Istanbul, January 2013

Young People’s Impressions

After the Pilgrimage to Istanbul several young people from different countries and church backgrounds wrote about some of their experiences. Here are a few extracts:

Maud (France) – A Way of Trust and Peace

For me, finding myself in Istanbul in 2013 was also to be in Byzantium and Constantinople centuries ago! And in the end it was a going back in our own story, returning to one of the places which is a source of our Christian faith. I very much enjoyed meeting those Churches that I knew very little of in France and experiencing the different ways they worship - everything sung, psalmody and hymns. But one of the most poignant moments for me was during the prayer on Friday evening when the brothers and representatives of the different churches knelt together to pray around the icon of the cross placed on the ground. I was moved, saying to myself that on this Epiphany we were all together in prayer, for the same peace, for the same christian unity, in the same desire to continue this dialogue and these meetings. And personally I was also working for this peace and for this hope to continue a pilgrimage of trust on earth! I felt in the right place, and ready to go forwards on that way of trust and peace.

Olga (Ukraine) – A Gift of Communion

During the Pilgrimage to Istanbul, for the celebration of the Epiphany, I had the chance to visit almost all the principal churches and parishes of the city, as well as the Monastery of the Holy Trinity at Heybeliada on the Prince Islands. Most of all I remember the moment we visited the Hagia Sofia museum, which was taken as the model for the Cathedral of Saint Sofia in Kiev. I had the impression of finding myself at the origins of Christendom. I am infinitely grateful to the Lord for giving me such a gift of communion with all those who share the faith.

Stefan (Germany) – From "Ancient Rome" to "New Rome"

What an adventure, to go from the European meeting in the "Ancient Rome" to the "New Rome" - Constantinople, now Istanbul, in a country, in a city, where it is anything but self-evident to be a Christian. Maybe just because of this, it was a strong sign for the local Christian communities that some of the brothers and about hundred young adults from 25 different countries and church traditions came to pray together, to know each other and celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord.

Nowadays the Christian church in Turkey is small, and the split in various traditions of the west and east do not make it easier to live a live according to the Gospel. At the same time there are the strengths of this local Church: In a megalopolis like Istanbul, the church can be like a family where everyone knows each other. Through their small size they can support each other. Some, especially from the younger generation, strive committed towards a unity of the Armenian Orthodox and Catholics, the Greek, Syrian, Latin and Protestant Christians. In Istanbul, the diversity of Christ’s body is present.

Above all, the hospitality of the communities and families who have welcomed us and other pilgrims was overwhelming during the meeting. A very serious character of the meeting was given by the reports of refugees, migrants and ethnic minorities and those who take care of them in the most difficult situations.

Tatyana (Russia) – Learning More about my own Church

I came back to Russia with such a interest in… orthodox services, traditions, iconography, music, the life of the Church Fathers and other holy women and men. All of the people who created it were inspired by the Spirit. There are no doubts … now. And there were so many of these doubts when for example Saint John Chrysostom was acting and preaching in his time, exactly in this part of the world, and then persecuted… We have to go on, to continue, to bring the light that so many people bore witness to.

I continued discovering the day after coming back, the 7th of January, Christmas Day in Russia. Me and my parents were watching the vespers with Patriarch Cyril in church of Christ the Saviour on TV. I thought it was a good opportunity for my parents to find out a bit more about the church, because they almost never attend. But suddenly I found myself discovering so much I didn’t know before, even though I go to my parish every Saturday evening and Sunday morning. All of this thanks to the commentator who translated the songs, explained the actions or vestments of the priests, and read the Gospel in Russian after it was read in Old-Church-Slavonic… All of this filled me with a joy and a love of my church. The Holy Spirit finds a way to come to us as He unexpectedly did here, acting in His best way though TV.

Gijs (Pays-Bas) – Ecumenism in Action

In a way, you would think that because there are so few Christians in Istanbul, they would really need each other. And yet, even there, it was sad how difficult it can still be to be together. Brother Alois told us that we should do together as much as we can: to pray, to talk about our faith, to help others in need.

During the meeting, I really felt that the meeting showed that ecumenism is still a struggle, but that all of us are willing... it is just very hard to move forward, and we should not expect miracles by tomorrow. Fr. Roger wrote in "Vivre l’inespéré", we should "participate in two movements: in one hand, renew from the inside, without tiring, all that can be in the people of God; and on the other hand, take the risk of staying at the forefront".

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