Constantinople, April 18, 2018
His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople met with various political and religious representatives from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia on April 10 and 11, taking the opportunity to address the issue of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church’s agreement to help the schismatic Macedonian Church acquire canonicity and autocephaly, reports the site of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s permanent delegation to the World Council of Churches.
The Macedonian Orthodox Church, which formed as a schism from the Serbian Orthodox Church, appealed to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in November, to take on the role of its “Mother Church” and to intercede on its behalf to the other autocephalous Local Orthodox Churches to bring it back into communion with the Orthodox Church. The Bulgarian Church resolved on November 27 to help the Macedonians, a move which has also drawn serious criticism from the Serbian and Greek Churches.
On April 10, President Mladen Ivanic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and President Gjorge Ivanov of Macedonia were cordially received by Pat. Bartholomew at the patriarchal headquarters in the Phanar region of Constantinople. The primate also met privately with the Macedonian president, along with his wife and son, various colleagues, and the Macedonian ambassador to Ankara, discussing various subjects and exchanging Paschal gifts.
The next day, a group of professors and students from the St. Clement of Ochrid Theological Seminary in Skopje, Macedonia were welcomed by the Ecumenical Patriarch.
Among other things, His All Holiness broached the topic of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church’s recent decision to become the “Mother Church” for the schismatic Macedonian Church and to help it return to communion with the Orthodox Church as an autocephalous Local Church. In doing so, he emphasized the Patriarchate of Constantinople’s historical role as the Mother Church for the Balkan Orthodox faithful.
“I am thinking about this because I want to be perfectly honest with you,” the patriarch began, “this action of the sister Church of Bulgaria was wrong. It does not help. It complicates things. The Mother Church of all the Balkan peoples is Constantinople. This is what the true history says. What is being discussed is a fictitious mother,” Pat. Bartholomew stated unequivocally.
The Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate addressed the matter earlier as well, issuing a communiqué from its regular session, held from February 7 to 9, in which it declared that it considers the actions of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in this matter to be un-canonical.
“Bulgaria cannot introduce you to canonicity, in normal relations with the other Churches. There must be directness, honesty, and sincerity in inter-Orthodox relations,” the patriarch added.
Drawing a parallel to the Synod of Crete in summer 2016, His All Holiness spoke of the decisions of the Antiochian, Bulgarian, Georgian, and Russian Churches not to attend, saying they “[do] not show honesty and sincerity on the part of these four Churches, since we have agreed and we have signed the decisions together,” referring to the January 2016 meeting of Orthodox primates in Chambésy, in which the texts and rules of operation for the council were agreed upon.
Following his comments, the patriarch encouraged the students to visit Constantinople often, again emphasizing the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s historical role: “Know that we love you, and come whenever you want to this beautiful and historic city, where is the headquarters of the Mother Church, from which you, and all the Balkan peoples, and Russia, received Baptism and the light of Christianity.”
For his part, His Eminence Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations has emphasized the necessity of the Serbian Orthodox Church’s role in the matter: “We are convinced that settling the ‘Macedonian’ Church issue must be resolved within the canonical framework, and it is inconceivable not to, in this process, take into account the leading role of the Serbian Orthodox Church, from which ‘the Macedonian Church’ seceded 50 years ago.”
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