Patriarch Theodoros II: cathedrals, like the Cretan, there will be more

Патриарх Феодор II: соборов, подобных Критскому, будет еще много

His Beatitude Patriarch of Alexandria and all Africa, Theodoros II, has lately visited Moscow to participate in celebrations on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Kirill, in an interview with RIA Novosti told about how to live today the Orthodox Church in Africa and the challenges it faces, about the plight of refugees from North Africa and the true Muslims on the continent, about his attitude to the Church schism in Ukraine and about the future, similar to the Cretan Orthodox cathedrals. The Church of Alexandria is one of the oldest in the world, it was founded by the Apostle mark.

— First, I want to Express my joy over his presence in the Holy Russian land, I was given the opportunity to once again visit Russia. Russian land and the Russian Church is my home. I lived together with you for as much as ten years in Odessa (as Exarch of the Patriarch of Alexandria in Russia – ed.). And I always say, my heart will remain here forever. I also want to Express my joy at having been able to participate in this great event – the celebration of the 70th anniversary of his Holiness Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Kirill. His life is full of sacrificial service to man, the Church, the world.

During our meeting, I reminded his Holiness about how there was our acquaintance with him, that was in 1973 in Isarescu theological school in Athens. I was then a seminarian, and his Holiness the Patriarch, the Archimandrite, who accompanied the late Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia Pimen. And I’m very glad with his Holiness Patriarch Kirill ties of close friendship and I had the opportunity to take part in the celebration of his 70th birthday.

— Thank you for the opportunity to talk about the “future continent” — Africa. Our jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Alexandria extends to 54 large States. The last state, which was recently included in it, is South Sudan, which, incidentally, is a Christian state.

A month ago I returned to Alexandria from a multi-day trip to Tanzania. For nine hours I was sailing in the old boat on the waters of lake Victoria, in order to arrive in Dar-es-Salaam, capital of Tanzania — Mwanza and to make the consecration of the Cathedral of St. Nicholas in this city and build two hospitals for the poor, each of which has a capacity of 200 patients. Tanzania is a very poor country and its people first of all have a huge need for medication.

After visiting Mwanza, I headed to the third largest city of Bukoba. I was impressed with the new hospital, which employs doctors from Europe, Russia, literally from all over the world, trying to help the local people and especially children suffering from HIV. In addition to the syndrome of HIV, another disease also taking away the lives of countless people in Africa is malaria.

Another important event was that in Tanzania, Arusha is the geographical heart of Africa, was established the new diocese. Arusha is also the center of East Africa is a kind of Confederation of five countries: Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda (in the future will be joined by Congo and Ethiopia). The new Bishop of Arusha fluent in the language Swahili (one of the most important languages of Africa – ed.). And I hope that with God’s help, the diocese will become a Christian center for all these States.

I have two dreams related to Arusha: open the diocese of the Patriarchal printing house, in which to translate and print books in 286 languages to simple haven’t had the opportunity to meet with the teachings of Christ. Because one of the global problems in Africa is illiteracy. Because there are so many children who, unfortunately, do not know how to read and write. Second and my main dream – to create the diocese of the theological Academy to students-Christians from all over Africa have been able to study theology. And not only Africa – from all over the world, from Europe and Russia, there are young people in training and studied including folklore, music, history, customs and traditions of different peoples of the African continent.

— How is your service, what challenges do you face?

— I since 1997, are for the sake of love for Christ missionary service. Before that for seven years I walked the whole African continent, following in the footsteps of my great predecessor, the late Patriarch of Alexandria Parthenios III.

And I am very glad that I often had to serve with Patriarch Kirill in different parts of Africa during his visits in the rank of Metropolitan on the continent. In those States and cities where there are Russian and Russian-speaking community, I always try to make them divine Liturgy, and it gives me great joy and strengthens our ties with the Russian Church.

Actually, I would like to note that the life of a missionary is wonderful, but at the same time very complicated. Most of the routes that we brought to lay, is on foot, because the roads fit for cars, no. The sun literally burns its rays, rains, rains can last for several days, not stopping for a minute. But the great joy when you finally get to the end of their assignment and meet people there waiting to meet you.

It happens that the machines literally turn in the road, due to weather conditions, the road washes out in the rain, and one must fight to overcome the elements, to come to the local people and to convey to them the light of Christ.

I would like to ask all readers to pray for us, because with the coming of the new year, I still have one big mission trip, this time to West Africa. In particular, I will be in Sierra Leone, côte d’ivoire, Liberia, and will end the trip on the coast of Cape Verde. There are people who are in need of missionary word and with much love and looking forward to our arrival.

— You have visited many Holy places in Russia including the Solovetsky monastery, Yekaterinburg, Sarov. In one interview even said that your favorite Saint – St. Seraphim of Sarov…

— To tell you why I fell in love with the Russian Church, I would like to return in the 1970-ies. Namely, to that very moment when Isarescu Church school in Athens I first saw Patriarch Pimen and the young cleric, then Archimandrite Cyril. After that, I went to the library and asked to give me some spiritual book about Russia, and it was the life of St. Seraphim of Sarov. After reading it, I fell in love with the Russian Church that for seven years every night I put one of the earth’s bow, asking that St. Seraphim vouchsafed me to come to Russia to meet with the Holy Russian land, the Holy Russian Church. Seven years later, my prayers to the Holy finally allowed me to realize my dream and I in 1985 I went to the beautiful city of Odessa, where he lived for ten years.

I had the opportunity to meet many very nice people, but most importantly – I met Russian people, I discovered the beauty of his heart, his simplicity and sincerity of feelings. The times were very difficult, it was the period of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of modern Russia… Thank God, all turned out well and we’ve managed to get stronger.

In 2007, during my official visit to Russia after accession to the Patriarchal throne, I asked that the programme included a visit to Serafimo-Diveevsky monastery. I approached the relics of St. Seraphim and laid upon them the Patriarchal, krytar is the second the stole worn by the Patriarch of Alexandria, to thank the Saint for the implementation of my request.

— You have repeatedly spoken out in support of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, which is making efforts to bring peace back to the land of Ukraine. How would you comment on the current Church situation in this country, where, in addition to the canonical Church, in recent years, with the support of the state increasingly acts not recognized in the Orthodox world of the Kyivan Patriarchate?

— I know very well the Ukraine — and the bishops, and the faithful laity, and have a very good understanding of what incentives are guided by people who are trying today to sow discord in Ukraine. From the beginning, when only the problem of Church schism, the Patriarchate of Alexandria and I, as his representative has taken a position that the Ukrainian Church is an integral part of the Russian Orthodox Church. And when I was celebrating the divine Liturgy in Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, I said that the Church of Alexandria the canonical Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is Metropolitan of Kiev and all Ukraine Vladimir. And then, when the schismatics attempted in a violent way, without an invitation to come to Holy Trinity Church, which was then the yard of the Church of Alexandria in Odessa, I stood at the door and said this will not happen.
The ancient Alexandrian Church formulates its position in this way: we stand before God together with the Russian Orthodox Church and call to the Orthodox Church was one and indivisible, as it always was. In the Affairs of the Church there is no place for politics. Politics comes and goes, but the Church abides forever.

Modern world is engulfed in various conflicts, the level of violence very high. We see the conflict in the Holy land, in Iraq and in Syria and on the African continent, some people kill others, often hiding behind the words of faith, but in fact making a totally godless actions. What kind of response it can give Christianity?

— We, more than anyone, know and experience the persecution of Christians, because it related to the North African region. And we place the internecine wars between different tribes and Nations. A lot of people suffering. And that means what in store for us tomorrow, it is impossible to predict.

One of the main problems – the situation of migrants. My Motherland – Crete, Greece. And I very well know what it is this space, this area of the Mediterranean sea separating the Crete, mainland Greece from North Africa. Today the sea, which should please his azure gloss the hearts of the people, became a cemetery for the huge number of people. Our people look at Europe and think that there is a new dawn the Paradise, light of life, salvation from all ills. And when they embark on this journey that has no return points, then you know what made the mistake of leaving their homes.

This is what I always tell people during his missionary trips — trying to explain to them that the land which nurtured them and feed. I communicate with the locals, we do a lot of talking for a long time. Trying to convey to them that they better stay on their land, because those places where they look with hope, not promise them what they expect. However, I am very happy that Greece is my homeland, a poor, small country — has opened its arms to these people, the refugees and took them, wanting to ease their pain.

In Africa I also get to deal with the phenomenon of war between different tribes, because in Africa there are thousands of different tribes. There are States that may be often not even known in the world, such as Niger, Burundi, Rwanda, Congo. They have a small nation who daily come into collision with each other, which leads to bloodshed. On television we have the opportunity to trace the development of events in the parts of the world – in Syria, the Arab countries, but I would like to tell you that among my flock and sometimes there are such problems not covered in the media, so that people about them do not know.

And I am very glad that some of the bishops of our local Church are like real Africans and come from these places — from those cities, and villages. They know the local mentality, peculiarities of the mental warehouse, they are familiar with tribal leaders, with the leaders of small States. And they made a huge and very significant contribution with his presence, his word in the peacekeeping business, in the mission of reconciliation. Huge help, by the way, this peace to us having recently established pan-African Council, which includes representatives of all African States.

We are not endowed with such power, which exercise public power, we are not endowed with military force, but we in his own way, every one from his place, unable to find the words to somehow influence the situation, for the government to appeal to them in order for them with great mercy looked upon the common man.

— To what extent the problems of religious extremism affected Egypt, where the Patriarchal throne of Alexandria?

— As you know, Egypt is a huge, beautiful country. But after the so-called Arab spring revolution in Tunisia, the situation has completely changed for all of the North African States. Nevertheless, people today are trying to adapt to the new realities and begin to live.

My presence and interaction in the Arab world has taught me that in Islamic countries there is a huge number of people who specially study the Koran and with great friendliness and politeness relate to the different people, trying in my life to apply the doctrinal principles of Islam. When I travel to different areas in Egypt, then come to me and Muslims, and with great love, warmth trying to hug me, to hear my words. And it often happens that I need some help, and it is the Muslims with great joy and generosity I will, following the law of the Qur’an that brother who needs you have to help.

Of course, there are other ways which are radical and not based on love and friendliness, but only at the extremes. Great problems are created with regard to this part of extremist Islamists. The new President of Egypt, who, fortunately, is a personal friend of mine, just trying to convey to the people that Islam teaches love above all, that Muslims should be friendly…

Also recently in the Egyptian Parliament published a new law, which was supported by all, that we have the right to recover all destroyed Christian churches where there are numerous communities that need the temple.

I want to Express my sincere gratitude to the Russian state for what the new year will start new flights with Russian tourists in Egypt. Because this will serve as a very large, significant assistance to millions of people who work in tourism if our Russian brothers will once again begin to rest on the resorts of this beautiful country as Egypt. And for us, for our Church will be a great help when hundreds of families will be traveling from Russia to work in the industry in the new factories that are built in large cities such as Ismailia, Suez. And I sincerely thank President Putin, who gave me such joy, arriving with his visit to Cairo, met with me personally and we had the opportunity to talk and discuss some things.

Our Patriarchate is in force in Egypt for 2 thousand years. For the Egyptians is a big joy, when we meet with them and talk, because the Greek Orthodox Patriarch is part of their history, part of their lives.

— It is often said that Orthodox will not be able to utter its weighty word in the modern world, if not one. How do you see the prospects for further pan-Orthodox cooperation?

— We know that from the very first centuries of the formation of the Church of the Christians there were any differences, different visions of things, and to do this they had to meet together to discuss important and fundamental issues. To do this, and convoked the Ecumenical councils.

Since 1960, the Orthodox came to a joint conclusion that the Churches need to meet again after almost 1.2 thousand years, and to discuss any problems. And literally from the first days when the idea was born, and the Russian Church have been working hard to implement it… the Church was attended by such a spirit that finally the Orthodox Church after so many centuries, must work together to meet and discuss some important issues. Following intensive discussions came to the conclusion that the issues to be raised in this Cathedral, will be 80, then came to number 20. Then 18, then ten, and eventually it came down to eight issues.

In June passed the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church on Crete, and the only thing I can say about the Cathedral, we saw both pros and cons. Saw and where we had some weaknesses, and that maybe in the future, should pay attention to. And, during our official meetings and talks with his Holiness Patriarch Kirill, we came to the conclusion that to meet and discuss important issues the Church needs, but the texts that will be produced at these cathedrals, should be worked out, maybe in more detail and addressed to the whole world.

The most basic thing I can say is that we all, the whole Orthodox family, really understood that the most important task is meeting and mutual discussion of Orthodoxy. I know that Saints and Great councils in the future will be held a lot. And you will definitely see that in the future we will come more well-prepared for this mutual strengthening and convergence of all Orthodox.

Since we’re talking about the Holy and Great Council, we want to take this opportunity to tell you about another of our Cathedral of the Church of Alexandria. On our Cathedral, we discussed about 20 issues which are vital and urgent for our members. We considered the question of the post, the question of deaconesses, the creation of a Charter, which can be followed by all of our clergy and laity in their daily lives. We established the Commission, divided the bishops into groups to be responsible for the elaboration of each theme.

For example, the question of the post. As we lay today strict fast on the people that 24 hours a day and starving? A Christian, that 20 children out in the jungle and trying to survive… Or question of the divine Liturgy: how much should she continue, what language it must be done so that the faithful understand it? We have returned to the ancient Christian practice – chirotesia deaconesses – women who can take a more active part in the life of the African Church.

I think each Church needs to look at his life in the issues that occupy her flock. We live in the XXI century, and we must learn a simple, heartfelt language to speak with our believers. If we can’t get out to meet real people, then we will never be able to understand them.

And, of course, our hard work, service to neighbor, our biggest helper is the Russian Orthodox Church.
I would like to conclude our conversation with the words of St. Seraphim of Sarov: “Christ is risen!”. May God grant you health, happiness, peace in the world.