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We will send regular newsletters to our members who have signed up for receiving it during the registration. In 'mymerhaba' newsletter, our editorial staff provides updates, with regard to any information related to places worth visiting, viewing, or otherwise worth knowing, for those who care to know more....

Green Patriarch: The Environment and Interfaith Dialogue

The following is from the September/October 2003 issue of The Guide Magazine.

Hidden away in the narrow streets of the Istanbul district of Fener (Phanar) the beautifully restored wooden palace of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, renovated in the late eighties after being partially destroyed by fire in 1941, is a powerful reminder of the cultural and religious diversity that marked Turkish history.

The present occupant of the Patriarchal throne, His All Holiness Bartholomew the First, is the latest - the 270th to be precise - in a long line of church leaders that goes back to St. Andrew the Apostle, who is considered the first head of the Orthodox church. In the throne room, portraits of Bartholomew and his predecessors hang on the wood-paneled walls. Gilded chairs covered in red velvet are ready for the many visitors who seek an audience with the Patriarch.

As spiritual leader of the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians, Bartholomew I wields considerable influence, even if the Greek community in Istanbul now numbers less than 5,000. The jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople includes Turkey, some territories in Greece, Crete, as well as the Greek Diaspora in countries like Australia, New Zealand and several European nations. But, as "primus inter pares" or "first among equals", the Ecumenical Patriarch's guiding and unifying role extends beyond the Greek Orthodox Church and includes all autonomous, or auto-cephalous, Eastern churches.

In his capacity as leader of the Orthodox Church, Bartholomew often travels and is received with pomp and ceremony by world leaders, monarchs and religious figures such as Pope John Paul II. But Bartholomew, a jovial man whose eyes twinkle with intelligence and kindness behind his spectacles, remains very approachable and solidly grounded in reality. His faith dominates his life, but he is also interested in earthly matters. Two issues are of particular importance to him: dialogue between religions and the protection of the environment. Since his enthronement in 1991, the Patriarch has worked tirelessly for the preservation of nature. He was awarded the 2002 Sophie prize in Norway for his "pioneering efforts in linking faith to the environment."

The list of ecological activities undertaken by Bartholomew is long.
Gathering scientists and religious leaders, he has so far led seminars on
"Religion, Science and the Environment", focusing on the ecology of the sea. The participants cruised down the Danube, around the Black Sea and the Adriatic Sea to draw attention to the fragility of these valuable ecosystems A fifth seminar is due to take place in June this year on the Baltic Sea.

The Ecumenical Patriarch believes protecting the environment means preserving God's creation. He therefore sees his ecological work as being in line with his religious mission. "The protection of the environment is a provision for today's mankind and future generations, and the care for it is a command from God," he says.
Another issue of particular concern to the Patriarch is the interfaith dialogue.

Bartholomew is in a unique position to promote better ties between religions. As a Turkish citizen of Greek descent, born in an Orthodox Christian family on the island of Imbros (Gökçeada) in 1940, he has grown up side by side with the Moslem Turkish population. He was born in a rural community where he enjoyed "the cohesive domestic family life of a pious Orthodox Christian family," before attending high school in Istanbul and the theological school of Halki. Between 1961 and 1963, he even served as an officer in the Turkish army.

His identity as a Greek orthodox and his identity as a Turk are not in competition, the Patriarch says. "We identify ourselves with all people, not just with the Turks and the Greeks, with whom we have a particular bond, but also with the Bulgarians, the Russians, the Koreans, the Indians," he explains. "What worries us is that people get distant from each other, instead of uniting and working together. For us, there is no identity dilemma. God is equally the father of all people."

Since the tragic events of September 11, his attempts to bridge the religious and cultural gaps have acquired an even greater urgency. He has warned that extremists, who exist in all religions, "abuse the notion of religion", but that people should keep in mind that extremists are a minority. "The majority of Muslim people want to have good relations with Christians, and they do," he said addressing a conference in Boston last year. "We had a dialogue before September 11. We have had more than 10 inter-religious academic meetings, and we have visited countries such as Iran, Qatar and Bahrain, and we continue these contacts after September 11. We have already been invited to Azerbaijan, and we will continue to meet with religious leaders who are willing to unite their spiritual powers to prevent conflicts and promote cooperation, solidarity and peace," he says. "Real dialogue is to be made with words not with weapons."

As an institution, Bartholomew says, the Patriarchate has a 1700-year history. But in the course of the centuries, it had to adapt to significant changes. In 1054, there was the Great Schism between the Western and the Eastern Churches, in 1453, the capture of Constantinople by the Ottomans and earlier this century, the foundation of the Turkish Republic. During the Ottoman Empire, non-Moslem minorities ruled themselves under the authority of the Sultans. In the course of the negotiations prior to the signing of the Lausanne Treaty in 1924, the status of the Patriarchate was discussed. According to the agreement struck at the time, the Ecumenical Patriarch now plays only a spiritual role. Patriarchs are Turkish citizens, elected by the Holy Synod, but subject to the approval of the Turkish government.

During periods of heightened tension between Greece and Turkey, the position of the Patriarchate has not always been comfortable. Bartholomew hopes he can contribute to furthering the dialogue between the two neighbors. "We desire an improvement in relations very much. The Ecumenical Throne, as an institution, as well as us personally, has repeatedly and actively engaged our thoughts, our energy and expectations on the issue of Turkey-Greece relations. We remain in hope that despite the difficulties, the relations will develop and improve in the future."

One of the most contentious issues has been the closure in 1971 by the Turkish authorities of the theological school of Halki, where Bartholomew himself was educated before furthering his education in Rome, in Switzerland and in Germany. The Patriarch, who speaks Greek, Turkish, Italian, Latin, English, French and German fluently, was ordained a priest in Istanbul in 1969, and rapidly rose through the church hierarchy before being elected to his present position by the Holy Synod in November 1991. Without a school to train new priests in Turkey, the Orthodox Church could eventually face trouble renewing its clergy. But Bartholomew remains confident that the matter of the Halki school will be solved. "The lengthy discontinuation of the historical theological school of Halki causes problems and provokes sadness, not only to us, but to the entire Christian community," he says. "Its reopening is demanded by justice and by respect for human rights, and especially by respect for the treaties on the rights of the religious minorities. And it is also in the interest of Turkey itself. The inexcusable closure for such a long time of a school, which is crucial for the formation of the staff of our Church, does not honor our country and its image of tolerance. And of course it does not help its way into the European Union."




The Shores of the Golden Horn
Finding the Wildest Fish & Finest Wines – on the Aegean Coastline
Gone To The Dogs? Or Doggone Progress?
Green Patriarch: The Environment and Interfaith Dialogue
Kalamis: Then and Now
Mehmet Konuralp: ”There's something captivating about Haghia Sophia”
Sweetness and light: The art of Baklava
The Mysteries of the ”Tespih”
Birsen's Horizons
Fred's Trip Logs
Bahar's Views on...
Business World
From Members' Pen
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Moms & Kids Corner
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The archives of The Guide
The Archives of Turkishtime
Teen's world

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The archives of The Guide
The Shores of the Golden Horn
Finding the Wildest Fish & Finest Wines – on the Aegean Coastline
Gone To The Dogs? Or Doggone Progress?
Green Patriarch: The Environment and Interfaith Dialogue
Kalamis: Then and Now
Mehmet Konuralp: ”There's something captivating about Haghia Sophia”
Sweetness and light: The art of Baklava
The Mysteries of the ”Tespih”

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