How difficult is the spiritual and religious guidance of 300,000,000 Christians, having as an established see ad area dominated by the Muslim religion, and what is the relationship of the Orthodox Church with the secular state of Turkey?
The Ecumenical Patriarch is certainly the First of Orthodoxy, but the responsibility for the spiritual guidance of all believers is distributed among the local Patriarchs, Archbishops, Metropolitans and Bishops.
Beyond the Archdiocese of Constantinople his own role is regulatory and coordinator, for which he is Prelate. He is always vigilant and overseeing from the Phanar, watching if everything is going according to the will of God and ecclesiastical orderliness, as much within the climate of the Patriarchate as well as the other Autocephalous and Autonomous Churches. But the responsibility is institutional and general. And of course, the weight is enormous.
Regarding our relations with the secular state of Turkey, as with all the Churches which are in secular states, our roles are completely distinct. We do not enter into discussions on political issues. We are purely a spiritual body and trying or giving rise to problems. As citizens of the country we diligently perform our duties. We pay taxes, serve in the army, because the service is compulsory, vote in elections, honour the principles of the State, we keep the laws. Whenever we feel that we are unjustly treated, especially as part of the Diaspora, we legally assert our own and wish not to be considered subordinate to other people. If necessary we resort to the European Court of Human Rights.
Are you afraid of the spread of jihad, in particular by using inhumane and violent methods and practices?
Religious fantoms is dangerous for all religions, particularly when driven armed with weapons. Yes, jihadists are dangerous. Remember though also the Thirty Years War, the St.Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, and the blood in Northern Ireland. The root of evil is no different. Fanaticism is blindness of the soul, true demonism, in whatever religion it arises. We pray that there will prevail logic, temperance, tolerance and respect for our fellow man, regardless of religious beliefs.
(An Interview with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew by the Journalistic Team of the School of Bakogiannis on November 30,2014. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.)