Report of the meeting with Patriarch Bartholomew
Our delegation was very warmly received by His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in his private office and our conversation with him, in the presence of Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, lasted for nearly two hours.
The decision of the Holy Synod of the 27th November 2018 was not reached or meant to be understood as a “punishment”, the way it may have been perceived by the members of our Archdiocese. Even so, the Patriarch recognised and accepted that the decision was a sudden one, made without prior consultation with the Archdiocese and may not have been communicated to Archbishop John in the best way. The Patriarchate does not want to abolish or interfere in our liturgical tradition. It respects our traditions and wishes us to maintain them. The Patriarchate does not want to take over or interfere with the care of our properties. Nor does it intend to intrude in our internal affairs in our parishes and communities, but it wants them to commemorate the local bishops of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
The task of our delegation was to convey the letter of Archbishop John and the Council of the Archdiocese with the result of the Extraordinary General Assembly of the Archdiocese held on of the 23rd February 2019, not to discuss the future of the Archdiocese. Having delivered into the hands of the Patriarch, the following key points were made by us during the subsequent discussion:
In accordance with our statuary requirements and conciliar decision making process of our Archdiocese, and following a Pastoral meeting of all the clergy, held in Paris on the 15th December 2018, in order to consider the effect of the implementation of the decision of the Synod an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Archdiocese was convened at the earliest possible date. As expressed by a huge majority of the delegates at the Extraordinary General Assembly of the 23rd February 2019, we want to stay united as an ecclesial body wishing to preserve the specific character of our church life.
Our ecclesial understanding and experience has been in our history and remains to this day that of a diocese with our Archbishop acting, in all aspects of our church life, as a ruling bishop. There is always willingness on the part of our Archdiocese to co-operate fully and work in harmony with the ruling bishops of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
We expressed the serious concern that the danger of a forceful disbandment of our Archdiocese will have profound negative consequences for and loss of trust in the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the person of the Patriarch. We asked the personal help of the Patriarch, imploring him to address this concern as a real and urgent pastoral issue, affecting grievously many people including in particular Archbishop John, but also several members of the clergy and a significant number of the laity. We emphasised the need for a solution to be found out of the current impasse and a new and creative way for the Archdiocese to continue to exist within the Ecumenical Patriarchate. A subsequent meeting of Archbishop John with the Patriarch was warmly welcome and encouraged by His All-Holiness.
It is a very positive and encouraging sign that our delegation was received so warmly and given such a generous opportunity by the Patriarch for an extended and full discussion. It is also quite positive that neither a deadline nor a specific timetable were given by the Patriarch to resolve the question that has arisen following the decision of the Synod.
It seems therefore that there is a real opportunity for a proper dialogue. Considering the fact that our Archdiocese has been under the protection of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for almost 90 years, it is only proper to try to conduct this dialogue in good faith, in order to reach a conclusion (one way or another) before exploring any alternative possible solutions.
One of the reasons of the current crisis appears to be the fact that we have been relatively “absent” at the Patriarchate in Istanbul over the recent years, allowing too much space and ample opportunity for misrepresentation of our situation, especially by those who do not wish to see the preservation of our Archdiocese in Western Europe.
A particular objective to endeavour for is a meeting with the Commission of the Eparchies, under the chairmanship of Metropolitan Dimitrios. Indeed, all the people with whom we were in contact at the Patriarchate during our visit were very kind in expressing their love and support as well as their hope for a proper resolution of the present situation.
Archpriest Alexander Fostiropoulos (London)
Archdeacon Vsevolod Borzakovsky (Rome)
Cyrille Sollogoub (Paris)