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''Η Αγία Σύνοδος θα είναι η μεγαλύτερη συγκέντρωση της Ορθόδοξης Εκκλησίας''

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15 June 2016

(English Translation):

1) Fr. John, Πατέρα Ιωάννη πως σχολιάζετε την πρόσφατη απόφαση της Ρωσικής Εκκλησίας να μην συμμετάσχει στην Αγία Σύνοδο;

I respect the decision on the part of the Church of Russia not to come. At the same time, I know that many of the churches that are attending have expressed their sense of pain – not only about the absence of the Church of Russia, but also for the other churches that changed their minds. It is no less painful that a small church like Bulgaria or Georgia is not attending than a large church like Antioch or Russia. Numbers, size and power have never mattered in the Orthodox Church.

But at the same time, the churches that already have their representatives working hard in Crete and will send their official delegations tomorrow feel very puzzled. I am not in any position to judge the internal issues and problems of individual churches and why some churches have decided to change their minds after giving their word. I am sure that the Churches of Russia, Bulgaria and Georgia must have agonized over their decision. It would of course be nice if they could also respect the hard work, resources and expenses of so many other church – the greater majority of the churches – that kept their word and are already in Crete.

But we should not lose sight of the ultimate objective of the council, which is the slow and difficult process toward unity. And we should remember that unity is always a goal, not a starting-point. Unity is the end, and not the beginning. Unity is always fulfilled and completed by the Holy Spirit, which “fills whatever is lacking”. No council ever meets merely to celebrate unity. Every council in history has convened precisely in order to try to come closer to unity, because there was one or another problem (whether theological or canonical). Indeed, most councils in history actually convened to settle administrative problems, and not doctrinal ones.

           

2) Τώρα που δεν θα συμμετέχουν όλες οι εκκλησίες θα είναι έγκυρες οι αποφάσεις; Αφού σύμφωνα με την λογική του Κανονισμού η έλλειψη της συμφώνου γνώμης έστω και μιας εκκλησίας αποτελεί απόλυτο κώλυμα για τη σύγκληση της Συνόδου.

Nowhere in the Regulations does it say that the absence of one church affects the meeting of the council. It is so critical that we refer accurately to official documents. The regulations say that the Holy and Great Council is convened by His All-Holiness with the consensus of all the Orthodox Churches, which is exactly what happened in Geneva last January, where all of the Orthodox Churches were present at the Synaxis of Primates and together repeated and affirmed their decision from 2014 to convene the council on the Feast of Pentecost.

I am also perplexed about the way people refer to the concept of consensus. There is no mention in the regulations about the invalidity of the council or its decisions if one church cannot attend. In fact, when one church tried to include that kind of language in the regulations, it was overwhelmingly rejected by all churches, including Russia.

The Holy and Great Council may not have all churches in attendance, but I find it very difficult not to call it “Pan-Orthodox”. Because in this particular case, there has been Pan-Orthodox decision and consensus to convene and to attend the council. Unfortunately, however, for whatever reason, some churches decided at the very last minute that they cannot attend. However, that does not change the validity of the council or the authority of its decisions. Moreover, the council is most definitely a “Great Council” because it is undoubtedly more authoritative than any individual local synod.

I honestly do not understand why people panic when they hear about the binding nature of the council and its decisions. Where is the trust in our church leaders? At the same time, in the church there is always a process of reception for a council’s decisions, just as there has been for every council in history – including the ecumenical councils.

But to say that a council’s decisions are invalid because one or another church did not attend lacks any ecclesiological, theological and even logical basis. There have been numerous councils over the last centuries that were attended sometimes by very few churches, and yet no one ever questioned their validity. For example, the Church of Russia did not attend the famous council of 1872, which condemned ethnophyletism, but I would hope that its decisions are considered binding for Moscow today, just as they certainly are for all of the churches that attended as well as all other churches.

 

3) Πολλοί λένε πως τι νόημα έχει να συζητηθεί η ενότητα μεταξύ όλων των Χριστιανών (καθολικών κλπ) όταν την ίδια στιγμή διασπάται η ενότητα των Ορθοδόξων;

It is easy to play with words. But how can unity possibly be broken by an effort to bring the churches together for unity? Unity can only be broken by not participating in such an effort.

Mr. Polygenis, conciliarity and consensus are messy realities. Authoritarianism is probably a much simpler process. But it is not the Orthodox way. If the Ecumenical Patriarch did indeed have – or even aspired to – the authority that some churches ascribe to him or fear, we would probably not be in the situation we are in. It is no surprise that the Roman Catholic Church appears more united. Beyond its Western sense of law and order that is often so absent in our circles, there is also a vertical sense of authority and decision-making in the Roman Catholic Church. This has never been the Orthodox tradition and practice. Nevertheless, we do certainly have an order and hierarchy in the Orthodox Church, even if some refuse to accept it for one reason or another. And that is the beauty of Orthodoxy – that even in our brokenness and frailty, we are united.

Perhaps we can look at it in this way. This is the first step of our churches toward conciliarity after more than 1000 years! It is very natural for the procedure to look very clumsy. But for me, this is also the magnificence and beauty of the event! It is like watching someone take his first steps: we may smile at the awkwardness, but it is still something that we admire for its courage and resolve.

 

4) Πιστεύετε ότι υπήρχε κάποιο σχέδιο από τις Εκκλησίες ώστε να μην πετύχει η Σύνοδος;

It would be a great scandal for everyone if this was true. I have never wanted to believed this. Perhaps others know better. But I am really surprised at the way some people talk about events in the process toward the Holy and Great Council. For instance, in his recent interview with you and in other interviews elsewhere, I have to wonder if Metropolitan Hilarion is even talking about the same pre-conciliar meetings that I attended. What he describes seems so far from the reality that I witnessed.

For instance, he complains that many positions of the Church of Russia were not accepted – or even outrightly rejected – in the documents or decisions. I would sincerely admit that absolutely no other church’s positions were accepted so generously by the other churches, often under so much pressure, than those of the Church of Russia. Absolutely no other church’s positions and precise words are reflected as much in the decisions and documents than the Church of Russia’s. Indeed, I recall that any time that a church – and not just the Ecumenical Patriarchate – would disagree, the response of the Russian delegation was to threaten not to sign. That sort of conduct cannot be described as either consensus or even common sense. If there is one church in the world that can claim that it has – often persistently and sometimes tiringly – shaped the documents and decisions, it is the Church of Russia. So it truly comes as a surprise and even shock to hear such complaints. There is perhaps no other church in the world that should complain about the documents.

Look, it is true – as Metropolitan Hilarion claims – that unity cannot imposed. However, unity is also not the monopoly of those who have suddenly – at the very last moment – changed their minds about attending. Unity can certainly never be affirmed by abstention or isolation. Of course the churches are free to decide and to be independent. But independence can never be at the expense of unity. And the crucial difference here is that every church without exception agreed to convene and attend the Holy and Great Council.

It is, therefore, unfair and incorrect – even misleading and almost deceitful – to claim that “one church is withdrawing after another”. In fact, church after church has confirmed that it will attend, despite the problems and provocations. And it is not just “the Greek churches” – that is something promoted again in certain circles in such a provocative and sensationalist manner. Why don’t people remember and emphasize the presence, commitment and conviction of the Churches of Poland, Serbia, Albania, Romania as well as the Czech and Slovak lands?

I do not think that there is a “scheme” as you say. But my question would be: How would you – or how could anyone – explain the fact that some churches decided at the last minute not to attend? In the case of the Church of Russia, this was literally 48 hours before the Synaxis of Primates? In simple language that our faithful can understand and that our faithful would expect of their leaders: How can people not honor their word and promise and signature from just a few months ago? If people only knew how many signatures all of the churches without exception have placed on decision after decision, document after document, and translation after translation – literally hundreds of signatures by each church about the documents and decisions for the Holy and Great Council(!) – they would be scandalized and find it very difficult to understand how any church at all can change its mind at the last minute! Still, no matter what, the Holy and Great Council will be the largest and most representative gathering of the Orthodox Church – convened by Pan-Orthodox decision and consensus – for over 1,000 years.

I was pleased to see that the Church of Russia appealed to the generosity and discernment of the Ecumenical Patriarch. I have never seen anyone more patient than His All-Holiness in this entire process. It is impossible to imagine how much he has surrendered to each one of the demands of every church – to the point that I remember the words of St. Paul that “Christ’s strength is perfected in weakness”. I am humbled to witness so many of our Orthodox Churches already in Crete responding with charity and generosity to the call of the Holy Spirit to unity.