Ecumenical Patriarch’s Visit to Hungary

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has concluded a four-day visit to Hungary on 18-21 August 2017 at the invitation of the country’s authorities. During the visit, His All-Holiness was presented with a building complex located in the center of Budapest, which the Hungarian Government has decided to donate for the needs of the Orthodox Exarchate of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Hungary. “Hungary will never forget what it owes to Orthodox Christianity,” said Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén while handed over the keys of a building in central Budapest. The building represents Hungary’s “modest return” of gratitude owed to Bartholomew I and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. It also gives an opportunity for the church to be able to carry out its services in Hungary, he added. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew expressed thanks for the “historic building complex of immense value” and said the church “had a burning need for it” in order “to carry out its diverse pastoral and cultural tasks”. In the census of 2011, a total of 1,701 Hungarians said they followed the Greek Orthodox faith.

Three years ago an Agreement of Cooperation was signed between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Hungarian Government, regulating the relations of the Orthodox Exarchate of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Hungary with the State. Also, it is worth noting that in the Agreement particular emphasis is given to the important role that the Orthodox Church played in the history of Hungary. In the preamble of the Agreement it is noted, amongst other things, that “Saints Cyril and Methodios brought Eastern Christianity to these lands, which continues to be present as a living religious community. Even before the foundation of the state, the ancient Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople already had relations with the Hungarians and had sent Saint Ierotheos the Bishop to spread Christianity.”

King Stephen of Hungary (c.975-1038) had a great role in the conversion of Hungary to Christianity, and August 20 is observed as a public holiday in Hungary in his honor. He was canonized a saint by the Catholic Church in 1083. The Ecumenical Patriarchate recognized him as a saint in the year 2000. The Saint’s right hand is a precious relic kept in the Cathedral of St. Stephen in Budapest. A Mass was celebrated on the steps of the Cathedral on 20 August by Cardinal Péter Erdő followed by a procession with the relic through the streets of Budapest at which the Ecumenical Patriarch was present.

Last December, within the framework of the Agreement, a Memorandum of Cooperation was signed between the Holy Metropolis of Austria-Exarchate of Hungary and the Hungarian Government, stipulating the allocation of the aforementioned building in which the offices of the Exarchate, the Patriarchal Academy, the Greek School, and a Museum of Ecclesiastical Arts will be housed. A Guest House will also operate within this building. It is the desire of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the local Metropolis that this new headquarters of the Exarchate serve as a place to further advance dialogue, as well as become a cultural center where all people can meet.

This extremely significant Agreement with the Hungarian government was not the first gift to the Holy Metropolis of Austria, which benefits both from the generosity of others as well as the tireless efforts of His Eminence Metropolitan Arsenios. Specifically, the Roman Catholic Church in Austria gifted a newly renovated church in the city of Leoben to the Orthodox Metropolis of Austria, which has since become the center for all the Orthodox of the city, using German in all its liturgical services. Their gift also included a 70-acre plot of land, where an Orthodox Monastery will be established. As a symbolic acknowledgement of this gesture, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew personally received the deeds to the properties during his visit to Austria in November of 2014.