Orthodox Observer - June 5, 1997

Archiepiscopal Encyclical  *)

May 29: The Fall of Constantinople

To the Reverend Clergy, the Presidents of the Parish Councils, Monks and Nuns, the Philoptochos Sisterhoods, the Youth and all devout Christians of the Holy Archdiocese of America

My Beloved Compatriots,

May 29th has arrived and our thoughts shall turn once again to that ill-fated and terrible day -the Fall of the City of Cities, Constantinople, legendary queen of the brilliant and unsurpassed Byzantine Empire.

We shall call to mind that last Paleologos, the renown Constantine Dragases, the faithful king and emperor of the “Romaioi,” and of the countless noble clergy and lay people who are our “Omogenia.” This veritable phalanx of elect martyrs preferred to sacrifice everything that they might enter into the heavenly and eternal Kingdom of the King of All, Jesus Christ, as purified and honorable vessels; rather than succumb slavishly to any earthly power.

We shall recognize once again that their sacrifice has established an eternal memorial in our historical consciousness which sheds the light of hope and immortality. This is a memorial of indestructible character and unsurpassable values -courage, virtue, faith, open-mindedness, magnanimity and spiritual nobility. These are the very values which grace us as human beings and reveal our noble ancestry and God-inscribed destiny. For us, their remembrance is a vital link in the golden chain of the glorious history of our people.

We shall take up again those very same values which so brilliantly marked the noble martyrs who lost the “Poli.” For they did yet prevail in those who held fast the inextinguishable holy faith and the spiritual tradition of Byzantium under an oppressive foreign regime which abolished the Byzantine political state. Their struggles and sacrifices, which forged Byzantine civilization until the Fall of Constantinople have been transformed into new struggles and sacrifices aimed at preserving and transmitting to others this spiritual legacy.

We shall be especially conscious today as heirs of Byzantium, perhaps more than any other generation, of the value of struggle and sacrifice. Let us not therefore fear any evil, nor the machinations of the evil one which attempt to divert us from our Orthodox way and our sacred goals.

We shall reaffirm that the Fall of Constantinople did not signify the end of Byzantium. There has existed and still exists a Byzantium after Byzantium, a spiritual Byzantine civilization which endures beyond the political one. The Byzantine Empire forged a religious commonwealth based on the greatest and most sacred values in the history of humanity; i.e., those of Christianity and Hellenism. These respective values have been yoked together and sanctified by divine grace.

The Byzantine legacy has been incarnated down through the years in Greek Orthodox communities and especially in leaders who represent this legacy: Patriarchs, Bishops, clergy, monastics and the many laymen and laywomen who as the People of God fulfill the Plenitude of the Church. These noble souls have shined in the past in traditional places where they still shine today in spite of the exigencies of history. They have actually transplanted this legacy here to this country and “to the uttermost parts of the earth.”

It is a paradox, but also an indisputable fact that the Fall, in spite of the turmoil it wrought, proved in the end to be a huge benefit for the rest of the world, both in the age when it occurred and in the ages since. The fusion and bonding of Hellenism and Christianity in Byzantium, that potent and thrice-blessed synthesis of divine grace which was revealed “in the fullness of time” for our revelation and salvation, has poured out upon the world a sweet savor of spiritual fragrance through the Byzantine Church. Byzantine civilization sojourned within the Ecumenical Patriarchate which was transformed into a loving Mother, the Ecumenical Patriarchate whose chief concern is to edify and guide Her children in their new initiative and goals.

After the Fall of the “Poli,” Byzantium converted from a theocratic state to a purely spiritual and multi-cultural sacred tradition which, through the Ecumenical Patriarchate, has given to the world the hope and foundation for salvation. Byzantium lived, lives now and will always live in the Greek Orthodox Church Tradition in order to remind the world of that divine promise that “a remnant shall be saved” (Romans 9:27, Isaiah 10:22). This truth is especially and powerfully manifest in our days by the fact that the Great Church of Christ, of Constantinople, has spread this sacred tradition to every corner of the earth.

It is no mere chance that today we observe a distinctive interest in Byzantium and its legacy. The signals indicating this turn are clear. Centers for Byzantine research are in the most prominent centers of higher learning with a list of publications that only increases day by day. Already, nearly three hundred thousand visitors have toured the exhibit “The Glory of Byzantium” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. And have we not witnessed many converting to the Orthodox Faith as well; is this not also a turning to Byzantium and its Greek Orthodox legacy?

Therefore, on this year’s anniversary of May 29th, I extend my paternal felicitations to all who should mark this observance with such as they deem fitting: memorial services, sermons, seminars, lectures, etc. Let us fulfill our sacred duty, for the sake of piety and honor, to offer to the Lord supplications for the repose of the souls of all those heroes and martyrs of 1453 and of the years that came afterward. They preserved the faith intact and handed down to us this sacred inheritance of Orthodoxy, which we live and which we exalt today.

Let us especially pray for our Mother Church of Constantinople, which for centuries has held fast with unrivaled and unsurpassed consistency that hallowed, spiritual inheritance of Byzantium, transmitted by the Fathers. For it is the Ecumenical Patriarchate which upholds the foundations of Orthodoxy for all Orthodox Christians. And so, let us all prepare ourselves appropriately for the forthcoming visitation of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew this coming Autumn. The Presiding Leader of Orthodoxy is coming to bring us the blessing of the Mother Church and to fill us with the unwaning glory of Byzantium. Thus will our souls be fed and our endeavors directed in a truer and more faithful Orthodox witness to this new world, which the providence of the Lord has brought us to and by Whose infinite mercy we shall ever be preserved.

With heartfelt fatherly blessings,

[signed: † Archbishop Spyridon]

[ Orthodox Observer, Vol. 62 - No. 1130, June 5, 1997, p. ]


*)  Dated: May 22, 1997 - Protocol Number 77/97