The rift between Orthodox churches was confirmed Monday when the Russian Patriarchate decided not to take part in the Holy and Great Council which is to begin on Thursday on Crete, asking for its postponement. Orthodox leaders have not held such a meeting since 787, when the last of the seven councils recognized by both Orthodox and Catholics was held, before the schism between the churches in 1054.
The Moscow Patriarchate’s decision is crucial as the Russian Church holds sway with other Slav churches and is a blow to Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios’s hopes to bring together leaders from 14 independent Orthodox churches and promote unity among the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians. One of Russian Patriarch Kirill’s arguments was that other patriarchs did not want to take part, in protest at documents drawn up by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
After an extraordinary meeting of the Russian Church’s Holy Synod, a spokesman, Bishop Hilarion, said: “During the 55 years that the Great Council was being prepared, we spoke of the need for it to be a factor of unity for the Church and under no circumstances should it lead to division. If we believe that certain issues have not been clarified on the texts, it is better that we have a postponement so that all the churches can attend.”
The Ecumenical Patriarchate says that it will go ahead with the Council as scheduled on June 16-26 and Vartholomaios is set to travel to Crete on Wednesday. Last Saturday, he said, “The Ecumenical Patriarchate worked with a sense of responsibility from the start to prepare and carry out this historic event.”
Archbishop Anastasios, head of the Church in Albania, argued in an article in Kathimerini that it is precisely because of problems between the churches that their leaders should not postpone the meeting, as this “would hurt Orthodox Christians everywhere and damage the standing of Orthodoxy.”