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Journey with the Orthodox: Biography of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew reviewed by Harold D. Hunter

This entire volume is must reading for Christians from any tradition as it lays bare the remarkable journey of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew who clearly is one of the most endearing and most respected leaders in global Christianity. Although written in striking prose and various shades of theological poetry, Archdeacon Chryssavgis does not exaggerate the personal virtues of His All-Holiness. I certainly can resonate with the colorful description of how His All-Holiness receives a wide range of guests and makes all of them feel welcome during these exchanges.

[from left to right] Dr. Harold D. Hunter, Mrs. Susan Beacham, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Dr. Doug Beacham.

In 2014, I took International Pentecostal Holiness Presiding Bishop Dr. AD Beacham, Jr., to the Phanar to celebrate Pascha at the Patriarchal Church of St. George. Despite many long services during Holy Week with some that lasted past midnight, His All-Holiness welcomed Bishop and Mrs. Beacham and myself in his office. One of the most memorable moments was Bartholomew telling Bishop Beacham that sitting on the patriarchal throne – that has suffered greatly since the collapse of the Byzantine Empire – has taught him the true meaning of patience. As Chryssavgis points out, Bartholomew has an icon of Saint Hypomone (“patience”) in his office. Those who saw Bartholomew interviewed by Bob Simon on “60 Minutes” (2009) will remember that Bartholomew said that he felt he had been ‘crucified’ by the social political reality inherent with life at the Ecumenical Patriarchate at the Orthodox ‘Jerusalem,’ namely Constantinople (Istanbul).

For the benefit of readers of Pneuma Review, the original audience for this article, I have chosen to highlight four primary areas of interest: the 2016 Holy and Great Council, primacy, ecumenism (including dialogue with other religions), and care for God’s creation. These topics line up nicely with Bartholomew’s speech on the day of his enthronement which focused on theology and liturgy, Orthodox unity and cooperation, ecumenism, interfaith dialogue, and protection of the environment. Bartholomew is counted as the 269th successor to Saint Andrew and has served one of the longest tenures of any Ecumenical Patriarch. Although Chryssavgis has given us an exquisite treatment of Bartholomew, I will not shy away from questions raised by those Pentecostals who identify with the Pentecostal World Fellowship.


The Pan-Orthodox Council, Kolymvari, Crete, Greece, June 2016.
Image: Υπουργείο Εξωτερικών / Wikimedia Commons

#1 – 2016 Holy and Great Council

One of the thorny issues in reviewing this expert volume on a key global Christian leader is that the publisher’s deadline was prior to the actually convening of the 2016 Holy and Great Council in Crete. There is then occasional distance between various optimistic projections about Crete 2016 versus what actually happened. Although he recognized this, Chryssavgis did not feel in the least phased by any such limitation.

Autocephaly, literally “self-headed,” is the status of a hierarchal church whose highest leader does not report to a higher ecclesial authority.

That reality aside, Archdeacon Chryssavgis contends that His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who alone is vested with the authority to call such a Pan-Orthodox council, held the Holy and Great Council together in that 10 of the 14 autocephalous churches did find their way to Crete in June 2016. Chryssavgis is quite right to press the point that none of Bartholomew’s predecessors were able to actually convene the Holy and Great Council even though over 50 years were devoted to this effort and planning. It is also true that Bartholomew would be constrained by the January 2016 decision made by all 14 autocephalous churches meeting in Chambésy, outside Geneva, Switzerland where all the Orthodox primates unanimously agreed to the date and venue. At least one can say that Bartholomew cannot be faulted on this point, although some among the four dissident churches would disagree especially Russia who has said that all 14 churches must be present to validate the proceedings.

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Category: Ministry, Winter 2017

About the Author: Harold D. Hunter, PhD (Fuller Theological Seminary), is Director of the IPHC Archives & Research Center. Denominational executive positions, seminary teaching and ecumenical dialogues have taken him to over 80 countries. In addition to being the founding editor of the Cyberjournal for Pentecostal-Charismatic Research, Hunter has published five books and several articles including Spirit Baptism: A Pentecostal Alternative (1983, 2009), The Suffering Body: Responding to the Persecution of Christians (2006), The Azusa Street Revival and Its Legacy (2009), and The Many Faces of Global Pentecostalism (2013). As the IPHC Liaison to the Greater Christian Community and member of the PCCNA Commission on Christian Unity steering committee, Hunter actively engages the World Council of Churches, Eastern Orthodox Churches, and the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC).

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