Crete meeting in jeopardy as Bulgaria and Antioch pull out and Moscow urges a postponment of the first Holy Council in 1000 years
The Archbishop of Canterbury has written to Primates of the Anglican Communion, urging them to pray for the leaders of this month’s Holy Council of the Orthodox churches in Crete. However the first gathering of Orthodox leaders in over 1000 years is in jeopardy. The Bulgarian and Antiochian churches have said they will not attend the gathering, while Moscow has called for the meeting to be delayed to allow time to address their concerns.
On 4 June 2016 the Most Rev. Justin Welby released a statement following a meeting in Turkey with the Ecumenical Patriarch.
Today (June 4), in the midst of Orthodox Eastertide, I am with His All Holiness Bartolommeo, Archbishop of Constantinople and Ecumenical Patriarch, in Cappadocia, one of the ancient centres of Christianity. Our visit occurs just weeks before the intended Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, which Patriarch Bartolommeo has convened and over which he will preside. When it happens this will be the first gathering of Orthodox leaders representing their Churches in almost 1000 years, and has been anticipated throughout the last century.
I have assured Patriarch Bartolomeo of my own prayers for him, and for this vital Orthodox gathering. I most respectfully request that you and Anglicans around the world join me in prayer for the guidance and blessing of the Holy Spirit upon the leaders of Orthodox Church as they prepare to meet in Crete in holy council, following celebrations of the Feast of Pentecost (in the Orthodox calendar) on 19 June this year.
However on 1 June 2016 the Bulgarian Orthodox Holy Synod said it would not participate in the Crete meeting. The Bulgarian Synod said six issues needed to be addressed before they would consider participating in the gathering including discussion of issues left off the agenda that “require timely Pan-Orthodox Council resolution.” The Bulgarians objected to the costs they would be expected to pay for the meeting, as well as the seating arrangements for primates at the meeting and voiced concern over the rule the council’s documents could not be edited during the session. Unless a postponement of the meeting was made to address these concerns, the Bulgarians said they would not be able to attend.
On 5 June 2016 Bartholomew said the meeting would not be postponed, but the next day the Antiochian Orthodox Church said they would not be attending. The Patriarchates of Antioch and Jerusalem have broken communion with each other in a dispute centered over the jurisdiction of churches in the Gulf States and had asked Bartholomew to resolve the dispute. Bartholomew said he would address the issue after the Crete meeting, prompting the Antiochian Church to withdraw from the Council as they are not in Eucharistic fellowship with Jerusalem.
The Holy Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate met last week and urged the Crete meeting be postponed. “We proposed that the Patriarch of Constantinople hold a conference before the Council to tackle all the issues due to which Churches are now refusing to participate one after another,” Metropolitan Hilarion, the head of the ecumenical-affairs department for the Moscow patriarchate, told the Interfax news service. “If these issues are resolved, then the Council will take place. If they are not, then it’s probably best to postpone it.”