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TOAST
By
His All-Holiness
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

During the Luncheon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate
For the Members of the Interorthodox Seminar
On the 1700th Anniversary since the Edict of Milan
(May 19, 2013)

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Most Reverend and beloved Brothers and other representatives of the local Orthodox Churches,
Your Excellencies,
Dear and distinguished friends,

Christ is Risen!

Today, we celebrated “the third Sunday after Pascha, the feast of the myrrh-bearing women” and we commemorated Joseph of Arimathea the secret disciple and Nikodemus the disciple by night. We therefore give glory to and worship the only sinless Lord Jesus, who rose from the dead.

In liturgy, we partook of communion in the precious Body and life-giving Blood of our Lord during our concelebration at the Holy Altar, sharing the drink from the wondrous Source, and now we enjoy the blessing of partaking of God’s material goods around this sacred monastic table.

We greatly and sincerely rejoice in the knowledge that your presence here in these paschal days – as representatives of the local Orthodox Churches of God – deeply honors the 1700th anniversary since the Edict of Milan was issued and at the same time the memory of the saintly Emperor Constantine the Great, whose place of repose we had occasion to visit yesterday in order to recall his sanctity and gift to the world as well as to invoke his intercession to the Lord. Moreover, we prayed that – in word and in deed, in theory and in practice – the freedom promised by our Lord Jesus Christ and proclaimed by this great emperor may constitute the foundation and protection for every person seeking the Lord, whether in secret or openly.

Dear brothers, you stirred our heart through your presence here and in your comfortable company among us with evangelical simplicity and unfeigned gracious love. Thus, we are able together to herald as One Orthodox Church, as another myrrh-bearer constantly mourning in the world and simultaneously rejoicing in the divine light, that Christ is risen and hades has been overthrown.

The memory and commemoration of this profoundly significant event for the history of the Christian Church, but also for the entire world, namely the issue of this Edict, gives us the courage, hope and conviction that we are not alone in our journey. By means of our Seminar and other similar events, particularly at a time when the world is dealing with many challenges, we remember that the Church should not have “many other concerns” except the “priority of the saints,” namely the care for human beings.

While we sometimes imagine that, from a human perspective at least, it is impossible to overcome daily problems and difficulties – just as, for Constantine the Great, it seemed difficult to overcome his adversaries, namely the “enemies” of the Lord and His Church – the power of the Precious Cross is that which ultimately overcomes everything. The power of the Risen Lord, who suffered, was crucified, buried, and arose from the dead, always grants victory and resolves every impasse for those who faithfully and steadily follow His word, which “is truth.” It is manifestly proven that Constantine the Great divided human history. In reality, however, it is the Lord’s Cross that divided human history. For the Sacred Wood is the surest refuge, the peacemaking covenant between heaven and earth, the adornment, pride and glory of the Church, in which we hope and aspire.

Whether individually or collectively, as societies or nations, as peoples or Churches, we normally plan and judge from a human perspective – with the anxiety of Gethsemane, the fear and cowardice of the disciples and myrrh-bearers. And so we do not discern Him, who is invisibly present and supervising through the Cross. This is why we are often discouraged.

Nonetheless, we assume courage despite the fact that we are surrounded by various difficulties. We assume courage because He has conquered the world, trampling down death by death.

The emblem of the Precious Cross once shone over the Roman skies and transformed Old Rome into New Rome. Since that time, it is our bright lighthouse and signpost. The sign of the Cross has shone since that time, despite the fact that we do not discern it with our clay eyes, which are darkened by the passions, because we consider the “worldly glory.”

Indeed, if the New Rome, which is hosting us today, appears in the eyes of some as straying from the vision of the devout emperor, we are convinced that we have another, a better and “greater Rome”: “The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.” (Rev. 21.22-23) It is toward this Rome that we are all journeying in order to encounter our predecessors and give account to the Lord, who examines hearts and minds without forgetting our sins.

It is surely not coincidental that, in Orthodox iconography, the Precious Cross is elevated between the imperial Constantine and Helen. This is a constant exhortation to “be victorious in this” in order that we, too, may be deemed worthy like the blessed Helen to discover the Precious cross, which has been lost not beneath the earth but in life itself. Thus, we may be worthy to “acquire the resurrection” “with all the saints that have pleased the Lord: forefathers, fathers, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, ascetics, and every righteous spirit perfected in faith” (From the Prayer of Sanctification of the Divine Gifts in the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great), including those who have fallen asleep in the cemetery of this Sacred Monastery and in every place of the Lord’s dominion.

The common journey of our local Churches in the cross and resurrection from the time of the Edict of Milan to this day demonstrates the truth of the constant and endless journey toward eternity: “Go, then, and make disciples of all nations.” (Matt. 28.19) However, it also demands from us that we henceforth preserve the common journey in concord with all our strength, inasmuch as strength lies in unity.

The intervention of Constantine the Great, as expressing the divine will, in the world’s history has granted us the great blessing of freely worshipping the sovereign of our salvation and freely to walk in the footsteps of His commandments, just as the holy apostles, martyrs, hierarchs, ascetics, righteous, monastics and all the saints before us did through the centuries, namely those who fought the good fight and preserved the faith undistorted to the very end.

With the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which formerly descended upon the holy disciples and apostles, who “confused tongues” and “divided nations,” the Church militant began its work in the world. With Constantine the Great, the sanctifying influence of the Church began to reach more deeply into the life of the nations and tongues in order to “invite all people and all things into unity” so that “the All-Holy Spirit may be glorified in unison” as the only God, who is over all and in all.

Beloved brothers, by way of conclusion, we address with all of you the supplicatory prayer of the two disciples, Luke and Cleopas, to the risen Lord as their co-traveller, that He may “stay with us because it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” (Luke 24.29) For we always experience the truthfulness in the words: “Behold, how good and pleasing it is to dwell together as brothers.” (Ps. 132.1)

In this communion, although we shall soon be separated from one another so that each of us may return to the place of their assignments, we preserve and maintain the hope and recollection of this gathering, where the master and host was the divinely-crowned Constantine, through the Precious Cross, the wondrous Lady Theotokos of the Life-Giving Spring, and the Lord of glory and compassion as our refuge, way, truth, light, peace, resurrection, and land of the living.

Be strong in Him, beloved brother, fathers and children.