Thee speech of patriarch Bartholomeow 12.6.2010
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
At the Symposium: “Church – The Hope of the World”
(Joensuu, June 12, 2010)
Beloved brother and concelebrant Leo, Archbishop of Karelia and All Finland,
Dearest children in the Lord, clergy and laity of this blessed Church:
Hope as a Fundamental Spiritual Virtue
In the third century, Clement of Alexandria remarked: “If you do not hope, you will never discover what lies beyond your hopes.” Hope is essential for life. Just as the body cannot live without oxygen and the soul cannot live without faith, so also life cannot exist without hope. And there is always hope. Religious people know that hope is a divine gift. It is the affirmation of meaning in life and the resistance against despair. It is the conviction that it is never too late, that we can always make a difference as individuals and as institutions. That is surely what faith is about and what religious institutions can contribute.
We have polluted our environment; despite valiant efforts worldwide, poverty appears to persist; racism and religious intolerance are increasingly menacing; fanaticism and tension are rampant; human rights and the gift of freedom are being trampled in the name of national pride and religious discrimination. Yet, we must refuse to believe that this world is either the only world that we have or else the best that we can achieve. In this respect, the message conveyed by Orthodox spirituality about the kingdom of God is one of hope. When Orthodox Christians speak of the heavenly kingdom, they are expressing the hope that lies within not as a way of escaping from reality but as an articulation of their faith in the transformation of this world. This is why the Church comprises the hope of our global world.
The Church as Hope in a Global World
Throughout our humble tenure as Ecumenical Patriarch, we have been convinced that the world of faith and in particular the role of the Church can prove a sure and powerful ally in efforts to address such global issues as justice and peace, religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue, as well as poverty and pollution. This is because our faith provides a unique perspective – beyond the purely social, political, or economic – on the importance of eradicating poverty, providing balance in a world of globalization, overcoming fundamentalism and racism, as well as developing religious tolerance in a world of conflict. In fact, it is a rare instance where a faith institution is not the defining marker of the space and character of a community. In this regard, religion– and, by extension, the Church – is arguably the most pervasive and powerful force on earth. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that religion is the subject of renewed interest and attention in international relations and global politics, directly affecting social values and indirectly impacting state policies.
This means that Christians must “always be prepared to offer our defense, with gentleness and reverence, to anyone who seeks from us an account for the hope that is within you.” (1 Peter 3.15) For, not only does religion play a pivotal role in people’s personal lives, but it also plays a critical role as a force of social and institutional transformation. While the theological language of religion and spirituality may differ from the technical vocabulary of economics and politics, nevertheless the barriers that appear to separate religious concerns (such as salvation) from pragmatic interests (such as economics) are not impenetrable. The problem is that we live in – what theological language calls – a “fallen” world.
The Church as Hope in a Fallen World
There is a term, coined by the seventh-century author of The Ladder of Diivine Ascent, St. John Climacus (579-649), who was also abbot of the historic monastery of St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai. His masterpiece on the spiritual life comprises thirty steps. With the exception of the Scriptures and the liturgical books, no other writing in Eastern Christendom has been studied, copied and translated to the same extent as The Ladder. It is a text that has greatly influenced and shaped the entire Eastern world, including its faithful laity. The seventh step of the ladder is dedicated to the mystery of tears; St. John is the first to adopt the technical terms to describe the state that combines both joy and sorrow. He speaks of charmolype, or joyful sorrow, and charopoion penthos, or joy-creating mourning. It is a way of underlining the bittersweet experience of yearning and failing alike in the pursuit of spiritual joy. Joyful sorrow is a mixed emotion of joy anticipating divine grace and sorrow at the fallen state of the world.
Joyful sorrow is perhaps the most characteristic ingredient of Byzantine aesthetics – in its art, architecture and music. It is also an essential feature of Orthodox spirituality – in the lives of the saints, who struggle to reconcile God’s light with the darkness, which reigns in the world. It is a sign of hope, a symbol of optimism, and a source of consolation before the reality that seems to surround us and sometimes overwhelms us. It is also definitive of the history of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which has struggled through difficult and dark periods to the present moment; the Phanar has known strength through weakness inasmuch as it has never sought to prove itself as a secular institution of worldly power. It is in fact critical of any religious institution that is organized as a worldly power, assuming the form of a secular state. So joyful sorrow is the manifestation of the hope in a fallen world as well as in a polluted environment.
The Church as Hope for the Environment
In recent years, however, we have also learned some important lessons about caring for the natural environment. At the same time, we have learned that environmental action cannot be separated from human relations. What we do for the earth is intimately related to what we do for people –in the context of human rights, international politics, poverty and social justice or world peace. It has become clearer to us that the way we respond to the natural environment is directly related to and reflected in the way we treat human beings. The willingness of some people to exploit the environment as the “flesh of the world” goes hand in hand with their willingness to ignore human suffering in the flesh of our neighbor. The world is a gift from God, and it is offered to us for the purpose of sharing. It does not exist for us to appropriate selfishly, but rather to preserve humbly. The way that we relate to God (in heaven) cannot be separated either from the way we treat other human beings or from our treatment of the natural environment (on earth). To disconnect the two would amount to nothing less than hypocrisy.
We have witnessed this so clearly in the recent ecological tragedy on the Gulf Coast. So in our efforts to preserve the natural environment, we must ask ourselves some difficult questions: Just how prepared we are to sacrifice our excessive lifestyles in order for others to enjoy the basic right to survive? What are we prepared to surrender in order to learn to share? When will we learn to say: “Enough!”? How can we direct our focus away from what we want to what the world and our neighbor need? Do we do all that we can to leave as light a footprint as possible on this planet for the sake of those who share it with us and for the sake of future generations? If we emphasize our freedom, then we must remember that caring is one of the choices we are free to make. Do we choose to care? If we do not choose to care, then we are not indifferent onlookers; we are in fact active aggressors.
Hope as Tradition and Progress
Of course, as Orthodox Christians, we are able to hope and advance precisely because we have the stability of our faith on the one hand and the security of our tradition on the other, which provide the deeper foundations for our conviction. In this respect, hope is both forward-looking and backward-looking, resembling the ancient Greek god Janus. For what guarantees our ecclesiastical and spiritual “success” is in fact our emphasis on apostolic and ecclesial “succession,” which the Church of Finland historically enjoys through its invaluable and indispensable relationship with the Mother Church of Constantinople. This precious universal connection with the Ecumenical Patriarchate is an essential and critical reminder of the catholic nature of the Eucharist, namely that the assembly of believers always includes all members of the faithful community. It is sometimes easy for a local Church to focus on its specific problems and forget its relationship to the wider Church, although this wider community is reflected and realized in its fullness also in the local community of believers.
This unique bond is celebrated by the Mother Church of Constantinople, which humbly recognizes its responsibility for coordinating unity among the various Orthodox Churches throughout the world. After all, there are very few Orthodox Churches that enjoy both the privilege of dependence and the prerogative of independence, experiencing a profound association with the Apostolic roots of Constantinople, while at the same time expressing national particularity. This unity-in-diversity is a sign of hope and joy for the Church of Finland as it continues to assume leadership among Orthodox Churches responding to the issues of our time.
The Church as the Light of Resurrection
Finally, the treasures of the Orthodox spiritual and mystical tradition remind Orthodox Christians that we are called to be “witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24.48) It is from this endless spring that we draw inspiration, as witnesses of the new life that came to the world through Christ. It is as witnesses of this transformation and resurrection that we can preserve a sense of hope for the future of the world, in spite of the darkness and turmoil that surrounds us. There is a light that shines from the east, whence the “sun of righteousness” rises. As the Prophet Malachi assures us:
- For you that revere my name,
- the sun of righteousness shall rise,
- with healing in its wings. (4.2)
Even when everything around us appears to contradict the hope that lies within us, by the grace of God, the sun will always rise and the depth of the night’s darkness will give way to the day’s sunlight. This sense of realism enables us to live the present in all its fullness. A new dawn will arise with our trust in God’s love and our reflection of that love in the solidarity with people throughout the world as well as in the preservation of this planet.
The most vivid experience of this reality occurs each year, at the Feast of Feasts, namely Easter Sunday. On that night, which is brighter than any day, the bishop exits the altar, which symbolizes the tomb of Christ, and triumphantly chants: “Come, receive the light!” With these words, the light from a single candle lights up the entire church, previously waiting in darkness. It is the conviction that the light of God is brighter than any darkness in our hearts and in the hearts of all those in church, indeed brighter than any darkness in the world.