Log in

No account? Create an account

a passionate repentance

Divine Liturgy with Benedict and Bartholomew Divine Liturgy with…

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
may God stand
Divine Liturgy with Benedict and Bartholomew
Divine Liturgy with Benedict and Bartholomew.
Submitted by Joshua Trevin~o on 1 December 2006 - 11:04am.

It is the peculiar genius of Byzantine history that its glory reached its
apogee in the era known to the West as the Dark Ages. It has no great
literary heritage -- a half-millenium of Muslim domination ensured the
annihilation from memory of its major works beyond the Alexiad of Anna
Comnena, the anonymous epic of Digenes Akritis, and various religious texts.
The latter survived because the Church survived, even as the Empire did not.
Chief among them are the great liturgies, and chief among the great
liturgies is the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. It is the queen of
liturgies: a Greek epic of its own, also of the Western Dark Ages, emphatic
and deliberate in its insistent worship of Christ. The liturgy has a
heavenly glory in its song and prayer. It also has a mundane length to it.
Properly done, it lasts hours. Yesterday, it lasted five hours, from 8am to
1pm. It's a feat of endurance for the best Christian -- particularly as the
great majority of it has one standing. I am not among the best Christians.
But yesterday, I did it.

Yesterday, I was in the Church of St George at the compound of the
Ecumenical Patriarchate in the Fener district of Istanbul. Across from me
sat the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, holder of the last office of the
Eastern Empire, and spiritual leader of the Orthodox Christians of the
world. Mere feet away, within arm's reach, sat Pope Benedict XVI.

The Patriarchal compound is a small place, kept deliberately so by the
Turkish authorities who object to the claim of an ecumenical title by the
Patriarch. No matter that the Patriarchate in Constantinople has been the
Ecumenical Patriarchate since nearly eight hundred years before the Turkish
seizure of this city, and no matter that even the Ottoman Sultans
acknowledged this fact: the modern Turkish state believes the Patriarch to
be merely the religious leader of the Orthodox Christians of Turkey --
reduced from a thriving community of millions to a mere two thousand in
Istanbul proper in the 20th century -- and nothing more. So vehemently do
they deny any greater role for the successor to St Andrew, that in this very
week, they sent police personnel to tear down English-language banners with
the phrase "Archon Pilgrimage to the Ecumenical Patriarchate" on it. The
Archons are properly the Order of St Andrew, and they are a collection of
lay worthies of the Greek Orthodox Church in America. They also had passes
allowing them entry into the Patriarchate for this Liturgy with the Pope,
and to the previous night's Doxology; but because it too mentioned an
"Ecumenical Patriarchate, " they were made to put them away before the
Turkish police would allow them entry into the Patriarchal compound. They
complied -- what else could they do? -- and in a nice irony, were issued
badges by the Turks which read, "Istanbul Rum Patrikhanesi. " The
Patriachate of the Romans of Istanbul. Even now, five hundred fifty-three
years after the conquest, Turkish idiom acknowledges what the Great Church
and its people once were.

The Church of St George, sole church in the Patriarchal compound,
acknowledges it as well. Embedded in its walls, and strewn about its tiny
grounds, are fragments from the hundreds of churches of old Constantinople
that were demolished in the centuries of Muslim rule. Here there is a frieze
of Christ. Here there is an Apostle. Here there is a slab of marble in which
a scarred IC XC is inscribed. And here there is an imperial double-headed
eagle, symbol of the Eastern Imperium. It is a bit of symbology that has
been inherited by several nations of the old Byzantine commonwealth, among
them Russia and, improbably, Albania. The Patriarchal compound is strewn
with them, giving truth to the phrase Istanbul Rum Patrikhanesi. For a
moment, one may lose oneself in the fantasy that it is all still real, and
all still alive -- but then you look up, and see the mosque that the Turks
have built athwart the compound on the overlooking hillside. The minarets
peer down in the very courtyard of St George's itself, and the message is
clear: five times a day, every day of every year, the Ecumenical Patriarch
of the Orthodox Christians of the world must hear the muzzein at close
quarters. The temporal victors are deeply unsure, even now, of their

On this day, the minaret and all the surrounding rooftops are occupied by
Turkish soldiers. They look down upon us in the courtyard and glare. There
is security and insecurity in their presence: they will assuredly protect us
from any Islamist who would seek to wreak mayhem -- though none, not even
unfriendly crowds, are in evidence -- and they are assuredly not our
friends. The Patriarch himself, Bartholomew I, once served in the Turkish
Army, in keeping with the Turkish state's stricture that the occupant of
that office must hold Turkish citizenship. I looked up at the soldiery, and
reflected on the pity of this state, which he served, that is now bent upon
squeezing his ancient office out of existence.

Inside the chapel all is gilt and gold, a nineteenth-century version of
Orthodox splendor, and it is possible to forget the scene outdoors. The
place is suffused with holy relics: among them, the remains of Ss John
Chrysostom, whose liturgy we celebrate, and Gregory the Theologian -- both
recently returned by the Vatican. Across the chapel, a supposed piece of the
True Cross, and the purported pillar upon which Christ was scourged. There
are sarcophagi in which various saints rest, and niches in which holy icons
are venerated. It is a wonderland for the faithful. But not only the
faithful are there: there is also the media of the world, armed with
telephoto lenses and cameras, and looking shabby in the way that media
typically do. It does not occur to them to dress appropriately -- one may
wish, after all, to look presentable before the putative Vicar of Christ on
Earth -- but then, it wouldn't. They crowd onto platforms along the
periphery of the chapel, and wait.

Patriarch Bartholomew I arrives, decked in brilliant finery and surrounded
by black-clad deacons and Metropolitans. Pope Benedict XVI arrives, dressed
in thick red robes, and accompanied by bright red-and-purple Cardinals. The
Liturgy, which has already been underway for an hour, assumes a new pitch.
The lights brighten. The gold upon the icons flare. We pray. We worship for
another four hours, with varying levels of comprehension of the
thousand-year- old Greek of the Liturgy. I scurry about from point to point,
taking photographs and looking on in awe.

Finally, it comes time for Communion. My father asks me if I will go, and I
reply that I probably should not. He urges me to, and I give in. Now, we
file forward, toward the Ecumenical Patriarch His All-Holiness Bartholomew
I, holder of the last office of the Eastern Empire, who gives us the Body of
Christ. Mere feet away, Benedict XVI sits on the Papal throne, looking down
upon us supplicants. I am overcome and cannot glance toward him. Behind me,
others have more courage: they break from the line, rush forward, and kiss
Benedict's hand. He is calm and gentle. He smiles and clasps their hands,
saying a few words in German and English, before urging them to go receive
the Eucharist. It is profoundly moving too see these devout Orthodox who
have come to pay homage to the bishop of the New Roman, and who are so
overwhelmed with the presence and love of the bishop of the Rome that they
must give him the same. The small space encompasses a universe, and we are
at its center.

Bartholomew ascends to the iconostasis and welcomes Benedict in Greek.
Benedict, aware of the cameras surrounding him, replies in English. We must,
he says, recall Europe to its Christian heritage before it is too late --
and we must do it together. Then they emerge into the cold sunlight of a
cold day. They ascend to a balcony overlooking the courtyard where we gather
in expectation. They speak briefly. And then, they clasp hands, Pope and
Patriarch, smile and raise their arms together. Tears come to my eyes, and I
am shocked to see several media personnel crying openly. For an instant, the
Church is one. For a shadow of a second, the dreams of Christendom are again

Under the Turkish guns, the Christians roar.

(Note: I do not know the source for this article, it was submitted to one of the Yahoo Orthodox groups I belong to)
  • I'm the source!

    This was originally posted at popeandpatriarch.com, the day following my attendance at this liturgy. Happy to see it circulating around!

    -- Josh Trevino
Powered by LiveJournal.com