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In March 2014, the Primates of local Orthodox Churches convened in Fener, the residence of the Ecumenical PatriarchBartholomew I, and reached a decision: "The Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church will be convened by the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople in 2016, unless something unexpected occurs."
In January 2016, at the invitation of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the Synaxis of Primates of the Orthodox Autocephalous Churches was held at the Orthodox Center of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Chambésy, Switzerland. The Primates of the local Orthodox Churches and three official delegations representing the Church of Antioch, the Church of Greece, and the Church of Poland, convened to finalise the texts for the Holy and Great Council. Due to the heightened tensions between Russia and Turkey, a decision was reached to hold the Synod in Greece.
Agenda, decisions and reception
The items officially approved at the 2016 Synaxis for referral to and adoption by the Holy and Great Council were:
The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today's World;
The Orthodox Diaspora;
Autonomy and the Means by Which it is Proclaimed;
The Sacrament of Marriage and its Impediments;
The Importance of Fasting and Its Observance Today;
Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World.
The Council in Crete approved, with minor amendments, the documents that had been elaborated by all the Churches in the course of their consultations prior to the Synod, and adopted the Message and the Encyclical.
In view of non-attendance by the four Churches, the Synod?s official spokesman Archbishop Job Getcha stated that all the documents adopted by the Council in Crete would be binding to all the Orthodox Churches.
On 27 June 2016, the Synod of the Church of Antioch issued a statement concerning the Crete Council that stated that the documents adopted by in Crete were not binding for the Patriarchate of Antioch; the Church of Antioch recognized the Synod as "a preliminary gathering on the way to a Pan-Orthodox Council", while the documents it adopted as not final and open for discussion.
The Synod of the Russian Church (the Moscow Patriarchate) in July 2016 passed a resolution that designated the Crete Council as a "an important event in the history of the synodal process in the Orthodox Church that was begun by the First Pan-Orthodox consultation in Rhodes in 1961", but the Russian Church Synod refused to recognise the Synod as pan-orthodox and the documents thereof as "reflecting pan-orthodox consensus". The Russian Church Synod decided to have the Crete Synod's documents examined for further conclusions. In early December 2017, the Bishops? Council of the ROC approved the previous resolution of the ROC Synod that stated that the ROC did not recognise the Council in Crete as Pan-Orthodox, nor its decisions binding for all the Orthodox Churches.
On 18 November 2016, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople sent a letter to the Archbishop of Athens asking him to admonish some of the Greek Orthodox clergy who reject the Holy and Great Council. According to the document, Patriarch Bartholomew reserved to himself the right to sever ecclesiastical and sacramental communion with those clergymen if Greek ecclesiastical authorities decide not to act on the patriarch's request to discipline them. As Dr. Ines Murzaku, professor of Ecclesiastical History and Founding Chair of the Department of Catholic Studies at Seton Hall University, elaborated in her email interview to Crisis Magazine, such "interference and pressure to excommunicate might sound more as rules/jurisdiction that apply in the West", and for this reason the Patriarch Bartholomew "might be viewed by many as 'the Pope of the East' or 'Orthodox Pope'".
However, other Catholic scholars such as Ludwig Hertling, would disagree as he says in his book, Communio: Church and Papacy in Early Christianity, anyone could and did break communion when the parties felt necessary. The most prominent example is the excommunications between Patriarch Michael Kerularios and Cardinal Humbert (a representative of Pope Leo, but not Leo himself) when the latter excommunicated the former. That is still practiced in the Church today.
It should be noted also the Patriarch's request for admonishment concerning the clerics in question is not based on their rejection of the Council per se, since others also disagree, but with the manner they conduct their activities as well as their allegations and charges, including that of heresy (both type of actions denounced by the Holy Synods of other autocephalous Churches).
On June 9, 2016, the Serbian Orthodox Church joined a number of local Churches which did not consider participation in the Pan-Orthodox Council slated for late June on Crete to be possible. However on June 15, 2016, the Serbian Church changed its position on the issue of its participation in the Pan-Orthodox Council and decided to attend, with the caveat that it reserved the right to leave forum on Crete if the position of those churches who refused to participate was ignored.
Archimandrite Benedict (Ioannou), Director of St. Barnabas Seminary.
Archimandrite Papagrigorios (Ioannidis).
Archimandrite Gregory (Mousouroulis).
Archimandrite Augustinos (Kkaras).
Deacon Cyprian Kountouris.
Deacon Michael Nicholaou.
Mr. Michael Spyrou, Secretary of the Holy Council.
Church of Greece
A Greek media report of May 24, 2016 stated that at least a dozen bishops who had been appointed to participate in the Holy and Great Council said that they refused to attend. The specific prelates were to be replaced by other metropolitans at an urgently convened summit of the hierarchy of the Church of Greece. The original list of participants was published on March 8, 2016. The final delagtion that attended the Synod included the following:
Archpriest Milan Gerka, Secretary of the Holy Council.
Archimandrite Seraphim (?emjatovský).
Archpriest Michal ?vajko.
Archdeacon Maxim Durila.
Deacon Kiril Sarkissian.
Ms Iveta Stacova (interpreter).
Churches that did not attend
Church of Antioch
The Antiochian Church pulled out due to the dispute over the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Qatar that is also claimed by the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
The Antiochian Church joined the Church of Georgia in their reservations toward the pre-conciliar document about marriage, and also disagreed with the document about the Orthodox diaspora. There were other matters which the Antiochian Church desired to discuss, such as the calendar issue, but had been removed from the agenda due to lack of consensus on the issue.
Still desiring to convene a Pan-Orthodox Council with full participation, the Antiochian Church considers the 2016 meeting to be "a preliminary meeting towards the Pan-Orthodox Council, [and thus considers] its documents not final, but still open to discussion and amendment upon the convocation of the Great Pan-Orthodox Council in the presence and participation of all the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches."
The Russian Orthodox Church pulled out because of her belief that the council is not truly "pan-orthodox" without the Antiochan, Bulgarian, or Georgian churches. Previously, a preliminary discussion was held on the composition of the delegation to the Pan-Orthodox Council, and the list of participants was published.[note 1]
The Bulgarian Orthodox Church pulled out due to disagreements on some of the texts already approved for the Synod meeting, and specifically that those texts would not be subject to editing in the course of discussions, though that seemed to be a misunderstanding, since all documents were opened for discussion and other Churches went ready to and did amend them.
Church of Georgia
The Georgian Orthodox Church pulled out due to disagreements about several of the Synod's documents, in particular "The Relation of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World".
In December 2016 the holy synod of the Church of Georgia rejected the claim that the council, which it refers to as the "Council of Crete", was Pan Orthodox and the idea that its texts reflected Orthodox Teaching.
Orthodox Church in America
The Orthodox Church in America (OCA) was not invited due to the lack of recognition of her autocephaly by other autocephalous Churches. However, the jurisdiction did support the Council and its convocation by sending clergy scholars from among them to help with the event before, during, and after. In addition, she released an official letter in support of the Council and a special prayer to be included during every Divine Liturgy in every diocese. Also, OCA scholars were among the drafters of a special letter sent to every autocephalous Church urging them to support the convocation of the Council during the time when critical voices were pressuring certain Churches to not attend the synod just a few days before it was to meet. However, the OCA has not released a post-Council statement, and Metropolitan Tikhon has been in the process of resuming the discussion between the OCA and the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
^The delegation of the Church of Russia that had been approved on May 4 had included the following bishops: