"Thank You For Bringing Stability to the Balkans": GOARCH Centennial Pilgrims Encounter the Ecumenical Patriarch's Spirit of Reconciliation
Whether at Thursday night vespers, or the name day celebration of the Ecumenical Patriarch at Baloukli Monastery, or the Divine Liturgy for the Feast of Pentecost, participants of the second Centennial Pilgrimage noticed a recurring, but perhaps unfamiliar, figure over the course of their 14-day visit to Asia Minor. During their visit to Halki Seminary, they even joined him for lunch.
Donning a white Mitre in a sea otherwise of black, Archbishop Stefan of Ohrid is the primate of what was formerly known as the Church of Northern Macedonia. Though it had declared autocephaly from the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1967, the Northern Macedonian Church was not recognized by the rest of the Orthodox world until this year. In May 2022, the Holy and Sacred Synod of Constantinople, under the presidency of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, restored Eucharistic communion; it also recognized it officially as the Church of Ohrid, with the Ecumenical Patriarch noting the exclusion of the name “Macedonia” and its derivatives.
The successful reconciliation is reflective of His All-Holiness's now three-decades long efforts toward peace and understanding within the Orthodox world and beyond it. As Archbishop Elpidophoros stated during the pilgrims’ private meeting with the Patriarch, “When everybody is fighting with everybody else, the Ecumenical Patriarch is the voice of peace, of love, of reconciliation, of understanding, and of cooperation among all peoples. Thank you for offering us this example. Thank you for helping peoples, like the Ukrainian people, to safeguard their identity, their church, and their independence as Orthodox Christians from any other church; thank you for bringing stability to the Balkans by establishing communion again with the North Macedonian Church; thank you for the role that you play not only here in the Balkans, and Asia Minor, and the Middle East, but in all the world, always preaching peace and cooperation not only among the churches— Orthodox and non-Orthodox churches— but among all religions.”
The results of the historic decision were also clear when pilgrims attended the Divine Liturgy for the Feast of Pentecost at the Phanar's Cathedral of Saint George. There, His All-Holiness officiated the service in collaboration with Archbishop Stefan. In his homily, His All-Holiness said the “fullfillment of the promise of the Father is the Church. Church means a constant and continuous Pentecost,” adding later that, “Since the purpose and end is the salvation of all, the Church finds ways to overcome obstacles and heal problems.”
Then, addressing Archbishop Stefan, he stressed the great responsibility undertaken by the Church of Ohrid in reentering communion with the rest of the Orthodox world, and warned against the dangers of various nationalisms in the Church: “Take care of yourself brothers! Enter the treasure of Ecumenism. Romanism is not a sign of ethnic identity, but of Ecclesiastical identity.”
In response, Archbishop Stefan said, “Let the news be heard clearly of the current event of the restoration of our liturgical unity with the Orthodox world, of this Pentecost, during which, after centuries, the Patriarch of Constantinople preceded the Divine Liturgy and Archbishop Ohrid officiated - the father with the son, the brother with the brother, the collaborator with the collaborator. Today everything rejoices and rejoices: Heaven and Earth, the living and the departed, the past, the present and the future!"