KOLYMBARI (Chania, Crete), Greece – The work of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church convened June 20, 2016, the Feast of the Holy Spirit, at the Orthodox Academy of Crete after almost a thousand years and despite the decision of four Churches not to participate.
His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew presides over the Council. The following nine Primates of the Orthodox Autocephalous Churches and their respective honorable delegations are participating: His Beatitude Patriarch Theodoros II of Alexandria and All Africa, His Beatitude Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Patriarch Daniel of Romania, His Beatitude Patriarch Irinej of Serbia, His Beatitude Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus, His Beatitude Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and all Greece, His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana and All Albania, His Beatitude Metropolitan Sawa of Warsaw and All Poland, His Beatitude Archbishop Rastislav of Czech Lands and Slovakia.
Absent from the Council are their Beatitudes, Patriarch John of Antioch, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, Patriarch Neophyte of Bulgaria and Patriarch Ilia of Georgia, Primates of their respective autocephalous churches.
In his introductory address to the Council, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew expressed his regret and pain for the absences of the sister Churches of Antioch, Russia, Bulgaria and Georgia, “an unpleasant surprise on the twelfth hour,” as he said. The Ecumenical Patriarch also said that even though they had sent the lists of their delegations and had fully participated in all the phases of preparation and therefore had every opportunity to put forth for discussion all the issues before they had agreed and signed, they are now using these issues as an excuse for their abstention. “This unprecedented attitude, he said, we are having trouble understanding.”
His All-Holiness noted that “by striking at our unity we are striking ourselves.” He emphasized that none of us, none of our Churches can exist in isolation from the rest of the Orthodox Churches. We, Orthodox Christians, are not and should not behave as a federation of Churches. We are one Church, one body and we should resolve all our possible differences in the Synod. This is what we have received from our holy tradition and to that we should adhere to, said the Ecumenical Patriarch.
Speaking about the question of how the abstentions might affect the work of the Holy and Great Council, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew said, that in the long history of the Church, there were instances of intended or unintended absences of some members in convened local or ecumenical synods, but that did not at all impede the convening of those councils. The decision to convene the Holy and Great Council was Pan-Orthodox, said His All-Holiness, and it can and will go on with its work.
The Primates of the Local Orthodox Autocephalous Churches in their turn, addressed greetings to the Council, unanimously expressing their joy and support for being present at this historic event. They reaffirmed their commitment to work together in unity to address the questions facing the Church in the contemporary world and to deepen co-operation in the future.
His Beatitude Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus acknowledged the need for regular councils bringing together Hierarchs from around the world in order to develop a common response to pressing issues, including bio-ethical and environmental dilemmas. Addressing the mission of the Church in the world, His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios of Albania underlined the need for repentance, while His Beatitude Archbishop Rastislav of the Czech Lands and Slovakia underscored the fact that, in spite of their ethnic differences, Orthodox Christians are one people.
Sunday of Pentecost
The date of June 19 was the date of the First Ecumenical Council held in Nicaea in 325 AD. This fact was noted by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, as on June 19, 2016 the Holy and Great Council of 2016 AD commenced with the Patriarchal Divine Liturgy concelebration of the Holy Feast of Pentecost – calling all in unity. His All-Holiness posed the question at some point: coincidence or divine providence?
His All-Holiness Bartholomew presided over a resplendent patriarchal concelebration of Pentecost with the Primates of the Orthodox Autocephalous Churches. His Excellency the President of the Hellenic Republic, Prokopis Pavlopoulos along with many other dignitaries and officials were in prayerful attendance.
“A joyful day has now dawned,” said the Ecumenical Patriarch, at the opening of his Homily and said that today is a day of unity, as we are all united in the faith and the sacraments of our Church, adding, “The unity of the Orthodox Church and its faithful represents our mission. Our ecclesial unity does not take on the form of a federation, nor does it stem from the congregating around some mere human. It proceeds from and is made complete by our common faith, which is synonymous with salvation, with eternal life.”
After the end of the Divine Liturgy and the Vespers of the Holy Spirit, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Primates of the Local Orthodox Autocephalous Churches and the President of Hellenic Republic, Mr. Prokopis Pavlopoulos, attended a reception at the offices of the Archdiocese of Crete, hosted by His Eminence Archbishop Eirinaios of Crete.
Official Luncheon by the President of Greece
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew offered a toast on behalf of the Primates of the Local Orthodox Autocephalous Churches, at a luncheon hosted in their honor by the President of the Hellenic Republic, Mr. Prokopis Pavlopoulos. His All-Holiness thanked the beloved people of Greece for their prayerful presence and support to the work of the Holy and Great Council, promising that Orthodoxy shall fulfill her historic duty and responsibility.
“Orthodoxy constitutes a real and permanent place of peaceful coexistence and stability in the modern – torn – world, a true source of peace for all the peoples. The word of the Orthodox Church is essential, because it proclaims the necessity of charity, love, and unity of mankind, as well as, the necessity of peaceful cooperation between the peoples of the earth, regardless of the religious faith of each,” said His All-Holiness.
President Pavlopoulos, welcomed the convening of the Holy and Great Council in Crete, making references to the First Ecumenical Council, and the value of the Synodical System, “as the irreplaceable guarantee of the unity of the Orthodox Church.” He also said that the mission of the Holy and Great Council acquires universal dimensions, “since Christianity, with Orthodoxy as its epicenter, is called to defend besides everything else, the principles and values of European culture and western civilization in general, with emphasis on those of peace, democracy, freedom and justice.”
An open and honest discussion
In the ensuing days since its opening the Holy and Great Council considers and continues to discuss the six Pre-Conciliar Documents in the agenda: The Mission of the Orthodox Church in today’s World, the Orthodox Diaspora, Autonomy and the means by which it is proclaimed, the importance of Fasting and its observance today, Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian World and the Sacrament of Marriage and its impediments.
Extensive discussion on the pre-conciliar texts was held and various suggestions and clarifications were proposed by the Primates and individual Hierarchs of the local Orthodox Autocephalous Churches.
“It is an experience of absolute freedom of expression of views and opinions without limits or hindrances of any kind. It is an honest and open discussion on very difficult and complex issues”, said His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America about the work of the Synod. His Eminence also underlined the importance of the manner in which Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew presides at the Synod, saying it is “an exquisite, attentive and elegant way, which fosters an atmosphere of freedom and unity.”
The Council will continue meeting through June 25, concluding with the Divine Liturgy on June 26.