This article, from The National Catholic Register, is one of the best I’ve read on the meeting.
The Holy and Great Council of Orthodox patriarchs, meeting for the first time in 1,139 years, appears to be unraveling.
June 19 — Pentecost Sunday for Eastern-Orthodox Christians — is when the Pan-Orthodox Council is scheduled to open at a theological academy on the island of Crete.
But on June 1, leadership of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church announced the council should be postponed until numerous unspecified issues are addressed, from guest seating and procedures for editing texts to costs. The Church said it would boycott the meeting if held this month.
Five days later, another Church announced it could not participate: the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East, based in Damascus Syria, which has been embroiled in a jurisdictional dispute with the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem. The two churches have broken communion.
Since the disagreement has not been settled, and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople scheduled mediation for after the council, the Antioch Church considers it impossible to attend a council dedicated to unity.
The discontented communities are close to the most powerful Church in the assembly: the Russian Orthodox Church, with more people and more money than any other.
A total of 350 clerics comprise the council — each patriarch is accompanied by 24 bishops.
Incredibly, at least in light of all of the recent discontent, all 14 churches approved an agenda only five months ago in Switzerland, although some Christian reporters sensed discontent that could derail the gathering, despite planning that stretches back decades.
The discord touches directly on the Catholic Church and its long ecumenical dialogue with the Orthodox Church, dating back to 1964, when Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras met in Jerusalem to begin healing that old wound of division, the Great Schism of 1054.
What is going on?
Orthodox churches function, normally, with extensive autonomy.
Most of the 14 autocephalous (self-governing) churches are defined by national jurisdictions — the Orthodox Churches of Albania, Bulgaria, Czech and Slovakia, Georgia, Greece, Poland, Romania, Russia and Serbia — while another five trace histories back to ancient communities: Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, Cyprus and Jerusalem.
With authority flowing from the ancient seat of the Byzantine Empire, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople is considered “first among equals” in relation to other Orthodox leaders, as a matter of history.
Although he has the power to convene a Pan-Orthodox Council, he can’t command other patriarchs to follow him, a fact the current kerfuffle makes clear.
When dissatisfaction became public, leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church was swift to read discord as potentially fatal.
Metropolitan Hilarion, chairman of the Russian Orthodox Church’s department for external church relations (effectively its foreign minister), recommended that Patriarch Bartholomew convene an emergency meeting to iron out problems before leaders descend on Crete.
Because decisions are supposed to be made by consensus, the absence of even one local Church undermines the meeting’s authority, Hilarion explained to a Russian TV station on June 7.
“If these issues are resolved, then the council will take place. If they are not, then it’s probably best to postpone it,” Metropolitan Hilarion told Russia-24 TV.
Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Chrysostomos Savatos, who will represent his Church at the council, echoed Hilarion in emphasizing that participation of all is critical. But he voiced puzzlement regarding what inspired fractures.
“I am certain that the Holy Spirit will enlighten the minds of primates,” the Greek leader told La Stampa. “I do not understand why this change has come about. This is an historic moment, and none of the Orthodox Churches must be absent from this Pan-Orthodox Council.”
The patriarchate of Constantinople beseeched all parties to stick with the program, noting “with surprise and wonder” that the Churches already had agreed to it. Plus, further discussion could occur during the council.
But the negative snowball only picked up speed after Bartholomew insisted the Holy and Great Council would go ahead as planned.