April 8, 2020 - Proclaiming the Resurrection by way of the Cross

April 8, 2020

Prayer during pandemic illness
(of the new Coronavirus that has fallen upon us)

Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras
(April 6, 1886 – July 7, 1972)
Proclaiming the Resurrection by way of the Cross

It was on the 6th of April that the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras was born in Tsaraplana (known today as Vasiliko, Greece), which was then part of the Ottoman Empire. He was ordained Bishop and Metropolitan of Corfu in 1922. In 1930, the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate elected him as Archbishop of North and South America, a position which he held until 1948. On October 18, 1949, he was elected Ecumenical Patriarch and was enthroned on the 27th of January 1949.

What characterized Athenagoras as Patriarch was his deep pastoral concern for the unity of Christ’s Holy Churches and for the peace of the world.

What left an unforgettable and painful mark on Patriarch Athenagoras’ 23 years on the Ecumenical Throne  were the episodes that took place in Constantinople in September of 1955 and the period that followed them. It was then that the Turkish government organized a planned attack on the Greek Orthodox faithful of Constantinople. In the evening of the 6th of September, mobs spread out throughout the City, destroying 1,004 homes and severely damaging 2,500 others that belonged to Greeks. The mobs looted 4,348 commercial businesses and workshops, together with most of the churches and cemeteries of the City, even upturning many graves of the deceased. The attacks lasted through the evening hours, reaching a point of chaos, until it was put under control by the Turkish Army. This grieved the Patriarch throughout the rest of his life.  As a sign of mourning, for the vicious and destructive events Patriarch Athenagoras decided to not to preside in all the designated festive Panegyric Patriarchal Liturgies following these events, which included the Easter Services of 1956. Thus, Easter Day of 1956 was a true expression of a Resurrection by way of the Cross (Stavroanastasi).

It may seem strange to many of us, but, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has been celebrating Pascha (Easter) as Resurrection by way of the Cross for centuries. As Patriarch Bartholomew has stressed: “For the Orthodox mindset, the enduring connection of the Cross and the Resurrection is incompatible with every form of esoteric flight to any false mysticism or self-sufficient pietism, which usually tend to be indifferent to the misfortunes and misadventures of humanity in history”(Easter Encyclical 2018).

During the most serious crisis resulting from the coronavirus pandemic which continues to loom over us, the manner  in which the services are now being performed in the Most Sacred Church of the Patriarchate brings to memory the way Holy Week and Easter Services were celebrated at the Patriarchate with Patriarch Athenagoras in 1956. The uniqueness of the way these services are performed clearly reflects the ethos of the Patriarchate that expresses a Resurrection by way of the Cross. On the one hand, this ethos embosses the seal of grief and mourning, yet, on the other, it constitutes the inextinguishable beacon of hope and the foretaste of eternity for us all.