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Today's Zaman reports on 'Bartholomew hopeful Orthodox Church will survive'

Today's Zaman newspaper recently reported on 'Bartholomew hopeful Orthodox Church will survive'.

Today's Zaman is one of two English-language dailies based in Turkey and reports on domestic and international coverage.

The published article can be read in its entirety below.
 



Bartholomew hopeful Orthodox Church will survive
Istanbul, Turkey
8/30/2010

Read this article on the website of Today's Zaman.

Istanbul-based Fener Greek Patriarch Bartholomew said he is hopeful the Orthodox Church will survive and that he will not be the last "Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople," despite the persistent problems surrounding his small and rapidly shrinking community.

"We are not all in despair for the future of our church," Bartholomew said. "It is not easy, but it is not impossible," CNN reported in its special documentary aired on Friday. He dismissed rumors that his has no successors and said they trust in divine providence, and the guarantee given to them by the Lord himself, "that the church can survive."

Ankara rejects Bartholomew's use of the title "ecumenical," or universal, arguing instead that the patriarch is merely the spiritual leader of Istanbul's dwindling Orthodox community.

Nonetheless, Bartholomew's optimism is apparently not baseless since recently Turkish officials disclosed that Turkey has offered citizenship to foreign archbishops to help in the election of the next patriarch.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has quietly led in the gesture to the Orthodox community, who face a shortage of candidates to succeed Bartholomew, who is 70 years old, and serve on the Holy Synod, which administers patriarchate affairs.

Turkish law requires the patriarch to be a citizen. But the Orthodox community in Turkey, an overwhelmingly Muslim country, has fallen to some 3,000 from 120,000 a half-century ago, drastically shrinking the pool of potential future patriarchs.

"The specific call Erdogan made to give citizenship to those who will take up an official position at the patriarchate came in response to the problems they have," Ibrahim Kalin, Erdogan's chief foreign-policy adviser, said last month in an interview with Reuters news agency.

The European Union and the US have frequently criticized Turkey for not reopening a Greek Orthodox seminary closed in 1971 and failing to take measures to protect the patriarchate's property rights. The patriarch has long complained about the status of the seminary, located on an island near Istanbul and property issues. The government says it has been assessing a number of legal options to reopen the Halki Seminary -- which Bartholomew says is of vital importance for the survival of the Greek Orthodox clergy.

At the time, Kalin said the government's gesture should demonstrate Turkey's commitment to conform to norms on human rights in its bid to join the EU. "This is in line with Turkey's EU membership goals. But we believe that it's in our own interest to provide all rights and privileges to non-Muslim minorities who are Turkish citizens," he said.

There are 14 Greek Orthodox archbishops, including Bartholomew, who are Turkish citizens.

Seventeen metropolitans from countries including Austria, France, the US and Greece have applied for passports, Rev. Dositheos Anagnostopoulos, the patriarchate spokesman, said last month. Another six may still apply, and the See hopes the first archbishops will receive their papers by Christmas, he said.

Erdogan, himself a devout Muslim, personally proposed to Bartholomew during a meeting last year that foreign prelates apply for citizenship, both Kalin and Anagnostopoulos had stated. Diplomats have maintained the offer of citizenship could provide a lifeline for the 2,000-year-old faith in its ancient homeland.

"At this point, it's just a matter of time before the institution dies out," a European diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters at the time. "With this step, you have a much larger pool of clerics, making the Church's survival possible."