Over a thousand years since the last time such a meeting took place and fifty years in the planning, the Great and Holy Synod of the world’s Orthodox Church leaders is unraveling as one by one, inter-Orthodox differences have emerged and various churches have announced they will not participate in the historic meeting.
Scheduled to take place on the island of Crete between 19-27 of June, leaders from the 14 independent (called Autocephalous) churches were to meet to discuss various church-related issues— unity being the main topic.
The Bulgarian church announced its resignation from the conference, citing the lack of “particularly important” topics on the agenda and the proposed seating plan of the hierarchs.
The Bulgarian Holy Synod also protested about what it said were “large and unfounded expenses” for participation in the summit and protested the pre-set rule that texts being discussed would not be subject to editing.
The Patriarchate of Antioch is also at odds with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem over a jurisdiction matter in Qatar and has threatened withdrawal.
The Church in Georgia, considered one of the most conservative of the 14 Orthodox Churches, also announced it wasn’t participating, disputing matters of ecumenical relations that were set to be discussed, as well as matters pertaining to marriage between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christians.
The Russian Church also announced that it would not attend the meeting, since others have walked out and the synod would be incomplete without all of the churches participating.
Metropolitan Hilarion, the powerful bishop who heads the Moscow Patriarchate’s department of external church relations, said in a televised statement that Russia would not take part if others are walking out, and suggested the meeting be postponed.
“We have made a decision that we will not be able to take part in the all-Orthodox Synod if other churches do not go,” Hilarion said.
Orthodox church leaders have not held such a meeting since the year 787.
The unraveling of the synod comes as a blow to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, head of the Istanbul-based Patriarchate of Constantinople, which is considered the “first amongst equals” in the Orthodox world.
Bartholomew has been spearheading the push for the synod in a show of unity amongst the Orthodox Church’s loose confederation of jurisdictions that are not only split geo-politically, but differ greatly on how they perceive the role of the church’s place in their respective societies.