The Monastery of Gonia in Crete
Ecumenical Patriarchate Press Release
CRETE—On the second day of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, the Divine Liturgy was held at the Sacred Patriarchal and Stavropegial Monastery of Gonia, with His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem presiding from the throne. Afterward, the Hierarchs continued their work in the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sessions of the Council.
The Third Session of the Council continued the discussion on The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World, while the Fourth and Fifth Sessions focused on The Orthodox Diaspora. Following extensive discussion, various suggestions and clarifications were proposed by the Primates and individual Hierarchs of the local Orthodox Autocephalous Churches.
In the afternoon, His Eminence Archbishop Job of Telmesos delivered an official news update on behalf of the Holy and Great Council. After the comments made by Archbishop Job, official spokespersons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the Patriarchate of Alexandria, the Church of Romania, and the Church of Cyprus gave a common press briefing, answering questions from the press.
To view a recording of today’s press briefing visit https://www.holycouncil.org/video. Visit https://www.holycouncil.org/live each day at 3:30 pm local Crete (UTC +3) to view a live news briefing.
The Council continues meeting through June 25, concluding with the Divine Liturgy on June 26.
PRESS CONFERENCE JUNE 21
PRESS CONFERENCE, JUNE 22
TO WHOM SHOULD THE ORTHODOX DIASPORA ANSWER?—DISCUSSION AT CRETE COUNCIL
Source: Union of Orthodox Journalists
June 22, 2016
my source: Pravoslovenie (in English)
June 21, the second day of the Orthodox Church Council’s work on Crete, saw discussion of the problem of the Orthodox Church diaspora, reports Romfea.
The problem of the Church diaspora will be discussed with great difficulty at the Crete Synaxis due to the absence of the delegations of the Russian and Antiochian Orthodox Churches. Representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church noted during the discussion that in the absence of Local Churches “with great dispersions” it is impossible to make decisions which affect their interests.
In his presentation Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, for his part, emphasized: “We should be very careful about what we decide.” As Romfea reports, it was decided at the Council to more thoroughly examine the protocol of the 2009 Chambesy meeting in order to more closely study the problem.
The news agency stressed that there is a sharp conflict between the Constantinople and Antiochian Patriarchates, due to the presence in France, Germany and America of bishops of both jurisdictions with the same titles. According to Romfea, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, who in general wants there to be no such jurisdictions in the diaspora but his own, recently while speaking in the capital of Argentina in the presence of the local metropolitan of the Antiochian Patriarchate with obvious irritation referred to him as the bishop “of Buenos Aires.”
Note that in 2009 at the pre-conciliar meeting in Chambesy it was resolved to create consultative bodies in the form of assemblies of the Orthodox bishops of every jurisdiction bearing responsibility in one or another region. Then it was decided that these organs, under the chairmanship of the local bishop of Constantinople’s jurisdiction, would have an exclusively consultative character.
The Orthodox Church diaspora has spread in the context of mass migrations of the twentieth century to territories not within the jurisdiction of any Local Orthodox Church. Bishops and clergy of various jurisdictions have appeared in these countries, giving rise to a specific situation in which more than one Orthodox bishop, belonging to different Local Churches, resides in one and the same city.
Translated by Jesse Dominick
Union of Orthodox Journalists
BARTHOLOMEW TO IERONYMOS: I RIGHTFULLY CLAIM THE “NEW TERRITORIES”
Source: Union of Orthodox Journalists
June 22, 2016
my source: Pravoslovenie (in English)
The Patriarchate of Constantinople has no plans to return the “New Territories” in its immediate jurisdiction, as Patriarch Bartholomew stated to Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens during a meeting of the Crete Council, writes Orthodoxia.info.
Today the primates and bishops participating in the Council are discussing the draft document on the mechanism for granting a Church’s “autonomy.” The Greek Church had already proposed an amendment to the document.
Immediately after the proposal of the amendment, the Patriarch told the Archbishop that, inasmuch as the question of the “New Territories” is the cause of misunderstanding on the part of people who seek complications in the relations between the Phanar and Athens, the Patriarchate makes clear that these dioceses, as is known, belong to it, and neither now nor in the future is there any intention of changing their status.
During the discussion, the Patriarch of Constantinople expressed his conviction that the dioceses of Crete and the Dodecanese belong to the Constantinople Patriarchate “no less than to Greece …”
Note that there is a dispute between the Greek Church and the Patriarchate of Constantinople over the northern territories of Greece, which are practically speaking part of the Greek Orthodox Church although formally subject to Constantinople’s jurisdiction. On August 29, 2015 the hierarchs of the “New Territories” participated in a hierarchical synaxis of the Patriarchate of Constantinople which aroused the protest of the Greek Church and its refusal to participate in the gathering of the primates of the Local Orthodox Churches in Chambesy.
Translated by Jesse Dominick
Union of Orthodox Journalists
22 / 06 / 2016
Is the Palamite Distinction Ecumenical Dogma?
Over on Twitter, Dr George Demacopoulos has reported that the official Message of the Holy and Great Council now being held in Crete may declare the Synod of 879 and the Palamite Synods of the 1350s as “ecumenical.” If this happens, this might well be the most important action of the Council. Orthodoxy does not presently have a consensual understanding of what makes a council ecumenical and what does not. All it knows is that the great seven general councils of the first millennium are ecumenical and the 449 Robber Council and the 1439 Council of Florence are not. Beyond that there’s just lots and lots of opinion (see, e.g., Georges Florovsky’s essay “The Authority of the Ancient Councils“).
I’m not a historian, but I do not personally see how the 14th century Palamite synods can be accorded the same level of dogmatic authority as the great Ecumenical Councils. When did Orthodox bishops and theologians start thinking of the Palamite synods as being ecumenical? My impression is that this is a 20th century development, going hand in glove with the 20th century “rediscovery” of the essence/energies distinction, propelled in large part by the publication of Martin Jugie’s polemical critique of St Gregory Palamas in 1932 (someone please correct me if I’m wrong). At some point in the second half of the second millennium, the Palamite distinction ceased to be an important part of Orthodox theology and catechesis (again, someone please correct me if I’m wrong; but please don’t lecture me about the “Latin captivity” of the Orthodox Church, a 20th century polemical construct that should be discarded as unhelpful, misleading, and distorting). How can an infallible dogma of the Church be “forgotten” for four or five hundred years? “Forgotten” here is a relative term, of course. St Gregory Palamas has never been forgotten. Not only is he commemorated on the Second Sunday of Lent, but anathemas against his heretical opponents, Barlaam and Akyndynus, are proclaimed each year in the hierarchical recitation of the Synodikon on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. Yet it’s one thing to annually recite a collection of anathemas and quite another thing to internalize them in catechesis and theological reflection. If the essence/energies distinction expresses a genuine and decisive insight into the dogmatic structure of the apostolic faith, then it can never, I suggest, be forgotten—at least not once it has been explicitly formulated, formally promulgated, and consensually received by the Faithful. Forgetfulness, in such a case, does not mean that the proposed dogma is necessarily false; but it does mean that it has not yet been incorporated into the dogmatic consciousness of the Church.
When does theological consensus, which apparently now exists among Orthodox theologians regarding the Palamite distinction, become dogmatically binding doctrine?
When does a council, particularly a local council, become an ecumenical council?
I do not have a dog in the Palamite hunt, though I do fear that a conciliar declaration affirming the ecumenical status of the Palamite distinction will create a serious obstacle in ecumenical discussions with the Catholic Church. The historical fact is, there has long existed within Orthodoxy a diversity of interpretations of the divine essence and energies distinction, dating back to at least the 15th century (see the important essay “Palamas Transformed” by John Demetracopoulos). Is the distinction real, formal, or nominal? Theologians disagree. The Lossky/Romanides interpretation of the distinction has (apparently) become dominant in contemporary Orthodox theology, but that may well only be because contemporary theologians have yet to submit this interpretation to proper analysis and critique. If anyone is interested in exploring the matter further, I recommend the important collection of essays entitled Divine Essence and Divine Energies.
In my very provisional opinion, the Lossky/Romanides understanding of the Palamite distinction enjoys its present status primarily because of the continuing desire within Orthodoxy to ideologically distinguish itself from Roman Catholicism. At some point Orthodox theology simply must transcend the polemical need to define itself over against the cultural West.
June 20, 2016
Vasily Chernov: In Absentia
The decision of the Russian Orthodox Church not to attend the Pan-Orthodox Council was predictable. It was announced after the ROC’s traditional allies—the Orthodox Churches of Antioch, Georgia, Serbia, and Bulgaria—had said they were not coming either. This means that, while most local Orthodox churches will attend, the largest church in terms of number of adherents (the ROC) will not. We need to keep in mind, however, that an overwhelming majority of the tens of millions of self-identifying Russian Orthodox people are connected to their church by their infant baptism alone and can hardly be seen practicing any sort of faith later in their lives.
General church councils possess supreme canonical authority in the Orthodox Church. In a national Orthodox church, the local council may try to depose any bishop of whatever rank. However, for the Orthodox Church acting as a whole, the councils are not so much administrative in purpose as (speaking theologically) a way to know God’s will through hearing each other. For this reason, the councils form the foundation for the global identity and unity of the Orthodox Church, which has no single visible touchstone of unity, as Catholics do, for example, in the Pope.
The Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches and their delegations participate in the opening session of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church at the Orthodox Academy of Crete. PHOTO: © SEAN HAWKEY.
So, what made the ROC withdraw herself from a council, the preparations for which began as early as 1961, with enthusiastic Russian involvement?
Part of the problem is probably Moscow’s specific vision of how joint decisions are to be made. According to Cyril Hovorun of the Stockholm School of Theology, “there are two aspects to the issue: the Council itself and the pre-conciliar process. Both are important, but the Council is the objective goal, and the pre-conciliar process is a way to achieve it. Yet, now the means are trying to become the end—the preparatory process is attempting to replace the council. For this reason, some churches would prefer to actually make all key decisions in advance, so that the Council might simply approve them. But this sort of logic contradicts the very idea of a Council and has led to the present fiasco.”
The ROC and her allies believe it would be better to settle all quarrels privately, and for the Council to remain an event at which the bishops merely parade in their beautiful vestments and demonstrate the glory of Orthodox unity. Yet many other Orthodox churches do not share this approach. They believe that all conciliar decisions should be made within the context of open discussion, not in the behind-the-scenes negotiations of the ecclesiastical diplomats. They also believe that it is our ability to communicate—not to intrigue’—that ought to form a basis for any ecclesial unity.
Another thing that influenced the Russian Сhurch’s decision not to come to the Council was their fear of any conciliar decision—even one that had originally been drafted in Moscow. Once a text is approved by conciliar authority, it takes on a life of its own. The ROC is determined to maintain primacy in its domestic sphere over any other authority, however supreme, and not to allow any interference from outside, however canonical. For that purpose, they insisted on a consensus principle of decision-making at the Council, which would allow any participating church to veto any motion (according to their interpretation of that rule). But even that did not seem secure enough for Moscow, and there were statements to the effect that no act of the Holy and Great Council could be considered canonical by the Russian Church unless it was ratified by her own local council. On the contrary, many churches beyond Moscow’s reach value the fact that the Pan-Orthodox Council may help them to pass beyond their traditional ethnic and historical limitations and to overcome some internal problems. “A Great Council is above and beyond any individual church council or synod,” according to John Chryssavgis, Archdeacon of the Ecumenical Throne and theological adviser to Patriarch Bartholomew.
In this context, one should consider Moscow’s oft-repeated accusation that Constantinople has a “papist” tendency to want to become the sole leader of the Orthodox, extending the influence of the Ecumenical Patriarch over otherwise independent national churches. Constantinople’s primacy of honor is a given fact, however, which even Moscow has always acknowledged and affirmed. For instance, when Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow died in 2008, it was the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew who presided at the funeral service in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow.
The reason that the Russians are so wary of what they call the “papism” of their historic Mother Church of Constantinople is no mystery. In the Russian Church, the Patriarch of Moscow has a measure of power, enshrined by statute, that is hardly compatible with the Orthodox ecclesiology according to which all bishops are equal. Indeed, the Russian patriarch is almost as supreme in his church as pre-Vatican II Popes were in theirs. Of course, Constantinople has neither the means nor the desire to put her finger into Moscow’s pie, but the very notion that there is any authority higher than “the Moscow Vatican” makes the Russian Church leadership lose self-control.
Another factor in the ROC’s decision to withdraw from the Council is global politics. When the Soviet leaders allowed the ROC to appear on the international stage decades ago, they had wanted to achieve diplomatic ends—that is, to persuade other nations that religion enjoyed freedom under Communist rule. For the modern Russian regime, the Church’s diplomatic services have proved to be rather useless. Most international projects of the Moscow Patriarchate have failed. That includes Ukraine, where the ROC has been unable to overcome a painful split in the Orthodox community, losing most of her influence even among her own adherents. In that context, the Russian government sought to restrict the ROC’s outside presence and to replace an Orthodoxy of international heights—pompous, but still intellectual—with a nationalistic religion of startsy (elders) and great sacral places and objects. The second option is less demanding of resources and more befitting the unique Russian way.
One has to accept that, while the councils remain a crucial element of the Orthodox tradition, within that tradition there is a plethora of incompatible ideas of what a council is and how it works. Recently there has been much scandal around the Pan-Orthodox Council, arising from a desire for it to work as a picture-perfect church event. That may well also be a factor in the ROC’s decision, because, for Moscow, it is the glorious appearance that matters—and now this will not appear! According to Protodeacon Andrei Kuraev, a well-known Russian religious blogger, “the council, which had been intended as a PR-project ‘triumph of Orthodoxy,’ in fact reveals our shame. We lack unity. We lack theology. We lack courage to face our problems, to name them, and to seek to solve them. It is no longer a matter of diplomacy or mass media. The Council crisis is a theological issue. Who are we?” Indeed, if understandings of conciliarity turn out to be so different between churches, can we any longer view the Orthodox Church as a single entity?
Not all experts, however, are so pessimistic. If we take it for granted that this council is not a church show but a space where some hard work is to be done, mistakes fixed, and voices heard, things look much better. “This Council crisis,” says Hovorun, “may give churches a chance to re-evaluate the idea of conciliarity and to review their own identity. The participants may share in an open discussion of the most burning matters of today. We can start to reconsider conciliarity right during this council”.
Even with the Russians not going to Crete, there will be a discussion and they will take part in it, not as participants, but as observers and commentators. “If one or more churches does not attend, or withdraws during the Council, or is present but does not vote, all the decisions will still be binding for all Orthodox churches. Certainly, if somebody is missing, it is a vacuum we will feel, and we will regret it very, very much. I think it will have an impact not just on the Council, but also on the church that chooses not to come… If a church chooses to withdraw and not attend, I think it would be a sad reflection of the self-marginalization of that church,” says Chryssavgis.
The withdrawal of the Russian Church will not stop the Council from discussing issues that are related to it, if they have theological or moral dimensions. One of these subjects—Ukraine—is especially sensitive for Moscow. “Although most of those who fight in Ukraine on both sides are Orthodox Christians, often belonging to the same Moscow Patriarchate, the Orthodox world has long been failing to face the issue. I think the Cretan Council might give its evaluation of the Ukrainian conflict, which is to the shame of the entire Orthodox world,” concludes Hovorun.
Surely, the Holy and Great Council cannot force the ROC to accept or at least to receive the decisions made in her absence? There are, however, matters that lay outside of any individual administration’s control. That includes the media and cyber-sphere and, paradoxically, the Orthodox tradition. In years past, a Catholic ruler could prevent a Papal decree from being accepted within his realm by forbidding printers to publish it. Nowadays, it is impossible to prevent the dissemination of information in this way, so nobody will be able to stop Russian Orthodox believers from appealing to the Council’s resolutions, at least in the context of their consciousness and private religious practice. They will see that the Orthodoxy of their Russian Church leaders is not the only possible Orthodoxy, and that their Synod’s legislation is only one set of possible opinions.
In the course of its history, the Orthodox Church has often provided a space for local ambitions to triumph. Happily, it has not lost its universality, and this is the reason why it attracts so many people worldwide. Many councils later called “ecumenical” were far from universally representative, but were called “ecumenical” because they dared to speak about things that mattered for many and still do. The Russian Orthodox Church was not present at any of those councils, for she did not yet exist. But later, she was happy to accept their decisions and integrate them into her life. Why should we not think that the same will happen again this time?
Dr. Vasily Chernov is an independent analyst of politics and religion in Eastern Europe.
This article first appeared online in Russian at lenta.ru.