Orthodox Churches begin journey toward their grand synod
by NAT da Polis
The meeting in Constantinople produced the decision to call a series of preparatory meetings within the next year. In the final document, the economic and social crisis, the religion-science relationship, the family. Positive comments from participants.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) - To call within 2009, at the proposal of the ecumenical patriarch, a series of pan-Orthodox meetings to prepare for the Orthodox grand synod, awaited for centuries, and to prepare to face in a collegial manner the challenges of a world that is increasingly globalized in economic terms, but not in human terms. These are the objectives that Orthodoxy is proposing for itself at the conclusion of the pan-Orthodox meeting in Constantinople, which closed with a concelebration, convened by the ecumenical patriarch get to celebrate the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of the apostle Paul.

The objectives are indicated in an important document signed by all of the leaders and representatives of the Orthodox Churches, according to the canons of the Church itself, on the basis of collegiality. The approved text - drafted in part by metropolitan archbishops Ioannis Ziziulas of Pergamon, Anastasios of Albania, and Kyril of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, and inspired by the introductory address of ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew - is extensive and detailed, summarizing a variety of issues, like the economic and social crisis, the religion-science relationship, the family, among the causes of the evils affecting today's world.

The document begins with a self-criticism of the dependance of these Churches on nationalist ideas, with the resulting loss of influence on questions afflicting society. It then confronts political-economic and social issues, denouncing the disparity between rich and poor, which is being increased dramatically by the economic crisis, due in the first place to speculation, which is devoid of sensitivity and humane dimensions, and for this reason does not serve true human needs, but rather is at the service of individuals. The interests of the individual are given preference over the sacredness of human existence, and in consequence, of creation. A sustainable economy is one that combines effectiveness with justice and social solidarity. Development that is not based on the equal participation of individuals and peoples in the good of creation inevitably leads to the humiliation of the human person, and is the cause of migration, nationalism, division, and social and religious conflicts, and ends up threatening the cohesion of society.

As for the relationship between science and faith, the statement continues, the Orthodox Church has avoided setting itself up as the master of scientific research, or taking positions on any sort of scientific question. According to the Orthodox faith, it continues, freedom of inquiry constitutes a divine gift. But true scientific research, far from egocentrism, must take account of and respect human dignity. Greed for satisfying nothing but material needs leads to the impoverishment of the human soul. Because creation also belongs to the future generations.

As for the family, the Church, in a spirit of understanding toward the new social conditions, must allow young couples to participate actively in the work that it performs, because they constitute its present and future.

There is also a reference to the concept of the secular state, where the statement says that the principles on which the existence of the secular state is based do not mean that religion must be pushed away from the social life of men.

Finally, it is affirmed that the Orthodox world must take up its responsibilities, together with the other religions and with nonbelievers, in regard to the current crisis, because it has tolerated human decisions made without any criteria. And it recalls that Christian teaching - because of the ontological unity of the human race and creation, as expressed by the work of salvation of our Lord - constitutes the cornerstone of the relationship in God and man. It further says that evangelization is the duty of the Church, but must be done in love, modesty, and respect for the cultural identity of the other.

And precisely in order to face these challenges, the statement concludes, the Orthodox Church must continue in its traditional collegial operation, as provided by its own canons, resolving internal discrepancies in a spirit of peace and charity, continuing both religious dialogue with the other Christian confessions and interreligious dialogue, since the various divisions are a threat to peace. Support is confirmed for all of the initiatives of Constantinople for the protection of the environment, in addition to any initiative of the other Orthodox Churches seeking the same purpose, with the announcement of the formation of a pan-Orthodox question on questions of bioethics.

The comments on the meeting are positive. Metropolitan archbishop Kyril of Smolensk says that the meeting was truly very important and was a good sign, for expressing the life of the local Orthodox Churches and of Orthodoxy in general. "I am happy," he added, "to be here to thank the ecumenical patriarch for his opening address," and he concluded that "the pan-Orthodox meeting of 2009 will provide the instruments to improve Orthodox life." The chairman of the Ukrainian Church, Cyril, tells AsiaNws that "there are differences, but not opposition," and that "the meeting in Kiev and the one today have marked a shift." The metropolitan archbishop of Pergamon, Ioannis Zizioulas, tells AsiaNews that "we are at a turning point, and we must not hesitate any longer," while Anastasios of Albania, referring to dialogue with Catholics, tells us that "the people are demanding this, and cannot wait for full communion." The archbishop from Greece, Ieronimos, tells us that "this was very important work, which will provide results not only for the Orthodox, but for all."


An important Catholic figure present at the liturgy, who wanted to remain anonymous, comments that the speech by Bartholomew and the statement recalled a remark that Paul VI made while he was archbishop of Milan: it used to be that the bells would ring and the people would go to church, now the factory whistles blow and we must go there to find the faithful. He meant that the Church must not remain closed off in its places of worship, but must go to meet society, because the true Church is made up the faithful, and not only of priests.


Ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew, finally, emphasized the importance of listening and dialogue.