The war in Ukraine, the attitude of the Russian Orthodox Church, the role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Hagia Sophia, and his forthcoming visit to Mount Athos were at the center of the interview given by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew “At the Center” of ERT1 and the journalist George Kouvaras.
In front of the Patriarchal Church and the courtyard of the Patriarchate, the Ecumenical Patriarch spoke about the war in Ukraine, following a question about the attitude of the Russian Church and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow towards the war and underlined:
“It would not be possible for all the Churches not to condemn the violence, the war. But the Church of Russia let us down. I did not want the Church of Russia and Brother Patriarch Kirill to be this tragic exception.
I don’t know how he can justify himself to his conscience. How he’ll justify it, how history will judge him. He had to stand up for himself. Because one can object to being pressured by President Putin. He should react to the invasion of Ukraine and condemn the war as all the other Orthodox Primates did.
He did not, that is to his detriment and I am very sorry. We may have had other differences, the one known for the Autocephaly of the Church of Ukraine, the one we have had for centuries because the Russian Church covets the primacy of Constantinople, and undermines the foundations of the throne of Constantinople, but I expected brother Kirill at this critical, historic moment to rise to the occasion.
If it is required to even sacrifice his throne, and tell Putin, Mr. President, I cannot agree with you, I resign, I leave. Or put him in jail, I don’t know what President Putin would do if the Patriarch reacted to his plans, but that is what we, the other Primates, would expect.”
“Closing Halki is also a violation of the Treaty of Lausanne”
Then, the Ecumenical Patriarch spoke on the issue of the Halki seminary, for which he pointed out:
“The Theological School of Halki has been closed for 51 years and the Ecumenical Patriarchate lacks the ability to train tomorrow’s officials at its headquarters. We have repeatedly asked this government to open the school for us. That is, the reopening of the school for Christians, which was opened during the Ottoman Empire and closed during the Turkish Republic. This is a contradiction and an unjustified development. Unfortunately, our pleas to Ankara are not being heard. Let us hope that the Turkish Government will at some point look at this issue in a different light and be convinced that the reopening of Halki is in Turkey’s own interest in principle. Because such an action will clearly prove that there is religious freedom, that there are no restrictions on human rights, on the right to religious freedom. I say here that there cannot be dozens of Muslim schools and not a single theological school for Christians. Because the Treaty of Lausanne says that minorities living in Turkey have the right to open schools that give religious education at their own expense. We never asked for money, so the closure of Halki is also a violation of the Treaty of Lausanne.”
“I never hid my feelings about turning Hagia Sophia into a mosque”
Then, the Primate of Orthodoxy spoke about the feelings caused by the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, but also the damage that has occurred, according to a report:
“I never hid my feelings. I spoke and wrote about Hagia Sophia. These texts had the sensitivity to be collected by the late friend and associate Magginas and put out in a booklet. He didn’t get a chance to see it, but he took the trouble to prepare it. There one can see my feelings for Hagia Sophia. From the Church of Russia and the State of Russia, again, we did not have pleasant messages when Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque, because then it was said by the North that “now we can enter without a ticket”.
What we have been reading recently in Turkish newspapers is not pleasant for maintenance, for cleanliness. There have been complaints from Turkish journalists. I repeat that we would prefer Hagia Sophia to be an open museum for the whole world and not a mosque for Muslims only.”
Bartholomew on Mount Athos: If they don’t provoke, no one will be expelled
Finally, the Ecumenical Patriarch spoke about his forthcoming visit to Mount Athos and reminded that this will be the eighth time he will go, as he loves and cares about it.
“After 30 years that God has made me worthy to be on the throne of Constantinople I want to go again to thank for this great blessing. It’s been said and written some strange things, that I’m going to expel Russian monks. They’re fiction. I have no intention of sending anyone away, either, I imagine they won’t dare me to do that. If they don’t provoke, no one will be expelled. These are self-evident things. I go there as a pilgrim.”