CONSTANTINOPLE. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew offered an exclusive and significant interview to the National Herald, speaking about the Archdiocese of America, the Greeks in this country, the Greek language and culture, Archbishop Elpidophoros, Andonis Diamataris, the Orthodox Church throughout the world, and much more.
Here is the interview of His All-Holiness:
The National Herald: Your All-Holiness, what are your thoughts about the Archdiocese of America? Do your wishes, hopes and expectations for the Church here coincide with those for our new Archbishop Elpidophoros?
Ecumenical Patriarch: The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America is a large Eparchy of the Ecumenical Throne, with inviolable bonds to the Mother Church. Archbishop Elpidophoros is flesh from our flesh at the Phanar; he genuinely bears and expresses its spirit; he is dynamic, educated, a university professor of theology, accessible, with sensitivity to the pastoral needs of the faithful, with deep faith and trust in divine providence and with a vision for the future. He is authentically traditional and contemporary; or, perhaps more accurately, because he is traditional, he is also pioneering. “Conservatives” do not grasp the meaning of tradition. Traditionalism is not an inclination to the past in expectation of magical solutions; it involves gleaning from the experience of the past for the sake of offering a good witness in the present. Within the first six months of his tenure, Archbishop Elpidophoros has already established his mark. We certainly expect a great deal from him.
TNH: As the Archbishop par excellence, the Father of the local Church in America and our Patriarch, which areas of church life in America do you think require special attention and priority?
Ecumenical Patriarch: The mission of the Church has immovable pillars. These include the proclamation of the Gospel, the sanctification of the faithful, the liturgical life, the ministry of our neighbor, the experience and preservation of the noble spiritual values of Orthodox culture and Orthodox identity, as well as the witness of freedom in Christ in the contemporary world. More particularly, with regard to church life in America, we feel that special attention should be focused on cultivating and living the genuine liturgical tradition of the Church in parish life and community ethos.
Professor Yannaras, an Archon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, once wrote that “proper worship in and of itself was a cultural explosion.” The same applies to the pastoral concern for our youth, to theological education and education in general. Of course, through all these, it is also vital to promote the relationship of the institutions and expressions of the Ecumenical Patriarchate as well as its flock with the Sacred Center of Orthodoxy, which for centuries preserved and to this day expresses the authenticity of Orthodox self-consciousness as the tradition of the Saints and Martyrs of faith, as the Church that leads through suffering, and as the guardian of our People’s sacred values.
TNH: After 28 years on the Ecumenical Throne, what is your greatest concern and worry regarding the direction of the Orthodox Church today, of the world more broadly, and of Christianity in general?
Ecumenical Patriarch: From the outset of our Patriarchal tenure, our foremost concern was the unity of Orthodox and the common witness of the Orthodox Churches in the contemporary world. We consider this unity to be a necessary requirement both for dialogue with the rest of the Christian world and other religions, but also with the civilization of our age. The witness of the Church is always given within a specific historical and cultural context.
Today, this is characterized and defined by immense changes and developments in the field of science and technology, social relations and social structures, as well as politics and economy. We are living an inversion and devaluation of values, an idolization of individual rights, cultural conflicts and mass migration of populations, an eruption of religious fundamentalism, public and domestic violence, the destruction of the natural environment along with its attendant climate change. It is in this context that we are called to be Orthodox Christians, to offer an account “for the hope that lies within us.” It is abundantly clear that introversion and indifference toward the world are not the proper attitude for the Church.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate never ignored its charitable witness, service and solidarity with the world in the name of its liturgical life and spiritual mission. It has over the centuries been “a servant Church.” The Orthodox Church is also called to represent today the same culture of love, justice and peace, always in reference to the eternal destiny of humankind.
TNH: What do you believe about the Greek community in America? What are we for you?
Ecumenical Patriarch: We nurture great hopes for the future of the Greek community in America, which are also dynamically nurtured in the present. We regard it supremely important for you to preserve the Orthodox identity, to cultivate a sense of the value and definitive contribution of the Greek language as well as the indissoluble connection with the Mother Church of Constantinople. For us, you are the dearly beloved spiritual children, of whom we are proud and for whose spiritual progress we pray to the Giver of every good thing. As His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros said immediately after his election, “the Archdiocese of America is the pride of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.” We already anticipate the joy of our visit among you next May.
TNH: Do you have any comment on the tenure of Mr. Andonis Diamataris as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for matters pertaining to Greeks Abroad and Churches in the Diaspora? What has been your experience from your cooperation over the last months?
Ecumenical Patriarch: Mr. Diamataris is no stranger to us personally or, of course, to the Greeks abroad. He was born and raised in the Greek Diaspora; he knows its problems and perspectives; and he has worked long and efficiently in this capacity. As Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for matters pertaining to Greeks Abroad, he visited the Phanar and we had a very interesting exchange of opinions and excellent collaboration. Wherever he has traveled during his tenure, he has left positive impressions among the Greeks, manifesting a vivid interest in matters that concern them. We are certain that he will continue to offer his invaluable services to the Greek community through his knowledge and experience.