"A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths are a statistic"
- Uncle Joe
Nothing happened, of course, no supernatural phenomenon, no striking lightening, no mysterious words coming from no where… Nothing changed, quiet chamber is still quiet after Antonius completed his question, and his mind is still filled with doubts, about himself, about the world, and about the God.
The liturgy ceremony outside the chamber is now slowly coming to an end as the believers slowly begin to venture out of the nave following the rings of bells.
"Come here, child…." The Ecumenical Patriarch sighed and grabbed Antonius by his arm pulling him out of the chamber. "Come upstairs, and I shall answer your questions on behalf of Lord…"
Antonius followed, feeling that he has been drained of all energy after all those questions, and gets pulled by the Ecumenical Patriarch like he is a fiddle.
The Ecumenical Patriarch led Antonius into his private office, led him into seat, then gave him a cup of water which the latter gulped down replenishing his thirst.
"Any better?" The Ecumenical Patriarch asked Antonius as he sat down right beside Antonius on the same couch.
"Yes." Antonius shivered from the cold sweat just now and the freezing temperature in the surrounding waking him up. "Much better."
"Tell me, young man, when you think of the God, the maker, what do you think of? Is God like a supreme being that governs over all things, keeping a close eye on you and me keeping a close eye on you and me, differentiating the good and the bad and giving punishment to those who deserve it and granting wishes to those who remains faithful?"
"With hundreds of millions of followers all praying together and during all times even at the night?" The Ecumenical Patriarch exclaimed. "No, you don't do that, although the God does not feel tired or get worn out, but I still believe personally that by achieving so much he deserves to get some rest, that is not how you treat your benefactor who has done so much for you by bombarding him with wishes and enquiries."
"Lets start from a philosophy perspective of view, that is my main field of study." The Ecumenical Patriarch took out a piece of goat skin rug from the shelf and refilled Antonius' cup of water.
"What is that?" Antonius asked out of curiosity peeking at the paper.
"Oh, you mean this? Well, you know, you are not the first person who have came asking this kind of question, thus the previous Ecumenical Patriarch has left me some… advice, on what to do." The old Ecumenical Patriarch replied smiling.
"So, my dear child Antonius. Listen to me, for I shall clear your doubts." The Ecumenical Patriarch said with a stern tone.
"Aye, I shall listen with all my minds to your worlds of wisdom your all holiness."
"Do you know, that in our world, one thing or event that seems to cause a negative impact to you, might be an evangelion to others? One deed that can ultimately benefit you, can end up diseastrous to others who depend on it? …. Antonius, tell me, have you ever experienced an epidemic before? Do you know how is it like to see thousands of people dying of starvation?"
Antonius thought for a while. "Nope, I have only heard of them."
"When a plague comes…. No one, absolutely no one, is secured from the impact and devastation it can cause." The Ecumenical Patriarch shivers as he recalls. "The unseen killer, coming to people with its slow rattling gasps, the infected could do nothing, totally nothing, with a steady progress, a ghastly count down timer towards their eventual demise. The sentiment of death stalks the human world, with no abode he is not allowed to enter, neither the sacred church, nor the peaceful families, not even the majestic palaces of kings of the Frankish and Armenians. It knows no difference, no matter who you are, where you are from, what occupation you does, you will become simply a number adding on to the statistics, people will not even know your name. That is what we call an epidemic, and I once had the chance to witness one with my own eyes in here, Constantinople, thirty years ago, when there was a outbreak of pandemic during that three month siege which s even longer than this time, and that is the main motive that pushed me into the studies of medication."
Antonius listened quietly with his heads hanging low.
"So if you are an innocent civilian experiencing all of those nasty things, fires of war, landings of projectiles, slashing of blades on the outside, people dying of diseases, starvation, on the inside, you will slowly have the exact question… Why doesn't god come and help us? Then slowly, bit by bit, that sense of questioning will consume your mind, making you soulless, faithless, becoming a walking dead."
"I could see from your actions today, and you showed no respect towards the church and the God."
"However, the God is no ordinary person like you and me, the God is the maker, creator, and sustainer of the world and universe. The God made and maintains the world over a set of laws… Or rules, the God sees all of us equal, there is no difference between a king and a commoner, a tree and a grass, we are all the same in God's eyes.
"That does not answer my question, your all holiness." Antonius retorted looking at the nest of ants moving across the ground and stepped on it.
The Ecumenical Patriarch ignored what Antonius is doing. "The God does not simply just differentiate the good and bad, justice and evil, the God stand on the higher place making the God seeing things far away on a broader scale which we, normal people, will not be able to see. How would you know that whether a tragic death may or may not trigger an event that increase the progress of our civilisation?"
Antonius sneered. "How can a tragedy trigger a jump in the progress of civilisation?"
"You need more knowledge, young man." The Ecumenical Patriarch laughed and poured himself another cup of some unknown herbal drink. "Without the death of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, will tyranny be ended, and the Roman Republic be created? Without the assassination of Julius Caesar, will the Republic progress on to form the Imperium Romanus we are residing on now? Talking about something on a bigger scale, without the devastating impact of the bubonic plague and the death of so many, will there be the jump in worker welfare due to the sudden shortage of workers for those land lords, new forms of art and science flourished, replacing those dull theological paintings in the past. Jumping to religious matters, without the Crucifixion and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, will the God accept us, willingly pardon us of all the injustice, sins, evil, violence, returning with only love and care?"
Antonius tried hard to process all those information. "So, you are trying to say…"
"What I am trying to say is…" The Ecumenical Patriarch slammed the cup on the table. "The God gave the world a set of systems determining how the sun, moon and stars work, what are the seven virtues and the seven cardinal sins, how lives grow and thrive, how things are supposed to be and how things are not supposed to be. The God do not care whether you are a man or a woman, whether you are a heretic or Orthodox… Even whether you are a Christian or infidel, the God don't care about all those internal strife and fuss between his creations, all those deaths are just a part of the cycle that is supposed to happen in his divine plan."
"But what about all those praying? All those blessings? Holy water? Holy bread?" Antonius questioned continuously like a pecker. "What about all of whose wishes?"
The Ecumenical Patriarch rolled his eyes sneering, leaned forward and replied suppressing his voice. "You know what boy, I never believed in those things."
"There are tens of millions of us following the teachings of God in this world, and everyday at every hour, every minute, every second there will be thousands of people praying to God… Trust me, that is not how you treat the God who have gifted you so much, pestering around his ear constantly…"
Antonius could not control it and laughed, sweeping the profound atmosphere away.
The Ecumenical Patriarch laughed too.
"The God, has a will, which is his divine plan." The Ecumenical Patriarch continued slowly hugging his mug of warm herbal drink. "When the time comes, just trust his decision and follow his lead. If the God has already made a divine plan for all of us in the first plan, why bother wishing for it so hard? Is the God going to change the divine plan? Just because you prayed? Don't you find it very funny? I would rather suggest that you work harder towards your objective and eventually you will achieve it quicker."
Antonius sighed and nodded. "I see, thank you your all holiness."
The Ecumenical Patriarch stood up and placed his both hands on the shoulders of Antonius. "Now did I solve your puzzled mind?"
Antonius stood up and bowed towards the Ecumenical Patriarch. "Thank you your all holiness, I feel much better… Don't mind me ust that I don't feel like you are a clergy or a typical church person…"
The Ecumenical Patriarch gave Antonius a puzzled smile. "I never chose to be one…"
"With that, I shall take my leave…"
"Wait a minute!" The Ecumenical Patriarch stopped Antonius before he pushes the door. "I have some advice for you…"
Antonius stopped and looked back.
"You are a bright kid… In the future when you climbed to the position governing over a town, a city, or even a state, remember to be open and compassionate, do not be stubborn and resistant to changes, treat everyone equal as the same even if they are from a different state, speaks a different language, lives a different culture… Treat everyone equally and fair…."
"…. Because its God's will." The Ecumenical Patriarch finished his sentence word by word articulating it clearly through his mouth.
"I wont… Necesse est aliqui Christianitati pacem reddat."
The Ecumenical Patriarch nodded and shouted at . "Now go, go to the Mosaic Icon of Christ, repeat what you just said in front of him, make sure the God can hear your swear and more importantly, make sure you fullfil it, even after I die!"
Antonius headed out of the door without turning back again.
The Ecumenical Patriarch heaved a sigh of relief, leaned back on the couch, tossed his Koukoulion and crosier to the side, recalled his words with Antonius just now as a grin showed up on his face, wandering how did he come up with all those inspirational words resurrecting the lost souls of a fellow worshiper.
Just as the Ecumenical Patriarch is still there grinding about the art of speech, another thing came up in his mind as he bolted up from the couch onto the shelf, where there is a hidden letter stacked under a whole set of books, the letter it self, seems normal from the outside, the only thing special is that it is stamped with an opened purple seal.
Upon seeing the letter, the grin from the Ecumenical Patriarch's letter is gone far away.
Antonius ventured down the hall way, down the stairs, and stopped his foot steps before a mosaic Icon of Jesus Christ, archangel Michael, Saint Basil, John and Gregory, with a bunch of other worshippers following them behind.
Antonius stopped his sight at the mosaic, the Icon, stood there for a millennium, is still well maintained despite all the times of troubles, showing a sense of solemnity with their emotionless faces looking at afar.
"I shall devote my life to the protection all people who deserves to be protected." Remembering what he has seen and heard back in Avlonya, Antonius pledged whispering under his breathe looking at the Icon. "But I shall not fight in your name, there will be no more Deus Vult, and I will make no crusade nor inquisition on the innocent like those Franks."
He then moved to another Mosaic depicting Transjordan and Jerusalem.
"And if this is the Kingdom of Heaven that the God wants."
"Let God do it himself."
Then, Antonius left the church against the light of Dusk glittering through the stained glass windows, giving the mosaic Icons on the walls a peculiar shine that almost made the Icons come to life in other's eyes.