Thursday, July 7, 2016

Carol Saba: Should We Revisit Athenagoras I to Get Past the Impasse of Crete 2016?

 French original here.

Should We Revisit Athenagoras I to Get Past the Impasse of Crete 2016?

Crete 2016: A leaven of concord or of discord? A sign of Orthodox unity or of fracture? A Step forward or an ecclesiastical impasse?

Carol Saba on Radio Notre Dame with the program "Lumière de l’Orthodoxie" Sunday, July 3, 2016*

The inter-Orthodox meeting of Crete 2016 has just finished. Beyond the intense hype that was deployed on Crete, which was often not without a dose of disinformation and not without misrepresentation of the arguments of the churches that were forced to not be there, the fact remains that, quite obviously, the family photo will remain marked by the indelible stain of unachieved unity. Whether you like it or not, the council that was meant to bring together the fourteen autocephalous Orthodox churches, turned into a meeting, albeit an important one, of ten of these churches. Four churches, and not the smallest (the Apostolic Church of Antioch and the Russian, Georgian and Bulgarian Churches) were forced to not be there. Their sister Orthodox churches literally turned their back to them and decided to go forward all alone, without them, no matter the cost. Nevertheless, the grievances of those who did not attend, which were valid and justified, only sought to better consolidate Orthodox unity and its manifestation by the fourteen churches that constitute the "togetherness", the pleroma of Orthodoxy. They sought to make sure that the Orthodox world-- already largely under trial-- avoids new fractures and tears such as those that would result from Crete 2016.

It is not a question here of making an initial, critical reading of the Crete meeting, nor of its documents which continue even after the meeting to provoke serious, justified criticisms, even from some of the hierarchs who were on Crete. Nor is it a question of deciphering the juridical and canonical implications of that Crete meeting and the underlying risks that it implies for the unity of the fullness of the Orthodox Church. Nor is it, at this stage, a question of undertaking a defense of the valid and well-founded arguments of the churches that were forced to  not be there, despite the fact that they represent not only Apostolic churches, as is the case with the Church of Antioch, but also churches that represent a great many Orthodox faithful throughout the world, the Russian Church alone representing well more than half of the world's Orthodox. Each of these churches will make its own case through its own authorities and its holy synod. Besides, the Holy Synod of Antioch just released a long and detailed explanatory statement of that church's well-founded position.

There is space simply for warning against the serious risks, present and implied, of a certain totaly inappropriate triumphalism that was manifest on Crete, a triumphalism devoid of the spirit of the Gospel, that does not at all care about the urgent necessity to bring back together what was broken and to restore the full conciliarity of the Orthodox Church-- which can only be that of the fourteen churches-- that was largely on display on Crete. Here I will not cite the hurtful comments of a primate on Crete when he spoke of the four primates of the churches not present there, because we must bring back together what was broken.

Indeed, any Orthodox leader who is conscious of the risks that now threaten Orthodox unity cannot disregard the fractures before, during and after Crete 2016, which are multiplying here and there between the churches because of Crete 2016, which was more a sign of fracture than a leaven of unity, whatever might be said in nice interviews on official lips, hammering home the meeting's slogans.

The first fault line is between those churches that were present on Crete and those that were not there. The second fault line-- which has more serious consequences-- is the one between the churches that will call Crete 2016 a "council" and those that will call it a "meeting." A council, then, at any cost for the ones that want it to be binding, in the name of ten autocephalous Orthodox churches, for the fourteen autocephalous churches! And for the others, a non-binding preconciliar meeting, since they rightly believe that only the unanimity and agreement of the fourteen churches can be binding for the fullness of Orthodoxy. A third fault line, even more dynamic than that, runs through each church that was on Crete, a fault line that is rising into a crescendo and that constitutes an internal opposition within the signatory churches of Crete, openly manifesting its criticism of these documents and their validity.

All these fractures-- which are moving, dynamic and dangerous-- are the unfortunate results of that "bulldozer" logic that, not without tension, sought to move forward at any cost, without hearing or listening to the deep grievances of the sister churches preventing them from being at the conciliar discussions and, for Antioch, at the eucharistic table, a necessary condition for any conciliar discussion, unless for those churches present on Crete eucharistic communion is only a minor detail that does not invalidate the discussions at the summit! It is this logic that sought to go forward without the other brothers that is in question, and is, of course, unfortunate, since obviously the council itself is not the goal, but conciliarity, which today is under attack. Is it true that they "have eyes and do not see, ears and do not hear," in the words of the Prophet Jeremiah?

So how do we get past the ecclesiastical impasse of Crete 2016? My Antiochian charism, which has and will always remain a charism of "gathering together", which goes beyond one or another's analyses and positions, tells me to say that ecclesiastical intelligence means today that those churches that were not on Crete should not question the "legitimacy" of the meeting of ten autocephalous Orthodox churches that met on Crete, but rather to recognize that legitimacy and to treat it in an irenic manner. Likewise, in my opinion, the same considerations of Orthodox unity and ecclesiastical intelligence require the Orthodox churches that met on Crete not to insist on canonically characterizing Crete as a "council," as it no longer is one. This would be because at least one of the autocephalous Orthodox churches, that of Antioch, did not sign the decisions of Chambésy  2016, including the rules for the council, which could only be convoked, according to the very terms of these rules, "with the agreement of all the primates of the autocephalous Orthodox churches." The equation is simple: validity of the council? No. Legitimacy of the summit meeting of the ten churches? Yes! Here there is food for thought for peacemakers on both sides!

Crete 2016: a deep fracture that affects Orthodox unity. But nothing is irreversible. There is still time to get past the impasse and reduce this fracture. In order to do this, it is necessary to escape the triumphalism of one side over another, so that the total fullness of Orthodoxy can win... We must not forget that Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople went to Antioch first, at the beginning of his tour of the local churches in November 1959 to defend the idea of the pan-Orthodox Council. He began his journey in Aleppo, then in the patriarchal cathedral of Antioch in Damascus he addressed that apostolic church and its patriarch, Theodosius of Antioch, saying, "Our Apostolic and Ecumenical See, on the basis of the historical relations that unite it to the See of Antioch, attaches the greatest importance to their common effort to resolve the problems that concern the Orthodox Church and the Christian world in general." (1) We must also not forget that this same Athenagoras repeatedly said, "Acting without Russia, that is schism" and never stopped repeating, "the Greeks, as I have told you, often criticize my love for the Russian people. I love Holy Russia, that Russia which today is secret, but will one day resume her spiritual mission on the stage of history. I love her for her saints, for her theologically deepening Orthodoxy, but especially for her martyrs... This is why we must have the Russian Church with us." (2) So, should we revisit Athenagoras in order to get past the impasse of Crete 2016? If not, a power struggle will begin and everyone will lose-- even the side that thinks it has triumphed!

*In this program, Carol Saba is only speaking in a personal capacity.
(1) Olivier Clément, Dialogues avec le Patriarche ATHENAGORAS. (Paris: Fayard, 1969), p. 542
(2) Ibid. p. 541

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