I’ve had several requests to post the introductory remarks by Bishop John Michael Botean at the opening session of the Orientale Lumen EuroEast III Conference held in Constantinople on July 5-10, 2010. In the presence of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia, Archbishop Cyril Vasil’ SJ from the Congregation of Oriental Churches in the Vatican, and all the participants, here is what Bishop John Michael, the Catholic Co-Patron of the Society of St John Chrysostom in the US and the OL Conferences, said:
Your All-Holiness, Your Eminence, Your Excellency, Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers, Venerable Fathers and Sister, beloved brothers and sisters in our Lord and Savior,
Christ is among us!
As episcopal co-patron of the Society of St. John Chrysostom in the USA and as moderator of this conference, it is my singular privilege and great pleasure to welcome you all to this, the Third Orientale Lumen Euro-East conference in Istanbul.
I cannot help but note at the outset that I have had the joy of knowing many of you for a number of years and in a number of capacities. Unfortunately for a few of you here, I know you as your bishop, but even then, for the rest of us it can truly be said that we have all become friends in spite of the great unlikeliness of this ever happening. In other words, we can truly say that, but for the efforts and considerable sacrifices of one Jack Figel of Duquesne, PA, we may never have gotten to know one another at all. But over the course of the 14 years in which these conferences, inspired by the Apostolic Letter, Orientale Lumen of Pope John Paul II, of blessed memory, we have become more to one another than the servants of God that our baptism made us.
Indeed, we have become a company of friends and a “house that Jack built,” inspired in our common quest for the unity of all the holy churches of God by his uncommon, burning desire for that unity of which our friendship is but a shadow, albeit a shadow that now bears a glimmer of promise for a new day on which, by the grace of God, we will experience the full sunshine of visible koinonia that is the prayer of Jesus Christ for His Church. Our Lord keenly expressed his desire when he told his disciples, “I no longer call you servants, but friends” (Jn 15.15) who know what their Master is about.
Another noteworthy aspect of this gathering is that its participants are, to a very large extent, American Eastern Catholics, particularly Byzantine- or Greek-Catholics–that is to say, Uniates like me, and it is to you Uniates that I direct my next remarks.
Now some of you may squirm and be uncomfortable at my use of the term “Uniate.” Well, I’m sorry, but as one of your pastors I would counsel you to get over it. It is what we are, and if people want to call us by this or some other offensive name, or if they in so many other ways treat us scornfully and derisively, let them, and let us bear this treatment with dignity and humble love. I propose we wear this title, when it is imposed upon us, as a badge of honor given to us by none other than our Lord Jesus Christ, who “endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). We must ask ourselves if we can do better than be emulators of the One who was scorned and derided for our salvation, if this is not, in fact, our honorable calling and our noble destiny.
It is we Uniates who, little known in the church of our communion and a sign of contradiction in the churches of our origin, who have disturbed our quietude to come to this Royal City for this conference–indeed, it is we American Uniates who have organized and convened it, and we who are paying for it. To borrow a phrase from one of our more worthy presidents, “the world will little note nor long remember what we do here,” but this OL Conference is our widow’s mite, our little offering that we lovingly place in God’s hands, as a child gives a bouquet of dandelions from the garden to her mother. We know it pleases our Father to do this, and that is enough for us. It is He who will enable our offering to bear fruit, in His good time and in His good manner.
It is the universal experience of our churches that they are little appreciated and only barely tolerated in their homelands. I had the providential pleasure of listening, in the car as I drove to Jack’s house to come here, to the lectures in honor of Ss. Cyril and Methodius sponsored by the seminary of that name in Pittsburgh, PA, given by two of our speakers, Archimandrite Robert Taft and Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, in 2001 and 2002, respectively. My heart was lightened and my hope enlivened by these lectures that critically but positively evaluated the facts of our existence and our impact upon the Church. To some, indeed, we are westernized easterners, and to others, we are merely easternized westerners. The truth is that we are both, and that “people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some who are first who will be last” (Lk 13.29-30).
The existence of the Uniate churches is not the great obstacle to unity some have insisted that it is. Is it not we who have come to Constantinople seeking this unity? The great obstacles to church unity are, now as ever, human weakness, pride, and sin, and it is fitting that we have come here, not as Crusaders, but as pilgrims and penitents, beseeching forgiveness in prayer and in the humble listening to one another that we undertake this evening.
Panagiotate, Patriarch Bartholomew, we are truly honored and blessed by your presence among us and by the privilege of being here in your great city. Being so warmly welcomed by the one who now occupies the throne of our Holy Father John Chrysostom and the successor of the Holy First-Called Apostle Andrew, we cannot help but be touched by the apostolic ministry you so generously exercise tonight on our behalf, as befits the Ecumenical Patriarch. Speaking in the name of our assembly, I humbly thank you for this great honor. Speaking personally as a Romanian Greek-Catholic bishop, I feel a great kinship with you as well, for I am likewise a bishop of a church that has suffered and continues to suffer crucifixion at the hands of political and historical circumstances that are inimical to our very existence. Your All-Holiness and the Great Church of Constantinople are always in my prayers. May the poverty and persecution we both endure become fertile, common ground between us.
Your Excellency, Archbishop Cyril, it is likewise a great honor and blessing for us that you have made time for this conference and consented to be one of our speakers. Since you represent the Holy See of the blessed Apostle Peter, we look forward to your presentation and pray that it may be for all of us, together with the churches we represent, a lively experience of the fraternal support and strengthening with which Our Lord charged Peter at the foundation of His Church.
Learned speakers, it is the case that each of you is no stranger to Orientale Lumen, as each of you has been a presenter in previous conferences. It is a testament to your devotion to the Church and the cause of her unity that you have consented to share the fruits of your academic labors with us once more. It is no less a testimony to the uniqueness of these conferences, which Patriarch Bartholomew has coined the “Orientale Lumen Movement.” As a movement led by the laity, it has been able to enjoy a freedom, spontaneity, and friendly camaraderie in your free exchange of thought that is impossible to find among hierarchs and theologians in their official capacities.
My friends, and we are all friends because that is what Jack Figel and Orientale Lumen have made us, I would like to conclude this long welcome with words from a letter to Jack from Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, Archbishop-Major of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, reflecting upon his own experience at the last OL conference in Istanbul in May of 2007. His Beatitude writes:
“It was the first time I had a chance to be in this company. I stress company, even before the subject matter, because I feel the singularity of the meeting. The presentations were non-confessional; at least I did not feel the need to classify the speakers by their church membership. This, my impression, which I tried in a very impromptu way to express at our meeting on Thursday was strengthened even further by my meeting on Thursday night with Metropolitan Kallistos. To my mind, the whole relationship of the participants was not a buddy-buddy friendship, but something that I imagine could be considered as a foretaste of perfect communion–realized unity. Another impression: how damaging is politics to Church unity. I feel that the extraordinary atmosphere which so impressed me was due to the absence of political ambitions. Maybe I am naïve, but I communicate to you how I felt, and why I am so grateful to you. All I can ask of you is, please continue gathering us. Maybe, we will be able to give a more articulate and effective expression to our experience at the Orientale Lumen meetings.”
May this third OL conference in Constantinople be a true gathering of friends, and the “more articulate and effective expression [of] our experience[s]” for which Cardinal Husar hopes. Sã ne dea Dumnezeu. May God so grant us. Amen.