Metropolitan Elpidophoros: "Halki Theological School: The Future"

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The Future

Prof. Dr. Elpidophoros Lambriniadis
Metropolitan of Bursa
Abbot of the Holy Trinity Monastery, Halki


Your Eminences,

Your Excellencies,

Distinguished participants,

            It is a great honor and joy for me to have this opportunity to participate in a conference of such a high level, and I would like to express my sincere thanks to the organizers. My gratitude is especially fervent because my topic is an issue very crucial to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, namely the reopening of the Sacred Theological School of Halki, where I have the honor to serve as Abbot over the last two years.

            Much has been written and said about the significance and history of the Halki Theological School. Thus, I find it quite difficult to find something to say to you, which has not already been emphasized and which the audience will not strive to learn something new.

            Let us briefly consider some elementary historical facts about the School.

            It was founded in 1844 by Patriarch Germanos IV.

            The current structure was designed by the architect Pericles Photiades and erected thanks to a gift from our Grand Benefactor Pavlos Skylitsis Stephanovic in 1896.

            Since its establishment to this day, graduates of the School have included Ecumenical Patriarchs Joachim the IV, Neophytos the VIII, Anthimos the VII, Constantine the V, Germanos the V, Gregorios the VII, Constantine the VI, Benjamin, Maximos the V, Athenagoras, Demetrios and Bartholomew.

            Patriarchs of Alexandria Nicholas the VI and Parthenios the III,

            Patriarchs of Antioch Alexander the III and Elias the IV.

            Archbishops of Athens Germanos the II, Chrysanthos, Spyridon and Chrysostomos the II.

            And Christophoros became Archbishop of Albania

just to name the first-hierarchs, while omitting all the rest of the bishops and clergymen.

            The Government closed down the School in the year 1971. Since then it is active up today as a Monastery.

            It is no easy matter for someone to bear the responsibility for the administration of a place, which has hosted numerous personalities of the Church and our Nation of such immense spiritual standing and far-reaching influence. Indeed, one cannot accept this responsibility unless one is profoundly schooled in the history, until one is inwardly permeated in the tradition, if one is not spiritually nourished by the ethos of the School.

            Thus, having endeavored – during the tenure of my ministry at the Phanar and particularly close to Patriarch Bartholomew – to receive a taste of the spirit of Halki, I can dare to envision its future. For, we have all spoken about everything except about its future.

            Since we strive and endeavor to achieve the reopening of the School in light of injustice that has occurred by the State against our People and our Patriarchate, it would be prudent to offer some reflections about how we imagine its future. From the outset, I wish to underline that we do not simply fantasize about this future; in fact, we are diligently and carefully preparing for it.

            Within these reflections, the benchmark is raised very high – precisely because of the well-known history and importance of the School, but also due to the widespread publicity about the need for its reopening thanks to the tireless and persistent efforts of Patriarch Bartholomew, supported by our Dioceses outside Turkey, like the United States, Germany and of course thanks to our Archons.

            First of all, the standard of education cannot but be at university level, not just theoretically but realistically – that is to say, at the very essence of the knowledge that is provided. Moreover, I might dare to claim that the level of the School must be independent of the status of recognition by the Ministry of Education in Turkey. For example, it might be possible, for reasons of adaptation to the existing legislation, that the Ministry of Education will not offer university accreditation to our School. Should this be the case, I believe that we should insist on having such a level of education in place that would correspond to the standards and meet the expectations of all European and American universities in order that our degrees would be certified by various institutions of higher learning throughout the world. In this way, not only will our School achieve the level it deserves, but its recognition will also be secured by universities worldwide, while at the same time the prevailing legislation in Turkey will not be violated. Naturally, the ideal situation would be for the Turkish authorities not to find themselves once again in the difficult position of being the only country internationally, which does not recognize an existing reality.

            Continuing to think out aloud, I feel that, beyond this highest standard of excellence, our School is further obliged to move on a global level, responding not only to the demands of our times and the contemporary needs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, but even to the expectations of our Metropolises throughout the world, as well as of the other Orthodox Churches and Christian confessions, Roman Catholic and Protestant. In this regard, a very critical factor is the language in which classes will be taught. Since in our age, the English language prevails in all domains, I believe that it would be wise for English to serve as one of the languages for instruction, alongside Greek and Turkish. This would immediately launch the School onto the international sphere of universities worldwide and permit an uncomplicated exchange of faculty and students from other universities, as well as a mutual cooperation with institutions of higher learning in general. It will undoubtedly not be easy to achieve for our students a level of linguistic knowledge that would allow them to attend classes in English; but is it also not an impossible feat since this is widely acceptable in many universities of the world, including our country, Turkey. For better results, it would be beneficial, prior to the commencement of the formal coursework, to include a preparatory year for teaching classes in Greek and English language, alongside introductory classes in theology. Indeed, classes in the Greek language are mandatory not only for non-Greek prospective students, but also for all those unfamiliar with ecclesiastical Greek and the polytonic system. Nevertheless, there would be another purpose for establishing an additional, preparatory year of studies:

a)   as a test for students to adapt to the specific and demanding environment of the School;

b)   as a confirmation of the priestly vocation of the young candidate about to commence theological studies; and

c)    as an extension of the time spent by the young students in the environment of the School, where they would have greater opportunity to be imbued with the spirit and ethos of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

In speaking about students, I must observe that the space of the existing building complex is fixed: for 25 students annually. This means that, if the idea regarding a five-year program ultimately comes into effect (1 preparatory year and 4 regular years of study), the total number of students could reach around 125, which is accommodated by the potential of the building, as well as the history of the School, since there were never more students than this.

It is logical to imagine that, when we receive permission to reopen the School, it will be fully open to registration by students from abroad, since the Greek population in Turkey, for purely statistical reasons, is unable to provide us with students. This, too, will be nothing new, since overseas students were permitted to enroll in the past.

We may expect the same with regard to teaching staff in order for the School to be able always to maintain a high level of teaching with faculty possessing a doctoral degree at the very least.

Given the ecumenical nature of our School, students will be invited for enrolment not only from the eparchies of the Ecumenical Patriarchate throughout the world, but also from all the Orthodox Churches and other sister Churches, such as the Roman Catholic, Anglican, etc., just as occurred in the past. We must, however, anticipate a specific program of studies for the non-Orthodox students, which would also be of briefer duration, with particular emphasis on Orthodox theology, since the remaining common aspects of Christian theology can be learned in their respective theological schools.

Beyond the common classes taught in every theological school, our School must give distinctive attention to the following areas, which constitute significant branches in the activity and ministry of the Ecumenical Patriarchate:

a)   The place and role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate within the Orthodox Church and the Christian world in general;

b)   The theological dialogues and generally the theology and history of the Ecumenical Movement;

c)   The theological vision with regard to the protection of the environment and ecological matters more broadly, as these have been cultivated over many years; and

d)   The interfaith initiatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and specifically the academic dialogues with Islam and Judaism.

However, in order for all this to come to fruition in the most efficient manner, we must be concerned with the necessary material and practical infrastructure:

1.   The library is the laboratory of every educational institution and must be fully equipped and organized in exemplary fashion to meet contemporary standards. In practical terms, this includes not only the processing its collection and recording its catalogue, but also its connection through the Internet with libraries of other universities. This is also the modern philosophy of library planning, since no university can of its own assemble the world's bibliography in its entirety. The complete digitalization of the library will be the next stage, which is already in process and for which we are now seeking sponsors.

2.   The radical restoration of the building complex. There are many aspects to this:

a)    The creation of single rooms for students and faculty;

b)    The complete refurbishing of the building in terms of electrical and technical systems;

c)     The updating of internal communications and Internet networks; and

d)    The establishment of a Conference Center with adequate seating and appropriate resources as a venue for events and international conference, which the School would organize or host.

Of course, all of this will occur with the employment of architects of international acclaim and recognized experience in their respective field in order to secure complete respect for the historical character of the edifice and surrounding space. The work will take place with the latest means offered by modern architecture and technology in general, so that the School will be lacking in nothing as an exceptionally equipped and superbly organized educational center of our time.

We have already acquired a relevant study from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki; we have prepared a budget for the projects; all that remains is the commencement of the fundraising to raise the necessary financial resources through an invitation by our Patriarch and the Holy and Sacred Synod to all the Greek organizations and individuals throughout the world, the Archons included.

I have left the most important matter for last: namely, the spiritual concern for and guidance of the students.

All the details I have mentioned thus far are surely important and necessary; but they may also be found elsewhere. That which cannot be found elsewhere is what always rendered our School unique and distinctive.

I am referring to the monastic character of the daily routine as well as the spiritual life of the seminarian-students. The students will live as novice brothers of the Holy Trinity Monastery, within which they will also be studying at the Theological School. The daily liturgical services, participation at the cantor stalls, observance at the Holy Altar, the practice of preaching, common meals with readings – all of these will, just as in the past, comprise the spiritual routine where the future resources of the Church will be nurtured beneath the loving protection of Panaghia Pafsolype (the precious icon of the Theotokos, who "puts an end to all sorrow").

The frequent presence of the Patriarch, the Hierarchs of the Throne and the professors, as well as the first-hand attendance of the ecclesiastical life and activity of our Patriarchate, will familiarize students with the daily life and spirit of the Mother Church.

Our students will learn to dialogue with all people of good will, with Christians of every confession, with people of every faith and national background. In order, however, to achieve this, they must be well versed in Orthodox Theology and spirituality. For if someone wishes to enter into dialogue with another, whoever this "other" may be, unless one is knowledgeable and aware of their own theology, their own culture, and their own language, then only one of two consequences are possible: either one will become confused due to an inability to respond to the demands of this dialogue; or else one will transform this inability into an ideology, becoming over-conservative, nationalistic, reactionary, and in every sense marginal. Yet, when one has a strong sense of self-awareness and is educated in Orthodox theology and spirituality, then dialogue with the "other" is an opportunity for enrichment, Orthodox witness and practical demonstration of Christian love toward all people.

The reopening of our Halki Theological School is important not only for the Ecumenical Patriarchate, but for all Christianity, as well as Islam and Turkey. Let me explain:

The graduates of our School will be bearers of the spirit of our Patriarchate, which is a spirit of dialogue, cooperation, peace and love. It is not a spirit of hostility toward other faiths, conservatism, fundamentalism, nationalism, and division.

We always promote peace and dialogue.

Our graduate will be an angel of peace and reconciliation with all Christian churches and all religious communities.

Why, then, is this important for Islam and Turkey? Precisely because today it is a well-known secret that the Western world, Europe and the United States of America are perplexed before Islam and uncertain as to how to relate to it. Sometimes they react to it with extreme aggression and suspicion, even fear; at other times they respond to it with extreme laxity, syncretistically, ignoring its history, doctrine and specific features. Nevertheless, at Halki, and generally at the Phanar, Islam has been the daily experience for centuries. Indeed, it is a daily experience of exemplary peaceful coexistence and cooperation, which has much to teach Europe and America. The student at Halki will not only learn about Islam in the classroom, but will experience it on a daily basis, learning to cultivate mutual respect and human love so that, when he is later ordained to the priesthood and assigned to a parish in some part of the world, he will feel comfortable about cooperating and peacefully coexisting with his Muslim neighbor, as well as with his Roman Catholic or Evangelical brother.

I am sure you all noticed a detail yesterday while listening to the message of His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew. Together with his voice, you could hear the voice of the imam of Phanar, praying the ezan, the Islamic call for prayer. This prayer was like a soundtrack to the Patriarchal voice, not like something spoiling the message, but like the neighbors prayer completing his message. The more Turkey strengthens Patriarchs voice, the wider peaceful Turkish islams voice will be spread around the world. Ankara has to take this very seriously into account.

Thus, it is the graduate of Halki that will tear down the walls that separate us, just as the Berlin walls were once torn down. And there are certainly walls that must be shattered, such as the walls we have raised in our minds and hearts; these are precisely the walls that alienate Christians from Muslims, Orthodox from non-Orthodox, Turks from non-Turks. Halki knows very well how to tear down walls; it also knows how to build, how to construct. It knows how to destroy walls and how to build bridges. It will tear down the walls of suspicion and erect bridges of love and cooperation – and especially the bridge of Turkey's accession and full incorporation to the place where it belongs historically, geographically, and culturally: namely Europe and the European Union.

Such is the contribution of Halki to our world and to our country Turkey.

Finally, allow me to close this list of our School's characteristics with something that I consider very significant, the most important lesson: the lesson of love. I am speaking of the love, which is the essence of our faith, the proclamation of our Church, the cause of our Lord's suffering on the cross. It is the lesson about not distinguishing between "good" and "bad" people, "sinful" and "holy" people, "pure" and "impure" people, "our" people and "others," those who regularly attend to their "church obligations" and those who overlook these. This is where we learn that the Church is for everyone because we are all saints and we are all sinners and Christ sacrificed himself for all of us.

By the grace and will of God, this will be next day of the School. And it is not very far away at all. We do not expect another sign of good will from our Government concerning Halki. Statements and signs of good will can no longer be considered as the signs of good will. What we expect is the decision; the decision to reopen this School after over 42 years of unfair injustice. Prime Minister Erdogan has proven that he can be a courageous leader.

Thank you for your attention.