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The Pan-Orthodox Council: Where Things Stand


The Eastern Orthodox Church’s “Great and Holy Council,” which is set to begin in Crete on Sunday, June 19 (Eastern Pentecost), has been touted as Orthodoxy’s first “ecumenical council” in over a millennium. The facts on the ground are less grand. Despite nearly a century of on-and-off preparation, the Council has been at risk of derailment this month, as several members of Orthodoxy’s worldwide ecclesiastical confederacy have, for varying reasons, pulled out. The most striking defector is the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), the largest Orthodox jurisdiction in the world. But the absence of other historic churches, such as those of Antioch and Bulgaria, has left many asking whether the Council should proceed.

What is all the fuss about? There are several agenda items covering intra-Orthodox ecclesiastical governance that in theory should not be terribly concerning, but that nevertheless reveal deep divisions within Orthodoxy along ethnic and national lines.

For instance, the question of the so-called “Orthodox diaspora” is fraught with difficulties. Many Orthodox living in the West would prefer to remain under the wing of bishops in their historic homelands, rather than coalesce around an autocephalous (self-governing) local church. Tied to this issue is the question of who decides when a newly established local church becomes self-governing and under what conditions. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople has long asserted this right for himself; other patriarchal churches in world Orthodoxy remain unenthused about his claim.

Read more at First Things.

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