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Press Conference in “Interfax” Agency, regarding the results of the visit of Russian Patriarch Cyril to the Patriarchy of Constantinople and Ankara (Turkey) ( 10.07.2009 )

On July the 7th, 2009, during the press conference in the “Interfax” agency, the President of the Foreign Church affairs Department of the Moscow Patriarchy, Archbishop Volkolamskii Hillarion, and the deputy of the Inner Church Affairs Department of the Moscow Patriarchy, Archpriest Nikolai Balashov, informed the representatives of the mass media about the results of the First official visit of Russian Patriarch Cyril to the Patriarchy of Constantinople and the capital of the Republic of Turkey – Ankara.

“Results of the visit exceeded our most optimistic expectations, and we’ve left Istanbul in bright and most encouraging mood” – noted Archbishop Hillarion, at the opening of the meeting. He acknowledged the journalists with the issues that have been discussed at the mutual negotiations between the Patriarchy of Constantinople and the Russian Orthodox Church. The situation between them is not simple at all, which expanded in Estonia since the structure of the Constantinople’s patriarchy has been founded there; the irritating situation in Ukraine, in which the Constantinople’s Patriarchy tries to interfere in one way or another; a series of serious disputes on subjects of religious management of the diasporas and giving Autocephaly of the Autonomy Churches.

This visit was the First official visit of the Russian patriarch Cyril, due to the fact that the Constantinople’s Patriarchy is First on the Diptych of the Local Orthodox Churches. However, the visit came by far out from the frame of some protocol act, stated Archbishop Hillarion. “To be more precise, the visit has opened a new page in the relations between the two Patriarchies, and in the Inter-Orthodox cooperation as well as in the foreign affairs of the Russian Orthodox Church. This visit was sign of the transformation of the relations from period of confrontation in a period of cooperation” – expressed his opinion the President of the Foreign Church affairs Department of the Moscow Patriarchy, Archbishop Volkolamskii Hillarion.

During the negotiations, the Head of Russian Orthodox Church Cyril, proposed to his comrade Bartholomew, Patriarch of Constantinople’s Patriarchy, the new set-up of relationship, based on the principles of mutual trust and help. “In such way, we are obliged to discuss the misunderstandings that lie down between us in an open and righteous dialogue, always having on mind that there must not be winners or defeated in the dialogue – continued Archpriest – this must be a dialogue, which will only help the problems of both sides to be resolved. Moreover, we will strive to find solutions for the gaps we have in a bilateral level, not disclosing the facts to any general review or discussion.”

“There were cases in the past, when the delegations of the Constantinople’s and Russian Orthodox Church would come to an open confrontation in public conferences, in which not only Orthodox but also Other Christian Confessions have been present – noted Archbishop Hillarion. Now, we are leaving such approach.”

“The visit of the Russian patriarch Cyril to the Patriarchy of Constantinople is different from all previous similar of his predecessors in another dimension: beside the religious the secular dimension has been involved in this visit. So, the Head of the Russian Orthodox Church met not only the Head and the Archpriests of Constantinople’s Patriarchy, but also the Prime Minister of Turkey, Mr. R. Erdogan, and with the Administrator of the Head Office for Religious Relations of the Turkish Government Mr. A. Bardakoglu” – noticed Archbishop Hillarion.

Participants of the meeting considered the very important issue of the religious organisation of their fellow citizens, living in Turkey, or visiting this country. “In the moment, according to the statistics that we have in the Russian Embassy, only in Antalya there are around fifteen thousand permanent residents of Russian nationality who are registered in the consular department. Counting those ones who come to spend their holidays in Turkey, the number of people is growing up to two million per year. Most of them are Orthodox believers, which in the days of great Church holidays, would like to go to Church and take presence in the services of the Holy Secrets’” – said Archbishop Hillarion.

Beside this, there a lot of Christian Holy places in Turkey, so that in accordance to their number, this country can be compared with the Holy Land. Therefore, “tourism aimed to the hot-sea holidays, can be combined very successfully with pilgrimage visits of these Holy places – thinks Archbishop Hillarion.

Emphasising that due to the tragic historical circumstances, the Patriarchy of Constantinople is in a very delicate position today, because the people who are the base of the congregation in Turkey – representatives of the Greek Diaspora are les and less with every new day (according to various estimations they are between 1.5 and 3 thousands, and that’s really too little for the normal existence of the Patriarchy), the President of the Foreign Church Affairs of the Moscow Patriarchy stated as follows: “The Russians, who now visit Turkey or stay there in vast number, as well as the people from other Orthodox nations, such as Romanians i.e. who are coming to Turkey in greater number lately, could easily be the congregation of the Constantinople’s Church. We are now ready to cooperate with the Constantinople’s Patriarchy in the congregational organisation of faithful people there; we’re prepared to send priest to serve on temporary basis in the Patriarchy temples; we are ready to support the restoration of the temples of the Patriarchy; and, we are prepared to build new churches and temples on the territory of the Patriarchy, so that our fellow citizens an all other Orthodox believers may pray in them.”

In this way, all the issues that have been discussed in this visit “are a guarantee for an absolute new kind of relationship”, and the new stage in their development could be the first, after many years official visit of the head of the Constantinople’s patriarchy to Moscow, expected in the year to come. “Russian Patriarch Cyril invited Patriarch Bartholomew to visit officially the Russian Orthodox Church. Such visit, excluding the visit of Patriarch Bartholomew in the occasion of the funeral ceremony of Patriarch Aleksey the Second, has never been realised in the last several years, as it has never been established any kind of format of relationship in the basis of which, both sides could resolve the problems appeared on the basis of mutual trust and understanding.” – stated the Archpriest.

Archbishop Volkolamskii Hillarion expressed his honest hope that the recent visits to the Local Orthodox Churches will be characterised with the strengthening of the Inter-Orthodox relations, Inter-Christian and Inter-religion dialogue, in an aim the Russian Orthodox Church to renew such relations, which were weakened in the last years, and the external activity of the Moscow Patriarchy to be lifted on a new, much higher level.”

“I do not remember that some meeting in the past was so successful and with so much positive ambience between the Constantinople’s and Moscow Patriarchy’ –said father Nikolai, noting once again: “During this meeting an invitation call for cooperation has been promoted, both sides supported the building of new relationship.”

We do hope that this visit “will give long term results” and that “comrade Bartholomew, the Patriarch of Constantinople will respond in the same manner to this big-hearted act of Moscow and Russian Patriarch Cyril” – concluded Nikolai Balashov.