The governing body of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, the Holy Synod, signalled on June 1 its withdrawal from the Pan-Orthodox Council to be held in Crete from June 16 to 26.
Strictly speaking, the Holy Synod demanded the postponement of the council unless its various demands were met, but given that this is unlikely to happen, the Synod’s decision effectively amounts to withdrawal.
The Pan-Orthodox Council has been planned as the first such gathering in about 1000 years, but has been beset by controversies – one of the most significant ones being the fact that it is being held in Crete, not in Istanbul, seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch. The move was made under Russian pressure because of the tensions between Moscow and Ankara.
The Bulgarian Orthodox Church, where senior figures are strongly influenced by their Russian Orthodox co-religionist church figures, said that it would not participate if Bulgarian proposals for “thematic and organisational changes” to the planned council were not taken account of and respected.
The Holy Synod said that at its June 1 meeting, it had held “extensive discussions” on issues related to the convening of the Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church in Crete in June.
The Bulgarian Orthodox Church’s leaders found a number of pretexts to call for the postponement of the Pan-Orthodox Council meeting and to say that unless the council was postponed, the church would not participate.
The Holy Synod listed six objections.
These included, the church said, the absence from the agenda of the council of topics of particular importance for Orthodox Christianity “that have contemporary relevance and require timely Pan-Orthodox Council resolution”.
The Synod did not say what these topics were.
The Holy Synod said that Autocephalous Orthodox Churches had already officially declared disagreements on some of the texts already approved for the council meeting.
It also objected to the rule that at the Pan-Orthodox Council, texts being discussed would not be subject to editing in the course of discussions.
Further, the Bulgarian church objected that the proposed seating places of the primates of the Orthodox churches in the room to be used for meetings of the council “violates the principle of equality of the primates of the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches”.
It also objected to the “inappropriate location of observers and guests of the Pan-Orthodox Council”.
Finally, the Holy Synod objected to the need to undertake “large and unjustified” expenses for the Bulgarian Orthodox Church to take part in the Pan-Orthodox Council.
The Holy Synod said that it had decided unanimously for the Pan-Orthodox Council to be postponed while preparations to hold it continue, and unless this postponement happened, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church would not take part.
(Photo: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)