Ceremony marks visit by patriarch Message is carried in ancient tradition

October 24, 1997|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's Orthodox Christian community yesterday welcomed its spiritual leader, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, with a cappella song, festive dance and an outpouring of affection reflecting the ethnic mosaic of its 19 Maryland churches.

From the haunting beauty of a chanted Patriarchal Doxology at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation to the historic ecumenical prayer service at the Roman Catholic Basilica of the Assumption, Bartholomew brought a message of Christian unity and spiritual renewal through ancient Orthodox tradition during his 11-hour visit.

"We have come to this city -- known for its many diverse neighborhoods, replete with Orthodox Christian communities from all over the oikoumene [world] -- to speak boldly the word of faith and to engage the task of perfecting Orthodox unity in all facets of our own Orthodox jurisdictions and to work for Christian unity worldwide," Bartholomew said during the doxology.

Bartholomew, the archbishop of Constantinople, now modern Istanbul, has direct authority over the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in America, as well Orthodox communities in South America, Western Europe, Australia and Hong Kong. He is considered the "first among equals" among the patriarchs of the other self-governing Orthodox churches and is the spiritual leader of the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians.

Representatives of the Greek, Russian, Carpatho-Russian, Antiochian, Ukrainian Orthodox churches and the Orthodox Church in America, as well as Maryland's political and community leaders, filled each venue to listen to Bartholomew's message, delivered in fluent English, except for the address at the Baltimore Convention Center luncheon, when he spoke Greek.

Bartholomew started his day in Washington, where he met with Vice President Al Gore to discuss the environment, one of the ecumenical patriarch's favorite issues.

After arriving in Baltimore, he entered the Cathedral of the Annunciation to the sound of bells. The congregation broke into applause, straining for a glimpse of the bearded patriarch, as he walked up the aisle blessing the people with a cross he held, occasionally stopping to touch a child gently on the head.

As Athena Monios Stem held her 9-month-old son Anthony in her arms, Bartholomew paused in his procession and held the blessing cross to the lips of the child. He then bent down and kissed Anthony on the top of the head, as his mother wept.

"I was overwhelmed," Stem said after the service. "[Anthony] was a preemie, he was 3 pounds 4 ounces when he was born. being christened on Saturday, so this is an extra blessing."

During the doxology, a service of celebration and praise that is chanted by the patriarch, a deacon and the choir, the scent of incense filled the sanctuary.

Bartholomew presided from the gold-domed bishop's throne. Draped across the shoulders of his black exorason, the monk's robe worn by Orthodox clergy, was a red and gold manteia, a ceremonial cape.

After the doxology, Bartholomew was welcomed by the Rev. Constantine Monios, dean of the Greek Orthodox cathedral, who noted the immigrant roots of Maryland's Orthodox, "who, with empty purses, lack of language skills, overwhelmed by this new land and bringing with them the only gift their parents were able to give -- a paternal and maternal blessing -- those immigrants gave us the church, they gave us the gift of Orthodox faith, they gave to us the saving grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

Bartholomew, making reference to the 75th anniversary this year of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, pointed to a growing interest in Orthodox Christianity in this country.

"We Orthodox do not accept and have never accepted an attempt to proselytize anyone," he said. "We simply hold high the flaming torch of our faith and try to live in this place, blessed by religious tolerance and freedom of expression.

"The treasures of the Orthodox faith speak for themselves," he said. "These treasures are the inexhaustible wealth of truth that springs from the unbroken tradition of the church. But we do not cling jealously to these treasures for their own sake. We have them that we might share them freely with everyone who is seeking the truth."

Bartholomew stopped by City Hall, where Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke had the red carpet literally rolled out for him. After a brief meeting in the mayor's office, Bartholomew attended a reception in honor of the Baltimore-based International Orthodox Christian Charities. He noted the danger that its workers sometimes face. "Indeed, you are peacemakers, waging a campaign for peace in war-torn countries around the globe and suffering alongside those whose lands have been ravaged."

He noted that two IOCC workers, Dimitri Petrov and Kimitri Piankowsky, were kidnapped in Chechnya and have been missing for a month. "May God bring them home soon and in safety to their families," he said.

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