comments on the council

 

A few days’ ago, I wrote about the Council on Crete that has been boycotted by the Russian Church. Of course it is possible to become mystical and misty-eyed about all this or to see it as a political scheme to grab power from the Ecumenical Patriarchate. My instinct is that this is a power grab, but it is worth checking what has happened since the boycott.

On the one hand, the Patriach of Moscow has sent the council a very encouraging letter, albeit adopting a slightly Papal tone, but on the other, there have been radio and tv discussions that have left little doubt that Moscow regards the council as misjudged and feels that only it has a monopoly of truth. Disturbing indeed.

Newspapers have made a great point of charting the history of the planning from 1961 and that current relations between the participating and non-participating Churches remain intact. But there are criticisms that the full range of 120  different topics initially to be discussed at the council had recently been truncated by Constantinople, that decisions about financing and organisation were imposed on “lesser churches” by Bartholemew’s team in January 2016. Meanwhile, there are apparently draft documents in Moscow on all the 120 topics, drawn up since a conference on Rhodes in 2009 and Fr Nikolai Balashov, deputy chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, is on record complaining that

“The truth is that only the Russian Church did her “homework”and the process stalled. That same year a delegation of the Church of Constantinople led by the remarkable hierarch, Metropolitan Meliton of Chalcedon, came to Moscow and suggested to His Holiness Patriarch Pimen to change the order of preparation. The Russian Church was distressed and disappointed, but agreed to hold the Council on a thin agenda and presented a shortened list of topics. The answer was “too many”, and there were ten topics left on the agenda. Yet, some topics, which the Moscow Patriarchate considered important, were later removed, and only six remained on the agenda. The rules of preparation were changed several times, but we, though reluctantly, always gave our consent for the sake of the Council. No one can accuse the Russian Church in the lack of good will.”

I think that, at a time when there are so many other problems between Russia and the rest of the world, this is precisely what the Moscow Patriachate can be accused of – a lack of goodwill. The time to raise these issues, if they were genuine and if Moscow intended any positive outcome, was in January, or February. I think it is impossible not to draw the conclusion that Kirill has played this for power and maximum publicity. And the interviews and press briefings suggest he is playing to a home audience.

But we can expect little more from a man who floats around the city in a motorcade to rival that of the President. I have found myself waiting his passing on a few occasions, adding to the traffic chaos. I suppose we can only thank God that he is not posting photos of himself bare-chested on horseback.

Meanwhile, Hilarion has given an interview suggesting that a “proper council” can be convened fairly soon. “I believe we all should learn a lesson from what has happened so that in the future it would be possible to convene such a Holy and Great Council in which all the Local Churches without exception will participate and which will become what it should be – a witness to our unity.”

Here is the letter:

kirill2Your Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew,

Your Holinesses and Beatitudes,

The Most Reverend Fellow-Archpastors,

The Honorable Representatives of Local Orthodox Churches:

 

I cordially greet you on behalf of the Russian Orthodox Church and on behalf of the Orthodox faithful in Russia, Ukraine, Belorussia, Moldova and other countries, who comprise the vast flock of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Brothers, we all are the one Body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 12:27). We have received the priceless gift of unity from the Lord and our Saviour Jesus Christ Himself. To preserve this gift is one of our principal tasks; it is a direct commandment of our Saviour’ (Jn. 17:21).

Let us not be confused by the fact that the opinions of Sister-Churches about the convocation of the Holy and Great Council have been divided. According to St. Paul, there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized (1 Cor. 11:19). In the days of preparations for the Council, such differences have become fully revealed, but we must not allow them to weaken the God-commanded unity, to grow into an inter-church conflict, to bring division and trouble into our ranks. We remain one Orthodox family and together we all bear responsibility for the fate of Holy Orthodoxy.

It is my profound conviction that the Churches, both those who have decided to go to Crete and those who have refrained from it, made their decisions in good conscience, and for this reason we must respect the position of each of them.

The Russian Orthodox Church has always proceeded from the conviction that the voice of any Local Church, be it large or small, old or new, should not be neglected. The absence of the Church of Antioch’s consent to convene the Council means that we have not reached pan-Orthodox consensus. We cannot ignore the voices of the Georgian, Serbian and Bulgarian Churches either, who have spoken for a postponement of the Council to a later date.

I trust that if there is a good will, the meeting in Crete can become an important step towards overcoming the present differences. It can make its own contribution to the preparation of that Holy and Great Council which will unite all the Local Autocephalous Churches without exception and become a visible reflection of the unity of the Holy Orthodox Church of Christ, for which our predecessors, who blissfully passed away, prayed and which they expected.

We assure you that our prayers will be with you in the days of the work ahead of you.

 

With great love in Christ,

+ KIRILL

 PATRIARCH OF MOSCOW AND ALL RUSSIA

Orthodox Council in Crete

While Britain focuses on the EU referendum, a meeting is taking place (or not) in Kolymbari, Crete that has taken about 1000 years to negotiate and this specific effort dates back to 1901. Far from pursuing Church unity between Rome and Constantinople, it is fairly evident that unity across the Orthodox Church of 14 autocephalous Churches can be fairly fragile itself.

theodoros

Yesterday, Theodoros II urged the squabbling Bishops, led by the Bulgarians, to set aside differences and attend the council. The Serbians responded by saying they would attend, but they might not stay. The Russians remain determined to boycott the event.

As I see it the reasons for the boycott are fairly spurious- issues about primacy of honour in the conference itself and in any pronouncements thereafter issued, as well as a general prickliness about orthodox links with other churches, particularly Rome.

neophyte

 

The issues causing problems are really an excuse to promote the power of Moscow and the objections put forward by the smaller Churches like Georgia seem to have been orchestrated to make the point. While the Antiochene Church may well have a valid dispute with Jerusalem over control of parishes in Qatar (they should both be focused on Syria frankly), issues like “Church unity”, and intermarriage had already sparked concerns among the conservatives in Moscow. Kirill was also, I gather, worried about the prominence given to Bartholemew in seating arrangements at the council. This analysis tends to suggest that Moscow is absolutely the villain of the piece but there is a long history of Greece exerting control (most of the hierarchy throughout the middle east is bizarrely Greek, and has been so for many years). Squeals of theological protest from Athos and from what is mostly a group of ultra-conservative converts, have kicked up a fuss. Georgia, meanwhile, which worries that documents dealing with inter-marriage are too progressive and might cement in practice what has  so far been a “don’t tell” policy of tolerance, and Bulgaria’s decisive withdrawal gave an excuse for Moscow to withdraw too. How much their withdrawals were orchestrated by Kirill will remain to be seen.

Behind this jockeying for power is a nasty undercurrent. If, following rules laid down by the Turkish government which stipulate the Patriarch must be a turkish citizen, Bartholemew is to be one of the last Ecumenical patriarchs of Constantinople (with a flock of barely 3000 believers), the Moscow Patriarch clearly has its eye on the job.

hilarion(Either Bishop Hilarion fails to do his job or is not allowed to do so. I hope the latter is the case because I like him!)

15th June 2016

C O M M U N I Q U E

In brotherly love, while with responsibility and hopes preparing for the participation in the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, which, God willing, is to be held at the Orthodox Academy at Crete around Pentecost, from June 17 to 26, 2016, the Holy Synod of Bishops in its broader composition at its session held at the Serbian Patriarchate in Belgrade, on June 15, 2016, regarding the situation created after the ordinary convocation of the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, takes the following decision:

First of all, having in mind the importance and significance of the Council, our Church wants, in a spirit of ecclesial upbuilding, to contribute to this Holy and Great Council fulfilling the criteria and the measure of true Councils in the history of the Orthodox Church, thereby justifying its title.

On the other hand, our Church requests that problems and matters not only of the Serbian Orthodox Church, but also of the other most Holy Churches that cancelled their participation in the Council, be considered at the Council.

With this aim in mind, the Holy and Great Council should last as long as these questions are to be considered, and must not be hostage to previously layed-out and accepted rules. Exclusively with the full consensus can the Council be considered as a Holy and Great Council.

At last, our Church insists that the gathering on the island of Crete be the beginning of the Conciliar process, that the matters in question should be solved during its working process, but in the spirit of the conciliar tradition of the Church of Christ.

In the case that the Churches present at the Council, with the Ecumenical Patriarchate at its head, persist in the position that the absent Churches boycott the work of the Council without any real reason, and in the case that the already present Churches refuse to take into consideration all the matters in question, problems and disagreements, the representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church at the Council will be, regretfully, forced to leave the sessions of the Council and in that way join the Churches that are already absent.

This is by no means a threat or ransom, but a consequent implementation of the position and decisions of the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church held in May 2016.

In the spirit of our ecclesial and pastoral responsibility, we present these positions hoping in the illuminating action of the All-Holy Spirit.

Archbishop of Pec, Metropolitan of Belgrade – Karlovci
and Serbian Patriarch

President of the Holy Assembly of Bishops
sign.   I R I N E J

coptic.jpgThis all seems a bit unfortunate. Bulgaria is simply following the lead of Patriach Kirill in Moscow, whose background is almost as dodgy as the late Christodoulos of Athens. Neveretheless, I hold out some hope that Bishop Hilarion, who was at Oxford, will hold sway over the Muscovites and they will finally come round to sense. At the moment, he is urging postponement but as another member of the council pointed out, there is not really anyone with the authority to call off what was agreed by “all churches” in January. “It would be autocratic and papal for him (the ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew) to change that. No one, including the Ecumenical Patriarch, has right to override that decision.

“There have been councils in past attended by very few bishops or churches, because of various circumstances,”Chryssavgis said. “This council will be the largest, most representative council in the history of the Orthodox Church.”

“In that respect,”Chryssavgis said, “it truly is a ‘great’ council, greater than any individual synod of one of the sister churches.”

I note that one of the signatories to a letter urging union and specifically “To postpone the Council once again,” they tell participants, “is to fail to live up to the principle of conciliarity on a global level.” is Dr Smilen Markov, Sofia University (Bulgarian Orthodox Church).“It is a great council, a pan-Orthodox council whose decisions are binding for the Orthodox Church,” said Deacon Chryssavgis, theological adviser to Patriarch Bartholomew.

An analysis in Greek (but with english subtitles). I am indebted to Fr Nikolas Young for pointing to this!

kallistos.jpg

Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia speaks  about the coming Holy and Great Council here,