Magazine 'To Unity'

INTERVIEW WITH H.B. PETROS VII,

POPE & PATRIARCH OF ALEXANDRIA & ALL AFRICA

PUBLISHED BY THE MAGAZINE ‘TO UNITY’

 

November 2003

Question 1:

Your Beatitude, please receive our congratulations in the occasion of our awarding you this worthy tribute – the IFUOCN Prize “For outstanding activity on strengthening unity of Orthodox Christian nations”. How do you apprehend the rewarding you of this Prize? How do you appreciate the current state of the spiritual unity of Orthodox nations?

Answer to question 1:

The present honourary award by the Institute for the Unity of Christian nations, under the patronage of His Beatitude Alexios, the Patriarch of Moscow, towards our humility, is truly a cause of joy and satisfaction due to the fact that an honour bestowed on a Church Primate, is extended through his person, to the institution he serves. In other words, we are deeply gladdened and satisfied because the work and service of the Patriarchate of Alexandria is becoming known and understood by all the sister Orthodox Churches.

The spiritual unity between Orthodox nations is historically confirmed and reflects the unity of the Churches. The Church, since Apostolic times entered into dialogue with the nations. Through Pentecost, the nations and civilizations linked to them, have the possibility of co-existing peacefully through the unifying action of the Holy Spirit. The hymnology of Pentecost celebrates this fact. Christian nations today journey with historical self-consciousness. They are called to conscientiously prove their essential transfiguration brought about by their ecclesiastical experience particularly in contemporary challenges and provocations. They are called to do this being conscious of their spiritual heritage. The Church in the past, assimilated and developed whatever was not contrary to her faith. It is imperative that the Church today does the same thing. We are called to this by worldwide circumstances, by the continuous expanding and globalization, by the needs of the faithful and the expectations of the non-christian.

Internal frictions and the disputes of the past should not become impediments to the teaching and implementation of the truths of the faith.

Question 2:

Is this visit in Russia significant for you? What do you expect of it?

Answer to question 2:

Our present visit to Russia is important for many reasons. Firstly, because we are given the opportunity to communicate with His Beatitude and our beloved brother, Patriarch Alexios. This is the proof and the continuation of the traditional close cooperation of the two Churches, of Russia and Alexandria, that was inaugurated by our ever-memorable predecessors and Patriarchs of the last centuries. It is also important because our meeting with His Excellency, the President of Russia bears witness to the warm emotions and love that our Patriarchate has towards the beloved Russian people with whom we share a common faith. We will also have the opportunity to visit the Exarchate of the Patriarchate of Alexandria in Morscow and our Exarch in Russia, His Grace Bishop of Cyrene, Athanasios.

The Patriarchate of Alexandria, whose jurisdiction covers the whole of the African continent, extends its pastoral care to the faithful of many nationalities. Among these are the faithful of Russian origin.

Consequently, apart from its long and glorious spiritual tradition, the Patriarchate of Alexandria has the experience of pastoral work among various nationalities. It utilizes this experience in its mission work for the spread of Evangelical love.

With this in mind, our visit here takes on a particular significance. Two different cultural worlds meet. They have a common point of reference and a common characteristic in the tradition and heritage of the Orthodox Christian Faith and worship, both results of the operation of the Holy Spirit.

Question 3:

Which problems are the most topical for Orthodoxy in the world and in today Africa?

Answer to question 3:

The answer to this question is a difficult one. It is composite and requires much deep analysis. If we have to refer to them by name, we have to place them in the context of the Church unity that constitutes the aim, vision and responsibility of all Orthodox Christians, particularly the Church leaders, as declared by the title of your periodical. Church unity, which is at the same time the expression and proof of the implemented faith in the Resurrection of Christ and Gospel love towards God and fellow-man, is capable of becoming the basis of the answer to the current problems of the world and the relationship of the Church to civil authority, to the achievements or forms of mankind like science, philosophy and art – to creatively encompass the other person in all expressions and in social life.

In the same perspective, we work for the pastoral care of the nations of the African continent and the social problems that are more prevalent there (poverty, deadly diseases, lack of communication, etc.) In these situations, we work with the combination of pastoral art and social care, without disregarding the internal unity of nations, but rather with the strengthening of the national origin and state structure through the Orthodox faith, following the example of the Holy Apostles and the great missionaries.

The work of Saints Cyril and Methodios is a primary example of this.

Question 4:

What is the actual position of the Patriarchate of Alexandria, having its See in the territory of Muslim Egypt? How are the relations between Orthodox and Muslim world communities?

Answer to question 4:

The long historical presence of the Senior Patriarchates in a muslim environment has led to a real balance in mutual respect, in the exchange of cultural goods and a common journey, both in the field of religious experiences and daily living, even in the face of occasional and isolated expressions of religious fundamentalism, violence and fanaticism.

This is particularly evident in Egypt where the apostolic seat of the Senior Patriarchate of Alexandria and all Africa has been since the beginning.

The respect of the Egyptian Authorities towards the Patriarchate became entrenched from the Byzantine age and grew during the times of the presence of many Greeks in Egypt. It continues along this manner even today.

Orthodoxy constitutes a bridge of culture and communication between the Muslim world, Greek civilization and the nations of the West. At the same time it enriches and bears witness to the tolerance and respect of Muslims towards the religions of the Bible, Judaism and Christianity, as taught in the Quran. This is also traced in many religious and social institutions and state structures throughout the diversity of the Muslim world.

Question 5:

You are known as one of the Church Primates who consecutively pronounce for strict maintenance of the canonical principles of interrelations between Churches. Why, in your opinion, keep on emerging and acting many self-proclaimed and sectarian “churches” now?

Answer to question 5:

In order to deal with external impositions, and internal breakaway inclinations that appeared during its bimillenial historical sojourn that sought to distance themselves from the body of the Church by finding expression in the ideological garments of a greater or lesser group of “new” views and beliefs, the Church imposed canonical principles. The combined presentation of the “Tome of Faith” of the Great Ecumenical Councils as a unity of canonical decisions, without distinction between “dogmatic” and “canonical” truths, is indicative of the importance of canonical tradition.

A multitude of sacred canons relate to Bishops and their multi-faceted responsibilities for the orderly functioning of the Church. They also entrench Patriarchal authority. With this in mind, the greatest enemy and danger for the Church has always been heresy and egotistical breakaway from canonical order. Consequently, it is obvious that whoever cannot pledge allegiance to the ecclesiastical gathering and ecclesiastical communion, makes haste and decides to create a “religious body”, a body with personal motives and personal beliefs, whether apparent or not, and suspicious activities and connections.

Apart from the religious analysis of the phenomenon, which is by no means current, Orthodoxy in its totality, and under pressure of circumstances, and the groups that appropriate its name, is called to deeper, conscientious understanding and implementation of the “spirit” of canonical order as an expression of Faith, Hope and Love to deal with ‘temptations’ in a common manner and entrench ecclesiastical unity as the expectation of the benefits of the future age.

In closing, I thank you sincerely and wish your periodical every success.