After the Patriarchates of Bulgaria, Serbia, Antioch, and Georgia, also Moscow is starting to pull out. The uphill road of the Pan-Orthodox Council followed by the Orthodox Churches for the past 50 years has plunged into deep sadness. All hopes are lost after a release by Moscow’s Patriarchate.
A long, detailed text, resulting from an extraordinary meeting chaired by Patriarch Kirill held on Monday, June 13: only 5 days before the opening of the Council.
Moscow highlighted all the difficulties, emerged in the past few days, on the planned Council, ranging from draft pre-Council statements (notably the document on marriage and the one addressing relations with other Christian confessions), to the established procedures for the works of the Council, to problems of jurisdiction involving the Churches of Jerusalem and Antioch, which currently prevent Eucharistic communion. These are the main reasons that a few days ago led four local Orthodox Churches (Antioch, Georgia, Serbia and Bulgaria) to request Patriarch Bartholomew to postpone the date of the Council, while three Patriarchates (Antioch, Georgia and Bulgaria) announced they will not participate in the Council in the scheduled dates – 19-27 June.
The decision of Moscow’s Patriarchate arrived late at night.
“The only possible decision in this case is to continue the preparation of the Holy and Great Council with the subsequent achievement of pan-Orthodox consent to its convocation at a different date.”
It went on: “in case this proposal is not accepted by the Most Holy Church of Constantinople while the Council on Crete is still convened despite the absence of the consent of several Local Orthodox Churches, the participation of the delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church in it, with profound regret, should be considered impossible.”
Moscow’s Patriarchate’s decision to pull out is a heavy blow on the perspective of success of the Council. At the end of January the Patriarchs of the fourteen Orthodox Churches of the Byzantine tradition, meeting in Chambésy, Switzerland, had set a date for the Convocation of the larger Council. It was heralded as the first Pan-Orthodox Council in past twelve centuries. Indeed, it was the “dream” of Patriarch Athenagoras. Its realization had been planned for the past 50 years and the announcement in January was hailed as a historical agreement. Answering a question by journalists during the press conference, Metropolitan Hilarion thus explained the decision of the Russian Church:
“All Churches should participate in the Pan-Orthodox Council, and only in that case would its decisions be legitimate.”
Orthodox Churches represent 90% of approximately 200 million Orthodox Christians worldwide. Although Patriarch Bartholomew has direct jurisdiction over a very low number of faithful, his moral and spiritual authority is recognized at global level. While Patriarch Kirill represents one hundred million faithful in Russia and in the rest of the world, his leadership is strongly conditioned by Russian political decisions and by the influence of President Putin.
What most surprised Nikos Tzoitis, analyst of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, is that in January “everyone had agreed.” And while Moscow’s decision did not take him by surprise, he was saddened by it.
“Once week ahead of the opening of the Council they started to ask for the discussion table to be round and not in the shape of Pi.”
The preliminary conditions for the participation of delegations from other Christian confessions was established from the very start, reaching a compromise solution on their presence during the works of the Council only on the first and last day. For Tzoitis, Moscow’s Patriarchate “finds it hard to face reality, this is evident in the absence of problems of dogmatic nature. Rather, this vision is unfortunately linked to a sterile tradition that is unable to face contemporary problems and provide an answer.”
Now it’s important to understand what will happen in Crete. But Nikos Tzoitis has no doubts: “The Synod will open as planned on Monday June 19. Patriarch Bartholomew alone cannot decide to postpone it. Only during and in the framework of the Synod will be taken decisions on future steps. It’s the synodal system.”