MOSCOW — The Russian Orthodox Church is waiting for the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate to respond to its proposal to delay a historic meeting of all the world’s Orthodox churches, its spokesman said Tuesday.
Moscow Patriarchate’s spokesman Vladimir Legoida said the church’s Holy Synod has asked Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I to postpone the Holy and Great Council in order to settle differences that have prompted four of the world’s 14 independent Orthodox churches to declare their refusal to participate.
Legoida said the Moscow Patriarchate made it clear it won’t attend the council, which was set to open later this week in Crete, Greece, if it’s not postponed.
Meanwhile, the press office of the Holy and Great Council released a statement Tuesday indicating that Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople would arrive in Crete on Wednesday in view of opening the council as scheduled on June 19.
The Patriarchate of Constantinople, traditionally considered “first among equals” in the Orthodox world, is the official host and convener of the council.
“Items on the agenda have been under discussion for more than 50 years by Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commissions and Pan-Orthodox Pre-Conciliar Conferences,” the statement said, which also contained a reminder that Bartholomew had convened a meeting of all the heads of the Orthodox churches in Geneva in January.
During that session, a decision was reached to go forward with the gathering.
Orthodox church leaders haven’t held such a meeting since the year 787, when the last of the seven councils recognized by both Orthodox and Catholics, was held. The “great schism” then split the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox in 1054 amid disputes over the Vatican’s power.
The Moscow Patriarchate said it can’t attend the meeting because other Orthodox churches, the Bulgarian church, the Georgian church and the Syria-based Antioch Patriarchate refused to take part and the Serbian Orthodox Church also called for the council to be postponed.
The four churches pointed to disagreements over the Council’s agenda and the documents drafted for the meeting.
Since it has been agreed that all Council decisions should be made by consensus, the Russian church argued that the withdrawal of several churches means there is no reason to hold the council.
Legoida noted that the Moscow Patriarchate on June 3 proposed convening a meeting of all Orthodox churches to try to sort out the differences before the council begins. “The Constantinople Patriarchate has effectively ignored the proposal,” he said, adding that it’s now necessary to postpone the gathering to settle the problems that have emerged.
“We don’t see the difficulties that have emerged as insurmountable,” Legoida told the AP. “We aren’t inclined to dramatize it or see it as some sort of catastrophe. But it’s also clear that these aren’t difficulties we can simply turn a blind eye to.”
(Crux Staff contributed to this report.)