Entries with tag ecumenical patriarchate .

Prayers for our Planet: World Day of Prayer for Care of Creation

Photo Credit: Catholic News Service photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters

Over the past few centuries, human activities have contributed to more environmental degradation than ever before in history. Pollution is raising the planet’s core temperature, tainting what little clean drinking water remains, and rendering air unbreathable. Melting ice caps, ocean acidification, and disappearing coral reefs are just a few more effects of pollution and climate change. Constant wars and irresponsible mining techniques are shaking the earth’s plates causing earthquakes and watershed destruction in the most unnatural places. Corporations and other businesses are aggressively trying to buy and control the remaining clean water sources, and, therefore, effectively 70-80% of your body which is made of water. I know what you’re thinking:  this guy is a downer! And you’re right, this topic is bleak. But it’s a situation that we humans have created, which means it’s a situation that we humans have the power to mend.

There are too many great organizations and individuals who have dedicated their lives to mitigating environmental destruction to mention in one blog post. Therefore, this occasion will focus on the work of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, a trail blazer in the area of environmental protection. Rather than bore you with lengthy paragraphs, though, here is a simple timeline of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s major contributions over the past three decades:

1986 – The 3rd Pre-Synodal Pan-Orthodox Conference in Chambésy expressed concern for the abuse of the natural environment, especially in affluent western societies.

1988 – “Revelation and the Future of Humanity” conference recommends the Ecumenical Patriarchate designate one day each year for the protection of the natural environment.

1989 – Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios publishes first encyclical letter on the environment, proclaiming September 1st the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation.

1990 – Monk Gerasimos Mikrayiannanites composes a service of supplication for the environment.

1991 – Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew convenes ecological gathering entitled, “Living in the Creation of the Lord.”

1992 – The Orthodox Christian Primates endorse September 1st as a day of pan-Orthodox prayer for the environment.

1992 – The Duke of Edinburgh visits the Ecumenical Patriarchate for an environmental convocation at the Theological School of Halki.

1993 – Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew visits the Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace where they sealed a friendship of common purpose and active cooperation for the preservation of the environment.

1994 – Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew convenes ecological gathering at the Theological School of Halki on the environment and religious education.

1994 – Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew establishes the Religious and Scientific Committee (RSC) for dialogue with Christian confessions, other religious faiths, as well as scientific disciplines.

1995 – Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew convenes ecological gathering at the Theological School of Halki on the environment and ethics.

1995 – The RSC, through Ms. Maria Becket’s coordination, hosts Symposium I entitled Revelation and Environment under the auspices of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Prince Philip.

1996 – Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew convenes ecological gathering at the Theological School of Halki on the environment and communications.

1997 – Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew convenes ecological gathering at the Theological School of Halki on the environment and justice.

1997 - The RSC, through Ms. Maria Becket’s coordination, hosts Symposium II entitled The Black Sea in Crisis under the auspices of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and H.E. Jacques Santer, President of the European Commission.

1998 – Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew convenes ecological gathering at the Theological School of Halki on the environment and poverty.

1999 – The Halki Ecological Institute is created for inter-disciplinary vision and dialogue, implementing the ecological theory of the Religious and Scientific Committee into practice.

1999 – The RSC, through Ms. Maria Becket’s coordination, hosts Symposium III entitled River of Life – Down the Danube to the Black Sea under the auspices of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and H.E. Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission.

2002 – The RSC, through Ms. Maria Becket’s coordination, hosts Symposium IV entitled The Adriatic Sea – a Sea at Risk, a Unity of Purpose under the auspices of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and H.E. Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission.

2002 – Pope John Paul II and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew co-signed a document of environmental ethics entitled the “Venice Declaration.”

2003 – The RSC, through Ms. Maria Becket’s coordination, hosts Symposium V entitled The Baltic Sea – A Common Heritage, A Shared Responsibility under the auspices of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and H.E. Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission.

2003 – The Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Church of Norway co-sponsor the North Sea Conference.

2006 – The RSC, through Ms. Maria Becket’s coordination, hosts Symposium VI entitled The Amazon: Source of Life under the auspices of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and H.E. Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations.

2007 – The RSC, through Ms. Maria Becket’s coordination, hosts Symposium VII entitled The Arctic – Mirror of Life under the auspices of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, H.E. Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, and H.E. Jose Barroso, President of the European Commission.

2008 – The World Council of Churches recognizes the leadership of the Orthodox Church and designates an annual “Time for Creation” from September 1st to October 4th.

2009 – The RSC, through Ms. Maria Becket’s coordination, hosts Symposium VIII entitled The Great Mississippi River: Restoring Balance under the auspices of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

2012 – The Ecumenical Patriarchate and Southern New Hampshire University convene Halki Summit I at the Theological School of Halki to address the environment and business.

2015 – The Ecumenical Patriarchate and Southern New Hampshire University convene Halki Summit II at the Theological School of Halki to address the environment and literature.

2015 – Pope Francis recognizes the September 1st World Day of Prayer for Care of Creation and designates it for the Roman Catholic Church, as well.

2018 – Stay tuned for the next great event, namely a symposium.

The most basic takeaways from these initiatives as well as other publications include: 1) all people from every discipline and every sector must work together to save the planet; 2) moderation of all people everywhere is essential; and 3) we must continuously build a loving relationship with our planet, being ever cautious not to exploit her.

In conclusion, it’s worth mentioning that just this morning, continuing on this long history and in celebration of the mutually recognized World Day of Prayer for Care of Creation, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis released a joint statement reaffirming the need for all people to be stewards of creation rather than lords over creation:

Our propensity to interrupt the world’s delicate and balanced ecosystems, our voracity to manipulate and control the planet’s limited resources, and our rapacity for limitless profit in markets – all these have alienated us from the original purpose of creation. We no longer respect nature as a shared gift; instead we regard it as a private possession. We no longer associate with nature in order to sustain it; instead, we lord over it to support our own constructs … [w]e urgently appeal to those in positions of social and economic, as well as political and cultural responsibility to hear the cry of the earth and to attend to the needs of the marginalized, but above all to respond to the plea of millions and to support the consensus of the world for the healing of our wounded creation.

Young Stewards Shined LIke the Star of Bethlehem at the Holy and Great Council

The students who dedicated themselves to serving their Church in Crete as stewards of the Holy and Great Council are preparing to celebrate Christmas with their loved ones. Those who will be travelleling far from their schools and will be speaking to friends and family for the first time since last June will spice their holidays with some remarkable stories of their participation in a great moment in the history of the Orthodox Church.


A historic gathering like the Great and Holy Council (GHC) is more than rooms full of distinguished people. Infrastructure had to be built and human resources gathered, and the GHC was graced with an extraordinarily talented and dedicated group of young people, the stewards.

Their main task was to be the contact between delegations and the organizing committee of the GHC as people traveled to and from their hotels, council sessions and special events.

The future of an ancient Church depends on the transmission of the love and passion for the faith to the younger generations, and judging from the energy and spirit of the GHC stewards the future of Orthodoxy in America is very bright.

Archbishop Demetios of America hosted a special dinner on Crete for the HGC volunteers.


The organizing committee of the GHC was tasked by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to provide stewards as part of its logistical requirements. With the blessing and support of Archbishop Demetrios of America and under the leadership of Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, Chairman of the GHC organizing committee, Michael Karloutsos and Andrew Veniopoulos, Executive Director and Deputy Executive Director of the committee respectively, moved forward.

“We thought that the seminaries would provide large pools of talent” said Veniopoulos, who handled airline and hotel arrangements and assigned stewards their responsibilities.

He said “they are all very enthusiastic about participating in the Council,” a quality they were looking for when he and Karloutsos went on recruiting trips to the various seminaries. “We wanted to pick the best of the best. We developed a questionnaire but we also wanted to personally meet them, Veniopoulos said.

“They are the best,” Karloutsos, echoed, “but what’s incredible is that none have ever done anything like this before…to do what they are doing is nothing short of a miracle…I’m so proud of them.”

Some arrived on June 8 and others on June 12. The first group had more responsibilities and they did advance work, travelling to different sites in Crete. Most will be leaving after the Council ends on June 27.

The endeavor was strongly supported by Fr. Chris Metropulos, the President of Hellenic College Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, MA, and Fr. John Behr, the Dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary in New York.  The former asked for students at the college who were not on the ordination track to also participate because “they are laymen and they are part of the Church and the future.”

More than 50 young people applied at HC/HC. They knew they would not be paid –  it was more than an unpaid internship however as airfare, meals, and accommodations on the wonderful island of Crete were covered – but they were eager to help and to serve.

Approximately 20 came from Brookline – about six from the College and the rest seminarians – and there were also three students from St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological School.

Many of the stories are similar – about half were Greek Americans and the others are a testament to  how strongly Orthodoxy speaks to contemporary issues and crises. Among today’s parallels – there are of course many differences – with the times of the early Church councils, is the that philosophy appears to be a favored path into Orthodoxy.

The intellectual pull is secondary to the spiritual, however. Many converts arrive at Orthodoxy after a desire to discover the roots of Christianity turned into a journey in search of the True Faith.

Jordan Parro, born in Albuquerque, NM, even drew his own family into Orthodoxy a few years after he converted.

“I was in Southern California studying for my degree in philosophy and I had a friend who invited me to his Orthodox Church. Nothing happened all at once but the rest is history. “

His early religious influence stemmed from his parents, non-practicing Catholics, and the evangelical school he attended. After graduating from University of New Mexico with a degree in philosophy and math, and when his wife completed her college degree, they decided it was the right time for seminary.

“We sought the blessing of our parish priest and our Metropolitan, Isaiah of Denver and I left my position as a math teacher and moved to Boston,” Jordan said.

In Crete he was assigned to the delegation of the Patriarchate of Serbia.

Daniel Greeson has just finished his first year at St. Vladimir’s after earning a degree in religious studies and philosophy at Western Kentucky University.

“I grew up protestant and my father and grandfather were ministers,” he said. “I went to a bible college for my first two years and I basically read too much,” he said with a smile, then added, “I wanted to know about the history of the Church and how to understand the bible and step by step eventually I wanted a Eucharistic-centered Church with the Divine Liturgy.”

Fr. Behr made an announcement that helpers were needed for the Council and he put the interview date on his calendar – but then forgot about it. “About a week later my friend Demitrios Nikiforos told me ‘you should go, you should go!’ and I sent in my application,” Daniel said.

“It’s been an incredible experience on every level. I’m not used to seeing all these hierarchs from all over the world come together and it’s fascinating to see so much collegiality and jovialness” he encountered among the Church’s highest officials.

“I am a steward for the Romanian Church and they have been very warm and kind group,” he said but he also appreciates new friendships with students from other seminaries. There is an inter-Orthodox seminary movement, but people like Daniel, who is married with children, don’t have much time to participate.

Dimitrios Nikiforos is from Kavala in Greece. “My father is a cardiologist and my mother is a social worker and I have two younger sisters,” one of which lives in New York with him, he said.

He was excited about the GHC from the start, but he did not expect the honor of being a steward for the Church of Greece and working with his Metropolitan.

Dimitrios studied law at the University of Thessaloniki with a specialization in Constitutional law and in 2013 he attended New York University for a second Master’s in legal theory. That prompted him to finally pursue a Master’s in Theology at St. Vladimir’s.

“Law and theology share, I think, a common goal in the search for truth” and the just and the good. “Each day at vespers we chant Fos Ilaron, which refers to Christ as Ilion Dikeosinis – the Sun of Justice.”

Sam Kim has is also a St. Vladimir’s student. He said he has a “pretty conventional story” about coming to Orthodoxy. “I grew up fairly religious…and Evangelical…and if you are religious you start reading books on theology and history and there is the trajectory that brings you to the Church…The further back in history you go the less Protestant it looks and the more Orthodox it is.”

He just received his Master’s in Divinity from St. Vladimir’s and as an under graduate he double majored in philosophy and religious studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

Asked which philosopher made the greatest impact on him he said it was more the task of philosophy “the pursuit of wisdom,” rather than particular thinkers that attracted him.

The desire to go deeper than the surface of the world had for him a spiritual dimension.

As a student on scholarship from the Antiochian Archdiocese he will be called to serve them in some capacity. “That is usually ordination and that is probably in my future,” he said, but not immediately, and helping with the Council is part of his path.

“I am very grateful to be here and to be a part of history,” he said.

Diana (pronounced Dee-a-na) Khalil was born in the City of Homs in Syria and grew up in a nearby village. Her father came to America to work and prepare immigration papers for the rest of the family. She grew up in Pittsburgh, “in the Antiochian Church, which was the center of our lives and the source of our values,” she said. She has numerous Greek friends and koumbari- her cousin is married to the son of Father George LIvanos and she says “I feel no difference other than the language. It’s the same culture.”

She always had a strong relationship with God, which was reinforced by attending her Church’s Antiochian Village summer camp during her junior year in high school, and Diana is now a sophomore at Hellenic College.

She had a good time her first year at Slippery Rock University but she said, “I was not growing there as a person…in high school I regretted not getting more involved and challenging myself, and did not want to do that again. I wanted to be challenged academically, mentally, and spiritually and by the Grace of God I found myself at Hellenic…they do a great job of teaching the students how to place Christ and the Church at the center of everything you do in any profession.”

At the Council she plays a key role in coordinating the work of all the stewards by organizing information on the activities through spreadsheets and schedules and relaying them to her co-workers.

“I have been here since June 8. All I can say is that it’s been a blessing and I am completely honored to be here and feet totally unworthy.  Any room I walk into, I am in awe. It’s completely beautiful,” she said.

Stavronikitas Damianakis is from Tampa. FL and has roots in Lesbos and Crete, which he visited for the first time.  “It’s beautiful. It’s one of the best places I’ve ever been,” he said, but it’s not a vacation by any means.

The stewards, some of whom arrived ten days prior to the Council, work from early morning until evening.

He is a sophomore at Hellenic College and was already on track to become a priest, nevertheless he called the trip “a life changing experience.”

Stavronikitas hopes to stay in Greece a couple of more weeks after the Council, in Athens and hopefully for his first visit to Mount Athos.


The Dedication and Work of the Archons is More Important than Ever


At a time when the Turkish government has caused concern by challenging the Treaty of Lausanne and even the status of the Aghia Sophia, I have increased my appreciation for the wiork and dedication of the Order of St. Andrew, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Last summer I had the priviledge of being present at the at an event they hosted at the Clergy-Laity Congress. 


 The Order of St. Andrew, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, hosted a reception at the start of the 43rd annual Clergy-Laity Congress of the Archdiocese of America at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center in Nashville, TN on July 3.

During his invocation Archbishop Demetrios of America called upon God to continue to bless the Archons for their “terrific work” of supporting and defending the Mother Church which enables it to “perform its salvific work in uniting the Orthodox Churches, promoting Orthodoxy in the world, and also promoting friendship, reconciliation, justice and love among the people.”

His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas of Detroit offered welcoming remarks and Archon Lazaros E. Kircos, Detroit Regional Commander – Nashville is part of the Metropolis of Detroit – served as Master of Ceremonies.

Kircos, echoed later by Archbishop Demetrios, expressed his appreciation for the leadership of Archon National Commander Dr. Anthony Limberakis and conveyed the latter’s disappointment at being unable to attend due to medical responsibilities.


 Archon National Commander Dr. Anthony Limberakis.


Archon Depoutatos James C. Fountas, Treasurer of the National Council, was called onto the stage to present gifts to Archbishop Demetrios and the two representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Metropolitan Ambrosios of Korea and Metropolitan Kydonias and Apokoronou, all of whom praised of the work and dedication of the Order, which is celebrating its 50th Anniversary.

The Archbishop also took the opportunity to honor the memory of the late Archon Nicholas Bouras, one of the Church’s great benefactors.

After offering observations on the recent Holy and Great Council and lauding Patriarch Bartholomew’s inspired leadership that helped the participants navigate numerous challenges, Archbishop Demetrios praised the Archons for their contributions to the HGC, which included both hosting a dinner in Honor of the 25th anniversary of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and underwriting many Council expenses.

Archons were also part of the tremendous logistical and communications contribution to the Council made by the Archdiocese of America, a team which was also graced by the presence of 24 students from Hellenic College/Holy Cross.

Archbishop Demetrios noted that Patriarch Bartholomew declared to the Primates of the ten Autocephalous Churches at the Council “the great indebtedness of the Patriarch to the Archons of America,” and then said “You should be very very proud and thankful to God or what you were able to do as Archons in this unique Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church.”

Constantinople and Moscow: Two Churches, One Faith, and John Meyendorff

Historians increasingly attribute the origins of the modern West’s global ascendancy to Western Europeans’ superiority in technology and war making.  Indeed, in the case of Western Christian states, like Islamic polities in the Near East, the spread of their power and cultures was the direct result of military might and forcible, violent expansion.  For instance, just as the diffusion of the Arab Muslims’ faith and civilization in the Old World stemmed directly from invasion and conquest of foreign lands and peoples during the Middle Ages, the spread of Western power, culture, and Christianity across the New World, and later much of Africa and Asia, was accompanied by the brutal colonization, enslavement, and exploitation of foreign peoples and lands during more recent centuries.

In one of the most significant and enduring books on the expansion of Orthodox Christianity as a faith and civilization, Byzantium and the Rise of Russia, written by the late John Meyendorff, we are presented with an historical experience that stands in stark contrast to the Islamic and Western examples of cultural diffusion.  Today, Russia’s aggregate “historic lands” are home to the majority of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians.  Arguably, Russian society owes its faith, much of its culture, and perhaps even its early survival to Byzantium and its civilization.  Yet, Byzantine civilization and Orthodox Christianity did not come to the Russians through conquest and subjugation.

Precisely because the Byzantine-Russian historical phenomenon sheds light on the distinctions between different patterns of civilizational expansion, Meyendorff’s study is important for evaluating how the culture and religion of a society help shape its interaction with other peoples.  With its relevance to these larger aspects of global history obvious, Meyendorff’s book remains above all a seminal contribution to both Russian and Byzantine scholarship.  Indeed, first published in 1981 by Cambridge University Press, Byzantium and the Rise of Russia: A Study of Byzantino-Russian Relations in the Fourteenth Century is universally recognized as the definitive work on its subject.

John Meyendorff was one of the world’s most respected and prolific authorities on Orthodoxy and Byzantium.  From the time of his first publication in 1949 to his death in 1992, he authored more than 30 books and some 285 articles.  Born in France in 1926 to a tsarist Russian émigré family, and descended from Baltic aristocracy (among whom he was known as Ivan Feofilovich Baron von Meyendorff), he was raised near Paris and attended French schools.  Meyendorff completed religious studies at the St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris in 1949, and received his doctorate from the Sorbonne in 1958.  Ordained an Orthodox priest, Father Meyendorff immigrated to the United States in 1959 in order to take up a position as Professor of Church History and Patristics at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in Crestwood, New York.  In addition to his post at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, from 1967 he held a joint appointment in Byzantine History at Fordham University.  He also enjoyed longtime affiliation with, and played a very active role in the intellectual life of, Harvard University’s Center for Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks, in Washington, D.C.  Both professional historian and theologian, John Meyendorff treated his two fields as interrelated, producing a corpus of work that was as original and distinguished as it was immense.

In Byzantium and the Rise of Russia, John Meyendorff argues that, through their Christian civilization, the medieval Greeks played a decisive role in shaping early Russia’s culture, formal institutions, and, ultimately, political life.  The geography and economy of the Black Sea region made contacts inevitable between Russians and Greeks.   From their principality’s capital in Kiev, the early Russian/Ukrainian/Belorussian people(s)—the “Rus”— dominated what is now most of European Russia, as well as Belarus and Ukraine.  Like other peoples who coveted the incomparable wealth and grandeur of Byzantium, the pagan “Rus” assaulted the empire, and Constantinople itself, on more than one occasion.  With time, however, conflict subsided and gradually gave way to friendship as the vibrant, creative, and alluring world of Byzantium drew Russia into a common civilizational space radiating from Constantinople—a cultural sphere often described as the Byzantine Commonwealth. 

On this phenomenon, Meyendorff wrote that, “‘New Rome’ on the Bosphorus was the unquestionable center of the civilized Christian world.  With a population close to a million, with its imperial palaces and hippodrome and, above all, its ‘Great Church’ of St. Sophia—by far the biggest and most magnificent building in the medieval world—Byzantium exercised on all the Slavic ‘barbarians’ a fascination with which no Christian center of the West could compete.  Thus it was able to win their allegiance not only by the force of arms, but by making them acknowledge the superiority of its Christian civilization.” 

Russia’s place in the Byzantine world order was cemented with the country’s embrace of Orthodox Christianity.  As a guest of Emperor Constantine VII, the Kievan princess Olga personally adopted Christianity during a visit to Constantinople in 957.  Olga’s grandson Vladimir followed her example.  Moreover, Prince Vladimir not only received baptism himself, he promoted Orthodoxy as Russia’s state religion, thus beginning in 988 the country’s official Christianization.  For the Byzantines, the “baptism of the Russians” signified their integration into a universal Christian structure unified through the imperial supremacy of Constantinople.  Indeed, Russia’s subsequent cultural and religious dependence upon Constantinople seemed to reaffirm the central role and purpose of the empire and the emperor in the “Christian inhabited earth,” understood as the oikoumene.

Meyendorff posits that, “since the adoption of Christianity as the state religion of the Kievan principality, the influence of Byzantine civilization upon Russia became the determining factor of Russian civilization.”  In this regard, the author proposes that the very extent of Byzantine influence on Russia should be understood by a consideration of the three main, essential elements which, in combination, determined the character and life of Byzantine society and civilization: Roman political tradition; Greek language and culture; and the Orthodox Christian Church and faith.

Obviously the connections between Constantinople and Kiev that existed before 988 acquired an entirely new significance when Russia accepted from Byzantium the Greeks’ religion, their ecclesiastical hierarchy, their literature in translation, and their art.  In this area, Meyendorff makes clear the vital contrasts between the religious conversion of Western Germanic peoples by Rome and the adoption of Orthodox Christianity by the Russians and other Slavs through an evangelizing Constantinople.  Whereas Byzantium accepted cultural and linguistic pluralism as a reality of the oikoumene, the increasingly authoritarian and centralizing tendencies of the papacy left no possibility for the development of indigenous literary languages and corresponding styles of art in the West. 

Indeed, while the papacy insisted upon linguistic and cultural uniformity and submission to a rigid Latin model in the West, Christians in the Orthodox East were free to worship and express themselves in their own literary languages and creative modes of expression.  In short, Byzantine cultural and religious influence, no matter how decisive, was not equivalent to domination.  To look to just one example, Meyendorff notes that as “faithful disciples of the Greeks,” the Russians, in their acceptance of Orthodoxy, “took for granted its doctrines and canons, but they also learned from the Greeks that doctrines could be expressed in liturgical beauty, in music, in the visual arts, and in patterns of ascetic behavior.  Those aspects of Christianity they loved most and developed very early in their own indigenous ways.”

In the realm of political thought, Meyendorff notes that from ancient Rome, Byzantium inherited the ideal and goal of a universal empire, which would supersede conflict between nations and establish world peace.  Inasmuch as this imperial goal was merged with the Christian aspiration for Christ’s universal kingdom, the Byzantines were able to make the distinction between their empire, albeit Christian, and the actual Kingdom of God.  Out of this worldview, the Byzantines produced a refined, cosmopolitan theory of Church and state, or symphonia.  One of the foundational principles of symphonia posited that “the first duty of the emperor consisted in protecting and sheltering the Church, which alone could give legitimacy to his imperial claims and reality to his responsibilities, as the promoter of the apostolic faith and the guardian of Christian truth in the life of human society.” 

Because the Church was universal, the empire and the emperor—entrusted as the latter was with the protection of the oikoumene—were in principle equally universal.  Consequently, even in Christian lands where the emperor did not exercise direct imperial authority, it was understood that such areas or polities accepted the principle of a universal Christian empire, and remained within that system through the Byzantine Commonwealth, or civilizational space. 

This acknowledgment of the universality of the Christian Roman Empire and the imperial supremacy of Constantinople did not compromise the autonomy or independence of Christian states outside the empire.  Instead, it helped establish the legitimacy of such states by formalizing their relationship with the acknowledged imperial and civilizational center of Constantinople.  This very model, in fact, characterized the relationship between Byzantium and the Christian West as well, at least before the beginning of papal pretensions to ecclesiastical supremacy in the ninth century.

The implications of this ideology were monumental for the Byzantine-Russian relationship.  If the ideal principle of a universal Christian empire had any practical significance, it was realized primarily through the Orthodox Church.  Indeed, precisely because Russia was never a part of the Byzantine Empire, “its acceptance of the Byzantine political worldview and of Constantinople’s cultural leadership represents the greatest of all spiritual conquests of the Byzantine Empire.  This conquest is so much more extraordinary that it never involved direct political dependence and was therefore accomplished almost exclusively by the Church.” 

Despite the unifying impulses of the Byzantine worldview, Russia itself was soon torn apart by a long series of civil wars and struggles for power.  Beginning in the middle of the eleventh century, the large, unified, highly developed state of the “Rus”—the Grand Principality of Kiev—fragmented over the next almost two centuries into no fewer than 64 principalities.  Severely divided, the Russian lands were quickly overrun and conquered by the Mongols, who destroyed Kiev in 1240.  Although many of the Russian principalities remained intact, they were reduced to petty vassal states, humiliatingly forced to pay tribute and provide military and other resources to the Mongols.  The Russians’ political freedom came to an end.  This condition would last until the vassal principality of Moscow would shift its policy, from cooperation to resistance, and lead a successful campaign of liberation against the Mongols in 1380.

Meyendorff regards the fourteenth century as a decisive period in Byzantium’s critical role in the development of Russia.  Despite the political and military weakness of fourteenth-century Byzantium, the energy of the Orthodox Church and Greek culture were, paradoxically, ascendant.  Indeed, throughout the period of Mongol rule over the “Rus,” as before and for some time thereafter, Byzantium exerted a continuous cultural and spiritual impact on Russia.  Moreover, inasmuch as the Metropolitan of all Russia—the head of the Russians’ Orthodox Church—remained an appointee of the Byzantine emperor and the Patriarch of Constantinople, the empire’s influence in Russia was direct and significant.  Ironically, Byzantium’s ability to affect developments in the Russian lands, largely through ecclesiastical diplomacy, expanded considerably during the period of Mongol rule. 

The country’s acute political divisions and subjugation under foreign rule left Russia without any unifying institutions, save the Orthodox Church.  Consequently, the Church, with its widespread administrative network and corresponding web of cultural, community, regional, and “national” structures became overarching and indispensable to the Russians’ survival and eventual revival.  The Orthodox Church preserved the memory of a unified, free Russia and championed its restoration as part of the Christian Commonwealth.  Through the Church—the chief agency for Byzantium’s connection to, and influence in, Russia—the Russians received the message that culturally, politically, and religiously, they were part of a wider, universal community. 

John Meyendorff makes it clear that after the Mongol period of rule, the Russians’ political unification into a consolidated state under Moscow’s leadership could not have taken place as it did without the direct influence of the Orthodox Church—and hence indirect, but decisive, role of Byzantium.  Obviously, Moscow’s triumph in the process of Russian national integration cannot be explained by only one factor.  Nevertheless, the eventual relocation of the office of the Metropolitan of all Russia to Moscow after the destruction of Kiev, resulting in the Orthodox Church’s subsequent association with that new assertive principality in the country’s geographic center, figures prominently as a crucial, if not the most important, component in Russia’s unification and rise under Moscow.

John Meyendorff acknowledges that by the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Western ideas made Byzantine political philosophy increasingly obsolete for many Russians.  Indeed, as early as the fourteenth century the princes of Moscow, although willing to invoke Byzantine principles and imagery when it suited their interests, were actually involved in a decidedly Western, non-universalist, project of building a proto-nation-state.  To complement that goal, Moscow succeeded in securing from Constantinople the elevation of Russia’s historic metropolitanate to an autocephalous patriarchate in 1589. 

Yet, despite the fact that Byzantium had fallen in 1453 and the Patriarchate of Constantinople became captive to the Ottoman Empire, the Patriarchate of Moscow and All Russia—even with its status as the only Orthodox patriarchate free from Muslim occupation, as well as eventually the most populous patriarchal jurisdiction—never sought to claim primacy over Constantinople.  The status of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople as the first among equals was unequivocal in Russia.  Indeed, this was a self-evident principle that even Russia’s ambitious, imperial tsars would not question or challenge.  Instead, Russian tsars and patriarchs alike always recognized the ecumenicity and spiritual aegis of the Patriarch of Constantinople in the Orthodox world.  Clearly, despite the victory of Western ideas in the country’s modern state formation, Byzantine understanding and Orthodox ecclesiastical tradition continued to be revered by both Church and state in both Muscovite and imperial Russia.  

“This deliberate ideological self-limitation of the Russians can be explained by a variety of considerations.  In no way did it prevent the Russian empire from spectacular growth, as a national state.  But precisely because of this national character of the Muscovite tsardom, some deep-seated consciousness kept reminding its leaders that the Byzantine political ideology excluded the right of any nation, as nation, to monopolize the leadership of the universal Orthodox Christian Commonwealth.”  Despite great changes in political and international conditions, this tenet of the Orthodox Church and precept of Byzantine Christian civilization is as relevant today for respecting the special bond between Constantinople and Moscow as it was more than a thousand years ago.  In this regard, the current ecclesiastical posturing and positioning of the Patriarchate of Moscow, a policy undoubtedly coordinated with and likely imposed by the geopolitical architects of the post-Soviet Russian state, represents a dramatic rupture with the historic tradition and ecclesial reality of the global Orthodox Church.

Dr. Alexandros K. Kyrou is Professor of History at Salem State University in Salem, Massachusetts, where he teaches on the Balkans, Byzantium, and the Ottoman Empire.

The First Black Orthodox Priest in America

In 1907, a black Episcopalian deacon from Jamaica traveled to Constantinople, where he was ordained an Orthodox priest by a bishop of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. He was then sent to Philadelphia with the mission to “carry the light of the Orthodox faith among his racial brothers.”

This pioneering black clergyman was Robert Josias Morgan, who took the name “Father Raphael” after his ordination. Morgan was born in Jamaica in the 1860s. As a young man, he traveled throughout Latin America, Europe, and Africa. In 1895, he was ordained a deacon in the Episcopal Church in Delaware. (The Episcopal Church in the United States is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion.) He was part of a small and interesting group of black Episcopalian clergy at the turn of the 20th century.

At some point – and for reasons that remain unclear – Morgan began to doubt his Anglican faith. He embarked on a sweeping three-year study of Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, and Orthodoxy. He seemed to lean toward Orthodoxy from the start. In 1904, he toured Russia, Turkey, Cyprus, and the Holy Land. Everywhere he went, the Orthodox leaders welcomed him as an honored guest. After that, Morgan returned to Philadelphia. He was still technically an Episcopalian, but he started attending Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, where he became close to the priest, Fr. Demetrios Petrides.

In 1907, Morgan traveled to Constantinople with two letters of recommendation. One, from Fr. Demetrios, recommended that Morgan be received into Orthodoxy and ordained a priest. The other, from the Annunciation parish, seconded Fr. Demetrios’ recommendation and further said that if Morgan was unsuccessful in establishing a black Orthodox parish, he was welcome to serve as the assistant priest at Annunciation.

After being interviewed extensively by one of the English-speaking bishops of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Morgan was chrismated into the Orthodox Church. On the Feast of Dormition (the repose of the Mother of God), he was ordained a priest in the presence of 3,000 people. He took the name "Father Raphael." The bishop who ordained him sent him back to America to “carry the light of the Orthodox faith among his racial brothers.”

With that charge, Morgan returned to Philadelphia. Unfortunately, he appears to have been unsuccessful in his mission – there’s no evidence that he received any converts, other than his wife and children. He remained in Philadelphia into the late 1910s and died sometime between 1916 and 1924 (the exact date is unknown).

While Fr. Raphael never did establish a black Orthodox parish, the fact that the Ecumenical Patriarchate ordained a black priest and commissioned a mission to black Americans in 1907 is remarkable in its own right. Fr. Raphael’s story stands as a reminder that Orthodoxy is for all people, regardless of race or ethnicity.

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