Orthodox Christians to Hold Historic Council In Crete Despite Disputes

Sean Hawkey Orthodox primates gathered at a Crete monastery on June 17 to consider a “draft message” of the coming week's council.
Sean Hawkey
Orthodox primates gathered at a Crete monastery on June 17 to consider a “draft message” of the coming week’s council.
Patriarchs disagree over how many disputes—out of centuries’ worth—to tackle in 10 days.

The last time the 14 separate branches of the Orthodox church met, in 787, they hadn’t yet split with the Roman Catholic church.

So pulling together a Holy and Great Council meeting of the global representatives of 300 million Orthodox Christians for next week hasn’t been easy—even with the event being discussed since 1961.

A number of issues have cropped up in the last 1,000-plus years. The short list includes: the Archbishop of Constantinople’s historical position as “first among equals” despite the Moscow Patriarchate’s superior numbers and wealth; Moscow Patriarch Kirill’s meeting with Pope Francis that angered Orthodox who consider Catholics heretics; and the struggle between the Jerusalem and Antioch Patriarchates over who has jurisdiction over Qatar.

The initial list of issues to discuss topped 100 items; Orthodox leaders managed to whittle it down to 6. The goal of council organizer Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I: not to settle centuries of disagreement, but to find consensus by starting small.

“Bartholomew is not making this event an end in itself, but the start of a long process for Orthodox renewal,” AsiaNews translated from La Croix, a French newspaper. “This is why he has deliberately limited the discussion to the texts on the agenda, even if this means initially accepting a minimalist consensus.”

The six issues are not about doctrine or canonical structure, as Kirill has stressed. Here’s the list:

  • The mission of the Orthodox church in today’s world
  • The Orthodox Diaspora (and which Orthodox patriarchates can claim jurisdiction over the various scattered members)
  • Autonomy and the means by which it is proclaimed
  • The sacrament of marriage and its impediments
  • The importance of fasting and its observance today
  • Relations of the Orthodox church with the rest of the world

But Bartholomew may have put too many limits on the discussions. Less than three weeks before the council was set to begin, the Bulgaria Patriarchate warned that unless more items were added to the agenda, it would not attend.

The Antioch Patriarchate, which broke off relations with the Jerusalem Patriarchate after Jerusalem appointed a bishop in Qatar three years ago, said it would be pointless to come unless those differences are soothed over.

“If the council convenes whilst two apostolic churches are not in communion with each other, this means that the participation in the synodical sessions is possible without taking part in the Holy Eucharist, which deprives the council of its ecclesiological character and grants it an administrative quality, contradictory to the steadfast Orthodox synodical tradition,” stated the Secretariat of the Antiochian Holy Synod.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra