Heads of Orthodox Churches meet amid the eschatological rumors

The meeting of Orthodox bishops for preparing a Pan-Orthodox Council is set to begin at the center of the Patriarchate of Constantinople on January 22 in the Swiss town of Chambésy. The meeting will be attended by the heads of all canonical Orthodox Churches of the world. Only the Patriarch of Antioch, John X, the Metropolitan of Warsaw and All Poland, Sawa, and the Arch-bishop of the Church of Greece, Hieronymus, will not attend. The official reasons for refusing attendance on their behalf are related to personal issues and health.

Preparatory activities, as well as the future of the cathedral itself, have drawn mixed reactions on the part of many believers, which has helped to invigorate an eschatological mood.

Pan-Ortodox Council

Preparations for a Pan-Orthodox Council have been conducted intermittently for more than half a century since September 1961.

This could be an historic event for the entire Orthodox world. At the Pan-Orthodox Council, at least 24 bishops from each of the Orthodox Churches are to be present. It is expected that the churches of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Russia, Georgia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Poland, Slovakia, the Church of Czech Lands, and the church in America will take part in the council. It is expected that the Council will be held in the summer of 2016, but the canonical status of the Council has not been defined. Formally, it does not have ecumenical status, but it is widely perceived as such.

Problems of the Council

The main problem facing the future of the Council is the closed nature of information surround-ing the specific topics that will be discussed until agreement is reached. As far as is known, ac-cording to the Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople, the Council will discuss the following topics:

1. The Orthodox diaspora and the determination of the jurisdiction of Orthodox associations across national borders.
2. The procedure for recognition of the autocephaly status of the Church.
3. The procedure for recognition of the status of Church autonomy.
4. Diptych and the terms of mutual canonical recognition of Orthodox Churches.
5. Establishing a common calendar of holidays.
6. Terms and obstacles to the sacrament of marriage.
7. The question of fasting in the contemporary world.
8. Relationship with other Christian denominations.
9. The ecumenical movement.
10. The contribution of Orthodoxy to the triumph of Christian ideals of peace, fraternity and liber-ty.

It has been reported that the participating churches have agreed on eight topics, including the calendar, the Unification Church rulings on fasting, obstacles facing marriage, and the relation of Orthodoxy to the rest of the Christian world and to ecumenism. However, most of the Orthodox laity and clergy have not been notified of the hierarchy of position of these issues and it is unknown how specific churches will vote. Moreover, there has been no serious study on conten-tious issues. The representatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople usurped the bureaucratic facet of the Council and are seeking by all means available to promote non-canonical solutions.

Criticism of the Council

The idea for and main purpose of the Council is legitimizing the modernizing, reformist trend in contemporary Orthodoxy. Plans for the 2016 Council have been rejected by conservative Or-thodox believers, and the organizers of the Council have been accused of plans to promote a modernist agenda in church life, ecumenism, and crypto-Papism,i.e., embracing the doctrine of the primacy of the Pope in an effort to have dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church.

A negative or cautious attitude towards the future Council is held by part of the Orthodox epis-copate. At the last diocesan meeting of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Kiev,
Moscow Patriarchate Metropolitan Onufry expressed skepticism as to its results and suspected the Constantinople Patriarchate of fraudulent solutions.

Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, assured his congregation that the Russian Orthodox Church does not allow apostasy of faith in the Orthodox council in 2016.

The geopolitics of the Council

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople has been the most modernist of the Orthodox Churches, as Constantinople is in close communion with the Catholic Church. Most of its congregation is located in the US, and more often that not the Patriarchate of Constantinople plays the role of an Atlanticist and globalist tool in modern geopolitics.

The main objective of the Patriarchate of Constantinople at the upcoming council is turning its “primacy of honor” among the Orthodox Churches into a sort of championship and thereby se-curing formal authority to influence religious policy in the world.

By means of the Pan-Orthodox Council, the Constantinople Patriarchate seeks to become a formal leader of the Orthodox Church with special power like that of the Papacy.

One of the most pressing issues is the desire of the Constantinople Patriarchate to take control of Ukraine, which is in the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate, by establishing con-tact with the non-canonical Kiev Patriarchate. Moreover, Constantinople is seeking to legalize its own church structures in Estonia, which is also included in the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate. It is not difficult to notice that the role of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the sphere of the Church coincides with the geopolitical aims of the Atlanticists to weaken Russia as a geopolitical center and completely separate Ukraine from Russia.

Eschatological sentiment heightening

In such a difficult situation, the Council initiative is flaming numerous antagonisms and discord among Orthodox believers and is contributing to an increase in eschatological moods. One of the arguments on this matter is attributed to St. Seraphim of Sarov, who prophesied the 8th Ecumenical Council to take place near the end of the world.

Nevertheless, existing political differences, insecurity in the world, and disputes between the Orthodox Churches all reduce chances of the Council being held and its decisions becoming binding for all local churches.