The Orthodox Church - December 1997

Ecumenical Patriarch concludes US tour

PITTSBURGH, PA —His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew ended his monthlong US tour on November 17 with a Liturgy celebrated at the Pittsburgh Convention Center attended by an estimated 4,000 Orthodox Christians and a visit to Johnstown, PA's Christ the Savior Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Cathedral.

As reported in the last issue of The Orthodox Church, His All Holiness arrived in the US October 16 to mark the 75th Anniversary of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America headed by His Eminence, Archbishop Spyridon. The Ecumenical Patriarch's visit took him from Washington, DC to California with stops in a dozen cities, including Chicago, Des Moines, and Dallas, where he met thousands of faithful at a variety of services, dinners, and other gatherings. A highlight of his trip was a visit to Saint Vladimir's Seminary, Crestwood, NY, where His Beatitude, Metropolitan Theodosius, SVS president, and the entire Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America witnessed the Patriarch receive a Doctor of Divinity degree honoris causa.

"The visit of His All Holiness to our seminary was a great joy, not only for the seminary community, but for the entire Orthodox Church in America," said Metropolitan Theodosius. "He honored us by his presence, offering his blessing and recognition to the vision and ministry of Saint Vladimir's Seminary."

Throughout his month-long tour, Patriarch Bartholomew stressed Orthodoxy's importance in today's world.

"The Orthodox Church is not a museum church, as it is criticized from time to time by those who don't know its spiritual treasures," he said before his return to Constantinople. "It is a living church which, although keeping the old traditions from the very beginning, nevertheless understands very well the message of every new era and knows how to adapt itself to the conditions of every period of human history."

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Metropolitan' Theodosius in chapel of St. Vladimir's Seminary following Service of Thanksgiving.

RNS — Religious News Service — carried numerous stories on the Patriarch's visit, noting how his "high-profile encounters with President Clinton, who welcomed him to the White House, members of Congress, and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reinforced his importance as a religious leader who, from his perch in Istanbul, sits astride the critical fault line dividing Europe and Asia, Christianity and Islam."

Patriarch Bartholomew's itinerary included a visit to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, where he spoke movingly about religious persecution and the importance of the state of Israel to Jewish survival. He participated in the first high-level dialogue between Orthodox Christians and Muslims ever held in the US, and in similar exchanges with Catholic and Protestant leaders in Dallas, Baltimore, New York, and elsewhere. And at an environmental symposium in Santa Barbara, CA, he distinguished himself as a spokesman for ecological issues, offering what Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt called "one of the most significant statements on the environment by a religious leader."

Despite the high visibility his trip gave to Orthodoxy in the US and his meetings with hierarchs of North America's other Orthodox jurisdictions, RNS reporters noted that "there was no sense, when his plane winged its way to Istanbul, that any real progress had been made on the very real problems of administrative unity in the United States."

"In terms of solving the problems of Orthodox unity, I don't think his visit was very significant," His Eminence, Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese told RNS. "He did not bring any concrete plan for Orthodoxy in the United States. He talked in generalities about inter-Orthodox cooperation, but the burning question concerning Orthodox unity was not fundamentally addressed. And that concerns young American Orthodox very much: they yearn for a united Church in America."

"Orthodoxy is above nationality," Metropolitan Philip added. "The Church in this country is going to develop its own identity in the context of American culture. Many patriarchs and bishops who visit here from the Old Country do not understand this. We have been in this country for more than 200 years; we are Americans and our vision is to be united in one holy, catholic and apostolic Church."

The Rev. Alex Karloutsos, spokesman for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, told RNS that Patriarch Bartholomew "understands that there truly is an indigenous American church and he is more understanding of the processes that could lead to an autonomous church."

Patriarch Bartholomew's visit brought an end to controversy surrounding leadership of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas [SCOBA] as His Beatitude, Metropolitan Theodosius and Metropolitan Philip announced at a press conference that His Eminence, Archbishop Spyridon of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese had been selected SCOBA chairman after a meeting between Patriarch Bartholomew and nearly 30 Orthodox hierarchs in New York's Holy 'Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral.

Hierarchs, clergy and laity of the Orthodox Church in America participated in many of Patriarch Bartholomew's other appearances, including the well-attended liturgies at New York City's Madison Square Garden and Chicago's Navy Pier, at which His Eminence, Archbishop Peter of New York and His Grace, Bishop Job of Chicago concelebrated respectively.

"There can be no doubt that the Ecumenical Patriarch's visit enhanced the public's awareness of Orthodox Christianity in North America," said Protopresbyter Robert Kondratick, OCA Chancellor. "We pray that his visit will spark a new era of cooperation among Orthodox Christians of all backgrounds and renew efforts which will lead to unity."

[ The Orthodox Church - December 1997 - p. 1 and 4 ]