CONSTANTIOPLE – A Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church will convene for the first time in nearly 13 centuries, in 2016, the Primates of the various Orthodox Churches throughout the world announced.
The Council will be convened in 2016 in Constantinople at the historic St. Irene Church, situated near Hagia Sophia, subject to Turkish authorities’ permission; it is currently a museum.
The Great and Holy Council was agreed upon at the recent Synaxis of the Primates of the Patriarchates and Autocephalous Churches of the world in Constantinople presided by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. It is a historic milestone for the Orthodox Church, which did not have a Great Council for more than 1,200 years. A special commission will be formed to discuss all of the details.
All the Primates were present except the Patriarch Ioannis of Antioch, who said he could not attend due to illness and sent three representatives in his stead. TNH has learned that the real reason for his absence was a dispute which exists with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem over a newly-elected and ordained Archbishop of Qatar. Ioannis contends that Qatar, which has only one parish, is the Antioch Patriarchate’s ecclesiastical and canonical territory.
The Primates co-liturgized on Sunday of Orthodoxy at the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George, proclaiming the visible unity of Orthodoxy. The Chief Secretary of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Archimandrite Bartholomew Samaras, read the Primates’ official message from the pulpit, thereby rendering the Synaxis outcome an official document of the entire Orthodox Church.
THE PRIMATES’ MESSAGE
The message reads: “Having convened by the grace of our compassionate God, at the invitation of the Archbishop of Constantinople and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, at the Phanar, from March 6-9, 2014; having deliberated in fraternal love on matters concerning our Holy Church today; and concelebrating in the Patriarchal Church of St. George on the glorious occasion of the Sunday of Orthodoxy, we address you with these words of love, peace and consolation.
“Inasmuch as our One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Orthodox Church dwells in the world, it also experiences the challenges of every age. Faithful to Holy Tradition, the Church of Christ is in constant dialogue with every period of time, suffering with human beings and sharing their anguish. For ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and to the ages’ (Heb. 13.8).
“The trials and challenges of history are especially acute in our days, and Orthodox Christians cannot remain uninvolved or indifferent to them. This is why we have assembled ‘together in one place’ (Acts 2.1) in order to reflect on the problems and temptations facing humanity today. ‘There is fighting without and fear within.’ (2 Cor. 7.5) These Apostolic words are also valid for the Church today.
“In reflecting upon people’s suffering throughout the world, we express our support for the martyrdom and our admiration for the witness of Christians in the Middle East, Africa, and other parts of the world. We call to mind their dual martyrdom: for their faith as well as for the safeguarding of their historical relationship with people of other religious conviction. We denounce the lack of peace and stability, which is prompting Christians to abandon the land where our Lord Jesus Christ was born and whence the Good News spread to the entire world.
“Our sympathy extends to all victims of the tragedy in Syria. We condemn every form of terrorism and defamation of religion. The kidnapping of Metropolitans Paul and Youhanna, other clergymen as well as the nuns of St. Thecla Convent in Maaloula remains an open wound, and we demand their immediate liberation.
“We appeal to all involved for the immediate cessation of military action, liberation of captives, and establishment of peace in the region through dialogue. Christians in the Middle East are a leaven of peace. Peace for all people also means peace for Christians. We support the Patriarchate of Antioch in its spiritual and humanitarian ministry, as well as its efforts for reconstruction and the resettlement of all refugees.
“We fervently pray for peaceful negotiation and prayerful reconciliation in the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. We denounce the threats of violent occupation of sacred monasteries and churches, and pray for the return of our brothers presently outside of ecclesiastical communion into the Holy Church.
“A fundamental threat to justice and peace – both locally and globally – is the global economic crisis. The ramifications of this are evident on all layers in society, where such values as personal integrity, fraternal solidarity and justice are often wanting. The origins of this crisis are not merely financial. They are moral and spiritual in character. Instead of conforming to the worldly idols of power, greed and hedonism, we emphasize our vocation to transform the world by embracing the principles of justice, peace, and love.
“As a result of self-centeredness and abuse of power, many people undermine the sacredness of the human person, neglecting to see the face of God in the least of our brothers and sisters (cf. Matt. 25.40,45). Many remain indifferent to the poverty, suffering and violence that plague humanity.
“The Church is called to articulate its prophetic word. We express our genuine concern about local and global trends that undermine and erode the principles of faith, the dignity of the human person, the institution of marriage, and the gift of creation.
“We stress the undisputed sanctity of human life from inception until natural death. We recognize marriage as the union of man and woman that reflects the union between Christ and His Church. Our vocation is to preserve the natural environment as stewards and not proprietors of creation. In this period of Great Lent, we exhort our clergy and laity to observe a spirit of repentance, to experience purity of heart, humility and forgiveness, bearing witness to the timeless teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ in society.
“This Synaxis of Primates is a blessed occasion for us to reinforce our unity through communion and cooperation. We affirm our commitment to the paramount importance of Synodality for the unity of the Church. We affirm the words of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, that “the name of the Church signifies unity and concord, not division.” Our heart is set on the long-awaited Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church in order to witness to its unity as well as to its responsibility and care for the contemporary world.
“The Synaxis agreed that the preparatory work to the Council should be intensified. A special Inter-Orthodox Committee will work from September 2014 until Holy Easter of 2015, followed by a Pre-Synodic Pan-Orthodox Conference to be convened in the first half of 2015. All decisions at the Council and in the preparatory stages are made by consensus. The Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church will be convened by the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople in 2016, unless something unexpected occurs. The Council will be presided by the Ecumenical Patriarch. His brother Primates of the other Orthodox Autocephalous Churches will be seated at his right and at his left.
“Inseparably interconnected with unity is mission. The Church does not live for itself but is obliged to witness to and share God’s gifts with those near and afar. Participating in the Divine Eucharist and praying for the oikoumene, we are called to continue this liturgy after the liturgy, sharing the gifts of truth and love with all humankind, in accordance with the Lord’s last commandment and assurance: ‘Go ye, and make disciples of all nations . . . And lo, I shall be with you until the end of the ages’ (Matt. 28.19-20).
“We live in a world where multiculturalism and pluralism are inevitable realities, which are constantly changing. We are conscious of the fact that no issue in our time can be considered or resolved without reference to the global, that any polarization between the local and the ecumenical only leads to distortion of the Orthodox way of thinking.
Therefore, even in the face of voices of dissension, segregation, and division, we are determined to proclaim the message of Orthodoxy. We acknowledge that dialogue is always better than conflict. Withdrawal and isolationism are never options. We reaffirm our obligation at all times to be open in our contact with ‘the other’: with other people and other cultures, as well as with other Christians and people of other faiths.
“Above and beyond all challenges, we proclaim the good news of a God, who “so loved the world” that He ‘dwelt among us.’ Thus, we Orthodox remain full of hope. Despite all tensions, we nevertheless dare to hope in the ‘almighty God, who is and who was and who is to come’ (Rev. 1.8). For we remember that the last word – the word of joy, love, and life – belongs to Him, to whom is due all glory, honor and worship to the ages of ages. Amen.”
The message was signed by the following Primates: + Bartholomew of Constantinople, + Theodoros of Alexandria, + Theophilos of Jerusalem, + Kirill of Moscow, + Irinej of Serbia, + Daniel of Romania, + Neophyte of Bulgaria, + Ilia of Georgia, + Chrysostomos of Cyprus, + Ieronymos of Athens, + Sawa of Warsaw, and + Anastasios of Tirana.
Antioch’s Patriarchal delegation refused to sign the message, although they had participated in the entire Synaxis. They insisted on a resolution about the Qatar issue, but Bartholomew advised them not to endanger the Church unity evoked by the Synaxis. He asked them to communicate further with Ioannis, but they stood firm.
They also refused to participate in the Divine Liturgy, and issued a communique
in which they stated that “all the efforts made by His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Antiochian Delegation to find a solution with His Beatitude the Patriarch of Jerusalem were met with failure. The Church of Jerusalem still insists on creating an archdiocese and setting up an archbishop within the canonical territory of the Patriarchate of Antioch.
“The Patriarchate of Jerusalem is refusing any solution for this conflict, which does not present the current situation as a fait accompli, and not recognizing that the majority of the Orthodox Churches acknowledge the rightness of the Antiochian position.
“The Patriarchate of Antioch resolved to withdraw its delegation from the Synaxis of the Primates of Churches, held in Constantinople between the 6th and the 9th of March, 2014, and suspend putting her signature on its closing statement until a resolution for the crisis is reached.”
The delegation explained their justification for “not participating in the closing Divine Liturgy service which will be held on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, as an expression that Orthodox unity cannot be realized under the violation of one Church the canonical boundaries of a Sister Church, and her refusal to acknowledge the agreement which took place through the good and loving care of the Ecumenical Patriarch.”
TURKEY’S GOOD WISHES
Turkish minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Davoudoglou called and congratulated Bartholomew for the Council and he invited all the Primates to visit Ankara, to extend hospitality to them. Bartholomew told him that it was practically unfeasible due to the all the work they had to do, and he informed Davoudoglou of the Primates’ decision to convene the Holy and Great Council of Orthodoxy in Constantinople in 2016.