Friday, February 12, 2016

Joint Declaration of Pope Francis & Pat. Kirill of Moscow

It's so long and wide-reaching you can see why they were still editing the below document up to the day before the face-to-face meeting.

(MOSPAT-USA) - "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father and the fellowship of the holy Spirit be with all of you” (2 Cor 13:13).

1. By God the Father’s will, from which all gifts come, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the help of the Holy Spirit Consolator, we, Pope Francis and Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, have met today in Havana. We give thanks to God, glorified in the Trinity, for this meeting, the first in history.

It is with joy that we have met like brothers in the Christian faith who encounter one another "to speak face to face” (2 Jn 12), from heart to heart, to discuss the mutual relations between the Churches, the crucial problems of our faithful, and the outlook for the progress of human civilization.

2. Our fraternal meeting has taken place in Cuba, at the crossroads of North and South, East and West. It is from this island, the symbol of the hopes of the "New World” and the dramatic events of the history of the twentieth century, that we address our words to all the peoples of Latin America and of the other continents.

It is a source of joy that the Christian faith is growing here in a dynamic way. The powerful religious potential of Latin America, its centuries–old Christian tradition, grounded in the personal experience of millions of people, are the pledge of a great future for this region.

3. By meeting far from the longstanding disputes of the "Old World”, we experience with a particular sense of urgency the need for the shared labour of Catholics and Orthodox, who are called, with gentleness and respect, to give an explanation to the world of the hope in us (cf. 1 Pet 3:15).

4. We thank God for the gifts received from the coming into the world of His only Son. We share the same spiritual Tradition of the first millennium of Christianity. The witnesses of this Tradition are the Most Holy Mother of God, the Virgin Mary, and the saints we venerate. Among them are innumerable martyrs who have given witness to their faithfulness to Christ and have become the "seed of Christians”.

5. Notwithstanding this shared Tradition of the first ten centuries, for nearly one thousand years Catholics and Orthodox have been deprived of communion in the Eucharist. We have been divided by wounds caused by old and recent conflicts, by differences inherited from our ancestors, in the understanding and expression of our faith in God, one in three Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are pained by the loss of unity, the outcome of human weakness and of sin, which has occurred despite the priestly prayer of Christ the Saviour: "So that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you ... so that they may be one, as we are one” (Jn 17:21).

6. Mindful of the permanence of many obstacles, it is our hope that our meeting may contribute to the re–establishment of this unity willed by God, for which Christ prayed. May our meeting inspire Christians throughout the world to pray to the Lord with renewed fervour for the full unity of all His disciples. In a world which yearns not only for our words but also for tangible gestures, may this meeting be a sign of hope for all people of goodwill!

7. In our determination to undertake all that is necessary to overcome the historical divergences we have inherited, we wish to combine our efforts to give witness to the Gospel of Christ and to the shared heritage of the Church of the first millennium, responding together to the challenges of the contemporary world. Orthodox and Catholics must learn to give unanimously witness in those spheres in which this is possible and necessary. Human civilization has entered into a period of epochal change. Our Christian conscience and our pastoral responsibility compel us not to remain passive in the face of challenges requiring a shared response.

8. Our gaze must firstly turn to those regions of the world where Christians are victims of persecution. In many countries of the Middle East and North Africa whole families, villages and cities of our brothers and sisters in Christ are being completely exterminated. Their churches are being barbarously ravaged and looted, their sacred objects profaned, their monuments destroyed. It is with pain that we call to mind the situation in Syria, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East, and the massive exodus of Christians from the land in which our faith was first disseminated and in which they have lived since the time of the Apostles, together with other religious communities.

9. We call upon the international community to act urgently in order to prevent the further expulsion of Christians from the Middle East. In raising our voice in defence of persecuted Christians, we wish to express our compassion for the suffering experienced by the faithful of other religious traditions who have also become victims of civil war, chaos and terrorist violence.

"Finally, Brother."

Patriarch Kirill is in Havana

(MOSPAT) - On 11 February 2016, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia began his Primatial visit to Latin America.

Cuba is the first country that he is visiting. His Holiness has come to Cuba at the invitation of Mr. Raúl Castro, President of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Cuba.

It is the first ever visit of a Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia to Latin America. Prior to his elevation to the Patriarchal throne in 2009, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill visited Cuba in 1998, 2004 and 2008 in his capacity as chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, and made his outstanding contribution to the promotion of contacts with this and other countries of Latin America. His Holiness will also visit the Republic of Paraguay and the Federative Republic of Brasil.

At Havana’s José Martí International Airport, the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church was met by Mr. Raúl Castro Ruz, President of Cuba’s Council of State and Council of Ministers.

Among those who met the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia at Havana’s airport were also Mr. Esteban Lazo Hernández, President of the National Assembly of People’s Power of the Republic of Cuba; Mr. Mikhail Kamynin, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to the Republic of Cuba; Mr. Alexander Alexandrov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Belarus to the Republic of Cuba; and other officials.

Addressing the mass media representatives, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill said:

“It is with warm feelings that I have come for the fourth time to the land of Cuba. I have arrived here on a friendly visit at the invitation of the head of the Republic of Cuba, Mr. Raúl Castro Ruz, President of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers. The people of Cuba and the people of Russia have been linked by the bonds of cooperation and sincere friendship for many years. Addressing the Cuban people, I would like to say that good feelings the Russian people have for Cuba are getting stronger today.

“I would like to convey to you cordial greetings from the citizens of Russia, as well as from all the people of the historical Rus’. I wish prosperity to the people of Cuba and happiness to each Cuban. May God’s mercy be with you.”

A brief meeting at the José Martí International Airport between His Holiness Patriarch Kirill and Mr. Raúl Castro followed.

An important item on the program of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill’s visit to Cuba is his meting with Pope Francis. It will take place at Havana’s José Martí International Airport on February 12. The meeting has been arranged in view of the crossing in their itineraries. Pope Francis will make a stop in Cuba on his way to Mexico. A joint declaration is expected to be signed at the conclusion of the meeting. As the Joint press release of the Holy See and the Moscow Patriarchate reads, “this meeting of the Primates of the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, after a long preparation, will be the first in history and will mark an important stage in relations between the two Churches. The Holy See and the Moscow Patriarchate hope that it will also be a sign of hope for all people of good will. They invite all Christians to pray fervently for God to bless this meeting, that it may bear good fruits.”

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth

Let's please keep things civil in the comment boxes. If you take the rhetoric up a notch, the next poster is going to take it up two more.

On the Orthodox-Catholic Havana meeting

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Russians supposedly fearful Pope will get too much respect

What an odd thing to worry about.

Moscow (Interfax) - The Russian Orthodox Church does not believe that the superiority of the Pope traditionally worshipped by Catholics will have an impact on the protocol and spirit of the oncoming meeting between the Pontiff and Patriarch Kirill.

"In the times when an undivided Church existed, the archbishop of the city of Rome was, indeed, the first in the list of primates of Christian Churches," Hieromonch Stefan (Igumnov), secretary of the Synodal Department for External Church Relations, said when speaking on Rossiya-24 television on Thursday.

This circumstance did have a mark on the protocol of communications between Christian leaders "but this procedure was considerably simplified during the pontificate of the current Pope", he went on.

"Perhaps, it will be understood from the protocol of the mutual greetings that the meeting is quite long-anticipated and that these people have much to discuss at the meeting," Hieromonch Stefan added.

The main point of the meeting, in his view, will be that the two leaders of the Christian world will be able to raise a "common powerful voice" on matters touching all mankind.

It is expected that Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis will have an opportunity to talk to each other for about three hours. Their meeting will be held at the international airport of Havana, the Cuban capital city, and is due to start at about 14:15 Friday local time.

The oncoming meeting between the head of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Pope will be the first in history. This meeting has been on the agenda of relations between the two Churches for about 20 years.

Proposed anti-blasphemy bill in Georgia gets attention

(Christian Times) - The former Soviet Republic of Georgia is planning a new bill that will legally punish irreverence toward religion. However, concerns have been raised the 'blasphemy bill' could be used against any organization who does not follow the church's principles.

The bill has been approved by committee, and according to The Guardian, is headed for the parliamentary floor. If passed, the bill will impose a fine of 100 lari, equivalent to $120 USD, for insults to religious feeling. The penalty will then be doubled if the offense is committed a second time.

Religious minorities fear the bill may be used to guard the interests of the influential Georgian Orthodox Church. While these minorities agree that all religions should be protected by the law, they are concerned the 'blasphemy bill' will become a tool for discrimination against them.

Baptist Bishop, Rusudan Gotsiridze, said that the law would not protect anyone; at least, not the minorities, and will be a powerful tool against freedom of speech.

Georgian ombudsman Ucha Nanuashvili also criticized the law saying that "the current wording proposes the 'insult to religious feelings' as the sole criterion for limiting freedom of expression, which... subjects one individual to another's will and places the believers in a privileged position."

The draft is most likely to be passed in a parliamentary election year. On February 2, the ruling Georgian Dream Coalition endorsed the document at a human rights committee hearing which was snubbed by the minority.

The blasphemy bill has caused division both within and outside the ruling coalition. Tamar Kordzaia, a member of the Georgian Dream coalition has spoken against the bill, saying that it comes short of international human rights standards and would upset the existing balance of civil liberties.

The Georgian Orthodox Church is associated with a pro-Russian and nationalist agenda, giving them much ruling power. Members of the said church have been associated with demonstrations, sometimes violent, against religious minorities such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews, Pentecostals, and Muslims. Back in September 2014, local Orthodox Christians slaughtered a pig and nailed its head to the front door of a Muslim boarding school to protest its opening.

New scholarships for Antiochian students at St. Tikhon's

(OCA) - Saint Tikhon’s Orthodox Theological Seminary here has announced the creation of three new scholarships for students from the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.

“It is a great joy to announce the creation of these three new full scholarships,” said His Eminence, Archbishop Michael, Seminary Rector. “The scholarships will cover tuition, room, and board, allowing these seminarians to focus on their priestly formation and enter ministry in the Holy Orthodox Church without any debt.”

The scholarships are named in honor of three current Antiochian hierarchs—the Patriarch John X Scholarship, the Metropolitan Joseph Scholarship, and the Bishop Thomas Scholarship.

“Saint Tikhon’s is honored to continue its long history of training young men for ministry in the Antiochian Archdiocese,” said Archpriest Dr. Steven Voytovich, Seminary Dean.

Marshall Makoul Goodge, a second-year seminarian from Saint Paul Antiochian Orthodox Church, Emmaus, PA, believes that Antiochian students will find a welcoming home at Saint Tikhon’s.

“There is no better place, to my mind, for priestly formation than Saint Tikhon’s,” he said. “The combination of the sound doctrinal, pastoral, and liturgical instruction at the seminary with the robust liturgical and prayer life at the monastery, the grounds of which were consecrated by our own Saint Raphael, provides the perfect balance between academics and spiritual life.”

Very, very long Greek Catholic analysis on Cuban meeting

It might be surprising to some that the Greek Catholics have a lot to say about this conference between the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of Moscow (ranging from fearful anxiety to thoughtful analyses to making fun of a Russian hierarch's English). The difference for them is that, unlike many Catholics, Greek Catholics live (some might say squat) in Orthodoxy's backyard. Any change in the relationship of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches has a significant effect on their daily lives. The below is the beginning of a very long article on the subject entitled "As pope and Russian patriarch meet, Ukraine fears a ‘shaky’ Vatican."

(Crux) In much of the world, Friday’s historic meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia in Havana, Cuba, will be hailed as a breakthrough. Attitudes are more mixed, however, in Ukraine, long the front line of tensions between Catholics and the Russian Orthodox.

There, the 5-million-strong Greek Catholic Church has suffered terribly for its loyalty to Rome, constituting the world’s largest underground religious body during the Soviet era, and it’s also a leader in civil resistance to the current Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine.

In this essay commissioned by Crux, the Rev. Andriy Chirovsky, a Greek Catholic archpriest at Saint Paul University in Ottawa, Canada, who also serves as editor-in-chief of LOGOS, a journal of Eastern Christian studies, discusses the summit.

Among his key arguments...
Complete article here.

Antiochian Church welcomes Pat. Kirill to Latin America

(Antiochian Church) - The Antiochian Orthodox Church receives in Sao Paulo, on behalf of His Beatitude John X the Patriarch of Antioch and all the east, the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, Cyril, who will celebrate the Divine Liturgy on Sunday February 21 in the Orthodox Cathedral of St. Paul, the center of the Antiochian Archdiocese in Sao Paulo and all Brazil, whose shepherd is His Eminence Archbishop Damaskinos (Mansur).

This unique event comes during the official tour paid by His Beatitude Cyril of Russia, to Latin America, between February 11- 21, which will be inaugurated by a historic meeting with His Holiness Pope Francis in Cuba on February 12 in the presence of very high official figures from Syrian and Lebanese origins, on political, diplomatic, and religious levels, besides a huge crowd of believers from antiochian and Russian churches in Sao Paulo. The visit of His Beatitude Cyril the Russian patriarch, to the Antiochian Orthodox church in Brazil, is a manifestation of deepening the brotherly relationships that hold the two Patriarchates, especially after the historic meeting with his Holiness Pope Francis, the meeting that has inserted and spread joy in the souls of our children in Brazil, since his Holiness holds deep thoughts and vision concerning the unity of the body of Christ which is promising good for every project or meeting that aims at uniting the churches.

His Eminence added that the visit is a chance, through which we thank his Beatitude the Patriarch of Russia and all the Russian people, for the help and endeavors they have exerted for the return of peace and tranquility to our turbulent east.

His Beatitude the Russian patriarch will bless the believers after the Divine Liturgy, then will meet with some official figures, at the bishop’s house, who shall partake of the lunch prepared by the Church, in honor of His Beatitude, and the Russian delegation in the Syrian club in Sao Paulo, after which, he leaves for the airport, to fly back to Russia.

Time spent doesn't mean value

Elder Cleopas on praying for the dead

From the blog Artoklasia, a post entitled "Why Pray For the Dead?"

When you die you will face what is known as the partial judgment. This will include a complete examination of your life. With a good account you will be led by angels to a mystical place where we will anticipate the joys of Paradise awaiting the final judgment and your resurrection. If you do not know God at this point and have not lead a life of repentance you will be controlled by the demons who will lead you to a place where you anticipate the torments of Hell or an eternal life separated from God.

Elder Cleopas tells us this about those who are destined for eternal torments,

"If someone at the partial judgment is destined for eternal torments and is a Christian and servant of Christ, he has but one hope. His hope is in the intercession of living Christians who are able to pray to Christ for him to be rescued from the torments of hell or at least to find some relief from them." Paul tells us, "we must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad." (2 Cor 5:10) but Elder Cleopa points out that Paul also said to Timothy, "I exhort therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks be made for all men." (1 Tim 2:1) Also James says, "Confess your sins to one another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." (James 5:16)

Elder Cleopa says, "Consequently, if our prayers are able to benefit the living for what reason are they powerless to benefit the dead, granted that they also live by their souls? God is everywhere present and hears both the prayers for the living and for the dead.

We can see in the Old Testament witness to prayers for the dead (2 Mac 12:442-45, Bar 3:4-5). We also see in Holy Tradition and in the Divine Liturgy prayers for the dead.

Praying for the dead does not place our hope of salvation in the hands of humans. Those who are separated from God will not be saved, but those who have their hope additionally in the prayers of men of faith may be helped through their prayers much like Paul depended on the prayers of his followers. We must remember that God is all powerful with unlimited goodness. He is surely able to rescind the eternal anguish of man. He asks for our love and our love of each other. When we pray for each other this is an act of love. We know the Theotokos and the angels and all the saints are always praying for us especially when we join with them in our services, such as a memorial for the dead or the Divine Liturgy. Jesus told us, "Therefore I say unto you, what things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." (Mk 11:24) Elder Cleopas says, "Consequently, prayer for the reposed is not only a sign and strengthening of the love we share between us, but also proof of our faith. Thus the Savior says, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." (Mk 9:23)

In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16) we are told of a great chasm that exist between heaven and hell. Elder Cleopa tells us, "Yet, this chasm does not have the power to impede the mercy of our great God, Who hears our prayers for the reposed. We do not suppose, as do the Roman Catholics that there exists a purgatorial fire, but we say that only for those who sinned very severely and did not confess their sin is the passage from Hades to Paradise impossible. For those who sinned more lightly this pathway is not definitely closed, given that in the future judgment each one's place, either in heaven or hell, will be decided definitely, inasmuch as after his judgment someone whose orientation was Hades can no longer pass over into Paradise. For those who sinned unto death, our prayers are completely futile...

God looks down from the heavens with attentiveness upon that which springs from love, for love is in its entirely the sum of His commandments."

- Elder Cleopas
The Truth of our Faith, 123-133

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The blessing of honey in Bulgaria

Bulgarian Orthodox faithfuls light candles with jars of honey during a holy mass for the ‘sanctification of honey’ at the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin church in the town of Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria, February 10, 2016. Honey and beehives are sanctified by performing a ritual for health and rich harvest. On St. Haralambos’ Day, sick or blind people go to church and pray for healing. According to traditional concepts, St. Haralambos is the lord of all illnesses, especially the plague. Doing any housework is strictly forbidden that day, because of the fear of any coming illness. Women are only allowed to bake round bread and decorate it with a cross in the middle and a large wreath at the edge for health. Honey is consecrated in the local church and then all the bread is coated with that honey. The rest of the honey is kept in the house as a remedy. According to the belief, St. Haralambos blesses the land and it gets warmer and ready to be cultivated. EPA/VASSIL DONEV

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Don't hug the cactus

From the blog The Orthodox Clergy Wife by Presbytera Anonyma, a post entitled "Hugging the cactus: When the wrong people apologize."

I once heard a story about a pastor who had to deal with a small explosion of the parishioner kind.

While meeting with the music ministry group, the pastor asked the music leader to do a particular piece of music in the service. For whatever reason, the music leader had what can only be described as a tantrum—HATED that piece of music! This response shocked and upset the other musicians at the meeting.

The pastor had to tell the music leader afterward that they needed to just apologize to the other musicians and do as he had asked about the music. But no apology was forthcoming, and the pastor received the advice of extreme humilty from a colleague: yes, that person gets upset for no reason– YOU be the big person to apologize even though you weren’t the one to do wrong, and they will settle down and everything will be all right.

The pastor had some doubts about this, but he wanted to be a humble person before God. So he apologized to the music leader.

Did this story end happily? Alas, no. The music leader made a classic passive-aggressive response: had the group perform the piece the pastor asked for, but did not rehearse them at it beforehand and did a terrible, terrible job. It reminds me of a Shel Silverstein children’s poem about doing the dishes in which “…if you drop them on the floor/maybe they won’t let you dry the dishes any more!”

As is often noted, the church is a spiritual hospital in which there are many people who are sick, body and soul. Parishes are full of people who have personality disorders, addictions and just plain stubborn, self-centered attitudes that cause chaos all around them. In fact, it can be even worse than that. As Scott Peck notes in his book People of the Lie , downright evil and psychopathic people are attracted to the church precisely because church people are inclined to want to believe the best of others. Our Christian faith teaches us not to judge others, and to forgive. That is one of the ways predators make their way into the church community.

In the Orthodox church we have a long tradition of monastic teaching about humility; how often we read stories where some spiritual abba says to his proteges something to the effect of Yes, I see that you are hurt by your brother’s behaviour; think instead of your own sins. This radical humility sometimes even takes the form of advice to the monk to be the one to beg forgiveness even when the other brother was in fact the one who wronged the first monk.

In the monastery, these things are under the supervision of the abbot, and the monks he advises are generally co-equal brothers with each other. But in the parish where we have children and other vulnerable people, the shepherds are particularly entrusted with the guardianship of the flock by the chief shepherd. If we remember the metaphor of the spiritual hospital, and Scott Peck’s observation about evil people who seek out the church (and even end up in prominent positions there!), we have to admit that sometimes it seems like the inmates are running the asylum. The faithful shepherds cannot allow this, however much they want to teach humility and a forgiving spirit to all their members and indeed to practice it themselves; there is a power differential between many of the members that cannot be ignored.

When wolves in sheep’s clothing, or even just sick and maddened sheep are in the parish doing harm to others, it is not the time to teach lessons of humility to those who are already ‘humble’ in the original sense, people without power like children.

The pastor in the story remarked ruefully after the incident that he had ‘hugged the cactus’ and would not do so again. This intriguing phrase comes from the recovery movement, and was famously used by Robert Downey in a plea to forgive fellow actor Mel Gibson for some terrible behaviour under the yoke of addiction, familiar to both of those men. It means to face one’s darkest self so as to come into the light—a process as uncomfortable as hugging a cactus. The pastor in the story used the phrase a little differently— though he had done nothing wrong, he acted with the same humillity as an addict seeking the road to recovery. The cactus he hugged just turned out to be a prickly parishioner.

The well meaning but undiscerning advice of the pastor’s colleague had an unfortunate effect that anyone familiar with the recovery movement will recognize: the problem person, like an addict, was vindicated and enabled by the undeserved apology of the humble pastor.

God loves the sick and prickly too. Some are only minor problems in the church, like the tantrumy music leader, while others are the kind the apostle Jude tells us we should pull from the fire ‘hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.’

For both the prickly sorts and for their neighbours who get painfully stuck by them, love means firmness—not enabling them. To everything there is a season, says the Preacher—and while we are protecting the innocent, it is a time to put our personal humility on the back burner.

Don’t worry– God will provide us with plenty of other opportunities to learn that virtue!

Is Pope Francis about to get played by the Russians in Cuba?

(Timeline) - When people who haven’t talked in 1,000 years finally decide to bury the hatchet, that’s a hell of a Kumbaya moment to get excited about. On Friday, the Vatican said Pope Francis would meet with Russian Orthodox Church leader Patriarch Kirill I in Cuba next week. A pope and a Russian Orthodox patriarch have never met.

That’s big news in the Christian world. The Eastern Christian churches and the Roman Catholic church split in 1054 in what’s since been called the Great Schism, or the East-West Schism. The leader of each church excommunicated the other — a punishment that held until 1965.

The AP called next week’s meeting a “historic step to heal the 1,000-year schism that split Christianity” and said it “marks a major development in the Vatican’s long effort to bridge the divisions in Christianity.”

But there’s a wrinkle. The Russian Orthodox Church is just one of 14 self-governing churches that make up the Eastern Orthodox Church, and while it’s the biggest (about two-thirds of the world’s Orthodox Christians) and wealthiest, Kirill isn’t the group’s leader. Symbolically, and according to internal church law, it’s the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, who is the first among equals in Eastern Christianity.

And Bartholomew meets with Pope Francis pretty regularly — five times in three years.

“The patriarch of Moscow speaks only for the church of Russia,” said George E. Demacopoulos, a theology professor at Fordham University. “When these 14 groups get together, Bartholomew gets the shiny chair.” Which means what? It doesn't mean he got to set the agenda for the upcoming council. It doesn't mean he gets to declare autocephaly unilaterally. It doesn't mean the episcopal assemblies set up across the world are bodies destined to become appendages of Ecumenical Patriarchate authority. It doesn't mean he can interfere in the operations of another Church. Such grandiose authority of the "shiny chair" doesn't even extend into the autocephalous Church of Greece.

The reason lies in the early history of the Christianity, when the church was growing rapidly, and its leaders found the need to meet now and again to maintain its rules and theology. The most significant of these meetings — called the “seven ecumenical councils” — beginning in 325 were held in and around Constantinople.

Roman emperors typically called such meetings, a practice that continued, at a reduced pace, into the Ottoman empire from the 14th to 19th centuries. While the Orthodox churches share one agreed-upon theology, they each govern themselves, and are now essentially a unified group of national churches. Over the last century, the absence of a single pan-national leader who can call the churches together has led to “an enormous amount of dysfunction,” according to Demacopoulos. Some (read: me) would say this conciliar, almost decentralized process also protected the Church from the woeful innovations that have beset the Catholic and Anglican bodies. Watch how the Anglican Communion (not to mention other Protestant bodies) kept voting on hot-button issues over and over until the more liberal of their number were able to force some unholy idea through. Papal prerogative has not been a friend to the dogma of the Catholic Church when it unilaterally inserted doctrines into its Church anathema to Orthodoxy (not to mention many of its people).

It has taken 40 years for Orthodox leaders to organize the first major church council in more than 1,200 years. That meeting, scheduled to take place in Crete in June, is the reason, Demacopoulos said, that Kirill agreed to meet with Francis next week. That is not why either Rome or Moscow said they are meeting. The Russian Church stated quite clearly that the primary purpose was to save Christianity in the Middle East. The upcoming council is not going to be a place for beating shoes against a desk. It's going to be, by all signs, a place where pre-written declarations are going to be read aloud and distributed.