Historic Orthodox decision, migrant communities to have their own bishops’ conferences
According to existing rules, Orthodox believers living outside their country of origin fall under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. However, the large-scale migration that followed the collapse of the Iron Curtain generated quite a few problems to those who are in charge of Orthodox life in the Diaspora because of the very close association of the Christian message to the ethnic origin of the faithful, a situation that has often been misunderstood or exploited with political and economic repercussions.
By a unanimous decision, Orthodox bishops’ conferences will be set up in the Diaspora and come under the chairmanship of the oldest metropolitan in Constantinople. If he is absent, then he will be replaced according to the canons of ecclesiology. The creation of new bishops’ conferences will thus reflect the new circumstances that have emerged in the Diasporic world.
All decisions will have to be based on the principle of unanimity of all Churches, each of which will be represented by their own bishops. Members in bishops’ conference will be bishops recognised by all Orthodox Churches. Constantinople will remain the coordinating centre for all the conferences.
A clear signal of the new situation came when it was reported that Kyrill, the new Patriarch of Moscow, will make his first foreign trip to Constantinople on 4 July.
The proceedings, chaired and skilfully directed by the Metropolitan of Pergamon Ioannis Ziziulas, took place in a calm and constructive atmosphere, like never before, and were permeated by a desire to finally set a common path for Orthodoxy as a whole in the face of the challenges of today’s world
The proceedings thus confirmed the turning point reached in October of last year in Constantinople when the Pan-Orthodox meeting, strongly backed by Bartholomew, laid down guidelines for the Orthodox world. Behind the scene, Kyrill and his predecessor, Aleksij, contributed to the effort. For the latter it was also his last trip.
Certainly, some sources noted that given its age-old experience Constantinople had already anticipated what is happening now when Bartholomew opened the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 2004 to include bishops from the Diaspora, and not only from Turkey. In doing so he was highlighting the role of collective management of Orthodox affairs.
Several times in the past Bartholomew had already expressed a desire to see someone who was not a Turkish citizen become Patriarch and be granted Turkish citizenship afterwards.
In his Sunday reflection Patriarch Bartholomew reiterated the importance of the Geneva proceedings, making clear that through these proceedings the Orthodox Church is preparing to work as one in the face of the demands and challenges of today’s world and this without becoming secularised.
Monsignor Dositheos of the Ecumenical Patriarchate Communications Bureau told us that a very important step forward had been taken, and that a number of messages had been sent out in every direction.
With such a step one truth is renewed and reiterated, namely that love and dialogue are at the heart of the Christian message. And this context communicating free from pre-established formulae is a sign of liberty, which is the very foundation of Christian thinking. Consequently, no importance should be given to any form of Talibanism that might exist among some Christians and denominations, whatever its nature or origin.
As for the future, the next meeting has already been set for mid-December, again in Geneva. Several issues on the agenda will be tackled, like the rules for granting the status of autocephaly to a Church or recognising its autonomy; the application of Dipticha, the rules of mutual canonical recognition among Orthodox Churches; the establishment of a single calendar with the same dates (to avoid the situation of having some Churches celebrate Christmas on 25 December and others almost two weeks later); impediments and canonicity of the sacrament of marriage; fasting in today’s world; relations with other Christian denominations; the ecumenical movement; and Orthodox contributions to asserting the Christian ideal of peace, brotherhood and liberty.