: Pan-Orthodox Council Took Place: That is 'what counts', participants, observers say

14:27 Jul. 5, 2016

Pan-Orthodox Council Took Place: That is 'what counts', participants, observers say

Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew chants during the Divine Liturgy which was celebrated at the Church of Saints Peter and Paul at Chania town, on the island of Crete, Greece (AP Photo)

Ukraine has been and remains the most interesting and intriguing question, which was "put aside" 

In full accordance with the forecasts, the Council appeared to be a site for searching the "point of reference." How many of us are there? What are we like? What are we capable of? What do we stand by and what is it everyone agrees with? For a church that has not gathered in a thousand years these are not idle questions. They only seem to be so "fundamental" it is ridiculous to ask them, let alone coordinate stances on them. Over the thousand years of no-meetings a lot has changed, both on the world map and in spiritual realm. We all obviously wanted to hear "answers to global questions" (and we even had been promised this before the council) – but it is good enough that the "Church's synodic mind" that can give some answers has announced its existence.

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The documents adopted by the Council are not really discussed. That is because they do not contain anything radically new either in terms of beliefs, or in terms of practicing religious life. This is just the defining of the "point of reference," which is recommended to be used to "move forward." The "move forward" part is apparently the main decision of the Council. For the Ecumenical Patriarch, anyway. Who, in the absence of his Moscow colleague and rival, managed not only to demonstrate his influence, but also expand it. For his words that "the Orthodox church is a one whole church, and not a confederation of churches", he was obviously scalded by the critics who saw in this his claims to "usurp authority in the world Orthodox belief." But he had a right to say that as a patriarch convening the Council. If this is not yet a fact, it is in any case an aim. Similar meetings are planned to be held once in a couple of years to both boost unity, and achieve the announced aims of search for answers to global challenges.  

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In this Saturday, June 25, 2016 photo released by Holy and Great Council, Orthodox Bishops attend the closing session of the Holy and Great Council at Kolymvari town on the island of Crete, Greece (AP Photo)

Among other drawbacks, observers point out that a voice of the laity (especially, that of women) was not heard at the Council at all, whereas a voice of theologians was not clearly audible. Overall, this is the mainstream of a modern - both Orthodox and Catholic - church structure which is governed by bishops who, in their turn, prefer to rely on political (economic, as an option) considerations. The voice of theology in the modern church is "advisory" at best and "supporting" - at worst. By the way, experts associate the weakness of the Council's final documents with its "theological poverty". And if someone is really serious about "moving on", it is necessary to take these factors into account, and perhaps this is a "new hope" for the revival of intelligent search inside the church.

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The main geopolitical conclusion of the Pan-Orthodox Council is not new. Confrontation between the Second and the Third Rome demonstrates an enviable constancy for hundreds of years. Everything changes including borders, customs, powers, technologies, an ozone layer thickness - but the poles of the Orthodox world remain stable. Moscow's Patriarch did not arrive in Crete for only one reason: he could not witness the triumph of his eternal opponent. The opponent, I think, was not too upset – Moscow's party emphasizes its opponent's geopolitical weight, which attracts all those who has doubts concerning Kremlin (its secular and clerical policies because these are inseparable). 


Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's wife Svetlana, center, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, left, and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, right, visit St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral that is under restoration in Kronshtadt, a Russian seaport town, 30 km (19 miles) west of St. Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, May 29, 2010. (AP Photo)

In addition, due to the fact that the Russian Orthodox Church with its closest allies resorted to obstruction, the Council went on in a rather blissful atmosphere - not without controversy and squabbling, of course, but, in any case, without demarches and scandals. If we could assume that the Universal and Moscow's Patriarchs, in principle, had been able to find a common language, we would have suspected them in playing a "rigged game". The Ecumenical Patriarch chalked up a victory. His Moscow counterpart, in the end, is not a loser either, because he stressed his "opposition approach" towards the entire Western world, including the Greek Orthodox Church, and strengthened the walls of his "besieged fortress", thus levelling his status with that of the most important man for him - Kremlin sovereign. At least until now, Moscow's counterpart did not suffer any real loss.

Except for doubts about the Serbian church - one of the most loyal allies of Moscow's Patriarchate, until recently. The Serbian church suddenly demonstrated dual loyalty: at first, its leaders refused to travel to Crete, yet then thought better of it and went there, and at the Council expressed seditious ideas that Moscow's Patriarchate had no "patent" to solve the Ukrainian problem. Does it mean that the Serbian Church, amid the country's integration into the European Union, will gradually distance itself from Moscow and integrate into the Orthodox Eurobloc with the Greek and Romanian churches? 


In this Sunday, June 26, 2016, photo released by Holy and Great Council, Orthodox faithful kisses the hand of a Patriarch outside the Church of Saints Peter and Paul at Chania town, on the island of Crete, Greece (AP Photo) 

Ukraine has been and remains the most interesting and intriguing question, which was "put aside" – to be discussed "after the Council". Given the Ecumenical Patriarch's intention to make the Council function "on a regular basis" - does it mean that the status of the Ukrainian Church will remain a bargaining chip in the Moscow-Constantinople dialogue for many years? Or, on the contrary, being convinced in his abilities and his influence in the Orthodox world (as well as an inability to agree about anything whatsoever with Moscow), the Ecumenical Patriarch will make up his mind to officially take Ukraine under his "patronage"? Judging by anxiety of Moscow's Patriarchate and its representatives in Kyiv, they do not think it is so impossible.

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Head of Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Kyiv Patriarchate, Patriarch Filaret (UNIAN Photo)

Katerina Shchetkina, observer for Ukraine Today

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