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Russian Orthodox Church not to take part in Council if other churches are absent

June 13, 22:19 UTC+3
The stumbling block is the content of draft documents that the Holy and Great All-Orthodox Council is expected to adopt
1 pages in this article
© Igor Lenkin / TASS archive

MOSCOW, June 13. /TASS/. The Russian Orthodox Church will not take part in the Pan-Orthodox Council, due to convene on the Isle of Crete in less than a week, in case any of the 14 national churches stay away from it, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev), the Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate's External Church Relations Department, said on Monday after an emergency meeting of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church.

"We have taken a decision that we will not be able to take part in the All-Orthodox Council in case several national churches stay away from it," he said.

"The Council in such case will lose its Pan-Orthodox status and no consensus will be possible on any of the issues," he said. "Hence, the only right solution will be to postpone the Council. And we will refer this initiative to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew."

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 were needed. The Bulgarian clerics’ decision to abstain from the conference was followed by announcements on staying away on the part of other Churches - the Church of Antioch (Syria), the Serbian Church and, in the latest move, the Georgian Church. Should at least one of the 14 churches be absent from the Council, it will lose the Pan-Orthodox status and its decisions will not be binding on those absent. 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, due in Crete on June 17-26.

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 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 Pan-Orthodox Council is convened by the Ecumenical 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.

The stumbling block is the content of draft documents that the Holy and Great All-Orthodox Council is expected to adopt.

Procedural regulations say the Council can adopt documents only on the subjects accepted beforehand. Initially, there were about a hundred subjects of this kind but only six draft documents exist at this moment. They concern fasting, marriage, the declaration of autonomy by national Orthodox Churches, the mission of the Eastern Orthodox Church in today’s world, and relations between the global Orthodox Christian congregation and other segments of Christianity.

Russian Orthodox Church to ask to postpone Pan-Orthodox Council

The Russian Orthodox Church will ask the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople to postpone the Pan-Orthodox Council, due to convene on the Isle of Crete in less than a week, and hold it after a thorough preparation, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) said.

He said that a pan-Orthodox Council cannot be convened in case any of the 14 national churches is absent. "If this Council is finally convened it will be a violation of the Council’s regulations as it is called upon the consent of all national churches," Metropolitan Hilarion said.

In his words, the Russian Orthodox Church will ask the Patriarch of Constantinople "to convene the Council on a later date and use this time to solve the existing problems and duly prepare the All-Orthodox Council."

Situation around preparations for Council is routine

The situation around the preparations for a Pan-Orthodox Council, due to convene on the Isle of Crete in less than a week, is quite routine, despite refusals of a number of national churches to attend the Council, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) said.

"There is nothing catastrophic about it. This is quite routine situation," he said, adding that the Russian Orthodox Church will ask the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople to postpone the Council to have more time for preparations.

The Pan-Orthodox Council is convened by the Ecumenical 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. The last All-Orthodox Council recognized by the Russian Orthodox Church was convened in the eighth century.

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 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.

National churches should not be lent deaf ear to during preparations for Pan-Orthodox Council 

The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople should not turn a deaf ear to national churches during preparations for a Pan-Orthodox Council, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) said.

"Indeed, we were preparing this All-Orthodox Council all together and we failed to do it so that all the churches are content," he said. "I think we should learn a lesson from that and understand that the voices of national churches cannot be ignored: if a church is worried over something, it should be resolved; if a church initiates any amendments, they are to be thoroughly studied."

The root of the problem, according to Metropolitan Hilarion, is that problems openly raised by churches in the pre-Council process were hushed up or postponed. He said the Russian Orthodox Church has been preparing for participation in the Council till the last moment and was forced to take an emergency decision to ask Constantinople to postpone the Council only after several churches had refused to attend it.

Council’s decision to be non-binding unless it is attended by all churches

Decisions of the Pan-Orthodox Council will not be binding if a number of local churches stay away from it, Hegumen Pyotr (Yeremeyev), the abbot of the Vysokopetrovsky Monastery and member of the Russian Orthodox Church’s coordination council of theology development, told TASS on Monday.

"Non-participation at least of one of the churches reduces to nil perspectives of passing decision and calls to question consensus decisions," he said.

Even if the Council is attended by the majority of the existing Orthodox Churches, they will not all the same be able to represent all Orthodox believers. "If the Serbian Church, the Georgian Church, the Russian Church, the Antioch Church and the Bulgarian Church do not participate, and they represent the majority of the world’s Orthodox believers, this Council… will be for the Orthodox world just a meeting dedicated to certain issues and, of course, it will not be binding," he stressed.

Nevertheless, in his words, the Council might be useful for its participants. "If representatives of churches discuss most pressing problems it will be useful as a kind of consultations on matters that are topical for many," he added.

After an emergency meeting of the Holy Synod on Monday, the Russian Orthodox Church said it will not take part in the Pan-Orthodox Council, due to convene on the Isle of Crete in less than a week, in case any of the 14 national churches stay away from it.

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 were needed. The Bulgarian clerics’ decision to abstain from the conference was followed by announcements on staying away on the part of other Churches - the Church of Antioch (Syria), the Serbian Church and, in the latest move, the Georgian Church. Should at least one of the 14 churches be absent from the Council, it will lose the Pan-Orthodox status and its decisions will not be binding on those absent. 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, due in Crete on June 17-26.

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