welcome the “all-perfect God,”{3}  who “brought love into the world,”{4}  who becomes “closer to us than we to ourselves.”{5}  Through kenosis, the divine Word condescends to the created beings in “a condescension inexplicable and incomprehensible.”{6} He “whom nothing can contain” is contained in the womb of the Virgin; the greatest exists in the least. This great chapter of our faith, of how the transcendent God “became human for humankind,”{7} while remaining an “inexpressible” mystery. “The great mystery of divine Incarnation ever remains a mystery.”{8}

This strange and paradoxical event, “which was hidden for ages and generations,”{9} is the foundation of the gift of human deification. “There is no salvation in anyone else; for there is no other human name beneath heaven through which we must be saved.”{10}

This is the supreme truth about salvation. That we belong to Christ. That everything is united in Christ. That our corruptible nature is refashioned in Christ, the image is restored and the road toward likeness is opened for all people. By assuming human nature, the divine Word establishes the unity of humanity through a common divine predestination and salvation. And it is not only humanity that is saved, but all of creation. Just as the fall of Adam and Eve impacts all of creation, so too the Incarnation of the Son and Word of God affects all of creation. “Creation is recognized as free when those who were once in darkness become children of light.”{11}  Basil the Great calls us to celebrate the holy Nativity of Christ as the “common feast of all creation,” as “the salvation of the world—humanity’s day of birth.”{12}

Once again, the words that “Christ is born” are unfortunately heard in a world filled with violence, perilous conflict, social inequality and contempt of foundational human rights. 2018 marks the completion of seventy years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which, after the terrible experience and destruction of World War II, manifested the common and noble ideals that all peoples and countries must unwaveringly respect. However, the disregard of this Declaration continues, while various abuses and intentional misinterpretations of human rights undermine their respect and realization. We continue either not to learn from history or not to want to learn. Neither the tragic experience of violence and reduction of the human person, nor the proclamation of noble ideals have prevented the continuation of aggression and war, the exaltation of power and the exploitation of one another. Nor again have the domination of technology, the extraordinary achievements of science, and economic progress brought social justice and the peace that we so desire. Instead, in our time, the indulgence of the affluent has increased and globalization is destroying the conditions of social cohesion and harmony.

The Church cannot ignore these threats against the human person. “There is nothing as sacred as a human being, whose nature God Himself has shared.”{13}  We struggle for human dignity, for the protection of human freedom and justice, knowing full well that “true peace comes from God,”{14}  that the transcendent mystery of the Incarnation of divine Word and the gift of human deification reveals the truth about freedom and humanity’s divine destiny.

In the Church, we experience freedom through Christ, in Christ and with Christ. And the very summit of this freedom is the place of love, which “does not seek its own”{15} but “derives from a pure heart.”{16}  Whoever depends on himself, seeks his own will, and is self-sufficient—whoever pursues deification by himself and congratulates himself—only revolves around himself and his individual self-love and self-gratification; such a person only sees others as a suppression of individual freedom. Whereas freedom in Christ is always oriented to one’s neighbor, always directed toward the other, always speaks the truth in love. The aim of the believer is not to assert his or her rights, but rather “to follow and fulfill the rights of Christ”{17} in a spirit of humility and thanksgiving.

This truth about the life in Christ, about freedom as love and love as freedom, is the cornerstone and assurance for the future of humankind. When we build on this inspired ethos, we are able to confront the great challenges of our world, which threaten not only our well-being but our very survival.

The truth about the “God-man” is the response to the contemporary “man-god” and proof of our eternal destination proclaimed by the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church (Crete, 2016): “The Orthodox Church sets against the ‘man-god’ of the contemporary world the ‘God-man’ as the ultimate measure of all things. “We do not speak of a man who has been deified, but of God who has become man.” The Church reveals the saving truth of the God-man and His body, the Church, as the locus and mode of life in freedom, “speaking the truth in love,” and as participation even now on earth in the life of the resurrected Christ.”

The Incarnation of the divine Word is the affirmation and conviction that Christ personally guides history as a journey toward the heavenly kingdom. Of course, the journey of the Church toward the kingdom, which is not realized remotely or independently of historical reality—or its contradictions and adventures—has never been without difficulties. Nevertheless, it is in the midst of these difficulties that the Church witnesses to the truth and performs its sanctifying, pastoral and transfiguring mission. “Truth is the pillar and ground of the Church … The pillar of the universe is the Church … and this is a great mystery, a mystery of godliness.”{18}

Brothers and sisters, children in the Lord,

Let us celebrate together—with the grace of the divine Word, who dwelt in us, as well as with delight and fullness of joy—the feasts of the Twelve Days of Christmas. From the Phanar we pray that our Lord and Savior—who was incarnate out of condescension for all people—may in this coming new year grant everyone physical and spiritual health, along with peace and love for one another. May He protect His holy Church and bless the works of its ministry for the glory of His most-holy and most-praised Name.

Christmas 2017
Bartholomew of Constantinople
Your fervent supplicant before God

———————————————-
{1} Gregory the Theologian, Oration XXXVIII, on Theophany, namely the Nativity of the Savior, iii, PG 36, 313.
{2} John 10:18.
{3} Doxastikon of the Aposticha from the Great Vespers of Christmas.
{4} Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ, vi, PG 150, 657.
{5} Ibid. vi PG 150, 660.
{6} John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, iii, 1, PG 94, 984.
{7} Maximus the Confessor, Various chapters on Theology and Economy concerning virtue and vice, First Century, 12, PG 90, 1184.
{8} Ibid.
{9} Col. 1:26.
{10} Acts 4:12.
{11} Iambic Katavasia on the Feast of Theophany, Ode VIII.
{12} Basil the Great, Homily on the Nativity of Christ, PG 31, 1472-73.
{13} Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ, vi, PG 150, 649.
{14} John Chrysostom, On Corinthians 1, Homily I, 1, PG 61, 14.
{15} 1 Cor. 13:5.
{16} 1 Tim. 1:5.
{17} Theotokion, Aposticha of the Ainoi, October 12.
{18} John Chrysostom, On Timothy I, Homily XI, PG 62, 554.

Source: (Ecumenical Patriarchate)

On the 84th Anniversary of the Ukrainian Holodomor

Source (UOC):

It is with a heavy heart that we call to recollection one of the greatest atrocities of the 20th century, namely, the tragic events in Ukraine during the years 1932-1933. Today, our Ecumenical Patriarchate joins Ukrainians across the globe in prayerful commemoration on the 84th anniversary of the Holodomor. Surrounded by the members of our local Ukrainian Orthodox Community and representatives of various nations serving in our City, we will preside over the celebration of the Divine Liturgy as well as personally offer a memorial service for the millions of people who inhumanely lost their lives during the orchestrated man-imposed famine.

Our Mother Church of Constantinople—which transformed centuries ago the river waters of the Dnieper into the sanctified living waters of rejuvenation and life eternal—was forever bonded spiritually to the Christ-loving nation of Ukraine, continuing to actively share in its pride and its joys, but also in its sorrows, always demonstrating Pauline ecclesiology: “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”

In the spirit of sharing intimately in the life of Ukraine, the Holy and Great Church of Christ stands in prayerful silence and solidarity with the victims of the Holodomor, contemplating the magnitude of death and destruction carried out by the oppressor.

“You will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” And it is the truth of the Lord that liberates. For, the world witnessed in Ukraine the destruction and death of millions of people due to falsehood and a godless ideology, but it continues to recognize the rejuvenation, baptism, and eternal life offered centuries ago by our holy predecessors, the saintly and wise Patriarchs of Constantinople. The “water road” of the Dnieper River system was transformed into a bridge leading to heaven.

While prayerfully commemorating the atrocity of famine, we would also like to make a prayerful appeal to all people of goodwill for the cessation of the war, aggression and ongoing violence in Ukraine, as well as to underscore the importance of respecting human rights and dignity, most especially of the prisoners of war, for whose safety and release we Orthodox pray for at every divine service. The aggressions and crimes witnessed in the early 20th century should not be repeated once again; rather, we should strive to be mechanisms of reconciliation and rapprochement, especially having fresh in our minds the disastrous results of the conflict and hostility 84 years ago. Let us all, each from our own standpoint, personally and collectively, work to de-escalate tension and cultivate dialogue and mutual understanding, so that the dark chapters of the early 20th century will never reappear before us.

Eternal be the memories of the victims of this travesty. And may peace and prosperity be granted unto Ukraine.

His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, “On the 84th Anniversary of the Ukrainian Holodomor,” Phanar, November 25, 2017.