THE TIME FOR ORTHODOX UNITY IS NOW!

THE GREAT ORTHODOX COUNCIL: ANTIOCH IS DIFFERENT

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His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew concelebrates the Divine Liturgy of Pentecost with the Primates of the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches at St. Menas Cathedral in Heraklion, Crete. PHOTO: © POLISH ORTHODOX CHURCH/JAROSLAW CHARKIEWICZ.

His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew concelebrates the Divine Liturgy of Pentecost with the Primates of the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches at St. Menas Cathedral in Heraklion, Crete. PHOTO: © POLISH ORTHODOX CHURCH/JAROSLAW CHARKIEWICZ.

Source: First Things

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In his toast this past Thursday night on the eve of the Holy and Great Council, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, the first among equals of the bishops of the Orthodox Church, expressed his sympathy for the Church of Antioch, which is suffering in the face of militant Islam. He decried

the intense and intricate problems, which the brother Primates and local Orthodox Churches face on the account of intolerance and religious fanaticism, especially the ancient Patriarchate of Antioch and our beloved Primate, Patriarch John of Antioch.

But as His All Holiness raised his glass, these words mixed a bitter cup for the Church of Antioch, whose absence from the council Bartholomew could have remedied. What’s more, Antioch’s presence could have been the key to making the council a universal Orthodox expression of unity and brotherhood—what the Ecumenical Patriarch hoped it would be, and what increasingly seems unattainable….

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1 Comment

  1. Rev. David Bissias on

    Fr. Damick’s and Mr. Noble’s fine article rightly point to a serious problem within the relationships between the Orthodox Churches throughout the world, one that is not limited to the schism between Antioch and Jerusalem. A similar “encroachment” by the Romanian Patriarchate on territory claimed by the Serbian Patriarchate is of a similar sort, though the latter case is also of a different character. Nonetheless, the authors lament the inability of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to have used its influence to remedy the situation that would have allowed the Antiochian Patriarchate to have participated. In doing so, however, they overlook some important aspects of the problem itself and the nature of the council.

    Rightly, they point to the principle claimed by the Church of Antioch that her participation in the Council was impossible in light of the break in Eucharistic communion with Jerusalem. But wrongly, the authors agree with the principle. Indeed, most of the Ecumenical Council were attended by churches that were not, at the time, in communion! The very point of those councils was to restore communion, and in several instances (such as Chalcedon, 451 A.D.) schisms remained after these Councils! After all deposition of bishops were often ignored, for a time, by those deposed. The very existence of the Oriental Orthodox Churches (Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopian, etc.) testify to this uncomfortable reality.

    The authors neglect to mention that Antioch severed communion with Jerusalem rather shortly before the Council convened, although the provocative actions by Jerusalem actually took place years (!) ago. Could not Antioch have waited until the Council was concluded to have severed ecclesiastical ties? Indeed, despite a dispute that is just as serious, both Serbia and Romania attended. Admittedly, these churches remain, technically, in communion, but it is unlikely they will remain so in light of Romania’s position. Still, it is also possible that Antioch’s timing was aimed at provoking a “crisis” to pressure the Ecumenical Patriarchate and other (?) churches to help resolve the issue (or in the author’s words, “pressure” Jerusalem).

    Still, the very nature of this Council, and the regulations of its operation, would have made a consideration of the schism between Antioch and Jerusalem impossible, as the form of “consensus” adopted (at the insistence of the Moscow Patriarchate) would have precluded its addition to the agenda impossible, if only due to the probably objection of Jerusalem, exercising a de facto veto…

    Likewise, by basically ignoring a large facet of the problem facing the Church of Antioch–the civil war in Syria, with most of the international world–excepting Russia–opposing the rule of Syrian dictator Assad, the authors overlook the possibility that the turmoil in the region, and the position of the Syrian government (which has permitted the Church to exist in relative freedom as a Christian minority) may influence and complicate the considerations of the Antiochian Patriarchate. I do not claim any special knowledge in this area, and presume the authors are far more knowledgeable; yet it would be surprising if the politics of the Syrian situation did not affect the situation of the churches on the ground in the Middle East.

    Furthermore, the authors neglect to mention that Antioch is not above “encroaching” on territories itself, at least in the diaspora (those objecting to this word can see my comments elsewhere on the OCL website). In fact, the authors implicitly point to the more obvious, if not frustrating and perplexing, problem in the Orthodox world: the fundamental disunity of though on ecclesiological issues and the canonical norms governing the relationships between Churches. This is the primary reason why the issue of the declaration of autocephaly itself had to be omitted from the agenda, an issue on which no consensus exists and was likely the only (!) issue that would have resulted in something new, as none of the adopted documents presents the Orthodox (as opposed to the non-Orthodox) with anything that has not been said before.

    In the end, I do not think Antioch was wrong by absenting her representatives from the Council, but not being wrong does not, in this instance, necessarily mean one is right. What the Council actually accomplished–the statements–could have been adopted by Antioch without controversy but also without attending the Eucharistic celebrations held throughout the council (Arians and Orthodox did not commune during Nicea!), as none of these–in the final analysis–would be inconsistent with the position of the Antiochian Church over the last century or so. The biggest accomplishment of the Council, from the perspective of the Orthodox, was to have so many hierarchs of so many Churches in one room speaking with one another. Even if Antioch attempted to have its issue placed on the agenda, as the authors of the article seem to have desired, and failed, the presence of her hierarchs meeting and dialoguing with hierarchs they like have never met would have been good, even as here in the USA the Assembly of Bishops allowed many hierarchs on American soil to meet for the first time.

    It is rather simple to have a theoretical discussion of canonical borders and “jurisdiction,” and to sever ties with persons you don’t really know in the first place. But that is not, strictly speaking, the Orthodox way. The convocation of the Council and the sudden (and often, it seems to outside observers, somewhat disingenuous) refusal of attendance by several autocephalous Churches points to a de facto disunity within the Orthodox world despite the formal “communion” of churches. But that formality is not real until “brethren dwell together” face to face and share existence (the literal meaning of communion/koinonia). Perhaps the Ecumenical Patriarch, in pressing on with the Council despite obstacles and numerous concessions to the very churches that declined, in the end, the invitation, actually accomplished something truly significant: the NEED among the Churches to come together to resolve long-standing disputes and misunderstandings, to actually find a means by which the communion of the churches will be authentic and sincere, something that–in some cases–it obviously has not been for some lengthy time.

    Just a thought.

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