My dear friends,
Late in June, I spent a few days in the unfamiliar surroundings of a monastery on an island in the Sea of Marmara close to Istanbul, working with a few fellow-members of the Anglican-Orthodox Commission on some documentation for the full meeting of the commission in October. On one of the days, however, we had the privilege of visiting the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul, and received there the warm hospitality of the Patriarch and Archbishop of Constantinople, Bartholomew I. Patriarch Bartholomew is widely known as the “Green Patriarch”, as he is a foremost Christian leader on ecological issues. Two things stand out for me from that visit that I want to share with you.
The first was wise advice of the Patriarch, who said to the group gathered there that when Christians are at variance with one another over anything, it is more important than ever that they remain in conversation and dialogue, and talk to one another rather than about one another. It struck me that the Patriarch’s comments could be related to almost every aspect of Church life, anywhere. So often it is easier to complain about others, rather than to speak courteously (even if firmly) to them.
The other detail I will always recall of that visit was the realisation that in Turkey, which claims to be an entirely secular country, clergy are not legally permitted to wear clerical attire of any kind other than in their own designated church “territories”, such as the patriarchate itself. So, Orthodox clergy (who traditionally wear cassocks as everyday dress) cannot even wear clerical collars out in the street, but only open neck shirts or collars and ties. Here we take it for granted that we can make our Christian allegiance known - and this does not just apply to clergy - outside the walls of our churches without hindrance. We should never take this for granted, but should relish the privilege we still have to make our faith a visible reality.