The Primate of the Polish Orthodox Church, His Beatitude Metropolitan Sawa of Warsaw and All Poland talks about the complicated period of the formation of the Polish Church, the World Orthodox Youth Forum scheduled for the summer, and overcoming modern challenges by Christians.
—Vladyka, Poland is a country with a Catholic majority. Please tell us about the distinctive features of the life of the Orthodox Church in the lands where Orthodox faithful are a minority.
—Orthodoxy appeared in what is now Poland as a result of the mission of the holy brothers Cyril and Methodius. Their disciples preached Christ's teaching (the Byzantine rite) among the Vistulans (Wislanie tribe), the Polans (Polianians) and the Lachy. The storms of history in the Polish lands reduced Orthodoxy there and in places even eradicated it. Despite the difficulties and all sorts of persecutions, it has survived to this day. That is why our Holy Church at every Divine Liturgy offers up a special thanksgiving prayer to God for all difficulties and asks Him to preserve the Church till the end of time.
In the interwar period there were over five million believers in Poland, but after the end of World War II only about 500,000–600,000 remained. In 1924, we received autocephaly from the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which was recognized by all the canonical Churches, including the Russian Church in 1948. At present, our Church lives a full Church life. After the political changes of 1980–1981, we developed a law that determines the relations of the State to the Church and vice versa. The Polish Orthodox Church has legal status and uses in its life everything that proceeds from it—for example, all church property belongs to the Church. Spiritual guidance is regularly given in the army and all other state organizations. The Law of God is taught in schools of all kinds. The youth is united into the Brotherhood of Orthodox Youth, which also has legal rights. Our Church is in the Polish Ecumenical Council and is a member of the World Council of Churches. Our Church also cooperates with the Roman Catholic Church as part of the joint Orthodox-Catholic commission. We have the opportunity to use airtime on television and radio. On the whole, the voice of the Orthodox Church in Poland is heard.
—This year the Polish Church is receiving Orthodox youth from all over the world at its summer forum. Why was it decided to hold the forum in Poland? Can you tell us about how work with youth is organized in the Polish Church?
—Our Church gives special attention to the education of the younger generation. We do this at the family, school and Church level. Our youth actively participates in the life of the Church, both socially and internationally. Young people, as I have already said, are united into the Brotherhood of Sts. Cyril and Methodius; they actively participated and still continue to be involved in the Syndesmos international organization. Because this organization’s work has waned, our youth strives to help the organization’s leaders resume its activity at the international level. And that is why they suggested a meeting in Suprasl. Suprasl has a marvelous church, which was completely restored after it had been destroyed by German troops in 1942.
—There are many Old Believer communities in Poland. In the Russian Church there is a group of Old Believers called Edinoverie, who re-united with the universal Church while maintaining their services and way of life. Are you considering setting up such a parish in Poland?
—Groups of Old Believers of the Bespopovtsy (i.e., “priestless”) denomination still exist in Poland, but as yet we have no Edinoverie parishes. There was once such a parish in Wojnowo, which remained after the Second World War, but later joined (with its priest Alexander Avayev) the Polish Orthodox Church. Now there is a monastery there. Today several communities of the Bespopovtsy are still active in the North and East of Poland.
—Can you name the main challenges that Orthodox Christians face today? How can they be overcome?
—The major challenge of world Orthodoxy today is to find a way to eliminate the Church divisions that it is experiencing now. All kinds of schisms and splits are healed by faith and love. These are the main gifts for the victory over evil. If Orthodoxy uses them, it will show the world that it truly fulfills the call of the apostle: Let all your things be done with charity (1 Cor. 16:14). Today, through love and faithfulness to Christ and its ancestors, Orthodoxy can be a model for all Christendom and all mankind.