News on the Pan-Orthodox Council

Gabriel Sanchez, whose sense of the Orthodox world is much keener than ours, has a brief, interesting comment about the planned Pan-Orthodox Council. In short, Sanchez says that there are now doubts that it will happen at all, or, if it does, it won’t do much:

If one peruses world Orthodoxy news from the last few months, one is likely left with the impression that the forthcoming 2016 Pan-Orthodox Council will either not happen or be rendered meaningless by a lack of global participation if it does. The Council, which some observers see as a power play by the Ecumenical Patriarch (EP), has received — at best — tepid enthusiasm from the Moscow Patriarch (MP), the largest patriarchate in the Orthodox Church today. It is well known that the EP and MP have been at each other’s throats in recent years over the question of primacy, with the comparatively weaker EP asserting by right with the MP quietly, but noticeably, holding to primacy in fact. Given Moscow’s expansive vision of its power and influence as embodied in its “Russian World” ideology, it is extremely doubtful that it would acquiesce to any proceedings which risk compromising its unique — and some might say “central” — position in Eastern Orthodoxy today.

(Emphasis supplied.) Last year, things were much sunnier, indeed.

To get an idea of some of the issues Sanchez talks about—particularly how the Moscow Patriarchate views some of the issues confronting Orthodoxy, such as the Ukraine crisis and relations with Rome—read Edward Pentin’s interview last year with Metropolitan Hilarion, an important figure in the Moscow Patriarchate. (Hilarion’s remarks drew a vigorous rebuttal with respect to his accusations of “Uniatism.”) It seems very reasonable to us to speculate that Moscow will not agree to anything that might run the risk of compromising, as Sanchez says, its status within Orthodoxy. After all, it has captured what it sees as a good position, why give it up?

All of this is interesting, of course, from an observational standpoint. But we think it is even more interesting from the standpoint of Catholic-Orthodox relations. The Holy Father’s close relationship with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has given many people hope for further improvement in Catholic-Orthodox relations. (Both Francis and Bartholomew are deeply concerned with the environment, for one thing.) But any assessment of Catholic-Orthodox relations ignores the Moscow Patriarchate at its own risk. To put it another way: if Moscow can throw a wrench in the Pan-Orthodox Council, then Moscow can throw a wrench in anything.

Read Sanchez’s whole comment—there are other, interesting points he makes.