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Christian History Home > 1997 > Issue 54 > We Do Not Wish to Blur the Faith

We Do Not Wish to Blur the Faith
The spiritual head of Orthodoxy speaks some frank words to Protestants.
interview with Bartholomew I, archbishop of Constantinople | posted 4/01/1997 12:00AM

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The bishop of Constantinople is also called the ecumenical patriarch and holds honorary primacy among the bishops of Orthodox churches. The current ecumenical patriarch, Bartholomew I, will make a pastoral visit to the United States this summer, marking the seventy-fifth anniversary of the founding of the Greek Archdiocese of North and South America. Christian History conducted a fax interview with Bartholomew I, the unedited transcript of which is reproduced here.

What is the purpose of your upcoming visit to the U.S.?

The occasion for our visit to the United States is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the founding, in 1922, of our Archdiocese of North and South America by the visionary Patriarch Meletios (Metaxakis). Patriarch Meletios, equipped with a first-hand understanding of the American milieu, undertook the task of organizing the canonical structure of the Church for the Greek Orthodox immigrants in the New World. In accordance with the tradition and canon law governing the Orthodox Church, he placed them under the spiritual jurisdiction of the Holy Mother and Great Church of Christ, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

As to the nature of my prospective visit to the United States: it is clearly pastoral. The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople has both the privilege and responsibility of being the Protothronos, "the First Throne," of the Church. As such, it is a visible symbol of unity for Orthodox of every land and nation—and a source of unceasing intercession for them all. Therefore, it is self-evident that the coming visit will have a pan-Orthodox character.

One should remember that the Orthodox Church has never deviated from that consciousness and fundamental perspective of agape—love and unity. We are called to exercise the "ministry of reconciliation" (II Corinthians 5:18), and we look forward to a return of the holy churches of Christ to unity in him. At every divine liturgy, shortly before holy Communion, the Orthodox Church throughout the world prays for "the unity of all," that is, eschatologically speaking, the restoration of the unity of all mankind.

As Ecumenical Patriarch, we understand the broader meaning of this "ministry of reconciliation," and we actively pursue it by our pilgrimages around the world as we continue to reach out to all people, without regard to creed, color or ethnic origin.

To many Western Protestants, Orthodoxy feels dated, a quaint relic of a previous age. To others, it feels as if one has to become Eastern before becoming Orthodox. How do you respond to such perceptions?

You portray what is unfortunately an accurate picture, i.e., that the Protestant world (and not only it) is largely ignorant of Orthodoxy. Even theologians of great credibility have passed on rather demeaning misconceptions about Orthodoxy, as if it were a liturgical, or better yet, some ritualistic fossil. Unfortunately, such misconceptions, borne out of either ignorance or even polemical intentions, have been handed down unexamined for generations. Even the best efforts of the ecumenical movement, which aim at better understanding within the Christian family, have not succeeded completely at correcting this.

Another mistaken perception is contained in the very way you pose the question about the "East" and Orthodoxy. From an historical point of view, it is true that Orthodoxy has had an enormous impact on Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean basin. But let us not forget that Orthodoxy has had an historic and vibrant presence in the West since the middle of the eighteenth century, including the Greek colony in New Smyrna (modern day St. Augustine, Florida), the missions to Alaska, and the first parish founded in the continental United States in New Orleans (1864), which embraced Orthodox from every ethnic background.

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