The Georgian Orthodox Church said on June 10 it would not attend the Pan-Orthodox Council in Crete in June, the latest difficulty for the council after the Bulgarian Orthodox Church indicated it would withdraw, which was followed by the Antioch church pulling out and the Serbian Orthodox Church calling for the council’s postponement.
The Pan-Orthodox Council, officially the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Churches, has been intended to bring together leaders and representatives of the world’s Orthodox Christian churches for the first time in a millennium.
Although the Bulgarian Orthodox Church’s leadership is widely seen as strongly influenced by their Russian co-religionists, with the Moscow church seen by critics as determined to spoil a council that has been decades in preparation, a Bulgarian Metropolitan denied that his church’s position was taken under external influence.
“The Bulgarian Orthodox Church takes its decisions completely independently and not under external pressure,” Antonii, Bulgarian Orthodox Church Metropolitan of Western and Central Europe, told a television interviewer earlier this week.
Antonii said, however, that the position of the Bulgarian church matched those of the Moscow Patriarchate, the Georgian Orthodox Church and other churches regarding the council, to be held on Crete from June 16 to 27.
He repeated that the Bulgarian Orthodox Church held that the Pan-Orthodox Council should be postponed and preparations for it continue.
The Bulgarian church’s position has been seen as an effective withdrawal from full participation in the Pan-Orthodox Council, which the Ecumenical Patriarchate has said will go ahead, calling on those Orthodox churches that have objections to attend and rise to the occasion.
The Serbian Orthodox Church’s position is technically similar.
The Russian Orthodox Church, in a notice posted on its website, said that on June 8, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia had received a letter from Patriarch Irenaeos of Serbia, pointing to what were described as problems still unresolved in the pre-Council process.
“And taking into account the recent decisions made with regard to the forthcoming Council by the Holy Synod of the Church of Antioch and the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, proposes that the holding of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church ‘be put off for some time’ while continuing its common Orthodox preparation.
Among the reasons for this decision, the letter indicates the fact that none of the proposals made by the Serbian Church concerning the Council’s agenda and topics have been taken into account in the pre-Council process, the Russian Orthodox Church said, describing the Serbian decision.
The Serbian Orthodox Church listed numerous grounds for calling for the postponement of the council, including sideswipes at other churches. It cited, for instance, “deteriorating relations between us and the Patriarchate of Romania, which are now hard to overcome, due to the anti-canonical incursion of the latter into Eastern Serbia and the founding of a parallel diocese there, which will lead to severing of liturgical and canonical communion of the two neighbouring Churches if the behavior described above is not terminated”.
On June 10, the Georgian Orthodox Church announced after a meeting of its Holy Synod in Tbilisi that it would not take part in the Pan-Orthodox Council.
The Romanian Orthodox Church, however, seemed set for attendance.
The church said that its Holy Synod had met on June 6 and 7, with agenda items including approval of the members of the delegation of the Romanian Patriarchate, who will participate in the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, “and of the amendments of the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church to the documents on the agenda of the Council in Crete, for a joint witness of unity of faith and co-responsibility for the life and mission of the Church at Pan-Orthodox level”.
“The Holy Synod urges the clergy, the monastics and lay faithful to intensify prayer so that the participants in the works of the Holy and Great Council in Crete will express the faith of the One, Holy, Universal and Apostolic Church and will promote liturgical communion and fraternal cooperation for the benefit of Orthodox ministry in today’s world,” the Romanian Orthodox Church’s news agency said.
Meanwhile, whatever absences there may be from Crete – and the Russian Orthodox Church’s position on participation remains opaque – there will be high-level representation from the Roman Catholic Church.
Pope Francis will send high-level observers to the pan-Orthodox council meeting in Crete as a gesture of support for the Orthodox Church, the Catholic Herald reported on June 10.
(Photo copyright Clive Leviev-Sawyer. All rights reserved.)