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Calls for postponing Pan-Orthodox Council

As the historic day of the pan-Orthodox Council in Crete approaches, the likelihood of it being postponed seems increasingly plausible.

The meeting would see all 14 patriarchates and autocephalous Orthodox Churches come together for the first time in centuries.

But now, the Serbian Orthodox Church has joined in the call for a postponement of the Pan-Orthodox Council that is scheduled to open in Crete on June 19.

The Serbian Synod did not rule out participation in the Council– which the Ecumenical Patriarchate has insisted will take place on schedule. However, Patriarch Irinej said that “our Church finds it difficult to participate in the summoned Holy and Great Synod.”

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the Patriarchate of Antioch have already said that they will not take part in the Council in Crete. The Patriarchate of Moscow— by far the largest of the Orthodox churches– has called for postponement of the long-awaited event.

These difficulties are nothing new: Orthodox Churches have been discussing this meeting for the past 50 years. It was only thanks to the tenacity of Patriarch Bartholomew and the pressing dramatic situation faced by Churches in the Middle East that an agreement was reached in January (at the gathering of primates in Chambésy, Switzerland) to hold the meeting in Crete. However, disagreements over how the Council was to be celebrated remained and are now surfacing again.

The main obstacle is the possibility of reviewing and amending the six documents that the Assembly of the Orthodox Churches should promulgate. Bearing in mind the difficult process of drawing up the texts Constantinople is keen to minimise the amount of time spent on discussing these.

The three most controversial documents being discussed in the Orthodox world are the ones to do with the sacrament of marriage and its impediments (the Churches of Antioch and Georgia did not sign in Switzerland), the one on the relationship between Orthodox Churches and today’s world and the one on relations with other Christian denominations. A number of requests for amendments have been made (some were presented by the monks on Mount Athos).