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World's Orthodox prelates urge agreement as disagreements threaten historic council

June 06, 2016

Orthodox primates are scrambling to salvage plans for an unprecedented meeting of the leaders of the all the world's autocephalous Orthodox churches, after important Orthodox bodies indicated a reluctance to participate.

The Pan-Orthodox Council, scheduled to take place in Crete from June 19 to 26, appeared to be in jeopardy after the Bulgarian Orthodox Church announced that it would not participate, the Patriarchate of Antioch hinted that it might also abstain, and Greek Orthodox leaders expressed severe misgivings about draft documents for the meeting.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, following an emergency meeting this weekend, announced on June 6 that the Pan-Orthodox Council would proceed on schedule, and urged Orthodox prelates to use the procedures already agreed upon for that meeting if they wished to amend any council documents. The Ecumenical Patriarchate issued a plea for agreement, noting that in holding the Council, the "sole purpose is the affirmation of unity."

Metropolitan Hilarion, the chief ecumenical officer of the Russian Orthodox Church, emphasized the importance of the meeting by observing that plans for the Pan-Orthodox Council have been "in direct preparation for more than half a century." He said that the fact that the world's major Orthodox bodies had all agreed to an agenda for the meeting represented a historic achievement.

However, that achievement appeared to be in danger when the Moscow Patriarchate issued a reminder on June 3 that the plan for the Pan-Orthodox Council was based on an understanding that it would proceed only on the basis of unanimous agreement. Therefore, the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church announced, "the non-participation of at least one [autocephalous Orthodox Church] constitutes an insurmountable obstacle" to the meeting. The Russian Synod called for an extraordinary meeting of the world's Orthodox leaders to address "the present emergency" and seek an agreement that would allow for the full participation in the Crete meeting.

With less than two weeks remaining before the scheduled opening of the Pan-Orthodox Council, however, there are grave questions as to whether satisfactory agreements could be achieved. The Orthodox churches appear to be divided on the wording of two documents: on ecumenism and on the mission of Orthodoxy. Jurisdictional disputes-- most notably between the Patriarchates of Antioch and Jerusalemn-- also endanger the meeting.

 
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