Saturday, December 02, 2006

Istanbul Rum Patrikhanesi

In the tiny Church of St George in the Patriarchal compound, overlooked by minerets and Turkish soldiers, the Pope and the Patriarch celebrate with the liturgy of St John Chrysostom, "the queen of liturgies", Joshua Treviño calls it, "a Greek epic of its own". Treviño recounts; this is the final paragraph, but it's worth reading it all (if only to find out the meaning of the title of this post).

Bartholomew ascends to the iconostasis and welcomes Benedict in Greek. Benedict, aware of the cameras surrounding him, replies in English. We must, he says, recall Europe to its Christian heritage before it is too late -- and we must do it together. Then they emerge into the cold sunlight of a cold day. They ascend to a balcony overlooking the courtyard where we gather in expectation. They speak briefly. And then, they clasp hands, Pope and Patriarch, smile and raise their arms together. Tears come to my eyes, and I am shocked to see several media personnel crying openly. For an instant, the Church is one. For a shadow of a second, the dreams of Christendom are again real.
Actually, there's one line more. I shied away from copying it, but was not sure why. At first, I thought it rhetorically gauche, and yet given the scene he had painted so skillfully, surely he had earned it? For the atmosphere of threat, of historical and durable threat is strong. How else can you interpret the decline in population of Orthodox Christians in Turkey from "millions to a mere two thousand in Istanbul proper"? And the censorship of proper names that the Turkish authorities do not wish to recognise sending "police personnel to tear down English-language banners with the phrase “Archon Pilgrimage to the Ecumenical Patriarchate” on it". Those bearing passes with the offending phrase "Ecumenical Patriarchate” were not allowed to enter.

Then there's the geographical position; the little church surrounded by mosques, minarets and Muslims inimical to it. Perhaps that is the key. How strange it is to put it like this, but we in Europe have come to see ourselves in the same position, threatened by the same forces and fearing to go down under them in a process as inexorable as that which has occurred in Turkey to the Orthodox and other Christian minorities. Are we victims of our own fears? Or merely waking up to them?

Joshua Treviño's final line is
Under the Turkish guns, the Christians roar.

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