This week, for the first time in many decades, the Patriarchs of the world’s Eastern Orthodox communion congregated in Switzerland to discuss many vital issues. Rather than being designated as an “Ecumenical Council“, which typically focusses on dogma and heresy, this meeting is known as a “Synaxis” (Greek for “meeting”) and is somewhat administrative in flavour, notwithstanding significant theological issues to be discussed. Since the last major congregation of the Church’s patriarchs, many historical developments have created challenges and opportunities for our autocephalous administrations around the world. The collapse of communist dictatorship in eastern Europe and Russia has been conducive to many tens of millions of people returning home to the Church without fear of persecution. The increased freedom of movement of people from country to country over the past century has seen the Orthodox faith spread beyond its traditional milieu in eastern Europe, Russia and the Middle East, and indeed spreading throughout ethnic groups not hitherto identified as Orthodox. However, this has created issues of overlapping jurisdictions, and duplicated missionary and charitable efforts. For these issues to be ironed out in a single week would be a Herculean task, but the unanimous will of the Patriarchs to meet on neutral territory to seriously address these issues is a very positive initiative.
His Holiness Patriarch Ilia II of Georgia and our beloved parish priest from Tbilisi, Father Giorgi Zviadadze of Sioni Cathedral and the Tbilisi Theological Academy, can be seen in the video.
The Georgian Church has numerous parishes outside Georgia’s borders, operating under its authority, but of course in places like France, Britain or the United States, they operate side-by-side with parishes under the authority of Constantinople or many other Patriarchates, all of which are attempting to service the needs of their diaspora as well as evangelising the local population. How potential conflicts or indeed competition between parishes of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church within one city or region may be mitigated is beyond the author’s knowledge, but with God’s help such issues may be resolved.
The persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria, be they of our Eastern Orthodox confession or another Christian group, was of course a major issue to address. Likewise, the fraternal conflict in eastern Ukraine between Orthodox brethren is very distressing for all concerned. The tension between the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine and others regarding the status of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church(Kiev Patriarchate) and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (neither of which have been formally universally recognised as a canonical churches by the Church) , will be an issue that may take many years to resolve.
The Ecumenical Patriarchate’s press release is provided in full below.
At the invitation of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Synaxis of Primates of the Orthodox Autocephalous Churches took place at the Orthodox Center of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Chambésy, Geneva, from 21st to 28th January, 2016. The following Primates attended:
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
Patriarch Theodore of Alexandria
Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem
Patriarch Kirill of Moscow
Patriarch Irinej of Serbia
Patriarch Daniel of Romania
Patriarch Neophyte of Bulgaria
Patriarch Ilia of Georgia
Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus
Archbishop Anastasios of Albania
Archbishop Rastislav of the Czech Lands and Slovakia
The following Primates were unable to attend: Their Beatitudes Patriarch John X of Antioch and Metropolitan Sawa of Warsaw and All Poland, for health reasons, and Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece, for personal reasons. Nevertheless, all three were represented by official delegations of their Churches.
The Primates of the Orthodox Churches convened to finalize the texts for the Holy and Great Council. In the framework of the Synaxis, on Sunday, 24th January, a Divine Liturgy was held at the Holy Stavropegic Church of St. Paul. Along with the Ecumenical Patriarch, who presided, Their Beatitudes and Heads of the delegations of the Orthodox Churches concelebrated the Liturgy, with the exception of the Head of the delegation of the Patriarchate of Antioch.
During the Synaxis, whose sessions were held in the apostolic spirit of “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4.15), in concord and understanding, the Primates affirmed their decision to convene the Holy and Great Council. The Council will be held at the Orthodox Academy of Crete from June 16th to 27th, 2016. To this end, the Primates humbly invoke the grace and blessing of the Holy Trinity and fervently invite the prayers of the fullness of the Church, clergy and laity, for the period leading to and the sessions of the Holy and Great Council.
The items officially approved for referral to and adoption by the Holy and Great Council are: The Mission of the Orthodox Church in the Contemporary World, The Orthodox Diaspora, Autonomy and its Manner of Proclamation, The Sacrament of Marriage and its Impediments, The Significance of Fasting and its Application Today, and Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World. By decision of the Primates, all approved documents will be published.
The Primates also discussed and determined the establishment of a Panorthodox Secretariat, the by-laws of the Council, the participation of non-Orthodox observers in the opening and closing sessions, and the budgetary costs related the Council.
Moreover, the Primates expressed their support for the persecuted Christians of the Middle East and their ongoing concern for the abduction of the two Metropolitans, Paul Yazigi of the Patriarchate of Antioch and Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syriac Archdiocese.
The proceedings of the Synaxis of the concluded on Wednesday evening, January 27th, 2016, with the closing address by its President, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.
At the Orthodox Center of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Chambésy-Geneva, 27th January, 2016
From the Secretariat of the Sacred Synaxis.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s homily provides very sound context for the recently concluded activities. For those interested in more detailed administrative issues, His All Holiness’ keynote address can be read here
We are now standing at the crossroads of history. For the major difficulties that our contemporaries are encountering require responsibility that exceeds our ecclesial institutions. Christ is in the midst of history. Christ is in the heart of our life. He walks within time. He passes by us, just as He did in Jericho with the blind man. According to today’s Gospel reading, can we hear him in the crowd? Can we see him, lost as we are in our poverty and mendacity? According to the commentary of St. Ephrem the Syrian, “when our Lord saw that the eyes of the blind man’s heart were open while the eyes of his body were blind, He enlightened the eyes of the body just as those of the heart in order that when the blind man chose to hasten towards Him, he would clearly see his Saviour.”
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