“I have reiterated that the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, as well as the similar decision for the Chora Church, has caused us much pain and sorrow,” said Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in an interview with the school newspaper “Ektos Ilis” of the First Vocational Senior High School of Perama.
“In every age and under any circumstances, Hagia Sophia reflects the wisdom with which God created the world”
He went on to say: “Hagia Sophia, the seat of my predecessors for about 900 years, remains a leading shrine that is deeply respected and honored by the Orthodox Christians, and is also the most representative religious edifice of the unique over-thousand-year-old civilization, Byzantine Empire.
These feelings of respect and love for this wonderful monument, which was erected to honor the Wisdom of God, continue to exist even after its use as a mosque since the 15th century.
In every age and under any circumstances, Hagia Sophia reflects the wisdom with which God created the world, its absolute harmony and balance, and reminds us of our responsibility to protect creation, of which we are an integral part, and to work to bring harmony and balance to our relations, with the aim of bringing peace and justice to the world.
Every intervention in the monument is judged by whether it leaves this primordial message untouched.”
My desire is the same; to serve God and my fellow human being
Afterwards, asked how he was feeling being “on the top of the Hierarchy” and whether it was his dream, the Ecumenical Patriarch answered: “When I became part of the holy clergy 60 years ago, I certainly could not imagine what would follow and my course in the Church.
My desire is the same; to serve God and my fellow human being. This is what I always wanted, that’s why with my decision to become a clergyman I found happiness in my life.
It is very important that we feel complete with everything we do in our lives. […] When the Holy Synod of our Ecumenical Patriarchate elected me Ecumenical Patriarch, 270th successor of Andrew the Apostle, founder of the Church of Constantinople, I felt, even more, the burden of the responsibility to serve such an important and ancient institution that is still operating in Constantinople and all over the world.
I have this sense of responsibility and devotion towards the Great Church of Christ and its flock all over the world.
At the same time, we take care of the strengthening of our Greek Diaspora in Constantinople, and for the preservation of our fathers’ heritage. This is our humble effort, which we will continue as long as God allows us because He is the source of everything.”
True friendship has to stand the test of time and of the various situations
He went on to talk about online “friendships,” noting that they have nothing to do with real friendships. Friendship means to share your joy and sorrow with someone else, to be in communion with that person.
True friendship has to stand the test of time and of the various situations we face.
None can build ‘friendships’ with one click. And if they do, they do not last, they are ephemeral. These modern online ‘friendships’ sometimes, as we all know, hide many dangers, as no one knows who is behind a photo and a name on the Internet.”
“Green Patriarch” on how to raise awareness and save the planet
Then, the “Green Patriarch” referred to the ecological and environmental issues of our planet which “is our common home. For everything we do at the expense of the natural environment, it is more than certain that we will pay a heavy price.”
“Climate change, greenhouse effect, ozone depletion, rapid glacial melt at the poles, deforestation, extreme weather events that we face more and more often, are not unrelated. It is the result of human disrespectful intervention in the natural environment, of which everybody is part,” he stressed, saying we must raise public awareness.
After all, “for this reason, our Ecumenical Patriarchate started more than three decades ago a great struggle to raise public awareness and motivate every person of goodwill about the need to protect the natural environment.
Our efforts have focused on promoting dialogue and cooperation between all religions and all sciences. Our aim was to place focus on endangered ecosystems and to highlight the importance of protecting water as a central element of life.”
At this point in his speech, he expressed the belief that “if we really want to reverse climate change and hinder the destruction of the natural environment in general, we need a radical transformation of the way we perceive and deal with the world.”
Pandemic and coronavirus
Regarding his attitude towards the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ecumenical Patriarch, first of all, hoped that “the God of love and mercy, the doctor of souls and bodies, would rest the souls of all those who lost their lives, to strengthen patients in their trial and comfort their families and relatives.”
However, he also hoped that the Lord “would strengthen the medical and nursing staff, scientists and researchers, who are working to create the appropriate vaccines and medication to deal with this deadly virus, but also all those who offer unselflessly their services in this battle.”
In addition, he stressed: “It is true that the pandemic reminded us of how vulnerable we are to the power of nature, but, at the same time, highlighted the value of the divine gifts of life and health, sacrifice and solidarity.
Religion does not question science, the progress and contribution of which, after all, is the result of the human intellect, a precious gift of God to humankind. As we said recently, when science opens up auspicious prospects for the future of humankind, it is a gift from heaven.
However, we believe that there must be mutual respect and understanding on both sides.
Unfortunately, during the pandemic, some offensive words were heard against the Church and its Mysteries, while religious ministers and believers became coronavirus deniers by discrediting or demonizing the scientists’ efforts, adopting conspiracy theories circulating on the Internet.”
Rely on God and do not forget that together we can change the world
Finally, when asked by the students, “Why all these trials from God? How could the morale of young people be revived?”, the Ecumenical Patriarch urged them never to be afraid of whatever difficulties arise because “life is a constant struggle.
There have always been problems and trials. All this is intertwined with human existence. What we live is the result of our own actions. They should not discourage you. Rely on God and do not forget that together we can change the world. To make the world better and fairer, and our life more beautiful.
We have the duty to protect the natural environment, to stand in solidarity with every human being who is tested and to fight for the consolidation of peace between peoples.
To have faith and trust in the providence of God, to respect each of your fellow human beings and their personality and identity, otherness, to educate yourselves, to be determined, to have patience and always to be in solidarity with each other.”