Issue No 1: March 2004
Peace and greetings from Geneva!
We are very blessed to share with you the latest issue of the Ecumenical Letter on Evangelism, which in this particular issue, will focus on the ecumenical significance of the visit to Cuba of His All Holiness, Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch and the consecration on January 25, 2004 of the new Orthodox Cathedral of St. Nicholas at Havana. We do hope that you find it helpful in your work as evangelizers.
They stressed that evangelism is rooted in Trinitarian theology. Christ’s sending of the apostles stems from his having been sent by the Father in the Holy Spirit (John 20:21-23). Several Orthodox missionary consultations articulated the evangelistic significance of the liturgical celebration and the priestly role of the congregation in interceding for the whole of the human community" (Emilio Castro – Article in the Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement, 1991). As Protestants and Evangelicals/Pentecostals, we have a lot to learn from the Orthodox tradition in this regard.
Carlos Emilio Ham (Rev. Dr)
Issue No. 1 - March 2004
A new Greek Orthodox Cathedral consecrated in Havana, Cuba
The new Byzantine-style cathedral is decorated with Greek mosaics, icons and candelabras, and has a hand-carved wooden altar. It was built by the Cuban government as a "gift from the Cuban people" to the Orthodox Church. Named after St. Nicholas, the saint protector of sailors, it was donated to the Greek Orthodox Metropolis (Diocese) of Panama and Central America. It was built in a garden of the Basilica Minore of St. Francesco de Assisi, at the port side in Colonial Havana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982.
The five-hour event was attended by the Cuban President, Fidel Castro and marked the official recognition by the Cuban government of the Orthodox community on the Caribbean island. Cuba became officially atheist in the early sixties after the revolution, but the government removed references to atheism in the Constitution more than a decade ago. This paved the way for wider freedom for the churches, enabling them to serve in society and to evangelize, allowing religious believers to join the Communist Party and vice versa.
On the occasion of the Consecration of St. Nicholas Cathedral, thousands of Orthodox Christians from the American region and other parts of the world traveled to Cuba to be part of the gathering and celebrations with their Patriarch. Also a great number of dignitaries and special delegations from Europe, North America and Latin America attended this historical event, which in itself was a worldwide ecumenical celebration.
The World Council of Churches (WCC) sent two representatives: Lic. Elías Crisóstomo Abramides, Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Buenos Aires and South America, Ecumenical Patriarchate, Argentina, and member of the WCC Commission on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation; and the Rev. Dr. Carlos E. Ham, programme staff for Evangelism and coordinator of the WCC Mission and Ecumenical Formation Team, from Cuba. Other Cuban pastors and leaders related to the WCC, such as the Rev. Hector Mendez, member of the Central Committee and the Rev. Ofelia Ortega, moderator of the Commission on Education and Ecumenical Formation attended the celebrations as well.
Led by the Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ (NCCCUSA), a 30-member delegation of the NCC was present in events surrounding the consecration of St. Nicholas Church. Rev. Israel Batista, general secretary of the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) and Mr. Gerard Granado, general secretary of the Caribbean Conference of Churches (CCC) were represented in the historic celebration as well. Eng. Manuel Quintero, media officer of CLAI was also covering the events.
Among other people related to the WCC coming from the US were, the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, Stated Clerk, Presbyterian Church (USA) and member of the WCC Executive and Central Committee; the Rev. Martin Ritsi, Executive Director, Orthodox Christian Mission Center and member of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism, as well as the Rev. Dr. Tyrone Pitts, general secretary, Progressive National Baptist Convention and member of the WCC Central Committee.
Most of the guests also participated in the following days in a region-wide consultation hosted by the Cuban Council of Churches (CIC), focused on shared pastoral concerns of the church in the context of current U.S., Latin American, Caribbean and worldwide relations.
Following this historical event, the editor of the Ecumenical Letter on Evangelism approached one of the participants, Lic. Elías Crisóstomo Abramides, a member of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Buenos Aires and South America, Ecumenical Patriarchate and Commissioner Commission on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation of the WCC, with the following questions:
ELE Editor: Lic. Abramides, from your point of view, what is the importance of the visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch to Cuba and Latin America, the consecration of the Greek Orthodox Saint Nicholas Cathedral, and the re-establishment of the Orthodox work on the Island, from the perspective of the Orthodox Church, considering that this Church is perceived as a non-missionary or a non-evangelising Church?
Lic.Abramides: His All Holiness Bartholomew I, Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, is the 270th successor to the Throne of the Apostle Saint Andrew, founder of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
The Ecumenical Patriarch is the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox faithful worldwide. Since his election as Ecumenical Patriarch and his accession to the Throne of Saint Andrew in November 1991, he has, as his main purpose, the search for the visible unity of the Church of Christ and the protection and care of the natural environment, the "good Creation of God".
This care, love and deep interest in the protection and defence of the environment has to be understood as the protection of life on the planet, including the lives of human beings, women and men, life of the animal kingdom, the vegetal kingdom and the mineral kingdom. All these are integral parts of God’s Creation, and as such have to be cared for, respected and loved.
Life in all its forms is a precious gift that has been given to us by God, and as such we must consider it and protect it.
The Ecumenical Patriarch has visited the Orthodox countries and also almost all of the Western European and Near, Middle and Far East countries, visiting in particular the Muslim countries in the Middle East, Central Asia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Philippines, etc. In Switzerland he visited the WCC, and attended the VII Assembly in Canberra, as the head of the Patriarchal Delegation to the same. He visited the United States and Canada several times.
However for the first time in history an Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople has visited the Latin American region, in particular a Spanish-speaking country: he has just completed a five day visit to Cuba, accepting the special invitation of its President, Fidel Castro Ruz, and the Cuban Government.
This trip of the Ecumenical Patriarch has been the first to a Latin American country. Thus the Latin American region and the Spanish Speaking Caribbean received for the first time the visit of an Ecumenical Patriarch.
Two years ago in January 2002, the President of the National Council of Churches of Christ of the United States (NCCUSA), Ms Elenie Huszagh, a Greek Orthodox, visited Cuba for the first time ever at the invitation of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Panama, Central America, Cuba, the Caribbean and Colombia and Venezuela, housed in Mexico, D.F., and led by Metropolitan Athenagoras.
This is a narrative of the events that took place. It must be said however that the spiritual, historical, and ecumenical dimension of this unique event, is something that may take take place once in a lifetime of any Cuban Christian, left an impression that will remain etched in the hearts and minds as an historical moment in history of Christianity - not only in Cuba but in the rest of the Spanish-speaking Americas.
ELE Editor: Indeed, the importance of this event, from the perspective of the ecumenical movement is enormous. This is a critical point for our work in the WCC, since we try to encourage an evangelism task that is carried out ecumenically, as opposed to proselytism. What are your thoughts about this issue?
Lic. Abramides:This unique event as I explained above, has a tremendous importance not only for us the Greek Orthodox faithful, but also for all Christian denominations in Cuba and the region. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Panama, Central America, Cuba, the Caribbean, Colombia and Venezuela, has applied for membership in the Cuban Council of Churches - Consejo de Iglesias de Cuba. This would transform the nature and spirit of the Cuban Council of Churches that so far is an all Protestant and Pentecostal council.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate has arrived in Cuba to nurture the spiritual needs of the Orthodox faithful in Cuba independently of their ethnic or national origins. Thus, not only the Greek Orthodox, but the Russian, Ukrainian, Romanian, Serbian, Bulgarian, and Antiochian Orthodox will be received with open arms as well as all other Christians of good will who are interested in listening, sharing and enjoying the spiritual heritage of our old Mother Church, founded in the Apostolic times -37 A.D. - by the Apostle Andrew - the "Protoklitos"- the "First to be Called" by Jesus Christ, our God and Saviour.
The presence of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, using its official denomination - has an important ecumenical dimension. The Church is present to accompany, to listen and to share its marvellous ecclesiological, iconographic, hymnographic and pastoral heritage of twenty centuries of history, persecutions, devotion, and above everything, its endless capacity to bring and offer Love: love for Jesus Christ, love for women and men, love for life in all its forms, love for the good Creation of God.
Love and justice are concepts and feelings that go together. With love and justice, peace is attained and God is praised. Human beings are healed, respected and honoured. Humankind adores its Creator and takes care of the planet and its natural resources that feeds and that sustains life in all its forms. Natural resources, pure air, clean water, even the ozone layer and the natural greenhouse effect: these are some of the wonders of God’s Creation that keep and sustain life on planet Earth. With the absence of any of these wonders, life as we know it could not exist anymore on the planet.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate has declared Saint Nicholas as the Patron Saint of Cuba and of the Cuban People. The icon of Saint Nicholas of Myra with his world-wide history and well-know tradition adorns the entrance to the new Cathedral, while the icon of Saint Olga with her outstanding presence, welcomes the faithful and the good-will visitors that are welcomed to this new home for the sick, for the pilgrim, for women and men, for the young and for the old, just to sit and pray, and to feel the accompaniment of the Orthodox Church, humbly and peacefully.
ELE Editor: We would also like to look at the significance of this event in the context of the World Mission Conference, which as you know, will gather under the theme "Come Holy Spirit, Heal and Reconcile: Called in Christ to be Reconciling and Healing Communities". This will be the first major mission gathering in the new millennium and will be held, or the first time, n a predominantly Orthodox setting, in Athens, Greece in May 2005. How would you connect your experiences in Havana with this major mission gathering?
Lic. Abramides:The event that we witnessed in Havana, is a good example of the ‘catholicity’ (universality) of the Orthodox Church and faith. Since the late 18th century, migrants and refugees began to arrive on the North American East coast. In Latin America we detect the first migrants since the early 19th century.
All Greek Orthodox faithful in the Americas - Southern, Central, the Caribbean and Northern - Western Europe, Australia, and Oceania, are under the spiritual jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate through its ecclesiastical jurisdictions (Archdioceses and Metropolis).
The World Mission Conference, on the theme: "Come Holy Spirit, Heal and Reconcile: Called in Christ to be Reconciling and Healing Communities", has a symbolic impact associated to the event witnessed and lived in Havana. The theme itself is a definition of what took place for the first time in the history of the Spanish, Portuguese, and French speaking Americas. It was the Holy Spirit of God that inspired and blessed the Church and Governments in an action to be remembered.
The healing and accompanying action of the presence of the Orthodox Church in Latin America and the Caribbean, is an outstanding example of humbleness, sharing and solidarity, that will assist the people of Cuba in their everyday life, sharing also the accompanying action of the Christian Churches long established in Cuba and having a long tradition and presence in the Island. However the presence of the Greek Orthodox Church is not new, as it had been established in Cuba since the beginning of the 20th century.
Once more we may call the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, to bless and assist, to bring love and justice and to heal and illuminate the lives and deeds of the women and the men of God, in Cuba, Latin America and worldwide.
Many thanks, dear Lic. Abramides, for sharing your thoughts, wisdom and passion with the readers of the Ecumenical Letter on Evangelism!
We are also including a testimony of a local church leader, the Rev. Dora Arce, pastor of the Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Cuba, moderator of its National Synod and professor of the Matanzas Theological Seminary, regarding the visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch to Cuba:
The visit of the Ecumenical Patriarch to Cuba, which was also his first visit to Latin America and the Caribbean, is to certain extent, the recognition of the action of Jesus Christ in Cuba, the confidence in the Cuban people and in its authorities; as a lovely gesture of good will. It is true that the Orthodox community in Cuba is very small, but the Biblical testimony teaches us that the more vulnerable members of the body are indispensable.
As a matter of fact, questions have been raised regarding the development of a tradition which does not have a direct link to our culture, our history and the development of the religiosity in our country. Even so, we ought to trust in the fact that a presence of a tradition that has kept itself almost anonymous in our religious spectrum adds richness to our society, making it more diverse - therefore we ought to understand it as a positive experience.
In this context, the privilege of welcoming HAH Bartholomew I was, for the Cuban ecumenical family a celebration. But it would be premature to make any assessment as to how the Orthodox Church could insert itself in an ecumenical environment which has a long and courageous history with the people to whom we serve, with the evangelizing effort within the framework of mutual respect and, above all, in the current context of the Cuban society and of the great numerical growth that the churches have experienced in the recent years.
The Orthodox Church has not arrived in a land that has not heard the gospel’s message of Jesus Christ, and even less to inaugurate the experience of the ecumenism in our country. We consider it important that everyone faces the challenge to open ourselves to a new experience, trusting that the will of God, which manifests itself though this event is to mutually nourish ourselves and to energize us in the service of our Lord Jesus Christ in our beloved Cuban land.
We trust that this tradition has arrived in a very special moment in the history of our nation, specially if we consider the mission of the Church in terms of ministering to the people, because the endeavor of reconciling and healing which today’s world needs, is not divorced from our needs as people, and as Church in Cuba.
We will be praying and working in order for the privilege which God has granted us to receive the Ecumenical Patriarch will be a blessing for the mission in our country.
Rev. Dora Arce
His All Holiness Bartholomew
Your All Holiness,
I seize the opportunity of your travel to Cuba in order to share with you my feelings of joy, hope and expectation.
My joy is undoubtedly due to the fact that Your All Holiness will preside over the liturgical celebrations for the inauguration of the newly constructed St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, the first new church building in Cuba after some 40 years. The permission granted to the Ecumenical Patriarchate by President Castro is a historical event both for Cuba itself and for the wider Christian presence and witness in this country.
I hope that this new church building and the small Greek Orthodox parish under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate will constitute the leaven – "the little leaven" (1 Co 5:6) – which will enrich and strengthen the ecumenical spirit, ecumenical relations and ecumenical cooperation, in a country where a common Christian witness is of particular importance.
As to my expectations, I am confident that Your All Holiness will generously share his wisdom and world-wide experience both with the local Christian churches and communities and the large delegation of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the US and representatives of churches from Latin America, as they will be meeting around the theme of pastoral accompaniment of the Cuban churches.
I am particularly happy that the World Council of Churches will be with you and among you in Cuba these coming days in the persons of our colleague Rev. Carlos Ham, Team Coordinator of Mission and Ecumenical Formation Team, and Dr Elias Abramides, member of our Commission on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation, Rev. Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick, member of the Executive Committee of the WCC and Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA), will also be present, as a member of the US delegation.
With my fervent prayers for the faithful of the Greek Orthodox parish in Havana and for all Christian churches and communities in Cuba, I remain,
Yours in our common Lord and Savior Jesus-Christ.
Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia
Greetings from Rev. Carlos E. Ham to His All Holiness, Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church on behalf of the WCC – Havana, 23/01/04
Your All Holiness Bartholomew I, dear brothers and sisters in Christ.It is a great privilege for the World Council of Churches (WCC) to attend this historical celebration of your visit to Cuba and to bring to your All Holiness, greetings on behalf of our general secretary, Dr. Sam Kobia and also from our deputy general secretary, Mr. Yorgo Lemopoulos, who is a standing member of your Church.On January 25, 1998, we concluded the Week of Prayer for the Unity of Christians here in Havana, with the Holy Father, the Pope John Paul II and God has provided the blessing to meet your All Holiness here today and on Sunday January 25, six years after, to attend the consecration of the St. Nicholas Cathedral. This is not by chance, since in God "we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).We are very grateful to be part of this great celebration, which is an ecumenical gathering. This is a reaffirmation of the missionary and ecumenical nature of the Orthodox Church. As we are all empowered by the Great Commission, of proclaiming the Good News of the gospel in today’s world, we are co-missionaries accountable to God and to one another.
Our world today is one of neo-liberal globalization, of increasing poverty and fragmentation by violence and ideological-based terrorism. This is why the WCC has launched the Decade to Overcome Violence. In addition, the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) has identified the theme "Come Holy Spirit, Heal and Reconcile: Called in Christ to be Reconciling and Healing Communities" for the next World Mission Conference. This will be the first major mission gathering in the new millennium and will be held for the first time in an Orthodox context, in Athens, Greece in May 2005. Therefore, the time spent here with Your All Holiness, and other Orthodox brothers and sisters, enables us to receive tremendous inspiration for the Conference. May the Holy Spirit continue to inspire your All Holiness and us all as ‘agents’ of healing and reconciliation in today’s world.
Please remember that this Letter is published in the four languages of the WCC