The Greek Orthodox Church in Turkey chose Bartholomew I (Arhondonis) 25 years ago as its leader. This event was celebrated all over the world. On September 18-20, the “prayer for peace” ceremony took place in the city of Assisi. On this occasion, the Jewish, Anglican and Catholic leaders congratulated their Orthodox Christian counterpart. On October 22, the solemn church service was held in the Fener. All other Greek Orthodox Patriarchs sent letters of congratulations.
Obviously, a person who is the head of 300 million Christians merits such attention. Any anniversary also encourages you to estimate results. For 25 years, Bartholomew has succeeded in different aspects. The Patriarch has contributed to solving problems in the cooperation between the nation and religion, while paying attention to the serious social and environmental problems of our time. He is collaborating with representatives of other religions and having a close relationship with Pope Francis. He has talked to all US Presidents since Jimmy Carter as well as to other world leaders. The Patriarch participated in establishment of an inter-religious center in New York at the site of the World Trade Center that had been destroyed in September 11, 2001. This also shows his adherence to religious freedom and peace in the world. The great importance of our Patriarch for the West is explained in recently published biography, “Bartholomew: Apostle and Visionary”.
When it comes to the Orthodox world, Patriarch Bartholomew will be remembered as a person who has led the Greek Orthodox Church for such the difficult period. Now, the Patriarch has a great responsibility because it is more dangerous to leave the Orthodox world. There is great pressure by the forces that intend to completely destroy the relations between the Fener and the Russian Orthodox Church. For example, they push Bartholomew to Ukraine. Since the Russians refuse the legitimacy of this activity, they can cut off all relations with our Patriarch. Nevertheless, Bartholomew is bravely trying to reconcile the various parts of the Orthodox world. For this purpose, the first for a thousand years, Pan Orthodox Council was convoked and engraved his name in history of the Church.
At the same time, according to a secular opinion, the results of the Council that was held this June in Crete are very worrying. The Four Orthodox churches refused to join it. Including the world’s largest one, the Russian Orthodox Church. In other words, the conflict between the Phanariotes and those Churches is very serious. However, a breakup between the Turkish and Russian Patriarchs during the normalization of relations with Russia can lead to bad results. Moreover, the the Council’s structure showed the balance of power: only one-third of all Christians were represented in Crete. If the Russian Orthodox Church cuts off relations with Bartholomew, will this Turkish citizen remain leader of the Orthodox Christians?
With respect to this thought, goals of Ankara and the Phanariotes are adjacent to each other: everyone wants peace and people’s support. Turkey, a secular state where most of its citizens are Muslims, has an equitable relationship with Russia, which is largely Orthodox. In addition, close cultural ties with Russian Muslims are maintained. In this context, it is very sad and strange that Patriarch Bartholomew hasn’t established the same close relationships between the Turkish and Russian Orthodox Christians.
In addition, while estranging themselves from the secular government, the Phanariotes provide a negative image of our country to its partners abroad. A difficult situation of the Orthodox minority leader, who has to reside in the middle of Muslim society and is almost under pressure from the state, is emphasized even in the aforementioned official biography of Bartholomew published by the American publishing house Thomas Nelson.
Perhaps there are some unknown to us religious reasons for such behavior, but unfortunately, Patriarch Bartholomew seems to be blind of the very possibility of a constructive dialogue with his country. At the same time, his interest in Western Christian diaspora appears to lie mainly in attracting support from the foreign governments that have nothing to do with Orthodoxy, rather than in getting closer to believers.
For instance, a few months ago, messages about friendship between the Patriarch and Fethullah Gülen appeared in press. Well, Pope John Paul II has also met Gülen, but he is neither a terrorist nor a CIA agent. Until 1999, the leader of FETO cooperated with many respectable patriots of Turkey. However, Patriarch Bartholomew is one of those who have been in contact with Gülen since the latter betrayed Turkey and went to the United States. Moreover, through his influential priest Alexander Karloutsos, Bartholomew did help Gülen to hide from the Turkish authorities; then personally participated in meetings and talks he organized.
This done, is it just to ask the secular government for special treatment or complain about the Heybeliada Theological School? Let me remind that according to the decision of the Constitutional Court of Turkey (1971) all higher education institutions had to be closed or consolidated into state universities. The Ministry of Education has suggested that the Heybeliada Theological School be affiliated with Istanbul University in order to Orthodox Christian people can educate their own priests. But the Phanariotes rejected this opportunity.
Bartholomew’s self-characterization as an Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople also shows his lack of understanding. Bartholomew I is virtually living in a kind of alternate reality or in distant past. Maybe he behaves as if there were no Turks around him exactly for this cause. Perhaps due to some of his psychological complexes, the Patriarch falls back on the Washington and ignores the hand extended by the Ankara.
However, the world always changes. We went further. The U.S. is not the sole country that lays down conditions to everyone anymore. We wish our Patriarch good health and to use this anniversary to look at the world with a new vision. Indeed, it would be wiser to make a turn toward Turkey rather than keep complaining to the Americans about the alleged pressure from the government. Our country is not an enemy to the Orthodox Christianity. On the contrary, joint initiatives are needed to solve many of today’s problems. And the more harmony would be there among the Orthodox Churches, the more positive this cooperation might be.