After the Bulgarian and Georgian Churches and the Patriarchate of Antioch raised some issues, Moscow proposed a pre-Council meeting on 10 June, which in turn led to concerns that the Council in Crete might be postponed. For the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate, Moscow might now send a low-level delegation, headed by Hilarion, not Patriarch Kirill.
Moscow (AsiaNews) – Despite a request by the Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate for a special Pan-Orthodox Pre-Council conference to discuss the opportunity of holding the Pan-Orthodox Council on the designated date, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople said that the Pan-Orthodox Council will go ahead as planned on 19 June, the day of Pentecost in the Julian calendar.
"The Sacred [. . .] Synod was informed with surprise and wonder of the positions and opinions expressed recently by some sister Orthodox Churches and, after evaluating these, ascertained that no institutional framework allows for the revision of the Synodal process already under way,” said the Chief Secretariat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in a statement cited by the Tass news agency.
The threat of defection by some Orthodox Churches (i.e. the Bulgarian and Georgian Churches) had raised the possibilities that the Council might be postponed in order to change some aspects of the documents that the Council of Crete plans to promulgate after a lengthy and arduous process.
The points of contention are the documents on the sacrament of marriage, the Orthodox Churches in the contemporary world and the relationship with other Christian denominations, Interfax reported.
Critics have criticised the documents’ “ecumenical’ approach, and insist that Catholics and Protestants are heretics, not Churches. The Patriarchate of Antioch also expressed its own grievances, mostly related to a jurisdictional dispute with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem over the Orthodox in Qatar.
In light of this, the Russian Orthodox Church had proposed to hold a special meeting to evaluate the amendments proposed by national churches to the documents to be promulgated at the Council. However, the Orthodox authorities in Constantinople decided against it.
The Ecumenical Council has sought to limit discussions of the documents prepared at the meeting of 14 heads of autocephalous Orthodox Churches in Chambésy, Switzerland, in January.
"Now the ball goes back into the Moscow Patriarchate’s court,” said Archbishop Evstraty, spokesman for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate, on Facebook.
For him, “the wisest" thing to do is to agree that all these issues must be decided at the Council in Crete, not at separate meetings, with the Bulgarian and Antioch Churches urged to come.
The second and "perhaps the most likely" option is "to continue to keep everyone on tenterhooks until the last moment, trying to get the most out of Constantinople in order to be present at the Council and share in the results. This option would see the Moscow Patriarchate send a less than full delegation led by Metropolitan Hilarion (the Patriarchate’s “foreign minister”) rather than Patriarch Kirill.
The third and "saddest" option would be to oppose and boycott the Council, and try to convince the other churches to do the same.
Ultimately, "Without the Russian Orthodox Church and three or four more Churches, the Council can go ahead, but it will no longer be a symbol of Orthodox unity, but rather of division,” the Ukrainian archbishop said.
A Pan-Orthodox Council has not been convened for more than a thousand years. Preparations for this one have been going on for decades.
In 2014, Orthodox spiritual leaders decided to hold it at St. Irene, Constantinople’s ancient cathedral, where the Second Ecumenical Council of the undivided Church (in 553) was held, unless unforeseen circumstances dictated otherwise.
For the Russian Orthodox Church, the Turkish city became "inconvenient” after tensions broke out between Moscow and Ankara following Turkey’s downing a Russian plane on its border with Syria.
This led to the decision to hold the Council on the Greek island of Crete, which comes under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople.