Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew gave an interview to the Serbian newspaper “Politika”, providing answers to crucial and sensitive issues of Orthodoxy in modern world.
The basic topic of the interview was the granting of the Tomos of Autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Ecumenical Patriarch stated that the granting was a sine qua non for the unity.
Bartholomew said that “for some people, the Schism in Ukraine was the best excuse for abandoning these pious peoples, and shift out of their responsibilities to God and history. For us, though, the Schism was a motive, as it is God’s will to find solutions for unity and salvation, so as to bring back these people to the Grace of Church”.
He also said, referring to Hierarchs Filaret and Makarios, that the issue of their forgiveness has nothing to do with the Church of Ukraine. “The individuals are bound to pass away. If this case was about those two individuals, I assure you that the Church would have reacted differently”.
On the motives of this decision, namely the bestowal of the status of Autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine, Bartholomew emphasized that in due time “Mother Church’s and my personal intentions, which are purely ecclesiastic, canonical and salvatory”.
“Ukraine got Autocephaly. For the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Ecumenical Patriarch, this means nothing more, nothing less. To be sure, no particular state exerted pressure for Autocephaly”, he characteristically argued.
Indeed, Bartholomew said that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has no expansionist intentions. On the contrary, according to Ecumenical Patriarch, the Church of Constantinople constantly decreases and diminishes.
For once more, he repeated that the issue of Ukraine is a long-term one. “It is not the case that Mother Church engaged in this issue out of the blue. The fact that some are familiar with the idea of the Schism and neglect the pre-existing enormous ecclesiastic problem, does not exempt us from reliability for its solution”, claimed Bartholomew.
As a matter of fact, he explains that the issuing of Autocephaly without the agreement of the other Orthodox Churches is not unprecedented. In all cases, the Tomos of Autocephaly was granted to newly established Autocephalous Churches by the Ecumenical Patriarchate with no previous agreement and cooperation in a Pan-Orthodox level.
Ecumenical Patriarch goes on to respond that there is no Pope of the East in the religious conscience of Orthodox Church. Nevertheless, the Ecumenical Synods have granted responsibility and duties to the Church of Constantinople that other Churches lack. These privileges “are not of secular authority but of spiritual ministry and responsibility”.
Ecumenical Patriarch was also asked whether the borders and the political structure of a territory can serve as a criterion for Church’s religious determination and responsibilities.
Bartholomew responded that a prerequisite for the granting of Autonomy is State-formation, but this does not mean that wherever there is a need for State-formation, Autocephaly is to be granted.
Referring to internal issues of the Church of Serbia, Bartholomew clarified that certain people artificially identify the case of Ukraine’s granting of Autocephaly with the case of Skopje and Montenegro, “because they wish to turn the Church of Serbia against the Ecumenical Patriarchate”.
According to Bartholomew, “the difference with Ukraine, from a canonical and ecclesiastic point of view, is that Russia rushed to occupy the Metropolis of Kiev, although it had no right to, while Serbia possesses what it owns according to the canonical and ecclesiastic rules. This means that the Ecumenical Patriarchate is not going to alter the status of the Church of Serbia and its boundaries, unless there is cooperation and agreement”.
Bartholomew concluded that, concerning the role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, today and in the future, “the inheritance of Orthodox Church guides us through the glory of Christ to the Unity of the Churches and the salvation of our souls. We have followed God’s Grace in the past, and we shall continue to do so till the end”.