IT WAS AFTER NIGHTFALL WHEN THE Venizelos finally left the Bulgarian port of Varna and set course for the Bosporus. In a few hours the 38,000-ton passenger ship would reach the famous straits, completing her weeklong circumnavigation of the Black Sea.
Out onto the ship's deck came a procession of bearded men in dark robes and tall smokestack-shaped hats, followed by a crowd of passengers. Solemnly they gathered at the rail overlooking the dark, brooding surface of the dying sea. These were the leaders of the Orthodox Christian world, the religious successors of the Byzantine Empire that once encompassed all the shores of the Black Sea. Standing side by side were the Patriarchs of Romania, Bulgaria, and Georgia, surrounded by their retainers. In their midst stood the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, head of the "mother church" in Constantinople, the former Byzantine capital, known to the rest of us as Istanbul.
With great ceremony, Bartholomew stood at the rail and blessed the dying sea below. The Black Sea had gained an unexpected ally.
This was no ordinary voyage. Gathered aboard the Venizelos were four hundred scientists, environmentalists, and religious leaders from around the world. They were here on the unusual joint invitation of Patriarch Bartholomew (the titular spiritual leader of the East) and the Commissioner of the European Union, Jacques Santer (the titular secular leader of the West). The goal of the shipboard