Little agreement among Orthodox churches about unity council


Orthodox churches speak out against unipolarity

by Aleksei Zygmont

Nezavisimaia Gazeta, 7 June 2016


Following the Bulgarian church, the Antioch church refused to participate in the Pan-Orthodox Council. The Constantinople patriarchate urges conducting the council at the scheduled time and it is openly supported by the Romanian church. Hierarchs of the Constantinople patriarchate and the Greek archbishopric explain the problem with the Bulgarians as intrigues of the Russian Orthodox Church.


At a session of the synod on 6 June, the Antioch Orthodox Church resolved to refuse to participate in the council in the event that a number of obstacles to its conduct are not immediately removed, the chief of which remain disagreements among local Orthodox churches relative to its rules, documents, and expenses, as well as the vagueness of its goals.


One of the main reasons for such a decision by the Antiochians was the suggestion by Constantinople, unacceptable to them, to resolve the conflict between Antioch and Jerusalem regarding the jurisdiction of Qatar by means of a special commission just after the council. In their resolution they also noted the suggestion by the RPTs to convene a pre-council conference by 10 June, but only in the sense that Moscow "also does not agree with it;" the synod of the Antioch church did not speak either in favor of or against such an event.


On the same day, the head of the Department of External Church Relations of the RPTs, Metropolitan Ilarion, in an interview with television channel Rossiia 24 pointed to the necessity to continue the discussion of accumulated problems: "We proposed to the Constantinople patriarch to conduct a pre-council conference at which to decide all those questions by reason of which churches are now, one after another, refusing to participate. If these questions are resolved, that means the council will occur. If they are not resolved, then probably it is better to postpone it." At the same time he did not say a word about the circumstance that Constantinople at that time had sent to all churches urgent communiqu├ęs calling for certain participation in the council, thereby refusing to accept Moscow's suggestion. On 7 June this decision was approved by Archbishop Irineos Athanasiadis, the primate of the Crete Orthodox Church, which has semiautonomous status within the Constantinople patriarchate. In an interview with Crete news media, he noted that the peculiarities of one of the churches cannot displace the unanimity of all the rest. On the same day at a session of the synod of the Romanian church, its head, Patriarch Daniel, spoke out in support of such a decision. Considering that for more than two decades now he has been conducting vigorous ecumenical activity and since 1990 has been a member of the presidium and central committee of the Conference of European Churches, his reaction is natural.


Among the hierarchs and believers of various churches, the argument has not abated regarding what is going on, how to understand it, and who is to blame. In the Constantinople and Greek churches, the rejection by the Bulgarians is linked directly with the "cunning" of Moscow. For example, Metropolitan of Hierapytna and Siteia  Evgeny Politis (Crete Orthodox Church) stated that Patriarch of Moscow and all-Rus Kirill "behaves like a tsar" and that it was he who forced the Bulgarians to boycott the council. Metropolitan of Messinia Chrysostomos Savvatos (Greek Orthodox Church) expressed the conviction on Greek radio that Moscow specifically created the problem in order then to present itself in the capacity of mediator for its resolution and thereby get more victory points. The Greek newspaper Bema points to a possible link between the Bulgarians' refusal and statements by the RPTs that the council will not be able to meet in the event that even one of the local churches does not participate. However the position of Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew was defined in the newspaper as "stoihema," a gamble, and moreover it is quite risky. Although among the bishops of the Greek church there is no unity observed in the sense that they dislike the conduct of both Constantinople and Moscow equally, officially they have stood up for holding the council.


Metropolitan of Lovchantsy Gabriel (Bulgarian Orthodox Church), in an interview with the Internet portal Dobrotoliubie, rejects such suggestions and declares that the decision of the synod of the BOC could not be a foregone conclusion. He also declared that there is no sense in holding the council if the most important decisions are made by the patriarchs of Constantinople and Moscow, bypassing him.


In Russia, Bulgaria, and Greece, Patriarch Bartholomew is accused of wishing to be an "Orthodox pope" and wrongly ascribing to himself primacy in the Orthodox world.


Thus the picture has developed as follows: the ecumenical patriarchate stands "for" the Pan-Orthodox Council by any means. It is unambiguously supported by Romania and Greece and conditionally by Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Cyprus. The Antioch and Bulgarian churches have already chosen to withdraw and the Georgian and Serbian churches have simply voted against the council. The churches of Albania, Poland, the Czech Land, and Slovakia have maintained silence. Moscow demands a pre-council conference; however in the event it does not occur it also takes a position "against" the council. As a counterpoint to all these official positions, criticism of the event on the part of "zealots of piety" from the whole Orthodox world has not abated for a minute. For now the council has more chances of not being held than of happening. The "historic" meeting of churches is perishing under the weight of the contradictions that have surfaced in the Orthodox world. (tr. by PDS, posted 8 June 2016)

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