The Archbishop to attend the Holy and Great Council

His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew has invited Archbishop Leo to be a member of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s delegation to the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church to be held in Crete on 18th–27th June 2016.

The delegation will include a total of 24 bishops, who will assemble in Crete on 16th June in preparation for the Council.  

The Patriarch also asked Archbishop Leo in March to arrange for the preparatory documents for the Council to be published in Finnish, and this was duly done on 15th March (www.ort.fi/teema/Synodi2016 ).

He similarly requested the other Finnish bishops to speak about the significance of the Council and the issues to be discussed at it in their own diocesan circulars, sermons and other homilies.  

Six themes are to be considered at the Holy and Great Council: 1. The mission of the Orthodox Church in the modern world, 2. The Orthodox diaspora, 3. The principles governing autonomy and the granting of autonomy, 4. The sacrament of matrimony and impediments to matrimony, 5. The significance of fasting and the rules that govern it, 6. The Orthodox Church’s relations with the rest of the Christian world.  

Archbishop Leo regards the first and sixth themes as the most challenging:

The Orthodox Church’s relations with the rest of the Christian world 

– If we are to search for ”the unity in faith which the Church has mystically lived out and has also preserved”  we will first have to be able to define what is meant by unity, and more especially by “in varietate Concordia” (unity in difference). 

– This is in a sense the same type of problem as that of our relationship to canonical tradition. What is meant by ”creative observance” of the canons? Does it not go without saying that observance of the Orthodox faith is always a dialogue between the wording of texts and their spirit? It nevertheless sometimes seems that ”observance” has too often been subordinated to ”creativity”, i.e. we have compromised on the former for the sake of the latter.

– With regard to relations with churches that are not ”in communion with the Orthodox Church” two categories can be recognised, i.e. the Oriental Churches and the Catholic Church are in a different position from the newer churches that have arisen since the Reformation, as the former possess for practical purposes the same understandings of the sacraments, the tradition of the Church and the priesthood as the Orthodox Church does, and they also have much the same idea of renewal in the Church, which I would regard as a quite distinct concept from reformation.

– The question of the relations between the Orthodox Church and the rest of the Christian world incorporates within it the ecumenical tensions that exist within our own church. In Western Europe and North America the Orthodox Church has for practical purposes the same level of partnership with both the Catholic Church and the Protestant churches, whereas in Eastern Europe and the Middle East these relations bear more resemblance to a state of competition. On the other hand, we in the West have a great deal to learn from the Eastern churches as far as Islam is concerned.

– In Eastern Europe there is a great deal of opposition to ecumenical relations, especially in the Orthodox Church. Apart from an element of suspicion, this also contains within it a healthy scepticism with regard to the ”ecumenical romanticism” that we unfortunately also have in Western Europe. A hundred years ago ecumenical relations still meant for the Orthodox Church primarily the seeking of forms of cooperation with the Anglican Church and the Catholic Church, but since the Second World War the content of these relations has primarily been derived from the Protestant churches of Germany and the Nordic countries, which have also been the principal sources of finance for these activities through the state support that they have received.

The mission of the Orthodox Church in the modern world 

– The document begins with a powerful message: ”all cooperation between Christians should of necessity concentrate on emphasizing the unique value of human dignity”. It is not long, however, before it begins to refer to secularization as a ”consequence of evil”.

– At this juncture I would hasten to point out that for the Orthodox churches in Western Europe secularization is a pragmatic issue rather that an ideological one. It is a matter of ensuring that implementation of the law, political decision-making processes, commerce and religious activities all remain within their own boundaries. In addition to this, religious freedom can be cited as historically one of the most valuable fruits of secularization. 

The sacrament of matrimony and impediments to matrimony

– When considering matrimony and fasting we come upon quite the opposite East-West cultural relationship from that noted in the documents discussed above. The family and children occupy an important role in the East as the foundations of human society, and we in the West have good reason to re-examine our values with respect to marriage. 

The significance of fasting and the rules that govern it

– It is also important that emphasis should be placed on the rules governing fasting. The claim that ”spiritual” fasting is more important than ”physical” fasting is an alien notion that has crept into Orthodoxy, and it is similarly hypocritical to maintain that one can fast by eating cheaper food even though it may contain meat. Ecology is an essential component of the spiritual aspect of fasting, and all high-protein and/or animal foods are more expensive for nature and for us than vegetables, berries and fruit! The document states clearly that fasting can be put forward as a showcase for Orthodoxy only if we ourselves observe the fasts.  

The diaspora of the Orthodox churches

– The observation contained in this preparatory document that ”the churches’ activities should be organized in accordance with Orthodox ecclesiology and the Orthodox canonical tradition and practises” is excellent. Later Finland is referred to as an area where no pan-Orthodox measures need to be taken in this respect.

The historical significance of the Council

– The Ecumenical Patriarch emphasizes in his videoed speech accessible on the Holy and Great Council’s official web pages (www.orthodoxcouncil.org) that the meeting in Crete is the  Orthodox Church’s witness to the ”sacramental and canonical traditions of the Ecumenical Church Councils”.

– If the three hundred bishops attending the Holy and Great Council from 14 churches in Europe, the Middle East, the Americas and Asia can commit themselves to working together according to the principles established during the first thousand years of the Church’s history, then the meeting will have achieved its goal.

– It is more important to preserve unity between the Orthodox churches than to agree on the wording of all the documents to be discussed in the Council. I intend to concentrate on emphasizing this principle.

Official web pages of the Holy and Great Council: https://www.orthodoxcouncil.org

25.5.2016

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