Remarks and Toast of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the Dinner in his Honor Hosted by Vice President Joseph R. Biden at the Residence of the Vice President, Number One Observatory Circle, Direct Archdiocesan District, Washington, November 4, 2009
Mr. Vice President and Dr. Biden, Your Eminence Archbishop Demetrios and Brother Hierarchs, Honored guests and friends, Beloved spiritual children in the Lord,
We return to the Naval Observatory and to this historic residence after twelve years, to be among friends of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and yet, more than friends.
Mr. Vice President, you are a person who has sought justice and fought for liberty throughout a lifetime of public service. Through tragedy and triumph, you have persevered with a constant awareness of those most in need, of those who are powerless, and those who live without hope. Your life story is truly an American story, filled with peaks of exemplary achievement, and valleys of loss and despair. But through them all, as you yourself have so movingly written, you have risen to every challenge and every occasion.
Throughout your life, you have heard a command that Jesus Himself issued throughout his earthly ministry. “EGEIRAI!” Arise! Or as you have put it, “Get up!” Such a simple phrase. A single word in the original Greek, “EGEIRAI!” but how profound an idea, how great a call!
With such a word, Jesus called the man with the withered hand to take his place in the life of the community and receive healing (St. Mark 3:3). With such a call, Jesus challenged the paralytic by the pool of Bethesda to rise up and walk, filling the absence of the one who said “I have no one” (St. John 5:7,8). With such a command, Jesus called even the dead to life (St. Mark 5:41).
Yes, Mr. Vice President, you have risen to every occasion with honor and integrity, and have given your life to the service of your fellow citizens. You have kept your promise to America. Supported by the love of your beloved wife, Jill, your children, your mother Jean – whose nobility in name, Eugenia, you clearly emulate – your family, friends and colleagues, you have nobly ascended in a remarkable career of public service. For this and more, Mr. Vice President, we convey to you, to Dr. Biden and to your family, our Patriarchal blessings and benediction; that the Lord of all may always keep you in His loving care, and grant you His compassion and infinite mercy. You have great burdens to bear, not only for this wonderful American Nation, but for the whole world.
We live in critical times. Never before in the history of humanity have the decisions of so few had such a tremendous impact on so many. The current worldwide economic crisis has fast become a crisis of hope for the peoples of the world. The youth of the world are in doubt as to the security of their economic future, the stability and tranquility of the world’s many governments and nations, and the health and well-being of the planet that we all call “home.”
For those of us who serve ancient and venerable spiritual institutions like the Ecumenical Patriarchate, we are challenged daily to convey spiritual truth in a context of acceptance and understanding of every person, whether they are adherents of our faith or not. We have the awesome task of instilling hope for the future in the hearts of the people of the world. Our message is not confined to any grouping, identity or language. For in these challenging times, Mr. Vice President, while you seek solutions in the worlds of finance, diplomacy, and social welfare, we offer the lasting and existentially meaningful alternatives to the “opiates of the people”. We have the sacred duty and trust to offer compassion, mercy, sacrifice, generosity, and ultimately love.
Mr. Vice President, you and your colleagues in government and public service face the daily manifold challenges of bringing to bear the social and political life of this blessed country in ways that are healthful and prosperous for all your citizens. In attending to the needs of the common good – defense, security, provision and public welfare, there are complex and complicated difficulties that you encounter. And you are also called to build hope in the hearts of the people. Faith in the transcendent God is essential in forming that hope, for as the Divine Scripture says: “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
Thus we are all called to be servants of one another. We are called to offer the word of encouragement and exhortation of hope; especially those of us who have attained to positions of authority and power.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate, having the care for fostering the unity of the Church and the preaching of Gospel of peace, could content itself with this mission alone. But our calling is truly ecumenical! We are committed to extending the love of God to every human person and indeed to all creation. This is why we have led the movement in the Orthodox Christian world that emphasizes the protection of the natural environment. This is why we returned to New Orleans to convene our Eighth Religion, Science and Environment Symposium to address the particular needs and concerns of the Mississippi River, and to re-visit the people and our own flock who were so vastly affected by Hurricane Katrina.
We offer this service not because it is timely or even popular, but because our relationship to the natural world is directly correlated to our relationship with our fellow human beings who inhabit it. As we honor and respect the image of God in every human face, we must also honor the “creation of the world, by which the invisible things of [God] are clearly seen… even His eternal power and Godhead” (Romans 1:20).
Mr. Vice President, you have welcomed us tonight to your home, and we thank you for this singular honor and token of respect. We thank you on behalf of our Ecumenical Patriarchate, which sees in the United States of America a true friend of religious liberty and human rights. We thank you on behalf of all Orthodox Christians across this great land, because it is the responsibility of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to provide the leadership necessary to bring them together into canonical order. We thank you on behalf of the assembled dignitaries and friends who are enjoying your gracious hospitality.
As we lift our glass in your honor and in thanksgiving for this blessed Nation, we pray that God will ever bless you, President Obama, and all here present this evening with health, love, and peace, and hope; and that He will always look with favor and blessing on the United States of America. Amen.