A historical meeting bringing together representatives of 300 million Orthodox Christians, which had been due to be held in Istanbul this year after centuries away, has been shifted to the Greek island of Crete. The move came after the RussianOrthodox Church indicated that it did not want to come to Turkey due to the crisis between the two countries over the downing of a Russian jet that violated the Turkish-Syrian border last year, GreekOrthodox Patriarch Bartholomew told a group of journalists on April 18.
The Pan-Orthodox Council, or the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church as it is officially referred to, will be held in Crete on June 17-27. The first Pan-Orthodox Council is highly anticipated, as it has been planned ever since 1961.
The Patriarch explained that the last equivalent of such a Council, the “Ecumenical Council,” was held in Nicaea (İznik in today’s Turkey) in the year 787, centuries before the Eastern and Western Churches were split in the Schism of 1054.
“Then there were only four churches. Now in Orthodoxy we have 14 churches, led by us in Istanbul. This is going to be their first joint meeting,” Patriarch Bartholomew said. Other Churches from east and west, including the Catholic Church in the Vatican, will be sending observers to the Crete Council.
In a 2014 conference in Istanbul, it was agreed to hold the Council at the Hagia Irene church-museum in Istanbul, which was built before the neighboring Hagia Sophia in the 4th century, and which was also the first house of the Orthodox Patriarchate. However, Patriarchate officials say they received a message in late December 2015 that said Patriarch Kirill of the RussianOrthodox Church in Moscow did not find it appropriate to hold the Council meeting in Istanbul. This message came amid a political crisis between Russia and Turkey over the downing of a Russian jet by the Turkish army. The Russian jet was downed and its pilot was killed on Nov. 24, after violating Turkey’s border with Syria, where Russia was helping the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria’s civil war. The RussianOrthodox Church, founded in the 16th century, is known to be in competition with the GreekOrthodox Church, following the capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453 and its renaming as Istanbul.
“The content of our mission is religious, not political,” Bartholomew said. “We have moved the Council meeting from Istanbul to Crete in order not to cancel it. This is an historic meeting. We have important topics to discuss and will be making the first declaration to the world as the Orthodox faith.” Dr. Konstantinos Delikostantis, an advisor to Bartholomew, said there are six topics to be discussed at the Council: The problems faced by the Orthodox diaspora, the problems of autonomous churches, dietary rules in Orthodoxy, marriage and family, relations with non-Orthodox Christians, and the stance of the Orthodox Church regarding contemporary developments in today’s world – from the environment to technology, from human rights and individualism to what Delikonstantis described as “contemporary sins.”
Meanwhile, Bartholomew also said he has requested an appointment with Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan to update him on the situation and to discuss issues faced by the tiny Greek minority in Turkey, including the long-demanded re-opening of the Halki Seminary on Heybeliada island near Istanbul.