ENGLEWOOD, NJ – His Beatitude Patriarch Ioannis of Antioch in an exclusive interview with TNH spoke about the situation in Syria and Middle East due to the continuous war, and his missing biological brother Pavlos Metropolitan of Halepion, who was kidnaped a year and a half ago along with Syriakovite Metropolitan Ioannis, also of Halepion.
Patriarch Ioannis made a quick visit to the United States and presided at the enthronement of His Eminence Joseph, the new Archbishop of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
Ioannis, who is widely well-respected, is third in rank in the ecclesial system and structure of the Orthodox Church after Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and Patriarch Theodoros of Alexandria.
Ioannis studied at the Theological School of the University of Thessaloniki. He speaks Greek fluently and the entire interview was conducted in Greek.
The interview, translated here in English, is as follows:
TNH: Your Beatitude, you have studied at the University of Thessaloniki. What do you think about Hellenism? What does Hellenism mean to you?
PI: First of all I spent some very important years of my life in Hellenism, which means a lot to us. Hellenism is the education, the mentality, and especially the Greek language, which is the language of the Fathers, the language of the Gospel. There are so many things in the Greek language.
TNH: Do you use any Greek in the Liturgy, in the worship?
PI: Yes, we do, especially the Cherubic hymn and the Axion Estin.
TNH: What message do you wish to send to the Greek-American Community?
PI: We love you very much and since we are approaching Christmas, “glory to God in the highest and peace on earth and good will to mankind.” To have love and peace and to be as close as you can to your brothers of the Patriarchate of Antioch, especially during these difficult days we are going through.
TNH: How would you describe the situation in Syria today?
IP: The situation as you know is very difficult and we all wish for a peaceful solution for the area. We are doing everything we can. We have very good people who love peace.
TNH: What are some of the most serious problems your Patriarchate faces today?
IP: First of all, the extremism that exists there. The intolerance. We are in the fourth year of war and many churches and mosques have been destroyed. Many people and families were forced to go elsewhere. Many have been killed. The conditions are very difficult.
TNH: Do you have anything new information about the kidnapped hierarchs, your brother Pavlos?
IP: Unfortunately, we have nothing new. Unfortunately, there is an international silence on the issue and I don’t know why.
TNH: Do you think there is a possibility that they are still alive?
IP: We wish and we believe that, but we don’t have any sign. They haven’t told us anything up to now.
TNH: Are you afraid for your personal safety? Are you afraid of your life?
IP: No, I live in Damascus at the Patriarchate and I do my program as usual. Of course, one must be careful and all of us are careful because you can’t know when, where, and what could happen. I make pastoral visits in Syria as well in a very careful way. The people do come to church.
TNH: Have they ever insulted you? Have they bothered you?
IP: No, no, never.
TNH: How is your Patriarchate sustained financially?
IP: The people sustain it. These days are difficult. We are trying to help the people with programs from outside from NATO, for example.
TNH: How did you find your Archdiocese here in America? Did you find the members all well?
IP: Thank God everybody is well. It is the pride for the entire Orthodoxy and of course for our Patriarchate. I visited the Greek Archdiocese with His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. It is a great joy to see that all Orthodox are united in America as a spiritual family.
TNH: Since you spoke about love and unity of the Orthodox in America, what is your opinion and how the problem of the Orthodox Diaspora can be resolved here in the United States?
IP: A decision was made in 2009 for the establishment of Assemblies of the Orthodox Canonical Bishops, which is the first step. We hope to have the Great Synod in 2016 and we could discuss this very serious issue of the Diaspora.
TNH: Do you think that the Great Synod will be convened for sure in 2016?
IP: Yes we hope that it will be convened.
TNH: Are you going to participate in the Synod personally?
IP: Certainly, of course I will go.
TNH: Could the unity of all Orthodox jurisdictions be achieved under the Ecumenical Patriarchate and let the various jurisdictions keep their own characteristics?
IP: This issue should be discussed. Our position is a positive one, but we have to discuss it.
TNH: How can the Greek-American Community help your Patriarchate and the Orthodox in your area?
TNH: One way is by publicizing the truth of what is going on in the Middle East, and that we have roots there, we are from there. We have not come to the Middle East from outside. Also, we thank His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, who expressed his love even with financial help for the philanthropic actions of our Patriarchate. Many people are in great need.
TNH: What is your opinion about the second marriage of priests in case of death of their wife or even divorce?
IP: We are discussing these issues. Many now allow such marriage for humane purposes and out of leniency.
TNH: How are your relations with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem?
IP: There is the issue of Qatar, but we hope to find a peaceful solution. We don’t agree with their action in establishing the Metropolis of Qatar, but we are in communication.”
TNH: Should we go back to the original tradition of the Church and have married Bishops?
IP: Sometimes we discuss issues like this, but it is difficult because we now have a tradition. Those issues need to be discussed.
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