A Patriarch’s complaint

Antonis H. Diamataris

Antonis H. Diamataris

Source: The National Herald

by Antonis H. Diamataris – Publisher/Editor of The National Herald

It is the first time, as far as I can recall, that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew allowed himself to publicly express a grievance.

He must really be hurting.

At the same time, he opened a small window into his soul, large enough to enable us to have a peak into the philosophical influences, apart from the Christian thought, that formed him as a person and set him on the course that shaped his life and the Patriarchate.

The occasion for his comments was an event organized by the schools of Constantinople marking the 150th anniversary of the birth of Constantine Cavafy. They were published in the local newspaper “Apogevmatini.”

The great poet had lived in the city for a time, apparently drawn by his mother’s birth in the villages of the Bosporus, but also by the importance of the history of the Patriarchate and its role in determining the future of Hellenism.

The Patriarch complained that despite the fact that “we wished for and tried to bring representatives from the omogeneia of America,” to participate in the events and learn about Cavafy, “at least a few young people; unfortunately there was not the requisite interest” from the Archdiocese.

A few simple words, chosen, each one with care, by a master of the Greek language, a tear in his eyes because his “wish” to welcome “at least a few young people” from America was not realized.

A few simple words, but enough to write history.

What remains to be seen is what the consequences will be – if any – of the failure to show the “the requisite interest.”

A representative of the Archdiocese told me that they “tried but it was not possible” to send some young people for the event”.

This issue is most interesting from a journalistic point of view, but perhaps the deeper significance of the matter lay in the fact that Bartholomew was a student of Cavafy from childhood.

While many choose the poems “Ithaca” or “Waiting for the Barbarians” as their favorites poems by Cavafy, the one that befits the Patriarch is “Thermopylae,” especially the line “Never stirring from duty..”

This should not surprise anyone. Bartholomew sees the meaning of his life and his mission in this light: He is guarding a Thermopylae, a bastion of Hellenism and Orthodoxy – the Patriarchate. To do justice to the debt he feels, the appropriate spirit and practices are those… of the soldiers of ancient Sparta, embodied in the motto: I tan I epi tas – return with your shield or on it – or to use modern sports language: Leave it all on the field.

There is no other way.

There are “Thermopylaes” still to be guarded today, here in the Diaspora, in Athens, and in Nicosia.

Would we too also display such dedication, “Never stirring from duty…”

I now quote the poem in its entirety:

Thermopylae

Honor to those who in their lives
have defined and guard their Thermopylae.
Never stirring from duty;
just and upright in all their deeds,
yet with pity and compassion too;
generous when they are rich, and when
they are poor, again a little generous,
again helping as much as they can;
always speaking the truth,
yet without hatred for those who lie.
And more honor is due to them
when they foresee (and many do foresee)
that Ephialtes will finally appear,
and that the Medes in the end will break through.

Constantine P. Cavafy (1903)


 

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