Thank you for your time and your noble intention to give readers of “Politika” answers to very sensitive issues that characterize the positions of Orthodoxy in the modern world, namely - as you feel and know well - answers to very interesting questions about the Church of Ukraine. We admit that among the Serbian public, your explanation for this situation and your arguments have not been presented to a satisfactory degree. In contrast to this, the view and attitude of the Russian Church is constantly repeated in the Serbian media, and readers are fully familiar with them. With this interview, I am taking the opportunity to clarify your positions and recent actions. In this interview, we would like to start with some general issues, and then move on to more specific questions.
Interviewer: How would you describe the position of Orthodoxy in the modern world? What is your role as Ecumenical Patriarch? I have in mind the Serbian theologian Stojan Gosevic, who once expressed the view that “if there was no Ecumenical Patriarchate, we should have to create it.” Could there be Orthodoxy without the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople?
Ecumenical Patriarch: First of all, thank you for your effort and your concern in visiting the Ecumenical Patriarchate and giving us, through this interview, the opportunity to communicate with the pious clergy and the Christ-loving Serbian people.
The position of Orthodoxy in the modern world is no different from what it was in previous years, beginning with the Upper Room at Pentecost. We may have new information today, socially, scientifically, etc., but the purpose and 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 transformation of man is accomplished and his union with God is achieved. The Church, in other words, is “the Kingdom of God” in the world. Everything else that we see today, which can impress us and cause admiration, such as such as philanthropic, cultural, social, academic, or developmental works, as important as they may seem, do not cease to be ancillary to the basic purpose and goal of the Church. And, of course, they can by no means replace the sovereign and primary mystical and soteriological character of our Orthodox Church.
Regarding the role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the world and in the Orthodox Church, I would prefer instead of formulating an answer to urge all your good readers to look at ecclesiastical history, the Sacred Canons, the teaching of the Fathers, and Holy Tradition, and they will find out what the role and responsibility of the Ecumenical and Apostolic Throne are. We, as humble servants and followers of the Apostle Andrew, do nothing more than what the Sacred Canons have bequeathed to us. This phrase of the well-known Serbian theologian Stojan Gosevic is verified by the acts of the Ecumenical Councils and the Tradition of our Church. Whatever the Ecumenical Patriarchate has it owes to the Church. We are not a self-created entity, but one that has developed through the Holy Spirit.
Interviewer: The world seems to be fully globalized. Does this globalization affect Orthodoxy, its essence and its coherence? On the other hand, is the general fluidity of all values forcing some Orthodox communities to mutate into ghettos?
Ecumenical Patriarch: Globalization is a phenomenon that modern scholars identify with modernization and development. Some theologians identify it with secularism. It is essentially about the liberalization of all modern social parameters, such as, for example, economics, communication, culture, trade, which are unexpectedly and unaccountably disseminated across borders. When all this occurs in the place where these changes were created or they are assimilated in their own way, then we are talking about the identity of peoples, but when all these are presented as ideals and attempts are made to impose them on other peoples, then we are talking about globalization.
Globalization within the Church is transformed into universalism in Christ. As we have said, while globalization seems to be a tendency to bundle everything together, universalism, on the contrary, respects and honors the identity and particularities of each people, but also of every individual in particular. Thus the Orthodox Church in general, and our Ecumenical Patriarchate in particular, does not seek to transform the variety of the gifts of the peoples of the world into something homogeneous and uniform, governed by one authority and one mentality, and following a specific cultural and national line. The Church operates on the basis of freedom, love and unity, in the diversity of spiritual gifts and particular characteristics.
However, what creates a problem in the Church and in our personal lives is the secularization that comes from globalization. The modern tendency of secularism is nothing more than a form of globalization that seeks to put them in flux and adapt them to specific national or cultural ideologies. When this happens in the Church, then its coherence is affected, but not its essence. Another aspect of this is the attitude of a nation towards Orthodoxy, and still another, the notion that the Church is the exclusive property of a nation or of certain nations. Respect for and preservation of our identity is natural and necessary. But to limit Christ to specific national contexts, this ultimately results in rejecting Him. Also, to place the nation before the Church leads inexorably to denying the existence of the Church and its universal character.
When we therefore transgress our boundaries, as the Fathers of the Church have defined them, and try to impose our own, that is, our own characteristics and our identity, then unfortunately we create a form of “ghetto,” as you say.
Interviewer: I would like to move on to more straightforward questions, hoping that you will not be disturbed by my sincerity and directness. For more than a century, the subject of autocephaly tormented the unity of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Will this organization, which you call a “new structure of the Church” in Ukraine, help to prevent this dispute from widening? To the groups of former schismatics gathered around Filaret Denysenko and Makarios Maletic, you offer not only forgiveness but also a “reward” for their behavior. Have you thought, Your All-Holiness, about how much will the decision to grant autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine will affect the situation (the struggle and the suffering) of the Orthodox in that country, and that Orthodoxy may lose more believers than the Ecumenical Patriarchate predicted?
Ecumenical Patriarch: As you rightly say, the question of autocephaly has been tormenting Ukraine for more than a century. If we go in the past, we will find that there were intense and concerted efforts to free the Kievan people, clergy, monks, and the local hierarchy from the ecclesiastical manipulation of the Patriarchate of Moscow. These efforts began as early as 1325, when the seat of the Metropolitan of Kiev was permanently transferred to Moscow, which events are recorded in history and are no longer disputed. There have been several attempts at autocephaly in the past, which have not been successful. We believe that God does everything according to His own plan. So God’s time came also for Ukraine.
Regarding whether the granting of autocephaly will ultimately help with the issue of unity, we are sure that granting it was a prerequisite. Until yesterday, most of the Ukrainian people were outside the Church. This was something that hurt us. That is why, in the past, we made a lot of efforts to remedy this problem. For example, on our own initiative, we set up a joint committee of hierarchs from the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Patriarchate of Moscow, in order to find a solution. Ultimately, this committee almost never operated under the Patriarchate of Moscow, and so the problem has continually grown. Some used the misnomer of schismatic and thus comfort their conscience that everything is all right. But when one of our brothers is described as a schismatic or heretic, much less when an entire population of millions of people are out of the canonical Church on the grounds of schism, then we urgently and without any delay call for a spiritual and apostolic awakening, because “if one member suffers, all suffer together” (I Corinthians 12:26).
For some, the existence of schism in Ukraine was the best excuse to give up this godly people, denying their responsibilities before God and history. For us, however, it was a motivation and a call from God to find solutions that are salvific and unifying, in order to re-establish this people in the sanctifying grace of the Church. What we did, therefore, was our apostolic duty and what the Holy and God-bearing Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils did, who constantly created the conditions, exercising an unconditional ecclesiastical economy, to bring those outside of the Church into its bosom. I would also like to see the issue of unity in this spirit. It is not a “reward” for the hierarchs Filaret and Makarios, as you say in your question. The issue of Ukraine should not be personalized. People will be leaving this world at some point.
If the whole affair concerned only these two persons, be sure that the Church would have operated in a different manner. Today, because of the love of Christ and the unity of the Church, these persons were recognized only as bishops, not for the place they held. We could speak of rehabilitation if the Ecumenical Patriarchate had accepted Filaret as Patriarch and Makarios as Metropolitan of Lviv. But that did not happen.
The issue of Ukraine should therefore be seen globally, ecclesiologically and soteriologically. Beyond all the personalities and national interests, it is important to address the problem. Today, the whole Orthodox people of Ukraine are in good canonical standing. There is a precondition for unity and sharing in the common cup. Now, if some do not accept this, they will have to ask themselves who is breaking the unity.
Interviewer: As you know, there is a lot of contradictory information about the Ukrainian issue in the media. 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 “blatant violation of Canon Law.” Have you thought about the traumatized spirituality of Eastern Europe after the communist period and whether there are influences of imperialist American ideas in your actions? Some years ago, in the presence of the heads of all the Orthodox Churches, you promised that you would not interfere with the problems of the Churches in Ukraine because this was an internal issue of the Russian Church. As we have learned from leading theologians of Constantinople, primacy does not presuppose the structure of a pyramid in the Church, but the agreement of one with the many, according to the 34th Canon of the Holy Apostles, which says that the first does nothing without the consent of the many (meaning the synod).
Ecumenical Patriarch: We, as much as our many obligations allow us to do so, are watching the various publications on the Ukrainian issue, and we often feel sorry for the misinformation and the falsification of truth. Nevertheless, we believe that eventually the truth will prevail. It prevails and shines forth. With the passage of time, the intentions of the Mother Church and of me personally, which were purely ecclesiological, canonical and soteriological, will become clear. Of course, there is no question of being controlling or expressing ambition, or even worse, of a “blatant violation of Canon Law,” as you put it in your question. Ukraine has gained its autocephaly. Nothing was added to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, nor to the Ecumenical Patriarch. There was no motivation of self-interest or ulterior motives. We just did our ecclesiastical duty. The grace of God has conferred on us the ministry of the first see of Orthodoxy for almost thirty years. From now on we do not await anything human and secular. We pray daily for the grace and mercy of God in our lives and in our Church. Therefore, what is written and said about ambitions and power interventions does not apply. Nor was there, of course, pressure from certain states for Ukraine’s autocephaly. But I must affirm to you that several Heads of State congratulated the Ecumenical Patriarchate on this decision. Some with letters and others with public statements. When a state praises a decision by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, it does not mean that this state has made it happen. Our Church operates freely and free from external interference and secular pressure.
With regard to some of our earlier statements on non-intervention in Ukraine, we did, on the basis of the circumstances and information at that time, make that decision. However, the information changed in the course of time. Apart from the fact that for 30 years Moscow has managed to do nothing but enlarge the split among the Ukrainian people, we have the new conditions that have been established in Ukraine after the Crimean occupation in 2014. At the same time, we have the decisions of the Ukrainian Parliament in favor of autocephaly and the Ukrainian government’s request for ecclesiastical independence. And most importantly, there were requests from Metropolitans Filaret and Makarios for a review of their cases. This has occurred many times in the acts of the Church and is normally defined as a “court of appeal.” Any Orthodox bishop who is condemned by his Church and considers that he has been wronged has the right, on the basis of the 9th and 17th Canons of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, to appeal to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and ask for his case to be re-examined. When, then, the Ecumenical Patriarchate then studies in synod the decisions taken against these bishops, it does not “intervene bluntly” in the territory of other Churches, as some say, but does what the Sacred Canons dictate. If you look at our ecclesiastical history, you will find infinite examples of such incidents, namely, priests and other clergy who felt they were wronged by their local Synod and appealed to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Therefore, the study and the solution to the Ukrainian question was also made in the light of the existence of the court of appeal.
Certainly, we also take into account the 34th Canon of the Holy Apostles, but this rule refers to the bishops of each nation, who should recognize their head as their head and do nothing without consulting him, and correspondingly, the first bishop should not act without consulting his bishops. This Canon attempts to ensure unity and harmony in the local Church. It is not a Canon concerning the relations of the local Churches, but the internal governance of a local Church. Therefore, it does not refer to the relationship of the Ecumenical Patriarch with the other Churches. These relations and the position of Constantinople in the Orthodox Church were determined by the Third Ecumenical Council and were consolidated by the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon. Those who know Canon Law and who study the Sacred Canons know very well what the position and responsibility of the Ecumenical Patriarch is in the Orthodox Church.
Interviewer: The Ecumenical Patriarchate recently published a document demonstrating that in the 1686 ruling the Church of Constantinople did not give the territory of the Metropolis of Kiev to the Patriarchate of Moscow, but only the permission to ordain the Metropolitan of Kiev. This document was really unusual, as for the first time it was felt that the Patriarchate of Constantinople had a canonical argument. In the turmoil of Ukraine, there was a question: does the fact that the Moscow Patriarchate was never given a Tomos in relation to Ukraine set aside more than 300 years of patriarchal care of the Patriarchate of Moscow for this country?
Ecumenical Patriarch: It is a fact that there is no regular canon, that is, a Patriarchal Tomos or a Patriarchal and Synodical Act of Concession of the Metropolis of Kiev to the Patriarchate of Moscow. The documents are clear, and the letters of Patriarch Dionysios, sent in 1686, are very clear. Not only do they not grant the Metropolis of Kiev to Moscow, they also set as a basic prerequisite that Kiev will continue to commemorate Constantinople as its canonical authority. Those who have elementary ecclesiological and canonical knowledge understand that it would not be possible to grant the Metropolis of Kiev to Moscow but the Metropolitan of Kiev would continue to commemorate Constantinople. Unfortunately, the Patriarchate of Moscow unilaterally abolished this agreement. It ended the commemoration of Constantinople because it knew that this was the visible sign of the normal jurisdictional reference of the Metropolitan of Kiev to Constantinople. It is also known that before the letters of Patriarch Dionysios were sent, our Russian brothers attempted to ordain Metropolitans of Kiev, but they always encountered reactions from the clergy and the people of Little Russia, who in no way wanted Moscow. Indeed, the Patriarch Nikon of Moscow (1652-1658) improperly appropriated the title of the Patriarch “of Great, Little and White Russia,” which demonstrated the expansionist spirit that had overtaken him.
However, the texts of 1686 are not the first canonical texts that the Ecumenical Patriarchate presented, as you say in your question. If you look at the Tomos granting autocephaly to your sister Church of Poland in 1924, you will find that special mention is made of the Metropolis of Kiev. The Tomos for Poland specifies in particular that the detachment of the Metropolis of Kiev and its annexation by the Moscow Church was not carried out in accordance with canonical provisions. That is, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, 238 years later, did not cease reminding people of this abnormal occupation of the Metropolis of Kiev by the Patriarch of Moscow.
Of course, this status quo has been in place for more than 300 years. But that does not mean that normalization has occurred. There is no law that tells us that sin and uncanonical activity are normalized and healed with the passage of years. As far as we know, “what was groundless in the beginning was attested at the time of the mistake.”
Interviewer: There are some who argue that the Ecumenical Patriarchate entered a foreign ecclesiastical jurisdiction and granted autocephaly. Does the Church of Constantinople have a right or privilege to intervene voluntarily wherever it wants, and above all, in the territories of other Churches? Why, in this case, was autocephaly not granted after consultation with the other Orthodox Churches?
Ecumenical Patriarch: From what we mentioned earlier, you realize that we have not entered a foreign ecclesiastical province. We had granted the permission for the ordination of the Metropolitan of Kiev to the Patriarch of Moscow, and this with specific conditions that were not respected on the part of Russia. The Ecumenical Patriarchate has never done such things throughout its history. We do not have expansionist inclinations. I urge you to study ecclesiastical history from the Fourth Ecumenical Council and beyond.
You will find that the Church of Constantinople continually decreases and decreases. At the same time, read the decisions of the Synod that took place in the Church of Panagia Paramythia here in Constantinople in 1593. This Synod set the boundaries of the newly-founded Patriarchate of Moscow. Study whether the limits set by the Holy Fathers are the same as those of the present sister Church of Russia. Here is a question: can each Church self-expand its territorial boundaries, even to the detriment of another?
We, as the Ecumenical Patriarchate, did not intervene. As we mentioned earlier, the issue of Ukraine was timely. The Mother Church suddenly did not decide to deal with a non-existent problem. The fact that some were familiar with the idea of schism and did not care about the enormous ecclesial problem that existed does not relieve us of responsibility for its solution.
Regarding the granting of autocephaly in consultation with the other Orthodox Churches, this was not done because it is not a tradition in our Church. All Tomes of Autocephaly granted to the newly-created Autocephalous Churches (Russia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Athens, Warsaw, Tirana and Presov) have been granted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, without any consultation or consideration at a pan-Orthodox level. And it really is a surprise that the Churches who received their own Tomos of Autocepaly only with the signature of Constantinople are today questioning how it is possible for the Ecumenical Patriarchate to grant unilaterally a Tomos of Autocephaly to Ukraine. The answer is clear: in the same way and the same process that granted ecclesiastical independence to all the newly-created Churches.
Interviewer: As you know, the Synod of the Serbian Church said there would be no communion with Filaret Denysenko and Makarios Maletic. Following the granting of autocephaly, it is not certain that the two schismatic groups in Ukraine have joined and do not continue to fight each other, and even Filaret Denysenko openly demonstrates that he does not plan to respect promises and agreements. Two questions are thus raised: did you have the right to lift or reduce the ecclesiastical excommunication and accept schismatics condemned by other bishops? Is there a way for Filaret to retain the title of Patriarch, and can you do anything about it? Critics of your decisions claim that Filaret goes to different places and operates with patriarchal insignia, although it has been agreed that he would not do so, and is portrayed as a “Patriarch,” having reduced the role of Archbishop Epiphanios to that of a “foreign minister.” I was amazed at the election by the Ukrainians on December 15, 2018, by the Unity Council of the same day, of young Epiphanios, who came from the “party” of Filaret, as the head of the Ukrainian Church, and not of Simeon, the Metropolitan of the canonical Ukrainian Church.
Ecumenical Patriarch: There are no more schismatics in Ukraine, because the Church has restored them. And we consider it a great blessing of the grace of the Holy Spirit that so many millions of people have entered into canonical regularity again. If you refer to the Proceedings of the Ecumenical Councils, you will see that what the Church of Constantinople did is not a new and unprecedented act. The Fathers were always anxious to create the conditions for unity and reintegration into the Church. Having the worst information before them, they were trying to get the best result. So to your question about whether we could perform this restoration, I answer straight to you: of course we could, since there were no dogmatic differences. We have already referred to the 9th and 17th Canons of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, which entitle the Ecumenical Patriarch to take care of such matters. We did not discover this right, or rather this great ecclesiastical responsibility, but we received it. And the Holy Fathers who introduced it knew well why they did it.
As far as Filaret is concerned, the Church recognizes him as Metropolitan of Kiev. Now, within the Church of Ukraine, we do not want to intervene unless we are asked. Therefore, for us there is Filaret the Metropolitan of Kiev. The Patriarch of Kiev does not exist and never existed. But again I think we should not personalize the issue. Not all of Ukraine is Filaret.
Interviewer: Some people often claim that Patriarch Bartholomew, as “the Pope of the East,” considers that there is no one to which he has to explain or validate his decisions because the power of the Patriarchate of Constantinople comes from the Ecumenical Councils. Many believe that the new Tomos of Autocephaly of the Church of Ukraine is not acceptable because of the theological ideas and constructions within it, especially those that say that you are the head of this Church. In a way, the public has gotten the feeling that you are against the Slavs. You recently said that “our Slav brothers do not accept the lead of the Mother Church.” What did you mean by that?
Ecumenical Patriarch: There is no “Pope of the East” in the consciousness of the Orthodox Church, or, of course, in our own thought and humble ministry. The Ecumenical Patriarch does not operate unilaterally and of his own will, but cooperates and co-decides with the Holy and Sacred Synod. But it is a fact that the Ecumenical Councils have given responsibilities and obligations to the Church of Constantinople that the other Churches do not have. And this has not been entrusted to the Mother Church by one Ecumenical Council or a single Canon. It is not, therefore, a fortuity or a contextual conjuncture of those times. There are many Sacred Canons and several decisions of the Ecumenical and Local Synods that confirm these privileges. We cannot change this reality, nor do we have that right. These privileges of the Ecumenical Patriarchate are not related to any secular power, but to a spiritual ministry and responsibility. It is a high ecclesiastical and spiritual work. Having the experience of the ministry in the Patriarchal Throne for almost three decades, I can assure you that the cross of the Constantinople is its precursor.
I love the Slavs and appreciate their devotion and their faith. But that some of them do not accept the lead of the Mother Church; that is a fact. This refusal, however, does not affect our love for them. We love them and we will continue to love them. Do not forget that the Ecumenical Patriarchate granted the Tomos of Autocephaly to Ukraine, a Slavic people. We would not have given such privileges unless we loved them. Besides, ordinary Slavic people have often shown us their love and respect.
The Tomos given to Ukraine is also not a text that was created to confirm the privileges of Constantinople. On the contrary, it is a canonical and technical text, following the tradition of the Mother Church. There is nothing in the Ukrainian Tomos that is not included in other Tomes. What you are saying, that “Constantinople is the head of the Church,” is written precisely in the Tomos given to Moscow in 1590. Many elements of the Tomos of Ukraine also exist in the Tomos of Autocephaly of Serbia. This is, therefore, not a new text. Just the old ones received their Tomes and thanked God, having no difficulty accepting that the Orthodox Church had a First Throne. Today, some people are studying the Ukrainian Tomos individually and not in good spirit. However, this text does not constitute a foreign or a new text compared with the Tomes of the rest of the Autocephalous Churches. There is unity, relevance and continuity. This is how the Ecumenical Patriarchate works.
Interviewer: It is said that, historically speaking, that autocephaly was granted only in areas that were distinct provinces of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Is that true? Also, can the territorial boundaries and the political structure of a region be a measure of the religious determination and responsibilities of the Church?
Ecumenical Patriarch: As mentioned above, all recognized Autocephalous Churches received their autocephaly from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, not because they were once in its jurisdiction but because the Church of Constantinople, on the basis of the Sacred Canons, has the supreme authority and the right to deal with issues of other local Churches. What is claimed, that every local Church can grant autocephaly to a territorial area within its jurisdiction is not canonically the case and such a tactic never prevailed in the practice of the Orthodox Church. Obviously it is claimed by some because they want to reduce the role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. This, however, does not express ecclesiastical reality. The Patriarchate of Georgia, for example, has never been in our jurisdiction. But from Constantinople it received autocephaly and patriarchal status.
Regarding geopolitical changes and territorial borders and how far they affect Church decisions, the Church’s acts teach us that these changes do not determine its decisions, but, yes, they sometimes influence them. More specifically, one of the conditions for the granting of autocephaly is the constitution of the state. But that does not mean that whenever there is a state formation, there is also autocephaly. Other canonical and ecclesiastical conditions are required. The Church of Serbia acquired its autocephaly when it acquired a geographic state entity and the ruler of Serbia in 1879, along with the local hierarchy, demanded their ecclesiastical independence from the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Serbia, however, had all the other ecclesiastical and spiritual prerequisites. It did not acquire its autocephaly from the Ecumenical Patriarchate solely because of its state structure and constitution.
Interviewer: As the First-Throned Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has the strongest connection with the Serbian Orthodox Church, which has quite different borders from those of the countries within its territory. Anti-ecclesiastical and neo-communist structures, which are often unscrupulously supported by local authorities, are trying to support the autocephaly of many small regions, such as Macedonia and Montenegro. What would you say to the Macedonian and Montenegrin Serbs in Macedonia? Are your responsibilities also coming to Slovenia, as the media say? Milutin Stancic, a believer from the Orthodox Archbishopric of Ohrid (headed by Archbishop Ioannis, who belongs to the Serbian Orthodox Church), would like to ask something like this: “Do you intend to divide the Tomos you gave to the Church of Serbia, to which the Church of Macedonia belongs first?” Can you make another decision?
Ecumenical Patriarch: Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation here. They identify the case of Ukraine with Skopje and Montenegro, and this is done artificially because they want to turn the Church of Serbia against the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Indeed, as far as we know, many hierarchs of the Serbian Church keep their distance from Ukraine, fearing that what has been done there will be repeated in Montenegro and Ohrid. But we assure you that things are not like that. The Church of Serbia had specific geographical boundaries. When the statehood of Serbia expanded, the Serbian brethren approached the Ecumenical Patriarchate and called for the ecclesiastical affiliation of these new territories to be transferred to their jurisdiction. The Ecumenical Patriarchate answered positively and handed over these lands with a Tomos, something that did not happen with the Church of Russia, which trampled upon the territories of the Ecumenical Patriarchate without having received any canonical assignment. The difference, therefore, with Ukraine, both in a canonical and ecclesiological way, is that Russia entered and occupied the Metropolis of Kiev without ever having been granted it, while Serbia has gained everything that belongs to it in a canonical and ecclesiological manner. This means that the Ecumenical Patriarchate will not alter the status of the Church of Serbia and its boundaries without any consultation and cooperation. The Ecumenical Patriarchate never interferes with the territorial boundaries of other Churches unless there is a request and a major ecclesiastical need.
With regard to the Slovenian publications, which have come to our attention, we are sorry, because they serve specific purposes. We urge those interested to read the Tomos of Autocephaly of Ukraine, in order discover there that the newly founded Autocephalous Church of Ukraine has no canonical rights over the Ukrainians outside of the Ukrainian state. The Ukrainian faithful who are in the territories of established and recognized Churches belong to the local Bishops, and the Ukrainians of the Diaspora, under the 28th Canon of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, belong to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Thus the Ukrainians in Poland belong to His Beatitude Brother Sawa and respectively the Ukrainians of Slovenia belong to the local Bishop of the Patriarchate of Serbia. There is no circumstance in which the newly established Church of Ukraine will send bishops beyond its limits. This, therefore, that was published about the installation of bishops in Slovenia is false.
Interviewer: Many still claim that today’s Orthodox Church of Ukraine has greater autonomy from Moscow than that of the autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church from Constantinople. Do you think that, instead of the usual and expected autocephaly, that you gave the Ukrainians fewer privileges and less independence than what the canonical Church of Ukraine enjoys under the Patriarchate of Moscow?
Ecumenical Patriarch: The autocephaly given to Ukraine is complete and is not different from what the other newly-created Autocephalous Churches received.
Interviewer: The issue in Kosovo and in Metohija is the biggest concern for the Serbs, as many churches and monasteries have been destroyed and basic human rights have been jeopardized.
Ecumenical Patriarch: The Ecumenical Patriarchate and we personally are strongly against the desecration and destruction of every religious building. This, of course, includes Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim places of worship, which are unfortunately subject to vandalism and desecration simply because they are in areas where there are differences in the religious beliefs, traditions and practices of monotheistic communities. We have visited several monasteries in Kosovo, Metohija, Gracanica and Dekan, which were built with the blood and faith of pious Orthodox Serbs. These are a proud building block of rich Serbian history and truly rank among the most beautiful monasteries in the world. They are, in fact, invaluable religious heirlooms of the pious Serbs and of human artistic creation, as well as of the world’s civilization as a whole. Their destruction has led to their classification among the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We fully sympathize with our beloved Serbian brothers and we share in their pain and frustration. Through this genuine, authentic and fraternal solidarity, we come closer to them and they to us. We wholeheartedly praise their constant and unceasing devotion, which we personally experienced and encountered on our previous visits to Serbia, and our prayer is to see very soon the complete restoration of these holy places. And if God allows it, we will visit Belgrade next fall, where we will celebrate together the 800-year anniversary of the elevation of Saint Sava as Archbishop of Serbia. We have already received an invitation from Patriarch Irenej, to which our answer was: “Whenever the Patriarch invites us, we always respond with great pleasure.”
Interviewer: In the Orthodox world, over the centuries, the Throne of Constantinople played a coordinating role among the Orthodox Churches. How can he play this role today? What is the future of this issue?
Ecumenical Patriarch: Indeed, the Ecumenical Patriarchate was called upon in the past, with a sense of responsibility to coordinate and to decide on inter-Orthodox issues. It will continue its mission and its course in history, having a coordinating and deciding role, depending of course on the details and circumstances of the times. As it has been said recently, the Church of Constantinople is “ruling and suffering.” The Phanar is “empty-handed and renewing.” We live in these two qualities of the Ecumenical Throne.
Our Patriarchate has a mysterious character that does not like and has no patience for people whose aspirations and visions are based on numbness, the megalomania of restricted logic and the commonality of material emotions. That is why it is difficult for us to understand those who are trapped in futility and secularism.
Here, in the First Church, a great mystery was accomplished, which goes beyond human logic and is understood only in the light of the faith and the synergy of heaven and earth. Here the principle of doctrine was founded, theology began here, here the wisdom of our Fathers was recorded, the Ecumenical Councils were here, the principle of our Sacred Traditions was here, the Sacred Canons were established here, monasticism was experienced and flourished, here the Christianization of the peoples was organized, and here was blessed the ecclesiastical status of all the newly created local Orthodox Churches, among them Serbian.
All this richness and wealth neatly defines our patriarchal course, as it has determined the course of our venerable predecessors, and I am sure it will inspire the course of our successors. With what the Orthodox Church bequeathed to us, we are moving toward the glory of Christ, the unity of the Churches and the salvation of the people. With the grace of God, we have begun in this way, and our desire is to finish in this way.