The recognition of the Catholic Church as a true Church will be discussed in the next two days. So far, the meeting has agreed on the Orthodox Church’s mission in the world, fasting, impediments to marriage, and Churches’ declarations of autonomy. New national bishops’ conferences will include bishops from various rites and nations.
Crete (AsiaNews) – As the Pan-Orthodox Synod approaches its final day on Sunday, its proceedings continue at the Orthodox Academy in Crete, a beautiful location that only monks, whatever their religion, could pick, a Catholic representative said.
The initial distrust – due to the absence of some churches – has dissipated, and all the delegates are keenly participating in discussions patiently chaired by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
The Bartholomew’s role
Discreetly, the patriarch has encouraged all those present to join in the discussions without having to limit themselves to any established time constraint. He has also something good to say about everyone. This highlights what Bartholomew himself had said in his opening address, namely that the essence of the Church is synodal.
In saying this, he noted that this is no “mere repeating a simple canonical tradition that we are preserving, but is a fundamental theological truth, applied by the Church since its apostolic origin."
With some bitterness, the patriarch also mentioned the fact that the Fourth Ecumenical Synod had found offensive the attitude of those who failed to respect their own word. The reference is to the absent Churches, which had previously agreed to take part in the meeting.
Questions of dogma were addressed in the early ecumenical synods. This Pan-Orthodox synod is addressing instead issues on the exercise of faith, and on what answers the Orthodox Church can provide to the problems of contemporary society.
For Patriarch Bartholomew, "Orthodoxy’s contribution and answer must be collegial, not individual, by each Church". For this reason, he has gone out of his way to convene this Synod.
"We have to show that we are one Church,” said Bartholomew. “Whilst we respect cultural diversity, we are not a confederation of churches. The Church expresses the salvific message of the human person in the world.”
Theologian Zizioulas Ioannis, Metropolitan of Pergamon, added that we must not forget "the eschatological meaning of the life of the human person".
The issues discussed include the mission of the Orthodox Church in contemporary society, the Diaspora, the proclamation of autonomy of a Church, fasting, and impediments to marriage.
With respect to the Church's mission in contemporary society, the document approved in Chambesy and signed by 14 Church representatives in January of 2016 was accepted with some minor changes.
The text is very interesting, because it was formulated with input from various non-clerical Orthodox thinkers.
It covers the Diaspora, i.e. the Orthodox ecclesiastic administration outside national borders as a result of migration.
Until now each national Church appointed its own bishops in every foreign country, so that paradoxically the same country could have several Orthodox bishops of different national origins.
This has had the effect of accentuating national distinctiveness over confessional unity. This is a legacy of phyletism, which was condemned at the Synod of Constantinople in 1872, for it confuses religion with patriotism and nationalism.
Although things will stay at they are for now, plans are in the works to set up Bishops’ conferences in every foreign country, chaired by a representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate or another bishop, respectful of the order of hierarchical canons of the Orthodox Churches.
As for granting autonomy to a church within the tradition of an Orthodox country, the authority will belong to the Church of that country, upholding nevertheless traditional Orthodox principles.
Fasting has been a bone of contention between conservatives and progressives. The former are inspired by a more monastic tradition; the latter moved more by their more pastoral experience. In the end, the traditional orthodox approach to ecclesiastic economy prevailed, so without moving away from established rules, bishops will be allowed to examine specific circumstances and grant exceptions.
The same applies to the issue of impediments to marriage; in particular, that of widowed priests. In principle, existing canons continue to apply – no remarriage – but bishops will have some leeway, based on pastoral experience, to assess individual cases and grant exemptions.
Relations with the Catholic Church
Over the next two days, the relationship between the Orthodox and Catholic Church will be a crucial topic of discussion.
Within the Orthodox Churches some bishops, from various backgrounds, view themselves as the successors of Bishop Mark Eugenicus of Ephesus (1392-1444), who was opposed to unity between Rome and Constantinople. It is likely that they will be against recognising the Church of Rome as a true Church, and this despite the fact that their respective Churches participate in the ecumenical dialogue.
Despite the influence of such individuals, self-centred and fearful of the universal opening of the Christian faith, there is a widespread feeling that this Pan-Orthodox Synod is the beginning of a series of future synods, which, out of strong belief in direct talks, will help overcome entrenched positions based on anachronistic considerations. The thousand-year ice has begun to melt.