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The Russian Orthodox are the last of four local churches to withdraw from participation in the Great and Holy Council, the Pan-Orthodox Synod, set to begin tomorrow – Pentecost Sunday in their calendar. Their reason given that as consensus was adopted as the model for any and all work of the Council, and that at least one local church had withdrawn, consensus was no longer possible.
The timeline of last-minute withdrawal from the Council:
- 1 June – Bulgarian Orthodox Church
- 6 June – (Greek) Patriarchate of Antioch
- 10 June – Georgian Orthodox Church
- 13 June – Russian Orthodox Church
As I see it, consensus to hold the Council now, under the presented procedures, and the promise to attend by each local church was achieved in March 2014 and affirmed just a few months ago, at the January 2016 Synaxis of Primates. The Churches themselves committed to hold the Council, to attend, and to participate.
Therefore, now is too late to back out. Common sense would dictate that after having committed to the Council, if you back out, you lose your voice and vote, but the decisions are still binding upon you and consensus depends on those who are actually present and participating. You forfeit your right to vote, you do not get a veto, by backing out. If you want to object to some document, you have to be participating to do so.
In other words, dear Bulgaria, et al., you do not have to agree, but you do have to show up.
Of course, this is a moral obligation, there is no juridical, binding power that would compel otherwise. One could argue that failure to participate in a general council to which unanimous consensus compels you to attend is tantamount to excommunication – to me, non-participation in the Council seems a far more serious breach of communion that disagreements over the calendar, over jurisdiction in Bahrain, or over who can grant the Americans autocephaly.
To be sure, some of the objections of the local churches are valid and should be considered. Some are nonsense. But I admire far more the Serbian Orthodox Church, who, while deeply concerned about several aspects of both process and content, are still committed to exercising synodality. You cannot claim to be a church who takes synodality seriously, over and against what you perceive as excessive papal primacy in the Catholic Church, and then fail utterly to even organize yourselves into a regular exercise of that synodality on a universal level.
You go to a Council to resolve issues, to raise new ones, to practice being Church together even in disagreement. Unity cannot be achieved by putting off meeting. True, we should see this as the beginning of a lengthy process, not a stand-alone event. Vatican II was eight months of meetings spread over four years allowing generous time for research and consultation. And it had only been ninety years since the last attempt at a general council, only 400 years since the last complete council. The Orthodox have three times as much time to make up for – a real council could be expected to take a full year of meeting together. One week is nowhere near enough.
But at the end of the day, it is hard to respect anyone who claims “we have not had enough time to get ready” or “let’s
postpone procrastinate some more.” Seriously? 1229 years since the last general council, 115 years since the first call for this one, and 55 years since the planning commissions started meeting, even by the glacial ecclesial standards, this is absurd.
Still, we can be grateful that the leaders themselves seem to have more patience with childishly manipulative behavior than I do, as telling the Russian (or Bulgarian, Georgian, or Antiochene) Patriarch he has just been demoted to the bottom of the table for skipping a required meeting probably would not do much to actually get him to show up next time he promises to do so. But since they do seem so concerned about seating arrangements, maybe that would work better than appeals to common sense and episcopal responsibility…
Audience with representatives of
Churches and Ecclesial Communities
and of other Religions
(Reposted from Vatican Radio) On Wednesday, March 20 2013, Pope Francis received several dozen representatives of the various Christian Churches and other world religions, who attended the Pope’s inauguration.
Among them were several leaders from the Orthodox Church, Orthodox Oriental Churches, the Anglican Communion, and various Protestant churches, including the Lutheran, Baptist and Methodist churches. Representatives from the Jewish and Muslim faiths were also present.
Please find below Vatican Radio’s translation of the Pope’s discourse:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
First of all, heartfelt thanks for what my Brother Andrew* told us. Thank you so much! Thank you so much!
It is a source of particular joy to meet you today, delegates of the Orthodox Churches, the Oriental Orthodox Churches and Ecclesial Communities of the West. Thank you for wanting to take part in the celebration that marked the beginning of my ministry as Bishop of Rome and Successor of Peter.
Yesterday morning, during the Mass, through you , I recognized the communities you represent. In this manifestation of faith, I had the feeling of taking part in an even more urgent fashion the prayer for the unity of all believers in Christ, and together to see somehow prefigured the full realization of full unity which depends on God’s plan and on our own loyal collaboration.
I begin my Apostolic Ministry in this year during which my venerable Predecessor, Benedict XVI, with true inspiration, proclaimed the Year of Faith for the Catholic Church. With this initiative, that I wish to continue and which I hope will be an inspiration for every one’s journey of faith, he wished to mark the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, thus proposing a sort of pilgrimage towards what for every Christian represents the essential: the personal and transforming relationship with Jesus Christ, Son of God, who died and rose for our salvation. This effort to proclaim this eternal treasure of faith to the people of our time, lies at the heart of the Council’s message.
Together with you I cannot forget how much the council has meaning for the ecumenical journey. I like to remember the words that Blessed John XXIII, of whom we will soon mark 50 years since his death, when he gave his memorable inauguration speech: “The Catholic Church therefore considers it her duty to work actively so that there may be fulfilled the great mystery of that unity, which Christ Jesus invoked with fervent prayer from His heavenly Father on the eve of His sacrifice. She rejoices in peace, knowing well that she is intimately associated with that prayer “.
Yes, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all be intimately united to our Saviour’s prayer at the Last Supper, to his invocation: ut unum sint. We call merciful Father to be able to fully live the faith that we have received as a gift on the day of our Baptism, and to be able to it free, joyful and courageous testimony. The more we are faithful to his will, in thoughts, in words and in deeds, the more we will truly and substantially walk towards unity.
For my part, I wish to assure, in the wake of my predecessors, the firm wish to continue on the path of ecumenical dialogue, and I thank you, the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, for the help it continues to offer in my name, for this noble cause. I ask you, dear brothers and sisters, to bring my cordial greetings to the Churches and Christian communities who are represented here. And I ask you for a special prayer for me so that I can be a pastor according to the heart of Christ.
And now I turn to you, distinguished representatives of the Jewish people, to whom we are bound by a very special spiritual bond, from the moment that, as the Second Vatican Council said, “thus the Church of Christ acknowledges that according to God’s saving design, the beginnings of her faith and her election are found already among the Patriarchs, Moses and the prophets”.(Decree Nostra Aetate, 4). I thank you for your presence and trust that with the help of the Almighty, we can continue that fruitful fraternal dialogue that the Council wished for. And that it is actually achieved, bringing many fruits, especially during the last decades .
I greet and thank cordially all of you, dear friends belonging to other religious traditions; firstly the Muslims, who worship the one living and merciful God, and call upon Him in prayer. I really appreciate your presence, and in it I see a tangible sign of the wish to grow in recipricol trust and in cooperation for the common good of humanity.
The Catholic Church is aware of the importance of the promotion of friendship and respect between men and women of different religious traditions – this I wish to repeat this: the promotion of friendship and respect between men and women of different religious traditions – this is attested evident also in the valuable work undertaken by the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. The Church is equally aware of the responsibility that each of us bring towards our world, abd to the whole of creation, that we must love and protect. And we can do a lot for the good of the less fortunate, for those who are weak and suffering, to promote justice, to promote reconciliation, to build peace.. But above all, we must keep alive in our world the thirst for the absolute, and must not allow the vision of the human person with a single dimension to prevail, according to which man is reduced to what he produces and to what he consumes: this is one most dangerous threats of our times.
We know how much violence has been provoked in recent history by the attempt to eliminate God and the divine from the horizon of humanity, and we feel the need to witness in our societies the original openness to transcendence that is inherent in the human heart. In this we feel the closeness also of those men and women who, while not belonging to any religious tradition, feel, however the need to search for the truth, the goodness and the beauty of God, and who are our precious allies in efforts to defend the dignity of man, in the building of a peaceful coexistence between peoples and in the careful protection of creation.
Dear friends, thank you for your presence. To all, I offer my cordial and fraternal greetings.
*My Brother Andrew – that is, Bartholomew I, Patriarch of Constantinople, Successor of Andrew, the brother of Peter.
It is not possible for the Lord to agonize over the unity of His disciples and for us to remain indifferent about the unity of all Christians. This would constitute criminal betrayal and transgression of His divine commandment.
Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople
Patriarchal and Synodal Encyclical on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, 21 Feb 2010
(and for your viewing edification, 60 Minutes interview with the Patriarch a couple months ago)