This introductory volume to the “Orthodox Christianity and Contemporary Thought” series, designed to bring the Orthodox religion in line and in dialogue with modern thinking, is a gathering of the major ecumenical documents (1991 – 2009) of Patriarch Bartholomew I, “the 270th successor to the See of St. Andrew the Apostle” (p. 39). The impetus for this collection of messages and speeches regarding various ecological, political, and social concerns is to address “the breadth of crucial global issues confronting our contemporary world” (p. vii). However, what stands out the most about this first of three volumes is an expression from the November, 1992 Berne Declaration, which permeates much of Bartholomew’s ecumenical thinking: “’war in the name of religion is war against religion’” (p. 11). This mantra, which is featured in many of the Patriarch’s addresses, sets the stage for a work that is at once conciliatory, and a source of wisdom that will hopefully foster greater unity.
One of the greatest strengths of the Ecumenical Patriarch concerns his ability to see the commonalities of the three major religions as a source of unity, as opposed to those who seek to use ideological differences as an excuse to initiate unnecessary religious wars. Bartholomew’s views are greatly espoused in his November, 1997 address to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, wherein he deftly stated that “[w]e see our vocation to be one of discovering common ground in the lands in which we live, move, and have our being. This means finding constructive means for bringing divergent opinions together. To this end, we have sponsored international conferences promoting understanding between Muslims, Christians, and Jews” (p. 45).
Patriarch Bartholomew’s first collection of addresses is organized, by theme, into six chapters, and it is here that the reader will note a minor difficulty. The addresses are not arranged in chronological order, but are arrayed to the theme of each particular chapter. Therefore, one will read an address from 2007, then 1997, and so on. One suggestion would have been to organize the addresses in sequential order. The themes of each chapter are varied, and concentrated around such important ecumenical topics as Orthodoxy in America, religion and society, Church and world, and interfaith dialogue. Bartholomew is extremely effective when addressing such issues as terrorism, citing “[t]he blindness of their [religious fanatics] souls, their demented fanaticism, and the distortion of the religious values they claim to adhere to” (p. 89), as the source of much enmity. He further advocates that religion cannot exist beside terrorism, for “there is no religion that blesses terrorism, blind violence, crime, the killing of the innocent, and no patriotism or racial interest relieves those who committed these acts of the responsibility for the atrocious crime” (p. 89). Bartholomew proposes dialogue to violence, which “is again preferable to fanaticism, because it is only by means of it [dialogue] that the heterodox can understand the points where their faiths fall in line and the points where they really differ” (p. 156). Throughout twenty years of misguided violence and rage, Patriarch Bartholomew has remained a voice of reason, and a provider of ecumenical bridge-building among various faiths.
This work is highly recommended for its sensitivity to religious differences, and for its positive outlook on the future of ecumenical relations. However, one criticism, aside from the one mentioned above, concerns the amount of addresses which are similar in nature (in fact, several addresses contain much of the same dialogue). It might have been more effective to limit the number of addresses, placing them in chronological order, and adding annotations concerning the impact of each speech. For example, it might have been helpful to note whether Bartholomew’s numerous addresses regarding Turkish-Greek relations had helped to alleviate tensions between the two nations. This suggestion calls into question the role of Editor John Chryssavgis. Although Chryssavgis does contribute a useful introduction about the rise and importance of Patriarch Bartholomew, one wonders whether the editor could have served a greater purpose in the annotation of the addresses. Either way, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has consistently proven that he is truly “in the world, with the wisdom of the world” at his fingertips.