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Church

Patriarch Theodoros of Alexandria Speaks to TNH

BOSTON – His Beatitude Pope and Patriarch Theodoros of Alexandria and All Africa in an interview with The National Herald spoke from his heart about the Greek-American Community – and ‘the little boy Theodoros’ from the island Crete whom the will of God made Pope and Patriarch at the Patriarchate that is second in rank in the Orthodox Church.

He also spoke about the mission in Africa, as well as the ‘invasion’ of the Patriarchate of Moscow into the canonical jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Alexandria.

Patriarch Theodoros is visiting the United States, invited by the Order of St. Andrew – Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in order to be honored with the Athenagoras Human Rights Award on Saturday October 8, 2022 at the New York Hilton hotel.

Patriarch Theodoros of Alexandria at the entrance of the Annunciation church in Alexandria is holding the hand of a young Evzone. (Photos Patriarchate of Alexandria)

The entire interview follows:

TNH: Your Beatitude, how do you feel that in a few days you will be with the Omogenia of America to be honored with the Athenagoras Human Rights Award?

Patriarch Theodoros: I feel very happy. A dream is coming true because tomorrow is my 68th birthday and I have never been to America. And so, a wish of mine to see this continent is coming true, and I feel God’s blessing to be with you, to enable you to get to know me up close, who is the humble missionary of Africa from Crete, Theodoros the II.

TNH: What do you think about the Omogenia of America? What are we to you?

Patriarch Theodoros: I believe that you are a consolation, and as I said, I will not come to ask for anything, nothing. All I want is for you to get to know me well, who is the Cretan who 45 years ago left his island, went to the vast lands of Ukraine, then found himself in Africa, and all I want is to tell you why I am undertaking this struggle. All I want is your love and your prayer, since a week ago I returned from Madagascar, and after I return from seeing you, I am leaving for Congo and Rwanda.

Patriarch Theodoros of Alexandria with the Cretan Dance group of the Greek Community of Pretoria.
(Photos Patriarchate of Alexandria)

TNH: What was life like when you were growing up in Crete?

Patriarch Theodoros: Life in Crete was about being close to a holy mother from Asia Minor – I am dedicating something to her now for the hundredth anniversary of her birth in Smyrna. My father, a Chaniotis, was in the constabulary, but he departed from this life very young. He was very close with the elder Mitsotakis in Chania, connected by a great friendship, and when he saw me as a young man, he called me ‘Nikolaki’, and did so also after I became a Patriarch. And so, I lived the spiritual life of the Cretans, with consistency, with courage, with bravery, as we say, until one morning in 1985, I left for the foreign land.

TNH: Where did you go?

Patriarch Theodoros: To Odyssos – Odessa, Ukraine, leaving the mountains of Sfakia, where I had served for ten whole years with a learned Metropolitan, Theodoros Tzedakis, hiking with a donkey from Sfakia through the gorges of Samaria and Haradena. I wanted to spread my wings, to find somewhere to study and something to learn, and God brought me to Odyssos in Ukraine – the Soviet Union at the time – in 1985, to live there for another ten whole years.

TNH: You studied there, didn’t you?

Patriarch Theodore: I studied Art History and Literature at the universities there, but mainly studied to get to know Pontian Hellenism there, and to renovate the Museum of the Society of Friends (Φιλική Εταιρεία) and to encounter seventy thousand Hellenes, and I spent ten whole years down in the basement of the Society of Friends where I began giving Greek language lessons.

Patriarch Theodoros of Alexandria embraces the children of Congo with love and care. (Photos Patriarchate of Alexandria)

TNH: Your Beatitude, how do you feel about Odyssos today?

Patriarch Theodoros: Great pain. It’s a knife that cuts my heart every time I hear that a bomb fell on the port, that a person lost his life – it’s like I’m losing myself. I have walked its streets thousands of times and I know the city from the historic waterfront with its famous stairs to our Greek church of the Holy Trinity – where Gregory V with Ypsilantis and Mavrokordatos are our foundations – with my old coat with a cap I was wearing to protect me from the cold, and all this is a wound that is bleeding.

TNH: When you were a small child in Crete near your holy mother, did it ever cross your mind that one day you would become a patriarch, and indeed, of the Second-Throned Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church?

Patriarch Theodoros: No, but I was in the fourth year of high school, and a child asked Metropolitan Theodoros Tzedakis: “Father Theodoros, will Nikolakis become a clergyman?” And he answered: “He will become a priest, a hierarch, and a patriarch.” It was prophetic. The blessed Patriarch Parthenios of Alexandria had told me the same thing in Amorgos Greece.

Patriarch Theodoros of Alexandria with Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece in Athens.
(Photo Archdiocese of Athens)

TNH: What were your thoughts as you ascended for the first time as Patriarch the Throne of the ancient Patriarchate of Alexandria?

Patriarch Theodoros: Next week, God willing, I will celebrate it with you, October 9, when the seventh vote came through and Theodoros from Zimbabwe was elected. The bells began to ring, I looked at the Crucified Christ and I said to myself “now, Theodoros, you are the Patriarch of Alexandria,” and I felt this burden and responsibility and all I said to Him was “Lord, help me on this road,” but I felt that within a second everything had changed in my life.

TNH: How do you manage financially and perform the huge amount of missionary work?

Patriarch Theodoros: It’s a very poor situation. I say this to the Greek government, I say this to all people because always be aware, my dear Theodore, that it is the fate of the Patriarchate of Alexandria to be a poor Patriarchate. That is why I am saddened when I read the history that the noted Lucaris, Meletius Pigas, and my other predecessors constantly begged, because we never had resources. But my experience has taught me much, and now that I was in Southern Madagascar, we have started to stand on our own feet by establishing schools and creating farms. Yesterday I inaugurated the larges Academy of Plato and Socrates. While in the poor villages school is completely free, in the good schools we build there will be offerings from the children’s families, so that our schools can survive. From America, the OCMC Organization is helping us to drill wells. Because of the economic crisis, we are getting less government assistance. We try to survive either by means of farms, growing corn, or through big farms and sharing fairly from what we save.

TNH: What is the greatest anguish of your soul today?

Patriarch Theodoros: This great evil, the invasion of the Russian Church in the jurisdiction of our Patriarchate. I have always respected the ecclesiastical boundaries of each Church, and it hurts my heart that another Orthodox Church comes to attack a poor missionary and a missionary Church.

TNH: Why did they do that?

Patriarch Theodoros: It was their dream for years, and now they found the opportunity to make it a reality.

Patriarch Theodoros of Alexandria with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Cardinal Kurt Koch at the Thronal Feast of the Church of Constantinople.
(Photo Ecumenical Patriarchate/Archive Nikos Manginas)

TNH: Are they actually taking revenge on you for recognizing the Autocephaly of the Church of Ukraine?

Patriarch Theodoros: Yes, but besides that I remember that twenty-five years ago, my blessed predecessor had deposed two Russian and two Serbian priests who had gone to Johannesburg trying to take advantage. They have always had this dream of expansion in the African space since it is fertile ground because of the poverty of the people.

TNH: Your Beatitude, I often ask myself how and why our ancient Patriarchates found themselves in the current known state of captivity.

Patriarch Theodoros: Perhaps because we lost our flock in our Sees. You see it in Constantinople the City of the Romiosini. You see it in Alexandria. Tomorrow I will be at Saint Savvas and I will count ten, fifteen, twenty people in the pews. The same in Antioch. Hellenism is gone, or rather the Christian element. You see what our Jerusalem is going through with the claims they have been making for years on the Holy Places. But for my own Patriarchate, now from what I saw in Madagascar, a hope was kindled in me, when I saw five and ten thousand children cheering, “White father, welcome.” It was very touching – on the shores of the Indian Ocean.

These children themselves ask to learn Greek. We have schools where they can also learn their own language. Always we work with respect for every local government, and we faithfully implement the orders of the Ministry of Education. The good thing compared to the other traditions is that we rarely charge tuition fees, and that is only when we have some high-level institution and charge some levy to help the school.

Patriarch Theodoros of Alexandria with the President of Zambia Dr. Edgar Chagwa Lungu. (Photos Patriarchate of Alexandria)

TNH: Is there any great desire of yours that has not been fulfilled?

Patriarch Theodoros: My greatest wish is to build a big hospital in South Africa so that children with AIDS do not die on the streets. I want nothing else.

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