Homily of the Ecumenical Patriarch at the Church of the Virgin of Blachernae
Among a crowd of worshippers in the Holy Church of the Virgin of Blachernae on March 29, in accord with ancient practice, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew celebrated the service of the Third Stasis of the Salutations to the All-Holy Theotokos. The sermon was proclaimed by Deacon Paisios Kokkinakis, Director of the Special Patriarchal Office, who stated, among other things, that “this period of time is an age of great and difficult spiritual struggle, and in order to bring it to a close, we certainly have the need of the intercessions of our All-Pure Mother.”
The hierarchs Bishop Kyrillos of Erythres, the Abbot of Esphigmenou monastery of Mount Athos, the Consul of Greece in the City, Mrs. Danae Vassilaki, the official Archons, and faithful from Istanbul and abroad were present.
Immediately afterwards, in an address in the Community Hall, the Ecumenical Patriarch referred to today's service of the Salutations in the historic Church of the Virgin and the Holy Spring of Blachernae, in the place where the Akathist Hymn was first chanted.
"The Akathist Hymn, this excellent monument of faith, theology, poetic inspiration and expressive art, is inherently connected to this sacred place. You know that in 626, the defense of the city was prevented by the Avars, with the aid of the Theotokos, when Patriarch Sergios placed the icon of the Virgin of Blachernae upon the ramparts along the wall. On the occasion of this marvelous event, the Akathist Hymn, which was first chanted in the Church of Blachernae, was composed."
His All-Holiness was referring to the history of the original church, which was destroyed by a fire in 1434, and to the sacred relics that were kept in it, as well as to the adjoining Palace of Blachernae, the New Palace, which was built upon the sixth hill of Constantinople. In the middle of the 19th century, the Furriers’ Guild bought the preserved Holy Spring and erected the present little church, which during the events of 1955 suffered great destruction, to be repaired in 1960.
“The course of the Church in the world has never been ‘idyllic,’ because it was never unhistorical, ethereal and unreal. The people of God travel to the heavenly kingdom within history without being identified with it, but struggling unceasingly for the transformation of Christ, inspired and strengthened by the words of the Lord: ‘Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33).
“It is certain that the outer ‘greatness’ of the Nation no longer exists in Blachernae. But we are not daunted. We do not compare things quantitatively, architecturally, aesthetically, externally. We do not compare the present church of the Virgin of Blachernae with what was in the past. The Truth, the spirit of Blachernae, is our measure. And this constitutes an eternal present, it remains through the ages. ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.’ (Hebrews 13:8). Today, Blachernae remains an important spiritual center of the Church and the Nation. The heart of the faithful vibrates at the sound of her name. All those who hear ‘Rejoice, Unwedded Bride’ think of and invoke the Virgin of Blachernae, wherever they may be. The steps of the pious pilgrims in Constantine's City lead them to the Church of the Virgin of Blachernae, spontaneously, as if a holy power attracts them, often without even knowing the history and the wonders of the place. And when they arrive, they drink the water of eternity, they hear the ineffable words, they experience the ‘good sorrow,’ they feel as if they have returned, after a long absence in a foreign land, to their Father's house. And they feel that this humble church is larger than the Hagia Sophia.
“The Holy Spring, the miraculous icon of Virgin of Blachernae, and the Akathist Hymn, which are indelibly marked in the memory of the faithful, express one Truth, the entirety of our faith, pure divine charity, our true hope. In the Church, and in the Obedience of the Virgin Mary in the eternal House of God, lie the answer to the existential quests and the longings of mankind, and the opening of the way toward his deification."
The Ecumenical Patriarch noted that in this sense, the spirit of Constantine Cavafy's "glorious Byzantinism,” "the way of life represented and expressed by the Church of the Virgin of Blachernae and the unwavering trust of Orthodox believers towards the Most Holy Theotokos is today a living and life-giving presence."
"Every day at the Phanar, in the Center of Ecumenical Orthodoxy, the sacred icons of the Theotokos Pammakaristos and the Theotokos of Phaneromeni are venerated and adored, and ‘the pride of the Church and the Nation is held high’ (Meliton of Chalcedon, Chalcedonia, p. 68 ). The truth of the Orthodox Faith is acknowledged, the liturgical tradition, the canonical order and the ethos of the Cross and Resurrection are devoutly followed, on the basis of the unshakeable foundation of Theology, which, as it has been said, ‘is the power of the Church over all other diplomatic or economic powers’ (John [Zizoulas] of Pergamon, Redemption of the World, p. 273). The Ecumenical Patriarchate has left its seal upon the history of the spiritual culture of mankind, and has continued to provide culture and a lighted beacon and hope for the future. Humanity is a ‘historical paradox,’ but according to God, it is a ‘continuous miracle,’ with the good will of the founder and leader of the Church and the mantle of the Virgin and all the Saints."
Concluding his homily, the Ecumenical Patriarch congratulated Bishop Adrianos of Halicarnassos, Hierarchal Proistamenos of the Phanar and Golden Horn District, for the zeal and sensitivity with which he cares for the operation and protection of the many pilgrimages to the churches of the area, but also more generally for his spiritual ministry for the benefit of the faithful. He expressed his pleasure to the President of the Community, Nicolas Kalamaris, and his colleagues for the service they offer.
In his address, the Bishop of Halicarnassos pointed out that Our Lady the Theotokos protected the nation and the Greeks from temptations and various difficulties, and continued by saying that "it is the Great Church of Christ that is the cedar or the tree, under the everlasting shade of which are the organizations of the Orthodox."
Then five female students and one male student of the Zografeion Lyceum were presented before His All-Holiness and presented the history of the Monastery of Blachernae and the Akathist Hymn. The students had represented the youth of the Diaspora just a few days ago on the same subject, at the 5th Student Conference held at the Byzantine Museum of Thessaloniki. Deeply moved, His All-Holiness and Zografeion Director Yannis Demirtzoglou congratulated the children as well as their teacher, grammarian Diamantis Komvopoulos, who prepared them.
Visit of Metropolitans to the Ecumenical Patriarchate
Immediately after the service of the Salutations, the Metropolitans Damaskinos of Didymoteichon, Orestias, and Souflion and Anthimos of Alexandroupolis visited the Ecumenical Patriarchate, accompanied by their clergy and lay collaborators. The two hierarchs paid their respects to His All-Holiness, who asked them to convey to the faithful of their provinces his blessing and sincere feelings of paternal love, beseeching Our Lady the Theotokos to protect and empower everybody.
Yesterday, Thursday, March 28, the Metropolitans Chrysostomos of Mani, from the Church of Greece, and Daniel of Axum, from the Patriarchate of Alexandria, were consecutively received by the Ecumenical Patriarch; they paid their respects and requested the patriarchal good will and blessing. His All-Holiness congratulated Metropolitan Chrysostomos on the occasion of the anniversary of his enthronement, and expressed the hope that he would continue for many years to serve the faithful people of Mani with the same dedication. The Ecumenical Patriarch also gave his paternal blessing to the new Metropolitan of Axum, who came from Zakynthos and until his election served as a cleric in Zambia, and he wished him a long, fertile and merciful pastoral ministry to the glory of God and the benefit of the faithful people of this ancient and historic Eparchy of the African Church.
Earlier yesterday, His All-Holiness received Mayor Katerinis Savvas Chionides, who was accompanied by his wife.