His All-Holiness Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, will arrive in Ukraine tonight. This is his third visit to our country. His All-Holiness visited Odesa іn September 1997 and Kyiv in July 2008. The current visit is special because it is the first visit after the Orthodox Church of Ukraine received the Tomos of Autocephaly, and it is timed to the 30th anniversary of Ukraine's independence.
His All-Holiness Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, told Ukrinform in an exclusive interview about the path of the formation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, its development and strengthening, the attempts of external influence, counteraction to them and related challenges, the pandemic, and the attitude of the Mother Church to vaccination.
THE MOTHER CHURCH HAS BEEN CARING FOR THE UKRAINIAN CHURCH FOR A THOUSAND YEARS
Question: Your All-Holiness, your visit to Ukraine begins today. You are going to Kyiv for the first time since the Orthodox Church of Ukraine received the Tomos of Autocephaly. What is the program and what are your expectations from this visit?
Answer: First, I am visiting Ukraine in response to an invitation from His Excellency President Volodymyr Zelensky in order to participate in the celebrations for the 30th anniversary of the country’s declaration of independence and share the joy of the Ukrainian people. I have also received a formal invitation on behalf of His Beatitude Metropolitan Epifaniy of Kyiv and All Ukraine. I am sure that I will rejoice in the progress of the newly-established Orthodox Church of Ukraine. The Mother Church of Constantinople -- from whom more than 1,000 years ago, at the desire of St. Volodymyr, your predecessors received their baptism into Christianity -- has never ceased to show interest and concern for all of you and your local Church. The relationship between Constantinople and Kyiv has remained firm and unshakeable for ten centuries, and this holds true even more so today. This is the message of love and unity that I wish to convey through this interview to the clergy as well as the faithful people, our sisters and brothers in Ukraine, with whom I look forward to communicating once again person to person.
THE CHURCH CANNOT BE TERRORIZED, LIES AND SLANDER ARE STRENGTHENING OUR FAITH
Question: Your All-Holiness, we are grateful to you for your attention, support and care for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Are you satisfied with its progress and ongoing development? What advice would you give to strengthen the Orthodox Church of Ukraine?
Answer: We are very satisfied with all that has been achieved in the Orthodox Church of Ukraine from the granting of the Tomos of Autocephaly to this day. We feel proud of the service and witness of this Church, which we cannot conceal has been the target of a merciless assault of slander and falsehood from circles that do not want an Orthodox Church in Ukraine independent of external influences. And all that the Orthodox Church of Ukraine endures is also experienced by the Mother Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Unfortunately, some people seem accustomed to speaking untruths and exercising a peculiar religious bullying, thinking that in this way they will intimidate the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the local Autocephalous Churches, and the newly-founded Orthodox Church of Ukraine itself. However, Orthodoxy cannot be threatened. The Church cannot be terrorized. Lies and defamation do not unnerve us; on the contrary, they solidify our faith in the Canons, the tradition, and the Truth of the Church.
His Beatitude Metropolitan Epifaniy of Kyiv is a prudent Primate, who knows how to manage ecclesiastical matters with efficiency and in the spirit of the canonical tradition of Orthodoxy. We have confidence in him and favorable hope for the future of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. My exhortation to him is that he continue on the straight path, which is the only way that leads to the edification of the faithful and unity.
THOSE WHO DOUBT AUTOCEPHALY OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH OF UKRAINE IS UNCANONICAL ARE NOT GUIDED BY ECCLESIASTICAL CRITERIA
Question: What would you say to the brothers and sisters of the Moscow Patriarchate, who are convinced that the Orthodox Church of Ukraine has an "uncanonical," "wrong" autocephaly?
Answer: The problem with these people is that they find it difficult or refuse to recognize the reality. They are also ignorant of what autocephaly means, as well as the history and canonical practice of how it is granted. The Church of Russia, where they wish to belong, received its autocephaly and patriarchal status from the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Why is it that they do not want to accept the validity of the same canonical justification for autocephaly in the case of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine that proved valid for the Orthodox Church of Russia and the other Orthodox Churches that were granted autocephaly by the Ecumenical Patriarchate? The intervention of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is not uncanonical; what is actually uncanonical is the questioning of its intervention. Clearly, they are not interested at all in the canonical order because, in our case, they evidently give priority to foreign interests and not ecclesiastical criteria.
THE REJECTION OF VACCINATION IS NOT GROUNDED ON THEOLOGICAL OR SCIENTIFIC CRITERIA
Question: The world community is actively fighting the coronavirus. In the Orthodox world, there are opponents of vaccination, wearing masks and maintaining social distance. What is the attitude of the Mother Church to vaccination? Have you and your immediate circle been vaccinated?
Answer: The current immense health crisis also affects Orthodox Christians, just as it does all the rest of humanity. We are, of course, judged by our attitude in the face of the pandemic and the struggle to address it by developing appropriate vaccines and other procedures. Nevertheless, the rejection of vaccination and other protective measures is irrational and not grounded on theological or scientific criteria. From the outset, I stated in a message that the pandemic endangers our faithful, but not our faith. Indeed, it is true that the victims of this virus include a large number of believers, who refuse protective measures. It is, therefore, unacceptable in the face of so many victims and so much suffering for some people to deny the reality of the pandemic and consider it a construction of different groups or propagate conspiracy theories. Unfortunately, their attitude reveals indifference toward their neighbor. Yet whatever contradicts the commandment of love cannot be the will of God. The Church of Constantinople urges the faithful to consult their doctors and, according to their directions, to be vaccinated. Naturally, all of us at the Phanar, including myself, have been vaccinated.
SCIENCE IS A BLESSING OF GOD AS IT SERVES HUMANKIND
Question: Coronavirus has caused a large number of deaths. Unexpectedly, many of us experience a sudden loss or illness of loved ones. What do you advise to do to stand up morally? What is the best way to support ourselves and our families?
Answer: It is not the first time that the Church is facing a pandemic. In every case, the response was prayer and compliance with the measures foreseen. Today science proves that it can swiftly and effectively discover solutions. Of course, there are also limits to scientific knowledge; but inasmuch as science serves humankind, it is a blessing of God. We gratefully accept this divine gift. Thus, we owe a debt of thanks to the scientists, who in such a brief span of time have created the vaccines that protect us from the complications of the coronavirus. Moreover, we thank the medical and nursing personnel throughout the world who work on a daily basis to save our fellow human beings struggling from COVID-19. I know that doctors and nurses in Ukraine as well strive with all their resources to save the sick. We congratulate them, we bless them, and we assure them that they are in our prayers so that our Savior Christ may strengthen their work. We further pray every day that God may give rest to the souls of the victims of this pandemic and grant consolation to their families.
WE PRAY FOR THE PROGRESS, PROSPERITY, UNITY AND SPIRITUAL GROWTH OF ALL WHO LIVE IN UKRAINE
Question: Your All-Holiness, this visit to Ukraine is dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the proclamation of Ukraine's independence. As a spiritual father for Orthodox Ukrainians, what would you like to say or wish to your flock in Ukraine and Ukrainians in general?
Answer: As we have already noted, we share in the joy of the Ukrainian people on this anniversary. We pray for the progress, prosperity, unity and spiritual growth of all those without exception who live in Ukraine. And we are certain that the Orthodox Church of Ukraine will prove all the more vigorously an extremely important factor on this positive road and development. And we have no doubt that the Orthodox Church of Ukraine will constitute the central point of reference on the way toward ecclesiastical unity in your country. The granting of autocephaly on the part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate will remain a vital moment and milestone in the history of the Ukrainian people.
Olga Budnyk, Istanbul-Ankara
Photo credit: Ecumenical Patriarchate Press Office, Ukrinform
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