Peter Anderson reports from the Orthodox world.
Longstanding reporter of the news from the Eastern Church, Peter Anderson shares our dream of a unified Christianity. His love for Orthodoxy has driven him to this personal mission to share the news of East with the world through his email list. The Urbi et Orbi Foundation is proud to share his efforts and his insights with you.
Metropolitan Porfirije of Zagreb and Ljubljana was enthroned as Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church on February 19, the day after his election. The enthronement and the Divine Liturgy occurred in the very crowded Cathedral Church of Holy Archangel Michael in Belgrade. A video of the entire event can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zx91SP0i6M4&t=44s. A list of those participating in the Liturgy as well as government representatives and representatives of various religions present at the enthronement is found at https://www.spc.rs/eng/his_holiness_porfirije_archbishop_pec_metropolitan_belgrade_and_karlovci_and_serbian_patriarch_enthr (English). Presumably because of the pandemic, representatives of other Local Orthodox Churches were not there or at least not mentioned. A partial list of the hundreds of letters of congratulations is found at https://www.spc.rs/eng/orthodox_and_entire_christian_world_and_people_good_will_congratulated_patriarch_porfirije_his_elect. Both Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Patriarch Kirill spoke to Metropolitan Porfirije by telephone within a few hours after his election. https://mospat.ru/en/news/61302/ (Patriarch Kirill); https://orthodoxtimes.com/ecumenical-patriarchs-cordial-telephone-conversation-with-the-patriarch-of-serbia/ (Ecumenical Patriarch)
The official English translation of Patriarch Porfirije’s address at his enthronement can be accessed at https://www.spc.rs/eng/speech_serbian_patriarch_porfirije_enthronement_february_18_2021_cathedral_church_belgrade . The final paragraph of his address is as follows:
In July 2014, I said in Zagreb, and I do not give up, that with all my being, modest strength, but with the strength and power of God’s grace, I will work on connecting people, building bridges and establishing dialogue with everyone. Through that dialogue in Zagreb and elsewhere, I gained friends, and I am deeply convinced that the Serbian Church and the Serbian people gained them. I will try to be worthy of those people in Zagreb, Ljubljana and other cities of the Diocese of Zagreb-Ljubljana, who were close to me, my priests and the Serbian people, who accepted us as friends and more. When needed, they publicly represented us and defended us in times of trouble if they ever existed. I will try to be such a friend as I have gained in Croatia and Slovenia, according to the same key to my brothers, regardless of which nation and religion they belong to and who live in countries where we Orthodox Serbs are the majority. Therefore, I ask you and all of us fathers, brothers and sisters to continue to do so, praying to our holy ancestors and heavenly intercessors to help us in this, and to reach eternal life here and now with such hope!
It is also apparent that the people of Zagreb developed an affection for Metropolitan Porfirije. A column in the major Zagreb newspaper Večernji list commented on the election of Porfirije. https://www.vecernji.hr/premium/porfirije-ce-dati-poticaj-za-hrvatsko-srpske-odnose-1470177 The comments included the following:
It is not a negligible fact that Metropolitan Porfirije comes from Zagreb, where, since he became the Metropolitan in 2014, he turned a new page in Orthodox-Catholic and Croatian-Serbian relations in this area. He summed it up at the very beginning in one of his sentences in the inaugural sermon in the church of the Holy Transfiguration of the Lord in the center of Zagreb, paraphrasing Arsen Dedić [a Croatian songwriter and poet], saying that he and Zagreb would “love in public.” This initially meant that the new Metropolitan of Zagreb would be a man of dialogue and an open mind, that he would not allow himself to be captured by inherited burdensome relations. Moreover, it is precisely through his openness and availability that he would seek to break down previous barriers and establish a new spirit of dialogue and understanding. And his position has been confirmed all these years….
The fact that he and Zagreb will love each other in public was confirmed by him on several occasions on the streets of Zagreb, where he often likes to walk, and where, as he once told us, “many recognize and address me, not as a foreigner, a newcomer, but with sincere friendship. My priests who came to Zagreb from Serbia have such experiences. They and their family have already made good friends here. That is what is most valuable.” The Metropolitan Porfirije was the builder of bridges, and it will certainly be so for Patriarch Porfirije. He is, above all, a man of deep and true faith, before whom both national and denominational church barriers fall.
In fact, Metropolitan Porfirije authored a book in 2017 with the title “Zagreb i ja se volimo javno” – “Zagreb and I love each other in public.” https://ika.hkm.hr/novosti/predstavljena-knjiga-metropolita-porfirija-zagreb-i-ja-se-volimo-javno/ The foregoing link describes the remarks of various individuals at the formal presentation of the book. One of the speakers was Prof. Dr. Ivo Josipović, who was president of Croatia from 2010 to 2015. The article states:
Former President of Croatia Prof. Dr. Ivo Josipović pointed out that the messages of Metropolitan Porfirije are precious. He said that they often discuss in the bishop’s home issues which are often not questions of Orthodox, Catholics, Croats or Serbs, “but are questions of all of us, all people.” It is true that the key word of all presentations and texts is “love.” However, there is another word that is not mentioned explicitly, but it come out. It is the word “wisdom,” Vladika Porfirije’s words are words of wisdom, said Dr. Josipovic. He explained that this is a man who came to Croatia at a time that was still bad, and the words of peace, reconciliation and love that he sends are a truly valuable contribution to Croatian society.
For me, this is truly amazing. The recent popular president of the Republic of Croatia, who is not Orthodox, regularly came to the home of Metropolitan Porfirije, a Serbian Orthodox bishop, to discuss various issues with him and to obtain his wisdom!
Metropolitan Porfirije was also the favorite of the Serbian bishops. Secret ballot elections were held during last week’s Assembly of Bishops to determine the three candidates whose names would be placed in the envelopes for the drawing. Of the 39 bishops who voted in the three separate elections for candidates #1, #2, and #3, 31 voted for Porfirije, 30 for Bishop Irinej of Bačka, and 25 for Bishop Jefrem of Banja Luka. https://www.kurir.rs/vesti/drustvo/3627687/otkrivamo-ko-su-osim-porfirija-bili-kandidati-za-novog-poglavara-apostolski-zreb-je-ovog-puta-takoreci-pogodio-zelje-vladika With respect to Bishop Irinej, whom Porfirije has repeatedly stressed is his “spiritual father,” there has been some very recent distressing news. The day of the meeting of the Assembly to select a new patriarch, Irinej did not feel well. He did not attend the enthronement the next day. It has now been reported that he has tested positive for Covid and has a fever. https://orthochristian.com/137556.html
The only recent criticism of Porfirije, of which I am aware, comes from certain conservative Orthodox who have circulated a short video of Metropolitan Porfirije bending down to kiss the hand of Pope Francis at the World Day of Peace at Assisi on September 20, 2016. Metropolitan Porfirije attended this event as the representative of the Serbian Patriarchate and was a speaker. https://archive.santegidio.org/pageID/11712/langID/en/text/2104/Speech-of-Porfirije.html When the Pope arrived at Assisi, there was a very long reception line to greet him. A video of the approximately one hour spent by the Pope greeting the individual delegates can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lj6a9_5m8Uc . You can see Metropolitan Porfirije greeting the Pope beginning at 36:00 in the video. If you watch the entire video, it appears that a majority of the Orthodox or Oriental bishops did bend down to kiss the Pope’s hand – presumably intended merely as a courtesy of respect.
Metropolitan Porfirije may well have met Pope Francis one year later. The Metropolitan was one of the representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church on the joint commission to examine the life of Cardinal Stepinac. The joint commission held its final meeting, July 12-13, 2017, at Domus Sanctae Marthae, where Pope Francis lives. https://www.spc.rs/eng/joint_press_release_interchurch_commission The Vatican’s daily bulletin lists no meetings or other activities for Pope Francis for those two days. It is very possible that the Pope met confidentially with the commission, including Porfirije, during those two days.
The Moscow Patriarchate has stressed that Patriarch Porfirije supports Moscow’s position with respect to the Ukraine dispute with Constantinople. https://spzh.news/en/news/77725-v-rpc-napomnili-o-pozicii-novogo-serbskogo-patriarkha-po-ukrainskomu-voprosu (statement by Archpriest Nikolai Balashov, Deputy Chairman of the DECR). In May 2019 the Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Patriarchate issued a statement that “the Assembly’s present position remains: our Church does not recognize the newly established false-church structure in Ukraine, led by the citizens of Denysenko and Dumenko, and is only and exclusively in liturgical and canonical communion with the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, led by His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry….” https://www.spc.rs/eng/communique_holy_assembly_bishops_2 This decision by the highest authority of the Serbian Orthodox Church is, of course, the position that Patriarch Porfirije will take. However, there may now be a difference. In his address on his enthronement, the new Patriarch stated that “ I will work on connecting people, building bridges and establishing dialogue with everyone.” Unlike his predecessor, Patriarch Porifije may take an active role in seeking to build a bridge between Moscow and Constantinople. At least before the Ukrainian crisis, Metropolitan Porfirije thought highly of the Ecumenical Patriarch. On September 10, 2016, Metropolitan Porfirije stated that Patriarch Bartholomew is known worldwide as a great peacemaker as well as man of love, man who connects and builds bridges between peoples, religions and countries. https://www.spc.rs/eng/jasenovac_pakrac_10_september_2016 It is now apparent from the congratulatory letter from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (https://orthodoxtimes.com/ecumenical-patriarch-to-patriarch-porfirije-we-wish-your-patriarchal-ministry-to-be-long-and-auspicious/) and by telephone call to the new patriarch, that Bartholomew wishes to have good relations with Porfirije. Maybe there is some hope Porfirije can play a valuable role between Moscow and Constantinople!
Peter Anderson, Seattle USA