The American Bible Society is excited about its growing relationship with the Greek Orthodox Church, voicing hope for future projects and opportunities to work with the Russian Orthodox Church – the largest ecclesiastically independent Eastern Orthodox Church in the world.
"The Russian Orthodox Church is rather large," noted the Rev. Dr. Richard Jeske, ABS director for Ecumenical Relations, to The Christian Post. The Russian Orthodox Church has a membership estimated at more than 85 million, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.
"If we work with the Greek Orthodox well it will be helpful in building a relationship with them [the Russian Orthodox Church]," he said, reflecting on the significance of a recent visit by ABS to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul, Turkey.
The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is recognized by other Orthodox churches as primus inter pares – "first among equals" – and serves as the spiritual leader and representative worldwide of some 300 million Orthodox Christians. Although he does not have jurisdiction over other churches, such as the Russian Orthodox Church, he is respected as a key leader.
"This visit was an opportunity for His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to see first-hand the manifold fruits that this partnership has borne," said His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas, a Hierarch of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America whose jurisdiction is the Metropolis of Detroit.
"We look forward to fostering this collaborative partnership with the American Bible Society," he added.
Nicholas, who is a member of the American Bible Society Board of Trustees, had encouraged and arranged the meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
"It was both a blessing and an honor to be able to meet Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and bring greetings from the American Bible Society and the United Bible Societies (UBS) fellowship," said ABS president the Rev. Dr. Paul Irwin.
"The American Bible Society will continue working with both The Greek Orthodox Church and The Greek Bible Society to share God's Word around the world," he added.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate is the historic center of the Orthodox Christian Church. Its history includes the first Ecumenical Council in Nicaea in 325 A.D. where the Nicene Creed was composed and confessed, the canon of the New Testament was approved and the constitutional framework of the Undivided Christian Church was established.
For years ABS has worked with the historic Greek Orthodox Church in the United States and in Greece, as well as the Greek Bible Society.
Last summer, ABS released the English version of The Children's Bible Reader, which was the result of collaboration between ABS, the Greek Bible Society, and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
ABS's Jeske highlighted that the Children's Bible is "tremendously popular" and already on its second print within a year on the market.
"It was fulfilling to see that the Ecumenical Patriarch was aware of the works that have been going on," reflected Thomas Durakis, ABS director of publishing services and someone instrumental in the publication of the Children's Bible, to The Christian Post.
Durakis, who is himself Greek Orthodox and part of the delegation to Istanbul, noted that the His Holiness endorsed the English version Children's Bible.
He said there was an upcoming collaboration with the Greek Orthodox in print and digital products, but could not provide details because the products have not yet been introduced to the public.
Members of the ABS delegation included: Fr. William J. Bartz, a Captain in the United States Navy and Senior Orthodox Military Chaplain in the armed services; Thomas Durakis, director of publishing services; and the Rev. Dr. Richard Jeske, director for Ecumenical Relations.
The American Bible Society was founded in 1816 with the purpose of making the Bible available to every person in a language and format which each can understand and afford. ABS's headquarters is in New York City and the ministry focuses on translation, publication and distribution of Bibles through working in partnership with all Christian churches and Christian communities.