Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Antioch: As things stand, we're not going to Crete either.

The Antiochian point is rather simple. If the actions of Jerusalem in Qatar are not resolved before the Council, Antioch cannot concelebrate with them. If there is no concelebration, there is a break in unity. If there is no unity then this "deprives the Council of its ecclesiological character" and so there can be no Council. Antioch is no Bulgaria. This is a see that is both manifestly ancient and one that is uniquely equipped to speak to the issues of inter-religious relations, problems in the modern world, the suffering of Christians, and the refugee crisis.

We are directed, before we begin the Divine Liturgy, to "... first be at peace with all, having nothing against anyone..." Until this strife between Antioch and Jerusalem can be resolved, these two will not break bread together.

(Antiochian Patriarchate) - Balamand, on the 6th of June 2016, Statement of the Secretariat of the Antiochian Holy Synod


In the sequence of its seventh exceptional session still open since the 25th of May 2016, the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Antioch held a meeting on the 6th of June 2016 presided by His Beatitude Patriarch John X and in the presence of Their Eminencies the Bishops, to study the positions of the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches related to the Holy and Great Pan-Orthodox Council (mentioned hereafter as ”The Great Council”) and the issues listed in its agenda, and in order to take the appropriate Antiochian position in this respect, taking into consideration the decision of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of 31st May 2016 about “the formation of a committee of representatives of the Churches of Antioch and Jerusalem, with the Ecumenical Patriarchate as responsible for the coordination, which would meet immediately after the Great and Holy Synod”, to working on a solution to the violation of the Church of Jerusalem of the canonical jurisdictional boundaries of the church of Antioch in the Emirate of Qatar.

After considering the positions of the Orthodox Autocephalous Churches, the fathers of the Antiochian Synod realized:

1. That the positions of a number of these churches concerning most of the issues listed on the agenda of the Great Synod are still divergent, and that a number of churches refuse certain documents as submitted to the Great Council in their actual form; they mentioned that in clear and explicit decisions taken by their respective holy synods;

2. That a number of churches are expressing essential reservations as to the organizational aspects of the Great Council as well as its financial costs, and as to the way of applying the agreements reached by the Primates of Orthodox Churches in Chambésy 2016;

3. That the Bulgarian Church issued, on the 1st of June 2016, a synodical decision in which it mentioned its reservations and asked His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch to postpone the convening of the Great Council to a later date while actively continuing its preparatory works, otherwise it refrains from taking part in it;

4. That the Church of Russia has taken, on June 3rd 2016, a synodical decision suggesting to convene a conference preceding the date of the Holy Council in order to study the unsolved problems and reach a consensus about the remarks of the churches on the synodical documents. This decision also emphasized the respect of the consensus principle through the participation of all autocephalous churches in this Council;

The fathers of the Holy Antiochian Synod also noticed:

1. That the remarks and reservations of the Antiochian Church related to the internal regulations of the Great Council and the decisions taken by the Synaxis of Primates of the autocephalous Orthodox Churches between 21 and 28 January 2016, which are both documents not signed by the Antiochian Orthodox Church, have not been taken into consideration until now, contrary to the observed rules within the common Orthodox work established by His Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I when he launched the preparation for the Great Council, and which focuses on the need for unanimous agreement of the Autocephalous churches on all the decisions;

2. That the document related to the sacrament of marriage and its impediments is still listed on the agenda of the Great Council although it has not been signed by the Church of Antioch and the Church of Georgia;
3. That the issue of Diaspora has been included in the agenda of the Great Council without any evaluation of the work of the Episcopal Assemblies, regardless of the repeated Antiochian call for a special meeting to evaluate the activity of these assemblies and suggest the convenient ecclesial solutions before the convention of the Great Council. These assemblies had been created “as a transitory step preparing the ground for a sound canonical solution to the Diaspora issue, on condition to be limited to the period of preparation for the Great Council which will find a canonical solution to this matter” (paragraph 1.b. of the text of the decision related to the Orthodox Diaspora taken by the fourth Orthodox Pre-conciliar Conference, Chambésy, 6-12 June 2009). Therefore it is necessary to evaluate the work of these assemblies before the convening of the Great Council, so that the Council won’t have to directly address the issue of Diaspora and Episcopal Assemblies without pre-conciliar preparation;

4. That the issue of “Church Calendar and unifying the date of celebrating Easter” has been removed from the agenda despite its importance to the Orthodox flock of the Antiochian See, awaiting from the universal Orthodox Church a pastoral position in this respect;

5. That the section related to the evaluation of the dialogue with other Christians, and that was supposed to be drafted sometime soon, before the convening of the Great Council, in order to be included in the document about “Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian world”, has neither been drafted nor approved until now;

6. That the content of the document “Autonomy and the Means by which it is Proclaimed” needs to approved before listing it on the agenda of the Great Council;

7. That the latest pre-conciliar phase was characterized by the absence of real and effective contribution of the Orthodox churches to the preparatory work, by the secretariat’s slow pace and by the lack of clarity regarding the schedule and proceedings of the sessions; posing a possible risk of failure to the synodical sessions;

8. That the latest decision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate dated 31 May 2016, suggesting to postpone the solution of the dispute with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem until after the Great Council, neglects the initiative of the Ecumenical Patriarch (5 April 2016) and the Antiochian response to it, and disregards the depth of the matter and its effects on the Holy and Great Orthodox Council. The Holy and Great Orthodox Council cannot take place while the communion between two Apostolic churches is broken, given the Eucharistic character of this Council. Issuing this decision before the convening of the Council leaves the Antiochian Church the one and only unacceptable choice of participating in the Great Council without concelebrating Eucharist because of not finding a solution to the ongoing violation committed by the Patriarchate of Jerusalem for more than three years (see the statement of the Antiochian Synod of 1st June 2016 regarding this dispute).

9. That the issue of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem’s violation has taken a worrying and dangerous dimensions due to the declarations of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem in its correspondence with the Patriarchate of Antioch, that other areas within the canonical jurisdiction of the Antiochian See belong to the Jerusalem Patriarchate;

And given the fact that the Church of Antioch deployed considerable efforts to preserve Orthodox unity, and this is what it assured and reiterated since the launching of the idea of the Great Council in 1961, and it remained faithful to the path and approach of Patriarchs Elias IV and Ignatius IV of thrice blessed memory, who largely contributed to the progress of the pre-conciliar conferences for the Great Council. The Church of Antioch still endeavors, in the person of her Patriarch John X, to preserve this unity with care, steadfastness and sacrifice;

And knowing that the Antiochian Church, although it didn’t sign the decisions of the Synaxis of the Primates of autocephalous Orthodox Churches in Phanar (March 2014), it took part in the preparatory committees of the Great Orthodox Council and in the work of the fifth pre-conciliar conference in Chambésy 2015, and in the Synaxis of the Primates of autocephalous Orthodox Churches in Chambésy 2016. And although it didn’t sign any of the latter Synaxis’ decisions, it participated in the work of the preparatory committees of the Great and Holy Orthodox Council, in order to facilitate the joint Orthodox work and accompany it, as it did over the past decades in the hope to solve all problems before the convening of the Great Council;

The Antiochian Church granted this event, which is the greatest and most beautiful in the life of the contemporary Church its deserved place, in making all its draft documents available in Arabic and accessible to its flock. The Antiochian Holy Synod also accompanied the preparatory work for the Council and suggested convenient amendments to its documents.

From the mentioned above, it appears that the convening of the Holy and Great Council, which is being planned for generations, is jeopardized by a number of difficulties and it still needs more preparation as to the issues it will treat, and the practical details related to its convocation and its proceedings;

The Antiochian Church, in the light of all the difficulties it is facing and which are considered the most dramatic in its history and despite the sorrowful situation of its flock, especially in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, didn’t spare any effort, time or prayer for the sake of facilitating, and success of the endeavors leading to the convention of the Council in these days and to participate in it, in spite of the human and economical crisis it experiences;

If the Council convenes whilst two apostolic churches are not in communion with each other, this means that the participation in the synodical sessions is possible without taking part in the Holy Eucharist, which deprives the Council of its ecclesiological character and grants it an administrative quality, contradictory to the steadfast Orthodox synodical tradition;

This Council convenes to express the Orthodox unity. This requires an atmosphere of love and brotherhood in Christ and a lot of caring for the human of today. This all means achieving an agreement of the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches around a large number of subjects and guaranteeing their participation in the proceedings of the Council and unanimously accept its decisions;

In addition to that, the Antiochian flock, after knowing the agenda of the Council and its documents, expressed its great deception that the Council does not deal with the challenges facing the believers, especially the challenges of the youth. The flock of believers expressed its worry about this Council drifting away from the original principles which were behind its convention, i.e. facing together the challenges of the Orthodox Church in this time and presenting a common witness in the world of today;

Therefore, the fathers of the Holy Antiochian Synod unanimously decided the following:

1. To ask His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch to work on achieving a consensus about the reservations raised by the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches related to the Holy and Great Council in the time separating us from the date of its convention. In case this fails, the Antiochian Church asks for postponing the convention of the Great Holy Council to another date, when peaceful relations between the autocephalous churches prevail, and Orthodox consensus about the Council’s agenda, regulations and executive and practical procedures are guaranteed;

2. The Antiochian Church will not participate in the Holy and Great Council until the reasons, which prevent participating in the Holy Eucharist during the Council, disappear. And this, through finding a final solution to the violation of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem of the canonical jurisdictional boundaries of the Antiochian See, which led to breaking the communion with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem;

3. To reassure the importance of the participation of all autocephalous Orthodox churches in the Holy and Great Council and that its decisions should be taken in their presence and approved by them unanimously, according to the essential principle of a Pan-Orthodox Council and to preserve the unity of the Orthodox Church.

4. Communicating with all Orthodox churches and informing them about the content of the Antiochian position and the necessities that led to it.

5. Asking the believers to participate along with their pastors in the prayer so that the Holy Spirit inspires the Church in its journey towards unity, for the sake of its unified witness for Christ in this world.


  1. The schism with Jerusalem seems to be primary but definitely not the sole objection by Antioch.

    1. Agreed, but without the Jerusalem issue would Antioch not come? My guess is that they'd still have complaints but would be coming.

    2. It seems like they used the Bulgarian decision as political cover to announce they aren't coming. They figured once one church doesn't come, unity is broken, so what does it matter if two don't come. There's nothing in here they didn't know about weeks ago, so just releasing it now seems very suspicious.

    3. The new factor in the past two weeks is that Constantinople has stated that any mediation between Antioch and Jerusalem has to wait until after the council. For a few weeks before that, Antioch had been publicly stating that it hoped that its correspondence with the EP in early April would lead to a resolution before the council, strongly implying that this is what would happen if the EP didn't act.

  2. It might be helpful to refer to a timeline of the Qatar issue, that shows just how long Antioch has been asking Constantinople to intervene and just how much Jerusalem has (at least rhetorically) ratcheted up its claims beyond just Qatar-- including claiming jurisdiction over all Syria and in one case fabricating statements by Patriarch John X in order to slander him....


  3. Can anyone say with clarity *why* the Phanar has ignored Antioch's pleas for help with the Jerusalem matter? It seems like it should be a pretty simple thing to work out. Honestly, it's rather shocking and petty that Antioch and Jerusalem couldn't resolve it on their own...

    1. There are some extremely complicated politics at play behind the scenes, in the background there's Qatar's heavy investment on the rebel side in the war in Syria and the fact that permission to have a parish was obtained from the emir of Qatar by the Greek-American US ambassador to Qatar at the time.

      If you see the timeline I linked to above, every action by Antioch has been met by increasingly unhinged escalation by Jerusalem, so direct bilateral talks do not seem to have ever been a possiblity.

      They did sit down together in June 2013, under the auspices of the Greek Foreign Ministry, but Jerusalem reneged on the agreement that was reached there almost before they even got home.

  4. I dont understand this:

    "Antioch is no Bulgaria. This is a see that is both manifestly ancient and one that is uniquely equipped to speak to the issues of inter-religious relations, problems in the modern world, the suffering of Christians, and the refugee crisis."

    Orthodoxy in Bulgaria is ancient, although the nation became Christian in the 900s. And which modern nation doesn't deal with inter-religious problems? Granted, Antioch is at the forefront of the issues you listed at the present time but Bulgaria's objections on the basis of the Faith, is no less valid than Antioch's on the basis of territory. Even more valid in my estimation.

    1. I wasn't implying (on purpose) that Bulgaria was some nouveau Orthodox patriarchate. If Bulgaria doesn't like those Faith issues she can vote no. A single vote kills the paper. If she doesn't go at all she has no vote and it gets approval. So why not just go?

      75% of Bulgarians are Orthodox. 10% are Muslim. I'd say that's a solidly Orthodox country. Especially when compared to the Middle East.

      As for Antioch. If the EP is the first among equals and arbiter of problems she has done an awful job here. Antioch has warned the EP for a long, long time that not acting would end with this action.

      Bulgaria has had years to raise objections or declare documents received unacceptable. Fewer than 30 days from a scheduled council seems an odd time to raise objections and step away from the event.

  5. Great points but you're not accounting for the fact that a lot of these issues are just coming to the fore. Many have just see these documents for the first time only months ago, there seems to be serious confusion about who's calling the shots. In Jan 2016 Met. Hierotheos asked these questions:

    Which Permanent Holy Synod approved the revision of these specific texts of the Pre-conciliar Pan-Orthodox Meetings?

    Which Permanent Holy Synod dealt with these subjects and which remarks were made?

    Which and how many Hierarchs were aware of the parts which were revised?

    Why were these texts not put forward for approval by the Hierarchy and referred to the Holy and Great Synod without the knowledge of the Hierarchs?

    How many Hierarchs were aware of the revised texts, with the exception of us Metropolitans of the Synod, who were recently made aware of them, meanwhile they were approved by the representatives of the Autocephalous Churches and sent to the Holy and Great Synod?

    And he's a highly knowledgable Hierarch in the Church of Greece! Years to raise objections seems inaccurate.

  6. Well, the EP is of course a shadow of what it once was - indeed it is an anachronism on all significant levels and is "Ecumenical" in name/symbolism only. Its handling of the calendar, "ecumenism", modern issues, etc. of the last 100 years or so should have signaled to everyone that it simply is not up to the task of a "Great and Holy" council in my opinion. Even if you approve of the general direction the EP would have the Church go, you have to admit its current situation is untenable and it simply is not going to do something significant (i.e. a "Great and Holy" council) on the level it should be done.

    I am waiting for God to rectify the existential and ecclesiastical situation of the EP (which I think means dissolving it) before the next "Great and Holy" council REALLY happens...

    I speak as someone "in the diaspora" under the EP...