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NEWS 15 Jun 16

Orthodox Feuds Dampen Hopes of Historic Council

Days before the start of the Great and Holy Council in Crete, aimed at uniting the world's Orthodox Christians, rows between the various churches have escalated - and several churches will not now be coming.

Mariya Cheresheva, Milivoje Pantovic, Marian Chiriac
Sofia, Belgrade, Bucharest

Photo: Andrey Ustyuzhanin/Flickr

The Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople [Istanbul] says it is determined to carry on with a historic council of Orthodox churches in spite of the fact that the heads of four churches have decided to withdraw from the meeting.

Divsions between the 14 patriarchates, further complicated by a fresh Serbian-Romanian dispute, have cast serious doubts over whether the council will fulfill its general aim, to bring unity to the world's over 300 million Christians.

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church was the first to pull out from the meeting, scheduled to take place between June 19 and June 27.

Initially it was planned that the summit would open in Istanbul, but after strong opposition from the Moscow Patriarchate, the venue was moved to the Greek Island of Crete.

Changes to the initial agenda and the technical procedures of the meeting have also been adopted on Russia’s demand, with all the patriarchates eventually signing the summit’s program on January 24.

But On June 3, Bulgaria’s Holy Synod confirmed that it will not attend the council, saying that “particularly important” topics were missing from the agenda.

It criticized on the seating plan the meeting and argued that it violated the principle of equality for the representatives of the 14 Orthodox churches.

Bulgaria’s decision was followed by the ultra-conservative Georgian Church and then also the Russian Orthodox church, which officially declared on Monday that its participation had become impossible.

”We will not be able to participate in the Pan-Orthodox Council … we ask to postpone the meeting.”, Metropolitian Hilarion of the Patriarchate of Moscow, the second church official after Patriarch Kiril, told Ria Novosti.

He grounded Moscow’s decision on the “non-participation of some of the Orthodox churches” and the “breach of the consensus principle”.

The latest development seems to confirm the speculations that the Bulgarian Church and some other patriarchates from the former Communist bloc are taking the side of Russia in its ongoing power battle with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

The unexpected maneuvers have angered some leading clerics and experts, who suspect Bulgaria’s holy synod of serving Russia’s interests.

“I do not understand. How come that after we all agreed that there will be a Council, someone decides that they will not come?” Archbishop Yeronim of Athens asked on June 12.

He said that the summit would go ahead with all the churches that will be present there.

Meanwhile the Serbian Orthodox church is feuding with the Romanian Patriarchate in a dispute over territorial jurisdiction, which threatens to break the communion between the two churches. 

The main reason for the conflict is Belgrade’s claim that Romanian priests are working on the territory of eastern Serbia, over which the Serbian Church has jurisdiction.

The Romanian priests are accused of crossing the Danube into Serbia and of performing services among the Serbian Vlah and ethnic Romanian minorities.

Belgrade has demanded that its dispute with Bucharest should be included in the agenda of the Orthodox summit in Crete.

Since its request was not satisfied, it has demanded postponement of the meeting or at least, putting talks on just a technical level.

It remains unclear, however, whether Serbia will follow Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia and the Patriarchate of Antioch, which has a longstanding dispute with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, in actually boycotting the meeting.


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