15:36 Jun. 15, 2016
Moscow Patriarchate promises to skip the first Holy and Great Council in a millennium
A meeting of all of the world's Orthodox churches, which can take place this weekend, at Whitsunday on the Greek island of Crete, is hanging by a hair.
Part of the local churches in one form or another refused to participate, the other part has announced a kind of ultimatum: no matter how many participants are to gather, the Council will take place, decisions will be taken, documents signed, and all of these decisions and the documents will be binding for the whole Orthodoxy.
The list of representatives of both parties, as well as the breakup line are easily predictable - conditional "Russians" against the conditional "Greeks".
In this Thursday, June 9, 2016, photo released by Holy and Great Council, Orthodox clergy attend a service at a chapel of a Monastery in Crete island, Greece (AP)
The Synod, or rather the attempted Synod, can be considered historic no matter whether it takes place or falls through. Just because it is a milestone of a great period of history, and of the church history in particular. It is the first meeting of the kind after the Great Schism of 1054.
It is also a milestone in the contemporary history, something the Orthodox Christianity was dreaming of for about a hundred of years.
Greeks were for a long time dreaming of the Holy and Great Council, but they managed to organize only the Pan-Orthodox Congress in 1923.
Stalin, interested in establishing the doctrine of the "Third Rome" tried to conduct a Pan-Orthodox gathering in Moscow in 1948. Moreover, the Catholics raised the stakes by holding in 1962-65 the Second Vatican Council – what was perceived by the Orthodox Christians, and mainly Greeks, as a real challenge.
After all, conciliarity [unity] is one of the key qualities of a true church, and is much more important for the "horizontal" structure of Orthodox system than for the Catholicism, with its rigorous vertical and the primacy of the Pope.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians listens during an Epiphany ceremony at the Patriarchate in Istanbul, Turkey. Plans to bring together leaders of all the world's Orthodox churches for the first time in more than a millennium appear in jeopardy, with the Russian Orthodox Church warning that the gathering would make no sense if at least one church fails to attend (AP)
In fact, the preparation for the new Great Council of the Orthodox Churches started in 60th, when it became obvious that neither Greeks nor Moscow would cede ground, thus, they would need to negotiate and search for compromises.
With variable success, breakdowns and interruptions Council was being discussed, prepared and matured. Eventually, the date and venue have been appointed. It seemed that after the Synaxis of the Primates meeting in Chambesy, where the disputed issues were finally discussed and settled, the Council had no other option but to take place.
Despite the barrage of criticism - from both the fundamentalists of all nationalities who promised inevitable schisms, plagues and famines for trying to change something in the doctrine; and liberals unhappy that the Council programme was emasculated by removing from it all alive and vital.
Indeed, the Council programme was completely "defused" - both from the doctrinal and political standpoints. As a result, the voices saying that "such a Council is not needed" started to sound more convincing. The only strange thing is that these were almost the same voices that earlier demanded to emasculate the regulations and programme of the Council.
These decisions were taken, mainly under the pressure of the Moscow Patriarchate and / or its satellites, which in this dialogue have taken on the role of the lobbyists for the conservative (sometimes - the ultra-conservative) wing. Refusals to participate in the Council came and are still coming from the Bulgarian, Georgian, Serbian and Antiochian churches. That leaves little space for contemplation - the "hand of Moscow" is on the tip of the tongue.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, right of him, pose for a photo as they visit the Russian monastery St. Panteleimon at Karyes, on Mount Athos, Greece on May 28, 2016 (AP)
The Russian Orthodox Church itself was the last to join the "parade of objectors" stating about the need to postpone the meeting just four days before its start.
The Moscow Patriarchate has several reasons to turn the current initiative into big nothing.
Beginning with petty but always sweet revenge on the Greeks, who ignored the Stalin's synod in 1948; continuing with worries that having the Council the Ecumenical Patriarch would instantly forget about all his promises, for example concerning Ukraine; and finishing with Moscow's bid for primacy in the Orthodox world.
In the context of these claims Moscow simply cannot afford to follow the initiatives of the "Greek part" - even if these initiatives are fine and beneficial. Russia can either be a leader and a master of the initiative, or its gravedigger. These are the conditions of its superiority.
Patriarch Kirill of Moscow arrives to the port of Dafni, at Mount Athos, Greece on May 27, 2016 (AP)
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Antoine Arjakovsky is a French historian who has spent over 20 years studying Russia and Ukraine.
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But, whatever the reasons for the senselessness of this Council, is the decision not to go right? Why go to the Council, which "solves nothing"? Why spend money? At first glance, such a formulation of the question seems rational. But only at the first and very secular glance.
Because even in such a neutralized form, the Synod can still fulfill its bare-bones agenda – at least to convene and demonstrate to the world the existence of the Council of the conciliar Orthodox Church. Even if the bishops quarrel right at the plenary session and depart panting with rage - it will be better than not to come at all. Because failure to come together beneath the same roof - is the verdict for the conciliarity [unity] of the church.
This is the confirmation of the fact that there is no "absoluteness of the Orthodoxy" in the world. There are only self-absorbed national hierarchies concentrated on their own interests. For them, the "absoluteness of the Orthodoxy" is the same myth as the Holy City of Constantinople.
Katerina Shchetkina, observer for Ukraine Today