Entries with tag faith matters .

An Accessible World For All

Urbanization is among the most impactful global trends of the past century, resulting in a growing share of the population living in urban areas. This transformative force impacts both the developed and developing worlds, and it is estimated that by 2050, 66% of the world’s population will be living in cities.[1] This will affect the quality of life for all who choose to live in this environment, but for persons with disabilities, this change presents accessibility challenges that cannot be met without proper cooperation from governments and private industries.


Each year on December 3rd, the United Nations celebrates the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The theme for this year is ‘Achieving 17 Goals for the Future We Want;’ the ultimate function of these goals is to create a more inclusive and equitable world for persons with disabilities.[2] There are approximately 1 billion persons with disabilities around the world and for many, urbanization presents unique challenges to daily life. There are many poorly planned and developed cities, which present functional barriers to infrastructure and other physical facilities and services, resulting in a cycle of dependency and general discrimination. These inadequately planned and constructed cities continue to have serious consequences for persons with disabilities, and without greater oversight and regulations the problems will persist.


What is accessibility in the context of persons with disabilities, exactly? Broadly understood, accessibility is about equality of opportunity to access certain places, services, and goods.[3] The United Nations describes it as providing flexibility to accommodate each person’s needs and preferences,[4] meaning individuals must have access to products and services, as well as physical and virtual environments in the manner in which they are capable. This means a ramp into building that is not at ground level, or audiotext functions on websites, among many others. Creating an accessible urban space is not necessarily about providing charity to persons with disabilities, but giving them the tools that enable to live their life independently.


Ultimately, creating accessible cities is crucial to achieving the Sustainable Development goals of the UN’s 2030 Agenda. Disability is mentioned eleven times throughout the seventeen goals through references to broad topics such as sustainable growth and the accessibility of human communities, among others.[5] While not referenced in each goal, they are all relevant to persons with disabilities because of the premise on which they were founded: ‘leaving no one behind.’[6]


As it currently stands, many persons with disabilities are being left behind in the growing urban centers around the world. In many of these places, they lack access to public transportation facilities, safe road conditions basic services such as water and sanitation facilities, and appropriate technologies that allow them to communicate with others.[7] To combat the general issue of urbanization, but to also address specific policy-related questions such as the impact it will have on various populations, the UN recently put on a Global Conference on Housing and Sustainable Development. There, the conference reaffirmed the UN’s commitment to persons with disabilities:


“We commit ourselves to promoting appropriate measures in cities and human settlements that facilitate access for persons with disabilities, on an equal basis with others, to the physical environment of cities, in particular to public spaces, public transport, housing, education and health facilities, public information and communication (including information and communications technologies and systems) and other facilities and services open or provided to the public, in both urban and rural areas.”[8]


This conference was an important start to addressing the critical issue of urbanization and its impact on persons with disabilities. While not a legally binding body, the outcome of this conference was to provide information and guidance as countries move forward with the Sustainable Development Goals. The enforcement mechanism is based primarily through voluntary action as well as various states’ mutual expectation that others will act as they do, serving as a ‘peer pressure’ of sorts. Through bodies like this, the UN is able to monitor progress, and encourage action from other states to provide an urban world consistent with the UN’s overall sustainable goals for the future.


As Christians, we have a duty to ensure that no one is left behind from the world. Disabilities are daily, and arguably, natural occurrences. Oftentimes, they exist without of the person having them, and we are all vulnerable to disability, whether by circumstance, family history, or time. With that in mind, we are reminded that many persons with disabilities are only handicapped when there are barriers in place preventing them from living a full life. “God shows personal favoritism to no man.” (Gal. 2.6). We are called to love one another unconditionally, to look past outward appearances and physical traits, and to find the person inside reflecting Christ because each of us, despite our shortcomings, are made in His image. As the world changes structurally and culturally, we must not forget to make it an accessible place for all.



Anthony Balouris is a Fellow at the UN for the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (un.goarch.org)

The Archdiocese is an accredited Non-Governmental Organization at the United Nations through the Department of Public Information (UN DPI) and has General Consultative Status under the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ESOSCO). It has been actively working at the UN for 30 years.






[1] https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/forum-disability-inclusive-and-accessible-new-urban-agenda.html

[2] https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/international-day-of-persons-with-disabilities-3-december/idpd2016.html

[3] http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/disacc00.htm

[4] http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/disacc00.htm

[5] https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/envision2030.html

[6] http://unstats.un.org/sdgs/report/2016/leaving-no-one-behind

[7] https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/resources/disability-accessibility-and-sustainable-urban-development.html



Writing History With H.A.H. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

Writing History With H.A.H. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

Rev. Dr. Nicolas Kazarian

History is a process which starts from an event, entering memory before being written down through a painstaking effort of abstraction. In the case of Fr. John Chryssavgis’s book, the event is a person, the memory is an inspiration, and history is the global destiny of H.A.H. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, to whom this biography is consecrated. A quote from Churchill used in the book - “The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see” – echoes a central aspect of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s identity: he stands at the crossroads of past and future, leading the Orthodox Church into the third millennium, reminding the world of the eschatological nature of the Church: at the crossroads of time, but also of space, “being in the world, yet not of the world.”

Twenty-five years after his election and enthronement in the See of the Church of Constantinople, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew allows readers an entry into his life through the writing of one of his closest advisors. The concept evokes the long and beautiful conversations between French Orthodox theologian Olivier Clément and Patriarch Athenagoras, and decades later with Bartholomew himself. But the goal of Fr. John’s biography is different, and I would say complementary. The narrator is the author himself, and his proximity with the Phanar and the Patriarch creates a sense of intimacy than no one else could have put into words. This biography does not follow a diachronic path, from the Patriarch’s childhood to the present day. Instead, it is a succession of pictures; each one sketching the lines of Bartholomew’s legacy, completing the complex mosaic of a life dedicated to the service of the Orthodox Church, and through her to all mankind. This is why Fr. John wrote in his introduction: “It is my honor and privilege to compile these biographical pages of a man who has guided the Christian East with dedication and conviction for the last twenty-five years.”

Event as a Person

No one could dare say that he or she knows Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew perfectly. Even his family and friends share only a part of who he is in reality. To read Fr. John’s book is to enter the Patriarch’s personal life as a child on his Turkish island of Imbros during the Second World War and its aftermath, which reshaped the global balance of power; as a student in Halki and as a young clergyman in Rome and Germany; as a religious leader offering to his Church his talents despite the oppression and hostility under which the Ecumenical Patriarchate has survived for centuries in Istanbul, also known as Constantinople. Progressively, his life unfolds a vocation, driven by the spiritual mentorship of Ecumenical Patriarchs Athenagoras and Dimitrios, but also, or perhaps especially, Metropolitan Meliton who noticed at an early age the numerous skills, openness and faithfulness of this modest son of the modest Archondonis family from a modest island. His longevity as a Patriarch is also due to the precocity of his election to the throne of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, when he was only in his early 50s. In this biography, we also discover some characteristics of his personality: simplicity and care for others, an incredible intellect and memory.

Memory as inspiration

The transition from event to memory requires witnesses. One of the strengths of this book is that it offered a variety of famous personalities the opportunity to reflect on the influence that the Ecumenical Patriarch has had on their lives. Remembering his first meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Pope Francis writes: “I felt that I was meeting a man who ‘walks by faith’ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:7), who in his person and his manner expresses all the profound human and spiritual experience of the Orthodox tradition.” Pope emeritus Benedict writes that, “Patriarch Bartholomew fulfills an essential aspect of his priestly mission precisely with his commitment to creation.” On the political side, Vice-Presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore agree. For the first: “But what impressed me most is the way His All-Holiness embodies our Christian faith — thoroughly and completely.” The latter writes that “Time and again Patriarch Bartholomew’s words and actions have demonstrated to us that concern for the environment is not a political or ideological matter, but is— in its essence— a moral and spiritual imperative.” This biography offers some insightful reflections about the Patriarch’s legacy from spiritual, political and cultural leaders, creating a true dialogue between life and destiny that goes beyond the limits of the Orthodox Church and finds a crucial echo in global society.  In that regard, Fr. John offers a unique articulation of internal and external representations of the Patriarch’s own leadership.

Writing as History

The author has also gathered an incredible number of sources bridging memory and history. The reader will find some important pages offering the very first synthesis of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s theology. The book not only tackles the challenges of ecumenical and interreligious dialogues from an Orthodox perspective, it also reflects on the issue of primacy and conciliarity. It looks at ecclesiology in practical terms, defending the central position of the Diaspora in the life of the Orthodox Church today. It explains Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s decades-long personal commitment to the environment. As the “Green Patriarch” said himself: “The environment is not a secular or fashionable issue. It is at the very heart of what matters for the God who created our world and who assumed flesh to dwell among us.”

Most importantly, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will soon be known as the Patriarch of the Holy and Great Council. He fulfilled the mission started by his predecessor Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, despite all the difficulties and all the resistance inspired by spiritual isolation and geopolitical concerns. As Fr. John shows, since the very beginning of his patriarchal tenure Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has advocated for pan-orthodox unity through the experience of conciliarity. Conciliarity is what allows the Orthodox Church today to think of herself as a global Church creating a renewed “culture of communion.”


Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is one of these rare people whose destiny merges with the history. At the turn of the century, at the turn of two millennia, he inspires his contemporaries from the seat he has held for twenty-five years now, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the first among equals of the Orthodox Churches, enjoys a primacy of love and service, signaled by the daily witness he bears to Christ and to his Church in the face of the world. Unfolding the mystery of his life as an Apostle and Visionary, Fr. John Chryssavgis’s book is a powerful experience of an inspiring encounter.

Click here to order Bartholomew, Apostle and Visionary.

Greek-American Hierarchs Put HGC into Perspective

One of the things I will be thankful for during Thanksgiving dinner is being able to witness the historic gathering of Orthodox hierarchs and other representatives of our Faith at Holy and Great Council (HGC) last summer. Everyone I spoke with felt the presence of the Holy Spirit and expressed what a privilege it was for them to be there – I felt it was truly a gift from God.

The island of Crete is a joy to visit anytime. Pictures help convey the enchantments of the manmade and natural beauty and the stories tourists take with them will delight friends and family for decades, but while neither words nor images can do justice to the experiences of those who participated in the HGC, hearing them talk about it is inspiring. 

While I was there, I had the chance to speak to participants from the Archdiocese of America. It’s strong presence included administrators who helped make the event possible and hierarchs led by Archbishop Demetrios who participated in the discussions that were the substance of the HGC.  

The hierarchs included Metropolitans who were serving their rotation as members of the Endemousa Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, including. Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver, Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco, Metropolitan Nicholas of Detroit, Metropolitan Alexios of Atlanta, and Metropolitan Nikitas of Dardanellia.

Their heavy schedules did not permit me to speak to each of them, but I was grateful for some time with Metropolitans Isaiah and Nikitas while they were still in Crete about their experiences as members of the Council and about the important aftermath which includes communicating and discussing its work with clergy and laity.

All the hierarchs noted that although rooted in ancient Orthodox tradition, the HGC was a completely new reality for its approximately 200 participants.

Metropolitan Isaiah told me in the middle of the week-long gathering “Initially I felt there was no concern on the part of some to work together, and to have unanimity in the subject matter….I did see some confusion when I got here…but I now see an intense desire to bring clarity and understanding and agreement in regards to what we are talking about.”

“Until recently geopolitical realities made it very difficult to bring people together in an environment of peacefulness in order to understand each other, he reminded, and added “I thank God that I am here.”

I had the feeling all of us on Crete continually thanked the Lord and felt His presence.

“I have to say that during the last two sessions I feel very comfortable saying that the Holy Spirit is guiding us because I see a very peaceful consensus in regard to finding in clarity and what the truth is in regard to what these documents will say not only for us, the hierarchs, but to the people in the outside world,” including the non-Orthodox. 

Communication after the council is important because it is easy for people who are not experts to misinterpret the Council’s documents, Metropolitan Isaiah told me, and added that he believes that the Holy Spirit is at work in the process. 

The Ecumenical movement was a major topic at the HGC and Metropolitan Isaiah told me of the excitement he began to feel 50 years ago when he started “to notice statements made by people about how we who call ourselves Christians can come together not to become one church but to work together as Christians - as far as we Orthodox are concerned we are the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.”

I was only able to catch up with Metropolitan Gerasimos after he returned to the U.S. He shared some preliminary thoughts with me by phone, and I heard him elaborate upon them when I attended the Archdiocese’s Clergy-Laity Congress in July. 

“I am still trying to tease out the importance of this event” he told me. “Of course, I was blessed and honored to be together with so many other hierarchs in this historic event. And this is the most crucial point of this gathering: convening all together, under the guidance of the Ecumenical Patriarch and the blessings of the Holy Spirit, in order to discuss and dialogue about our faith today and tomorrow,” he said. 

All the people I spoke with emphasized that the HGC was an important first step. I had the honor of hearing His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew declare that more Councils will follow – the next one may he held as soon seven years from now. 


Metropolitan Gerasimos said to me, “I feel that we had a good beginning with this Synod, in making ourselves a little more open to others' opinions and ideas…Our journey as the Orthodox Church of the 21st century however is full of challenges, some of them more serious than others. Therefore, the substance of this gathering is that it is an unprecedented gathering of so many different Churches with so many different opinions, yet united over the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Faith!”


“And here is the wonder of this Synod,” he continued, “we might have differences of opinions in substantive matters, but at the end we were able to convene together and agree on issues that will shape our spiritual lives and those that we shepherd throughout the world.”


The Metropolitan believes that eventually, the success of the Synod, beyond of what was discussed there, will depend on the hierarch rising to the challenge of “taking this event and making it real throughout the world by implementing our decisions. I pray that our Lord will be kind and merciful to us all as we begin working for the realization of the Synod's implementation tasks.”



Metropolitan Nikitas of Dardanellia is the Director of the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute in Berkeley, CA. He told me “I think the first and most important thing is to see the wisdom, the guiding hand of the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and the courage to convene not only this Holy and Great Council but to overcome challenges and difficulties, the confrontations and different problems - which takes a man of thought and vision.”

In addition to the intellectual capabilities a spiritual leader requires to preside over a Council, Metropolitan Nikitas noted Patriarch Bartholomew’s “Compassion, and embracing attitude” that was needed to reinforce “the idea of being inclusive rather than limiting.” 

The Metropolitan used an example from everyday life to demonstrate that a Council’s challenges are not unique: “A family that has a dozen children has its own problems at the dinner table. Not everyone likes the same food, some like salt and others don’t, but still they sit together and at that table they discuss and talk - they share – and that’s the spirit of this Council.”

He continued, “The Church has a space for everyone, and this Council  and the challenges and the discussions are a part of that everyone and everything. The question was, are we able to come to some conclusions and resolutions, some statements? I think we were able to because of the wisdom and the vision of the Patriarch.”

And because the spirit of the HGC will be conveyed to those who were absent, the process of the reception of the decisions on Crete, which is “part and parcel of the work of the Council,” moves forward and will fuel discussions around the world as Fr. John Chrysavgis told me.

“Councils are never frozen in time,” Metropolitan Nikitas said. “They are ongoing events because they are lived by the Community and the Church…the decisions are lived, and we have to see that and remember that.” 


Break the Taboo: A Call for Access to Clean Water and Sanitation Facilities for All

We all take things for granted. Take a second and think about the daily activities that occur or exist without thought, or with scant attention being paid to them. This might be the ability to flip a switch in a dark room, immediately illuminating it. Or the fact that when you are thirsty, all you need to do to solve this problem is turn on your faucet. These amenities exist without much fanfare. But have you imagined what life would be like without them?


In that vein, each year the United Nations celebrates World Toilet Day on November 19th to call attention to the billions of people globally, who lack access to proper sanitation.[1] This is among the most overlooked issues, and it has a tremendous impact on so many people’s lives. For many, access to running water and indoor restroom facilities is a fantasy, leaving them unable to lead healthy and productive lives. World Toilet Day seeks to draw attention to this issue, noting that approximately 2.4 billion people around the world lack access to proper toilet and sanitation facilities,[2] usually resulting in public defecation and the spread of disease. More than just an inconvenience, it is a public health crisis. Furthermore, access to sanitation is defined by the United Nations as a human right. Now is as good a time as any to turn our attention to this important issue and how continuing to ignore it will further perpetuate the devastating consequences for both people and planet.


The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) seek to address this very issue. Goal 6 recognizes the issue by noting that water and sanitation are vital to human health and development, yet billions around the world lack access to it.[3] Among the 2.4 billion without proper access are 946 million people who lack any facilities at all, causing significant public health and environmental problems. Moreover, diarrhea caused by poor sanitation facilities and unsafe water results in 315,000 children dying each year.[4] Additionally, 17% of all workplace deaths are caused by poor sanitation and hygiene practices. This Goal cannot be fully realized as long as people are forced to drink, bathe, and wash clothing in waters that are polluted or shared with animals.


So what can be done about this epidemic? According the SDGs, by 2030, the UN seeks to achieve access to safe and affordable water for all and to provide people with clean and healthy sanitation facilities. To achieve this, however, we will all have to shift our thinking of the right to water.


One way to start is an end to open defecation, which causes diseases to spread and environmental harm. This leads to unnecessary death as well as loss of economic productivity.[5] Next, in order to reduce pollution and physical harm, the dumping of hazardous materials into water sources must stop. And finally, there must be an increased emphasis on water as an infrastructure factor. While significant time and resources are rightly spent towards the traditional matters like roads and bridges, in many countries, attention on water and sanitation is negligible. Many countries do not adequately treat and monitor the quality of their water. They allow for chemicals and waste to be dumped into water sources, leading to health problems and environmental degradation.


The tagline for this year’s World Toilet Day is to ‘Break the Taboo,’ a direct call from  UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s 2013 commemoration and an explicit reference to the fact that while this problem persists, many do not want to talk about it, further exacerbating the problem. We often go through life taking advantage of the basic things that occur without ceremony, yet are crucial to living a healthy life with dignity. In order to solve this significant problem, we must be willing to talk about its existence and acknowledge that we all have a right to clean water and sanitation facilities.


#faithmatters #water #sanitation #world toilet day #breakthetaboo


Anthony Balouris is a Fellow at the UN for the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (un.goarch.org)

The Archdiocese is an accredited Non-Governmental Organization at the United Nations through the Department of Public Information (UN DPI) and has General Consultative Status under the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ESOSCO). It has been actively working at the UN for 30 years.



[1] http://www.un.org/en/events/toiletday/

[2] http://www.un.org/en/events/toiletday/

[3] https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg6

[4] http://www.worldtoiletday.info/wp-content/uploads/materials2016/Fact_Sheet/fact_sheet_toiletsandjobs_EN_3/fact_sheet_toiletsandjobs_EN_3.pdf



How We Achieve A Truly Healthy Life

In the Orthodox Christian understanding of a healthy life, both spiritual and physical healing have long been considered complimentary. This begs the question: can we truly be healthy if we focus primarily – or even exclusively – on the physical aspect of health? This is not to say that physical wellbeing is not important. There is a long tradition of the Orthodox Church promoting physical health, from St. Luke the Evangelist serving as a physician to St. Basil establishing an infirmary. This year, on the Feast of the Holy Unmercenaries Sts. Cosmas and Damian, we are reminded that the Orthodox Church has played a central role in health and medicine throughout history. We learn, however, that the health of the soul has often been viewed as superior to the health of the body. The only way we are fully healed is through prayer as well as application of medical science, as shown through the example of Sts. Cosmas and Damian.


Brothers Sts. Cosmas and Damian were given the gift of healing by God, inspiring them to travel around and treat individuals suffering from various ailments. Called unmercenaries because they refused to accept payment for their services, the brothers told the infirm, “it is not by our own power that we treat you, but by the power of Christ, the true God. Believe in Him and be healed.” This generosity and compassion for their fellow man set the standard for how we as Christians are to aid the suffering and demonstrate the approach to becoming a healthy person. As unmercenaries, Sts. Cosmas and Damian sought a joint effort to unselfishly assist others in need and love those around them. While they were given the physical tools to heal, they reminded the faithful that only through faith in God could a person be truly and fully healed.


St. Basil articulates the Orthodox standard for medicine and health: “The medical art has been vouchsafed (granted to) us by God, who directs our whole life, as a model for the cure of the soul.” As Orthodox Christians, we believe that life is a gift from God, and it is our duty to both protect and enhance it. This must be done through spirituality and medicine, with both positively impacting the physical health of all. Sickness is associated with original sin, thus demonstrating man’s disharmonious relationship with God and reflecting the need to address both spiritual and physical ailments. How do we know that spiritual healing encompasses yet surpasses physical? In the Epistle of St. James, St. James articulates: “Is there any one among you suffering? Let him pray ... Is any among you sick? Let him call for the presbyters of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (James 4:13-15).


Struggling with our physical illnesses, while maintaining faith, is essential to our development as persons. During this process, we strive for the courage to acknowledge our mortality and also recognize that suffering (spiritual, mental, and physical) is part of our salvific journey in Christ. Only through Christ can we achieve the fullness of health, both in body and soul.



Anthony Balouris is a Fellow at the UN for the Department of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (un.goarch.org)

The Archdiocese is an accredited Non-Governmental Organization at the United Nations through the Department of Public Information (UN DPI) and has General Consultative Status under the Economic and Social Council of the UN (ESOSCO). It has been actively working at the UN for 30 years.






Anthony Constantine Balouris
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