06/11/2016, 12.30
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Growing number of churches say they will not participate in pan-Orthodox Synod

by Marta Allevato

In the footsteps of Bulgaria, Antioch and Georgia now the Patriarchate of Serbia says it is in favor of postponing Crete gathering. Meanwhile, Moscow does not send its representative to the preparatory work of the Council’s final document, and on June 13 will decide its official position.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The extraordinary meeting of the Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate to decide on the participation of the Russian Orthodox Church in the Crete pan-Orthodox council will be held Monday, June 13. This was announced on the Patriarchate website, while the number of local churches declaring their defection grows.

On June 9, the Patriarchate of Serbia sent a letter to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I - responsible for coordinating the preparations for the Council - saying "it sees obstacles" to their participation and proposes the appointment already set (16 to 26 June) become a  Pan-Orthodox 'consultation', in view of the real Council, to be held at this point after amending "most" of the documents on which have provoked the discontent of various Churches.

Before the Serbs, Bulgaria and the Patriarchate of Antioch had announced their absence from Crete. These were then joined by the Georgian Church, contrary in particular to one of the documents that the Council is set to enact: It regards relations between the Orthodox and other Christian denominations. Opponents of the text criticize the "ecumenical" position and insist that Catholic and Protestant heretics and not be "defined as Churches ". The Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (Roca) has pointed the finger at the "serious shortcomings" of the documents, and amendments have been proposed by the monks of Mount Athos.

Given this fragmentation, some days ago, the Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate had asked on June 10, for the convocation of an " extraordinary pre-conciliar pan-Orthodox meeting", aimed at assessing the amendments drawn up by national churches on disputed documents and the possible need to postpone it. The idea, however, was rejected by Constantinople, who initially tried to limit the discussion of texts as much as possible, already the result of extensive work that ended last January with a meeting of 14 heads of Churches autocephalous Orthodox in Chambésy, Switzerland.

Pending the meeting of the Synod of the Moscow Patriarchate the chairman of the Synodal Department for external church relations, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeev), decided not to leave for Crete, where he was expected on June 9 to start the work for the preparation of final documents of the Council. "Given that a number of churches does not find it worthwhile sending its representatives to take part in composing the message of the Pan-Orthodox Council, the Russian church has decided that the participation of its representative is untimely as long as issues of the feasibility of convening the council itself are unresolved"a source told the Ria Novosti agency on June 10.

The same source reported that Moscow has received, on June 9, the official refusal from Constantinople to its proposed extraordinary pan-Orthodox meeting and that now it "intends to carefully study positions of other churches and listen to the expressed opinions". The Ecumenical Patriarchate in Moscow message, concludes the source, explains that Constantinople is aware of the problems raised by the Russian Church, is trying to solve them and is satisfied that all the churches in the end will take part in the Council.

The pan-Orthodox council has not convened for over 1000 years and the preparations for its implementation required more than 50 years. Participants should promulgate six documents on as many issues: the relationship of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world; fasting and its observance; the sacrament of marriage; the Church's mission in the contemporary world; the spiritual leader in the Diaspora and the autocephaly and ways of proclaiming it. Russian Patriarch Kirill, responding to the detractors of the Crete event  has for months been officially keen to stress that it will not be an "ecumenical" council, because the agenda does not include the resolution of doctrinal questions, and will not introduce innovations in liturgical life of the Church, or to its canonical structure.

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