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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Ecumenical Patriarch

Yesterday, Mr. Wonderful and I had the distinct honor, pleasure, and blessing to meet His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I.

Before leaving for Central Asia, I happened to mention to our Bishop Maxim that we would be in Istanbul in May and that it would be interesting to visit the Patriarchate.  Bishop Maxim arranged a visit with His All-Holiness as well.  [For those of you who are not Orthodox Christians, let me point out that this is a very big deal ... like a meeting with the Pope].

We took a chauffeured car to the Patriarchate in the Fener district of Istanbul.  There was a do-not-enter sign on the corner and four round yellow barrier posts blocking the street. As we pulled up, the security booth guards lowered the two middle posts and we were allowed to drive to the entrance.  Then, after a brief discussion with a Greek-speaking security man and an English-speaking deacon, we were in.  We waited briefly for 4:00 p.m., the time of our appointment, then we were promptly escorted to the office of His All Holiness.  

The office of the Patriarch is wood paneled and dominated by a desk laden with books and papers and files.  Clearly a place of work.  Our host was most gracious and insisted that we sit close to his desk while he leaned back in his chair and looked into our eyes.  Patriarch Bartholomew speaks excellent English and French, the languages in which we conversed.  Upon entering the office, we greeted him with "Christos Anesti" [Christ is Risen, in Greek], and he responded "Va Istinu Vaskrese" [Indeed He is Risen, in Serbian -- my ancestral language]. 

We spoke about a number of topics, while we were served spoons of sweet nougat in glasses of cold water plus cups of Turkish coffee.  His All-Holiness accepted a few gifts from us and gave us several books in return.  After a half hour, he invited us to stay for the vespers service on the eve of the Ascension [40 days after the Resurrection].

Before entering the church, the Patriarch chanted a number of readings in the entrance/narthex of the Church of St. George, which is within the compound of the Patriarchate.  Then he and the clergy processed into the church for the service.  The chanting in Greek by the tenor and baritone voices of the deacons and monks was beautiful.  An eerie moment happened when the voice of the local muezzin, calling the Muslim faithful to prayer, drifted into the church competing with our service.   Given that the Patriarchate is under various kinds of pressure by the Turkish government and that there are anti-Christian "incidents" here from time to time, we could feel the tension in the atmosphere and experienced the nervous glances of the people in the church.  Fortunately, nothing untoward occurred, and the vespers services ended calmly.  

At the end of the service, as His All-Holiness was leaving the church, he stopped to shake our hands, thanked us for our visit and wished us a safe journey home.  We were moved by his attention and truly joyous at having had such a special visit.

Below is a photo of a mosaic from the corner of the Church of St. George.

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