Friday, June 17, 2016

Disappointed? That is the understatement of the millennium!

A week or so ago I got quite excited.

One of my enthusiasms as a Christian is for church unity. ADU has banged the ecumenical drum these years of its existence. To be frank, most Christians I talk to about these things are pessimistic about the chances of much changing in real ecumenical terms. My optimism is no doubt, privately, treated as some early sign of madness.

Here's the thing, the pessimists this week are right!!

My excitement was fuelled by noticing two articles (here and here) on what was then a forthcoming major, major Orthodox ecumenical event, 55 years in the making, designed to inch all Eastern Orthodox churches towards unity, and not just any kind of unity, but the unit which would shape these churches up for the mother and father of ecumenical encounters, East with (Roman) West.

But then a kindly correspondent drew my attention to this article in The Guardian.

"After an interlude of more than a millennium, 55 years of careful planning, and within days of its opening, the first global gathering of Orthodox churches since the year 787 is teetering on the brink of collapse amid dissent and power struggles.
The historic “holy and great council” of the world’s 14 self-governing Orthodox churches, due to begin in Crete on Sunday, may not go ahead after five pulled out.
The unravelling of the week-long Pan-Orthodox Council, which has been in preparation since 1961, began with Bulgaria saying earlier this month it wanted a postponement, citing disagreements over the agenda."

Certain swear words spring to mind which go well with "Bulgarians".

As for the Russians ...

For another report on the matter of meltdown of the proposed council, see here. Bosco Peters has posted here. There is a very good YouTube interview here (H/T Andrei in comment below). The latest commentary from Alexander Lucie-Smith is here, where he observes that fear of modernity drives the meltdown and notes three terrific reasons for church unity. I feel a post coming on for next week ...

Incidentally, I am all for one church or set of churches declaring itself the "true" church and simultaneously declaring all other "churches" to be false pretenders, anathematizing them in fact as "non churches." According to this logic I belong to the one and only true church. It is perfect in every way, doctrinally, liturgically, morally, ecclesiologically. It only has one member. And you can't join it in case you wreck it :)


Andrei said...

There is a lot more to this than you can possibly know Peter - you only heard about this a few days ago and filtered through the lens of publications like the Guardian - no friend to the Christian Faith particularly conservative variants of it

The move to have certain documents amended has been going on for a long time driven at a grass roots level from places like Mount Athos but it has been a case of "full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes"

We live in a fallen world which is why we have Christian disunity which is not helped when politicians meddle in Church affairs to advance their own temporal agendas.

There is a lot more going on here than meets the eye

Peter Carrell said...

I am sure you are right, Andrei!

For instance, picking up on just one aspect of the reports, the apparent fear that a renewed unity would be a stepping stone to rapprochement with the Roman Catholic church, I am aware that there is a varied cultural-political situation in Eastern European countries such that strengthening the hand of local Roman Catholic churches could weaken the role of the indigenous Orthodox church.

Nevertheless, it does seem a grave pity that 55 years of work towards this event would appear to be so easily undone in a few days ...

Please let us know of links to reports which offer more insight that what I have collated thus far.

Anonymous said...

Peter, what more is there to understand? After 55 years' preparation the Orthodox leaders cannot organise themselves. You can't dress that up.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Nick
I wouldn't want to "dress that up" on the simple point that the Orthodox are demonstrating a very flawed understanding of "church" if that involves staking a claim as to "true church" versus "false church" or even "non-church" because "true church" means a church united in Christ. Either the Orthodox believe that "their church" is the one true Orthodox church or they get together to strengthen the claim that all the Orthodox churches represent and express the one, true church.

Anglicans, of course, make a very modest claim, by comparison, to being on the way to union, a journey with many pitfalls and hopeful restarts :)

Andrei said...

Nevertheless, it does seem a grave pity that 55 years of work towards this event would appear to be so easily undone in a few days

It hasn't been undone in a "few days" Peter the contention over the documents and various other issues have been years in the making

I could link to documents discussing this but they are not in English and require a background knowledge you might lack

This might help though

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrei
Fair response (and great interview - I have added a link to the main post).
Ok, it hasn't been "undone" in a few days, and there is every prospect (as always!) of a postponed event succeeding.
But it is true, is it not, that the sudden rush to postpone has been in the last few days/weeks?
That does seem sad after 55 years; and the nature of the disputes (incomprehensible as they may be, without background papers in languages we do not understand) do raise a question why they are mountains and not molehills the pathway to the council has to traverse.

Andrei said...

But it is true, is it not, that the sudden rush to postpone has been in the last few days/weeks?

I guess Peter everybody wanted this to go ahead and hoped to get the issues resolved and when they were not able to be started to withdraw

None of this preamble was of interest to the Guardian so you were unaware of it

Indeed had everything gone smoothly would have the Guardian et al bothered with reporting on it at all?

There hasn't been a Council for over 1200 years so what is it in the scheme of things if it has to wait for a year or two, or a decade or two or longer before there is another one - we can just carry on serving the Lord as best we can

Peter Carrell said...

There does seem an element here, Andrei, of Bartholomew losing patience and perspective when the "prize" of forming the council was within his grasp.

I quite agree, what is another couple of years in the greater scheme of things.

Father Ron Smith said...

"What is another couple of years in the greater scheme of things (?)" - Peter -

Now, where have I heard that before - about a scheme nearer to home, about an entirely different issue. Whatever happened to the quest to 'redeem the time'?

Anonymous said...

Peter; HAH the Ecumenical Patriarch is our best bet for any hope of reconciliation. He is like Francis; exceedingly rare. Other Orthodox bishops have some very orthodox views. Taking into account that official Orthodox teaching considers Rome heretical and Canterbury an heretical nullity, we might pray that the Council take place. A few years in the scheme of things probably means another 50 for the Orthodox, who have the endless Russian politics. It could be worse; Germany could be Orthodox as well!


Andrei said...

His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia has sent a message to the Primates and representative of Local Orthodox Churches who have assembled in the Island of Crete. Below is the full text of the message.

To His Holiness Bartholomew

Archbishop of Constantinople – the New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch

To their Holinesses and Beatitudes the Primates of Holy Churches of God

To archpastors, pastors, monastics and laity who have assembled on the Island of Crete

Your Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew,

Your Holinesses and Beatitudes,

The Most Reverend Fellow-Archpastors,

The Honorable Representatives of Local Orthodox Churches:

I cordially greet you on behalf of the Russian Orthodox Church and on behalf of the Orthodox faithful in Russia, Ukraine, Belorussia, Moldova and other countries, who comprise the vast flock of the Moscow Patriarchate.

Brothers, we all are the one Body of Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 12:27). We have received the priceless gift of unity from the Lord and our Saviour Jesus Christ Himself. To preserve this gift is one of our principal tasks; it is a direct commandment of our Saviour’ (Jn. 17:21).

Let us not be confused by the fact that the opinions of Sister-Churches about the convocation of the Holy and Great Council have been divided. According to St. Paul, there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized (1 Cor. 11:19). In the days of preparations for the Council, such differences have become fully revealed, but we must not allow them to weaken the God-commanded unity, to grow into an inter-church conflict, to bring division and trouble into our ranks. We remain one Orthodox family and together we all bear responsibility for the fate of Holy Orthodoxy.

It is my profound conviction that the Churches, both those who have decided to go to Crete and those who have refrained from it, made their decisions in good conscience, and for this reason we must respect the position of each of them.

The Russian Orthodox Church has always proceeded from the conviction that the voice of any Local Church, be it large or small, old or new, should not be neglected. The absence of the Church of Antioch’s consent to convene the Council means that we have not reached pan-Orthodox consensus. We cannot ignore the voices of the Georgian, Serbian and Bulgarian Churches either, who have spoken for a postponement of the Council to a later date.

I trust that if there is a good will, the meeting in Crete can become an important step towards overcoming the present differences. It can make its own contribution to the preparation of that Holy and Great Council which will unite all the Local Autocephalous Churches without exception and become a visible reflection of the unity of the Holy Orthodox Church of Christ, for which our predecessors, who blissfully passed away, prayed and which they expected.

We assure you that our prayers will be with you in the days of the work ahead of you.

With great love in Christ,



Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Andrei - there is a lot of hope and goodwill in that statement!

Jean said...

If it helps I was rather encouraged this last week after reading a piece regarding Christian history about how Catholics and Anglicans beheaded Anabaptists because they didn't believe in infant baptism. Well, I thought maybe we have come some distance after all!!

Peter Carrell said...

That is also, Jean, a somewhat gruesome form of unity between Anglicans and Catholics :)

Anonymous said...

"...the nature of the disputes (incomprehensible as they may be, without background papers in languages we do not understand) do raise a question why they are mountains and not molehills the pathway to the council has to traverse."

Actually, +++ DENYS, Catholicos of the One True Orthodox Church has composed a quite helpful explanation of the impasse, and because it was read last Sunday to the uncomprehending faithful of the Cathedral of the Attrition in Old Church Cockaigne, a translation gives us some indication of the true altitude of the molehills.

Bowman Walton

Andrei said...

I don't think your comment is either insightful nor helpful Bowman Walton

There is another much higher profile international event about to take place and like the Sobor not all will be participating

I refer of course to the Olympic Games and the Russian track and Field team who have been excluded through political skulduggery

These two seemingly unrelated things are not in fact unrelated

Dark forces are at work