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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

BENEDICTUS MOMENTS

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Sunday, 26 June 2016

HOLY AND GREAT COUNCIL - THE LAST DAYS - 11


Church officials say Orthodox Council decisions will be binding


Orthodox Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens and all of Greece lights a candle as he enters St. Mena Cathedral in Heraklion, Greece, June 19. The Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church opened June 19. (CNS/Sean Hawkey, handout)
my source: National Catholic Reporter
Jonathan Luxmoore  |  Jun. 23, 2016
Pan-Orthodox Council
1
Senior Orthodox representatives have insisted decisions by the Holy and Great Council, currently meeting in Crete, will be "representative and binding" for all churches, as two more declarations were agreed on key aspects of Orthodox life.
"We haven't come here for a conference or meeting, but for a Holy Council, which was convened by Orthodox church primates in a consensus -- so only a similar consensus by the primates could delay the Council or change its status," Archbishop Job Getcha of Telmessos, the Council spokesman, told a June 23 press briefing.

"The documents being discussed were composed by all the churches together during our pan-Orthodox consultations, and their reception will start after the closing session. It's clear to all gathered here that the Council's decisions will therefore be representative and binding."

The archbishop was responding to questions about the absence from the Council of Orthodox leaders from Russia, Bulgaria, Georgia and the Antioch Patriarchate, together representing around half of Orthodoxy's 300 million worldwide adherents.

He said the Crete Council had been preceded by more than half a century's consultations, involving all Orthodox hierarchies, and should be viewed "as a process rather than just an event."

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Meanwhile, another church official said functions, rules and voting procedures for the Council had also been agreed by all Orthodox leaders, and were not affected by the decision of certain churches to stay away.

"Conciliarity isn't determined by quantity, and how many Christians are supposed to be represented here -- it was a common decision to gather and discuss these topics," said Ionut Mavrichi, spokesman for the Romanian Orthodox church.

"Ecumenical councils have been held before without the presence of some patriarchates, but this didn't make them less ecumenical or less binding. Some of our own churches didn't even exist at the time, but we still recognize them."

The week-long Council, widely believed to be the first on such a scale for more than a thousand years, is in session at Kolymbari in Crete, attended by 290 delegates, two-thirds of them bishops, from 10 of Orthodoxy's 14 main churches.

The agreed declaration on the autonomy of churches said a decision to grant self-rule to new Orthodox churches, often a cause of dispute, will be the "canonical prerogative" of its mother-church.

It also confirms that rival claims to jurisdiction over autonomous churches must be referred to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, who holds honorary first place among Orthodox primates, "so he may find a canonical solution in accordance with prevailing pan-Orthodox practice."

The second declaration, on fasting, describes the practice as a "divine commandment" and "expression of the Orthodox ascetic ideal," but says fasting also includes "the checking of anger, and separation from lust, evil-speaking, lies and false oaths."

It adds that requests to be relieved of fasting because of illness, work conditions or military service should be left to local churches, but should not "diminish the importance of the sacred institution of fasting."

"In the literal sense, fasting is abstinence from food; but food makes us neither more nor less righteous. In the spiritual sense, as life comes from food and the lack of food is a symbol of death, it is necessary we fast from worldly things," the Council document said.

"Therefore, the true fast affects the entire life in Christ of the faithful and is crowned by their participation in divine worship, particularly in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist."

A Council source said pressure had grown among Orthodox Christians for a modification of fasting rules "given today's life and work."

However, he added that conservative Orthodox leaders had insisted on "maintaining strict standards," claiming the modification of requirements in the Catholic church had "led to a dramatic decrease of fasting among Catholics."

Two other declarations, on churches' contemporary mission and care of Orthodox diaspora communities, have also been agreed at the Council, while documents on marriage and ties with other Christian churches are still under discussion.

Job told journalists most of the texts had been agreed with only "little amendments," while Council staffers were "working like bees" to obtain final agreement on all the remainder.

He added that more Orthodox bishops were now speaking up in debates "after some initial stage-fright," and said the Council's overall aim was to be "not just to copy and paste from past councils," but to produce a message "addressed to the people of the 21st century."

The Council source said consideration was still being given to institutionalizing the Holy and Great Council as "the supreme organ of Orthodoxy," by agreeing to reconvene it regularly at intervals of five to 10 years.

He added that the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, who is hosting the Council, had included an abbot from Greece's autonomous Mount Athos monastic center in his delegation and promised to "take full account" of strident criticisms by conservative figures from the peninsula.

Speaking at the press briefing, Metropolitan Alexander of Nigeria, representing the Patriarchate of Alexandria, said Council participants were deeply concerned about "grave humanitarian issues" facing Africa and the Middle East, adding that the agreed declaration on mission would provide "a roadmap for local churches to take action" to alleviate current sufferings.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Ecumenical Patriarchate denied June 23 media reports that a dispute had erupted with the Orthodox church of Greece over jurisdiction in some areas of the eastern Aegean Sea, and said there had been intense discussion about threats to Christian communities in the historic territory of the Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and Jerusalem Patriarchates.

"For more than a thousand years, we weren't talking, but now we are, supported by millions of Orthodox Christians -- this may not be a media soundbite, but it amounts to a very loud noise for us," said Archdeacon John Chryssavgis.

"As a theologian, I'm often critical of my church, wondering whether it's really in the 21st century as it should be. I also question my hierarchy, and my church's pastoral outreach. But I'm very pleasantly surprised by the openness being shown here to global concerns and interests."

[Jonathan Luxmoore's two-volume study of communist-era persecution, The God of the Gulag, has just been published by Gracewing in the U.K.]

Is Orthodoxy unravelling? 
by Fr Mark Drew
posted Thursday, 23 Jun 2016





 Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, center, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, right, and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, speak on a roof overlooking the Kremlin in Moscow (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Dmitry Astakhov, Presidential Press Service)

After 50 years of preparation, the Pan-Orthodox Council has fallen apart at the last minute. Many are blaming Moscow, but that is far too simplistic

On Sunday, Orthodox Christians throughout the world celebrated Pentecost. In the East, that feast is considered a celebration of the Holy Trinity, and Whit Monday is dedicated to the Person of the Holy Spirit himself. Orthodox theology stresses that the mystery of the Trinity is both the source and the model for the unity of the Church. It is the role of the Spirit, rather than any human institution or authority, to bring about the union of the faithful.

What could be more fitting, then, than for the “Great and Holy Council of Orthodoxy”, which has been in gestation for a century and whose practical preparation has been in progress since the 1960s, to open on the day of Pentecost? As in all churches, however, the reality on the ground does not always do justice to the splendour of the theological vision. The events of recent weeks have revealed to the world a spectacle of division and bickering more akin to secular politics than the deliberations of men of God.

The synod opened in Crete amid confusion and recrimination. Indeed, it has looked close to unravelling altogether. Its qualification as “Pan-Orthodox” was called into doubt and then rendered apparently meaningless as one by one, five of the 14 jurisdictions which make up official or “canonical” Orthodoxy announced they were pulling out in the days before it was due to begin.

What exactly has been going on? It’s hard even for seasoned observers to get a clear picture. First to pull out were the Bulgarians. Many suspected immediately that they were acting as proxies of the Russians, starting a ball rolling which would enable Moscow to walk away without being the first to do so. As expected, the Russians cited the non-participation of the others as a pretext for their own decision to pull out, saying that the meeting could no longer be considered pan-Orthodox, and thus would not be binding on all the churches.

These machinations are easy to fit into the by now familiar narrative of the synod as the battleground between two opposing geopolitical forces within Orthodoxy: the Patriarchs of Constantinople and Moscow. The former represents the historical memory of the ancient Church order, where the five patriarchal sees of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Jerusalem and Antioch exercised a collegial authority. Once Rome had gone into heresy and schism by doctrinal innovations and a jurisdictional power grab (so runs the traditional Orthodox narrative) then the mantle of Ecumenical (ie “worldwide”) Patriarch fell to Constantinople, the “Second Rome”.

Moscow came late on to the scene, once the Byzantine Empire disappeared and Constantinople was under Turkish domination. Arab conquest had already reduced the Churches of Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria to insignificance, and the demographic centre of Orthodoxy migrated to the Slavic lands. Moscow styled itself as a patriarchate from 1589. As Ottoman rule receded in the 19th century, patriarchal status was given to the chief sees of Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania.

Increasingly, the Russian Church sought to position itself as the natural leader of the world’s Orthodox, the “Third Rome”. On paper at least it accounts for between 30 and 40 per cent of Orthodox believers worldwide, and thus for many has a more credible claim to leadership than Constantinople, where Patriarch Bartholomew is spiritual leader of a tiny flock made up of the remnant of Turkey’s once numerous Greek population. He sees in the synod an opportunity to reaffirm the pre-eminence of his see. His strategy is twofold.

First, Bartholomew has for years been courting international good will by promoting causes which can gain him international prestige. His espousal of ecumenical dialogue has pleased world opinion but irritated many in his own Church. He has also espoused causes such as ecology – some say to the detriment of moral stances like the pro-life cause, less likely to gain him secular applause.

The second prong of Constantinople’s strategy is more theological. Scholars close to Constantinople have been flagging up the ancient canonical texts and precedents which show Constantinople throughout history acting as an arbiter and effective centre of Orthodox unity. These theologians do not claim for Constantinople an absolute decision-making power over the whole Church like that claimed by Catholics for the papacy (though some of their opponents accuse them of secretly wanting this).

Instead, they interpret his traditional title of “first among equals” in a way which would give him a kind of non-executive presidency, a position of real influence rather than executive control. The synod gives Bartholomew and his supporters the chance to be seen to be exercising just such a presiding role. This is probably the reason why other forces within Orthodoxy, which do not share a desire to reinforce the position of the “Second Rome”, appear unwilling to allow it to appear as a success.

Moscow, of course, is the prime suspect. Spokesmen for Bartholomew have had difficulty in masking the bitterness of their conviction that the Russians are trying to wreck the synod. But we should beware of oversimplification. Binary oppositions rarely do justice to the complexity of conflicts, either in the world as a whole or in the Church. And this is no exception.

It is perhaps reasonable to suspect that the Bulgarians of doing Moscow’s bidding. The Serbs (who were first attending, then not attending, and now apparently attending but threatening to leave) are also close to the Russians. It is less plausible that the non-participation of the Georgians is due to Russian influence (remember that Georgia and Russia were at war only eight years ago). So we must look for factors beyond the political rivalry between Moscow and Constantinople to understand why the synod was never going to be plain sailing.

Opposition to Constantinople’s attempt to ratchet up its prestige is not necessarily due to pro-Russian sentiment. It is worth remembering that in many Orthodox countries there is a historical resentment against Greeks, dating back to the Ottoman era when the Turks allowed Hellenic linguistic and cultural ascendancy over their Christian populations. This memory lives on in places like Bulgaria and Romania. In Arab Orthodoxy it remains a problem, with native clergy often resentful of a certain preponderance of “parachuted” Greeks and Cypriots among their hierarchy.

The Georgian Church seems to have backed out because it finds the draft documents worryingly open to theological currents deemed overly progressive. One case cited was the document on marriage, which was thought to go too far in officially recognising marriages between Orthodox and non-Orthodox, hitherto only tolerated but not condoned.

Concerns that the synod will prove too accommodating to modernity go far beyond Georgia. They are, in fact, present in every branch of Orthodoxy, especially in the convert-dominated circles jokingly referred to as “the Hyperdox”, vocally present on the internet. The Church of Greece contains a formidable ultra-conservative wing led by the monks of Mount Athos, so Constantinople cannot even rely unconditionally on those who might be historically most inclined to support it.

Conservatives are worried that the synod might start a process of modernisation which spins out of control. They evoke our experience of Vatican II and its aftermath as a negative precedent. They are particularly worried that the draft document on ecumenism recognises other Christian communions, including the Catholic Church, as being true Churches with valid sacraments. For many, this amounts to a break with tradition giving occasion for schism, such as has already happened with Old Calendarists in Greece and elsewhere.

The Patriarchate of Antioch has also pulled out. It has no particular reputation for fundamentalism. Indeed, in its canonical territory relations with Catholics are warm, intermarriage is common and intercommunion (unofficially) not unknown. It justifies its absence by the failure of the synod to address a dispute with the neighbouring Patriarchate of Jerusalem over a bishopric in Qatar which Jerusalem has established in Antioch’s canonical territory.

This is more than a pretext: the two Patriarchates have broken off communion, and Antioch says it cannot sit at the conference table with a Church with which it cannot share the chalice.

However, it is not impossible that some at Antioch find the draft texts too timid in embracing dialogue with modernity. There are certainly other Orthodox voices which are disappointed that the texts do not go further in confronting the problems of today’s world.

The difficulties surrounding the synod cannot, then, all be reduced to simple spoiling tactics from Moscow. The tensions and controversies which have become embarrassingly apparent are theological, as well as political and cultural. Above all, they are complex.

How should Catholics respond? Obviously, if we sincerely desire reunion, we must pray that some sort of unity will arise from the confusion. Constantinople has decided to proceed with the Council despite the abstentions, in the hope that it will gain adherence over time, perhaps even leading to the establishment of a permanent organ of Orthodox synodal government. It is worth remembering that many previous councils, including some now recognised as Ecumenical in both East and West, took time to be recognised as such.

Cardinal Kurt Koch, representing the Vatican, will probably be secretly hoping that as much as possible of Constantinople’s agenda prevails. Not only is Bartholomew a better strategic ally in that he is more open to dialogue, but in fact his theological vision is rooted in the common ecclesiological traditions of the first millennium, and hopes for unity depend in large part on a rediscovery of that common patrimony.

Catholics should be praying for reconciliation and unity among Orthodox as a necessary condition for the unity of us all. We should also resist temptations for exploiting their difficulties in finding unity to make cheap points about our alleged superiority.

Orthodoxy has much to teach us, perhaps especially in the primacy it gives to the spiritual, the divine and the transcendent. If we are reminded that the divine and the transcendent, in this world, is messily intertwined with the base and the all too human, then it is salutary to remember that that is the very logic of the Incarnation.

Fr Mark Drew holds a doctorate in ecumenical theology from the Institut Catholique. He is priest in charge of the parish of Hornsea in Middlesbrough diocese.


This article first appeared in the June 24 2016 issue of The Catholic Herald. To read the magazine in full, from anywhere in the world, please go here.

With Russian Church Absent, New Orthodox Leaders Emerge
Romanian Church Defends Neighbor and Hopes to Institutionalize Council
LEFT: Dr. Ionut Mavrichi, spokesman for the Romanian Orthodox patriarchate. RIGHT: Archbishop Nifon of Tîrgoviște, Romania. (Photos: Victor Gaetan/National Catholic Register)

At the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church gathered in Kolymbari, Crete, family metaphors are common. Sister churches. Brother bishops.
Explaining why the concept of conciliarity means that each church is equal—i.e., that Russia isn’t more important than smaller churches—Dr. Ionut Mavrichi, spokesman for the Romanian Orthodox patriarchate, told the Register, “There’s no difference between a younger and an older brother.”  
Think of this pan-Orthodox council as a family meeting postponed for over 1,100 years. No wonder it hasn’t been an easy start.
And despite the distracting presence of four empty chairs, it’s the breadth of Christianity here present that is most encouraging, including youthful churches with soulful responses to modernity.
Post-Communist Renewal
In an article on challenges facing the Holy and Great Council posted on one of the best Arab Christian blogs, Carol Saba, spokesman for the Assembly of Orthodox Bishops of France, highlighted the Russian and Romanian Churches as tackling contemporary reality more successfully than others.
Like the Russian Orthodox Church, the Romanian Orthodox Church (the second largest, with 21 million faithful) emerged out of the Communist period bruised by associations with power, but trusted by the people.
Both used this capital of trust—and the believers’ deep need for guidance amidst radical social dislocation—to revive, rebuild, and renew the faith. 

Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/vgaetan/with-russian-church-absent-new-orthodox-leaders-emerge/#ixzz4CgMdpG9t

HOLY AND GREAT COUNCIL OF ORTHODOX CHURCH
News Bulletin

OFFICE OF THE PANORTHODOX SECRETARIAT
English Version
Thursday, 23 June, 2016
Number 2.

HOLY AND GREAT COUNCIL
OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH

Orthodox Academy of Crete 18-27 June 2016

He divided the nations.
When He distributed the tongues of fire, He called all to UNITY.
And with one voice we glorify the All-Holy Spirit.
(Kontakion of Pentecost)

This Bulletin is designed as a work-tool for the information of the Observers and the accredited members of the Mass Media. The translations into other languages do not have an official character.

This Bulletin is published on the web-site of the Holy and Great Council: https://www.holycouncil.org/home

Plenary Session Tuesday, the 21st June

During the first morning session on Tuesday, 21 June, His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch condemned the demonstrations organised to exploit groups of naïve or zealous believers every ready to oppose the Holy and Great Council. He prayed that the great fire in Cyprus would be swiftly extinguished. He announced that a telegram had been sent by the Catholics in Greece and that a message of greeting had been received from the Synod of Roman Catholic Bishops in America. He also announced the amendment proposals relating to the text about the Mission of the Church in today’s world submitted to the Secretariat of the Council by the Church of Serbia and requested that they be accepted by the Council with certain editorial changes.

Topic: The Orthodox Diaspora

Following the acceptance of the amendments, the text on the Orthodox Diaspora and the associated Regulation for the organization and functioning of the established Regional Episcopal Assemblies was read out. His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch noted that even though the desirable canonical organization of the Episcopal Assemblies had not proved possible, nevertheless significant steps had been taken and the efforts had brought important fruits for their harmonic functioning, in spite of the negative stance of one or two Churches. These positive steps were underlined by the Presidents of the Episcopal Assemblies of America and Germany, as well as by many other members of the Council, while the causes for the present dysfunctionalities were noted by their Beatitudes the Primates of Cyprus, Albania, Romania, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Poland and many Hierarchs, including Alexandros of Nigeria, Seraphim of Zimbabwe, Basil of Constantia, Irenaeos of Batska, Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Theophanis of Moldavia, and others.

Discussions on the Topic

The proposals discussed focused, on the one hand, on preserving the existing text in the form it had been unanimously passed to the Holy and Great Synod by the Synaxis of the Primates of the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches (Chambesy, Jan. 2016), since it is complete and covers the needs of the Episcopal Assemblies, and on the other hand, on exploiting  the authority of the Council to remove certain non-canonical practices and established dysfunctions for the more effective fulfillment of the important work of the Episcopal Assemblies.

Suggestions


In their responses their Beatitudes the Primates, reviewed constructively the different proposals of the two tendencies, making reference especially to the absence of the four Holy Orthodox Churches not participating in the Holy and Great Council so as to anticipate or avert undesirable misunderstandings or confusions.  Accordingly, His All-Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch, as President of the Holy and Great Council, defended both the canonical right and the authority of the Council to protect the canonical order of the Orthodox Church and to guarantee the harmonic functioning of inter-Orthodox and inter-church relations, and so he considered it necessary to accept at least certain amendments on primarily practical matters of canonical order.

News Bulletin Number 3

News Bulletin for 22nd and 23rd June 2016

On the progress of the deliberations of the Holy and Great Council.

Greetings and Announcements by the Ecumenical Patriarch

During the morning session on Wednesday 22nd June 2016, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, expressed warm wishes on behalf of the sacred body to His Eminence Eusebios the Metropolitan of Samos on the occasion of his name day.  He went on to announce that the texts on the Mission of the Orthodox Church in today's world and on the Orthodox Diaspora had not received final endorsement and signature on account of the fact that their translation into Russian had not yet been completed and he introduced for discussion the text about Autonomy and the manner in which it is proclaimed.

The Archbishop of Athens. On Autonomy.

His Beatitude the Archbishop of Athens Hieronymos, presented the amendment submitted by the delegation of the Church of Greece, concerning the non-establishment of Autonomous Churches in areas whose ecclesiastical status has already been defined by a Patriarchal and Conciliar Tome or by a Conciliar Act, clearly alluding to the so-called "New Lands" in Northern Greece and the Aegean islands.

Position of the Ecumenical Patriarch

His All-Holiness condemned those who deliberately stir up trouble over this issue, not only in order to impede the work of the Holy and Great Council, but also in order to damage the harmonious relations between the Mother and daughter Church.  Thus, he proclaimed that the Mother Church is grateful that the most Holy Church of Greece willingly accepted to administer, as trustee, her provinces known as the "New Lands", and hence has never considered, nor will she consider in the future, to ask for a change in the ecclesiastical status of these provinces by the proclamation of their Autonomy.  Accordingly, these things are noxious fantasies of those hostile to the harmonious functioning of the sisterly relations between the two Churches.

DISCUSSIONS of the Primates and Delegates on the issue of Autonomy.

Many Primates and hierarchs spoke on the matter to claim that the provisions of the text weaken the canonically established exceptional privileges of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and open up a dangerous path for the administrative fragmentation of the Orthodox Church with unforeseeable negative consequences for her unity.  Other hierarchs claimed that the Autonomous Status established in the Orthodox canonical tradition is being compromised since each Autocephalous Church is able to impose a different type of Autonomous Status and of dependence on the Autocephalous Church to which it refers.  The text was finally accepted after some editorial improvements and clarifications.

TOPIC: About Fasting.

During the afternoon session of the same day, the text on “The importance of fasting and its observance today” was introduced for discussion.  The text was considered in general as a complete and comprehensive expression of both letter and spirit of the entire age-long ecclesiastical tradition, and hence it has received only a minimum of modification in the period following its unanimous acceptance by the Third Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference (Chambesy, 1986).  During the discussions on the matter, their Beatitudes, the Primates, expressed their full satisfaction, both in regard to the completeness of the text and also in regard to the breadth of its perspectives concerning the pastoral distinction between canonical rigor and ecclesiastical economy in the application of these positions by the various Local Autocephalous Orthodox Churches.  Consequently, it was decided that the theological observations articulated did not touch on the substance of the matter, and so the text was unanimously accepted as it stands.

23nd  JUNE

Encyclical of the Holy and Great Council At the morning session of the Holy and Great Council, on Thursday 23rd June 2016, the Encyclical of the Holy and Great Council was read and approved by the assembly of their Beatitudes the Primates after some additions and amendments.

On the Sacrament of Marriage Thereafter the text "On the Sacrament of Marriage and its impediments", as extended and supplemented by the Meeting of their Beatitudes the Primates of the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches at Chambesy in January 2016, was read and introduced for discussion.  The discussions and the proposals for amendment and additions confirmed both the completeness of the text as well as the necessity for the positions therein presented, not only for the sacrament of Marriage, but also for the sacred institution of the Family.  In this context, the discussion centered primarily on the wording of the paragraph of the text on mixed marriages, about which the most holy Church of Georgia had expressed strong objections.


Thus, the proposed amendments, which were aimed mainly at the clarification of the letter and spirit of the particular paragraph, were supported by all their Beatitudes the Primates of the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches and by all Hierarchs who spoke on the matter, thereby covering the reservations of the Church of Georgia as to the limits of the application of ecclesiastical economy to those mixed marriages.



​Official Documents of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church


Encyclical of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church


ENCYCLICAL
OF THE HOLY AND GREAT COUNCIL
OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH
Crete 2016





In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit

With a hymn of thanksgiving, we praise and worship God in Trinity, who has enabled us to gather together during the days of the feast of Pentecost here on the island of Crete, which has been sanctified by St. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, and his disciple Titus, his “true son in the common faith” (Tit 1.4), and, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to conclude the sessions of this Holy and Great Council of our Orthodox Church – convened by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, by the common will of Their Beatitudes the Primates of the most holy Orthodox Churches – for the glory of His most holy Name and for the great blessing of His people and of the whole world, confessing with the divine Paul: “Let people then regard us thus: as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor 4.1).

The Holy and Great Council of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church constitutes an authentic witness to faith in Christ, the God-man, the Only-begotten Son and Word of God who, through His Incarnation, through all His work on earth, through His Sacrifice on the Cross and through His Resurrection, revealed the Triune God as infinite love. Therefore, with one voice and one heart we address this message of “the hope that is in us” (cf. 1 Pet 3.15) not only to the sons and daughters of our most holy Church, but also to every human being, “whether near or far off” (Eph 2.17). “Our hope” (cf. 1 Tim 1.1), the Savior of the world, was revealed as “God with us” (cf. Matt 1.23) and as God “for our sake” (Rom 8.32), who “desires that all people may be saved and come to the knowledge of truth” (1 Tim 2.4). Proclaiming His mercy and not concealing His great blessings, in remembrance of the Lord’s words that “heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matt 24.35) and “filled with joy” (1 John 1.4), we announce the Gospel of faith, hope and love, looking forward to that “day without evening, without succession and without end” (Basil the Great, On the Hexaemeron II, PG 29.54). The fact that we have “our citizenship in heaven” (Phil 3.20) in no way negates, but rather strengthens our witness in the world.

In this we follow the tradition of the Apostles and of the Fathers of our Church who proclaimed Christ and the saving experience through Him of the Church’s faith, and who spoke of God in the “manner of fishermen casting a net,” that is to say in an apostolic manner, to the people of every age in order to transmit to them the Gospel of freedom “for which Christ has set us free” (cf. Gal 5.1). The Church lives not for herself. She offers herself for the whole of humanity in order to raise up and renew the world into new heavens and a new earth (cf. Rev 21.1). Hence, she gives Gospel witness and distributes the gifts of God in the world: His love, peace, justice, reconciliation, the power of the Resurrection and the expectation of eternal life.

***

I. The Church: Body of Christ, image of the Holy Trinity

1. The one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church is a divine-human communion in the image of the Holy Trinity, a foretaste and experience of the eschaton in the holy Eucharist and a revelation of the glory of the things to come, and, as a continuing Pentecost, she is a prophetic voice in this world that cannot be silenced, the presence and witness of God’s Kingdom “that has come with power” (cf. Mark 9.1). The Church, as the body of Christ, “gathers” the world (Matt 23.37) to Him, transfigures it and irrigates it with “the water welling up to eternal life” (John 4.14).

2. The tradition of the Apostles and Fathers – following the  words of the Lord,the founder of the Church, who at the Last Supper with his disciples, instituted the sacrament of the holy Eucharist - highlighted the Church’s characteristic as the “body of Christ” (Matt 25, 26; Mark 14.22; Luke 22.19; 1 Cor 10.16-17; 11.23-29), and always connected this with the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son and Word of God from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. In this spirit, emphasis was always placed on the indissoluble relation both between the entire mystery of the divine Economy in Christ and the mystery of the Church, and also between the mystery of the Church and the mystery of the holy Eucharist, which is continually confirmed in the sacramental life of the Church through the operation of the Holy Spirit.

The Orthodox Church, faithful to this unanimous apostolic tradition and sacramental experience, constitutes the authentic continuation of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, as this is confessed in the Symbol of faith and is confirmed in the teaching of the Fathers of the Church. Thus, she is conscious of her greater responsibility not only to ensure the authentic expression of this experience in the ecclesial body, but also to offer a trustworthy witness to the truth to all humankind.

3. The Orthodox Church, in her unity and catholicity, is the Church of Councils, from the Apostolic Council in Jerusalem (Acts 15.5-29) to the present day. The Church in herself is a Council, established by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, in accord with the apostolic words: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15.28). Through the Ecumenical and Local councils, the Church has proclaimed and continues to proclaim the mystery of the Holy Trinity, revealed through the incarnation of the Son and Word of God. The Conciliar work continues uninterrupted in history through the later councils of universal authority, such as, for example, the Great Council (879-880) convened at the time of St. Photios the Great, Patriarch of Constantinople, and also the Great Councils convened at the time of St. Gregory Palamas (1341, 1351, 1368), through which the same truth of faith was confirmed, most especially as concerns the procession of the Holy Spirit and as concerns the participation of human beings in the uncreated divine energies, and furthermore through the Holy and Great Councils convened in Constantinople, in 1484 to refute the unionist Council of Florence (1438-1439), in 1638, 1642, 1672 and 1691 to refute Protestant beliefs, and in 1872 to condemn ethno-phyletism as an ecclesiological heresy.

4. The holiness of man (anthropos) cannot be conceived apart from the Body of Christ, “which is the Church” (cf. Eph 1.23). Holiness proceeds from the One who alone is Holy. It is participation of mankind in the holiness of God, in “the communion of the Saints,” as is proclaimed by the words of the priest during the Divine Liturgy: “The Holy Gifts for the holy,” and through the response of the faithful: “One is Holy, one is Lord, Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.” In this spirit, Saint Cyril of Alexandria underscores that Christ, “Being holy by nature as God (...) is sanctified on our behalf in the Holy Spirit (...) and (Christ) performed this on our behalf, not on his own behalf, so that from him and in him, who first received this sanctification, the grace of being sanctified may thus pass to all humanity ...” (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 11, PG 74, 548).

According to St. Cyril, Christ is our "common person" through the recapitulation in his own humanity of the entire human race, "for we were all in Christ, and the common person of humanity comes to life again in him" (Commentary on the Gospel of John, XI, PG 73. 157-161), and hence also he is the sole source of man's sanctification in the Holy Spirit. In this spirit, holiness is man’s participation both in the sacrament of the Church and also in her sacred mysteries, with the holy Eucharist at the center,  which is “a living sacrifice, holy, and pleasing to God” (cf. Rom 12.1). “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But rather, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom 8.35-37). The saints embody the eschatological identity of the Church as an eternal doxology before the earthly and heavenly Throne of the King of Glory (Ps 23.7), providing an image of the Kingdom of God.

5. The Orthodox Catholic Church comprises fourteen local Autocephalous Churches, recognized at a pan-Orthodox level. The principle of autocephaly cannot be allowed to operate at the expense of the principle of the catholicity and the unity of the Church. We therefore consider that the creation of the Episcopal Assemblies in the Orthodox Diaspora, comprising all the recognized canonical bishops, who in each area are appointed to their respective assembly, and who remain under their canonical jurisdictions, represents a positive step towards their canonical organization, and the smooth functioning of these assemblies guarantees respect for the ecclesiological principle of conciliarity.

II. The mission of the Church in the world

6. The apostolic work and the proclamation of the Gospel, also known as mission, belong at the core of the Church’s identity, as the keeping and observation of Christ’s commandment: “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28.19). This is the “breath of life” that the Church breathes into human society and makes the world into Church through the newly-established local Churches everywhere. In this spirit, the Orthodox faithful are and ought to be Christ’s apostles in the world. This mission must be fulfilled, not aggressively, but freely, with love and respect towards the cultural identity of individuals and peoples. All Orthodox Churches ought to participate in this endeavor with due respect for canonical order.

Participation in the holy Eucharist is a source of missionary zeal for the evangelization of the world. By participating in the holy Eucharist and praying in the Sacred Synaxis for the whole world (oikoumene), we are called to continue the “liturgy after the Liturgy” and to offer witness concerning the truth of our faith before God and mankind, sharing God’s gifts with all mankind, in obedience to the explicit commandment of our Lord before His Ascension: “And you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1.8). The words of the Divine Liturgy prior to Communion, “Dismembered and distributed is the Lamb of God, who is dismembered and not divided, ever eaten, yet never consumed,” indicate that Christ as the “Lamb of God” (John 1.29) and the “Bread of Life” (John 6.48) is offered to us as eternal Love, uniting us to God and to one another. It teaches us to distribute God’s gifts and to offer ourselves to everyone in a Christ-like way.

The life of Christians is a truthful witness to the renewal in Christ of all things – “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor 5.17) – and an invitation addressed to all people for personal and free participation in eternal life, in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the love of God the Father, in order to experience the communion of the Holy Spirit in the Church. “For the mystery of salvation is for those who desire it, not for those who are being coerced” (Maximus Confessor PG 90.880). The re-evangelization of God’s people in contemporary secularized societies, as well as the evangelization of those who have not yet come to know Christ, is the unceasing duty of the Church.

III. The Family: Image of Christ’s love towards the Church

7. The Orthodox Church regards the indissoluble loving union of man and woman as a “great mystery” … of Christ and the Church (Eph 5.32) and she regards the family that springs from this, which constitutes the only guarantee for the birth and upbringing of children in accord with the plan of divine Economy, as a “little Church” (John Chrysostom, Commentary of the Letter to the Ephesians, 20, PG 62.143), giving to it the appropriate pastoral support.

The contemporary crisis in marriage and the family is a consequence of the crisis of freedom as responsibility, its decline into a self-centered self-realization, its identification with individual self-gratification, self-sufficiency and autonomy, and the loss of the sacramental character of the union between man and woman, resulting from forgetfulness of the sacrificial ethos of love. Contemporary society approaches marriage in a secular way with purely sociological and realistic criteria, regarding it as a simple form of relationship – one among many others – all of which are entitled to equal institutional validity.

Marriage is a Church-nurtured workshop of life in love and an unsurpassed gift of God’s grace. The “high hand” of the “conjoining” God is “invisibly present, harmonizing those being joined together” with Christ and with one another. The crowns that are placed on the heads of the bride and groom during the sacramental rite refer to the dimension of sacrifice and complete devotion to God and one another. They also point to the life of the Kingdom of God, revealing the eschatological reference in the mystery of love.

8. The Holy and Great Council addresses itself with particular love and care to children and to all young people. Amid the medley of mutually contradictory definitions of childhood, our most holy Church presents the words of our Lord: “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18.3) and “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it (Luke 18.17), as well as what our Savior says about those who “prevent” (Luke 18.16) children from approaching Him and about those who “scandalize” them (Matt 18.6).

To young people the Church offers not simply “help” but “truth,” the truth of the new divine-human life in Christ. Orthodox youthshould become aware that they are bearers of the centuries-old and blessed tradition of the Orthodox Church and also the continuers of this tradition who will courageously preserve and will cultivate in a dynamic way the eternal values of Orthodoxy in order to give life-giving Christian witness. From among them will come the future ministers of the Church of Christ. The young people thus are not simply the “future” of the Church, but also the active expression of her God-loving and human-loving life in the present.

IV. Education in Christ

9. In our time, new tendencies can be observed in the realm of upbringing and education in regard to the content and aims of education as well as in the way childhood, the role of both teacher and student and the role of the contemporary school are viewed. Since education relates not only to what man is, but also to what man should be and to the content of his responsibility, it is self-evident that the image we have of the human person and the meaning of existence determine our view of his education. The dominant secularized individualistic educational system that troubles young people today is of deep concern to the Orthodox Church.

At the center of the Church’s pastoral concern is an education that looks not only to the cultivation of the intellect, but also to the edification and development of the whole person as a psycho-somatic and spiritual being in accordance with the triptych, God, man and world. In her catechetical discourse, the Orthodox Church caringly calls on the people of God, especially the young people, to a conscious and active participation in the life of the Church, cultivating in them the “excellent desire” for life in Christ. Thus, the fullness of the Christian people finds an existential support in the divine-human communion of the Church and experiences in this the resurrectional perspective of theosis by grace.

V. The Church in the face of contemporary challenges

10. The Church of Christ today finds herself confronted by extreme or even provocative expressions of the ideology of secularization, inherent in political, cultural and social developments. A basic element of the ideology of secularization has ever been and continues to be the full autonomy of man from Christ and from the spiritual influence of the Church, by the arbitrary identification of the Church with conservatism and by the historically unjustified characterization of the Church as an alleged impediment to all progress and development. In contemporary secularized societies, man, cut off from God, identifies his freedom and the meaning of his life with absolute autonomy and with release from his eternal destiny, resulting in a series of misunderstandings and deliberate misinterpretations of the Christian tradition. The bestowal on man from above of freedom in Christ and his advancement “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4.13) is thus seen to go against man’s tendencies for self-salvation. Christ’s sacrificial love is regarded as incompatible with individualism while the ascetic character of the Christian ethos is judged as an unbearable challenge to the happiness of the individual.

The identification of the Church with conservatism, incompatible with the advancement of civilization, is arbitrary and improper, since the consciousness of the identity of the Christian peoples bears the indelible imprint of the diachronic contribution of the Church, not only in their cultural heritage, but also in the healthy development of secular civilization more generally, since God placed man as steward of the divine creation and as a co-worker with Him in the world. The Orthodox Church sets against the “man-god’ of the contemporary world the ‘God-man’ as the ultimate measure of all things. “We do not speak of a man who has been deified, but of God who has become man” (John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith iii, 2 PG 94.988). The Church reveals the saving truth of the God-man and His body, the Church, as the locus and mode of life in freedom, “speaking the truth in love” (cf. Eph 4.15), and as participation even now on earth in the life of the resurrected Christ. The divine-human character [“not of the world” (John 18.36)] of the Church, which nourishes and guides her presence and witness “in the world,” is incompatible with any kind of conformation of the Church to the world (cf. Rom 12.2).

11. Through the contemporary development of science and technology, our life is changing radically. And what brings about a change in the life of man demands discernment on his part, since, apart from significant benefits, such as the facilitation of everyday life, the successful treatment of serious diseases and space exploration, we are also confronted with the negative consequences of scientific progress. The dangers are the manipulation of human freedom, the use of man as a simple means, the gradual loss of precious traditions, and threats to, or even the destruction of, the natural environment.

Unfortunately, science, by its very nature, does not possess the necessary means to prevent or address many of the problems it creates directly or indirectly. Scientific knowledge does not motivate man’s moral will, and even though aware of the dangers, he continues to act as if unaware of them. The answer to man’s serious existential and moral problems and to the eternal meaning of his life and of the world cannot be given without a spiritual approach.

12. In our age, there is a very prevalent enthusiasm for the impressive developments in the fields of Biology, Genetics and Neurophysiology. These represent scientific advances, the wide-ranging applications of which will, in all likelihood, create serious anthropological and moral dilemmas. The uncontrolled use of biotechnology at the beginning, during, and at the end of life, endangers its authentic fullness. Man is experimenting ever more intensively with his own very nature in an extreme and dangerous way. He is in danger of being turned into a biological machine, into an impersonal social unit or into a mechanical device of controlled thought.

The Orthodox Church cannot remain on the sidelines of discussions about such momentous anthropological, ethical and existential matters. She rests firmly on divinely taught criteria and reveals the relevance of Orthodox anthropology in the face of the contemporary overturning of values. Our Church can and must express in the world her prophetic consciousness in Christ Jesus, who with His Incarnation assumed the whole man and is the ultimate prototype for the renewal of the human race. She projects the sacredness of life and man’s character as a person from the very moment of conception. The right to be born is the first of human rights. The Church as a divine-human society, in which each human constitutes a unique being destined for personal communion with God, and she resists every attempt to objectify man, to turn him into a measurable quantity. No scientific achievement is permitted to compromise man’s dignity and his divine destination. Man is not defined only by his genes.

Bioethics from an Orthodox point of view is founded on this basis. At a time of conflicting images of man, Orthodox bioethics, in opposition to secular autonomous and reductionist anthropological views, insists on man’s creation in God’s image and likeness and his eternal destiny. The Church thus contributes to the enrichment of the philosophical and scientific discussion of bioethical questions through her scriptural anthropology and the spiritual experience of Orthodoxy.

13. In a global society, oriented towards ‘having’ and individualism, the Orthodox Catholic Church presents the truth of life in and according to Christ, the truth freely made incarnate in the everyday life of each man through his works “till evening” (Ps 103), through which he is made co-worker of the eternal Father [“We are co-workers with God” (1 Cor 3.9)] and of His Son [“My Father is working still, and I am working” (John 5.17)]. The grace of God sanctifies in the Holy Spirit the works of the hands of the man who works together with God, revealing the affirmation in them of life and of human society. Christian asceticism is to be placed within this framework; this differs radically from all dualistic asceticism that severs man from life and from his fellow man. Christian asceticism and the exercise of self-restraint, which connect man with the sacramental life of the Church, do not concern only the monastic life, but are characteristic of ecclesial life in all its manifestations, as a tangible witness to the presence of the eschatological spirit in the blessed life of the faithful.

14. The roots of the ecological crisis are spiritual and ethical, inhering within the heart of each man. This crisis has become more acute in recent centuries on account of the various divisions provoked by human passions – such as greed, avarice, egotism and the insatiable desire for more – and by their consequences for the planet, as with climate change, which now threatens to a large extent the natural environment, our common “home”. The rupture in the relationship between man and creation is a perversion of the authentic use of God’s creation. The approach to the ecological problem on the basis of the principles of the Christian tradition demands not only repentance for the sin of the exploitation of the natural resources of the planet, namely, a radical change in mentality and behavior, but also asceticism as an antidote to consumerism, the deification of needs and the acquisitive attitude. It also presupposes our greatest responsibility to hand down a viable natural environment to future generations and to use it according to divine will and blessing. In the sacraments of the Church, creation is affirmed and man is encouraged to act as a steward, protector and “priest” of creation, offering it by way of doxology to the Creator – “Your own of your own we offer to You in all and for all” – and cultivating a Eucharistic relationship with creation. This Orthodox, Gospel and Patristic approach also turns our attention to the social dimensions and the tragic consequences of the destruction of the natural environment.

VI. The Church in the face of globalization, the phenomenon of extreme violence and migration

15. The contemporary ideology of globalization, which is being imposed imperceptibly and expanding rapidly, is already provoking powerful shocks to the economy and to society on a world-wide scale. Its imposition has created new forms of systematic exploitation and social injustice; it has planned the gradual neutralization of the impediments from opposing national, religious, ideological and other traditions and has already led to the weakening or complete reversal of social acquisitions on the pretext of the allegedly necessary readjustment of the global economy, widening thus the gap between rich and poor, undermining the social cohesion of peoples and fanning new fires of global tensions.

In opposition to the levelling and impersonal standardization promoted by globalization, and also to the extremes of nationalism, the Orthodox Church proposes the protection of the identities of peoples and the strengthening of local identity. As an alternative example for the unity of mankind, she proposes the articulated organization of the Church on the basis of the equality of the local Churches. The Church is opposed to the provocative threat to contemporary man and the cultural traditions of peoples that globalization involves and the principle of the “autonomy of the economy” or “economism,” that is, the autonomization of the economy from man’s essential needs and its transformation into an end in itself. She therefore proposes a viable economy founded on the principles of the Gospel. Thus, guided by the words of the Lord, “man shall not live by bread alone” (Luke 4.4), the Church does not connect the progress of mankind only with an increase in living standards or with economic development at the expense of spiritual values.

16. The Church does not involve herself with politics in the narrow sense of the term. Her witness, however, is essentially political insofar as it expresses concern for man and his spiritual freedom. The voice of the Church was always distinct and will ever remain a beneficial intervention for the sake of humanity. The local Orthodox Churches are today called to promote a new constructive synergy with the secular state and its rule of law within the new framework of international relations, in accordance with the biblical saying: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (cf. Matt 22.21). This synergy must, however, preserve the specific identity of both Church and state and ensure their earnest cooperation in order to preserve man's unique dignity and the human rights which flow therefrom, and in order to assure social justice.

Human rights are today at the center of political debate as a response to contemporary social and political crises and upheavals and in order to protect the freedom of the individual. The approach to human rights on the part of the Orthodox Church centers on the danger of individual rights falling into individualism and a culture of “rights”. A perversion of this kind functions at the expense of the social content of freedom and leads to the arbitrary transformation of rights into claims for happiness, as well as the elevation of the precarious identification of freedom with individual license into a “universal value” that undermines the foundations of social values, of the family, of religion, of the nation and threatens fundamental moral values.

Accordingly, the Orthodox understanding of man is opposed both to the arrogant apotheosis of the individual and his rights, and to the humiliating debasement of the human person within the vast contemporary structures of economy, society, politics and communication. The tradition of Orthodoxy is an inexhaustible source of vital truths for mankind. No one has honored man and cared for him as much as the God-man Christ and his Church. A fundamental human right is the protection of the principle of religious freedom in all its aspects--namely, the freedom of conscience, belief, and religion, including, alone and in community, in private and in public, the right to freedom of worship and practice, the right to manifest one's religion, as well as the right of religious communities to religious education and to the full function and exercise of their religious duties, without any form of direct or indirect interference by the state.

17. We are experiencing today an increase of violence in the name of God. The explosions of fundamentalism within religious communities threaten to create the view that fundamentalism belongs to the essence of the phenomenon of religion. The truth, however, is that fundamentalism, as “zeal not based on knowledge” (Rom 10.2), constitutes an expression of morbid religiosity. A true Christian, following the example of the crucified Lord, sacrifices himself and does not sacrifice others, and for this reason is the most stringent critic of fundamentalism of whatever provenance. Honest interfaith dialogue contributes to the development of mutual trust and to the promotion of peace and reconciliation. The Church strives to make “the peace from on high” more tangibly felt on earth. True peace is not achieved by force of arms, but only through love that “does not seek its own” (1 Cor 13.5). The oil of faith must be used to soothe and heal the wounds of others, not to rekindle new fires of hatred.

18. The Orthodox Church follows with much pain and prayer and takes note of the great contemporary humanitarian crisis: the proliferation of violence and military conflicts; the persecution, exile and murder of members of religious minorities; the violent displacement of families from their homelands; the tragedy of human trafficking; the violation of the dignity and fundamental rights of individuals and peoples, and forced conversions. She condemns unconditionally the abductions, tortures, and abhorrent executions. She denounces the destruction of places of worship, religious symbols and cultural monuments.

The Orthodox Church is particularly concerned about the situation facing Christians, and other persecuted ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East. In particular, she addresses an appeal to governments in that region to protect the Christian populations – Orthodox, Ancient Eastern and other Christians – who have survived in the cradle of Christianity. The indigenous Christian and other populations enjoy the inalienable right to remain in their countries as citizens with equal rights.

We therefore urge all parties involved, irrespective of religious convictions, to work for reconciliation and respect for human rights, first of all through the protection of the divine gift of life. The war and bloodshed must be brought to an end and justice must prevail so that peace can be restored and so that it becomes possible for those who have been exiled to return to their ancestral lands.  We pray for peace and justice in the suffering countries of Africa and in the troubled country of Ukraine. We reiterate most emphatically in conciliar unity our appeal to those responsible to free the two bishops who have been abducted in Syria, Paul Yazigi and John İbrahim. We pray also for the release of all our brothers and sisters being held hostage or in captivity.

19. The contemporary and ever intensifying refugee and migrant crisis, due to political, economic and environmental causes, is at the center of the world’s attention. The Orthodox Church has always treated and continues to treat those who are persecuted, in danger and in need on the basis of the Lord’s words: “I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink, and was a stranger and you took me in, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to me”, and “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these my brethren, you did for me” (Matt 25.40). Throughout its history, the Church was always on the side of the “weary and heavy laden” (cf. Matt 11.28). At no time was the Church’s philanthropic work limited merely to circumstantial good deeds toward the needy and suffering, but rather it sought to eradicate the causes which create social problems. The Church’s “work of service” (Eph 4.12) is recognized by everyone.

We appeal therefore first of all to those able to remove the causes for the creation of the refugee crisis to take the necessary positive decisions. We call on the civil authorities, the Orthodox faithful and the other citizens of the countries in which they have sought refuge and continue to seek refuge to accord them every possible assistance, even from out of their own insufficiency.

VII. Church: witness in dialogue

20. The Church manifests sensitivity towards those who have severed themselves from communion with her and is concerned for those who do not understand her voice. Conscious that she constitutes the living presence of Christ in the world, the Church translates the divine economy into concrete actions using all means at her disposal to give a trustworthy witness to the truth, in the precision of the apostolic faith. In this spirit of recognition of the need for witness and offering, the Orthodox Church has always attached great importance to dialogue, and especially to that with non-Orthodox Christians. Through this dialogue, the rest of the Christian world is now more familiar with Orthodoxy and the authenticity of its tradition. It also knows that the Orthodox Church has never accepted theological minimalism or permitted its dogmatic tradition and evangelical ethos to be called into question. Inter-Christian dialogues have provided Orthodoxy with the opportunity to display her respect for the teaching of the Fathers and to bear a trustworthy witness to the genuine tradition of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. The multilateral dialogues undertaken by the Orthodox Church have never signified, and do not signify, nor will they ever signify, any compromise in matters of faith. These dialogues are a witness to Orthodoxy, grounded on the Gospel message “come and see” (John 1.46), see, namely, that "God is love" (1 John 4.8).

***

In this spirit, the Orthodox Church throughout the world, being the revelation of the Kingdom of God in Christ, experiences the entire mystery of the divine Economy in her sacramental life, with the holy Eucharist at its center, in which she offers to us not nourishment that is perishable and corruptible, but the very life-streaming Body of the Lord, the “heavenly Bread” which “is a medicine of immortality, an antidote for not dying but living in God through Jesus Christ, and a purgative expelling evil” (Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Ephesians, 20, PG 5.756). The holy Eucharist constitutes the innermost core also of the conciliar functioning of the ecclesial body, as well as the authentic confirmation of the Orthodoxy of the faith of the Church, as Saint Irenaeus of Lyon proclaims: “Our teaching is in accord with the Eucharist and the Eucharist confirms our teaching” (Against Heresies, 4. 18, PG 7.1028).

Proclaiming the Gospel to all the world in accord with the Lord’s command and “preaching in His name repentance and remission of sins to all the nations” (Luke 22.47), we have the obligation to commit ourselves and one another and our whole life to Christ our God and to love one another, confessing with one mind: “Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Trinity consubstantial and undivided.” Addressing these things in Council to the children throughout the world of our most holy Orthodox Church, as well as to the entire world, following the holy Fathers and the Conciliar decrees so as to preserve the faith received from our fathers and to “uphold good ways” in our daily life in the hope of the common resurrection, we glorify God in three hypostases with divine songs:


“O Father almighty, and Word and Spirit, one nature united in three persons, God beyond being and beyond divinity, in You we have been baptized, and You we bless to the ages of ages.” (Paschal Canon, Ode 8.)


† Bartholomew of Constantinople, Chairman

† Theodoros of Alexandria

† Theophilos of Jerusalem

† Irinej of Serbia

†Daniel of Romania

† Chrysostomos of Cyprus

† Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece

† Sawa of Warsaw and All Poland

† Anastasios of Tirana, Durres and All Albania

† Rastislav of Presov, the Czech Lands and Slovakia

Delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

† Leo of Karelia and All Finland

† Stephanos of Tallinn and All Estonia

† Elder Metropolitan John of Pergamon

† Elder Archbishop Demetrios of America

† Augustinos of Germany

† Irenaios of Crete

† Isaiah of Denver

† Alexios of Atlanta

† Iakovos of the Princes’ Islands

† Joseph of Proikonnisos

† Meliton of Philadelphia

† Emmanuel of France

† Nikitas of the Dardanelles

† Nicholas of Detroit

† Gerasimos of San Francisco

† Amphilochios of Kisamos and Selinos

† Amvrosios of Korea

† Maximos of Selyvria

† Amphilochios of Adrianopolis

† Kallistos of Diokleia

† Antony of Hierapolis, Head of the Ukrainian Orthodox in the USA

† Job of Telmessos

† Jean of Charioupolis, Head of the Patriarchal Exarchate for Orthodox Parishes of the Russian Tradition in Western Europe

† Gregory of Nyssa, Head of the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox in the USA

Delegation of the Patriarchate of Alexandria

† Gabriel of Leontopolis

† Makarios of Nairobi

† Jonah of Kampala

† Seraphim of Zimbabwe and Angola

† Alexandros of Nigeria

† Theophylaktos of Tripoli

† Sergios of Good Hope

† Athanasios of Cyrene

† Alexios of Carthage

† Ieronymos of Mwanza

† George of Guinea

† Nicholas of Hermopolis

† Dimitrios of Irinopolis

† Damaskinos of Johannesburg and Pretoria

† Narkissos of Accra

† Emmanouel of Ptolemaidos

† Gregorios of Cameroon

† Nicodemos of Memphis

† Meletios of Katanga

† Panteleimon of Brazzaville and Gabon

† Innokentios of Burudi and Rwanda

† Crysostomos of Mozambique

† Neofytos of Nyeri and Mount Kenya

Delegation of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem

† Benedict of Philadelphia

† Aristarchos of Constantine

† Theophylaktos of Jordan

† Nektarios of Anthidon

† Philoumenos of Pella

Delegation of the Church of Serbia

† Jovan of Ohrid and Skopje

† Amfilohije of Montenegro and the Littoral

† Porfirije of Zagreb and Ljubljana

† Vasilije of Sirmium

† Lukijan of Budim

† Longin of Nova Gracanica

† Irinej of Backa

† Hrizostom of Zvornik and Tuzla

† Justin of Zica

† Pahomije of Vranje

† Jovan of Sumadija

† Ignatije of Branicevo

† Fotije of Dalmatia

† Athanasios of Bihac and Petrovac

† Joanikije of Niksic and Budimlje

† Grigorije of Zahumlje and Hercegovina

† Milutin of Valjevo

† Maksim in Western America

† Irinej in Australia and New Zealand

† David of Krusevac

† Jovan of Slavonija

† Andrej in Austria and Switzerland

† Sergije of Frankfurt and in Germany

† Ilarion of Timok

Delegation of the Church of Romania

† Teofan of Iasi, Moldova and Bucovina

† Laurentiu of Sibiu and Transylvania

† Andrei of Vad, Feleac, Cluj, Alba, Crisana and Maramures

† Irineu of Craiova and Oltenia

† Ioan of Timisoara and Banat

† Iosif in Western and Southern Europe

† Serafim in Germany and Central Europe

† Nifon of Targoviste

† Irineu of Alba Iulia

† Ioachim of Roman and Bacau

† Casian of Lower Danube

† Timotei of Arad

† Nicolae in America

† Sofronie of Oradea

† Nicodim of Strehaia and Severin

† Visarion of Tulcea

† Petroniu of Salaj

† Siluan in Hungary

† Siluan in Italy

† Timotei in Spain and Portugal

† Macarie in Northern Europe

† Varlaam Ploiesteanul, Assistant Bishop to the Patriarch

† Emilian Lovisteanul, Assistant Bishop to the Archdiocese of Ramnic

† Ioan Casian of Vicina, Assistant Bishop to the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese of the Americas

Delegation of the Church of Cyprus

† Georgios of Paphos

† Chrysostomos of Kition

† Chrysostomos of Kyrenia

† Athanasios of Limassol

† Neophytos of Morphou

† Vasileios of Constantia and Ammochostos

† Nikiphoros of Kykkos and Tillyria

† Isaias of Tamassos and Oreini

† Barnabas of Tremithousa and Lefkara

† Christophoros of Karpasion

† Nektarios of Arsinoe

† Nikolaos of Amathus

† Epiphanios of Ledra

† Leontios of Chytron

† Porphyrios of Neapolis

† Gregory of Mesaoria

Delegation of the Church of Greece

† Prokopios of Philippi, Neapolis and Thassos

† Chrysostomos of Peristerion

† Germanos of Eleia

† Alexandros of Mantineia and Kynouria

† Ignatios of Arta

† Damaskinos of Didymoteixon, Orestias and Soufli

† Alexios of Nikaia

† Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Aghios Vlasios

† Eusebios of Samos and Ikaria

† Seraphim of Kastoria

† Ignatios of Demetrias and Almyros

† Nicodemos of Kassandreia

† Ephraim of Hydra, Spetses and Aegina

† Theologos of Serres and Nigrita

† Makarios of Sidirokastron

† Anthimos of Alexandroupolis

† Barnabas of Neapolis and Stavroupolis

† Chrysostomos of Messenia

† Athenagoras of Ilion, Acharnon and Petroupoli

† Ioannis of Lagkada, Litis and Rentinis

† Gabriel of New Ionia and Philadelphia

† Chrysostomos of Nikopolis and Preveza

† Theoklitos of Ierissos, Mount Athos and Ardameri

Delegation of the Church of Poland

† Simon of Lodz and Poznan

† Abel of Lublin and Chelm

† Jacob of Bialystok and Gdansk

† George of Siemiatycze

† Paisios of Gorlice

Delegation of the Church of Albania

† Joan of Koritsa

† Demetrios of Argyrokastron

† Nikolla of Apollonia and Fier

† Andon of Elbasan

† Nathaniel of Amantia

† Asti of Bylis

Delegation of the Church of the Czech lands and Slovakia

† Michal of Prague

† Isaiah of Sumperk


† Jeremy of Switzerland, Chief of the Panorthodox Secretariat of the Holy and Great Council


JUNE 25th
The Divine Liturgy at the Patriarchal and Stavropegial Monastery of Gonia. PHOTO: © JOHN MINDALA.

His Beatitude Archbishop Anastasios of Albania attends the Divine Liturgy at the Patriarchal and Stavropegial Monastery of Gonia. PHOTO: © JOHN MINDAL

Day five of the Holy and Great Council. PHOTO: © POLISH ORTHODOX CHURCH/JAROSLAW CHARKIEWICZ.

Day five of the Holy and Great Council. PHOTO: © POLISH ORTHODOX CHURCH/JAROSLAW CHARKIEWICZ.

Day five of the Holy and Great Council. PHOTO: © POLISH ORTHODOX CHURCH/JAROSLAW CHARKIEWICZ.




MESSAGE OF THE HOLY AND GREAT COUNCIL

OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH



To the Orthodox people

and to all people of good will


To God, "the Father of mercies and all comfort," we address a hymn of thanksgiving and praise for having enabled us to gather during the week of Pentecost (18-26 June 2016) on Crete, where the Apostle Paul and his disciple Titus preached the Gospel in the early years of the life of the Church. We give thanks to the Triune God who was well pleased that in one accord we should bring to a conclusion the work of the Holy and Great Council that was convoked by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch. Bartholomew by the common will of their Beatitudes the Primates of the local Orthodox Autocephalous Churches.


Faithfully following the example of the Apostles and our god-bearing Fathers we have once again studied the Gospel of freedom "for which Christ has set us free" (Gal. 5: 1). The foundation of our theological discussions was the certainty that the Church does not live for herself. She transmits the witness of the Gospel of grace and truth and offers to the whole world the gifts of God: love, peace, justice, reconciliation, the power of the Cross and of the Resurrection and the expectation of eternal life.


1) The key priority of the Council was to proclaim the unity of the Orthodox Church. Founded on the Eucharist and the Apostolic Succession of her Bishops, the existing unity needs to be strengthened and to bear new fruits. The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is a divine-human communion, a foretaste and experience of the eschaton within the Holy Eucharist. As a continuous Pentecost, she is a prophetic voice that cannot be silenced, the presence of and witness to the Kingdom of the God of love. The Orthodox Church, faithful to the unanimous Apostolic Tradition and her sacramental experience, is the authentic continuation of the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church as confessed in the Creed and confirmed by the teaching of the Church Fathers. Our Church lives out the mystery of the Divine Economy in her sacramental life, with the Holy Eucharist at its center.


The Orthodox Church expresses her unity and catholicity "in Council". Conciliarity pervades her organization, the way decisions are taken and determines her path. The Orthodox Autocephalous Churches do not constitute a federation of Churches, but the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Each local Church as she offers the holy Eucharist is the local presence and manifestation of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. In regard to the Orthodox Diaspora in various countries of the world, it was decided to continue with the institution of Episcopal Assemblies until such time as canonical rigor can be implemented. These assemblies are composed of the canonical bishops appointed by each Autocephalous Church and these bishops continue to remain subject to their respective Churches. The due function of these Episcopal Assemblies guarantees respect for the Orthodox principle of conciliarity.


During the deliberations of the Holy and Great Council the importance of the Synaxes of the Primates which had taken place was emphasized and the proposal was made for the Holy and Great Council to become a regular Institution to be convened every seven or ten years.


2) Participating in the Holy Eucharist and praying for the whole world, we must continue the 'liturgy after the Divine Liturgy' and give the witness of faith to those near and those far off, in accordance with the Lord's clear command before His ascension, "And you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth (Ac. 1: 8). The re-evangelization of God's people in modern, secularized societies and the evangelization of those who have still not come to know Christ remain an unceasing obligation for the Church.


3) In response to her obligation to witness to the truth and her apostolic faith, our Church attaches great importance to dialogue, primarily with non Orthodox Christians. In this way the remainder of the Christian world comes to know more precisely the authenticity of the Orthodox Tradition, the value of patristic teaching and the liturgical life and faith of the Orthodox. The dialogues conducted by the Orthodox Church never imply a compromise in matters of faith.


4) The explosions of fundamentalism observed within various religions represent an expression of morbid religiosity. Sober inter-religious dialogue helps significantly to promote mutual trust, peace and reconciliation. The oil of religious experience must be used to heal wounds and not to rekindle the fire of military conflicts. The Orthodox Church unequivocally condemns the extension of military violence, persecutions, the expulsion and murder of members of religious minorities, forced conversions, the trafficking of refugees, the abductions, torture and abhorrent executions. She denounces the destruction of churches, religious symbols and cultural monuments. Very particularly, she expresses her deep concern about the situation of Christians and of all the persecuted minorities in the Middle East. She calls on the governments in the region to protect the indigenous Orthodox and other Christians and all the populations who have an inalienable right to remain in their countries as citizens with equal rights. Our Council appeals to all parties involved to make systematic efforts without delay to bring to an end the military conflicts in the Middle East and wherever armed hostilities persist and to enable all those displaced to return to their homes.


We address our appeal particularly to those in positions of power to act so that peace and justice may prevail in the countries of origin of the refugees. We urge the civil authorities, the citizens and the Orthodox Christians in the countries in which the persecuted are taking refuge to continue to offer help to the limit or even beyond the limit of their abilities.


5) Modern secularisation seeks the autonomy of man (anthropos) from Christ and from the spiritual influence of the Church, which it arbitrarily identifies with conservatism. Western civilization, however, bears the indelible mark of the diachronic contribution of Christianity. The Church, moreover, highlights the saving significance of Christ, the God-man, and of His Body, as the place and mode of life in freedom.


6) In contrast to the contemporary approach to marriage, the Orthodox Church regards the indissoluble loving relationship of man and woman as "a great mystery... of Christ and the Church". Similarly, she calls the family which springs from this and which constitutes the only guarantee for the upbringing of children a "little church".


The Church has always emphasised the value of self-restraint. Christian asceticism, however, differs radically from every dualistic asceticism which severs man from life and from his fellow man. On the contrary, she connects this with the sacramental life of the Church. Self-restraint does not concern only the monastic life. The ascetic ethos is a characteristic of Christian life in all its manifestations.


**


Apart from the specific topics about which it decided, the Holy and Great Council notes in brief the following important contemporary issues:


7) In regard to the matter of the relations between Christian faith and the natural sciences, the Orthodox Church avoids placing scientific investigation under tutelage and does not adopt a position on every scientific question. She thanks God who gives to scientists the gift of uncovering unknown dimensions of divine creation. The modern development of the natural sciences and of technology is bringing radical changes to our life. It brings significant benefits, such as the facilitation of everyday life, the treatment of serious diseases, easier communications and space exploration, and so on. In spite of this, however, there are many negative consequences such as the manipulation of freedom, the gradual loss of precious traditions, the destruction of the natural environment and the questioning of moral values. Scientific knowledge, however swiftly it may be advancing, does not motivate man's will, nor does it give answers to serious moral and existential issues and to the search for the meaning of life and of the world. These matters demand a spiritual approach, which the Orthodox Church attempts to provide through a bioethics which is founded on Christian ethics and Patristic teaching. Along with her respect for the freedom of scientific investigation, the Orthodox Church at the same time points out the dangers concealed in certain scientific achievements and emphasises man's dignity and his divine destiny.


8) It is clear that the present-day ecological crisis is due to spiritual and moral causes. Its roots are connected with greed, avarice and egoism, which lead to the thoughtless use of natural resources, the filling of the atmosphere with damaging pollutants, and to climate change. The Christian response to the problem demands repentance for the abuses, an ascetic frame of mind as an antidote to overconsumption, and at the same time a cultivation of the consciousness that man is a "steward " and not a possessor of creation. The Church never ceases to emphasise that future generations also have a right to the the natural resources that the Creator has given us. For this reason, the Orthodox Church takes an active part in the various international ecological initiatives and has ordained the 1st September as a day of prayer for the protection of the natural environment.


9) Against the levelling and impersonal standardization that is promoted in so many ways, Orthodoxy proposes respect for the particular characteristics of individuals peoples. It is also opposed the making of the economy into something autonomous from basic human needs and turning it into an end in itself. The progress of mankind is not connected only with an increase in living standards or with economic development at the expense of spiritual values.


10) The Orthodox Church does not involve herself in politics. Her voice remains distinct, but also prophetic, as a beneficial intervention for the sake of man. Human rights today are at the center of politics as a response to the social and political crises and upheavals, and seek to protect the citizen from the arbitrary power of the state. Our Church also adds to this the obligations and responsibilities of the citizens and the need for constant self-criticism on the part of both politicians and citizens for the improvement of society. And above all she emphasises that the Orthodox ideal in respect of man transcends the horizon of established human rights and that " greatest of all is love", as Christ revealed and as all the faithful who follow him have experienced.  She insists also that a fundamental human right is the protection of religious freedom--namely, freedom of conscience, belief, and religion, including, alone and in community, in private and in public, the right to freedom of worship and practice, the right to manifest one's religion, as well as the right of religious communities to religious education and to the full function and exercise of their religious duties, without any form of direct or indirect interference by the state.


11) The Orthodox Church addresses herself to young people who seek for a plenitude of life replete with freedom, justice, creativity and also love. She invites them to join themselves consciously with the Church of Him who is Truth and Life. To come, offering to the ecclesial body their vitality, their anxieties, their concerns and their expectations. Young people are not only the future, but also the dynamic and creative present of the Church, both on a local and on a world-wide level.


12) The Holy and Great Council has opened our horizon towards the contemporary diverse and multifarious world. It has emphasised our responsibility in place and in time, ever with the perspective of eternity. The Orthodox Church, preserving intact her Sacramental and Soteriological character, is sensitive to the pain, the distress and the cry for justice and peace of the peoples of the world. She "proclaims day after day the good tidings of His salvation, announcing His glory among the nations and His wonders among all peoples" (Psalm 95).


Let us pray that "the God of all grace, who has called us to his eternal glory in Christ, will, after we have suffered a little, Himself restore, establish, and strengthen and settle us. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen" (1 Peter 5.10-11).


† Bartholomew of Constantinople, Chairman


† Theodoros of Alexandria


† Theophilos of Jerusalem


† Irinej of Serbia


†Daniel of Romania


† Chrysostomos of Cyprus


† Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece


etc.

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