06/30/2015, 00.00
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The ecumenism of blood and Orthodox divisions

by Fady Noun
At a time when Christians, Catholics and Orthodox, suffer persecution in the Middle East, the Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch decided to break the communion with the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Their rivalry is not theological, but jurisdictional, over the faithful in Qatar. The pan-Orthodox Synod is being held up by the jealousy of Russian Orthodox. Having a common date to celebrate Easter is important.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - How do divisions in the Church come about? The final statement of the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church, held in Balamand (23-26 June 2015), provides a brief outline on the preparations of the Great Council of autocephalous Orthodox Churches, the pan-Orthodox Synod. However, right after it says that one of the factors that hinder it is the "territorial" conflict that opposes the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch to that of Jerusalem over the Greek Orthodox Church in Qatar.

The statement said that according to an agreement in principle signed in Athens in June 2013, Qatar is under the jurisdiction of Antioch; however, Jerusalem continues to ignore it. Because of this, the Patriarchate of Antioch decided to break the communion that binds it to the Patriarchate of Jerusalem until further notice.

The crisis between Antioch and Jerusalem broke out after the episcopal ordination of Archimandrite Makarios of Jerusalem as Metropolitan of Qatar, even though this area of ​​the Gulf comes under the jurisdiction of Antioch.

The Patriarchate of Antioch made the disagreement public on 13 March 2013 at Balamand. It condemned the decision of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, "hoping that it (Antioch) would not be forced to adopt a stance that could lead to the break of the communion" if the decision is not revoked. Now this is where we stand.

At a time when the eyes of the whole world see to the danger that threatens the millennial presence of Christians in the Middle East, two Churches continue the work of division. In a recent statement, Bartholomew I, Patriarch of Constantinople, confirmed that the Great Orthodox Council would take place at Pentecost 2016 in Istanbul. Unfortunately, it is common knowledge that this Council, which Patriarch of Constantinople Athenagoras wished to see happen in 1961 (54 years ago!), has been blocked for a long time by the Moscow Patriarchate, which rivals the patriarchate of Constantinople.

Custodians of the Holy Places

As for the break of the communion between Antioch and Jerusalem, it should be noted that the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, which includes jurisdiction over Israel, Palestine, Jordan and the Sinai, has never been important in terms of membership. However, it has always had a special place within the Orthodox Church for its role as custodian of the holy places in Jerusalem. Yet, the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem – an anomaly in the Arab world – is a Greek!

At present, when the break in the communion is a done deal, we can ask ourselves whether such a break is justified by the territorial conflict over Qatar. Some Orthodox circles point out that the difference between Antioch and Jerusalem is part of two broader geopolitical clashes. For Antioch, the patriarch of Jerusalem should be an Arab and not a Greek. Some countries like Qatar grant more easily visas to Orthodox clergymen from Athens than to those from Antioch, noting that the Greek Orthodox patriarchate of Antioch has its headquarters in Damascus, where President Bashar Assad rules. Thus, the Orthodox Church remains mired in the struggle between regional and international powers, each with its own economic and political interests, subject to the vagaries of rivalries and antagonisms, foreign to its mission.

No doubts about it, at the level of the hierarchy, Church unity is advancing at a snail's pace, whilst the people of the faithful, martyred, deported, killed, no longer understands such reasons, and call for unity.

The date of Easter

The proof is the enthusiastic welcome with which Pope Francis’ stance in favour of a single date for Easter for all Christians was received. Francis announced it during informal talks, pointing out that the Eastern churches celebrate Easter according to the Julian calendar, abandoned by the Latin Church in the 16th century in favour of the Gregorian calendar, and therefore for practical reasons, without any dogmatic importance.

Reacting to Francis’ proposal, Patriarch Tawadros II, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, said he was in favour of a common date for the celebration of Easter, noting that this problem 'had no implications in terms of faith or doctrine."

The same goes for the disagreements (and rivalry) between Antioch and Jerusalem or Moscow and Constantinople, at a time when believers in the Middle East, Catholic and Orthodox, are experiencing the "ecumenism of blood."

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