International Orthodox Christian News

Remembering the Beheading of St. John the Baptist

Commemorated August 29 (September 11)

compiled by Phyllis Meshel Onest, M.Div.

In Matthew 14:1-12 we read about the cruel death of John the Baptist. John had publicly reprimanded Herod for taking his brother’s wife as his own, so Herod had him imprisoned. Although Herod really wanted John dead, he feared the many people who believed John to be a prophet. [Indeed, we in the Orthodox Church consider him to be the last of the Old Testament prophets.] During his riotous birthday party, Herod was so pleased with the dancing of his wife’s daughter Salome that he promised her anything she wanted. Her mother prompted her to say, “the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” Even though Herod regretted his promise, he had to abide by it because his guests had heard him. So he commanded that John be beheaded and that the head be given to Salome, who in turn, gave it to her mother.

The Orthodox Church keeps this day as a strict fast day (i.e. no meat, fish, dairy, wine or olive oil) as a reminder that we are to live a different style of life that Herod. In memory of this event, some Orthodox Christians keep the custom of not using dishes on this day, since John’s head was served on a dish/platter. Instead, only bowls are used. Also, the food that is served on this day should not require the use of a knife, since a sharp instrument was used to behead him.

Thus, we are given three ways to remember St. John’s beheading: a strict fast, using bowls, eating food that is not cut. This year, incorporate at least one, if not all, of these customs to help your children learn the meaning of this feast day.

1998 by Orthodox Family Life and the original author(s).
Site to See: Theologic

The Beheading of St. John the Baptist

Site to See: Orthodox Photos

“Having suffered for the truth, thou hast gone rejoicing to declare to those in hell the good tidings of God having appeared in the flesh” (Trofarion of the Feast, Aug. 29).

The whole life of St. John the Forerunner, from its first days, was entirely dedicated to the One Who came after him. In the days of infant massacres in Bethlehem, he was also sought by Herod, and his mother Elizabeth fled with him into the desert, where she died on the fortieth day. About the same time, his father Zacharias was killed by the servants of Herod, in the Temple. The desert raised John, and he remained there in silence, for thirty years, until the word of God came unto him, commanding him to preach repentance and call on men to prepare the way of the Lord (Luke 3:2).

About half a year after the beginning of his ministry, having prepared the Jews to expect the speedy coming of the Messiah, and surrounding himself with disciples, most of whom became the first disciples of Christ, John the Baptist, baptized Christ. The mystery of the Holy Trinity was then revealed to him. Having informed those with him, that the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world was present, John gradually faded into the shadows and everyone began follow the new Teacher.

However, John rather than grieving over this, rejoiced. When his especially devoted disciples asked him about his lack of concern over his decreasing fame, he replied with words that clearly expressed his personality. “I am not the Christ, but I am sent before Him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, who standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: therefore this my joy is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:28-50).

Soon after this, his word thundered forth, accusing Herod, so he was cast into a prison, where his earthly life ended. He was beheaded during Herod’s banquet. The beheading of St. John the Baptist, which cut off his earthly life, at the same time, started his new and glorious ministry as Forerunner.

The soul of St. John the Baptist, departing his ascetic body, went to hell, the place where the souls of all who died before the Savior’s death on the Cross. The souls of everyone beginning from Adam were here.

However, the holy and righteous soul of St. John the Baptist did not go there in order to experience a dark condition of alienation and distance from God. The “friend of the Bridegroom,” who had baptized Him, suffered for his righteousness, bore the hope of the coming Kingdom of God, preached to all preparing the way for Him, was inseparably bound to Him through his devotion, testifying everywhere for Christ, as His messenger, sent before Him..

Having descended to hell, John continued the ministry that he had performed on earth—the preaching about the Kingdom of God drawing near. The souls of the righteous ones, from the Old Testament were languishing in hell, awaiting the fulfillment of the coming of the One Who would conquer the serpent, as had been told to Adam by God. The prophets, who had seen beforehand in spirit, the coming of the Messiah awaited the fulfillment of the revelations that had been made to them. These souls, deprived of the light of God’s glory, tormented with waiting for the fulfillment of their hope, John came, having descended to hell, bringing the Joyful tidings that soon the kingdom of hell would be destroyed. Those who awaited the Redeemer would soon behold Him and be liberated by Him. John testified that the Son of God had already come to earth and that after baptizing Him, he had witnessed the Holy Spirit descending and remaining on Him (John 1:33-34).

The preaching of John concerning the coming of the Messiah was addressed not only to the souls of the righteous, but to all who were in hell. He appeared in hell to prepare the way of the Lord, just as he had prepared it on earth. John the Baptist’s descent to hell and his preaching of the Gospel was the proclamation of joy to those who were languishing there.

The souls of all the dead, save for the most inveterate sinners, heeded the preaching of the Baptist. Therefore, when Christ descended to hell after His death on the Cross, He was greeted not only by the Old Testament righteous ones, but also by the souls of those who once were disobedient and opposed the long suffering of God in the days of Noah and during the rest of the time that sin reigned among men (1 Peter 3:20).

Hell was destroyed by the Christ’s soul descent into it; the dark confinement shone with light; the souls of the reposed were led into the Kingdom of Heaven. The entryway to this ruin of hell was the descent of the Baptist. Having fulfilled his ministry as Forerunner on earth, he appeared as the Forerunner of Christ, in hell. His beheading is not only the culmination of his earthly exploit, but also the beginning of a new and glorious ministry.

Among them, that are born of women, there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist (Matt. 11:11; Luke 7:28), Christ said of him. This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before Thy face, which shall prepare Thy way before Thee (Luke 7:27).

These words of the Lord Himself, testify of the spiritual greatness of John and his high purpose in the work of the salvation of the human race. He appeared as the servant and preacher of God as no other single man in the world, having begun to preach and praise Christ before his birth, and finishing it even after his death, ascending with Christ into the Kingdom of Heaven after the destruction of hell. As the greatest of the righteous, a worthy place was prepared for him in the Kingdom of his Friend, where he remains now, awaiting its revelation in all glory and the triumphant feast of the Lamb of God in the Second Coming, when He will gather His wheat into the garner, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire (Matt. 3.12; Luke 3.17).

His beheading was his final exploit on earth, and the last step for the receiving of the greatest reward in the Kingdom of Heaven; while for all those in hell it was the rising of the morning star, before the appearance of the Son of Righteousness.

Just as the nativity of St. John the Forerunner and Baptist is the beginning of the Gospel for the living, so is his beheading the beginning of the Gospel for the dead. “The glorious beheading of the Forerunner is part of a certain Divine dispensation, for he preached to those in hell the coming of the Savior” (Kontakion of the Feast). “Be glad, Baptist, and let thy spirit dance: for thou dost accuse the godless Herod, and dost preach to those in hell, saying: Our salvation hath drawn near” (Canticle 4 of the Canon).

“He who came before Thy Birth and Thy Divine Passion is, through a sword, in the nethermost parts of the earth. John, the prophet and messenger of Thy descent there, cries as the voice of the Word: Do ye dead, as Giver of life, do ye blind, as Giver of light, do ye prisoners, as Deliverer, exalt Christ above all forever” (Canticle 8 of the Canon).

Site to See: Orthodox Photos

Alan Burke

PEABODY -- Local residents with ties to Greece are watching with growing concern as out-of-control brush fires ravage the countryside and threaten the cities.

The Associated Press has set the death toll at nearly 70, with whole villages destroyed and the full extent of the death and destruction yet to be determined. North Shore residents, some with family in the region, are glued to Greek television broadcasts and making calls to relatives, said the Rev. Chris Foustoukos of St. Vasilios Greek Orthodox Church.

Mayor Michael Bonfanti will hold a press conference tomorrow formally announcing efforts to collect donations for Peabody's Greek sister city of Messinia.

"It will all be done through the Greek community," he said.

The Greek government has already declared an emergency in Messinia and the surrounding area.

The need is there and growing, Foustoukos said.

"We've been getting calls from the IOCC (International Orthodox Christian Charities)," he said. "We're getting calls from the Greek government. It's devastating. Greek television is asking for tents, blankets and dry goods."

Foustoukos has family members in the Arcadia area. He hasn't heard from them since this latest round of fires began.

Just back from a Greek vacation, Parish Council President Speros Venios described a scene of utter devastation, much of it in the Peloponnesus peninsula.

"My grandparents are still there within 10 miles of the fire," he said.

His return flight to Athens was diverted as an entire mountain below the flight path became engulfed in flame.

Ashes fell on the beaches, Venios said.

"Even when we were in Athens, there were fires burning nearby," he said. As he ate in city restaurants, he watched ash swirling onto the streets. For a while, fire came to the edge of the ruins and museum at Olympia, site of the ancient Olympic Games.

Deaths include a mother found sheltering her children.

Firefighters from throughout the European Union are working to halt the blazes, which have erupted all over the country but particularly in the south.

Venios is helping to organize the relief effort here. A shipping company in Revere, Mike's Shipping Line, has agreed to send the first container of goods for free. Collecting items like tents, sheets, blankets, canned goods -- even clothes -- decreases concerns about misusing people's donations, he said. On the other hand, monetary donations are also being accepted.

George Markos operates Dotty and Ray's restaurant in Salem. A native of Sparta, his wife, Pauline, is already there and in regular contact. Ash falls continuously, "like snow," he said. But after the flames came within 10 miles of the famed city, a change in the wind saved it.

"She says it came pretty close," Markos said.

Not everyone was so lucky.

"One hundred villages, they burn down," Markos said. "(Villagers) go back, they have no property. They have no land. All the trees are gone. ... All the fruit trees and olive trees." They won't recover quickly, he said, and city dwellers are bracing for an influx of new, permanent residents.

Complicating the problem -- some of the airborne firefighters have been spraying the blaze with salt water scooped from the sea, spoiling the land for future agriculture.

"Some of the people," Markos said, "World War II veterans, they say 'We didn't face such difficulties even back then.'" Greek buildings are made of stone, he noted, so local fire departments see little action and are not well-equipped to face this kind of emergency.

The catastrophe has sparked bitter speculation about the cause of the fires, which come in the midst of an extraordinarily hot, bone-dry summer. Destructive brush fires broke out in July, as well. But this latest wave comes just prior to a national election and some charge that they have been set deliberately to weaken the government.

Others mutter about terrorism. Or even arson for profit, as landowners can be forbidden from building on forested land.

Peabody pharmacist Steve Kalivas has family in Kalamata, a town that was able to outsmart the fire.

"It seems they built a berm around some villages." The outbreaks have been "a little suspicious," he said.

People who want to contribute to the relief effort at

St. Vasilios Greek Orthodox Church should call the church at 978-531-0777 or Joanne Venios at 978-902-2863.

American Orthodox Organize Help For Greece

Greece continues to burn, and the Greek Orthodox Church in America is organizing help.

Massive wildfires continue to rage across the Peloponessian peninsula, killing 63 people and displacing thousands more, many of whom had to be evacuated by helicopter. The flames are surrounding entire villages and towns, aided by erratic winds, the tinder dry landscape, and apparently by mysterious arsonists. The primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America is beginning to marshal relief forces from his offices on Manhattan's Upper East Side. The fires, however, are something beyond his experience.

“It's exceedingly painful. It's not an ordinary fire. It's not an ordinary catastrophe. The only thing I remember as a child is during the Second World War when we had bombardments and people were killed by that,” Archbishop Demetrios said.New Yorkers with family in Greece tell us it's a time of high anxiety.“They're afraid for their lives, their livelihood. Every single moment they're just afraid. Fires are so close to them,” said Dionysia Floripoulos.“Nobody's really talking about anything else. People who have relatives over there say it's getting much worse. Nobody can comprehend how or why,” Nikki Stephanopolous said.

Contributions to the relief effort may be sent to:

Greek Orthodox Relief Fund For Greek Fires
8 E. 79th Street

New York, N.Y. 10021

The world’s nethermost Christian church, a Church of St. Nicholas the Wonder-worker, will be built on Franz Joseph Land, a Russian archipelago.

The place for the construction of the future church has been blessed by Bishop Tikhon of Arkhangelsk and Kholmogory during his pastoral trip to the archipelago, the Orthodoxy in the Northern Land internet newspapers has reported on Tuesday. The returned air trip to the islands from Arkhangelsk via Vorkuta took 18 hours. The newspaper notes that it was for the first time that a Russian Orthodox bishop has visited Franz Joseph Land. It is planned to erect a statue of St. Nicholas next to the church. The future church will give an opportunity for worship to frontier guards and meteorologists on watch in the Utmost North.

It has been reported from Ankara that Patriarch All His Holiness Bartholomew, may face up to one year in prison for allegedly breaking local legislation by repeatedly claiming that he is the Patriarch of all Orthodox and recognized as such by the whole Orthodox world. The charge has been made in an Istanbul court by a former member of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Buzhidar Dzhipov. It follows the verdict of 26 June in the Turkish Appeal Court that the Patriarch has no right to the title ‘ecumenical’, according to Article 219 in the Turkish Criminal Code.

Dzhipov has also submitted another suit connected with the forthcoming meeting of the Constantinople Synod of 27-29 August in Istanbul. He has termed ‘illegal’ the presence in the Synod of six foreign citizens, the Greek Orthodox Metropolitans in Germany, Pittsburgh, Mexico and Central America, and also a bishop from Rhodes and two bishops from Crete. According to Turkish law, only Turkish citizens can be members of the Synod. Dzhipov has also pointed out that according to the 1923 Lausanne Agreement, on which modern Turkey was founded, the Patriarch of Constantinople is merely the leader of the tiny Greek community in Istanbul.

The ecumenical activities and claims of Patriarch Bartholomew have in recent years repeatedly become the subject of controversy not only in Turkey, but also throughout the Orthodox world. Schisms have been caused and the controversy has recently spread most virulently to Mt Athos. Turkish officials have on several occasions stated that they do not recognize the claimed ‘ecumenical status’ of Patriarch Bartholomew and will not countenance the Phanar being turned into an Eastern Vatican.

His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, the world leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, spoke of religious peace through mutual understanding as he received an honorary degree Thursday at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield."There are many points of agreement," said the pope, believed by Coptic Christians, who are of Egyptian heritage, to be the 117th patriarch in a continuous line descending from the apostle St. Mark. "All of us agree in the existence of God ...all believe in certain morals, ethics and principles.

He said by promoting understanding of each others religions and focusing on positives, believers of all faiths can live conflict free.The message, and his presence, was well received by those who came to the ceremony at the Southfield university. Many were members of the St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church on Livernois in Troy or the newer St. Mary which shares the same site. The pope made a visit there the previous day.


For them, the visit of their 84-year-old patriarch was a rare and sacred event. He entered the room to cheers, applause and the lights of cameras and video recorders.

"We've seen him on TV but not personally," said Magdy Hanna, 24, of Madison Heights and a Wayne State University student.

"He is a very honorable man, and a very delightful man, and I am very happy to see him," said Sherif Gendy, 30, of Madison Heights, who is studying for his U.S. medical license.

Marina Essak, 17, and her brother Mina Essak, 14, of Lake Orion, said they had just returned from a vacation in Egypt, where they saw the pope deliver his weekly televised address.

"I really wanted to see him. He's an influential figure in our faith," said Marina. Both said they have read many of the pope's books. They hope his messages of achieving peace will make a difference.

"He's a very strong person, but he can't do it all by himself," said Mina Essak.


Lawrence Tech President Lewis Walker conferred Shenouda III with the honorary doctor of humanities degree.

"All the great technological achievements and advancements of our civilization are for naught unless we can find a way to live and thrive together in peace and understanding," he said of why a technological university was giving the honor.Earlier this year he met the pope while in Egypt to work on partnerships with universities there. The decision grew out of that meeting, as he came away impressed by his support of higher education and mission of mutual peace and understanding.Egyptian-born Nabil Grace, chair of the civil engineering department at Lawrence, was instrumental in bringing the pope to the U.S."He is called the pope of the Arab world," said Grace. "Members of my faith have enjoyed much more freedom to practice our religion because Pope Shenouda is held in such high regard by the elders and people of Egypt."


For Mary Michail of Troy, the pope's visit had extra poignancy.

Michail said when she was a girl in Egypt, the pope appointed her father, the late Rev. Roufail Michail, to start the Troy church.She said while her father was priest of St. Marks, the pope stayed in their home during visits.

"He's very warm, very compassionate just filled with the Holy Spirit."

His public appearances help make a difference in religious understanding, she says. "It brings about awareness and it also attaches a face to the religion."The pope is also known for his sense of humor. When Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence presented him with a key to the city, he thanked her saying, "I promise you that we will not open this city during your absence."

Protestant Conversion to Orthodox Christian Faith

In growing numbers, members of various Protestant denominations have decided they've had enough, and are converting. And more often than not, they're joining the Orthodox Church.

While it's unlikely that the Orthodox Church--which, according to the best estimate, has only 1.2 million American members--will ever pose any sort of existential threat to evangelical Christianity in the United States, it is significant nonetheless that a growing number of Southern Baptists and Presbyterians and Assemblies of God members have left the evangelical fold, turning to a religion that is not only not American, but not even Western. Their flight signals a growing dissatisfaction among some evangelicals with the state of their churches and their complicated relationship with the modern world.

Reasons for going Orthodox:

One of the principal attractions of the Orthodox its solidity--and lack of interest in integrating modern life. "There is, in the Orthodox Church, an enormous conservatism," (minister Wilbur Ellsworth) marvels. "There is not going to be a radical change in the worship life of the church nextweek. "This is an appealing idea, particularly to younger Orthodox converts who view evangelicalism as corrupted by the generation born right after World War II. "Baby boomers had an overweening confidence that our creativity and spontaneity was fascinating and rich," says Frederica Mathewes-Greene, a one-time charismatic Episcopalian who's now a prominent Orthodox speaker and author. "The following generation sees it as not all that rich. They find the decades of the rock band on stage performing songs kind of shallow. They're looking past their parents for something earlier."

They're also looking for something with more intellectual depth. The evangelical church has a long history of anti-intellectualism: As the early twentieth-century evangelist Billy Sunday proclaimed, "When the word of God says one thing and scholarship says another, scholarship can go to hell." Some evangelicals who became Orthodox simply could no longer tolerate evangelicalism's anti-intellectualism. As Mark Noll, a professor of history at Notre Dame and the author of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, explains, "After the Second World War, after the boom in education, there were a lot of sectarian evangelicals who became educated and started reading widely and had experience in urban areas--all of which undermined the form of the Christianity they'd been raised with, although not necessarily their Christianity. It seems almost inevitable that, as some evangelicals become more interested in history, culture, Europe, and the broader world events of the twentieth century, that, within that group, there are going to be some who are attracted to Orthodoxy." Inaguration In Chicago.

The new International orthodox Christian Website

The Website was inaugurated by His.Grace. Gabriel Mar Gregorious Trivandrum Metropolitan, Indian Orthodox Church in the presence of Chor-Episcopos Dr. Kyriakos of Chicago.The function was held at St. Mary's Orthodox Church, Chicago, IL on Sunday,19 at 2.30 pm in the Church Parsonage.

Many priests like Rev Fr. Alexander Oommen (Sunoj Father), Assistant Vicar of St. Mary's Indian Orthodox Church Chicago, Rev. Fr. Shlomo, Vicar St Thomas Orthodox Church and also many others from various Orthodox Churches in the Chicago Metropolitan Area attended the function.

The website was unvieled and shown to all by H.G. Gabriel Mar Gregorious Trivandrum Metropolitan of Indian Orthodox Church.

Photo Courtesy: Ashanth Jacob

Evangelicals Turn Toward ... the Orthodox Church

by Jason Zengerle
The ministry is a calling, but it is also a career, and, in 1987, a Baptist minister named Wilbur Ellsworth was given the career opportunity of a lifetime. After nearly two decades of pastoring modest congregations in California and Ohio, Ellsworth, at the age of 43, was called to lead the First Baptist Church of Wheaton, Illinois--one of the most prominent evangelical churches in what was then the most prominent evangelical city in the world. Often called the "Evangelical Vatican," the leafy Chicago suburb is home to Wheaton College--the prestigious evangelical college whose most famous graduate is Billy Graham--and a host of influential evangelical figures, a number of whom worshipped at First Baptist. "I was now preaching to these people every Sunday," Ellsworth recalls. "It was all sort of heady and exciting."

From a professional standpoint, Ellsworth thrived. He oversaw the construction of a majestic new building for First Baptist with a 600-seat sanctuary and a 100-foot steeple that towered over Wheaton's Main Street. And, due to the prominent evangelicals he now ministered to, he became something of a prominent evangelical himself--routinely meeting with the many evangelical leaders who constantly came through Wheaton. "I was at the very center of the religious world that I'd been a part of for most of my life," he says. "It was quite a promotion from where I was before."

From a spiritual perspective, however, Ellsworth was suffering. Over the past 20 years, a growing number of evangelical churches have joined what is called the "church growth movement," which favors a more contemporary, market-driven style of worship--with rock 'n' roll "praise songs" supplanting traditional hymns and dramatic sketches replacing preachy sermons--in the hope of attracting new members and turning churches into megachurches. First Baptist of Wheaton was not immune to this trend: Ellsworth increasingly found himself fighting with congregants about the way worship was being done. "They wanted to replace our organ with a drum set and do similar things that boiled down not to doctrine, but to personal preference," he explains. "I said, That's not going to happen as long as I'm here.'" It didn't. In 2000, after 13 years as the pastor of First Baptist, Ellsworth was forced out.

For Ellsworth, his departure from First Baptist triggered both a professional and a spiritual crisis. But, before he could deal with the former, he felt he had to address the latter. He devoted himself to reading theology and church history. At first, he seemed headed in the direction of the Calvinist-influenced Reformed Baptist Church or the Anglican Church, which are where evangelicals in search of a more classical Christian style of worship often end up. But, as Ellsworth continued in his own personal search, his readings and discussions began taking him further and further past the Reformation and ever deeper into church history. And, gradually, much to his surprise, he found himself growing increasingly interested in a church he once knew virtually nothing about: the Orthodox Church. "I really thought he'd go to Canterbury," says Alan Jacobs, a Wheaton College English professor and Anglican who is friendly with Ellsworth. "But he took a sudden right turn and wound up in Constantinople."

Ellsworth began reading more and more about Orthodox Christianity--eventually spending close to $10,000 on Orthodox books. By 2005, he was regularly visiting an Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago (the Antiochian Orthodox Church is Middle Eastern in background and the seat of its patriarchate is in Damascus). By late 2006, Ellsworth realized that he wanted to be Orthodox himself. On the first Sunday of the following February, an Orthodox priest in Chicago anointed him with holy oil and he was chrismated--or formally received--into the Orthodox Church. A month later, at the age of 62, he was ordained as an Orthodox priest himself.

Ellsworth's story is hardly unique. Most of the approximately 150 members of the Orthodox parish he now leads are former evangelicals themselves. Even Ellsworth's transition from evangelical minister to Orthodox priest is not uncommon. Of the more than 250 parishes of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, some 60 percent are led by convert priests, most of whom are from evangelical backgrounds. And, according to Bradley Nassif, a professor at North Park University and the leading academic expert on Evangelical- Orthodox dialogue, the Antiochian Archdiocese has seen over 150 percent church growth in the last 20 years, approximately 75 percent of which is attributable to converts.

While it's unlikely that the Orthodox Church--which, according to the best estimate, has only 1.2 million American members--will ever pose any sort of existential threat to evangelical Christianity in the United States, it is significant nonetheless that a growing number of Southern Baptists and Presbyterians and Assemblies of God members have left the evangelical fold, turning to a religion that is not only not American, but not even Western. Their flight signals a growing dissatisfaction among some evangelicals with the state of their churches and their complicated relationship with the modern world.

One evening in June, I went to see Wilbur Ellsworth at his new professional and spiritual home--the Holy Transfiguration Antiochian Orthodox Church in Warrenville, Illinois. Although it is one town over from Wheaton and just a few miles from First Baptist, Holy Transfiguration is located a great psychic distance from the "Evangelical Vatican." The church itself is tucked away in a shabby residential neighborhood, set among working-class bungalows and across the street from a Veteran of Foreign Wars (VFW) post, and it is housed in a modest one-story building with peeling white paint. It was a Saturday evening when I first visited, and Ellsworth--or, as he's now called, Father Wilbur--was at the church to lead a vespers service. He was robed in gold-trimmed vestments, but with his open, clean-shaven face, he bore little resemblance to the stern--to say nothing of hirsute-- Orthodox priests of popular imagination.

Greeting me outside Holy Transfiguration, Ellsworth was gracious, but also a bit anxious. As 30 or so worshipers filed into the church, he cast occasional glances across the street, where a few presumably unchurched people were making a ruckus on the VFW baseball field as they drank beer and shagged fly balls. Standing in the diminishing evening light, he apologized for what he said was an unusually small turnout, which he attributed to the pleasant weather. "If they don't come," he said, "I'll remind them who made it so nice." He also apologized for the church's appearance, telling me that in a few weeks its exterior would be repainted. As we prepared to head inside, he introduced me to his wife, Jean, who, he explained, would sit with me through the service in case I had any questions. It was the first time in all of my journalistic visits to churches-- including the time I went to an all-night service at a charismatic church of African immigrants who spoke in tongues--that a minister felt compelled to provide me with a chaperone. More than anything, Ellsworth seemed worried that I'd find his church weird.

This is an understandable fear. For a long time, the Orthodox Church simply wasn't on the radar of most Americans--never mind evangelicals. Although Orthodox Christianity has been in North America since 1794, when Russian Orthodox missionaries crossed the Bering Strait to convert Aleuts in Alaska, Orthodox churches in the United States were almost entirely immigrant or ethnic--especially after the Russian Revolution, which spelled an end to the Russian Orthodox Church's attempts to do missionary work with Americans. "The whole history of Orthodoxy in North America from 1918 until relatively recently is a terrible story," says A. Gregg Roeber, a Penn State professor of early modern history and religious studies.

But that story took a dramatic turn 20 years ago, when a group of about 2,000 evangelicals converted en masse into the Antiochian Orthodox Church. The conversion had been nearly two decades in the making. In 1968, a Campus Crusade for Christ executive named Peter Gillquist became disenchanted with the group's parachurch identity, but he could not find an existing evangelical church that met his spiritual needs. Gillquist joined with about half a dozen other similarly disenchanted Campus Crusade for Christ staffers and embarked on what they called, somewhat cheekily, "the phantom search for the perfect church." As Gillquist recounts in his memoir, Becoming Orthodox, "Our basic question was, whatever happened to that Church we read about in the pages of the New Testament? Was it still around? If so, where? We wanted to be a part of it." Much like Wilbur Ellsworth would do years later, Gillquist and his fellow sojourners worked their way back through church history and doctrine before they finally came to 1054 and the East-West Schism and, thus, a fork in the road. One path took them to Rome and the West; the other to Constantinople and the East. Gillquist and the others thought the East was right to resist papal excesses; they also thought the East was right to insist on equality among the Holy Trinity, rather than relegating the Holy Spirit to a lesser place than God the Father and God the Son. They concluded, almost reluctantly, that they were Orthodox.

Unlike Ellsworth, though, Gillquist and his group had no clearly laid-out path to becoming Orthodox. For nearly ten years, as they formed their own organization called the Evangelical Orthodox Church and gained their own followers, they tried--and failed--to join the Orthodox Church. In 1985, about 20 of them traveled all the way to Istanbul to seek the acceptance of the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, only to be turned away moments before their scheduled meeting. Greek Orthodox officials were evidently worried that Gillquist and his group weren't sufficiently committed to promoting Hellenistic culture.

Finally, Metropolitan Philip Saliba, the archbishop of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, came to their rescue. Born and raised in Lebanon, Metropolitan Philip came to the United States in the 1950s and studied history at Wayne State University in Michigan. He stayed and became an Orthodox priest, initially leading a congregation of mostly Lebanese and Syrian immigrants in Cleveland. But he had a vision of growing the Orthodox Church in the United States. Importantly, his vision wasn't constrained by any sort of nationalist or ethnic pride; while the other two large Orthodox jurisdictions in the United States--the Russian and Greek Orthodox Churches--conducted their liturgies in Slavonic or Greek, the Lebanese, Syrian, and other Arab immigrants who attended Antiochian Orthodox Churches were more assimilationist and often conducted their liturgies in English.

When Metropolitan Philip learned of Gillquist and his group, he seized on the opportunity. In 1987, he converted most of the clergy and the members of the Evangelical Orthodox Church into the Antiochian Orthodox Church.

Since that conversion, the number of Antiochian Orthodox Church parishes in the United States has more than doubled, largely through the efforts of Gillquist, who serves as the Director of the Department of Missions and Evangelism for the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese. Although Gillquist is now 69 and a cancer survivor, he continues to travel around the United States, evangelizing on behalf of the Orthodox Church with a particular eye toward converting evangelicals. "Right now, the flood of evangelicals [interested in Orthodoxy] is just overwhelming," he says.


Five New Chor Bishops Ordinated in Indian Orthodox Church

Five new Chor Bishops were Ordinated in the Indian Orthodox Church.

The Ceremony was held at Puthiyacavu St.Mary’s church, Mavelikara of Allapuzha District, Kerala (India) . His Grace Paulose Mar Pachomious, Metropolitan Mavelikara Diosces was the chief celebrant of the ceremony and His Grace Zacharias Mar Anthonious was the co celebrant. All the Priests belong to the Mavelikara diocese.

The Ordinated Perists are as follows:

P.Ninan Chor Episcopa(75)

PT Daniel Chor Episcopa (75)

PJ Mathew Chor Episcopa (66)

Dr.KL Mathew Vaidyan Chor Episcopa (54)

MK Varghese Chor Episcopa (44)

The Ceremony was attended by more than 1500 people including several Priests and Rambans.

The ordination was followed by a function honoring the newly ordinated Chor-Bishops, which was also attended by many from various spheres of life.

Photos by: Abraham P Koshy[holymonk studios/]

Orthodox Apostle to America will be Honored

On Saturday, Sept. 1, special events honoring a Orthodox Christian apostle, Father Sebastian Dabovich (1863-1940), will be held at St. Sava Serbian Orthodox Church in Jackson.

One of the early Orthodox missionaries to the New World, Sebastian baptized countless people, preached the gospel, and founded Orthodox churches throughout the United States, among which was St. Sava Church, the first Serbian Orthodox church in America.

Born and raised in San Francisco, at the end of his life Sebastian went to his ancestral land of Serbia, where he died and was buried in the ancient monastery of Zhicha. Now, 67 years after his death, his earthly remains are being returned from Zhicha to the land of his birth, and are being interred at the church he founded in Jackson. Six bishops, 40 priests and numerous believers are expected to attend the interment and the events surrounding it.

The events honoring Sebastian are the highlight of the 11th Annual Diocesan Days Weekend, which will take place from Friday, Aug. 31 through Sunday, Sept. 2 at St. Sava Mission in Jackson.

On Saturday, Sept. 1 at 9:30 a.m., the Divine Liturgy will be celebrated at St. Sava Mission, 604 Broadway in Jackson, followed by a memorial service for Sebastian. A procession will then take place from St. Sava Mission to St. Sava Church, 724 N. Main Street in Jackson, where Sebastian's remains will be interred. Lunch will follow back at St. Sava Mission.

His Holiness Abba Paulos: Smash the idols

"We were Christian [charitable and monotheistic] for over a thousand years before Christ," Abba Paulos, Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, declared nonplused. "We have been Christian since Queen Makeda [the biblical Sheba] visited King Solomon in Jerusalem to partake of his wisdom and returned to Ethiopia with the Ark of the Covenant -- containing the actual stone tablets of the Ten Commandments God gave Moses," he explained.

And herein lies the idiosyncrasy of the world's oldest church, which distinguishes it from all other churches: the antic relic held sacred, and placed in the Chapel of Saint Mary of Zion, in the ancient town of Axum, the cradle of Ethiopian Christian civilisation, the sellata Muse, is a thoroughly Jewish object. Indeed, the Ethiopian Church is perhaps the only Christian temple in the world to claim as its most sacred treasure a Jewish holiest of holies.

Many suspect that the Tabot of Zion (Ark of the Covenant) is hidden in the altar of the Church of Saint Mary of Zion. "Only I, and a select few bishops, actually know its precise whereabouts," the Ethiopian Patriarch grinned, gently stroking his salt and pepper beard.

Without batting an eyelid, and perhaps sensing my bafflement, Abba Paulos turned to the crux of his faith. "Religion is the belief in the power of the Almighty. He is the Creator of all. He is the Giver of peace, love and happiness."

According to traditional Ethiopian lore, Philip the Evangelist baptised a treasurer of the Ethiopian Queen Gersamot Hendeke VII. The New Testament's Acts of the Apostles corroborate this landmark event in Ethiopian history.

Ethiopian monotheism harks back much further in time, though. Abba Paulos was born in the vicinity of Axum, where gigantic stelae, designed to look like multiple-storey houses, testify to the greatness of a civilisation that in antiquity ranked with Rome, Persia and China as one of the four greatest empires in the world. The Axumite accolade was attributed to the Persian prophet Mani, and is indicative of Axum's power, influence and grandeur.

Before Axum there was Yeha, a stone's throw away from Axum. Yeha is suspected to be a centre of D'mt, a kingdom now shrouded in the mists of a distant past. All we know today is that its rulers were bestowed the royal title Mukarrib of D'mt and Saba' -- an ancient southwestern Arabian kingdom. The kingdom most likely incorporated Yemen and northern Ethiopia and Eritrea. Yeha, unlike Axum, is dominated by the pagan Temple of the Moon, dedicated no doubt to the Sabaean moon god Al-Maqah.

There are to be found Musnad (South Arabian) inscriptions, characteristic of the Minaeans, the Qatabani, the Himyarite and Hadrami (of Hadramaut, southeast Yemen) civilisations across the Red Sea from D'mt, and rock-cut monumental structures reminiscent of Ma'rib, the celebrated Yemeni wonder of yesteryear. Indeed, Yeha is Ethiopia's answer to Ma'rib. Through archaeological excavations the precise nature of the relationship between the two neighbouring mountainous and majestic lands may unfold in the years to come. The main thing is: Abba Paulos is proud of his heritage.

This rugged land of his was the birthplace of a literary masterpiece, the Kibre Negast (Glory of the Kings), that has exerted an unparalleled impact on Ethiopian civilisation and culture as both sacred scripture and historical lore. It also profoundly influenced the course of Ethiopian politics from antiquity to mediaeval times. Today, other no less potent forces are at work.

However, perched on precipitous peaks, the churches that dot the Ethiopian highlands continue to be venerated as they have been for millennia. The wondrous craftsmanship of the scrupulously contrived churches of the then imperial city of Roha, constructed by King Lalibela (literally: "The bees recognise his suzerainty"), and hewn out of the bedrock in a remote backwater that now bears the king's name, bear tangible testament to the solemnity with which Christianity was revered in this remarkable land.

The Torah, or to be more precise the Pentateuch -- Five Books in Greek, is replete with references to Ethiopia and Ethiopians. According to the Torah, the wife of Moses was an Ethiopian. And Solomon courted the Queen of the South, presumably Makeda of Ethiopia, the biblical Sheba (Saba') -- or was she Bilquis of Yemen as stated in the Quran? The New Testament, too, makes frequent mention of the Ethiopians.

The early Christianity of Axum was first codified at specific places in northern Ethiopia, at a specific time. "They were documented in the holy language of Ge'ez, which was once the official language of the land," the Ethiopian Patriarch extrapolates. Ge'ez, the liturgical language of the contemporary Ethiopian Orthodox Church, harks back to the days of D'mt. It is a Semitic language closely related to Arabic and Hebrew. Today, there are numerous Semitic languages in Ethiopia -- Amharic (formerly the official court tongue and now lingua franca); Tigrinya (the native tongue of Abba Paulos and Prime Minister Meles Zennawi, widely spoken in the northern Province of Tigray and in neighbouring Eritrea); the Adari of the eastern Ethiopian Muslim city of Harar; and the Gurage of southern Ethiopia; among others.

"Heading the Ethiopian Church is no laughing matter," he chuckled. "The 50,000 churches around the country serve the 45 million-strong Orthodox flock representing many different ethnic groups. There are some two million priests, monks and deacons dedicated to pastoral work and delivering services. There are 54 bishops, and 44 dioceses," he muses.

Abba Paulos, the son of a priest, was dispatched to a monastery at the tender age of five. He is steeped in the religion of his forefathers. The oldest of six brothers and sisters, he knew at an early age that he alone among his siblings was to dedicate himself to monastic life.

Tradition ascribes the official introduction of Christianity to Ethiopia to the moment when the Patriarch of Alexandria Athanasius consecrated a Levantine from Tyre, Frumentius, as the first Patriarch of the Ethiopian Church, thereby establishing a tradition whereby the Coptic Pope of Egypt would appoint the Ethiopian Patriarch. Customarily, an Egyptian monk was appointed as the chief bishop of Ethiopia. This tradition was abruptly terminated in 1959 when the first Ethiopian, Abuna Basilios, was selected for the post. He was, however, to begin with, merely a bishop appointed by the Coptic Orthodox Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa Cyril VI. Ethiopian nationalism was resurging.

In due course, in May 1971 to be precise, the Egyptian Church received a request from the Ethiopian Church to consecrate an Ethiopian Patriarch (as opposed to a bishop). Even more symbolically significant and without any historical precedent, the Ethiopians also requested that their Patriarch's consecration take place in Ethiopia and not in Egypt as had been the case for two millennia. Since then, the patriarchs of the Ethiopian Church have been consecrated by an all- Ethiopian Holy Synod, with the umbilical chord that bound the Coptic and Ethiopian churches ruptured for good.

The history of Christianity in Ethiopia has often been one of unintended consequences. Ironically, the famous fables of early Christian Ethiopia are Jewish, rather than Christian per se. There is no record of Jewish rulers of Ethiopia, even though the difference between Christianity and Judaism in Ethiopia is often confusingly blurred. It is perhaps more appropriate to speak of a Judaeo- Christian heritage.

Indeed one influential mediaeval monk, Abba Ewotatewos (1273-1352) urged his Christian followers to observe the Judaic Sabbath alongside the Christian Sunday mass. Even so, the Beta Israel of Ethiopia who practised a non-Talmudic form of Judaism suffered persecution in certain periods of the country's long history. We know that Jewish kings ruled Yemen: Youssef Asar Yathar of Himyar, for example, who was routed by the Christian King Kaleb of Ethiopia.

Be that as it may, the Christianisation of the Ethiopian state in the fourth century, during the reign of King Ezana of Axum, was a turning point. It is important to stress that Christianity in Ethiopia was a state religion, closely affiliated with the monarchy and the court. Ethiopia, nevertheless, was always multi-religious, multi- cultural, and multi-ethnic. Many of Ethiopians are non-Christians -- animists, Jews (the so- called Falasha) or Muslims. Indeed, the Arabic name for Ethiopia, Al-Habasha -- from which the English Abbyssinia is derived -- means Land of Mixed Races. Christians in Ethiopia have long learned to co-exist (peacefully or otherwise) with their non-Christian compatriots.

This historical legacy has deeply impacted the nature of the Ethiopian Church. From the outset it was a political, as much as a religious, institution. To this day the Ethiopian Church is an extremely politicised body, and this extends not only from domestic to foreign politics.

The split between the Coptic Church of Egypt and its Ethiopian counterpart in the early 1970s, and more recently, the split between the Eritrean and Ethiopian Churches are unpleasantly conspicuous examples of this legacy. The ruling cliques of Ethiopia have long interfered with, even dictated Church politics; and the Ethiopian Church has traditionally been subject to the whims of the country's political establishment.

For instance, when the Derg usurped power, it promptly arrested Abba Tewophilos in 1976 and executed him in 1979. Tekle Haymanot was hurriedly enthroned by the Derg, and after his death an even more compliant Abba Merkurios was made Patriarch of Ethiopia. He was dismissed by many as a Derg puppet. And with the Derg's demise Abba Paulos was hastily enthroned. His enthronement, however, was sanctioned by the Coptic Church of Egypt.

The incensed former Patriarch Merkurios fled the country and announced from exile that he was forced to abdicate under duress. His followers, mainly ethnic Amhara, still consider him the legitimate Patriarch of Ethiopia and a breakaway alternative synod was formed in exile. A substantial segment of the Ethiopian diaspora in North America and Europe pay allegiance to Merkurios.

The church, therefore, was seen by many as being systematically subordinate to the powers that be. This, however, is an issue that Abba Paulos vehemently disputes.

"Yes, there are those who grumble and complain deriding us as an instrument of state control. They claim that we are an appendage of the state. But we are not. We are completely free," Abba Paulos insists.

"I came to Egypt with ten bishops. I didn't ask the government's permission who should accompany me."

The adherents of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, like those of the Coptic Church of Egypt, are staunch Monophysites -- that is to say they are convinced that Christ has only one nature. In this they differ from other Eastern Orthodox churches -- the Greek, Romanian, Russian, Serbian and other Slavic and East European churches, for example.

In many other respects, the Ethiopian Church is like no other. Few other people in Africa have been so intensely self-conscious of their unique documented history, hybrid identity and direct relationship with the monotheistic religions of the Middle East.

Royal propaganda played a pivotal part in perpetuating this tradition. Succumbing again and again to the lure of the monotheistic religions of the Middle East emerged as a peculiarly Ethiopian heritage. Since time immemorial Ethiopian religious lore was grounded firmly in the mythologies of the ancient Middle East.

However, certain Ethiopian potentates are known to have strayed from the path of devotion to the Jewish, and then Christian God. Some kings, such as Lij Iyasu crowned in 1913, had even toyed with the idea of becoming Muslim. Indeed, several of his wives were Muslim. Lij Iyasu, however, was forced to abdicate because his courtiers suspected that he had embraced Islam.

But Ethiopia is a land of contrasts and contradictions. Small wonder then that many of the Solomonic royals also claimed to be Ashraf (descendants of the Prophet Mohamed). "My forefathers in Axum provided a safe haven for Muslims fleeing persecution in Mecca," Abba Paulos reminded me. He was referring to the first hijra (exodus), when the Sahaba (the Prophet Mohamed's Companions) fled Hijaz to Ethiopia around 615 AD.

Landlocked Christian Orthodox Ethiopia was for centuries surrounded by Muslim states and conducted its foreign trade through them. At one point, Imam Ahmed bin Ibrahim Al-Ghazi, better known as Gran (The Left- Handed) threatened to overrun the territories precariously held by the country's Christian rulers, who were reduced to fugitives with moveable tents for courts. Churches and monasteries were sacked and people abandoned their Christian faith. The unique Solomonic Christianity of Ethiopia was all but extinguished.

Portuguese firearms saved the day. Even as Gran beseeched the Ottomans for support, so the Ethiopian emperors called on their Portuguese co-religionists to come to the rescue. Be that as it may, the Portuguese failed to convert the bulk of Ethiopian Christians to Roman Catholicism.

The Solomonic dynasty of Ethiopia has preserved a substantial body of memories in spite of the fact that for centuries the actual power and prestige of the crown waned. As imperial power abated, the zemana mesafint, the era of the princes, was ushered in. The prestige of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church suffered in consequence. A few Ethiopian emperors, under the influence of Portuguese missionaries, converted to Roman Catholicism. Emperor Susneyos was forced to abdicate in 1632 AD because he embraced Catholicism.

The days of the Solomonic emperors are over, but the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has survived. It has overcome many ordeals. Today it faces new challenges: internal frictions, the growth of Evangelical Christianity and a host of socio-economic calamities.

As the interview draws to a close, Abba Paulos dwells on hellishly controversial subjects, most notably the HIV/AIDS pandemic that is ravishing his country and the rampant poverty that plagues many of his compatriots. His flock includes the impoverished residents of the many slums that cling to the hillsides of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. He insists that poverty eradication and fighting HIV/AIDS, unemployment and homelessness are all part and parcel of the church's mission. "Words and deeds," he explains, saying they are as important as preaching. Orthodox Christianity has played a central role in Ethiopian history, culture and society. "And it will continue to do so."

The Ethiopian Church might vie for the sobriquet of the world's oldest church, but it is a church very much in the making.

Abba Paulos, Patriarch of the Ethiopia, Archbishop of Axum and Echegue of the See of Saint Tekele Haimanot is an imposing man. Last month, in Cairo at the invitation of Pope Shenouda III of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church, he was resplendent in glistening white and equally effulgent headgear. He was in Egypt to mend fences. The two "sister churches" have long had a love-hate relationship. Historically, the Coptic Church insisted on posing as the Mother Church; today it has at last come round to the more modest accolade of sister church.

Before Cairo, Abba Paulos visited the Sudanese capital Khartoum, to foster closer ties between Muslims and Christians in Africa. In his capacity as president of the World Council of Churches -- an international body that groups together Orthodox and Protestant Churches -- he met Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir. "I feel honoured to have the opportunity to make a deliberation on the most pertinent issue of Muslim-Christian dialogue," he told the Sudanese president. His express aim, as he explained to his host, was to unveil a roadmap for peaceful co-existence between Christians and Muslims in Africa generally, and the Horn of Africa and the Nile Basin in particular.

Abba Paulos eschews ideological and religious fanaticism, for which Ethiopia is particularly badly prepared. It is surrounded by predominantly Muslim nations like Djibouti, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen. It is also a country that has been ruled by a Christian elite traditionally for at least two millennia, even though roughly half of its 70 million people are Muslim.

The official Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is according to its adherents the oldest church in Christendom, a claim disputed by some other churches. The Ethiopian Church has long been inextricably intertwined with the fortunes, and catastrophes, of the Ethiopian state. Church and state, down the centuries, have served each other well.

However, Ethiopia has witnessed dramatic upheavals since the once "hermitic empire" was invaded by the forces of the Fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in 1935. Ironically, Ethiopia was conquered by a European power at precisely the moment when the first fruits of modernisation instituted by Emperor Menelik II (1889-1913) were beginning to be harvested during the reign of Emperor Haile Sellassie (1930-1974).

A violent, quasi-Marxist revolution, ensued; and the last of a long line of Ethiopian emperors for some 2,500 years was summarily and unceremoniously executed. A military junta (the Derg) ruthlessly ran the country, meddling in Church affairs. Throngs of victims were packed into detention centres where they were routinely tortured; many perished or disappeared without trace.

Abba Paulos was incarcerated, but he managed to flee the country. A resourceful man, he made good use of his exile: he studied theology at Princeton and Yale. His sojourn in the United States abruptly ended when he was hand-picked by the new regime of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zennawi and appointed Patriarch of Africa's most ancient church. Abba Paulus is acutely conscious that radical changes in his country are currently underway, and that the pace of change is certainly poised to quicken in the 21st Century

Significance and weight of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Cengiz AKTAR

Amateur Turkish political commentators and the famous nationalist crowd systematically challenge the ecumenical status of the Phanar Roum Orthodox Patriarchate. The warm welcome the Ecumenical Patriarch receives during his abroad trips and his place in the world protocol for officials are always juicy material for some local papers. Even while we were explaining the virtues of everlasting Turkish tolerance late last year to the visiting Pope, the issue of ecumenical status of the Orthodox Patriarch, only which Turkey repudiates, relapsed again. The issue now has a legal dimension by the absurd decision reached by the Court of Appeals.

It is very hard to understand our sensitivities. If the attribution is objected within the frame of secularism in Turkey, then no matter what we say, the Patriarch is not a civil servant of the Republic of Turkey as the Director of Religious Affairs. If the problem is to stand against EU's requirement on the subject of freedom of belief, it is cardinal to know about the insistence of the U.S. on the issue. If the issue is to scuffle with Greece, in this feud it is Russia and indeed the Patriarch of Moscow who challenges Istanbul's primacy not Athens. As if we are Orthodox and the party of dispute!

The Patriarchate is a Turkish institution that is the spiritual leader of the Orthodox world having 300 million faithful. Thanks to its primus inter pares position i.e. first among the equals within the Orthodox world the Patriarchate is among the top of hierarchy within Christian sects, religions and governments. As soon as the present Patriarch Bartholomeos took office, he enlivened the historical status of the Patriarchate before the Orthodox churches that inclined to fall behind the Iron Curtain. He brought all bishops together, including Alexei II from Moscow, in March of 1992 in Istanbul. In fact, in the eye of noteworthy Orthodox population in the new EU members from the Balkans, Phanar is an influential center having a firm spiritual and administrative weight.

As a matter of fact, Moscow rejects Istanbul's priority over the Orthodox world and to the contrary, it deems worthy of itself for this role since 1453, the fall of Constantinople. This is why Moscow is called the “Third Rome”, following Constantinople who was the “New Rome”. The Ottomans who were cognizant of the significance of this contend between Istanbul and Moscow had always cherished the Patriarchate. The Ottoman Empire designed its policies in the Balkans and Europe as the guardian of the Orthodoxy against Catholicism. For instance, Orthodox Church of Cyprus closed by the Latin was re-opened to religious practices by the Ottomans after the annexation of Cyprus to the empire in 1571 and its bishop was appointed as the representative of Cypriot Greeks at Sublime Porte. On the other hand, today the person who prevents the dominance that the Patriarch Alexei II and Moscow try to establish over the Orthodox world is, in a way, Bartholomeos. Ironically, Greece in this dispute, loyal to the religious status of Phanar, and Turkey, as the center of the Patriarchate, are in the same league. Let us also remind that the Ecumenical Patriarchate represents the Orthodoxy vis-à-vis the EU institutions.

The Patriarch is also influential within the Christian world. He is in dialogue with Protestants who difficultly reconcile with Catholics; he is the addressee of the Chaldeans, Nestorians and Assyrians as ancient eastern churches. So has he excellent relations with the Armenian Patriarchate. Despite Vatican's tendency to be supercilious, he has a constructive approach in relations with the Catholic world as seen during the Pope's visit. His inter-religious dialogue with monotheist religions is not limited with Turkish Islam. The Patriarch is a respected man of religion who is welcomed in a geographical region extending from Libya to Oman and Indonesia. Besides, he is an advocate of environment. The initiatives launched by Bartolomeos for the Danube delta, the Adriatic Sea and now the melting Arctic are remarkable. Recently paid a visit to Istanbul, the passionate environmentalist former Vice President of the U.S. Al Gore greeted the Patriarch in the hall as the “Green Patriarch”. Last not least, everyone heard of the sincere efforts Bartholomeos exerted for Turkey's EU bid.

Regarding the ecumenical title, we have much to learn from the Ottomans. Today Istanbul is still the center of the Orthodox world and the Patriarch Bartholomeos is the head. That is priceless within the perspective of secular relations as much as the interreligious dialogues, both in the country and outside.

Ecumenical Patriarch's domain of religious authority

The offices of archbishops or metropolitans and other institutions over which Patriarch Bartholomeos and the Holy Synod (assembly) have direct authority, i.e. authority of removal and appointment, are:a) active in Turkey:Archbishop of Istanbul (Bartholemeos himself), Metropolitans of Kadıköy, Tarabya, the Prince's islands, Gökçeada (Imbros) and Bozcaada (Tenedos);b) In Greece: Office of the Archbishop of Crete and its metropolitans (semi-autonomous status), offices of the Dodecanese Metropolitans (Four metropolitans: Rhodes, Kos, Leros & Kalimnos Karpathos & Kasos), Monasteries of Hagia Anastasia and Çavuş in Thessalonica, 20 monasteries in Hagia Oros of Mount Athos, The Monastery and Exarhia of Patmos. Besides, by 1928 northern Greece and other Aegean islands were under the direct authority of the Patriarch. The administration was handed over by proxy to the Church of Greece; however, the spiritual patronage of a total of 36 offices of metropolitans in the area belongs to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In fact, Istanbul re-gained the right to final control over appointments as was in 1928 against Archbishop Hristodoulos of Greece who, contrary to his predecessors challenges Bartholomeos' authority;c) Churches in the U.S., Europe and Far East: Archbishop of America, Metropolitans of Buenos Aires, Canada and Panama, In Europe, Archbishop of Britain and Metropolitans of Austria, Benelux, France, Germany, Italy, Scandinavia, Sweden and Switzerland,In the Far East, Archbishop of Australia and Metropolitans of Hong Kong and New Zealand, d) Miscellaneous institutions:The Essex Monastery, The Chambésy Orthodox Center (Switzerland), Office of Permanent Representative for the Orthodox world at the World Council of Churches (Geneva), Office of Permanent Representative for the Orthodox world at the EU (Brussels) and the Office of Permanent Representative in Athens, Thessalonica Institute of Theological Studies. The number of the faithful under the authority of the Patriarch Bartholomeos and the Holy Synod is about 15 millions.In addition, while autocephalous Orthodox churches elect their own leaders the Patriarchate in Istanbul as the primus inter pares and in a way the coordinator of the Orthodox world legitimizes these elections. In other words the Ecumenical Patriarch should recognize the election. These churches in hierarchical order are:Ecumenical Patriarchate of Istanbul, Patriarchate of Alexandria, Patriarchate of Antioch, Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Patriarchate of Moscow, Patriarchate of Belgrade, Patriarchate of Bucharest, Patriarchate of Sophia, Patriarchate of Tbilissi, Church of Cyprus, Church of Greece, Church of Poland, Church of Albania, Church of Czech Lands and Slovakia. Patriarchates are headed by Patriarchs and Churches by Archbishops. Plus, there are two autonomous churches in Estonia and Finland. These suggest candidates to Istanbul and the final decision belongs to Istanbul.

Patriarch Teoctist of Romania Dies at Age 92

On Monday, July 30, 2007, the Chancery of the Orthodox Church in America was informed that His Beatitude, Patriarch Teoctist, Primate of the autocephalous Orthodox Church of Romania, had died at the age of 92.

Patriarch Teoctist was born on February 7, 1915, in the village Tocileni, Botosani county, in northeastern Romania. In 1929, he joined the Vorona Monastery. Later, he embraced monasticism, taking the name Teoctist, at the Bistrita Monastery.

He studied at the Orthodox Seminary in Cernica from 1932 until 1940 and graduated from the Orthodox Theological Faculty of Bucharest University in 1944.

On March 25, 1945, he was ordained to the priesthood in Iasi, where after his consecration to the episcpacy he served as vicar bishop from 1949 to 1962. From 1962 to 1973, he served as Bishop of Arad. From 1973 until 1977, he served as Archbishop of Craiova and Metropolitan of Oltenia. He served as Archbishop of Iasi and Metropolitan of Moldova and Suceava from 1977 until his election as Archbishop of Bucharest and Patriarch of Romania on November 9, 1986.

Pictures of thy Holy Funeral.

Romanian Orthodox Church


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