Newspaper 'Tipos tis Kiriakis' (English)
INTERVIEW OF HIS BEATITUDE PETROS VII, POPE & PATRIARCH OF ALEXANDRIA & ALL AFRICA WITH THE JOURNALIST GEORGE PAPATHANASOPOULOS
Your Beatitude, we find ourselves before a serious crisis between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Autocephalous Church of Greece. Does it concern a bipartite issue which arose from new-fangled and 75 year old demands of the Ecumenical Patriarchate against the Church of Greece or do all the local Churches (ancient and more modern Patriarchates and Autocephalous Churches) comprise One Church which must actually take an interest, so that a schism can be avoided?
Dear Mr Papathanasopoulos, firstly we thank you for the opportunity of this meeting, as through it we communicate also with your elite readers who are the end receivers of this discussion.
It is in fact true that the relations between the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Church of Greece are going through a difficult, or rather, a tense time, because of the different approach of the now famous Volume of 1928, which appoints the relations of the so-called “Archdioceses of the New Countries”, both towards the Patriarchate of Constantinople as well as towards the Autocephalous Church of Greece. Of course, the entire issue has taken on unforeseen dimensions, despite the fact that it has been enriched by various reports, opinions and discussions between hierarchs, specific scholars as well as the people.
Of course, the Patriarchates and the other Churches follow with interest the course of the whole issue; we pray for God’s peace for the Churches, although it is not possible for us to interfere in the relations of the two Churches, neither can we take any other position other than the constant reminder of the value of dialogue, which is connected to the plea for a mutual effort for understanding and conciliation.
Despite all this, we have complete trust in both Churches, in their Primates and in their hierarchs, that the “schism” will be avoided as it is an issue which does not justify this final decision, which ultimately is not a solution, for the fact that the Archdioceses of Thessalonica, Eleftheroupolis and Kozani, for spiritual and administrative reasons, will have to acquire their own Bishops, will have to be taken into consideration seeing that the bishop is a “gate to salvation”. The new Archbishops will be called on to heal the wounds which this disagreement has brought to their ecclesiastical bodies, a task which is difficult, complex and will obviously require much time.
We are completely sure that the two dear Primates both of the Ecumenical Patriarchate as well as of the Church of Greece, because they are aware of the onerous and extreme consequences of the “schism”, and because they have a most deep ecclesiastical conscience of their mission, will not permit – however mush they are provoked – the entire issue to reach that point, taking into consideration that even the so-called “schism” with the Roman Catholic Church, is understood now as “non-communion” following the mutual “lifting of the anathemas”.
The Hellenic State is also indirectly involved I the crisis, seeing that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has asked the Church of Greece to violate the legal order and its constitutional Charter which is Law 590/1974. AS you and every Church live in various state environments due you adapt to the laws of each country or do you transgress when you consider that some law is being violated, doing away with the legal order in the name of the Canons?
Truly, the network of relations between the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Church of Greece and the Hellenic State, is complex and is susceptible to various approaches, although the Ecumenical Patriarchate does not seem to desire the dissolution of the legal order of the Hellenic State with which it and all the Greek-language Churches have admirable co-operation during our efforts for progress and development of our entire Patriarchal work. The Patriarchate of Constantinople fortunately, has a corresponding respect for the legal order towards the Turkish State too.
Regarding the second part of your question which touches on significant issues of the relations between our Patriarchates, which extend their jurisdictions to non-purely Orthodox or even Christian populations, Church history gives us a secure precedent, according to which the interests of the Church are always preferred, in all instances.
Perhaps the case of the Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa might be an enviable example to follow, for it is based on both respect towards the Egyptian authorities, and of the people towards the Patriarchate, as well as on the harmonious co-habitation of Christians and Muslims, which is the result of a lengthy historic co-existence and mutual desire for reciprocal respect for each other.
Professor Athanasios Angelopoulos of the University of Thessalonica in his speech at the Inter-Orthodox Centre of the Monastery of Pendeli at the feast of St Photios formulated the view that, firstly, the schism must be avoided for ecclesiastical and national reasons, and secondly, that if no solution can be found between the two Churches, a Great Synod be formed which will attempt to solve the issue peacefully. How do you view this proposal? And are you thinking of taking the initiative on this second proposal?
The view of the eminent professor of Church History, Mr Athanasios Angelopoulos is interesting and is the result of study and dedication to the Church as conflicts between Primates are not desirable either for the Hellenic nation or especially for the Church.
The convocation of a major Synod is possible to bring about and to promote a solution, as we are obliged to obey the decisions of major Synods. The deeply mature ecclesiastical conscience of both the Primates will help so that “the unity of the Churches be maintained” and consequently, it would not be necessary for us to reach that point, but the issues that have arisen will be peacefully confronted, based on genuine, fraternal and sincere dialogue.
Regarding the taking of the initiative on the part of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, we are ready, with, to contribute as far as is possible, as it is essential to keep the honour owed both to the institutions as well as to the persons through whom the institutions are expressed and exist. At this point it is essential to state that it is not wise for the choices of the church leaders to ignore the situation of the other Churches, or the repercussion it has on their inner working.
We know from Church history that the interest of the Church is a total accomplishment, the achievement of all and nothing precedes it or has greater worth. We also know that it is not possible for the temporary progress of one local Church to be attained to the detriment of another. In this spirit, the personal relations of the Primates are always able to bear fruit and visible results.
You have repeatedly suggested that meetings be sanctioned regularly once a year and extra-ordinarily whenever the need arises between the Patriarchs and Primates of the Autocephalous Churches. In this way the opportune issues will be discussed, crises will be avoided and, if there were to be an announcement, it would have a different bearing. It is said that they are not called because they are not provided for in the Holy Canons. Do you believe that this is justified today?
As we mentioned before, the more than two thousand-year history of the Church has formed ways and created conditions with the aim of better serving the Church and the spiritual progress of her faithful people. The Holy Canons contain the outline of service to the Church and are completely respected, although in both administrative as well as pastoral matters we remain isolated in the “letter” and lose their “life-giving spirit”, as we are ignorant of or indifferent to their historic shell and the specific conditions which led to their formulation.
The Holy Canons, as an essence of the practical experience and the continually adapting Church life, should be confronted, and especially used, with care as the persistence of observing moral canons to the detriment of administrative canons, or vice versa, has been noticed. Improper interpretation of and referral to the canonical framework of Church life only raises problems, while the Holy canons themselves contain the limit of “benevolence” which the Church is called to, or has historically applied to her course through the centuries.
The Pan-Orthodox Synod has been frozen because of the disagreement of the Moscow Patriarchate regarding the participation at the pre-synodal deliberations of the Autonomous Church of Estonia. Should a solution not be found so that the proceedings, which have already completed 70 years of preparation, if I’m not mistaken, can go on?
The issue of the Pan-Orthodox Synod is extremely serious and probably urgent, and despite the problems, the various approaches and the obvious stings which are appearing, which, humanly justified are ultimately delaying the course of the Church of Christ. That is why it is necessary that all the preparation proceedings should carry on in every possible way and perhaps even with every sacrifice.
At this Synod, certain issues which have been shaking the Church for some time, will be dealt with, even if others remain unsolved or even delayed. Today the Church is called on, more than ever before, to restate her faith in a manner which is understandable to the contemporary world and also to confront the change which is visible in societies.
The contemporary currents call us to develop the possibility which the Pan-Orthodox Synod provides, so that we may create the prerequisites and the conditions for development, as the continuous adaptation of the Church is only able to be called “tradition”, a term which is usually limited to the content of the folklore and the repetition of external past forms, while every initiative is of necessity characterized as “making worldly”.
Ultimately, Your Beatitude, from the manner in which you live the serious social, vital, spiritual and other problems in Africa and as all the people all over the world live them, do you think that this introversion and the friction between the Orthodox Churches, especially the Greek-speaking ones, is something natural, or does it comprise an impermissible luxury?
The “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”, as the “Body of Christ”, is above units, even though it is made up of “members of it” according to the Apostolic expression. When problems are enlightened by the experience of the Cross and the Resurrection, are transformed into means of promotion and intervention of the Grace of God to the world and the operation of the Holy Spirit in the internal life of the Church.
Introversion is not healed by other exclusive actions, by moves designed to impress, by the one-sided promotion of the interests of one local Church against another, by self-sufficiency, by contentment and by attempts at imposition of standards and ways of thinking. The Church is a reservoir of progress for the people and the nations and that is how it will remain in all ages so that it may serve the world and its people.
In this sense, the Primates of the Churches, the hierarchs and clergy, as well as the faithful have their proportional responsibility, each from the place where he was called on to offer his service. There were differences and there always will be; the point is to maintain the vision and the direct conscience that the Church comes first and not our personal distinction. These all pass, sins are forgiven by God and our only criterion should be the Gospel love of service towards God, our neighbour and the world. This is our prayer and consequently we work towards the unity of the Church in a spirit of dialogue and co-operation.
We thank you warmly for this possibility of communication with your dear self and with your readers.