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Saturday, 15 March 2014

The Fragile Promise of the Pan-Orthodox Council | Catholic World Report - Global Church news and views

March 14, 2014

The announced 2016 council of Eastern Orthodox Churches is historic, but expectations should be modest
Fr. Cyril Hovorun, Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate)

An Assembly (Synaxis) of the Primates of the local Orthodox Churches, meeting March 6-9, 2014 in Istanbul, has agreed to convene a Pan-Orthodox council. A “Communiqué of the Primates of the Orthodox Churches” released on March 9th stated that “the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church … will be convened and presided by the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople in 2016.” This decision brings to the homestretch a long process of preparation that goes back as far as the 1920s, had an active phase in 1960s and 1970s, and then was rather quiet until very recently.

Historical context

The last Pan-Orthodox council of this scale was convened in Constantinople well over a thousand years ago, in 879-880, when Photius was reinstalled to the Patriarchal throne. That council dealt mostly with the issues of inter-Church relations and had wide representation of the Eastern Christian Churches, with over 380 bishops in attendance. Some Orthodox believe that the IV Council of Constantinople (its other name) was the eighth and last ecumenical council.

After Byzantium lost most of its territories, the councils of the same scale became impossible. Nevertheless, the Eastern Church continued exercising its synodality. Many Eastern bishops and even Patriarchs were unable or did not want to stay with their flocks on the occupied territories. They either preferred,or had no choice but to spend most of their time in safe Constantinople. The old institution of endemousa synod—that is, a gathering of all bishops who, by chance, found themselves in the capital—became a major instrument of the Church’s synodality. Not only the hierarchs under the jurisdiction of Constantinople, but also bishops and even Primates of other Patriarchates, participated in such councils, which managed ecclesial matters related not only to the Church of Constantinople but to the entire Eastern Church.

After the collapse of the Ottoman empire, the Orthodox Churches began discussing the possibility of convening a Pan-Orthodox council. In 1923, the Patriarchate of Constantinople called an inter-Orthodox assembly, which nevertheless did not consider itself a Pan-Orthodox council. There were several attempts to convene such a council in the interwar period, but they were also unsuccessful, mostly because the Russian Church was isolated and suffered from severe persecutions. The Orthodox Churches returned to this idea after World War II, and Vatican II especially inspired the Orthodox to accelerate the process of preparation for the Pan-Orthodox council. Pan-Orthodox consultations were instrumental in the preparation process, taking place at Rhodes in 1961, 1963, 1964, and in Geneva in 1968. These consultations were succeeded by the Pan-Orthodox commission and the Preconciliar consultations, which took place from the 1970s until the new millennium. Finally, the institution of the Synaxis (gathering) of the Primates of the Orthodox Church took the process of preparation for the Pan-Orthodox council to its final stage. The last Synaxis took place in Constantinople in 2008.

Many Primates who participated in the Synaxis were also active participants in the previous preparatory meetings. They clearly want to accomplish this important work, which has been a major focus of their lives, as well as the lives of their teachers and predecessors. If the council does take place, it will summarize the history of the Orthodox Church of the last century and will be the most important event in modern Orthodox history.

Risks, compromises, weaknesses

That the Pan-Orthodox council has been scheduled for 2016 is of great significance. The question remains, however, as to how effective it will be in addressing the issues that really matter for the Orthodox Church. There also remains also a real possibility that the council can and will be postponed. A postponement would take place if the tensions between local Orthodox churches become more intense, or something transpires within inter-Orthodox relations making council impossible. Simply put, the inter-Orthodox peace is still very fragile.
To read the article in full, visit CWR here:

The Fragile Promise of the Pan-Orthodox Council | Catholic World Report - Global Church news and views

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