For the past several days, I’ve been enjoying some special events in Constantinople (Istanbul), Turkey. Back in the spring, I requested an audience with His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, to further discuss details for the Orientale Lumen EuroEast III Conference scheduled for July 5-8, 2010.
Rather than come during the feast of St. Andrew at the end of November, as I have in the past, I thought it would interesting to be here in the Queen City for the feast day of the Protection of the Mother of God, October 1, instead. This feast commemorates the vision of the Theotokos holding her veil over the people of Constantinople in the 10th century when invading armies were knocking on the city walls. The invaders were repelled and the people of the city remembered that event on October 1. The vision appeared in the church of the Blachernae which is a functioning Greek Orthodox church today about 2 miles from the current offices of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, but not the same building from centuries ago.
The answer to my request was not only a “yes” to the audience, but to also join His All Holiness for lunch over the weekend.
So I arrived last Wednesday evening from London (see previous post of my weekend with the Ukrainians there) and spent Thursday meeting with staff of the Patriarchate, preparing for my audience with the Patriarch, and meeting with the travel agent and hotel representative to work out more details for our conference and other tours. To be more convenient (and because the IMF has just about every affordable room in Istanbul already booked for their three day annual meeting!), I took a room in a small three star hotel called the Daphnis just two blocks from the patriarchate’s compound. Being so close, I could come and go easily, without worrying too much about taxis this trip.
On Friday morning I went the short distance to Blachernae Church for the Divine Liturgy and found a small gathering of local residents singing Orthros or Matins for the feast. In addition to the cantor who travels from Ankara to sing every weekend in three churches of Istanbul, the local bishop of the Fener neighborhood (in which the patriarchate is located) were singing away. I set up my three cameras and when Matins concluded, they moved directly into starting the Divine Liturgy. About 15 minutes into the liturgy a bus load of Romanian Orthodox visitors arrived, said some prayers, wrote petitions for the liturgy on slips of paper, and took small bottles of water that come from a spring under the church and which is considered holy. They all left before the Gospel was proclaimed. The bishop invited me for coffee and he, the cantor and I had a short chat. I promised to send them a DVD of the liturgy as a remembrance of my visit.
Although I was supposed to have lunch with His All Holiness on Friday after the liturgy, his schedule changed and so it was moved to Sunday. On Saturday I went up the hill to the area of Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and all the tourist shops surrounding Sultanemet Square. I went to visit my long friend, Turgut the carpet shop keeper, and had lunch with him. Although I promised myself to not buy a carpet this trip, I couldn’t refuse his selling skills and picked one up anyway – now to find a place for it in my home that’s already full of Turgut’s carpets from my previous 12 visits here!
On Sunday morning it was raining, but not heavily, and I walked the few blocks from my hotel to the Patriarchal Cathedral of Saint George. As I walked up to the front gates I heard the bells ringing, signaling the arrival of His All Holiness in the church. I missed his entrance, but again, Matins went on for another 45 minutes before the Divine Liturgy started, so I had plenty of time to set up my cameras. I recorded the end of Matins, the entire Liturgy, and then a memorial service for the dead which took place at the end, along with the line of faithful who come forward for blessed bread from the hand of the Ecumenical Patriarch. He is the main celebrant of the Liturgy only a few times during the year, and presides from the throne of St. John Chrysostom dating from the 4th century.
After the liturgy, I was escorted up to the third floor of the patriarchal offices, where I had a private meeting with His All Holiness to discuss the OL conference. It lasted about 20-30 minutes, we agreed when he would participate, and discussed other general items, including his upcoming trip to the US at the end of October. I jokingly invited him to my home for “steaks on the grille” if he had time during his 3-4 days in Washington, but he thanked me and said he would certainly be too busy. I guess I don’t quite have the clout of President Obama or other Greek Orthodox hierarchs and contributors whom he will visit! Besides, I can’t imagine what the Fairfax City police would do if a motorcade of limos and security vehicles turned up on University Drive!!! He also gave me a signed copy of his recent book Encountering the Mystery which I look forward to reading on the flight home.
I then joined him in the private dining room with a few other clergy and guests, all who spoke Greek, and enjoyed the lunch of soup and mixed grille of beef and lamb. I said my goodbye after some dessert and coffee, and received his blessing. All in all, it was a great visit!