By Metropolitan Gabriel of Nea Ionia, Philadelphia, Heraklion and Chalkidona
There has been a lot of talk lately about an existing schism within the Orthodox Church with the current Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, mainly in charge.
Undoubtedly, the Holy and Great Synod of Crete (June 2016) sparked canonical and church developments with the main goal of trying to create and adopt a new ecclesiology, far from the long historical and unanimous dogmatic course of the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.
In this context, the sister Russian Orthodox Church, with its wonderfully pious and deeply religious people, chose to lead this new canonical reality, apparently forgetting the church controversy shortly before the start of the Russian Revolution in 1917. The Synod, which was far from the living and surviving needs of people in desperate need, was a feature of that time, a fact that contributed to the radical change of the then political scene and to the emergence of communism with many subsequent religious persecutions and conflicts.
Indeed, the Russian people are often an example of religious piety, and the multitude of new modern saints of the sister Russian Orthodox Church enriched the Orthodox Hagiology and established closer relations and contacts with each of the fifteen local Autocephalous Orthodox Churches.
However, the negative attitude of the official Russian church leadership in recent years, its non-participation for purely political reasons in the Holy and Great Synod of Crete, its abstention from critical church dilemmas, the moral critique of major social issues in combination with its social false steps in the long-standing ecclesiologically accepted liturgical act of the Mystery of Holy Communion are some of the constantly evolving points of difference with the other Local Autocephalous Orthodox Churches.
Thus, the rift deepens due to the ever-increasing secularized logic and the adoption of arguments, either numerical or economic. Orthodoxy, however, does not know static situations and statistics. It remains faithful to the unanimous biblical tradition and constantly adds experiences to its patristics course, as expressed in the dogmatic terms of the seven Ecumenical Councils of the first millennium.
God’s grace allowed Local Orthodox Churches to disappear. But new ones were created. This, after all, is in practice the meaning of the historically extended body of Christ in the universe.
However, as a reminder of modern reality, we mention the beginning of the process for the Holy and Great Synod in 1961 in Rhodes by the ambitious Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras. Almost 60 years of preparation have passed since then. The current Ecumenical Patriarch convened the Pan-Orthodox Synod. He prepared the work and cared for the meeting. Only participation was enough.
Indeed, the participation of all the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches and the subjects could provide solutions to the Ukrainian issue as well as to any canonical problem of each local Church. However, the sister Russian Orthodox Church preferred a different path. It preferred isolation. It is an open-and-shut case.
Christ prayed to his Father for all his disciples at the Last Supper. All twelve were present. One left… but he was present. He saw, he heard, he experienced.
This is the mindset of the Orthodox Church and this is what the Great Church of Constantinople has been expressing for 17 centuries now, as the timeless guardian and the unquestionable guarantor of the unity of the local Orthodox Churches.
Therefore, when we talk about schism, let us first persist in self-criticism. No one will be left out. If Patriarch Kirill of Moscow had participated in the Synod of Crete, we would not be talking today about a schism within the Orthodox Church.
Pan-Orthodox unity does not stand out on the basis of races and languages but on the basis of common faith. This faith exists. But it also requires the participation of all of us.
*The article was originally published in the newspaper “Kathimerini” on Sunday, December 13