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Journey with the Orthodox: Biography of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew reviewed by Harold D. Hunter

How did Bartholomew react after the council? His first words to Archdeacon Chryssavgis were “I did what was in my hands to do, what I was called to do. The rest is in God’s hands.” This was expressed as something of a spiritual surprise that he had accomplished his charge, irrespective of the criticism of others. What was planned by all together and decided by all together is what happened even if not all ended up coming. There were many who hailed Crete 2016 as a great success, while a minority positioned themselves as though the council did not even happen. But it is now in the history books; it is now for later generations to assess. Bartholomew had been very direct with Patriarch Kirill in the January 2016 meeting about whether Moscow consented to Crete 2016. Moscow pledged its participation at the time, but its retraction came at the 11th hour. Were there others forces at play? What relation, if any, might there be to the fact that while in Crete Chryssavgis’s computer was being hacked on a daily basis from Kiev and Moscow?

The Patriarchal residence in the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in Phanar. Phanar is the traditional spelling of Fener, a historic neighborhood in Istanbul, Turkey.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Bartholomew had accomplished his calling and charge. In Archdeacon Chryssavgis’s estimation, had he given in to the proposal of postponing the council then it would never have convened. Bartholomew secured the agreement of the 14 autocephalous churches, but only 10 showed up. Perhaps the next council will bring together 11 or 12 churches, predicts Chryssavgis; but this was a vital step, an historical event. It was historical because there is no one like the emperor in the first millennium who would mandate attendance. Today, each church has its own agenda, its own authority. Serbia, for example, wanted the planning for the Great Council to mature until it looked more professional, much like Vatican II; but Albania rightly retorted that the Orthodox churches should accept with humility that this is as good as they could do right now. After all, as Chryssavgis observed, councils are needed when there are problems, not when things are peaceful; so there was no need to defer to an indefinite calendar. Chryssavgis emphasized that no one could ever criticize Bartholomew of controlling the conversation at the council; he stuck by the agenda but allowed everyone to speak. His conviction, says Chryssavgis, is that all churches are equal: Moscow (the largest, wealthiest and strongest) has the same voice and the same vote as Albania (the smallest, the poorest, and the weakest). That is Orthodox ecclesiology, remarked Chryssavgis. It would also be the case that Bartholomew’s directness was able to dismiss notions like that by the Archbishop of Greece that Bartholomew had expansionist intentions in the “new lands” of Greece; Bartholomew’s forthrightness dispelled suspicion from the Greek bishops and attracted their positive involvement in the council.

Archdeacon Chryssavgis, among others leading Eastern Orthodox voices, refers to the Holy and Great Council that met in Crete as a historic Pan-Orthodox Council unlike anything seen by the Orthodox for at least one century, if not an entire millennium. However, Oriental Orthodox were not part of this General Council. It should be noted that the World Council of Churches reserves the term inter-Orthodox when referring to all 21st Century Orthodox churches.

However, the published text includes only a brief update on the bottom of page 172 to adjust parts of what had been projected on Crete 2016. There are ongoing conversations like that at the November 2016 meeting of the American Academy of Religion about how to evaluate what was accomplished at Crete 2016, but Bartholomew’s perspective was that he convened the council on the date and at the place agreed to by the 14 autocephalous churches as late as January 2016.


#2 – Primacy

The book highlights strains among the 14 autocephalous churches in particular the ongoing tension between Constantinople and Moscow. The book notes that the Ecumenical Patriarch alone can declare a church autocephalous. Thus the 1960 granting of autocephaly to the Orthodox Church of America by the Patriarch of Moscow is deemed uncanonical. At the same time, the four dissenting autocephalous churches that stayed away from Crete 2016 give fodder to those outsiders who view Eastern Orthodox Churches as simply a federation of churches. It would seem there is not unanimity among the Orthodox on the notion that “first among equals” has real consequences even when qualified as neither commanding or compelling. Chryssavgis himself warns about autocephaly of ethnophyletism. One advantage for the Ecumenical Patriarchate is that it lacks the kind of nationalistic political pressure of many other Orthodox Patriarchates.

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Category: Ministry, Winter 2017

About the Author: Harold D. Hunter, PhD (Fuller Theological Seminary), is Director of the IPHC Archives & Research Center. Denominational executive positions, seminary teaching and ecumenical dialogues have taken him to over 80 countries. In addition to being the founding editor of the Cyberjournal for Pentecostal-Charismatic Research, Hunter has published five books and several articles including Spirit Baptism: A Pentecostal Alternative (1983, 2009), The Suffering Body: Responding to the Persecution of Christians (2006), The Azusa Street Revival and Its Legacy (2009), and The Many Faces of Global Pentecostalism (2013). As the IPHC Liaison to the Greater Christian Community and member of the PCCNA Commission on Christian Unity steering committee, Hunter actively engages the World Council of Churches, Eastern Orthodox Churches, and the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC).

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