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speech of his all holiness ecumenical patriarch bartholomew during his visit to sights and sounds (march 13, 2004)

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Your Eminence, Archbishop Demetrios of America,
Your Eminence, Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey,
Most Honorable Archons,
Devout Clergy,
Beloved children in the Lord,
Young men and women,

We come from our Seat in the Phanar of Constantinople directly to this beautiful event, and we are deeply touched, for this event has been prepared for the young men and women of the Orthodox Church of America, and especially for the young people of the Holy Metropolis of New Jersey. We bring to all of you the wholehearted greeting, warm love, and the living and vibrant blessing of the Holy Mother Church of Christ. We address you personally and express our heartfelt greeting and warm thanksgiving for your cordial and honorary reception, as well as for your love and respect for the Mother Church.

We come here in response to the kind invitation extended to us by His Eminence and very beloved Metropolitan of New Jersey, in order to participate in the festive celebration of the program Sights and Sounds, which offers to young people the opportunity to discover and to cultivate their artistic talents in various artistic areas. Assuredly, this program is very important, and we wholeheartedly congratulate the people who initiated it, the ones who have supported it, as well as those who are now supporting it.

This program gives us the opportunity to turn our attention towards the human being and to ponder concerning all the potentiality he has received from God. The potential of the human being is truly tremendous. The Holy Scriptures present this very vividly by saying that God created the human being in His image and likeness. When we talk about the image of God, though, we do not refer to any form or shape that God does not have in one way or another, but to a being that is endowed with many capabilities, similar to those belonging to God. Man has self-consciousness, mind, and will. Human beings are capable of loving, have the ability to learn, the ability to create, and the ability to give birth to other people. Man can speak and express his thoughts and feelings; he has logic, with which he judges everything within the boundaries of his ability. He has the ability to communicate with others through words and speech; he has a sense of harmony and beauty; he can know the good and the bad; he has life. Through all these gifts that he has, which he can cultivate and develop, he is called to emulate God and to become God, by grace, through Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, most people do not realize the grandeur of human existence. They do not realize what the Psalmist heralds, namely, that “God crowned man with glory and honor.” As a result, they act, either consciously or unconsciously, in a way that rather resembles irrational animals.

The Orthodox Church projects the wholesome being to young men and women as a model to emulate. This being understands the love relationship which connects him with his God and must connect him with all people; he understands the meaning and purpose of his life as a course leading to creation, love, beauty, eternity, communication with others, resemblance to God, and, generally, as a course toward the joy of eternal existence and life.

The Christian being is creative and happy when he holds dear all of these things. The program Sights and Sounds certainly rests on this exact faith and spiritual experience; it aspires to demonstrate and develop all the good, particularly the artistic gifts and capabilities of young men and women, with which God endowed them. They work with matter and form it into shapes, emulating the Creator, Who, using a formless initial matter which He had created out of nothing, created an infinite number of shapes, of which we only know part.

Oceans and mountains, plains and lakes, forests and grass, stars and suns, galaxies and nebulae, animals and plants, particles of infinitesimal smallness, and ranges of stars of incomprehensible size: He created all this with unsurpassed harmony, with dazzling beauty, with wisest purpose for each part, having in mind balance and the serving of a higher and ultimate purpose.

The sensitive young person enriched by God with understanding and visionary ability captures elements of the world in which he lives, which are of aesthetic appreciation, and he expresses his sentiment through a means he chooses, out of the many that exist. Some people might paint, emphasizing the harmony of colors or the proportion of shapes. Some might compose or perform musical compositions, imitating the harmonious concert performed by the entire universe of sounds, supersonics, and of the innumerable, ceaseless, harmonious, and soundless hymns of the soulless nature—the heavenly angelic forces and the natural sounds of the universe. Some might mould or form sculptures, trying to convey the unique sense with which he perceives the shapes and forms of people and adjacent objects. Some might envision choreographies inspired by the eternal dancing, revolving, spiraling, or any simple or complex motion of heavenly bodies and of their entwined mass, but also of the minute building particles of matter or of electromagnetic or other kinds of waves, which constantly traverse through the universe and through human beings. Some other persons, in a more humble manner, perform through their voice or musical instruments musical compositions written by others, demonstrating to us that we can also enjoy the harmony of our existence, although created by others, as they enjoys their performance. All of us together and each of us separately comprise the melodious lyre of the spirit; we each have the same sound, as a special instrument, which, when played properly by each of us, can emit most harmonious and most delightful sounds, colors, and iridescently bright, splendid, uplifting, and elevating words, full of light, life, joy, and exultation. If we play our lyre properly, we can exceed our sadness and approach the peaceful and sublime with God.

This reminds us of the words of the Lord “This way your light will shine in front of the people.” This light, of course, is reflective of the divine light, which illumines the clear hearts that can capture and transmit it.

Beloved children in the Lord, young men and women,

It is not possible to create perfect and high art if this art is not inspired by the perfection of the works of the most perfect Creator. Many people today are considered artists, but they present the ugly side of fallen man and the ensuing suffering of a disturbed nature. They do not point to any solution and do not offer any course of escape, but, rather, depict the experience of hopeless decay. The world they show to us is deprived of all of its adorning elements, an adornment, of course, which by no way is needed by a God Who is self-sufficient and Who needs no embellishments, a God, Who, being invisible by people, “sees them through their works.”
You have shown through your art the beauty of the world of God, of the human being belonging to God, and of God Himself, as much as this is possible. You have discovered the beauty in everything, in the humble flower of the field, in the unexplored gaze of a small child, in the wave of the sea, in the stars of the sky, in the microcosm, and in the harmony of speech. Mostly though, you have discovered the beauty in truth, in love, in communicating with others, and, most importantly, in the gladsome gaze of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the gaze of the Saint who resembles God, who invites all those who labor and carry heavy burdens in order to offer to them rest and the peace that surpasses all minds.

Orthodox Christian art does not present one world, one man, one creation, or one creator broken in many pieces, hostile, confused and hopeless. It presents the dome of Saint Sophia, as God’s embrace protecting humanity. It presents the joyous face of Christ showing infinite love towards the man who is astray, a face that invites him to return to the lost paradise of communication with God. It presents the elements of nature as offering to their human king, with delightful submission, everything that they were created to offer: food, aroma, color, taste, warmth, companionship, love, recognition, in one word, happiness.

We hope that the present social conditions of our day, which mostly produce disharmony, confusion, conflicts, and turmoil, will not prove to be an insurmountable obstacle for you, so that you will be able to see the beauty of love and creation of God. On the contrary, we hope that the present social conditions of our day will give you the impetus to seek completion, unity, love, and harmony within the new creation, the newborn humanity, and the Orthodox Church, who is the affectionate mother of us all.

We congratulate you, for you are already in the safe haven of the Orthodox Church, and you begin your artistic career under the guidance of devout shepherds worthy of every praise, and of faithful members deserving of every thanksgiving, especially, Professor Stamatiou and the Most Honorable Mrs. Anita Kartalopoulou, whom we wholeheartedly congratulate. We grant upon you our paternal love and patriarchal blessing, and we pray that, day after day, you will approach the infinite beauty of the good creation of God, so that you will convey to all the message of joy, the Gospel of Christ, the hopeful message of the restoration of the relationship between man and God, and the end of feeling orphaned; you will share with all the news of your new adoption by our affectionate heavenly Father through Jesus Christ. By doing this you will experience a joy that is complete and inalienable.

May the grace of God the Father, His abundant mercy, the illumination of the Holy Spirit, and the love of Christ be with all of you. Amen.