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Russian Orthodox Church to gather Holy Synod prior to Pan-Orthodox Council — official

June 07, 2016, 21:22 UTC+3

The Russian Orthodox Church will gather prior to the Pan-Orthodox Council the Holy Synod to decide how to act in conditions of churches’ refusal to take part in the Council on June 17-26 in Crete

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MOSCOW, June 7. /TASS/. The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) will gather in Moscow prior to the Pan-Orthodox Council the Holy Synod to decide how to act in conditions of some local churches’ refusal to take part in the Council on June 17-26 in Crete, Greece, a senior ROC official said Tuesday.

"We will monitor what is going on in local churches, will attentively listen to voices from local Orthodox churches, and I think we will need to hold one more session of the Holy Synod to understand how to act in such a situation," Chairman of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Department of External Church Relations Metropolitan Hilarion told TASS.

He said he regrets that conditions of participation in the Council, which are principled for ROC, are actually ignored by the Constantinople Patriarchate.

The ROC believes that the Holy and Great Pan-Orthodox Council is either to be attended by all the fourteen local Orthodox churches or be postponed to a later date, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), the Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate's External Church Relations Department, told TASS on Tuesday.

"I think if the Council is held in the absence of any of the local churches it will not be a Pan-Orthodox Council. It will rather be an intra-Orthodox meeting. Naturally, its decisions would not be binding on those churches which are absent from it but I will hope this will not take place," he said.

Metropolitan Hilarion said he hopes that either a solution that could be acceptable for all the local churches will finally be offered in the days before the Council, or "in case such solution is not found the Council will be postponed to a more favorable time and the local churches will direct their efforts to solve these problems, to somehow bridge the diversities so that all the churches could finally hold the Council in peace and accord."

"Over the entire pre-Council process, we have been stressing the importance of the Pan-Orthodox Council and we have been saying we support the very idea of such Council. But we have had certain conditions from the very beginning," he said, adding that among the mandatory conditions is consensus in passing decisions. Other conditions, in his words, are to address at the Council only preliminarily agreed subjects and to ensure attendance of all local churches.

"If these conditions are not observed, it gives grounds for a serious question about the status of this Council, its legitimacy and about whether it should be held when it is unprepared," he said.

According to Metropolitan Hilarion, the Russian Orthodox Church wants to hold a Council "that will unite all of us, that will reconcile us and will be a factor of unity."

"We cannot put the Pan-Orthodox Council at risk," he underscored.

The legitimacy

The Russian Orthodox Church will not recognize the legitimacy of the Holy and Great All-Orthodox Council, which is going to be held on the island of Crete, Greece, on June 17-26 provided any of the 14 national (local) Orthodox Churches is absent, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), the Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate's External Church Relations Department, told TASS.

"We have always been saying that the Council’s decisions are to be passed by consensus. We believe that consensus implies not mere agreement of those present in the absence of those who have not come. Consensus should mean unanimous opinion of all recognized local Orthodox Churches. If one of them is absent we think it means that there is no consensus. So, the refusal of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church [to take part in the Council] was an alarming signal we were supposed to react to, I think," he said, adding that Syria’s Antiochian Orthodox Church has followed the Bulgarian Church’s lead and refuse to attend the Holy and Great Council.

"Can the Council’s decisions be regarded legitimate if two Churches are absent from it? Or can these decisions be called consensus? We think not. It means we have a kind of emergency situation which requires urgent solutions," he said.

Earlier, he said the Russian Orthodox Church will convene a Holy Synod meeting in Moscow ahead of the Holy and Great All-Orthodox Council.

Should at least one of the 14 churches be absent from the Council, it will lose the Pan-Orthodox status. The Russian Orthodox Church proposed convening an urgent pan-Orthodox consultative conference before June 10 ahead of the Holy and Great Council. The Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate on June 6 made a decision to proceed with routine preparations for the Council.

"Our initiative was geared to save the Council. We have been asked by local churches, even by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople to save the Council," Hilarion said. "Naturally, we were upset to hear such reaction from Constantinople. It means that the Patriarchate of Constantinople takes little interest in what local churches say - ‘the Holy and Great Council will be held in any event.’"

The Holy and Great Orthodox Council, preparations for which started as far back as in 1961, is supposed to become the fullest and most authoritative assembly of top clerics of the Orthodox Christian world in almost a thousand years. Each of the fourteen national (local) Orthodox Churches is expected to delegate 24 high-rank representatives there. The autocephalous (local) Orthodox churches are the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, Patriarchate of Alexandria, Patriarchate of Antioch, Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Patriarchate of Moscow, Patriarchate of Serbia, Patriarchate of Romania, Patriarchate of Bulgaria, Patriarchate of Georgia, Church of Cyprus, Church of Greece, Church of Poland, Church of Albania, Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia. The Russian Orthodox Church is largest of all. The latest Holy and Great Council the Russian Orthodox Church agreed to recognize was held in the 8th century.

The Pan-Orthodox Council is convened by the Constantinople Patriarchate in Constantinople (currently Istanbul), the traditional venue of all Councils. This time in view of the strained geopolitical situation in the world the Greek island of Crete was selected as an alternative venue.

Problems sprang up in the course of final preparations for the assembly recently, with the Bulgarian Orthodox Church saying its clerics will not attend the Council, since more preparations are needed.

Reports in the Russian media said the Bulgarian Church has objections against the contents of certain basic documents the Council is due to endorse. The Georgian Orthodox Church, too, has voiced objections against the documents on Christian marriage and the contemporary mission of the Church.

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