Interview with His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew by Zivojin Rakocevic, Journalist of the Serbian Newspaper “Politika”
|Your All-Holiness, we thank you for your time and courtesy in providing the readers of “Politika” with answers to some very sensitive matters, which characterize the positions of Orthodoxy in the contemporary world, and specifically—as you know quite well—in answering a few very important questions concerning the Church of Ukraine. We admit that your explanation and arguments regarding this situation have not been satisfactorily presented to the Serbian audience. On the other hand, the opinion and position of the Russian Church is constantly being repeated in the Serbian mass media, and so, the readers are fully familiar with it. With this interview, we will seek to take advantage of the present opportunity in order to clarify your positions and recent actions. Therefore, we would like to begin with some general topics and afterward, move on to more specific questions.|
1st Question: How would you describe the position of Orthodoxy in the contemporary world? What is your role as Ecumenical Patriarch? The Serbian theologian Stojan Gosevic comes to mind, who in the past postulated the opinion that “if the Ecumenical Patriarchate did not exist, we would have to create it.” Would it be possible for Orthodoxy to exist without the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople?
1st Answer: First off, let me begin by thanking you for your effort and your thoughtfulness to visit the Ecumenical Patriarchate, thereby giving us the ability to communicate with the pious clergy and Christ-loving Serbian people through this interview.
The position of Orthodoxy in the contemporary world is not any different from that of previous years—starting from the upper room on the day of Pentecost. Today, we might have new information—i.e. social, technological, etc.—but our destination and the mission of the Church have not changed. The Church is the Ark of salvation and truth, as the Triune God revealed to the world. It is the place where the metamorphosis of man is completed and his union with God is accelerated. In other words, the Church is “the Kingdom of God” in the world. Everything that we see today, which may impress and be a cause for marvel and wonder—such as philanthropic, cultural, social, academic or developmental works—as important as they may appear, do not cease to be results of the basic purpose and destination of the Church. And naturally, they cannot in any way replace the first and foremost sacramental and soteriological character of our Orthodox Church.
Instead of formulating a response on the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s role in the world and in the Orthodox Church, I would prefer to encourage all of your good readers to refer to the Church’s history, the Sacred Canons, the teachings of our Fathers and to Holy Tradition; for, it is there that they will discover the role and responsibility of the Ecumenical and Apostolic Throne. We, as humble servants and continuers of Apostle Andrew, do not do anything more than that which has been entrusted to us by the Sacred Canons. This phrase by the well-known Serbian theologian Stojan Gosevic is confirmed by the acts of our Ecumenical Councils and the Tradition of our Church. The Ecumenical Patriarchate owes whatever it is and whatever it has to the Church. We are not a self-created entity but a presence that emerged through the grace of the Holy Spirit.
2nd Question: The world appears to be completely globalized. Does this globalization affect Orthodoxy—i.e. its essence and its connectedness? On the other hand, does the general variability of all values maybe push some Orthodox communities to be converted into ghettos?
2nd Answer: Globalization is a phenomenon that contemporary researchers primarily identify with modernization and development. Some theologians also identify it with secularization. Essentially, it is about the liberation of all contemporary social parameters, such as those of economy, communication, culture and commerce, which are unpredictably and unaccountably spread across borders. When all of these things happen in the land where they were created or are assimilated into it through local practice, then we speak of an identity of peoples. When all these things, though, are showcased as ideals and there is an attempt to impose them upon other peoples, then we speak of globalization.
Globalization inside the Church is transformed into ecumenicity in Christ. As we said, while globalization appears to be a tendency to group everything together, ecumenicity instead respects and honors the identity and unique characteristics of every people, as well as of every individual person both separately and specifically. This way, the Orthodox Church generally, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate particularly, do not seek to transform the variety of charismata of the people of the oikoumene into something homogenous and uniform, which will be governed by an authority, will be regulated by a mentality and will follow a specific cultural and ethnic line. Our Church functions on the basis of freedom, love and unity—in the variety of charismata and unique characteristics.
However, secularization that comes from globalization creates a problem in the Church, as well as in our personal life. The contemporary tendency of secularization is nothing more than a form of globalization that seeks to liquidize everything and conform it to specific ethnic or cultural ideologies. When this happens inside the place of the Church, it influences its connectedness but not its hypostasis. The acculturation of a nation to Orthodoxy is something different from the understanding that the Church constitutes an exclusive property of a nation or group of nations. The respect and preservation of our identity is both natural and necessary; but to limit Christ to specific ethnic contexts leads to His denial. The act of placing nation ahead of Church inevitably leads to the rejection of the Church’s hypostasis and ecumenical character.
Therefore, when we deviate from our boundaries, as have been defined by the Fathers of the Church, and attempt to impose our own will on everything—i.e. our own characteristics and identity—we unfortunately create a sort of “ghetto” as you say.
3rd Question: I would like to move on to more direct questions with the hope that my sincerity and forthrightness will not bother you. For more than a century, the topic of autocephaly tormented the unity of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Will the organization that calls itself “the new structure of the Church” be able to help avoid the expansion of this conflict? The groups of the former schismatics who were gathered around Filaret Denisenko and Makariy Maletic are not only receiving forgiveness, but are also being “rewarded” for their behavior. Your All-Holiness, have you considered how much this decision for the bestowal of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine will influence the position (the struggle and difficulties) of the Orthodox in that country, and that Orthodoxy can lose even more faithful than what the Ecumenical Patriarchate has anticipated?
3rd Answer: As you very correctly state, the question of autocephaly tormented Ukraine for more than a century. If we delve back even further, we will discern the existence of intense and organized attempts for independence by the Kyivan people, the clergy, the monastics and the local hierarchy from the ecclesiastical manipulation of the Patriarchate of Moscow. These attempts had already begun in 1325 when the headquarters of the Metropolis of Kyiv were transferred to Moscow, and are irrefutably recorded in history. Previously, even more attempts for autocephaly existed, which in the end were unsuccessful. We believe that God brings about everything at its proper moment. And so, the time of God came for Ukraine.
As far as if the autocephaly granted will help in the matter of unity, we are certain that this bestowal was a necessary requirement. Up until yesterday, the majority of the Ukrainian people found themselves outside of the Church. This was something that pained us and was the reason why we made many attempts to heal this problem in the past. For example, with our initiative, we had recommended a joint commission with hierarchs from the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Patriarchate of Moscow in order to find a solution. In the end, though, this committee never functioned properly, due to the Patriarchate of Moscow, and so, the problem continued to grow. Some people used the characterization of “schismatic,” and thus, put their conscience at ease by saying that everything was fine. However, when a brother of ours is characterized as a schismatic or a heretic, and even more so, when an entire nation of millions of people finds itself outside of the canonical Church due to schism, then we are urgently called—and without any delay—to spiritual and apostolic awakening, because “if one member suffers, all suffer together.” (1 Cor. 12:26)
For some, the existence of the schism in Ukraine was the greatest excuse to abandon these pious people, forgoing their responsibilities before God and history. For us, though, it was a motive and a calling from God to find salvific and unifying solutions in order to reintegrate these people into the sanctifying grace of the Church. Therefore, what we did was our apostolic obligation, what was also done by the Holy and God-bearing Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils, who continually set precedents, applying abundant ecclesiastical economy so that those outside of the Church could be brought into its embrace. It is with this spirit that we would like you to view the topic of unity. It is not about a “reward” for hierarchs Filaret and Makariy, as you mentioned in your question. We should not personify the matter of Ukraine, because at some point, people eventually leave this world.
If this entire matter specifically concerned only these two people, rest assured that the Church would have acted differently. Today, due to the love of Christ and the unity of the Church, it was their archpriesthood that was recognized, not their positions. We could have talked about reconciliation if the Ecumenical Patriarchate had received Filaret as Patriarch and Makariy as Metropolitan of Lviv. But this did not occur.
We will have to look at the matter of Ukraine, then, in its entirety—ecclesiologically and soteriologically. The healing of the problem is above all persons and national interests. Today, all the Orthodox people of Ukraine are brought into canonicity. The prerequisite of unity and participation in the common cup exists. Now, if some people do not accept that, they should ask themselves who exactly is breaking unity.
4th Question: As you know, a lot of contradictory information is circulating in the mass media concerning the Ukrainian issue. Some people view your actions as paternally inspired, while others, as an expression of ambition for power and as an intention that will lead to a “brute force violation of Canon Law.” Have you thought about the traumatized spiritual hypostasis of Eastern Europe following the communist era and if any influences of expansionist American ideas exist in your actions? Some years ago, in the presence of all the primates of the Orthodox Churches, you promised that you would not interfere at all in the problems of the Churches in Ukraine, because those problems are internal affairs of the Russian Church. As we learned from prominent theologians of Constantinople, primacy does not require a pyramidal structure in the Church, but rather, an agreement of the one with the many—according to the 34th Canon of the Holy Apostles, which mentions that the first cannot do anything without the agreement of the many (meaning the Synod).
4th Answer: We, too, follow, as much as our many commitments allow us to, the various news publications concerning the matter of Ukraine, and many times are sorrowed by the existing misinformation and distortion of the truth. Despite these things, we believe that truth is finally winning. With the passing of time, the Mother Church’s intentions as well as our own—which were clearly ecclesiological, canonical and soteriological—will become clear. Of course, it is not a matter of authoritative enforcement or an expression of ambition, or, even worse, a “brute force violation of Canon Law,” as you mentioned in your question. Ukraine gained its autocephaly. Nothing more was awarded to the Ecumenical Patriarchate or the Ecumenical Patriarch. No self-serving motive ever existed. We simply performed our ecclesiastical duty. The grace of God has deigned us worthy to serve the First Throne of Orthodoxy for almost 30 years. Henceforth, we do not await anything worldly. We call upon daily the grace and mercy of God to come into our lives and into our Church. Therefore, all that is said and written about ambitions and authoritative interventions does not apply. Naturally, there weren’t any pressures from specific countries to grant autocephaly to Ukraine. I am obliged to assure you, though, that many heads of state congratulated the Ecumenical Patriarchate for its decision—some with letters and others with public statements. But just because a country praises a decision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, does not mean that it was involved in it. Our Church operates freely and apart from external interventions and secular pressures.
As far as some of our older statements about not intervening in Ukraine, we had, indeed, made this decision based on the conditions and information at that time. But over the course of time, things changed. Aside from the fact that for 30 years Moscow was unable to do anything other than widen the gap between the Ukrainian people, we now have the new conditions that have manifested in Ukraine following the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Simultaneously, we have the Ukrainian parliament’s decisions in support of autocephaly and the Ukrainian government’s petition for ecclesiastical independence. Moreover, the most important thing was the petition of Metropolitan Filaret and that of Metropolitan Makariy for the review of their cases. This is something that has happened many times before in the Church and is canonically defined as a “petition of appeal.” Every Orthodox bishop who has been punished by his Church and considers it to be an injustice has the privilege, according to Canons 9 and 17 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, to appeal to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and ask for their case to be reviewed. Thereafter, when the Ecumenical Patriarchate synodically reviews the decisions that have been taken against those bishops, it does not “bluntly intrude” within the boundaries of other Churches, as some say, but instead carries out what the Sacred Canons dictate. If you look back through our ecclesiastical history, you will find countless examples of such cases where hierarchs and other clergy felt that they had been wronged by their local Synod and appealed to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The study and resolution of the Ukrainian matter also happened due to the existence of the petition (ekkliton) of appeal.
Of course, we have the 34th Canon of the Holy Apostles in mind, but this canon refers to the bishops of every nation, who should recognize the first among them as their head and not do anything without his opinion. Likewise, the “first” of every nation should not act without the opinion of his bishops. This canon attempts to secure unity and concord in the local Church. It is not a canon that concerns the relationships of local Churches, but rather the internal administration of a local Church. These relationships and the position of Constantinople in the Orthodox Church were determined by the Third Ecumenical Council and confirmed by the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon. Whoever is familiar with Canon Law and whoever studies the Sacred Canons is well aware of the position and responsibility of each Ecumenical Patriarch and Orthodox Church.
5th Question: Recently the Ecumenical Patriarchate published a document which proves that with the decision of 1686, the Church of Constantinople did not cede lands of the Metropolis of Kyiv to the Patriarchate of Moscow, but only gave permission for the ordination of the Metropolitan of Kyiv. This document was, indeed, unusual, because for the first time the impression was given that the Patriarchate of Constantinople was presenting some canonical argument. In the turbulence of Ukraine there was one question: Could the fact that no Tomos was given to the Patriarchate of Moscow in relation to Ukraine negate 300 or more years of paternal care by the Patriarchate of Moscow for Ukraine?
5th Answer: It is a fact that no such canonical text exists, i.e. some Patriarchal Tomos or Patriarchal and Synodal Act, which cedes the Metropolis of Kyiv to the Patriarchate of Moscow. The documents are clear and the letters of Patriarch Dionysios that were sent in 1686 are explicit. Not only do they not cede the Metropolis of Kyiv to the Metropolitan of Moscow, but they establish as a basic prerequisite the fact that every Patriarch of Kyiv will continue to commemorate the Patriarch of Constantinople as his canonical authority. Whoever has basic ecclesiological and canonical knowledge realizes that it would be impossible for the Metropolis of Kyiv to be ceded to the Patriarch of Moscow, and yet the Metropolitan of Kyiv would continue commemorating the Patriarch of Constantinople. Unfortunately, the Patriarchate of Moscow unilaterally abolished this agreement. It ceased commemorating the Patriarch of Constantinople because it recognized that this was the tangible sign of the Metropolis of Kyiv’s canonical jurisdictional reference to Constantinople. Also, it is common knowledge that before Patriarch Dionysios sent his letters, our Russian brothers had attempted to ordain Metropolitans of Kyiv, but always faced reactions from the clergy and laity of Little Russia, who in no way wanted to be subjected to Moscow. Indeed, Patriarch Nikon of Moscow (1652-1658) uncanonically usurped the title of Patriarch “of Great, Little and White Russia,” a fact that proved the expansionary spirit that had overcome them.
However, contrary to what you stated in your question, the documents of 1686 are not the first canonical documents that were presented by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. If you refer to the Tomos granting autocephaly to the sister Church of Poland in 1924, you will ascertain that special mention is made of the Metropolis of Kyiv. The Tomos of Poland specifically states that the loaning of the Metropolis of Kyiv and its attachment to the Church of Moscow did not take place according to canonical regulations. In other words, 238 years later, the Ecumenical Patriarchate did not cease to remind everyone about this uncanonical takeover of the Metropolis of Kyiv by the Patriarch of Moscow.
While this status certainly lasted for 300 or more years, it does not mean that it occurred canonically. There is no canon which tells us that sin and uncanonicity are healed and restored to canonicity with the passing of time. Indeed, from what we know, “that which does not exist from the beginning is also not confirmed with the passing of time.”
6th Question: There are some people who purport that the Ecumenical Patriarchate entered into a foreign ecclesiastical jurisdiction and granted autocephaly. Does the Church of Constantinople have the privilege or prerogative to intervene of its own accord wherever it pleases and primarily in lands of other Churches? Why, in this instance, was autocephaly not granted after an agreement with the other Orthodox Churches?
6th Answer: From everything that we previously mentioned, you can understand that we did not enter into a foreign ecclesiastical eparchy. We had granted permission to the Patriarch of Moscow to ordain the Metropolitan of Kyiv, and this was done with specific requirements, which were never respected by the Russian side. The Ecumenical Patriarchate never invaded or performed inter-boundary interventions in its history. We do not have expansionistic tendencies. I urge you to study ecclesiastical history from the Fourth Ecumenical Council and after. You will ascertain that the Church of Constantinople is constantly undermined and diminished. At the same time, also read the decisions of the Synod that took place in the Church of Panaghia Paramythia here in Constantinople in 1593. This Synod determined the boundaries of the then newly-founded Patriarchate of Moscow. Look and see if these boundaries that the Holy Fathers determined are the same with those of the sister Church of Russia today. A question, then, is put forth: Can every Church expand its boundaries by its own volition and at the expense of another?
As the Ecumenical Patriarchate, we did not make any intervention. As we mentioned earlier, the matter of Ukraine was long overdue. The Mother Church did not suddenly decide to concern itself with a non-existent problem. The fact that some people had become accustomed to the idea of a schism and neglected the enormous ecclesiastical problem that existed, did not absolve us of the responsibility to resolve it.
As for the granting of autocephaly in agreement with the rest of the Orthodox Churches, this did not happen, because it does not constitute a tradition in our Church. All the Tomes of Autocephaly that have been granted to the newly-established Autocephalous Churches (Russia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Athens, Warsaw, Tirana and Presov) have been done so by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, without any agreement or cooperation on a Pan-Orthodox level. And really, it is quite the impression to see the Churches that received their Tomos of Autocephaly with only the Patriarch of Constantinople’s signature on it questioning today how it is possible for the Ecumenical Patriarchate to unilaterally grant the Tomos of Autocephaly in Ukraine. The answer is clear: only in the same way and with the same process that it granted ecclesiastical independence to all the newly-established Churches.
7th Question: As you know, the Synod of the Serbian Church stated that there would be no communion with Filaret Denisenko and Makariy Maletic. Following the granting of autocephaly, it is uncertain if the two schismatic groups in Ukraine have been united and if they have stopped fighting with each other. Meanwhile, Filaret Denisenko demonstrates openly that he does not plan on respecting any promises or reasoning. Two questions are brought up, then: Did you have the privilege to receive schismatics who were sentenced by other bishops and to abolish or diminish their ecclesiastical exclusion? Is there any way for Filaret to retain his title of patriarch and can you do anything about that? Critics of your decisions claim that Filaret travels to various locations and serves with patriarchal distinctions, even though it was agreed that he would not do that, all while he presents himself as “patriarch,” thereby diminishing the role of Archbishop Epiphanius to that of a “minister of foreign affairs.” I was surprised by the election of the young Epiphanius, who comes from the Filaret “faction,” by the Ukrainians on December 15, 2018, and by the Unifying Sobor on the same day, as the Primate of the Church of Ukraine, and not Simeon, the Metropolitan of the canonical Ukrainian Church.
7th Answer: Schismatics no longer exist in Ukraine because their Church was restored, and we consider it a large blessing of the grace of the All-Holy Spirit that so many millions of people entered into canonicity again. If, in fact, you refer to the Minutes of the Ecumenical Councils, you will see that what the Church of Constantinople did was not a new or unprecedented act. The concern of our Fathers was to always create conditions for unity and reintegration into the Church. Having the poorest means at their disposal, they attempted to extract the best possible outcome. As for whether or not we can exercise this restoration, I answer you directly: of course we can, since dogmatic differences truly do not exist. We already referenced the 9th and 17th Canons of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, which give the Ecumenical Patriarchate the privilege to tend to such matters. We did not discover this privilege, or rather, this great ecclesiastical responsibility; we received it. And the Holy Fathers that established it knew very well why they did it.
As far as Filaret is concerned, the Church recognizes him as the former Metropolitan of Kyiv. Now, we do not wish to intervene in the internal affairs of the Church of Ukraine, unless they ask it of us. However, for us, the former Metropolitan of Kyiv, Filaret, exists. A Patriarch of Kyiv does not exist, nor did he ever exist. But then again, I believe that we should not personify the matter. The entirety of Ukraine does not revolve around Filaret.
8th Question: Some individuals claim that Patriarch Bartholomew, as “Pope of the East,” often thinks that he does not need to explain his actions to anyone, nor does he need to validate his decisions, because the authority of the Patriarchate of Constantinople stems from the Ecumenical Councils. Many people believe that the new Tomos of Autocephaly of the Church of Ukraine is not accepted due to some theological ideas and constructions found within it, especially of those to whom it is stated that you are the head of this Church. For some reason, the public has garnered the feeling that you are anti-Slavic. Recently, you mentioned that “our Serbian brothers do not accept the primacy of the Mother Church.” What did you mean by that?
8th Answer: There is no “Pope of the East” within the conscience of the Orthodox Church and, of course, in our own thoughts and humble service. Every Ecumenical Patriarch does not operate unilaterally and of his own accord, but instead cooperates and decides together with the Holy and Sacred Synod. However, it is a fact that the Ecumenical Councils have given responsibilities and obligations to the Church of Constantinople that other Churches do not possess. This has not been assigned to the Mother Church by one Ecumenical Council or by only one Canon. Therefore, it is not some coincidence or circumstance related to those times. Many Sacred Canons and plenty of decisions of Ecumenical and local Synods exist that confirm these prerogatives. We cannot change this reality, nor do we have the right to do so. These prerogatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate are not related to some secular authority but to a spiritual ministry and responsibility. It is about a noble, ecclesiastical and spiritual work. After having an experience of nearly thirty years of service on the Patriarchal Throne, I can assure you that the cross of every Patriarch of Constantinople is his primacy.
I love the Slavs and admire their piety and faith. However, some of them do not accept the primacy of the Mother Church. Their denial, though, does not affect our love for them. We love them and will continue to love them. Do not forget that the Ecumenical Patriarchate granted the Tomos of Autocephaly to Ukraine, which are a Slavic people. We would not have given them such privileges if we did not love them. Besides, the Slavic people have shown us their love and respect many times.
The Tomos that was given to Ukraine is not a document that was created in order to confirm the prerogatives of the Patriarch of Constantinople. On the contrary, it is a canonical and technical document that follows the tradition of the Mother Church. Nothing is written in the Tomos of Ukraine that is not included in other Tomes. What you stated concerning “the Patriarch of Constantinople being the head of the Church” is also precisely written in the Tomos that was given to Moscow in 1590. Additionally, many elements of the Tomos of Ukraine also exist in the Tomos of Autocephaly of Serbia. Therefore, this is not a new document. Simply put, those before us would receive the Tomos and would glorify God; they would have no issue accepting the fact that the Orthodox Church has a Primate. Today, some people study the Tomos of Ukraine in an isolated manner and without a positive disposition. However, the document does not constitute some foreign or new text when compared to the Tomes of the rest of the Autocephalous Churches. There is unity, interrelatedness and continuation. This is how the Ecumenical Patriarchate operates.
9th Question: Historically speaking, it has been said that autocephalies are only granted to regions that are entirely eparchies of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Is this true? Also, can land borders or the political structure of a region be a measure of the Church’s religious decisiveness and responsibilities?
9th Answer: As we previously mentioned, all of the recognized Autocephalous Churches received their autocephaly from the Ecumenical Patriarchate not because they ever belonged to its jurisdiction, but because the Church of Constantinople—according to the Sacred Canons—has inter-boundary authority and the privilege to deal with matters of other local Churches. What is being said—i.e. that every local Church can grant autocephaly to some region under its jurisdiction—does not canonically stand; such a tactic has never prevailed in the conscience and action of the Orthodox Church. Evidently, some people are using it because they want to diminish the role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. However, this does not reflect ecclesiastical reality. For example, the Patriarchate of Georgia was never under our jurisdiction, but it received autocephaly and Patriarchal prestige from Constantinople.
In relation to geopolitical changes, land borders and how much they influence ecclesiastical decisions, the Church’s actions teach us that these changes do not determine its decisions, but they do sometimes influence them. More specifically, one of the requirements for the granting of autocephaly is the establishment of a nation. But this does not mean that whenever a country is established that autocephaly will be granted. Other canonical and ecclesiastical prerequisites are also required. The Church of Serbia acquired its autocephaly when the ruler of Serbia also gained a geographical, national entity in 1879, and together with the local Hierarchy, discussed their ecclesiastical independence from the Ecumenical Patriarchate. However, Serbia also possessed all of the other ecclesiastical and spiritual prerequisites. It did not acquire its autocephaly from the Ecumenical Patriarchate solely because of the establishment of its nation and its composition.
10th Question: As the First Throne Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate had the strongest connection with the Serbian Orthodox Church, which has many different borders of countries within its lands. Anti-ecclesiastical and neo-communist groups, which often are unwisely supported by their local authorities, attempt to support the autocephaly of many small regions, such as FYROM and Montenegro. What do you have to say to the Serbs of FYROM and Montenegro? Also, do your responsibilities reach as far as Slovenia as some media outlets claim? Milutin Stancic, a faithful believer from the Orthodox Archdiocese of Ohrid, (whose head is Archbishop John and is under the Orthodox Church of Serbia) would like to ask something similar: “Do you intend to split the Tomos that you gave to the Church of Serbia, which places the Church of FYROM under the responsibility of the ‘first’?” Is there a possibility that you will decide differently?
10th Answer: Unfortunately, a great deal of misinformation exists on this point. They identify the case of Ukraine with Skopje and Montenegro, and this is craftily done because they want to turn the Church of Serbia against the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Indeed, from what we can know, many hierarchs of the Serbian Church keep a distance from Ukraine because they are scared that what happened there will also be repeated in Montenegro and Ohrid. But we assure you that things are not like this. The Church of Serbia had specific geographical boundaries. When the foundation of the Serbian state was expanded, our Serbian brothers appealed to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and asked for the new lands to be placed under their ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The Ecumenical Patriarchate responded positively and ceded these lands with a Tomos, something that did not occur with the Church of Russia, which encroached upon lands of the Ecumenical Patriarchate without having received any canonical permission to do so. The canonical and ecclesiological difference, then, with Ukraine, is that Russia invaded and seized the Metropolis of Kyiv without it ever having been given to her, while whatever Serbia has, belongs to her canonically and ecclesiologically. This means that the Ecumenical Patriarchate will not alter the status of the Church of Serbia or modify its boundaries without mutual communication and cooperation beforehand. The Ecumenical Patriarchate never intervenes past the borders of other Churches, unless, of course, there is a relative petition and a great ecclesiastical need.
We are saddened by the publications in Slovenia that have come to our knowledge, because they specifically serve particular agendas. We urge those interested to read the Tomos of Autocephaly of Ukraine, so that they may discern that the newly-founded Autocephalous Church of Ukraine does not have any canonical jurisdiction over Ukrainians outside of Ukraine. The Ukrainian faithful who find themselves in the lands of established and recognized Churches fall under the jurisdiction of the local Hierarchs, while Ukrainians of the diaspora, in accordance with the 29th Canon of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, fall under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This way, the Ukrainians of Poland fall under the jurisdiction of our Brother, His Beatitude Sawa, and accordingly, the Ukrainians of Slovenia fall under the jurisdiction of the local Hierarch of the Patriarchate of Serbia. There is no chance that the newly-founded Church of Ukraine will send bishops outside of its boundaries. Therefore, what was published concerning the installation of bishops in Slovenia is false.
11th Question: Still, many people claim that today’s Orthodox Church of Ukraine has a greater autonomy from Moscow than it does from Constantinople. Do you believe that instead of the typical and anticipated autocephaly, you granted less privileges and independence to Ukraine than that which the canonical Church of Ukraine enjoys under the Patriarchate of Moscow?
11th Answer: The autocephaly that was granted to Ukraine is entirely complete and does not differ in any way from the autocephaly that was received by the other newly-established Autocephalous Churches.
12th Question: The issues in Kosovo and Metohija are a major concern for the Serbian people, since many churches and monasteries there have been demolished, and basic human rights have been compromised.
12th Answer: The Ecumenical Patriarchate and our person firmly stand against the desecration and destruction of any kind of religious structure. This, of course, includes the Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim places of worship—which are sadly vandalized and defiled simply because they are located in areas where differences exist in the religious beliefs, traditions and practices of the local monotheistic communities. We have visited several monasteries in Kosovo, Metohija, Gracanica and Decani, which were built with the blood and faith of devout Orthodox Serbs. They form a proud component of their rich history, and truly rank among some of the most beautiful monasteries in the world. They are, indeed, priceless religious heirlooms of the pious Serbian people’s noble history, as well as of humanity’s civilization as a whole. Their destruction, though, has led to their inclusion among the sites of UNESCO’s World Heritage List. We certainly empathize with our fellow brother and sister Serbs, and share in their pain and frustration. Through this genuine act of fraternal solidarity, we grow closer to them and they to us. We wholeheartedly commend their steadfast devotion, which we have personally come to know from our previous visits to Serbia, and it is our prayer that we will soon witness the complete restoration of these sacred places. And if God so deigns it, we will visit Belgrade this coming autumn, where we will celebrate together the 800-year anniversary of Saint Sava of Serbia’s elevation to the archpriesthood. We have already received an invitation from Patriarch Iriniej, to which our response was: “Whenever the Patriarch invites us, we always attend with great pleasure.”
13th Question: Throughout the centuries, in the Orthodox world, the Throne of Constantinople held a coordinating role amongst the Orthodox Churches. How can it serve this same role today too? What does the future hold?
13th Answer: Indeed, in the past, the Ecumenical Patriarchate was called to responsibly coordinate as well as decide on inter-Orthodox matters. And it will continue its mission and journey through history by holding a coordinating and decisive role, depending, of course, on the conditions and circumstances of the times. As was rightly stated recently, the Church of Constantinople is “presiding and suffering.” The Phanar is “self-emptying and life-renewing.” We live these two characteristics of the Ecumenical Throne.
Our Patriarchate has a sacramental character, which does not please or comfort the people whose desires and visions are based in a lust for greater numbers, megalomania, narrowmindedness and the clichés of material attachments. This is why all those who are entrapped in vanity and secularization have a difficult time understanding us.
Here at the First Throne of Orthodoxy, a great mystery took place, which surpasses human reason and is understood only through the prism of faith and its cooperation with heaven and earth. This is where dogma was first established; where theology began; where the wisdom of the Fathers was recorded; where the Ecumenical Councils took place; where our Holy Tradition was first chronicled; where the Sacred Canons were established; where monasticism was practiced and flourished; where the Christianization of peoples was organized; and where the ecclesiastical hypostasis of all the newly-established local Orthodox Churches—including Serbia’s—was blessed.
This treasurable and plentiful harvest determines our patriarchal journey, just as how it determined the journey of our predecessors, and we are certain that it will also inspire the journey of our successors. With everything that the Orthodox Church has bequeathed to us, we continue our journey for the glory of Christ, the unity of the Churches and the salvation of humankind. With the grace of God, this is how we have acted, and it is our desire that we will also finish in the same way.