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.
Yesterday, March 2, Patriarch Porfirije of Serbia gave his first major interview as patriarch — an interview that lasted more than one hour. The entire interview, conducted by the state television channel RTS, can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V18m63rJjiU&t=14s A written transcript of the interview is not yet available, but various parts of the interview have been quoted by news services. Many different topics were covered in the interview. With respect to Ukraine, the Patriarch clearly stated that the actions by the Phanar were not in accord with the canons, but his language appears to be less harsh than the resolution adopted by the Assembly of the Serbian Orthodox Church in May 2019. Patriarch Porfirije stated that he is not aware of any pressure exerted by the Patriarchate of Constantinople on the Serbian Church to recognize the OCU and that he considered both Constantinople and Moscow to be sister churches. He stated: “We believe that at the moment, when it comes to the actions of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Ukraine – they do not agree with the tradition of the Church, and in this sense, if you like, you can say that we are on the side of the Russian Church. In reality, we are on the side of order and on the side of the canons. And in this case, the Russian Church is really deprived of her rights.” https://credo.press/236034/; https://spzh.news/en/news/77955-patriarkh-porfirij-ob-ukrainskom-voprose-my-vsegda-na-storone-kanonov
Patriarch Porfirije addressed the possibility of a papal visit to Serbia, the canonization of Cardinal Stepinac, and the Jasenovac death camp. An article at https://www.rtv.rs/sr_lat/drustvo/patrijarh-porfirije-referendum-na-kosovu-je-izvrsen-1389.-godine_1214294.html summarized the Patriarch’s comments with respect to the Pope as follows:
The Pope’s visit to Serbia depends on a number of factors, said Serbian Patriarch Porfirije tonight, who, as he stated, will never think about especially important and epochal events for the Church alone….[T]he patriarch pointed out that, to the extent he knows, there so far have been no Vatican initiatives towards the Serbian Orthodox Church regarding the Pope’s visit, and vice versa. “Patriarch Irinej said that it would be good and useful for the relationship between the two churches, but whether and when it will be – God knows,” said the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church. As for Pope Francis and the decision to form a commission to shed light on the life of Alojzije Stepinac, the patriarch says that it was a great gesture and believes that talks on that topic will continue. His impression is that, as he says, after several meetings of that commission, the views of all parties somehow came closer, although everyone remained in their initial positions. That is why he believes that, if the conversation continues, it will be easier to find a way forward, which will benefit both Serbs and Croats.
With respect to Stepinac, he also stated: “ Whether the Catholic Church will canonize Stepinac is not our business. But, in the dialogue with the help of historians from Serbia and Croatia, we tried to shed light on various events from Stepinac’s life as best as possible.” https://beta.rs/politika/142449-porfirije-kosovo-sustinski-deo-srbije-referendum-odrzan-1389-godine
With respect to Jasenovac, Patriarch Porfirije stated: We must nurture memory and remember, but at the same time as Christians we must fight resentment, because we must look to the future. We must not allow in any way that culture of remembrance to be trapped by any kind of vengeance and hatred because we will again capture ourselves. That spiral of evil that has begun will never end. ” https://www.rtv.rs/sr_lat/drustvo/patrijarh-porfirije-referendum-na-kosovu-je-izvrsen-1389.-godine_1214294.html Patriarch Porfirije was at monastery at Jasenovac on February 28. https://www.spc.rs/eng/serbian_patriarch_porfirije_visited_jasenovac_monastery At Jasenovac, he remarked that there is no greater justice than to have a shrine, a monastery in this place, to gather primarily monks and nuns, those who are called by God to offer him prayers for the peace of the world, among all people. The Catholic Bishop Antun Škvorčević of Požega, president of the Croatian Bishops’ Commission on Ecumenism and Dialogue, also participated in the Jasenovac event. https://ika.hkm.hr/novosti/srpski-patrijarh-porfirije-posjetio-jasenovac-medu-uzvanicima-i-pozeski-biskup-skvorcevic/ The bishop presented to Patriarch Porfirije a beautiful hand-bound Bible illuminated with pictures from the Austrian National Museum in Vienna.
It was announced today that Patriarch Porfirije has now gone into quarantine because of contact that he had with a priest with Covid. https://www.spc.rs/eng/press_release_7 The Patriarch was planning today to speak at the Catholic funeral of Milan Bandić, the mayor of Zagreb. https://www.24sata.hr/news/porfirije-u-izolaciji-nije-dosao-na-bandicev-pogreb-ne-zeli-nikog-ugroziti-on-je-odgovoran-748688 Several days ago, the Patriarch referred to the mayor as “a friend of Orthodox Serbs and all the people of the city of Zagreb and beyond, but also my personal friend.” https://www.spc.rs/eng/patriarch_porfirije_bandic_was_friend_orthodox_serbs_also_personal_friend_mine This is just another indication of the ability of Porfirije to build bridges and create close friendships.
With respect to a different topic, Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem on February 24 sent an “open letter” to the primates of the Local Orthodox Churches. A photocopy of the English-language letter has been posted by the Jerusalem Patriarchate at https://en.jerusalem-patriarchate.info/blog/2021/02/24/open-letter-from-his-beatitude-patriarch-theophilos-iii/. The first paragraph of the letter reads:
One year ago this week, we gathered in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to build our common fellowship in the pursuit of a dialogue of love for the sake of the unity of the Local Orthodox Churches. After two days of prayer and fraternal discussion, we emerged with greater determination to pursue deeper communion, and to address our common challenges together.
The next three paragraphs discuss the pandemic including a remembrance of Patriarch Irinej of Serbia. The fifth and sixth paragraphs then state:
God is merciful, and has given to his creatures the knowledge and skill to develop medicines and vaccines to end this deadly pandemic. As we look forward to brighter days this year, we are reminded of our common commitment to gather for prayer and fellowship. We pray that this may be possible later in this year.
Let us continue to uphold one another in prayer, and seek ways in which our Local Orthodox Churches might bring hope, blessing, and joy to one another. For Saint Paul says, Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). We also join together in prayer for our brother, His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew, and our fellow Orthodox primates, and we look forward to serving together to further the unity of our communion.
As can be seen from the foregoing, Patriarch Theophilos expresses the hope that it may be possible later this year for the primates “to gather for prayer and fellowship.”
I found it interesting to compare this hope with the plans announced in the final statement issued by the primates and delegates at the end of the Amman meeting in February 2020. The full text of the statement is set forth at https://en.jerusalem-patriarchate.info/blog/2020/02/26/maintain-the-unity-of-the-spirit-in-the-bond-of-peace-eph-43-the-amman-fraternal-familial-gathering-of-the-orthodox-primates-and-delegates-25-27-february-2020/ . The plans were as follows:
The delegations agreed that they should gather as brothers, preferably before the end of this year, to strengthen the bonds of fellowship through prayer and dialogue. The participants hope that His Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew with his known seniority of honour (πρεσβεια τιμήs) will join this dialogue along with his brother Primates.
The delegations embraced the call of their brother Patriarch Theophilos III to hold a prayer for the world, for an end to war, sickness and suffering, and for all the Christians as well as for the unity of the Orthodox Church. This prayer is to be held in the Mother Church, the Church of the Resurrection (Holy Sepulchre) in Jerusalem, before the Holy Tomb of Christ, from which He rose and proclaims peace to the world.
The foregoing envisioned a gathering of the “delegations” [the delegations at Amman were from Jerusalem, Moscow, Serbia, Romania, Poland, Czech Lands and Slovakia] “preferably before the end of this year , to strengthen the bonds of fellowship through prayer and dialogue.” The hope is expressed that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew “will join this dialogue.” The clear inference is that the six delegations would still meet even if Bartholomew does not join the dialogue.
As can be seen, the hope expressed by Patriarch Theophilos on February 24 is different than the final statement of February 2020. In this year’s statement, there is no mention of a future meeting by the delegations from the six Local Orthodox Churches, and there is no inference that the six delegations will still meet if the Ecumenical Patriarch decides not to call the meeting or decides not to participate in the meeting. Although the February 2020 statement used the word “dialogue” twice with respect to the future meeting, the hope expressed by Patriarch Theophilos on February 24 does not use the word “dialogue” but simply refers to “prayer and fellowship.”
At the beginning of this year, Archbishop Michal of Prague and the Czech Lands issued a letter to his flock concerning several anniversaries that will be observed in the Archdiocese in 2021. https://www.pp-eparchie.cz/arcibiskup/ (letter in Czech) The letter includes the following: “Another important event in the new year 2021 will be the 70th anniversary of the autocephaly, which was donated to our church in 1951 by the Russian Orthodox Church…. Leaving aside the ecclesiastical-political dispute over who was entitled to donate autocephaly to our church, we can say with certainty that God himself blessed the autocephalous path of our holy Church….” The Russian website Credo Press has posted a Russian translation of a purported February 1, 2021 letter from Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to Archbishop Michal in which Bartholomew in strong words warns against the celebration of this “imaginary” grant of autocephaly. https://credo.press/235816/ The Moscow website OrthoChristian has subsequently posted the full text of the February 1 letter in English and has stated that it has confirmed the authenticity of the letter with a member of the Holy Synod of the Czech and Slovak Church. https://orthochristian.com/137501.html As is well known, the Ecumenical Patriarchate maintains that only it has the right to grant autocephaly which it did for the Czech and Slovak Church in 1998.
Peter Anderson, Seattle USA