The visit of the Pope to Turkey has included a meeting (the first such meeting in a millennium) with His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome. As Patriarch of Constantinople he is the spiritual head of the Eastern Orthodox Communion even though his diocese only includes around 5000 Turkish (Greek Orthodox) Christians. I find relics of the past such as this fascinating. Bartholomew is a modern remnant of a bygone Christian age. (In 1453, Byzantine Constantinople fell to the Turks.)
Still, Bartholomew is no fossil. Some of his achievements include a storied academic career. He studied Theology at the Patriarchal Theological Seminary of Halki (Turkey) and did graduate work at the Pontificio Istituto Orientale of Rome, the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey (Switzerland) and the Ludwig-Maximilians Universität of Munich. His doctoral research was on Canon Law. He also speaks Greek, Turkish, Latin, French, English, Italian, and German. He has been nicknamed the “Green Patriarch” for his environmental efforts and was awarded the US Congressional Medal of Honor.
The Pope is supporting Turkey’s efforts to join the EU, but perhaps not without concessions. One obstacle to Turkey’s EU integration is the suspicion surrounding its poor human rights record, including religious freedom. Both Benedict and Bartholomew believe in what the Vatican calls “reciprocity” — “that Muslim demands for greater respect in the West must be matched by increased tolerance and freedom for Christians in Islamic nations.”
Turkey’s path to improved human rights is a difficult one for sure. Whilst its refusal to acknowledge the “ecumenical,” or universal, title of the patriarch seems petty (he is instead considered only the head of the local Greek Orthodox community), Turkey’s reasoning is not incomprehensible: the idea of a single Turkish nationality — a sacrosanct feature of its secular identity — is believed to be under threat if wider status was granted to the patriarch, because it would inspire demands for special recognition by other minorities, including Kurds. This puts the West in a bind: the Kurdish “problem” and the Armenian genocide are two unsavoury aspects of the Turkish state, yet we are happy for Turkey to be a secular bulwark in the Islamic world. Is it a price worth paying?
In 1971 the Turkish government shut the Greek Orthodox seminary in Turkey. This was part of a policy to close all private Muslim schools, but an exception could not be made for the Christians. “We are in danger of dying,” the Rev. Dositheos Anagnostopulos, Bartholomew’s spokesman, said. “We are dying because we have no priests. We have 48 churches and 30 priests. There are only 10 young priests. We have many who are 70 or 80 who are still working.”
I would like this seminary to re-open. Question is, do I want the Muslim schools to re-open too?