Dearly Beloved in the Lord,
Christ is Risen!
Truly He is Risen!
The ancient and eternal city of Constantinople. It is a place where for centuries, worlds, cultures and armies have collided. It is the intersection between East and West, that which bridges together the dynasties of the Roman Empire and is the fertile ground in which the seeds of our precious Faith were nurtured, matured and brought to a glorious fruition. We celebrate Her prolific past as we stand in awe of all She commands.
The ancient and eternal city of Constantinople. Home to patriarchs, emperors, saints and artists. The definitive backdrop of our Eastern Orthodox history and the setting for every highlight and low point of our development as a Church. Our greatest accomplishments were forged here, our greatest battles were fought here, our most dynamic losses were endured here. The mind of the Church thinks through the process of Byzantium. The heart of the Church beats in a pattern that is reflective of this city.
The ancient and eternal city of Constantinople. The externals, the details, the tinsel, the pageantry, the glory and the humility of the church: they all have their origins here. Chrysostom preached from the rafters and filled the streets of this city with the faithful who were thirsty to hear the Word of God. Remnants of the City Walls remain as reminders of erstwhile protectors and guardians. Constantinopolitan contributions to the Church are found within Her art, music, architecture, worship, dress, ethos and mentality.
The ancient and eternal city of Constantinople. Our Orthodox Churches look like Orthodox Churches because of Orthodox Churches from Constantinople. Our Orthodox liturgical life breaths like Orthodox liturgical life because of the Orthodox liturgical life of Constantinople. Orthodox worship sounds like Orthodox worship because of the Orthodox worship of Constantinople.
Today, I am incredibly blessed to be writing this message from Constantinople. Truth be told, I’m sort of the office nerd right now. I’m sitting in the lobby of the Bosporus Hilton, working on my computer while several people from our group are sitting with each other, enjoying their fellowship and looking back fondly, upon the events of today – the first full day of our Pilgrimage.
The day, and by extension, our entire trip, began this morning, touring the grounds of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. We venerated the relics inside our St. George Cathedral and strolled the grounds of the humble facilities that house the ministries of the world’s leader of Orthodox Christianity. We then found ourselves outside the private office of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, awaiting his entrance into the Throne Room of the Patriarchate. It would be here that our audience would be granted. From the door just to the left of the throne, he emerged. Smiling and greeting us with warmth and love. He spoke to us about his love for the Church in America and talked about his upcoming events: symposia, pastoral visits, historic liturgies and humanitarian efforts. He addressed us firstly in Greek, asked if everyone understood, then switched to English when we told him that several members of the group could not understand him. He said that Fr. Elias and I could translate for the people. Fr. Elias and I then thought the people were in trouble.
His English (one of seven languages he speaks) is clear, kind and perfect. We hung on every word and embraced him with respect and admiration. He stood before us, representing many things:
The Protector of the Flame of Orthodoxy
The Green Patriarch and champion of the environment
The world leader of our faith
The voice of the persecuted and minority populations.
But most importantly, he communicated the love a father has for his children. He was not distant nor hide behind pretense. It was like sitting in your grandfather’s dining room and listening to his stories, receiving his wisdom and expressing your respects. It was always comfortable and never intimidating. It was the perfect beginning to what will be the spiritual experience of a lifetime.
So again, greetings from Constantinople. His All Holiness sends the love and blessings of the Mother Church to the faithful people of St. Anna’s. He has been watching our progress and loves how events have unfolded for us. We are in his prayers and protection. We must keep him in our prayers for his protection. Today has been beautiful. I think I’ll go join our group now. I look lonely over here by myself.
With Much Love in our Risen Lord,