Dearest and distinguished guests,
It is indeed humbling to stand before you and hear the various tributes in honor of our patriarchal ministry. It is especially difficult inasmuch as these generous compliments come from church and religious leaders in our presence today that we have long held in personal admiration and enjoyed working closely with in spiritual collaboration.
However, when we recognize – in a spirit of realism and sincerity – how our contribution resembles only a drop of water in an ocean of human pain and global suffering, then we also remember that we have ultimately achieved only that which is our duty as believers and as mortals. Just as we have been taught to say by our Lord in Scripture: “Even when you have done all that is commanded, you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” (Luke 17:10)
From the outset, then, we appreciate with gratitude and indebtedness those who came before us on the Throne of Constantinople from apostolic times to this day. Among them, there were many renowned saints and fathers of the church, but also courageous martyrs and confessors of the faith. Moreover, we should recall the visionary ministry and pray for the repose of our extraordinary predecessors, the great Athenagoras and the meek Demetrios, both of whom paved and reinforced the way toward Christian reconciliation and inter-religious dialogue.
Yet, in the way of Orthodox spirituality, authentic celebration is never disconnected from the way of the cross. Ours is always a spirituality of “joyful sorrow” (χαρμολύπη). We do not rejoice without at the same time recalling and sharing in the suffering of others. And, at the Ecumenical Patriarchate, we certainly never experience joy without remembering that we embody a tradition that has known both glory and martyrdom through the ages.
More importantly, however, in celebrating this year the twenty-fifth anniversary of our enthronement, there is something else that comes to mind and to which we would like to bring your attention. For we recognize that a celebration for a spiritual shepherd and bishop is also an affirmation that the bishop, too, is a child of God and a son of the Church. After all, “we have only one Father, and He is in heaven.” (Matt. 23.9) This in turn signifies that, in the eyes and in the heart of the almighty, all of us – clergy and laity, men and women, known and unknown – are equal; all of us are brothers and sisters.
Therefore, the bishop – whether he may be an assistant bishop, a metropolitan, an archbishop, a patriarch, an ecumenical patriarch, or indeed a pope! – is also, first and foremost, a servant of the Church and not just a leader. Indeed, it is only insofar as the bishop is – above and beyond all else – a genuine servant, that he can also be an inspiring leader; it is insofar as he genuinely remains a devoted child of God – without any pretending or presuming to claim authority and power – that he is also able to be a compassionate father of the Church. For, we are – all of us, no matter what our position – first called to be children of God, and not rulers over people.
As we stand before you, then, we are deeply grateful to God and also to you for giving us this opportunity to remember that we, too, are a child, committed to a ministry in the Church, entrusted to him by the heavenly Father.