Prof. Marco Impagliazzo
Laudatio for the Laurea Doctor Honoris Causa in
International Relations and International Cooperation
Honoring His Holiness Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople
Holiness, Eminences, Magnificent Rector, Authorities, dear colleagues, dear students, distinguished guests,
It is a very special honour for the University of Perugia to entrust today the Laurea Doctor Honoris Causa, 25 years from his election as a Patriarch, to His All-Holiness Bartholomew I, archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome. I quote his address to the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 19 April 1994: «Allow us to acknowledge that experience along centuries paradoxically confirms that power that continues to stimulate history is made perfect in weakness – as 2 Corinthians 12:9 reads».
This is actually true: for Constantinople, “Second Rome”, the past 100 years of its existence equated to a time of weakness - and daunting challenges. Constantinople had to cope with the violent and intolerant features of Nationalism, with the Great War, the projects to annihilate Christian communities, and the birth of a secular Turkey. Historic milestones that put at jeopardy the very survival of the Patriarchate as an institution, or in other words attempted to undermine its bonds with Istanbul – a city where a fruitful and deep relationship had been established along ages.
In such a complex context, we highlight outstanding figures of Patriarchs such as Meletios, Athenagoras, Demetrius, Bartholomew. In the above described context of weakness they embodied a powerful, upstream, uniting, vision of reconciliation, striving for the unity of the Orthodox Churches and of all Christian Churches, for peace and, most recently, showing strong commitment for the safeguard of creation. In particular, Bartholomew was capable of interpreting and qualifying his mission well beyond the boundaries of the Greek minority in Turkey, drastically reduced in numbers following the 1923 Lausanne Treaty.
Twenty five years of ministry (as from the forthcoming month of November) of Patriarch Bartholomew were strongly characterized by the mission I described, and recently crowned by an extraordinary achievement, namely the Pan-Orthodox Council held in Crete last June: a dream cherished since decades - I would dare to say, since a millennium.
The Patriarch of Constantinople, primus inter pares (first among equal) in the Orthodox Church
Honouring this University with your presence, Your Holiness, You are living us a tremendous opportunity to deepen, not only Your human and scientific virtues, but also to analyze the patriarchal institution of Constantinople – not very much of the knowledge of the Italian public. The Ecumenical Patriarch is the archbishop of the Church of Constantinople, New Rome, but also the first among equal of the Orthodox Church Leaders, his mission being the one of furthering its unity and universality. Since the very first day of your enthronement in the Patriarchal seat, you made this point clear: “The Ecumenical Patriarchate is a purely spiritual institution, a symbol of conciliation and disarmed power, free from political bias. It stays away from the arrogance of the Secular powers”. In a nutshell, Your vision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Cherishing these words of yours, we welcome you in our University with respect and honour.
In the Western World we know little about Orthodoxy and its 250-million faithful. Your presence in this University for Foreigners – which upholds the international perspective as one of the pillars of its mission - facilitates the discovery of a Christian faith capable of merging mystery and freedom; indicating beauty as a pathway towards knowledge; fostering a “concrete” spirituality of the revelation of the person and of the community. You are at the same time the child and the foremost representative of a Bi-millennial Christianity with its roots in the East and its manifestation in the Byzantine tradition. Moreover, You have been capable of embodying both the Eastern and the Western world in one person. You are able of expressing the wisdom of the East in the language of the West - not least because you master Latin, Italian, French, English and German. Your faith and studies background enabled You to bridge the gap between the oriental Byzantine and the western Latin cultures. For all this, Holiness, you are a passeur between different worlds, East and West, Mediterranean and the Asian culture, and more. Your personality, your Church network, 25 years of travel and visits – as never before had your predecessors done - forged you as a bridge maker, in the deepest meaning of the word: pontifex.
You know Italy. You studied in Rome; you visited our country several times. Honouring Your person today, we acknowledge the presence in our country of more than a million Italians and New Italians who are Orthodox. We know that You are also in charge of one the Orthodox Jurisdictions of Italy, namely the Greek one. The Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Saint George in Venice, dating back to the Sixteenth Century, embodies the roots of your Church in our land: a precious icon of the Virgin which was brought from Constantinople to Venice in 1453, and which symbolically represents the bonds between your Patriarchal seat and our territory. Moreover, it is known that mostly in Southern Italy, the Oriental Christian tradition is intrinsic to the Italian culture, arts, and faith.
In addition, you are a reference also for the faithful of other Orthodox jurisdictions in Italy. In the past twenty years, migrations enriched our country with the creation or the increase of several Orthodox communities in Italy: Greek, Romanian, Moldovan, Bulgarian and others. Today these citizens are symbolically present in this Great Hall, while we are paying tribute to the Ecumenical Patriarch, first among equals of the primates of the Orthodox churches.
I now would like to briefly outline the human itinerary of Bartholomew the First, and later on highlight some features of his international standing.
Demetrius Archontonis – the family name of the Patriarch – was born in Turkey in 1940 in the Island of Imbros, in a small village named after the two Theodoros, two homonymous Saints worshipped by a local population of eight thousand Greek-orthodox faithful. Metropolitan Meliton, one of the most enlightened bishops of the Orthodox Church at those times, in contact with many popes, sensed the human and spiritual gifts of young Demetrius, and mentored his secondary studies as well as university studies in the renewed faculty of Halki, located on a small island on the Marmara Sea, a resource centre for the Orthodox knowledge and theology, shut down by the Turkish authorities in 1971.
In 1963-1968, among other, meaningful landmarks of his formation, I would like to mention the following: the Pontifical oriental Institute in Rome, the Ecumenical Institute in Bossey, Switzerland, and the University in Munich. In Rome he could experience the intense climate of the post-Vatican II season, and meet at the French Seminar distinguished personalities such as the theologians Jean Danielou, Yves Congar, Henri de Lubac, busy in “bringing up to date” the Roman Catholic Church. He witnessed with enthusiasm the historical meeting between Paul VI and Athenagoras in Jerusalem in 1964 after centuries of divide between the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople. He also got to know the spirituality of the Little Sisters of Jesus and of their founder, petite soeur Madeleine, inspired by Charles de Foucault.
Demetrius went back to Istanbul in 1969, he was then ordained as a priest and was associated to Metropolitan Bishop Meliton, from whom he received the universal mission of Constantinople. In 1973 he was elected Metropolitan Bishop of Philadelphia, in Asia Minor. He then succeeded to Meliton in Chalcedon, and became Chancellor of the Holy Synod. He acted as a protagonist in the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches, while since 1990 he chaired the preparatory committee to the Council of the Orthodox Churches. Finally, on 2 November 1991, following the patriarchal election, his solemn enthronement took place in the Orthodox Cathedral of Saint George, located in the Phanar, in Istanbul. Since then, the Patriarch holds a universal mission, while cherishing his country of citizenship, Turkey, operating for the good of his country and attracting in Istanbul high level international events.
Patriarch in a transition
Your election coincided with the end of the Cold War when peoples and nations behind the iron curtain came back into history. The transition posed several challenges to the Orthodox Churches. Unity was badly needed vis-à-vis new nationalist pressures, linked to the birth or rebirth of many nations and resurgent nationalisms. One of the priorities was to support the restoration of many Churches previously hampered by communist regime, such as the Albanian Church, one of the most affected. The Albanian Church actually newly blossomed around the person of archbishop Anastasios, chosen and supported by Bartholomew.
You understood immediately that the wind of freedom and renewal of the Nineties should necessarily be compounded by the deepening of the evangelical values and of the great orthodox tradition, so as to avoid that materialism and wealth at any price, typical of globalization, become the only desire of life. The Nineties also witnessed the bloody dissolution of Yugoslavia, the First Gulf War, and the acceleration of the process of emigration of the Eastern Christians from their land where Christianity has its roots. Facing many challenges Bartholomew acted. He visited several times all the Orthodox churches, as well as the diasporas communities under his direct jurisdiction in all continents. He spoke on several occasions at the European and International Institutions as a supporter of the European Union; he multiplied and deepened the relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. He has been increasingly recognized not only as the legitimate leader of a Church but also as champion of the Orthodox world; a mix of faith, culture and tradition, well-heard in the international world, not only in religious environments.
He said: «The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, in its quality of first among equals, has the honor of chairing in love all Orthodox Churches. Therefore it is my duty to serve Orthodox unity: my visits aim at taking contact with Orthodoxy as a whole. In an ordinary fashion, they witness a typical way of being Orthodox, our vocation being to live in permanent communion».
When describing his commitment to peace, I would like to mention several special moments. The first one dates back to February 1994, when Bartholomew I gathered in Istanbul one hundred Muslim, Jewish and Christian representatives from the Middle East, for a common reflection culminated into the "Bosporus Declaration", an important document clearly stating how "every war led in the name of religion is a war against religion".
He acted as a watchdog against the exploitation of religion for Nationalistic aims. During the Bosnia war he stated "Not even for a moment I can allow that the current war in Bosnia is a war of religion. Already in 1992 I had sensed the danger of a possible instrumentalisation of faith, and I had subsequently convened, in March, the Patriarchs and the Archbishops of the churches of Serbia, Romania, Russia, Greece and Bulgaria. Unanimously, in a solemn way, on that occasion we condemned the abuse of religion for nationalistic and political ends. Since then, I have not refrained from calling for a ceasefire and negotiations".
At the outset of the third millennium, aggressive nationalisms, which had already put at stake Orthodox unity between the 19th and the 20th century, surfaced in a new fashion. The Patriarch, with full knowledge of the condemnation by the Constantinople orthodoxy of filetism (modern trend of some parts of the orthodoxy grounding their ecclesiastical jurisdiction on nationality) intervened to indicate how Christians should relate to their national identity: "We the Orthodox conceive the identification with our nation by acting as its conscience in name the Gospel. The Church is the heart of the nation and therefore its conscience. Thus, any nationalistic stand must be eradicated as it goes against the Orthodox ecclesiology. Moreover, nationalism was condemned as a heresy by our Church during the council of 1872"
In the West there is little knowledge and recognition of the ecumenical fervor the Patriarchate has fostered in contemporary times. While the ecumenical movement within the Catholic world took its footsteps, despite opposition from the hierarchy, Constantinople promoted initiatives for rapprochement and reconciliation. For example, in January 1920 - in a difficult moment for the Patriarchate - it published a synodal encyclical addressing not only the Orthodoxy but all the Churches of Christ worldwide. It reads: «The terrible war that has just ended has brought to light many signs of malaise in the life of peoples, showing lack of respect for the most elementary principles of justice and of love». This spurs an "a need for rapprochement, for the restoration of mutual relations of trust, commitment towards the unification of the calendar, theological exchanges" and much more».
Before then, in 1901 Patriarch Ioachim III already addressed the issue. As well as Meletios, who in 1922 paid visit to the Apostolic Delegation of Istanbul and several times expressed the desire to prepare a "favourable ground for the unity among Christian churches". These were the first steps towards dialogue between Rome and Constainople. Later on, the impulse of the Patriarchate in favour of the foundation of the World Council of Churches and of other places of collaboration and dialogue between Christian denominations is well known.
Bartholomew is strongly committed. His is the promoter of the spirit of Assisi and of the yearly "Prayer for Peace" initiated by John Paul II and continued every year by the Community of Sant'Egidio, involving leaders of the major world religions, and to which he personally participated in 2002, 2007 and 2011 - as well as today in Assisi for its 30th anniversary. His meetings with John Paul II (Bartholomew was the first Ecumenical Patriarch to assist at a papal funeral) and Benedict XVI have been numerous. His comments to the stations of the Via Crucis with the Pope at the Coliseum in 1994 had a great spiritual impact. A special relationship with Pope Francis has developed; their mutual understanding is marked by at least two very important moments: the meeting in Jerusalem, with the renewed fraternal embrace - fifty years after the historical meeting between Paul VI and Athenagoras - and the recent journey to Lesbos, visiting the refugees survived after a perilous journey in the Mediterranean Sea. A very strong gesture which claimed Europe accountable against its responsibilities and showed to what extent Christian unity is not just an internal or theological matter, but a necessity vis-à-vis the daunting challenges of our times, which Bartholomew identifies in "immigration, climate change, economic inequality and social injustice".
Commitment to ecology
«When I was a boy and I accompanied the priest of our local village to celebrate in one of the isolated chapels in my native island of Imros in Turkey, the link between the magnificent mountainside and the splendour of the liturgical celebrations was evident».
In the childhood and youth of Demetrios we discover an explanatory factor of his strong feelings about the environment and all the related issues. He loves to celebrate the liturgy of the Church; at the same time he is passionate about nature. Ecology is his concern. Christianity did not share the same concern when the Holy Synod instituted in 1989 the World Day of Prayer for Care of all Creation to be held every 1 September. Bartholomew extended the initiative to all Orthodox Churches, and last year Pope Francis involved the Roman Catholic Church, with a common environmental agenda being instrumental to the reconciliation of the two liturgical calendars - to date inconsistent.
In his studies and teachings, Bartholomew deepened the environmental themes within Orthodox Theology, underlining the dimensions of the veneration of our common habitat and of behavioral responsibilities harming our common world. In his book Cosmic Grace, humble prayer of 2007, he explains the motivations for his commitment as follows: “it may appear uncommon that the first amongst the leaders of the Orthodox Church may care so much about environmental issues. The answer is that the Orthodox Church believes that God's creation, both natural and spiritual, is "very good" and that humankind should cultivate and cherish the beautiful world God gave us to administrate as caretakers and stewards, not as unreasonable and arrogant bosses. He was quoted several times by Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato si’, especially when he explained that environmental decay and climate change, consequences of unequal and unsustainable development, and in the future will be even more so, will mostly affect the poor, the poorest countries and the poorest within. His concern for climate change is focused. The Patriarch regards his ecological commitment as a duty and he is convinced - I quote his words - which "the environmental crisis has to be faced with discernment, awareness, love and sacrifice. He adds not without any bitterness "We are wasting time and the longer we wait the more complex and irreversible will be the damage".
His action not only encompasses advocacy and analysis but also a series, which is also not well known in the West, of countless, concrete initiatives, from the ecological workshop in Crete to the seminars in Halki, to the floating sea conferences, as well as the international, interfaith and scientific "ecological crusades", also joined by John Paul II. Together, Bartholomew and Francis asked for a profound change of human behaviour. Both are convinced that it is necessary to move from consumerism to sacrifice, from waste to the ability to share, in an ascetic move that is about "learning how to give and not just doing without".
Furthermore “human beings destroy the biological diversity on earth and contribute to climate change depriving the earth of its rainforests or destroying its fertile lands. When human beings pollute water, earth and air, this is to be regarded as a sin […] a crime against nature is a crime against ourselves and against God". This quotation is from the beautiful book A home called earth.
Being a minority between East and West
A final word about the patient pastoral and "diplomatic" work of Bartholomew in his Istanbul and his Turkey. He explains his link with his city as follows:
«There is no way we will leave Istanbul. First and foremost for historical reasons: we have never left Constantinople except for the city of Nicea in the 13th century for a short time of 57 years. Even after Constantinople was conquered by the Turks we continued our ministry in that city. And also for ecumenical reasons: if we would go to Salonika we would identify ourselves as Greek, while we cannot be identified with one nation alone. Istanbul is a crossroads of races, civilizations and languages. I consider a blessing for the Patriarchate that it can be based in a secular and mostly Muslim country».
In other occasions he underlined that the presence of the Patriarchal institution constitutes and asset for a country such as Turkey whose secular character is respected by the Patriarchate, and embodies contact with the Muslim world.
In such a secular Turkish environment, Bartholomew always stressed the social value of religions. On top of that he stated that religious minorities may play a decisive role supporting democracy and a society which is made richer because of its pluralism, becoming a point of reference for the minorities, for important sectors of the Turkish society, for forward-looking intellectuals, also non-Christians.
Hs Holiness holds an international standing. The Patriarch's commitment for peace and reconciliation is ever more precious for Turkey and the Middle East ravaged by war, such as Syria's where the "powerful of the earth" do not seem able to end conflict.
For alls these reasons the University for Foreigners of Perugia decided to award Bartholomew a title - and I thank all those who made this possible in such a short time - with full merit, and honor him as Doctor Magistralis in "International Relations and International Cooperation". I have to mention that thanks to his perfect mastering of the Italian language, Patriarch Bartholomew is considered as one of the most important ambassadors of our language in the world, which he uses in public and private occasions. For our University the study and knowledge of the Italian language is a cornerstone. Thus, the linguistic and Italian competencies of the Patriarch make him a member of our Teaching Board. This is a great honor, as His Holiness is a keeper of a tradition which constitutes, in the words of the Orthodox Theologian Olivier Clément, “a huge theological, liturgical but most of all spiritual richness".
He is man breathing with two lungs, he has a deep knowledge of the Christianity East and West, he is capable of expressing - I quote again Clément – “the wisdom of the first in the language of the second".
Holiness, when you were elected at the Patriarchal throne, 25 years ago, a cry rose from the people gathered in the Church of Saint George in the Fanar: “Axios! Axios!” which means "worthy of". It is the people's voice approving the choice. Allow me to end such a solemn moment for a University as the award of a Honoris Causa with the same expression: Axios! Axios! You are worthy!” You are worthy to be part of the Academic Board of the University for Foreigners of Perugia for your studies, your tireless commitment to peace, dialogue, and mother earth.
Thank you Holiness