Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew gave an interview to the Greek newspaper “To Vima tis Kyriakis.” The translation of the full text was posted on the website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (www.goarch.org) on January 13. Below is an abridged version of the interview, focusing on Ukraine, the Tomos of Autocephaly that was presented to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine in 2019 and relations with the Moscow Patriarchate.
VIMA: Your All-Holiness, it has been two years since you officially handed over the Tomos of Autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine. How do you assess the course of the newly founded Church? It is argued in some quarters that the decision of the Ecumenical Throne to grant the request of the Ukrainian Orthodox put the unity of Orthodoxy to the test. Are you worried about the pan-Orthodox unity?
Patriarch Bartholomew: The unity of Orthodoxy is not being tested because of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s response to the request of the Ukrainian Orthodox. Ukrainian Autocephaly was an act of responsibility on the part of the Mother Church towards millions of our Orthodox brothers and sisters who were outside the Church through no fault of their own. And, of course, it was not, as Russian propaganda accuses her, the serving of political expediencies and/or even geopolitical interests. Two years later, we are glad to see the new Church grow and His Beatitude Metropolitan Epifaniy of Kyiv contribute to the normalization of the ecclesiastical life there, with his gentle character and fraternal initiatives.
We read a number of allegations of violence by extremist groups against Orthodox in Ukraine. If, of course, such actions are true, no matter where they come from and to the detriment of whoever they are, we have condemned them from the outset, as we have condemned all kinds of provocations aimed at creating a climate of tension among the people of Ukraine, but also at defaming the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
In the Ukrainian case we did the same as in the other cases of concession of autocephaly. We followed the centuries-old tradition of Orthodoxy established by ecclesiastical practice. Let me remind you that Constantinople had already granted – before Ukraine – autonomy to nine other local Churches. Today, some, for selfish purposes of course, deny this self-evident fact. What recklessness indeed! Those who question the rights and responsibilities of the Ecumenical Patriarchate are, in essence, questioning their very existence and identity, the very structure of Orthodoxy.
VIMA: What are your feelings about the stance of the Moscow Patriarchate? And what are your intentions and initiatives belonging to the First of Orthodoxy, as is commonly accepted, for the healing of the condition?
Patriarch Bartholomew: Mrs. [Maria] Antoniadou, initially and because there has been rife speculation about it, which is mainly spread by individuals and circles of the Russian Church, we must make it clear that there is no schism in Orthodoxy. There is a different view on the part of the Church of Russia on the occasion of the Ukrainian issue, which was manifested by the cessation of communion with the Mother Church of Constantinople, and then with other Churches that recognized the autocephaly of the new Church. In our estimation, this was a wrong action of the sister Church of Russia. Therefore, I repeat, there is no schism in Orthodoxy. There was a problem. For three decades, Moscow has been willfully blind to the tragic situation in Ukraine. Essentially, it prevented a solution from being found so that Kyiv, detached from the Church of Constantinople, could not escape its control, taking advantage of circumstances and situations.
The granting of autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine by the Ecumenical Patriarchate was, therefore, not only ecclesiologically and canonically correct, but also the only realistic solution to the problem. Consequently, only the recognition of the Ukrainian Autocephaly by all the Orthodox Churches, and not any other stance, be it waiting or calls for pan-Orthodox meetings or endless and countless interviews in the media, replete with offensive characterizations, contribute to pan-Orthodox unity.
As far as I am concerned, as Ecumenical Patriarch, I cannot allow Orthodox Ecclesiology to be distorted on the altar of base motives. I don’t have the right to take even one step back. Courtesy is of no use when Theology, the order, and the sacred tradition of our Church are at stake. The word of Truth is ‘sharper than any knife.’ There is the witness of history, the sources, the records, the facts. It is distorted by money, intimidation, propaganda and midsummer night’s dreams. Oh no! Let us stand aright!
VIMA: How do you respond to those who accuse you of behaving like the Pope of the East and Orthodoxy?
Patriarch Bartholomew: One more unfounded accusation. Is it papism to shoulder the responsibilities of my ministry? Did they just hear about these responsibilities? Didn’t they read about them in ecclesiastical history? It is said that ecclesiastically the role of Constantinople ended with the Fall of Constantinople. There is no greater inaccuracy! All of today’s autocephalies were granted in the post-Fall period. When the Ecumenical Patriarchate was giving autocephaly to one or the other Church, why did they not accuse it of ‘papal pretensions?’
At some point, the lies and the propaganda must stop before the truth of the Church! In Orthodoxy there is no Pope, no papacy. Those who make this accusation want to project the false view that the Ecumenical Patriarchate allegedly violates the canonical tradition of Orthodoxy, which of course they themselves not only do not respect or recognize, but ignore. They interpret the holy canons as they please, especially the ones that secure the responsibilities of the Ecumenical Throne, while they introduce new ecclesiology and use the Holy Eucharist like a tool.
So, let’s be clear. In fact, the problem is not the Ukrainian autocephaly nor are the supposedly non-existent or invalid ordinations of the Ukrainian hierarchy, which some people deliberately invoke. The goal is to remove these unique responsibilities from the Throne of Constantinople and transfer them to other hands. From my standpoint, then, you understand that I cannot, on the one hand, abdicate the responsibilities that my predecessors bequeathed to me, through the praxis of the Church, and on the other hand, allow, as this is also my responsibility, the spiritual slippage of those who flirt with the federalization of the Orthodox Church, according to Protestant standards.
Who, then, behaves like the ‘Pope of Orthodoxy?’ The one who remains faithful to her tradition or the one who claims for himself a status that he never had and is not going to acquire?