IBNA / INTERVIEW: Živica Tucić, editor-in-chief of the Religion Information Agency

IBNA / INTERVIEW:  Živica Tucić, editor-in-chief of the Religion Information Agency


Homosexuality, overemphasized issue in Serbian Church

By Milos Mitrovic – Belgrade

“The pope will not visit Serbia soon. It’s not only the prevailing part of the Church, bishops and believers who are against it, but probably the significant part of Serbian intellectuals”, Živica Tucić, editor-in-chief of the Religion Information Agency said in the interview for IBNA.

In your opinion, what the recent Serbian Orthodox Church Convocation has demonstrated regarding the relations between the Church and the state? On the eve of Convocation, patriarch Irinej has said that Serbia must strive for Kosovo and Metohija to remain its part and suggested the unification between Serbia and Republika Srpska, two days after Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic’s visit to Sarajevo. Following patriarchs comment on recent disastrous floods in Serbia as “God’s warning”, Vucic has asked “clergy to refrain from pouring oil on the fire”.

According to my information, the Convocation did not tackle these relations. The different approaches by the Church and the state are well known. Both internal and foreign policies in Serbia are defined by the Parliament and other high institutions which derive from it. The government is very clear regarding the relations with Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina and enjoys the support of the majority of the voters. The Church may have different opinion, but it’s not the part of the government system. The same is true for other institutions and organizations. However, it turns out that this does not affect significantly on the position of the voters. On the other hand, certain statements that are completely out of the sphere of spirituality and enter into specific policy are concerning. Regarding the floods as “God’s punishment” or “warning from the heaven”, everything is clear from the theological aspect. We don’t know what God considers in specific situations, and those – whoever they may be – which claim to know it, actually declare themselves as prophets, which they are not. If God is so eager to punish, he would already had so many reasons to act accordingly.

During the prayers organized with regard to the floods, patriarch Irinej didn’t miss the opportunity to condemn the Pride parade which was scheduled for this month. In that sense, he put the Pride parade in connection with floods, while metropolitan Amfilohije has said that the floods were the consequence of both the parade and Eurosong contest, won by Austrian transsexual singer Conchita Wurst. Do you think that Church really believes that natural disasters are caused by the events it considers to be sinful, or the messages by both patriarch and metropolitan had different point?  

It’s difficult for me to interpret what both bishops have had in mind while giving such statements, but it is clear that such positions have not been supported by the believers and “government” has also been critical toward them. Pride parades are holding in so many countries and God does not “punish” them, even the orthodox countries, such as Greece, Cyprus, and Bulgaria. Metropolitan would say that God did this to Serbs “because of his love”. There are such thoughts in the history of Serbian theology; bishop Nikolaj Velimirovic had wrote that earthquakes, floods, wars and famine come from God who “beats the people, not to kill them, but to make them better and save them”. Contemporary theologians would not say so; this would rather be “offense against the God” from their point of view. However, I do not exclude the possibility that two bishops really believe that this (floods) was some important God’s warning.

Would it be possible – at some point in the future – for Serbian Orthodox Church to send an compassionate message to homosexuals, without giving up from the position that they are sinful but deserve salvation at the same time, just like pope Francis has said “who am I to judge them”?

This will not happen soon. On the other hand, there is number of different sins. Serbian Orthodox Church does not call on struggle against the sins mentioned in the Ten Commandments, such as adultery and neglecting of parents (elders, abandoned by their children). Drunkenness is also the sin which is very present in Serbia, as well as overindulgence, superstition, tax evasion… The homosexuality issue is being overemphasized in the orthodox Christianity, at least in Serbian and Russian Church, and this distracts the attention from other sins. But the most of Serbian bishops do not talk about this, besides patriarch and metropolitan Amfilohije. This is inconsequence. If homosexuals are called on repentance, why the drunkards are not – they are ruining their families, causing traffic accidents, maltreating other people. The pope has confused many by his statement, not only in his Church, but also in orthodox and protestant churches. But from theological aspect, his stance cannot be opposed – it’s not up to an individual to judge, and this is biblical attitude.

The visit of the pope to Serbia is an issue discussed for years. Serbian Church has its precondition for the visit – Holy See should apologize for the role the part of its clergy had in crimes committed against the Serbs in “Independent State of Croatia” (NDH) from 1941 to 1945. Do you think such expectation is realistic, especially after recent disclosing of CIA document that confirmed NDH leader Ante Pavelic has been hiding in Vatikan after World War Two was ended?

The pope will not visit Serbia soon. It’s not only the prevailing part of the Church, bishops and believers who are against it, but probably the significant part of Serbian intellectuals. The old cliché is that Catholics are apostates which believe in pope, rather than in Christ, and which want to convert all the other Christians and rule over them. I have been indicating many times that Serbian Orthodox Church and Roman-Catholic Church in Croatia should discuss about the past and the future – for years, if necessary. They have established the commission in that regard, but it has never been summoned. The truth should be separated from the stereotypes. Archbishop Stepinac is an example – is he a saint and paragon for believers or criminal, offender at least? The both cannot be correct, so what is the truth? The truth should be found by joint effort. If the crime is proven, it should be named as the crime and both sides should be strong enough to accept the crimes of their respective compatriots. We are all more or less both victims and offenders.

Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew recently signed a Common Declaration on the path towards unity between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. What is the significance of this document and what it means for the autocephalous churches such as Serbian Orthodox Church?

The unification of Christians is the task from the New Testament, although the Muslims and Jews are also divided. Christ has left the order “all may be one”. One may say that whoever is against the unity – regardless how impossible task it seems to be – is hurting Christ. The recent document is not so “spectacular”, it just confirms the striving toward the dialogue and mutual understanding. In 2015 it will be the half-centenary since the mutual anathemas have been abolished and this was the cause for signing the document. Patriarch of Constantinople is the spiritual leader of the East, orthodox Christians, and pope is “the patriarch of the West”. However, fundamentalists consider the meeting of the two as provocation; Serbian zealots called it “perversion”. In orthodox Christianity anti-ecumenism is not negligible, it becomes even stronger and pope is perceived as “heretic”.  This declaration is not “historical”, it’s the confirmation of the readiness to continue with rapprochement and looking for the truth. It may last for centuries. We can only anticipate to which extent orthodox churches agree with this document. Some among them, like Russian church, have their reservations. Russian church stated that meeting was a private one! Nevertheless, and regardless what they may think, the document cannot be ignored as well as the fact that patriarch of Constantinople is the spiritual leader of the orthodoxy, the only one who has the clear canonical precedence which implies certain rights, despite the attempts to diminish them. Moscow strives to diminish them from its own aspiration for power and zealots from their blindness.