Father Justin Rose has written a great reflection on his experiences at the OL Conference in Constantinople. Rather than write some else, I post his story here:
“The house that Jack built…” was how His Grace, Bishop John Michael Botean described the Orientale Lumen movement at our recent OL Euro –East III opening session. In the presence of His All Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, Bishop John Michael highlighted the great achievement of Reader Jack Figel whose patience, persistence and vision made OL Euro-East a reality.
I call Orientale Lumen a “movement” because the gathering of friends and colleagues that has resulted from the yearly American conferences and the periodic European conferences has grown into something more than just a series of scholarly discussions. We have forged friendships and working relationships across Church lines that often seem higher and more impenetrable than the mighty Theodosian walls that still surround the ancient city of Constantinople/Istanbul.
For the first time, I eagerly touched the Royal Doors in Hagia Sophia and stood in the center of her magnificence agape with wonder and awe. I was equally as awe-struck, however, as a Greek Catholic presbyter, by kissing the hand of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and by sitting in a place of honor in a Greek Orthodox monastery on the island of Patmos.
The OL conference in Istanbul had a familiar format to the ones I had attended in Washington, D.C. and San Diego, except that we had most evenings free. This was a welcome respite since we did not stay at the conference site, but travelled to special events along with the usual talks and panel discussions.
Monday evening, we listened to the wise words of His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew and Bishop John Michael, our moderator. We had the chance to renew old acquaintances at the customary social hour that followed.
Tuesday morning, we packed up early and got on a boat to go to the Island where Halki Seminary sits empty, closed down by the secular Turkish government. Halki is a beautiful complex, pristinely maintained in the hope that it will one day again receive Orthodox seminarians. We had two erudite talks there, one from Metropolitan Kallistos on the Council of Florence and one on Canon Law by Archbishop Cyril, the new Secretary (second in command) at the Oriental Congregation in Rome. Considering the steep incline of the hills on the island, we were all grateful for the horse drawn carriages that took us to and from the seminary.
Wednesday we listened to Archimandrite Robert Taft give an excellent talk about the Liturgy and Church Councils. We then had the privilege of joining the Ecumenical Patriarch during a pastoral visit to one of his parishes in Istanbul. Since, by law, we cannot dress as clergy in Istanbul, most of us carried our exo-rason and skufos with us and put them on within the confines of the church or monastery we visited. I regretted that choice in that beautiful but steamy parish Church that morning. I will never again complain about the heat in San Bernardino, CA!
After the Liturgy, we again joined his All Holiness for one of the most beautiful events I will ever witness. At Baloukli monastery, the site of the shrine of the Theotokos-the Life Giving Spring, we prayed the memorial service with the Ecumenical Patriarch at the tomb of Patriarch Athenagoras. I do not know how many Ecumenical Patriarchs are entombed at this convent or how long this has been a custom, although it would not surprise me if this were a post-Ottoman tradition. At any rate, I was utterly without words, praying at the tomb of Patriarch Athenagoras, the Greek Orthodox patriarch who, at the beginning of Vatican II, told my Melkite Patriarch, Maximos IV that he represented the Orthodox Church at the Council. The seed that those visionaries planted more than 40 years ago is beginning to bear some fruit.
Although it would have been difficult to follow that experience with anything greater, we did thoroughly enjoy our last stop that day. We had a tour and Vespers at the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Praying in the Church of St. George with the relics of St. John Chrysostom and St. Gregory the Theologian was a fitting end to a day spent with the living Patriarch of Constantinople and the relics of his predecessors.
Although the “conference” ended on Thursday with erudite talks from Sister Vassa and Dr. Richard Schneider, the wonderful things that Jack planned for us continued through the weekend.
On Friday, we packed up and spent the day touring some of the most important Churches in Istanbul. I was really glad that I had visited Hagia Sophia earlier in the week so that I could benefit from the commentary of Dr. Schneider our itinerant tour guide for the day. I had gotten the initial “gaping” out of the way in my first visit! Battling a terrible cold, Dr. Schneider was a trooper that day, providing a unique perspective on the places we visited. Aside from the Great Church, we visited the Chora with its exquisite icons and Blachernae, where a palace once stood and where the Turks finally breached the walls on May 28, 1453. It was there that the Akathistos hymn was composed and first sung. We sang “Triumphant Leader…” in several languages while we visited there. Finally, we spent time at the Church of Sts. Sergios and Bacchos, now a functioning mosque. The dancing beauty of this structure sang to us of the ingenuity of Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora.
After all that, it was to the airport and off to Izmir, the modern city where ancient Smyrna, of St. Polycarp fame, once stood. On Saturday, we had a wonderful time tromping around the ruins of Ephesus. At the Church of St. John the Evangelist, we prayed before the Evangelist’s simple tomb and listened carefully to Archimandrite Robert Taft point out interesting Byzantine features in the church ruins. Many of us succumbed to the temptation of posing for pictures in the baptismal font!
The ruins of Ephesus were quite instructive. We walked inside the remains of the Cathedral Church where the third Ecumenical Council took place. I strained to hear the debates of the Fathers who had condemned Nestorius as a heretic. A few of us quietly sang the Troparion to St. Mark of Ephesus who had resisted the reunion of the Council of Florence.
Sunday morning, we were off to Patmos. Well, we almost were not off to Patmos since the hotel had to perform mandatory tests (once every 20 years) on both their electrical and water systems and thus had shut both of them off. Standing with a small battery powered candle in pitch darkness, we debated who was going to carry our bags down the 23 flights of stairs since the elevators were not working. Luckily, the hotel restored the power before anyone drew the short straw.
After a wonderful but long ferry ride to the Greek island of Patmos, we had a brief tour of the cave-shrine where St. John the Evangelist wrote the Apocalypse. Metropolitan Kallistos told stories and shared insights that made the visit memorable. Since the Metropolitan is an idiorrhythmic monk of the monastery there, we received the royal treatment when we went from the cave of St. John up to the main monastery. The monks received us with generous hospitality. We had a tour of the Catholicon, or main Church, and then of parts of the monastery culminating in a visit with the Abbot in his sitting room. We were all disappointed that our schedule did not permit a longer stay, but we had to make it back to Turkey to catch our flight back to Istanbul so that we could go home.
The next morning, I sat with my long-time friend, Father Maximos of Holy Resurrection Monastery, where I am an idiorrhythmic monk. We sat drinking tea with Hagia Sophia behind us and looking up at Hagia Eirene before us. As we sifted through pictures on our cameras, it was difficult to believe that all of the things I have written about happened in such a short time. After a while, Father Deacon Moses of Holy Resurrection and my parishioner, Lynn Cisneros, joined us after successfully plundering the Spice Bazaar. We all took a leisurely stroll down to the Hippodrome so that we could get some photos there as well. None of us were moving too quickly since we had all felt the weight of the important things we had witnessed in the preceding days and were tired from the exertion of the whole experience. It was good to have one more day to begin to put this extraordinary time into focus.
In all, I have noted a change in my own focus. I realize after spending so much time with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch that I do not even know the name of the Greek Orthodox priest at the parish less than a mile away from mine! The real power of the Orientale Lumen movement is that it brings people together as friends, as sisters and brothers in Christ. Petty name calling and jurisdictional posturing melt away in the warm embrace of two people who would never have met if it were not for the OL Conference or the OL movement or Jack Figel. I hope that we continue to move toward real union. I hope that our friendships and the pain of not being able to Break Bread together at the same Altar motivates us, goads us to seek true union and true healing of the Body of Christ.
Pastor-St. Philip the Apostle Melkite Greek Catholic Mission, San Bernardino, CA
Novice Associate of Holy Resurrection Monastery