Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany:
“The Pan-Orthodox Council Should be Called a Conference.”
The Vice President of the Synod of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, His Eminence Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Germany, spoke at the conference “The Pan-Orthodox Council: Opinions and Expectations,” held on April 19, 2016, at St Tikhon Orthodox Humanitarian University in Moscow.
He noted that a variety of attitudes has developed among the faithful towards the agenda of the coming Pan-Orthodox Council. As reported by RIA Novosti , the hierarch admitted that the texts of the documents which will be deliberated upon at the Pan-Orthodox Council on the Island of Crete are unclear, confused and evoke serious fears among the flocks of the European Orthodox dioceses.
“The document called ‘The Attitude of the Orthodox Church to the Rest of the Christian World’ evokes concern from an ecclesiastical point of view. It is unclear and confusing because it discusses the existence of other ‘churches,” which is unacceptable to us,” he said.
Archbishop Mark also noted that the general attitude towards non-Orthodox Christian confessions on the part of Orthodox believers in Russia and those in Europe are distinct from each other. In Russia, the attitude is more open, while the Orthodox Christians of Europe have a more critical attitude. “After all, we live with them, and we have a more acute sensitivity to this topic,” he noted. The hierarch added that the weakness of the published draft document for the Council consists of a lack of clearly-expressed reasons for the church divisions of the past. “These reasons,” Archbishop Mark recalled, “were heresies and schisms. Recognizing this fact should not define the relationship we have with non-Orthodox Christian confessions.”
Still, the Vice President of the Synod of ROCOR proposes that the Council documents that were offered for consideration to representatives of all of the Local Orthodox Churches should make this clear. In the opinion of Archbishop Mark, it is impossible to talk of any sort of equality of confessions. “We should not declare to a Protestant on the street, ‘You are a heretic,’ but of course we should keep it in the back of our minds,” stressed the Archbishop.
Also, he noted, despite the fact that the text of the document “Relationship of the Orthodox Church to the Rest of the Christian World” often uses the term “Christian unity,” but its meaning and the way to achieve such unity or not revealed. As a means of overcoming misunderstandings and caution, Archbishop Mark proposed renaming the forthcoming Council a “conference.”
“It would remove all anxiety that the people are enduring,” he concluded.
The Pan-Orthodox Council. What are its opponents afraid of?
During the process of preparing for the all Orthodox Council, and after the publication of a series of proposed drafts for the Council, fears arose among Orthodox believers that the Orthodox Churches are preparing to unite with non-Orthodox confessions, including Catholics and Protestants, which would mean--from the point of view of the conservative portion of the flock--apostasy from Orthodox dogmatic teachings.
In part, these fears are based on the fact that many believers consider the convening of the Pan-Orthodox Council as being a sort of 8 th Ecumenical Council, which in their opinion would only distort Orthodox teachings that developed over centuries, introducing unnecessary innovations.
For this reason, the representatives of various churches, including the Moscow Patriarchate, have often called such a characterization inaccurate.
Speaking at the conference, the Head of the Department of External Church Relations, His Eminence Metropolitan Ilarion of Volokolamsk, stated that “Recent months have seen rumors swirling around the Church, including insinuations regarding the Pan-Orthodox Council.” He enumerated the main points of these accusations, which are put forth to protest the concept of convening the Council, or against the participation of the Russian Orthodox Church.
The authors of these many appeals, which in the words of Metropolitan Ilarion are arriving in large numbers, express the following feared innovations:
-That this will be the 8th Ecumenical Council, at which the Antichrist will rise;
-That a union with the Catholic Church will result;
-That the Council will cancel fasting;
-That the Council will adopt the new calendar;
-That the Council will cancel the celibacy of bishops;
-That the Council will accept second marriages for clergymen, and introduce other innovations.
The authors of these letters, according to Metropolitan Ilarion, demand the refusal of the [Russian Orthodox] Church to participate in the Pan-Orthodox Council, and instead to convene an extraordinary Local Council to condemn the heresy of ecumenism and the withdrawal from the World Council of Churches.
A response to the critics of the idea of a Pan-Orthodox Council.
As a result, according to the Head of the DECR, on April 15, it was decided to publish a document called “The Official Clarification of the Department of External Church Relations Regarding the Forthcoming Pan-Orthodox Council,” which contains an extrapolation of positions, in which members of the delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church intend to deliberate on the draft Pan-Orthodox documents.
A large portion of the documents is devoted to laying the foundation of the positions of the Russian Orthodox Church regarding other Christian confessions and explaining the corresponding argumentation and discussion with the critics of the very idea of this Council.
“Despite the rumors, this document does not promote a union with the Roman Catholics, and communities of other faiths are not called ‘equal in honor’ or ‘equal in salvific grace’ with the Orthodox Church. Fears that the goal of this document consists of confirming ecumenism as a valid teaching for all Orthodox Christians has no foundation in fact,” the document says.
The “Clarification” stresses the following:
“Having studied the published draft documents prepared for the [Pan-Orthodox] Council, any interested member of the Church will come to the conclusion that fears regarding the re-examination of church rules at the Council such as revoking the monastic tradition, introducing married episcopacy and allowing second marriages for clergymen, the abridging or cancellation of Lenten periods, the adoption by all the Local Orthodox Churches of the new calendar, or the signing of any act of union with the Roman Catholic Church or unifying with other confessions, or without merit.”
Still, in the final resolution of this conference, “The Pan-Orthodox Council: Opinions and Expectations,” its authors noted the importance and timeliness of the publication of documents drafted for the Pan-Orthodox Council, and appealed to His Holiness Patriarch Kirill to take into consideration the opinions of its participants, reflecting the concerns that a part of the flock of the Russian Orthodox Church share, and to bring these concerns to the attention of the leaders of the Local Orthodox Churches.