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Pan-Orthodox Council: Metropolitan Gennadios Zervos (Italy), “it’s time to show our unity to the rest of the world”

The date has been fixed. The themes have been identified, the organization machine in full gear, but the more the beginning of the Holy, Great Council of the Orthodox Church draw near the more the process grows arduous. Interview with His Eminence Zervos Gennadios, Metropolitan archbishop of the Orthodox archdiocese of Italy and Malta of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. “Now it’s time to show to the world the unity of the whole Church, that is a gift of God and a blessing for today’s history. We are experiencing tragic days and a deep crisis. To say that the Church is one, holy Catholic and apostolic means to give a message of hope and love”.

The date has been fixed, the themes have been identified, the organization machine is in full gear, but as the opening of the Holy Great Council of the Orthodox Church grows near (planned to take place in the Greek island of Crete on June 19), the more difficulties arise. It’s the most daring challenge of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I. He personally summoned the leaders of 13 Orthodox Churches and persuaded them on the need to hold a synod. For the past fifty years there have been ongoing efforts aimed at the concretization of this event. It was the dream of Patriarch Athenagoras. The last time that the Eastern Churches came together dates back to 11 centuries ago, on the occasion of the Second Council of Nicene (787 A.C.). The great announcement was made past January, after the meeting of the Patriarchs in Chambesy, Switzerland. But today, ahead of the event, everything seems to be questioned. The Greek-Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch joined the Bulgarian Orthodox Church in declaring that it will not participate, while in the past days several local Orthodox Churches had raised problems relating to the publication of pre-council documents and to organizational procedures. Also the monks of Mount Athos highlighted critical aspects, while the Patriarchate of Moscow did not conceal perplexities. His Eminence Zervos Gennadios, Metropolitan archbishop of the Orthodox archdiocese of Italy and Malta of the ecumenical Patriarchate, is following the process with great participation, and reiterated the statements delivered by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the past days, namely, that the Conciliar Process is ongoing and it must continue.

Your Eminence, why is Patriarch Bartholomew so determined to continue?

The Ecumenical Patriarch is the protagonist of this major historical event of the Orthodox Church that is taking place after 11 centuries. Now it’s time to show the unity of our Church, which is a gift from God and a blessing for contemporary history, to the rest of the world. We are experiencing tragic days and a profound crisis. To say that the Church is one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic is to give a message of love and hope. Before contemporary humanity we must not remain silent, closed, each inside his own local church. We must all work together as one Church. Unity is a gift that the world expects. But it must be demonstrated, known and recognized by others, not only stated in theory or proclaimed within academic environments. It should be translated into concrete practice, in life.

Do you really believe that the Synod will take place?

“Everyone has signed. Everyone agreed on the importance to hold this Synod when invited by His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew in January. Everyone said yes. All Synods, even when the Church was undivided, have had to face a set of problems. Nonetheless the Synods were held always. It has also happened that the Pope would not go and would send his representatives instead, but the Synod has always taken place. Since the beginning, despite the problems, even though not all were present. It’s not something new.

How can the difficulties be surmounted? I think we should adopt a different perspective and see what is happening today taking into account the whole picture. Our sole interest is the good of man. Man for whom Christ was born, was crucified, and was resurrected for his salvation. How could we remain silent? Man is at the centre of our existence as Christianity and as a Church. It’s a life we have the duty to share: a life of love, of peace, of hope, of unity. If we don’t do it as Church, who else will ever be able to? Indeed, there are problems and difficulties. But today we must leave everything aside and see man and his history. The only hope to solve the problems and the crisis is Christ. There is no other answer. Europe must recover its Christian roots. What the Pope said – “wake up!” – is a great truth. We have to wake up.

How can we support this process as Catholics? Prayer is our only weapon. We have to pray; it’s all that can be done. We have to pray to God to enlighten the hearts, that the Holy Spirit may descend in this joyful day of the foundation of the Church of Christ that is the Pentecost, and help this pan-Orthodox unity.

Is Pope Francis aware of the preparations for the Synod? As far as I know the Pope is probably the first to follow the preparations and pray for this great Synod. We are aware of the deep friendship between the two great spiritual leaders of the Christian world. We are aware of the fraternal relations that bind these two great personalities. The Pope prays more than anyone else and wants the success of our Holy Synod.

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