Leaders Split Over Whether Council Can Go Ahead

Patriarch Bartholomew I (left) with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill in Istanbul in 2009

The Patriarchate of Constantinople say the meeting should go ahead, while the Moscow Patriarchate say a pre-Council meeting is needed

The Pan-Orthodox Council is hanging in the balance, after the two most important churches disagreed over whether it should be postponed.

The Council, scheduled for June 16-26, was supposed to bring together all 14 Orthodox churches, but last week the Bulgarian church said they would not attend. The reasons were unclear.

While the Patriarchate of Constantinople have said the meeting should go ahead as planned, the Moscow Patriarchate have said it may be better to postpone it until all concerns have been addressed.

Fr John Chryssavgis, spokesman for the Patriarchate of Constantinople, told the Catholic Herald on Monday that in the view of the patriarchate “no procedural or organizational issues had changed” and that the council would go ahead.

But yesterday Metropolitan Hilarion, the “foreign minister” of the Moscow Patriarchate, told Russian TV that the Patriarchate of Constantinople should hold a pre-Council meeting was held to resolve debated issues. “If they are not, then it’s probably best to postpone it,” said Metropoitan Hilarion.

He added: “”Decisions at the Council should be made by a consensus that is unanimous. What does that mean for us? It means not simply the agreement of everyone present in the hall to some one statement or another, some one document or another. For us it means that all Churches should express agreement with it.”

The Moscow Patriarchate had earlier issued a statement saying that the Bulgarians’ withdrawal would make the Council impossible, because a full consensus is needed.

But the Patriarchate of Constantinople have said that an earlier meeting – the Synaxis of Prelates in January – “clearly and unequivocally” decided that the Council would proceed even if not every Church was present. “The council decisions will be ratified by the member churches in attendance for the Orthodox Churches in general,” said Fr Chryssavgis.

The Council, which has been planned since 1961, aims to bring together the 14 “autocephalous” (independent) churches within the Eastern Orthodox communion. It would be the first time so many Orthodox churches have come together.

The meeting is supposed to ratify six documents – on ecumenical relations, marriage, fasting, the autonomy of the Churches, “the Orthodox diaspora”, and mission – which were finalized at the January meeting.

However, divisions have surfaced in recent weeks. Even before the Bulgarian decision, the Antiochene church had objected to the document on marriage, and the Georgian church to the proposed statement on ecumenism.

Fr Chryssavgis said: “It is unquestionably unfortunate and deeply painful that the Bulgarian Church decided not to attend. But only weeks ago, it had officially decided and committed to attend; it had approved all of the documents of the council without exception; and it had signed every text and regulation without condition.”