The ongoing difficulties faced by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Greek people of Istanbul and the struggles to overcome them were discussed by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who today, March 24, celebrated the Divine Liturgy for the Second Sunday of the Great Fast at the Holy Church of St. Theodoros in the Vlaga community. In his homily immediately afterward in the Community Hall, His All-Holiness welcomed pilgrims from Greece and abroad, pointing out that their presence both strengthened the Orthodox faithful of the City and underscored the unity of our people.
“We live with difficulties, both in the past and in the present. These difficulties in the recent past were so great, they were insurmountable. There have been times in which not only the living people went through immense suffering and their lives became a martyrdom, but also our departed loved ones, who rest in the blessed soil of the Queen of Cities, have suffered persecution. I remember that in 1993, at the beginning of my patriarchate, when the tombs of our people in the cemetery of Neochori on the Bosporus had been desecrated, I went there the following Sunday, and I stood there and delivered a fiery message full of grievance and condemnation. I explained that we were suffering what we were suffering because we are Greek people and Orthodox Christians in faith; in what way have we hurt, in what way have we harmed our fellow men? We are law-abiding citizens. Let us at last allow our dead to rest here in their tombs where they wait for the Lord’s Second Coming.”
Then His All-Holiness noted:
“These difficulties in many ways exist today, when we, the Greeks, and the other minorities who have been living here for six years now, are deprived of our autonomous democratic right to hold elections to renew the administrative bodies of our churches and our other venerable institutions. Is not this a blatant injustice to the non-Muslim inhabitants of this city, and this country? Why should we suffer this discrimination?
"You, the devout pilgrims from Greece, come whenever you are given the opportunity to visit the monuments of our faith and people ... But you must think of, remember and pray for all those who have lived and created these monuments, and for us who are following in the path of of their history, their achievements and their martyrdom. Pray for God to give us the ability to live up to to our great responsibilities as the Center of Orthodoxy, despite the shrinking of our Homeland around our Patriarchate, and to be able to be worthy of our ancestors and of the responsibilities which God and history have bestowed upon us.”
Concluding his homily, His All-Holiness praised the work that took place in the Community of St. Theodoros in Vlaga, under the guidance of Metropolitan Maximos of Selyvria, Supervisor of the Ypsomatheion District, and with the contribution of the Sacred Clergy and community workers. Speaking prior to the Patriarch, Metropolitan Maximos explained the importance of fasting, as well as of community prayers.
Subsequently, a theatrical performance was presented by the Community Workshop of Kontoskalio, in which pupils of the primary schools of the community of Vlaga and Zappeion participated.
At the Divine Liturgy and at the event in the Community Hall were the Consul General of Greece in the city, Mrs. Tzortzina Sultanopoulou, and a number of the faithful.
On the afternoon of the same day, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation of the Theotokos in the Church of the Annunciation of Tataoula.
“Today’s feast is not only a time of remembrance, but also of great joy for all of us congregated in this historic church, which testifies that here, in the City of Cities, there existed ‘grandeur’ through our people, who ‘do not weep,’ as the late Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras said, from whom comes the statement ‘We here in City, we are few but countless.’ We are glad, because the Church of the Annunciation is still a place of prayer, full of evening light and ‘stubborn’ hope. ‘Today is the beginning of our salvation and the revelation of the eternal mystery,' the joyful Gospel of the redemption of the generations of men from the ‘ancient curse’ continues to be chanted here. Through the Annunciation of the Theotokos not only begins an improvement in mankind’s life of darkness and the shadow of death, but it opens the path to true life, the path to Theosis. The eternal Word of God becomes flesh ‘for us men and for our salvation,’ for all mankind and for each of us, specifically and personally. ‘Today we are celebrating the likeness of God to human beings, the vision of the atonement, the image of our reformation, the transformation of what is corrupt, the ascension into heaven’ (Andrew of Crete, Sermon V, On the Annunication of Our All-Holy Virgin Theotokos, PG 97, 885). The Feast of Annunciation is a great day of joy in Christ. “Today is the joy of all ... the everlasting joy, ever the fulfillment of joy” (op. cit., 881). The Most Holy Theotokos is the bridge that conveys us from earth to heaven, “the joyful instrument through whom the curse was lifted and privilege of joy has come” (p. 893).
The Ecumenical Patriarch expressed his joy to Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima, the Supervisor of the Tataouli District, and to the Sacred Clergy and community workers for the work they have done for the benefit of the pious people of God. Welcoming the Ecumenical Patriarch, the Metropolitan of Sassima referred to the Feast of the Annunciation, noting that it is the beginning of all the salvific events that took place for the redemption of the human race.