Crisis Around the Council: On What Does Constantinople Diplomacy Depend?

Disappointment and agony—thus can be
characterized the reaction to the June 6 decision of the
General Secretariat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate not to
hold any supplemental consultations on the comments
submitted by Local Churches concerning the drafting of the
conciliar documents. The Holy Synod chaired by Patriarch
Bartholomew received the positions and opinions voiced
lately by a number of sister Orthodox Churches “with
surprise and perplexity,” as is stated in the
official Phanar report, but, alas, not with attention and
understanding, and stated that a revision of the
already-planned conciliar process … exceeds all
institutional bounds. In short, “Objections are not
welcomed, attendance is strictly required.”

The suggestion of the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church
to hold an additional meeting of the pre-conciliar
consultations no later than June 10 was categorically
rejected. The Ecumenical Patriarchate “calls
… in the previously established terms to take part
in the work of the Holy and Great Council, according to
the Pan-Orthodox decisions, as signed by the Primates at
their meetings, and as authorized by the representatives
of the Church during the course of the long process of
pre-conciliar preparations.” Institutional
frameworks turn out to be more important than trust. Thus
is revealed the true price of assurance in brotherly
understanding and closeness.

What is Constantinople’s diplomacy counting on in
such a complicated situation? On the documents with their
numerous contradictions and inadequacies that caused the
sharpest criticisms turning out to be unexpectedly
accepted by a general consensus? On a new rigorous
negotiation process? But coordination and editing is the
task of working groups and specially designated
representatives. Disputes and confrontations in the
presence of Church primates and numerous delegation
members, the body of observers, press and invited guests
is far from the best solution, especially if we are
speaking about a demonstration of Pan-Orthodox mutual
understanding.

“Hurry, slowly,” warns that ancient wisdom.
The process of coordinating the agenda of the council, as
per the witness of the participants in the negotiations,
turned into a race of prestige for the main initiator and
organizer of the event, the Patriarchate of
Constantinople. Preparatory work has been underway for
seven years, since 2008. It’s absurd and laughable
that now not even a few months can be given for the main
task—familiarization with the draft texts in the
Local Churches.

In the end, Patriarch Bartholomew and his closet advisors
find themselves under a barrage of criticisms, and this
very moment is turning out to be the most inconvenient for
holding such an important historical meeting. Not everyone
is able to publicly admit their own mistakes. In the
artificial crisis that has arisen against the wishes of
the Russian Orthodox Church, the Georgian Orthodox Church,
the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, the Greek and Antiochian
Orthodox Churches there exists the great temptation to
provoke an open conflict and even the premature
termination of the work of the Council with the most
serious unpredictable consequences for the future of
Ecumenical Orthodoxy.

It is entirely possible that Constantinople diplomacy
deems exiting from this situation that has come about and
is so unfavorable for it, as a path to scandal.
Accusations have been formed against Moscow, as evidenced
by many signs. Representatives of the Phanar have
repeatedly exhibited their irritation. Unprecedented in
terms of attacks and boorish insinuations was the
publication of the article, “Is the Decision of the
Georgian Church Appropriate, or Provocative?” by
Protopresbyter George Tsetsis of the Patriarchate of
Constantinople. In it he allows himself to argue that the
Georgian delegates “tortured them,” that the
behavior of the Georgian representatives would
“exasperate and lead to a standstill.” Tsetsis
allows himself such evaluations of the internal affairs of
the independent and self-governing Local Georgian Church
that we are taken aback. According to him, “The
Georgian Church finds itself captive within fundamentalist
circles.” The author uses worn-out clichés
and intimidating figures of speech such as, “the
return of the country to the Middle Ages.”
Altogether, in the opinion of Tsetsis, who is, by the way,
one of Constantinople’s central actors in the
pre-conciliar process, there looms, as is apropos to the
trendy political rhetoric, “the shadow of
Moscow”.

Such attacks have caused righteous indignation in Georgia.
It’s difficult to imagine a peaceful flow to the
Council with such intense emotions. Using the same logic
as Protopresbyter G. Tsetsis’s, it’s easy to
wonder, to what circles does the Patriarchate of
Constantinople find itself captive and what’s the
value of the—in reality false—graciousness and
brotherly love of the modern ecumenical theology of
Metropolitan J. Zizioulas, and Protopresbyter G. Tsetsis.

The remaining days until June 19, the start of the
Council, unfortunately, most likely, will set a reverse
countdown to the start of a negative scenario. The
initiative of the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church
contains within itself a realistic opportunity to save the
situation. We pray the Lord to instill within His
All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew a true conscience, not
the rhetorical “special responsibility for upholding
the unity of Orthodoxy.”

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