[ditty_news_ticker id="27897"] Looking Back at the Holy and Great Council - Orthodox Christian Laity

Looking Back at the Holy and Great Council

Archdeacon John Chryssavgis

Archdeacon John Chryssavgis

Source: The Huffington Post

October 7, 2016

Rev. Dr. John ChryssavgisArchdeacon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

Heracles Filios of «Light from the Phanar» speaks with Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis, Archdeacon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

Note: This interview originally appeared in Greek on August 30, 2016 at http://fanarion.blogspot.com

It is an immense privilege and blessing to welcome Fr. John Chryssavgis, Archdeacon of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, to «Fos Fanariou» (Light from the Phanar) for an extremely interesting and important interview. This conversation sheds light on a historical event in the life of the Orthodox Church, namely the Holy and Great Council that took place in June 2016 on the Greek island of Crete. However, the interview bears special weight inasmuch as Fr. John Chryssavgis served as Press Officer of the Ecumenical Patriarchate during the Holy and Great Council. This is his first interview since the conclusion of the council.

1. Fos Fanariou: Fr. John, welcome to our website that is already familiar to you. We are honored by your presence and love to provide us with an interview for «Fos Fanariou» only two months after the Holy and Great Council was convened in Crete. We are grateful because we know how precious your time is. And if we consider time in the way it is conceived by Heidegger, then we appreciate the significance of time for someone like you.

JC: Thank you for inviting me to this interview. It is a pleasure to speak to you through «Fos Fanariou», whose director Panagiotis Andriopoulos is a good friend. And I am especially happy to be speaking about the recent Holy and Great Council.

2. Fos Fanariou: First of all, it is already two months since the Holy and Great Council was convened. With all your responsibilities and roles, particularly as Press Officer of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, have you been able to rest?

JC: I did not realize how exhausting the whole experience would be. But it certainly cannot be compared to the hard work contributed by numerous others, from His All-Holiness who oversaw the entire process, to those involved in the organization – clergy and laity, both locally and internationally. Moreover, I was personally very privileged to be supported by a talented and qualified team of theologians and consultants.

3. Fos Fanariou: Indeed, Fr. John, for such an immense event to be accomplished in the life of the church, there are many experts that must be involved in organizational and other responsible tasks. Let’s begin with an introductory definition of the Church. Metropolitan John of Pergamon observes that «the Orthodox Church is and lives within a historical context. It moves within history, yet without abandoning its identity.» What is the identity of the Church?

JC: His Eminence Metropolitan John has spent his entire life drawing connections between the church, the liturgy, and the world. Because the crucial question is not so much what is the identity of the church, but what is the purpose or reason of the church. And the church is never for inner consumption, but always for cosmic transfiguration.

If what the church is not reaching out to – opening up to, communicating with, and transforming – the world and all of creation, then its identity, too, inevitably remains incomplete.

4. Fos Fanariou: This year, a unique and enormous church event – one that was being planned and prepared for many years now – took place in Crete from June 18th to June 26th. Why did it take so long to convene?

JC: Indeed, the Holy and Great Council has been under preparation since the 1960s, although it has been under consideration since as early as the 1920s. It was never going to be an easy task to accomplish. Ecumenical Partriarch Athenagoras knew this; and so did Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. But both of them also recognized how important it was to work toward such a goal until circumstances were more appropriate, or at least less inappropriate.

The delay was due to many reasons. There were geo-political issues (many churches were isolated by the oppressive «Iron Curtain»). There were nationalistic issues (ethnophyletism has been a problem for church unity since the creation of national churches from the 19th century). And there were ecclesiastical issues (churches had developed in different ways and at different rates).

For over 60 years, almost every publication about the council was entitled «Toward the Holy and Great Council.» Perhaps from now on, publications will at least be entitled «After the Holy and Great Council»!

5. Fos Fanariou: Certain theological throughout the world assumed a negative stance with regard to the Holy and Great Council. Why do you believe this occurred? Was it because of the method of organization, the council’s agenda, or perhaps something else?

JC: I cannot speak about the intentions of any individual or group, much less so of any hierarch or church. But having personally witnessed the process over the last few years – with the blessing of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who permitted me to participate and assist through the preparatory period in various capacities – I can say with a good degree of certainty and conviction that the reasons were neither organizational nor theological, even if the excuses sometimes were.

The real reasons possibly lie in the fact that there has been an uneven growth or unbalanced development among and even within the sister Orthodox Churches. Let me give you two simple examples: First, from the early twentieth century, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has – even in the face of resistance and protest – forged extraordinary openings toward other Christian Churches. For example, you may be familiar with the founding role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the creation of the World Council of Churches. However, when the World Council of Churches was established in 1948, a council in Moscow condemned it as heretical, even if Moscow subsequently decided to join as a member in 1961. Other Slavic churches reacted similarly. Thus, the Patriarchates of Bulgaria and Georgia not only withdrew from the World Council of Churches in the late-1990s, but to this day they cling to this withdrawal as their «flag» of traditionalism and «certification» of orthodoxy.

Or, second, recall the “dialogue of love” between Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul VI as well as the now regular encounters of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis. Nevertheless, the situation is not the same in other Churches, such as in Poland and even Russia, whose primate promoted world coverage of his meeting with the Pope in Havana just a few months ago but afterward met with a threat of schism upon his return to Moscow.

So this unevenness or dissimilarity between the various Orthodox Churches had to be addressed at some point, one way or another, even if the church never requires or imposes uniformity. It was critical, therefore, to convene the Holy and Great Council, even if only for the churches, their primates and hierarchs to meet together, to talk together, and to discuss together on issues of mutual interest or concern.

6. Fos Fanariou: One of the issues that preoccupied the bishops prior to the council was the number of representatives invited from the various Orthodox Churches. What is the historical context or precedent with regard to this matter?

JC: Numbers have never been a criterion of orthodoxy in the church. As to the number of bishops in attendance at various councils, although there have been various proposals about the way in which the early councils were convened, the truth is that the evidence is very little and very unclear. Out of more than 15,000 councils that took place between the 4th and 6th centuries, we can only identify about 250 of them. And what we know from these councils is that they were well attended (though not necessarily by all bishops) and essentially representative.

But practical matters have always been a reality for consideration, then and now: the difficulty of travel, the problem of organization, and the cost of attendance. All of these aspects always played a major role, sometimes even a definitive role, even if we prefer to dowlplay the «secular» dimensions of «sacred» councils. I would suggest that the fundamental criteria for a council to be regarded as «great» or even «ecumenical» were respect for seniority (the diptychs) and fair representation of the churches.

7. Fos Fanariou: Out of the fourteen Orthodox Churches, only ten finally participated in the sessions of the Holy and Great Council. Four of the churches were absent: The Churches of Russia, Antioch, Bulgaria, and Georgia. Can this council be called «Great»?

JC: I would say that the Council is definitely «Great» for at least two important reasons. First, it was larger than any individual church; the adjective «great» is not merely numerical in the church, but primarily and essentially ecclesiastical and canonical. There have been many councils that were recognized as «great» or «greater», and yet they were only attended by three of four churches.
In fact, during the second Christian millennium, there were many «great» councils, where most churches were represented by the Church of Constantinople, which would decide and vote on their behalf. We have to give credit to His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who did everything possible – right up until the «eleventh hour», and even beyond that! – to convene all of the fourteen Orthodox Churches without exception. Secondly, however, this particular council cannot be labeled anything other than «Great» precisely because every church had agreed on the date, had decided on the venue, and had committed to attend. Or, in order to be more precise and perhaps more sensitive, NO church had disagreed with the date, the venue, or the commitment to attend. These were Pan-Orthodox decisions – repeatedly expressed for a period of over two years, without any dissent or protest whatsoever! Indeed, the churches together discussed and decided that the absence or withdrawal of any single delegation should not affect the Pan-Orthodox character of the council, so long as every effort was made by those in attendance to persuade that church to attend. This is precisely what occurred following the Synaxis of Primates that preceded the council, where the ten primates resolved to address a formal and personal appeal and plea to the four absent churches that changed their minds about attending.

8. Fos Fanariou: What do you feel were the real reasons for the absence of the four churches if all of the churches had decided about the council and even signed the preconciliar draft documents? Did it not seem that their attendance was more than definite?

JC: Again, it would be wrong for me to presume the reasons why the four absentee churches decided to change their minds – at the very last minute! – about attending. In Russia’s case, they actually changed their minds after the date that their representatives were already supposed to have arrived for the drafting of the final message! Of course, it is much easier to preach but much more difficult to practise conciliarity. We Orthodox claim that we are a communal church and collegial body, but the fact remains that we are often much closer to the system that we decry and denounce in the Roman Catholic Church, which today is actually moving away from the medieval papal system of hierarchy and authority.

But perhaps we should see the absence of four churches in a different light. The truth is that ten churches did in fact convene and converse. Ten churches kept their word to assemble together. This has never occurred in the past. This alone is historical; this had never previously occurred. No other council in history has assembled as many churches. And this was achieved without the powerful intervention of a secular emperor, who managed to maintain peace in the first millennium. It was achieved by the good will alone of the ten primates in attendance.

Indeed, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew allowed ample room for discussion and even disagreement – both before the council and during the council. No one – even those who challenge or contradict him – could ever claim that he controlled the conversation during the sessions of the council. All of the primates spoke openly and indiscriminately; all of the assembled hierarchs spoke freely and unbconditionally. There was total freedom of speech, which in itself is quite rare in many of our churches. It may not, for example, always be found even within the synods of many of our local churches. So no other council has ever been as extensive, as comprehensive, or as representative as this Holy and Great Council.

9. Fos Fanariou: Do you think that the Church of Russia has intentions or ambitions to elevate its role within global Orthodoxy? In other words, does it want to be tomorrow’s «Ecumenical Patriarchate»?

JC: People sometimes raise the question of Moscow’s «theory of a third Rome.» First of all, this is an outdated theory and one that was never a reality. Secondly, I have never understood how we can speak of a third Rome when there is no second Rome. There is only a «new Rome» that is contrasted to the «old Rome.»

But again, perhaps we should stop seeing the relations between our various churches in terms of rivalry or competition. That is a very naive and worldly perspective of reality. Of course, while such an impression is not entirely wrong, and while the process of conciliarity is undoubtedly painful and frustrating as a result – which all of us witnessed so tangibly during the pre-conciliar preparation – relations between the autocephalous Orthodox churches remain a far more nuanced and representative process.

The Orthodox concept of authority is essentially and indelibly “circular” (it is certainly not «vertical» or even «vertical»), and this circle of power is at least symbolical of conciliarity and communion. That is precisely how all of the primates were seated at the Holy and Great Council, in a semi-circle surrounding the Book of Gospels on a table in the center.

My hope is that our churches will begin to recognize and respect the historical place and status of each individual church without exception, to remember that «the first shall be last and servant of all», and to give priority to the pastoral care of their faithful rather arguing over prestigious rank and territorial concerns. That is the humility expected of our spiritual leaders. And it is what is demanded by our Lord, who cautioned: «Let it not be so among you!»

10. Fos Fanariou: Could the heresy of ethnophyletism have further negative consequences for the Orthodox Church in the immediate future?

JC: Ethnophyletism has undoubtedly been the greatest blessing and at the same time the greatest curse for our churches over the last century and more. I humbly believe that it is the singular and significant reason that prevented the participation of all churches at the recent Holy and Great Council. And it is surely what will also emerge as the greatest challenge after the council.

I believe that the Holy and Great Council brought out the best and the worst in all of our churches, publicly sharing these with the rest of the world (Orthodox and non-Orthodox, Christian and beyond). This is because it demonstrated the willingness of some to take steps – even if small and seemingly insignificant – towards overcoming ethnophyletism, while at the same time revealing the resistance of others to give priority to ecclesiology over ethnophyletism.

And, lest I be misunderstood as blaming certain churches and absolving others, I am not referring to any specific churches here; I am certainly not saying that the absent churches took one stand, while the churches that attended took another. All of our churches are guilty of the «sin» of ethnophyletism. And unfortunately – or tragically – what is worse is that some of our churches are now even beginning to defend this «heresy» of our time with pastoral arguments or spiritual explanation. This is unheard of and unprecedented in church history; in the past, our churches would openly and honestly admit and advertize that is an aberration or deviation. I think that we will face many challenges as a result of ethnophyletism – perhaps in the very near future. In some ways, ethnophyletism is sometimes defended or discussed more rigorously than even the divisive issue of ecumenism! It will, I believe, ultimately reveal where the heart of our churches and our church leaders really lies.

11. Fos Fanariou: Let’s talk about the documents of the Holy and Great Cxouncil. Certain issues were not discussed, even though they are important in the life of the church. These include the possibility of a second marriage for widowed clergy, the possibility of ordination preceding the marriage of a clergyman, or the marriage of a former monastic. Why were there such «omissions» and when will such issues be discussed?

JC: I am glad you raise the question of issues not discussed at the Holy and Great Council. Almost everyone, including myself, was dissatisfied with the documents and decisions because all of them were on the agenda for a very long time; but they still had to be dealt with. In fact, nobody seems to have noticed that one unquestionable achievement of His All-Holiness in convening this Holy and Great Council was that the «old issues» – which were binding because they were part of the long process decided by generations of enlightened hierarchs (mind you, these issues were of greater importance when they were first placed on the agenda!) – [so these «old issues»]are now «off the table,» allowing a more open agenda for conciliar discussions in the future. That was a monumental success for His All-Holiness as well as an expression of profound respect toward history and our forefathers, who first conceived the agenda and planned the council.
Nevertheless, His All-Holiness was still bold enough to raise various issues about marriage and married clergy, stating that the church needs at some point to deal with these questions in one way or another. And it should deal with them with the spiritual and pastoral sensitivity that is deserving of its clergy.

Yet, we should also remember that some of the original documents (such as the ones on regulations of fasting or impediments of marriage) were not intended to be general treatises or vague pietisms on these subjects. The document on fasting was supposed to consider how the context of mission or diaspora might affect rules of fasting, while the document on marriage was supposed to consider problems related to mixed marriages and divorce, as well as the marriage of former monastics and re-marriage of widowed clergy. It is disappointing that most of our church leaders still respond to critical human – and especially sexual – issues with silence or denial. Thankfully, however, the Holy and Great Council correctly decided to resolve these issues within the context of “the Holy Synod of each autocephalous Orthodox Church according to the principles of the holy canons and in a spirit of pastoral discernment.”

12. Fos Fanariou: What about the principle of consensus. You have yourself stated that «the principle of consensus remains valid for the Orthodox Churches in attendance.» If these documents are not accepted by the Churches of Russia, Antioch, Bulgaria and Georgia, are they invalidated? What would happen in that case?

JC: I will not go into the legalistic procedure of the question of consensus, which has already been discussed so widely with regard to the acceptance of the council’s decisions and the reception of its documents. However, it is important to remember that the principle of consensus – albeit frequently misunderstood in the sense of unanimity – was accepted primarily and solely in order to allay the fears of some churches (large and small), which felt that their opinion would not be heard or respected. It was intended as a way of advancing conciliarity, and not a way of undermining it. In fact, however, it has never been the way in which councils functioned throughout history, especially during the first millennium.

But let me respond to your question in a different way. Everyone is eagerly awaiting what the absentee churches – of Bulgaria, Georgia, Antioch and Russia – will decide about the documents issued by the Holy and Great Council. Of course, it is important and imperative that these churches should study and receive the council’s decisions and documents. But we should also remember that none of the issues on the agenda of the council are in fact dogmatic in nature. Even the more narrow-minded circles that criticized the «panheresy of ecumenism» never believed that the council would formulate any new dogmatic definition! So I am not sure exactly what response the absent churches will offer. Will they question the importance of fasting or family and marriage? If they choose to condemn the non-Orthodox churches, what real effect will this have on relations among the various Christian churches? «Autonomy» and «Diaspora» were documents already agreed to, at least in principle, by all churches. Will Russia or Georgia question the proclamation of the Gospel to the world as this is articulated in the encyclical of the council? Or will Bulgaria or Antioch doubt the unity of the church underlined in the message of the council? We are not talking here of accepting «iconography» or condemning the «filioque.»

However, allow me to speak more sincerely as an Orthodox faithful and theologian, rather than as a spokesman for my church or the council. I was assigned a specific role and responsibility during the council, whereI served as press officer for the Ecumenical Patriarchate. But that is no longer the case.

Look, the Holy and Great Council was an exercise and opportunity for the fourteen autocephalous Orthodox Churches to demonstrate their readiness and willingness to assemble as one, united Church. And, quite frankly, I think we failed the test. People were obsessed with «who came?» and «who didn’t?» or «why»; «who signed?» and «who declined?»; «how will the absent churches react or respond to the decisions and documents?»; and even «whether the Council was Great or Pan-Orthodox?»

For me, all these questions pale before the visible and catholic unity of the Orthodox Churches, which should be the ultimate responsibility and priority in the heart, mind and practise of all of the local Orthodox churches. Most of our churches worked very hard to be on the right side of history. I feel that our churches clearly proved – both prior to and during the Holy and Great Council – where their priorities lay. If I am mistaken, we will surely know in the immediate future, when we see how the Assemblies of Bishops in the Diaspora (as the singular and palpable result of the preconciliar process) continue to function or grow.

13. Fos Fanariou: Why didn’t all the churches sign the documents about Marriage and its Impediments as well as on Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world?

JC: The most important achievement of the Holy and Great Council is that [most of]the autocephalous churches assembled together, while their primates and hierarchs entered into discussions with one another for the first time in history on such a broad and representative level. As long as the official churches signed the documents through their primate, it does not matter – in fact, it is a good thing – that not every single hierarch agreed or followed slavishly. After all, no one should obey blindly, following like sheep. Our bishops are shepherds, expected to lead.

As for people being scandalized that not every bishop attended and not every bishop signed, it would be incredible and inconceivable if the bishops of every local church were not in agreement with their primate, especially with regard to texts that were not doctrinal, at least in the narrow sense. And as I have already said, there was plenty room for discussion and disagreement.

But I really cannot underline enough the importance of simply gathering and being together «in one and the same place»! This is what the church is. This is what a council is. And this is what our life in Christ is. We speak of the need for forgiveness and reconciliation, and that is what the church is about. It is where all of us can be together in one and the same place. If our spiritual leaders cannot achieve this, then how can they possibly advise us to forgive and love one another?

14. Fos Fanariou: With regard to relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world, the document that was finally approved mentions in paragraph 12 that «in the theological dialogues the common goal of all is the ultimate restoration of unity in true faith and love”. If we take into account that the Orthodox Church possesses the truth, do you believe that it is possible for other Christian confessions to return to the state before the Schism of 1054? Are these confessions «churches»?

JC: I have never understood why this question suddenly became an issue in our church? It was never the case in the past – neither in the classical age of the great Fathers, nor in more recent works of respected theologians. I recall my professor in Athens, the late Nikos Nissiotis, who would say: «Then, what should we call them? Football clubs?»

I feel that there is an unhealthy form of competition for «genuine» orthodoxy within some circles and even among some churches. Why do we presume that someone who condemns other Christians is a «champion of orthodoxy», while someone who works for dialogue is a «traitor of orthodoxy»? It is very easy, and at the same time very dangerous, to compare our church leaders by counting how many times they refer to «heretics» or how many times they quote St. Mark of Ephesus. That is a very dishonest – and, I would say, even diabolical, in the sense of divisive – approach to relations among the Orthodox churches as well as our relations with other Christian churches.

15. Fos Fanariou: His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has for many years now struggled with faith and dedication for the unity of all Christians. How can he contribute toward this end?

JC: His All-Holiness has indeed worked very hard to establish positive relations with other Christian churches. The primates of other churches have done likewise. And it is not, as some malicious critics might say, for any ulterior motives. It is because dialogue and love are the essential characteristics of the Trinitarian God, the fundamental commandments of Christ to His disciples, and the life-giving oxygen or DNA of the Church.

16. Fos Fanariou: On July 28, 2016, Archbishop Job of Telmessos (who is of Ukrainian background) represented the Ecumenical Patriarchate on an official visit to President Poroschenko of Ukraine. Mr. Poroschenko has requested the support of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for the autocephaly of the Church in Ukraine. Would the Ecumenical Patriarchate accept or respond favorably as a result of Russia’s refusal to attend the Holy and Great Council?

JC: No, I am not sure that revenge is the way that the church functions. And I certainly know that it is not the way that His All-Holiness – as «first among equals» – responds to requests from specific individuals or churches. That is precisely why, when during the Synaxis of Primates in January 2016 His Beatitude Patriarch Kirill of Moscow expressed his fear that Constantinople would grant autocephaly to Ukraine, His All-Holiness Bartholomew immediately reassured him that such unfounded fears should never or in any way be permitted to blur the vision of Orthodox unity.

However, His All-Holiness also expressed to the Russian primate that, like Russia, Ukraine too was a daughter of Constantinople and that he could not ignore its horrible suffering over the last two years. There was neither any expression of apology or guilt for any activities by Constantinople’s clergy in Ukraine, nor any compromise by Constantinople to its honorable desire to end church politics in Ukraine, nor again any promise by Constantinople about diminishing its relationship with the Orthodox faithful of Ukraine. Indeed, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew underscored his historical and canonical right to respond to appeals or concerns from Orthodox faithful in Ukraine as the “daughter church” of Constantinople.

17. Fos Fanariou: Let’s talk about the «New Lands». During the council, we saw you reading the official statement of the Ecumenical Patriarchate with regard to the «New Lands» in Greece. Your actual words were: «The Ecumenical Patriarchate has no intention of granting autonomy to the Metropolitan diocese of the so-called New Lands, which canonically and spiritually belong to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, while their administration has been assigned to the Autocephalous Church of Greece». Will this arrangement be valid forever?

JC: His All-Holiness made a clear and courageous statement about the «New Lands» during the Holy and Great Council. I think that his statement speaks for itself. What I would like to underline, however, is the boldness with which the Ecumenical Patriarch did not mix any words in responding to His Beatitude Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens. Obviously, as in the case of Russia’s fear about Ukraine, this was a fear in certain circles of the Church of Greece, although noone wanted to express it in clear terms. Nevertheless, the Ecumenical Patriarch confidently removed any anxiety by speaking openly to Archbishop Ieronymos and explicitly denying any intention of Constantinople to pursue the autonomy of the New Lands.

Again, however, speaking on a personal level and by no means on any ecclesiastical or official level, I have to ask myself some questions. Ecclesiastical controversies and territorial altercations – important as they may be for the life of the Church from an ecclesiological or canonical perspective – ultimately very matter little if our vision is disconnected from the heartbeat of the world.

I may well be naive, but I have to admit that it is very difficult for me to reconcile the importance of Qatar for Antioch or the «New Lands» for Greece with the tragic loss of life in Syria or the bodies of infants washed ashore in the Mediterranean. How will the Church of Georgia justify their disapproval of «mixed marriages» when their absence «divorced» their faithful from the rest of the Orthodox world? How will the Church of Russia honestly reconcile their concern for Pan-Orthodox unity with their tolerance of aggression in Ukraine and Syria? And, in light of current geopolitical challenges facing many Orthodox Churches, how long can we really keep squabbling about who signed what document in the pre-conciliar process or the council itself? These are just my own personal concerns, although I do think they might also be on the minds of others.

18. Fos Fanariou: In one of the final documents of the Holy and Great Council, there is reference to the practise of fasting. The decision reads as follows: «Fasting for three or more days prior to Holy Communion is left to the discretion of the piety of the faithful, according to the words of Saint Nicodemus the Hagiorite». (Paragraph 9) Why is it that one spiritual father imposes a penance of an entire year’s absention from Holy Communion for a certain wrongdoing, while another imposes just a month or even a week? What is the appropriate criterion in such cases?

JC: I am glad you pose this question. Because there was a very inspiring – and actually very refreshing – moment during the Holy and Great Council, when Archimandrite Tikhon (Abbot of Stavronikita Monastery on Mt. Athos) was invited by His All-Holiness to address the assembly of bishops after a prolonged discussion about rules of fasting. What impressed me very profoundly was the compassion and oikonomia of this Athonite elder, who was actually the official representative of the Holy Community at the council. I was struck by the way in which Fr. Tikhon spoke about moderation and leniency, as well as about understanding and embracing the weakness of human nature. It seemed very clear to me that the only criterion – the only measure for any spiritual penalty or penance – was surely the mercy of God that we are all called to imitate and by which we shall all be judged.

Moreover, what was important about Fr. Tikhon’s words was that they came from someone living in a monastic community, from whom we might expect more severity and more akriveia, a more conservative or rigorous approach. By no means do I think that we should romanticize or idolize the monks of Mt. Athos. But this simple instance clearly demonstrated to me that Orthodox spirituality means authenticity and that holiness is wherever there is love.

19. Fos Fanariou: The final document related to the mission of the church in the contemporary world, in section 6 entitled «The Mission of the Orthodox Church as a Witness of Love through Service», there is reference to the ecological crisis. I know that you have been extensively involved in this matter. So how Orthodox theology propose a practical response to this crisis?

JC: Indeed, the ecological crisis is mentioned in the document on the Mission of the Church in the Contemporary World as well as in council’s Encyclical and Message. I have always admired the way that His All-Holiness [but also Metropolitan John of Pergamon]has treated the natural environment as a priority in his patriarchal ministry. The conviction is that humanity is not saved from the material or natural world, but only with it.

If we profess and proclaim that God «created the world out of love», if we contend and confess that the Word of God «assumed flesh and dwelt among us», and if we value and venerate sacred icons in our liturgy and worship, then we must also struggle for the transfiguration of the entire cosmos . . . to the last speck of dust!

20. Fos Fanariou: What is the mission of the Orthodox Church in the contemporary world? What are the challenges it must face and respond to?

JC: You quoted Metropolitan John earlier, saying that the «church is and lives in history». And I have just mentioned that the church is called to sanctify all of God’s creation, to realize the first fruits – the first glimpse – «on earth as it is in heaven», to proclaim the light and life of the risen Christ to a world surrounded by darkness and death.

We know this and we preach this. Yet, in the life of the church, so often we ignore or forget it. Sadly – even tragically – we focus on our triumphalism and our superiority, we condemn others with our dogmas or canons. We have created so many idols as church leaders and Orthodox believers – with our divided jurisdictions, our territorial disputes, and our pious arrogance – that we can no longer even discern the essential identity and ultimate purpose of the church. Perhaps part of our mission or vocation is sometimes to look in the mirror with humility and to reassess our priorities.

21. Fos Fanariou: How do you see the «morning after» the Holy and Great Council? Will a similar event ever be held in the future?

JC: «Behold, now is the acceptable time. Today is the day of salvation.» Time will surely tell whether the Orthodox churches really wanted to convene the Holy and Great Council. Time will reveal where the priorities of our church leaders lie. Will the life of each autocephalous churches continue as before – in isolation from others, preoccupied with their own issues and interests? Or will the churches accept and respect the «mind» of the Holy and Great Council – both those who attended and those who were absent; because all of them without exception were at least at some point on the same road «toward the Holy and Great Council»? Irrespective, then, of whether or when the next council will take place, will our churches continue to work toward greater conciliarity, toward more tangible communion? Or will they use the Holy and Great Council as a pretext or excuse to grow further apart, to harden their differences? I believe that all of our churches – and all of their leaders – owe a greater commitment and closer cooperation to their tradition, to their faithful, and to the world.

Fos Fanariou: Fr. John, it is an honor and privilege to interview you. You are a gifted clergyman of the Ecumenical Patriarchate; You haqve taught theology at the highest level; And you speak clearly and candidly on difficult issues. Thank you for your generosity in granting us your precious time to respond graciously to our questions and provide invaluable insights into this historical event in the life of our church. May God bless and strengthen you in your invaluable and multifaceted ministry.

JC: Thank you for your interest in the recent council but also in the way that it affects our church and our world.


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