So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Friday, June 10, 2016

The almost Pan-Orthodox Council: part 2.

Our brethren of the eastern national churches seem to have hit a major road block on their journey to hold a council among themselves.

TASS/Pravoslavie reports:
Over the recent days, Orthodox Churches have been one after another refusing to attend the Council.
Problems sprang up in the course of final preparations for the assembly recently, with the Bulgarian Orthodox Church saying its clerics will not attend the Council, since more preparations are needed.
The Georgian Orthodox Church, too, voiced objections against the documents on Christian marriage and the contemporary mission of the Church.
On Tuesday, Syria’s Antiochian Orthodox Church said it was unprepared to attend the Holy and Great Council. The Serbian Orthodox Church declared its refusal to attend on Thursday.
Should at least one of the 14 churches be absent from the Council, it will lose the Pan-Orthodox status. 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.
From the same TASS report comes news that the Russians may not be attending:
The Russian Orthodox Church's representative will not take part in the drafting of the message of the Pan-Orthodox Council, which should be ready one week before the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church is convened, a source from the Russian Orthodox Church told TASS on Friday.
If the Russians and the Georgians, along with the Bulgarians, Serbians and Syrians (Antioch), resign from attending, that would leave nine national churches participating in the Council. It would hardly, then, be a pan-Orthodox council. 

Even though working documents and Council procedures were approved some months ago by all of the 14 independent national churches, last minute disputes (fears?) appear to be derailing the Council. The Ecumenical Patriarchate may likely be forced by circumstances to heed the recommendation of the Russians to delay the Council until objections can be worked out.

Are the Russians maneuvering to place themselves as the architects of effective management among the national eastern churches? The very influential—more influential than the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate?—Russian Orthodox Church seems to have the ears of several other national eastern churches. Several news reports present the Russians as facilitators speaking to the concerns of others and offering alternate courses of action, e.g., a pre-Council meeting to hash out differences, and in light of disagreements a postponement of the Council (rather than a cancellation). The Russians, furthermore, have been effective at using the language of diplomacy where the need for indulging groups with particularly significant sensitivities is very much needed.

If the recent meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis in Cuba amounts to an ace in the hands of anyone other than Pope Francis, it would be in the hands of the Russian Orthodox. On a moment's notice, the Holy Father diverted to Cuba for the meeting. Even though the meeting was very brief, its significance in the history of the Church was and remains profound. Would one be right to speculate that the meeting was, from the Russian side, facilitated in large part by Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev, the brilliant and astute chairman of the Department of External Church Relations?

If, one day, Archbishop Alfeyev were to become the next Patriarch of Russia, which is not to suggest in any way that anyone should be eager to see Patriarch Kirill move on, Catholics could see additional opportunities to express gestures of hope for unity with the Russians akin to the exchange of guests with the Ecumenical Patriarchate on the the occasions of the feasts of Saint Peter (Rome) and Saint Andrew (Constantinople).

It is difficult to predict whether or not the Ecumenical Patriarchate's plan to proceed full steam ahead will result in the surprise attendance of the others despite their stated intentions.

The Holy See plans to send two top visitors to the Council of the national eastern churches.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople invited Pope Francis to send observers to the meeting on the Greek island of Crete, and the Pope chose Cardinal Kurt Koch and Bishop Brian Farrell, respectively the president and secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
The Bulgarian contingent noted among other things an objection to the inclusion of visitors.

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