His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, spiritual leader to the worlds 300 million Orthodox Christians, made his first official visit to Iceland from October 12-15, 2017 as the official guest and keynote speaker of the 2017 Arctic Circle Assembly. Announcements regarding this visit were regularly publicized by the Holy Metropolis of Sweden and All Scandinavia to the spiritual flock of the Church in Scandinavia and on social media.
The Holy Metropolis of Sweden repeatedly expressed its grateful thanks to His Excellency Mr. Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, Chairman of the Arctic Circle, an organization designed to strengthen the international focus on the future of the Arctic, for his kind invitation to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and to all the ecclesiastical and civic leaders of Iceland who contributed to the organization of this historic visit.
Patriarch Bartholomew arrived at Reykjavik Airport on Thursday afternoon, October 12, 2017, accompanied by Messrs. Christos Anastasiades and Petros Bazgarlo. He was greeted by His Eminence Metropolitan Cleopas of Sweden and All Scandinavia, Greece’s Ambassador to Norway H.E. Ms. Maria Diamanti, Greece’s Honorary Consul in Iceland the Hon. Mr. Rafn Alexander Sigurdsson, the Presiding Priest of the Metropolitan Church of the Annunciation of the Theotokos in Oslo V. Rev. Fr. Alexander Loukatos, the Rev. Archdeacon Dr. John Chryssavgis, the Parish Priest of the St. Nicholas Russian parish in Reykjavik the Rev. Presbyter Fr. Timur Zolotusky, the head of the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of Iceland Ms. Agnes M. Siguordardottir, the Secretary of the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of Iceland Rev. Þorvaldur Vídisson, the Chief of protocol for the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of Iceland H.E. Ambassador Grunnar Palsson, the General Secretary of the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of Iceland Rev. Ηalldor Reynisson, representatives of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Iceland David Bartimej Tencer Revs. Jakob Rolland and Peter Vosick
First Day of the Patriarchal Visit
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew thanked the officials on hand to welcome him at the airport and subsequently visited historic downtown Reykjavik accompanied by the members of the patriarchal entourage. Later that evening, he attended a reception held in his honor by the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese, where he was received by Agnes M. Siguordardottir, who heads the aforementioned church.
During his greeting, Patriarch Bartholomew noted how touched he was on the occasion of his first visit to Iceland as Ecumenical Patriarch. He also thanked the organizers of the Arctic Circle Assembly and the representatives of the National Church of Iceland for their invitation and hospitality, while emphasizing the strong concern of the Orthodox Church over the pollution and destruction of the environment, climate change, the need for Christian unity. He also pointed out that these issues were also discussed at the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, which was held in Crete last summer.
Second Day of the Patriarchal Visit
On Friday, October 13, 2017, the opening session of the annual Arctic Circle Assembly was held at the Harpa Convention Center in Reykjavik. This event was attended by 2,000 people from 80 countries worldwide, including representatives from the arts, sciences, political world, business world, and technology sector.
The Assembly was officially commenced by Mr. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, former president of Iceland for 20 years and current chairman of the Arctic Circle, who delivered a greeting and welcomed the guests, making special mention to the presence of the Ecumenical Patriarch and the other dignitaries and speakers in the audience.
Afterwards, addresses were delivered by the Prime Minister of Iceland His Excellency Mr. Bjarni Benediktsson and the President of Iceland His Excellency Mr. Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, who saluted the importance of this assembly and the publicity being received by Iceland due to the presence of so many dignitaries from all over the world.
Ecumencial Patriarch Bartholomew was in attendance for the addresses by French Ambassador for the Arctic and Antarctic Poles H.E. Ségolène Royal, China’s representatives for oceanic administration and the Arctic affairs Messrs. Lin Shanqing and Gao Feng, Russian Ambassador for Arctic Affairs H.E. Vladimir Barbin, Japanese Ambassador in charge of Arctic Affairs H.E. Keiji Ide, Korean Ambassador for Arctic Affairs H.E. Kim Young-jun, Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and Adnan Z. Amin, Director-General, International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
On the morning of the same day, Patriarch Bartholomew met with Prime Minister Benediktsson of Iceland at the Harpa Convention Center. During the meeting, His All-Holiness presented the initiatives undertaken personally by him and the Ecumenical Patriarchate for the protection of the environment, while also detailing his meetings with ecclesiastical and political leaders from all over the world and the organization of international conferences, whose sole purpose was to promote public awareness about environmental issues, the preservation of nature, and the safeguarding of creation.
Among other things, Patriarch Bartholomew spoke about the persecutions being suffered by Christians in the Middle East, while also expressing his unwavering support towards them and highlighting the fact that the ongoing persecution, including the destruction of their homes and churches, threatens to displace Christianity from the wider region.
Prime Minister Benediktsson congratulated Patriarch Bartholomew for his sensitivity to issues regarding the environment and spoke about emerging technologies, noting that technological progress may contribute greatly to resolving environmental issues facing the world. At the end of their meeting, which lasted 20 minutes, both men exchanged symbolic gifts.
His All-Holiness was accompanied at this meeting by Metropolitan Cleopas and Rev. Dr. Chryssavgis. Immediately afterwards, Patriarch Bartholomew attended a luncheon hosted by the prime minister of Iceland in honor of the Arctic Assembly participants.
That same afternoon, in keeping with the invitation issued by former President of Iceland and current Arctic Circle Chairman Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew delivered the keynote address at the 2017 Assembly, with representatives of governments from many nations, organizations, universities, and environmental institutions all over the world in attendance.
His All-Holiness spoke about the significance and influence of religion in sensitizing public opinion regarding the environmental crisis taking place in the current era, noting the importance for spiritual leaders, scientists, and politician to maintain dialogue and remain focused on the issue of climate change.
“If we want to change our position in terms of what we see, we must change our position in terms of how we see,” he stated, referring to the issue of climate change.
“We need to change our outlook regarding how we understand and behave towards the world that surrounds us, how we use our knowledge and skills to make it inhabitable and support it in all manners.”
Immediately after his address, Patriarch Bartholomew attended the discussion that followed, entitled “ROADMAP: DEMOCRATIZING CLIMATE ACTION,” featuring Laurene Powell Jobs, Founder & President, Emerson Collective, Peter Seligmann, Chairman of the Board, Conservation International, Christoph Wolff, Managing Director, European Climate Foundation, and H.E. Prime Minister Henry Puna of the Cook Islands.
On the sidelines of the Assembly, Patriarch Bartholomew held talks with important figures from the international community in a venue made available by the Assembly organizers.
That same afternoon, the Ecumenical Patriarch was given a tour of the National Museum of Iceland, which includes religious and cultural artifacts dating as far back as the 10th century AD.
That evening, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Iceland Msgr. David David Bartimej Tencer hosted a dinner in honor of Patriarch Bartholomew at his diocese. Also attending on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church were clergymen Patrik Breen, Jakob Rolland and Peter Vosicky, while His All-Holiness was accompanied by Metropolitan Cleopas of Sweden, the V. Rev. Fr. Alexander Loukatos, parish priest of the Metropolitan Church of the Annunciation in Oslo, the Rev. Archdeacon Dr. John Chryssavgis, the Hon. Rafn Alexander Sigurdsson, Greece’s Honorary Consul in Iceland, Christos Anastasiades and Petros Bazgarlo. At the conclusion of the gathering, symbolic gifts were exchanged.
Third Day of the Patriarchal Visit to Iceland
On Saturday morning, October 14, 2017, His All-Holiness visited the Luthern Church’s historic spiritual/cultural center of Skálholt, which served as one of its two initial sees in Iceland from 1056 to 1785.
Patriarch Bartholomew and his entourage were welcomed by the Lutheran Bishop of Skálholt Kristján Valur Ingólfsson, who provided them with a tour of the historic church and its catacombs, which house the sarcophagus and tombs of bishops dating back to Medieval times.
Ms. Margrét Bóasdóttir performed traditional Icelandic ecclesiastical hymns and the former bishop of Iceland Karl Sigurbjörnsson offered a brief historical summary of the ten centuries of spiritual service offered in Skálholt.
The female choir of Skálholt performed traditional Icelandic songs and hymns, while a luncheon was subsequently offered in honor of the Ecumenical Patriarch and his entourage, with the head of the Lutheran Evangelical Church in Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir and her associates in attendance, along with the Roman Catholic Bishop Msgr. David Bartimej Tencer.
Following the luncheon, in a symbolic gesture of respect for the environment, the aforementioned planted three saplings in the yard of the historic venue.
On the way back to Reykjavik, Patriarch Bartholomew and his entourage were given a tour of the Iceland’s former Parliament in Thingvalla, where the King of Denmark signed the recognition of Iceland’s independence in 1907, and had an opportunity to admire the beauty of Iceland’s countryside.
That afternoon, His All-Holiness delivered a greeting at the seminar organized by the Sigurbjörn Einarsson Icelandic Institute of Religion and Reconciliation at the Safnahús Cultural Center in Reykjavik. In his message, Patriarch Bartholomew spoke regarding the significance and necessity of dialogue between faiths, cultures, and nations.
Immediately afterwards, Patriarch Bartholomew visited the site where the new Church of St. Nicholas will be built by the Patriarchate of Moscow, following an invitation by the parish priest, the Rev. Presbyter Fr. Timur Zolotuskiy. His All-Holiness extended his wishes for a successful completion of the construction work and offered a silver censer and pectoral cross depicting the Holy and Great Council as a gift.
The third day of the Ecumenical Patriarch’s official visit to Iceland came to a conclusion with a dinner hosted in his honor by the Russian Ambassador to Iceland H.E. Anton Vasiliev. During the dinner, which was held at the Russian embassy, the Ambassador expressed his wishes for the construction of the new Russian Church in Reykjavik to begin soon, while His All-Holiness spoke about his relationship with the current Patriarch of Moscow and his predecessor, as well as the trips he has made to Russia as head of delegations and as the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians. The dinner concluded with a symbolic exchange of gifts.
Forth Day of the Patriarchal Visit to Iceland
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s paternal care for the Mother Church of Constantinople’s flock in Iceland manifested itself with His All-Holiness presiding over the Divine Liturgy at the Hallgrims Church (Ηallgrímskirkja) in Reykjavik on Sunday, October 15, 2017, which was made available courtesy of the Lutheran Church.
Some 500 persons were on hand to attend the Divine Liturgy, which was celebrated by the V. Rev. Fr. Alexander Loukatos and the Rev. Archdeacon Dr. John Chryssavgis. The hymns were chanted in Greek, English, and Norwegian by the Head Chanter of the Metropolitan Church of the Annunciation in Oslo, Mr. Panagiotis Pavlos.
In his address, Metropolitan Cleopas of Sweden welcomed the Ecumenical Patriarch to his historic first visit to Iceland and also expressed his gratitude to all the local ecclesiastical and civic authorities for their hospitality, cooperation, and support during the organization of the Patriarchal visit.
The Metropolitan gave special mention to the former President of Iceland Olafur Ragnar Grimsson for his initiative to invite Patriarch Bartholomew as the keynote speaker of the 2017 Arctic Circle Assembly.
Metropolitan Cleopas requested His All-Holiness’ blessings for the establishment of a parish in Iceland, which will bear the name of the Holy and Glorious Apostle Bartholomew, and offered the Patriarch a blessing cross with which to bless the four corners of the world.
In his address, the Ecumenical Patriarch congratulated Metropolitan Cleopas for the ministry he has developed during his three years of service and for organizing this first official Patriarchal visit. He also gave his blessing for the establishment of a parish in Iceland and offered the Metropolitan an icon of his patron saint, Bartholomew the Apostle, as well an engolpion (pectoral bishop’s medallion).
Attending the Divine Liturgy presided over by the Ecumenical Patriarch were Greek Ambassador to Norway H.E. Maria Diamanti, the head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir, Roman Catholic Archbishop of the Fiji Islands Dr. Peter Loy Chong, Bishop Darren McCartney of the Diocese of the Canadian Arctic, clergymen from various Christian denominations, and representatives of Iceland’s civil authorities.
At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, Patriarch Bartholomew offered a special blessing for the children in attendance, took photographs with them, and attended an event in his honor put together by the Evangelic Lutheran Church of Iceland’s Interdenominational Council.
Afterwards, as a token of gratitude, Metropolitan Cleopas hosted a luncheon for His All-Holiness, the patriarchal entourage, as well as the contributors and organizers of the events and celebrations associated with the visit.
The final stop during the Ecumenical Patriarch’s visit to Iceland was the presidential residence of Bessastadir, where His All-Holiness was received by the President of Iceland H.E. Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson. During the meeting between the two leaders, which was held in a spirit of friendship, the President hailed the initiatives of the “green Patriarch” for promoting international awareness regarding the protection of the environment, while the Patriarch spoke in brief about the conferences and symposia that the Orthodox Church’s honorary senior see of Constantinople has organized during his tenure. He also requested the President’s support for the realization of the Holy Metropolis of Sweden’s vision to establish a Greek Orthodox parish in Iceland.
On Sunday afternoon, His All-Holiness was accompanied to Reykjavik Airport by Metropolitan Cleopas, the V. Rev. Fr. Loukatos, the Rev. Presbyter Fr. Zolotuskiy, the Rev. Archdeacon Dr. Chryssavgis, the Hon. Grunnar Palsson, Head of Protocol for the Lutheran Church of Iceland, the leader of the Lutheran Church of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir, the Rev. Fr. Thorvaldur Vidisson, secretary to the Bishop of Iceland, Greece’s Honorary Consul in Iceland Rafn Alexander Sigurdsson and his wife Anna Juliana Sveinsdottir, and the President of the Annunciation of the Theotokos Hellenic Orthodox Community of Norway Mr. Panagiotis Pavlos.
Thoughts by Metropolitan Cleopas of Sweden Regarding the Patriarchal Visit to Iceland
It was with great emotion, unspeakable joy, and sacred reverence that we received His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, spiritual leader and caring father to the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians to Iceland. The Patriarch visit was of immense historical significance and this marks the first time that this northern land has been visited by an ecumenical patriarch.
This auspicious event stands as a decisive moment in the spiritual life of the local Church – a missionary eparchy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate – as well as for the wonderful people of Iceland.
Patriarch Bartholomew is a voice of leadership and inspiration, and has engaged the international community on the most important world issues of our era, including peace, dialogue, and the preservation of the environment, which is why he comprehends the ecumenical spirit of this age with a broad mindset and a sense of the history that is being made.
His All-Holiness characteristically notes that “having been nourished from my youth in an atmosphere where dialogue and an open and objective perspective on world affairs flourished – especially during the patriarchy of Athenagoras I – I learned from early on in life to breath the air of the ecumene, to recognize the sound of theological dialogue, and to embrace the people of ecclesiastical reconciliation… For us at the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the term ecumenical is more than just a name: it is a worldview and a way of life.”
The four-day visit conducted by the Leader of Orthodoxy’s senior see in Iceland operated decisively in the following directions: i) it strengthened the unity and cooperation between Orthodox Christian brethren in Iceland – especially with the Russians, who represent the largest number of Orthodox Christians in the nation, approaching 500, ii) it supported the ecumenical dialogue and interdenominational relations, iii) it promoted and publicized the immense interest and concern of the Venerable Head of Orthodoxy regarding the ecological crisis facing the world, based on the content of the Patriarch’s address to the 2017 Arctic Circle Assembly, and iv) it attested, yet again, to the credibility and respect commanded by the Ecumenical Patriarch internationally regarding all that was discussed at the meetings that he held with Iceland’s ecclesiastical and civic leaders, as well as with prominent figures from the international community.
The Patriarch’s address to the Arctic Circle Assembly was more than just a theoretical interjection, but rather, an expression of love and concern, as well as a call for spiritual awakening and prayer regarding the future of our planet and the victims of poverty, discrimination, and all forms of social injustice.
In his 26 years as occupant of the see of St. Andrew the Apostle, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has developed a theological proposal and position according to which the Church is obliged to take a stand vis-a-vis historical events and against serious challenges that have appeared during this era, while at the same time remaining at the side of our fellow men and women who suffer and are impoverished, by denouncing all forms of exploitation.
In his official meetings with the ecclesiastical and lay leaders of Iceland, Patriarch Bartholomew affirmed the Mother Church’s pastoral care for its flock in Iceland and shared with them its perspective on the ecumene, which includes the systematic effort towards Christian unity and a common witness on behalf of justice, peace, the securing of human rights, and respect for creation.
It is quite touching that in a country such as Iceland – a northern eparchy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate – where there was not even a censor that belonged to the Church, the Holy Metropolis of Sweden managed to welcome the Ecumenical Patriarch and take up the courage – with his blessings – to proceed with the establishment of a parish, which will bear the name of his patron saint, the Holy and Glorious Apostle Bartholomew.
I express my deep gratitude to His All-Holiness yet again for this great honor, the gifts of his paternal love and care, and his continued support towards me and this eparchy that I shepherd, as well as towards all the clergy and laity under my jurisdiction, who contributed in manifold ways towards the organization of this historic first Patriarchal Visit.