Orthodox primates meeting begins in Switzerland

The primates of the 15 autocephalous Orthodox churches have begun a week long Synaxis in Chambesy to decide whether to convene the proposed Holy and Great Orthodox Council this year in Istanbul.

The primates of the 15 autocephalous Orthodox churches have begun a week long assembly (Synaxis) in Chambesy, Switzerland to prepare for this year’s proposed Holy and Great Orthodox Council. The Patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Russia, Georgia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Albania, Poland, the Czech lands and Slovakia, and America met on 22 Jan 2016 at a conference center operated by the Oecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in the Swiss countryside to decide on an agenda for the first Orthodox Council held in over 1000 years — and also settle whether they will even meet.

Differences between the churches driven by nationalism, issues of jurisdiction and geo-political concerns have led to questions whether a council will be able to held. In 1961 Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople initiated a pre-conciliar process that has seen five conferences over the past fifty years: 1976, 1982, 1986, 2009 and 2015. The preconciliar meetings have formulated ten general topics for discussion:

  1. The Orthodox Diaspora.
  2. The way in which autocephaly is granted.
  3. The way in which autonomy is granted to semi-independent churches within autocephalous churches.
  4. The diptychs. The order of precedence of the Orthodox churches.
  5. The Church calendar.
  6. Canonical impediments to marriage
  7. Fasting rules.
  8. Relationships with the Roman Catholic Church, and the Anglican Communion.
  9. The ecumenical movement.
  10. The contribution of Orthodoxy to affirming peace, fraternity, and freedom.

However on 27 Dec 2015 The chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk (pictured) warned the council might not take place. “There are doubts about the very possibility of a Pan-Orthodox Council being held at a time when some of the Orthodox Churches are in a state of unsettled conflict, and the leader of the Orthodox Church of the Czech lands and Slovakia has still not had his status recognized by a number of Orthodox Churches, to say nothing of the extremely unstable general political situation worldwide,” he said in a statement released by the Russian Orthodox Church.

At their 2014 Synaxis, the primates agreed to convene a Holy and Great Council in Istanbul in 2016, “unless prevented by unexpected circumstances.”

“It was expected that in the remaining two years it will be possible to redact, and in certain cases, entirely re-write a significant portion of the Council’s draft documents, many of which have become obsolete despite being drafted about 30 years ago,” Metropolitan Hilarion’s statement said.

Progress in organizing the council had bee slow, and “as a result, of the eight topics that were expected to be put to the Council, only three have been agreed upon to date, work on the rest has never been completed,” he wrote.

“So far there is no unanimous understanding among the Orthodox Churches as to the rules under which the Pan-Orthodox Council should operate and what its regulations should be. An ad hoc inter-Orthodox commission which met recently to discuss these issues had to interrupt its work after failing to reach consensus. Many of the issues, concerning preparations for the Council, which were raised repeatedly by Most Holy Patriarch Kirill in his letters to Most Holy Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople last year, have remained without answer to this day,” Metropolitan Hilarion said last month.

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