Because of Turkey’s political situation and tensions with Russia, the Synod originally planned for Istanbul will now take place in Switzerland at Pentecost. The agenda includes eight points on which there is agreement. The other two – the Orthodox diaspora and the hierarchy between the Churches – have failed to elicit an agreement. Other Churches have been invited to send representatives.
Chambesy (AsiaNews) – The meeting of the 14 leaders of the world’s autocephalous Orthodox Churches has been underway since 22 January at the pan-Orthodox Centre in Chambésy (Geneva, Switzerland), chaired by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. Their aim is to define the work of the long awaited pan-Orthodox Synod scheduled for June of this year.
This meeting (synaxis) follows that of 9 March 2014 in Istanbul when Bartholomew took the historic decision to convene a Pan-Orthodox Synod for Pentecost of Orthodox Easter in 2016.
Since the schism of 1054 between Rome and Constantinople, the latter has always ruled the Orthodox world, exercising the power to grant a Church the status of autocephality and patriarchal dignity.
Initially the second synaxis was to take place in Istanbul, but the latest political events in the region, including the deterioration of relations between Turkey and Russia, led to the decision to move the venue to Chambésy.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, the Pan-Orthodox Synod will start on Orthodox Pentecost Monday near Constantinople’s ancient Cathedral of St Irene, which was the site of the second ecumenical council of the undivided Church (553 AD). The Romanian Orthodox Patriarch Daniel suggested however moving the Synod to Crete in case of difficulties with Turkey. From a jurisdictional point of view, the Greek island falls under the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
Various issues affecting the Orthodox community are on the agenda at the planned pan-Orthodox Synod; as is the relationship between the Orthodox Church and contemporary society.
At the meeting in Constantinople in March 2014, the 14 heads of autocephalous Churches agreed to devote themselves to the unity of the Orthodox Churches stressing synodality, as a fundamentally important notion for the unity of the Church.
In his opening address, Bartholomew thanked all Church leaders for accepting the sudden change in venue due to recent political events, noting that the synaxis is based on a principle of fundamental ecclesiological importance that characterises the life of the Church, namely synodality.
"Our purpose is holy,” Bartholomew said, “and we desperately need to be enlightened by the Paraclete, but at the same time, each of us must show good will and give up our usual circumstantial opportunism."
"Divine Providence,” he added, “granted us the privilege to realise the dream of our predecessors, a dream that began 50 years ago. Therefore, it is our responsibility not only to realise their dream, but also to fulfil the desire of our people and those Christians who do not belong to our Church, without any further waste of time. "
Later, Bartholomew presented the agenda set for discussion at the pan-Orthodox synod, as it was drawn up by the Preparatory Commission in 1976.
The incomplete agenda includes:
1. The Orthodox diaspora
2. The autocephality of Churches and how it must be declared
3. Their autonomy and how it must be declared
4. Diptycha (hierarchy of Churches)
5. The calendar
6. Obstacles to priests marrying
7. Fasting in the modern world
8. Relations between the Orthodox Church and other Churches
9. Orthodoxy and the ecumenical movement
10. The contribution of Orthodox Churches to the dissemination of Christian ideals of peace, freedom, brotherhood, charity among peoples and opposition to racial discrimination.
Bartholomew noted that of these ten issues, only eight have fully backed during the sessions of the Preparatory Commission that included representatives of the various churches. The Orthodox diaspora and Diptycha failed to elicit a consensus. Constantinople and Moscow expressed differing views as both claim jurisdiction over the diaspora. Moscow as the largest Church claims top spot in the hierarchy.
Some leaders are in favour of a postponement of the pan-Orthodox synod, since the agenda has not been fully agreed. However, Bartholomew reminded the 14 leaders of the Orthodox Churches of the commitment they made in March 2014 to hold a Holy Pan-Orthodox Synod with an agenda of only eight approved issues.
The ecumenical patriarch also reminded those present that the work of the Preparatory Commission is proceeding too slowly. For this reason, he urged the 14 Church leaders to encourage the members to do more. At the same time, whilst maintaining the involvement of Ecumenical see in Constantinople, he wants all the Churches to do more with regard to events and initiatives within the Orthodox community.
Lastly, Bartholomew expressed support for and stressed the importance of the presence of lay and clerical observers from other Christian confessions at the pan-Orthodox synod, noting the fruitful presence of non-Catholic Christian denominations invited by the Church of Rome at the Second Vatican Council.
Overall, although the work is not easy, there is greater good will. Indeed, as an important prelate said, “in case of wilful failure, history will be harsh on us. I hope we are all aware of this."
The Vatican press office said that the idea is being considered, but does not confirm dates or details. The Pope has been invited by the Greek-Orthodox Synod and the Greek president. Both Orthodox primate of Greece Hieronymos and Bartholomew, confirm their presence on Lesbos.
The leaders of the Churches of Antioch, Russia, Georgia and Bulgaria are not present. They decided not to come a week ago, despite agreeing to the gathering and its agenda. The Orthodox Church must urgently meet the challenges of the contemporary world. Synodality must be a permanent feature of the Church. Pope Francis sent his greetings and prayers.
The Synod of the Russian Church has decided not to participate in pan-Orthodox gathering, which should open this week. Now all await Phanar response. According to some commentators, the rivalry between Kirill and Bartholomew I is at the root of the problem: for Russians, Constantinople is seeking hegemony in the Orthodox world, and supports the creation of a Ukrainian Church independent from the Moscow Patriarchate.
Metropolitan Hilarion: "shocked" by Constantinople’s refusal to hold an extraordinary preconciliar meeting to resolve the issues raised by the local churches. "The decisions of the Council shall be taken by unanimous consent and that is not possible if some Churches are missing".