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As Pan-Orthodox Council Approaches, Conflicts and Uncertainty Intensify

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Some Orthodox factions insist non-Orthodox Churches, including the Catholic Church, should not be called “Churches”. That’s just one of many serious disagreements casting a cloud over Crete.

Although only a few days remain until the Eastern Pentecost, when the Pan-Orthodox council has been scheduled, uncertainty remains whether the gathering in Crete will take place. It is the same uncertainty which I described more than two years ago in my CWR article “The Fragile Promise of the Pan-Orthodox Council”. In recent days, the promise of the Council has become particularly fragile. The final meters of the pre-conciliar marathon, which the Orthodox Churches have ran for more than fifty years, has turned into a tense drama. As the race becomes a sprint there is the possibility the runners might collapse just before the finish line, or even decide to run back to the position from which they started.

Let’s briefly review the long distance the Orthodox Churches have covered in reaching the point where they are now. For the first time in modern history, since the Orthodox Churches attempted to meet in the 1860s—when they tried to heal the so-called “Bulgarian schism”—the reality of a Pan-Orthodox Council seems possible. The 19thcentury schism was caused by the Bulgarian Church, which had proclaimed itself independent from the Church of Constantinople; that schism was eventually healed, but not with the presence of all Orthodox Churches. Later, in the 1920s and 1930s, the Ecumenical Patriarchate tried to arrange a Pan-Orthodox venue. Again, only some Churches showed up. For instance, it was impossible for the Russian Orthodox Church to take part because it was under harsh persecutions by the atheist Communist state. When, however, the Russian Orthodox Church organized a Pan-Orthodox gathering in Moscow in 1948, to celebrate 500 years of its autocephaly, some Churches turned down the invitation or did not endorse the politicized anti-ecumenical agenda of the venue.

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