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MOSCOW, June 13. /TASS/. Draft documents that were due to be adopted at a Pan-Orthodox Council in Greece’s Crete came under criticism from many of the 14 national churches, including those which have decided to skip it, Archpriest Andrei Novikov, a member of the Synodal theological commission of the Russian Orthodox Church and head of the Church of Life-Giving Trinity in Moscow’s Vorobyovy Gory, told TASS on Monday.
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.
The Bulgarian Orthodox Church was the first to sayg 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.
"These documents were met with severe criticism in even those churches that have not refused to attend the Council. And all the claims and ideas on their improvement were simply ignored by the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Council’s Secretariat on which the will of one national church on adoption of the document in its current edition was virtually imposed," the archpriest said, adding that there is no common understanding of what is going on. "The motives are not clear," he noted.
"The Council is used to secure special rights of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which is unacceptable for us because it is a schism, like the Catholic schism of papacy," he said. "It is unacceptable for Orthodox people."
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.