Its agenda is over fifty years in the making and the last one took place over a thousand years ago. The “Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church” or “Pan-Orthodox Council of 2016” which is scheduled to convene in May of 2016, might be threatened by international politics.
The unprecedented gathering is intended to bring together the heads of the 14 autocephalous (independent) Orthodox Churches of the world to Istanbul, Turkey, the headquarters of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and home seat of Bartholomew, the “first amongst equals” of the Orthodox leaders.
“Just getting to this point took decades to reach a consensus on issues such as the agenda,” a senior cleric from the Ecumenical Patriarchate told The Pappas Post, asking to remain anonymous, adding that “You have a lot of intrigue and politics factoring in. The Russians don’t trust the Pope, the Greeks want bettie relations with Rome, then there is the whole Ukraine problem… it’s complicated,” he concluded in an email.
As if internal Orthodox politics plaguing the gathering for years weren’t enough to deal with, now international politics and geopolitics threaten the event, which was to convene at the historic church of St. Irene, the place in 381 AD where the Nicene Creed was written.
Archpriest Igor Yakymchuk, an official for inter-Orthodox relations at the Moscow Patriarchate, hinted at a possible postponement and even a venue change.
“It is not known when it will take place,” he told Russian media in early December. “If the situation deteriorates, it’s quite possible the Council will be held elsewhere. It’s difficult to talk about.”
The chain of events that threaten the council began when Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet, prompting a diplomatic crisis between the two nations. The Kremlin launched an array of punishments, project suspensions, the banning of Turkish imports and the canceling of visa-free travel for Russians to Turkey.
The Russian Orthodox Church, which has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin, also acted, calling off a trip to Turkey of a high ranking Russian Metropolitan who was to visit the Ecumenical Patriarchate for preparation talks about the upcoming council.