A historic gathering of Orthodox Churches has opened on the Greek island of Crete, despite the absence of four denominations including the Russians. The council, which began on June19, has been 55 years in preparation. It will run until 27 June.
The Holy and Great Council had been billed as the first meeting of fellow Church leaders since 787 AD.
The Georgians as well as the Churches of Antioch, Bulgaria and Russia refused to take part after disputes about the meeting. The churches pointed to disagreements over the Council's agenda and the documents drafted for the meeting.
His Holiness and Beatitude Ilia II, the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, Archbishop of Mtskheta and Tbilisi, Metropolitan of Bichvinta and Tskhum-Abkhazia has sent an open letter to the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I.
According to the letter, the Patriarchate of Georgia has not received the Ecumenical Patriarch’s letter of 17 June.
“We learnt about the content of the letter through the internet, which was the reason of our delayed response.
Your All Holiness, we’d like to inform you that we will not be able to fulfill your request due to the decision of the Holy Synod of the Georgian Orthodox Church made on June 10. Decisions of the meeting have been sent to you as well as the leaders of other local churches, which included the specific reasons of our refusal to arrive. Therefore, it is wrong to consider the issue of nonattendance of the Georgian Orthodox Church’s delegation at the meeting of the Holy and Great Council in a political or any other context. We would also like to state that despite our absence, we are closely watching the meeting and hope that by God’s blessing the final results will be acceptable for all the churches”, the letter reads.
Parish priest of Marneuli Cathedral, Archpriest Ilia Chigladze believes that “all the local Orthodox Churches are responsibile for the unity of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church; but, first of all, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople is responsible for it. “The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople were obliged to listen more carefully to the notes and concerns expressed by the brotherly churches”, Archpriest Ilia Chigladze told the Accent on June 17.
However, it should be noted that there were also different opinions regarding Georgia’s Orthodox Church’s participation in the meeting of the Holy and Great Council. For example, Metropolitan Grigol [Berbichashvili] of Poti and Khobi was in favour of participating in the meeting of the Holy and Great Council.
“If Georgia’s Orthodox Church refuses to participate in this meeting, what the results we are expecting?.. By refusing to attend this meeting we will strengthen the suspicion existing in the society that Georgia’s Orthodox Church remains in the orbit of Russia’s Orthodox Church. Presumably, this will have the relevant results for our church and country; which will not be good. Unfortunately, we still are perceived as representatives of the space of the Russian mentality and therefore, as a satellite of the Russian Orthodox Church. Overcoming this situation is the main task for our church”, Metropolitan Grigol said at the meeting of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Georgia.
Several clerics also expressed a similar position in private conversations. There is a position: divisions among Orthodox Christians are the result of a struggle for power between Russia and the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I. In this regard Georgia’s Orthodox Church is considered as a member of the camp of Russia’s Patriarch and this camp has different fundamentalism from supporters of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.
Theologian Mirian Gamrekelashvili has the same position. “The fact is that the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople has a series of disagreements with the Patriarchate of Georgia and these disagreements were nourished by the fact that our Patriarchate is pro-Russian- in terms of the church’s policy as well as the mental point of view. The same factor determines the isolation of the Patriarchate of Georgia towards those innovations, which the world's Orthodox Christians want to carry out. This relationship has further strained after our refusal to take part in the meeting of the Holy and Great Council. At this stage, it’s hard to guess the reaction of the Georgian Orthodox Church, but, I think that eventually, it will have to accept the existing situation”, Gamrekelashvili told the Accent.
“The Georgian Orthodox Church is constantly trying to appeal the Russian Church, the latter to force Orthodox congregation of Abkhazia and so-called South Ossetia to recognize the jurisdiction of the Georgian Orthodox Church. However, the Georgian Orthodox Church also has failed to achieve this goal”, Gamrekelashvili added.
Meanwhile “the Holy Metropolis of Abkhazia” [which was established on May 15, 2015 and is now seeking recognition from Orthodox Churches] together with its quite numerous parishioners is really moving forward, despite the fact that it has no illusions and is well aware of the difficulty of this way.
“We have to be realists during the process of restoring local Orthodox Church in Abkhazia; we must clearly realize what opportunities we have, etc. We understand that the establishment of the new churches is not on the agenda of the 8th meeting of the Holy and Great Council and there is a high probability that this issue will not be discussed…However, it is very important for us to inform each participant of the meeting of the Holy and Great Council about our problems”, Chairman of “the Holy Metropolis of Abkhazia”, Archimandrite Dorofei [Dbar] said in an interview with /RFE/RL's Echo of the Caucasus on June 17.
“The fact that my appeal in Greek was uploaded on the official website of the Holy and Great Council means a lot to us…They do not see us as the margins of the church, who are ready to do everything to achieve establishment of their independent national church. They perceive us as people, who have a full-fledged religious worldview”, Archimandrite Dorofei added.
He claims that “the Holy Metropolis of Abkhazia” not only aims at establishing Abkhazia’s independent national church, but also it wants to become a part of the world’s progressive Orthodox Christianity. As for one of the reasons of their refusal to be under the Georgian Orthodox Church's jurisdiction, he said that this is the fundamentalism of Georgia’s Orthodox Church.
“I was surprised by the Georgian Orthodox Church's refusal to attend the 8th meeting of the Holy and Great Council; it always noted that it was in close contact with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople…I think fundamentalism played its role in this regard: there is the mass of people in the church who do not have clear religious worldview… they constantly see betrayal and ties with the Catholics in any initiative and issue related to the Church”, Archimandrite Dorofei said in his interview.
According to him, “the problem of the Georgian Orthodox Church is the absence of theological education and deep understanding of Christianity”.
Speaking about the Russian Orthodox Church, he said that the main reason of the current disagreement among Orthodox Christians is its struggle for power.
Archimandrite Dorofei has no expectations that the issue of the establishment of the new churches will be on the agenda of the 8th meeting of the Holy and Great Council; however, he thinks that the meetings of the Holy and Great Council may be held more frequently in the future in order to resolve various of issues, including the issue of autocephaly.
“The next meeting of the Holy and Great Council may take place after 5 or 6 years, because everyone understands that the main issues remained beyond the regulations, this fact will make life difficult for Christians living in different regions. Thus, these issues have to be resolved, including the issue of Abkhazia, where we have been living in a canonical collapse for 23 years…We all understand that the actions of the Georgian Orthodox Church will not remain unanswered, after this meeting, the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople will address more frequently the Georgian Orthodox Church and raise very serious issues before the Georgian Orthodox Church: what is happening and what will happen in the territory of Abkhazia?; it will raise the canonical issue, which has not been resolved for 24 years and the issue of absence of the bishop in this territory, which is a gross violation of canonical law: according to ecclesiastical laws, the bishop can leave the diocese only during three months…Everything what is happening now: the address adopted at the meeting of clergy and laymen, and the address of the chairman of this meeting fills the pile of documents of the Abkhazian religion issue, which includes a lot of various documents… But we are realists and understand that the secular authorities, including the current president as well as his predecessors will never make such an appeal [an official appeal to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople to restore the institute of Church in Abkhazia]… While exactly this document – an official appeal of the leader of the country towards the Holy and Great Council, or the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, or even towards the leaders of all the Orthodox Churches is the most important issue of this pile of documents of the Abkhazian religion issue. Without this appeal, is unlikely to be any solution in this regard”, Archimandrite Dorofei said in his interview.
Archbishop Job of Telmessos, Permanent Representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the World Council of Churches also confirms that the meetings of the Holy and Great Council may be held more frequently in the future.
“Many churches said that such gatherings should take place more frequently. So, this is not the only and last meeting. We should look at it as a process that will continue”, he said.
As for the Georgian Orthodox Church, it does not have the expectations that the issue of granting autocephaly will be discussed at the 8th meeting of the Holy and Great Council.
“His Holiness and Beatitude Ilia II, the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia, Archbishop of Mtskheta and Tbilisi, Metropolitan of Bichvinta and Tskhum-Abkhazia and in general, the Georgian Orthodox Church has good relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I. This was confirmed by a number of statements made by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I. In addition, the Ecumenical Patriarch has repeatedly stated that Abkhazia is the territory, which is under the Georgian Orthodox Church's jurisdiction. Accordingly, the discussion of the issue of the church of Abkhazia at the meeting of the Holy and Great Council is excluded. As for the argument of Archimandrite Dorofei, that if a diocese is unable to control its churches for a long time, they should be subjected to Constantinople, this reasoning is groundless and non-canonical. Abkhazia is an integral part of the jurisdiction of the Georgian Orthodox Church and according to the laws of the Holy Church, no one has the right to grant autocephalous to the integral part of the jurisdiction of the Georgian Orthodox Church, without Georgia’s Orthodox Church”, Bishop Andria [Gvazava] of Gori and Ateni told the Accent.
Theologian Mirian Gamrekelashvili has the different position. “There are several ways to resolve the above-mentioned problem. The first way, which was also mentioned by the Georgian Orthodox Church, is restoration of its control there, despite the absence of territorial control. However, this is virtually impossible for now, because Abkhazia is still in the war situation with Georgia and restoring Georgian religion service here is unimaginable. However, it must be said that the Georgian Orthodox Church has never had such a serious attempt in this regard. This needs courageous people, even the bishops and the Patriarch, who will do their best and combat the deadly risk. The Patriarch announced that he was going to arrive in Abkhazia, but the Abkhaz side stated that they would not be responsible for his safety and this visit has not take place… it is hard to say whether or not the issue of autocephaly of the Abkhazian Church will be discussed at the 8th meeting of the Holy and Great Council. Even if this issue is discussed, the decisions will not be made at this meeting. However, it is clear that the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople will be quite strict towards Georgia regarding these issues and I think it will use these issues for trading with the Georgian Orthodox Church”, Gamrekelashvili, told the Accent.