The Mediterranean Sea Should Not Be A Tomb

Yesterday I mentioned that the press had generally given short shrift to Pope Francis’ companion on the visit to the Greek island of Lesbos to give comfort and visibility to the many refugees temporarily housed there. This “companion” was Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of the world’s Eastern Orthodox Christians.

This loosely associated, though theologically connected communion is the second largest Christian family in the world, with the Roman Catholic Church as the largest, Anglicans third in number and Lutherans bringing up a close fourth. Like the Anglicans and Lutherans, but unlike the Roman Catholics, Orthodox churches are autonomous in polity with Bartholomew representing a spiritual, rather than juridical, primacy. Even this is sometimes challenged by the Russian Orthodox Church.

Be all that as it may, Bartholomew is a formidable figure who has made something of a reputation for himself as the “Green Patriarch” due to his passion for the environment and environmental stewardship. I once heard him give a lecture in Cuba (with Fidel Castro in the same audience) when visiting there with the National Council of Churches for the opening of the first Greek Orthodox Church in Havana. He was brilliant!

Last week, Bartholomew was even more blunt in his public remarks about the refugee crisis than Pope Frances. Speaking at the migrants’ camp he said, “The world will be judged by the way it has treated you. And we will all be accountable for the way we respond to the crisis and conflict in the regions that you come from. The Mediterranean Sea should not be a tomb.”

Perhaps emboldened by the Patriarch’s words, Archbishop Ieronymos II, leader of the local Greek church added, “I hope that we never see children washing up on the shores of the Aegean Sea. I hope to soon see them there, untroubled, enjoying life.”

This was — for all its brevity — one of the Christian church’s finest hours in recent memory. For all those, in this country and around the world, who claim the name “Christian” and yet seem to stand for exclusion, fear, and xenophobia, perhaps we could invite them to look at these recent statements as examples of what true “religious values” in today’s world are all about.

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