Kolymbari, Crete.- Photos: Dimitrios Panagos
The Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church that convened on June 20, 2016 concluded its week-long sessions by adopting unanimously six texts. The official announcement is expected on Sunday, at the official conclusion. Speaking to the press, Ecumenical Patriarchal Bartholomew described the Holy and Great Council “a new and unprecedented chapter in modern Church history”.
A compromising proposal by the Church of Greece removed the final obstacle for the adoption of the text on the “ Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian World”.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew presided over the Council. The following nine Primates of the Orthodox Autocephalous Churches and their respective honorable delegations are participating: His Beatitude Patriarch Theodoros II of Alexandria and All Africa, His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel of Romania, His Beatitude Patriarch Irinej of Serbia, His Beatitude Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus, His Beatitude Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and all Greece, His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana and All Albania, His Beatitude Metropolitan Sawa of Warsaw and All Poland, His Beatitude Archbishop Rastislav of Czech Lands and Slovakia.
Absent from the Council are their Beatitudes, Patriarch John of Antioch, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, Patriarch Neophyte of Bulgaria and Patriarch Ilia of Georgia, Primates of their respective autocephalous churches.
In his introductory address to the Council, last Monday, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew expressed his regret and pain for the absences of the sister Churches of Antioch, Russia, Bulgaria and Georgia, “an unpleasant surprise on the twelfth hour,” as he said. The Ecumenical Patriarch also said that even though they had sent the lists of their delegations and had fully participated in all the phases of preparation and therefore had every opportunity to put forth for discussion all the issues before they had agreed and signed, they are now using these issues as an excuse for their abstention. “This unprecedented attitude, he said, we are having trouble understanding.”
His All-Holiness noted that “by striking at our unity we are striking ourselves.” He emphasized that none of us, none of our Churches can exist in isolation from the rest of the Orthodox Churches. We, Orthodox Christians, are not and should not behave as a federation of Churches. We are one Church, one body and we should resolve all our possible differences in the Synod. This is what we have received from our holy tradition and to that we should adhere to, said the Ecumenical Patriarch.
Speaking about the question of how the abstentions might affect the work of the Holy and Great Council, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew said, that in the long history of the Church, there were instances of intended or unintended absences of some members in convened local or ecumenical synods, but that did not at all impede the convening of those councils. The decision to convene the Holy and Great Council was Pan-Orthodox, said His All-Holiness, and it can and will go on with its work.
The Primates of the Local Orthodox Autocephalous Churches in their turn, addressed greetings to the Council, unanimously expressing their joy and support for being present at this historic event. They reaffirmed their commitment to work together in unity to address the questions facing the Church in the contemporary world and to deepen co-operation in the future.
His Beatitude Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus acknowledged the need for regular councils bringing together Hierarchs from around the world in order to develop a common response to pressing issues, including bio-ethical and environmental dilemmas. Addressing the mission of the Church in the world, His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios of Albania underlined the need for repentance, while His Beatitude Archbishop Rastislav of the Czech Lands and Slovakia underscored the fact that, in spite of their ethnic differences, Orthodox Christians are one people.
An open and honest discussion
In the ensuing days since its opening the Holy and Great Council considers and continues to discuss the six Pre-Conciliar Documents in the agenda: The Mission of the Orthodox Church in today’s World, the Orthodox Diaspora, Autonomy and the means by which it is proclaimed, the importance of Fasting and its observance today, Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian World and the Sacrament of Marriage and its impediments.
Extensive discussion on the pre-conciliar texts was held and various suggestions and clarifications were proposed by the Primates and individual Hierarchs of the local Orthodox Autocephalous Churches.
“It is an experience of absolute freedom of expression of views and opinions without limits or hindrances of any kind. It is an honest and open discussion on very difficult and complex issues”, said His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America about the work of the Synod. His Eminence also underlined the importance of the manner in which Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew presides at the Synod, saying it is “an exquisite, attentive and elegant way, which fosters an atmosphere of freedom and unity.”