Istanbul (AsiaNews) - From July 25-27, ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew I will visit Kiev to preside over the celebrations for the 1020 years of the Christianization of Ukraine.
The visit should help to unite the Orthodox world, often divided by nationalism. At the solemn liturgy in the cathedral of Kiev, and in the presence of various metropolitans from all over the world, the hierarchical order of the Eastern Church will be displayed, which recognizes the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople as first in the hierarchy, followed by Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Moscow.
In recent days, there have been controversies and reactions from the Russian side over the role of Bartholomew as leader of the ceremonies. In the end, however, Moscow decided to be present in the liturgy with Alexy II himself. This acceptance on the part of Moscow is judged by many as a "victory" for Bartholomew I. For some time, Moscow ("the third Rome") has been contending with Constantinople ("the second Rome") for the position of leadership in the Orthodox world.
In recent days, some Ukrainian journalists have gone to visit Bartholomew, and this has allowed the patriarch to make some clarifications for those who understand Orthodoxy as "a battleground for primacy".
Bartholomew I first of all thanked Ukrainian President Yushenko for inviting him and the patriarch of Moscow, Alexy II, as well as all of the Orthodox Churches of the world. He then recalled the efforts of the patriarch of Constantinople to resolve in a collegial manner the problems afflicting the Orthodox world: the rebirth of the Albanian Church; the (contested) patriarchate of Jerusalem; the sufferings of the Church of Cyprus, etc. Bartholomew I emphasized that this effort (and primacy) is at the service of the sister Churches, and must not be understood as the primacy of the pope of Rome. "The ecumenical patriarcate", Bartholomew I said, "is sometimes accused of becoming a second pope, a pope of the Eastern Church. By its nature, the ecumenical patriarchate is not the pope of the East. In spite of this, everyone makes use of its services, because [Constantinople] is the mother Church of the Orthodox Christian world, its point of reference and coordination".
Bartholomew I recalled the evangelization of the Slavs, by Cyril and Methodius, which took place in respect of national identity, avoiding Hellenization; the autonomy granted to the churches of the Balkans, of Ukraine and Russia. "In its activities", the patriarch continued, "Constantinople's sole aim is the ecclesial and spiritual interest of human development, and not those of politics".
Bartholomew also thanked the Turkish authorities, who, for the first time, asked to be involved in the program of celebrations for the Christianization of Ukraine: the Turkish ambassador to Kiev will even hold a reception in honor of the delegation from the ecumenical patriarchate.
There are still some shadows hanging over the visit: Chrysostomos II, the Orthodox archbishop of Cyprus, had expressed his desire to go to Kiev, but after meeting with patriarch Alexy, he said that he will not be at the celebrations, "because the Church of Moscow does not want this". Chrysostomos even said that "Alexy told me that he is not happy with what is happening in Kiev". The statements of the archbishop of Cyprus were made in the context of visits to the island from various Russian political personalities, who promised their support for the solution of the Cypriot question.
So far, the ecumenical patriarchate has not commented on the stance of the Cypriot Church.
But in the intellectual Orthodox world, there are murmurs that "once again in the Orthodox world, national interests are prevailing over that of the universal message of Christ". A well-known Orthodox theologian, who wanted to remain anonymous, tells AsiaNews that "unfortunately, in the Orthodox world there are pockets where the globalizing spirit of the gas pipelines outweighs the universal spirit of Christ". "In this way", he concludes, "there is further confirmation of the importance of the role of Constantinople, which, rich in suffering and experience, has always refused to put national political interests before the message of Christ".