(St. Titus Cathedral, Heraklion, Saturday, June 18, 2016)

Your All-Holiness Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch
Your Beatitudes, Patriarchs and Archbishops of the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches, together with the Honorable Members of Your Delegations,
Esteemed Representatives of the Greek Government and Local Administrative Authorities,
Honorable Representatives of the Educational, Military, Police and other Authorities and Corps,
Beloved brethren,

Today, Heraklion is brightly adorned and the Great Island of Crete rejoices over the blessed and venerable presence of all of You, the Most Holy Primates of the Orthodox Churches from all over the world, who have come here within the framework of the proceedings of the long awaited Holy and Great Council of our Orthodox Church!

The Prelates in their entirety, along with the Holy Clergy, Monastic Communities, civic leaders and all the pious Cretan People of the Apostolic Church of Crete exult and leap for joy over all that God has has shown us worthy to receive. We, the people of Crete, are witnessing truly exceptional and wondrous things during these auspicious days! Blessed be the Name of the Lord!

The choice of the Island of Crete – a site that is Apostolic, historic, courageous, and a place of martyrdom – to host the proceedings of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, which has been awaited for centuries, is a supreme blessing and honor for us. The convocation of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church is in itself a momentous Ecclesial Event, which will leave its mark on the History of our Church, as well as the Orthodox Church in its entirety. We glorify and bless the most honorable and majestic Name of the Triune God for all that His Providence has offered the Great Island of Crete, its people and its Tradition.

Your All-Holiness, Your Beatitudes,

We welcome all of You to the sacred soil of our island, which has been watered by the tears and sweat of St. Paul the Apostle to the Nations and our Patron Saint, the Holy Apostle Titus, along with Holy Hierarchs, Martyrs, Confessors, Righteous Men and Women, and the Neomartyrs of Crete, who adorn our Local Church’s choir of Saints.

Today, You are all being welcomed by the spiritual Father of our Church, the Holy Apostle Titus – St. Paul’s fellow traveler and disciple, and the First bishop of our island’s spiritual life and historic path. This is especially true this year, which marks the fiftieth anniversary of the return of His Precious Skull from Venice to Crete, and which has been situated in Your midst as a blessing.

A doxology pours out from our hearts at this auspicious moment. And together with this doxology, we add the fervent entreaty that You raise Your hands and bless the entire plentitude of the Church of Crete, our people, who are abounding with good men and women.

The jubilant and grateful heart of the Apostolic Church of Crete beats here tonight. St. Titus’ inheritance – which is blessed to have canonical dependence from the Most Venerable Ecumenical Patriarchate situated in the Queen City of Constantinople – reaffirms yet again its feelings of reverence and honor towards Your All-Holiness and our Mother, the Holy and Great Church of Christ, as well as the other Local Orthodox Churches.

The Apostolic Church of Crete retains St. Paul’s Letter to Titus as the timeless compass it relies upon to steer its course. It operates as a Semi-Autonomous Church, retaining canonical dependence upon the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and maintaining its own Charter, which is incorporated into Greek state law, as well as enjoying the recognition of its Legal Status. 

The Church of Crete serves the heroic People of Crete, who, in order to retain the spark of Orthodox godliness, spent themselves in defense of their altars and homes. Despite the difficulties and challenges they have faced throughout their history, or the various occupations and yokes to which they have been subjected, they have remained unshakeable here in the midst of the Mediterranean Sea, bearing an undiminished witness each and every day to the faith of our Fathers and the Sacred Traditions of our People.

The Cretans have made their contribution to the history of the Mediterranean, which is of global importance, and through their Ancient, Prehistoric, Minoan, and Christian Culture, they have shaped the path of the European Spirit, which ought to rediscover its roots – especially in modern times, where changes are occurring in a variety of ways.

The Apostolic Church of Crete has endured great suffering and struggles. It gave the good testimony together with a multitude of Martyrs and Neomartyrs, Righteous and Just men and women. It endured persecutions, invasions by foreign enemies, and very long periods of foreign occupation. It has been enslaved to foreign powers for 1,180 of its two thousand years of existence – far more than the years it has been free. During these long and difficult periods of foreign rule by Romans, Arabs, Venetians, Turks, and Germans the Church of Christ in Crete stood unwaveringly upon the firm rock of faith, supporting the pious people and preserving them unharmed from doctrinal deviations and organized proselytism, while steadily remaining dependent upon the venerable Ecumenical Patriarchate. Due to the particular historical circumstances on our Island, the Church of Crete formed its own administrative identity, which is protected by the Laws of the Greek State and approved by the Venerable See, the Ecumenical Patriarchate. 

During the last two centuries of Venetian rule, the Church of Crete showed itself to be a strong Center of Hellenic and Christian education. Its large monasteries built extensive libraries, Centers for the transcribing of Greek manuscripts, and artistic workshops where the sacred art of iconography was raised to lofty heights with the renowned “Cretan School of Art” and its illustrious representatives Michael Damaskenos and Theophanes the Cretan. Domenikos Theotokopoulos, otherwise known as El Greco, is a product of this school and perhaps its most celebrated figure. Sixteenth and seventeenth century Crete is, as was once said, “Greece’s Greece and the firmly established citadel of Hellenic civilization,” having produced great examples of erudite Churchmen and Prelates, adorning the entire Church, and giving rise to extraordinary men of learning and virtue, such as Meletios Pegas, Maximos Margounios, the hieromartyr Cyril Loukaris, and many others.

The tall mountaintops of Crete maintain the sacred symbol of Christianity – the Lord’s Holy Cross – in lofty positions, and under Its defense and protection, by the intercessions of the Saints of our Church, they maintain the fellowship and inspire the path of the Cretans.

Your All-Holiness, Your Beatitudes,

We pray intensely and from the bottom of our hearts that you may have the spirit of sacrifice, the fervor of faith, the sacred flame of the missionary mindset, and above all, love for Christ accompanying you during the proceedings of the Holy and Great Council, and beyond its conclusion, in the other areas of Your Ecclesial life and Ministry “reaching forward to those things which are ahead.”

Welcome to our Island – the Isle of Crete which produces Saints and Heroes; the Island and “plantation” of St. Titus the Apostle!