AsiaNews: ‘Historic’ decision in Chambésy

On the Roman Catholic site AsiaNews, Nat da Polis files a report on the Fourth Pre-Conciliar meeting of Orthodox hierarchs who assembled last week in Switzerland to discuss the problem of the “diaspora.” Da Polis views the pending trip of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul as a “significant step” in sorting out the disarray. Story follows.

Historic Orthodox decision, migrant communities to have their own bishops’ conferences

Istanbul (AsiaNews) – The first of two meetings scheduled for 2009 was held in Sabezy [Chambésy, Switzerland, ed.] to prepare the much awaited Pan-Orthodox Synod. In agreeing to set up Bishops’ Conferences for Orthodox Diaspora communities, the meeting reached a historic decision.

According to existing rules, Orthodox believers living outside their country of origin fall under the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. However, the large-scale migration that followed the collapse of the Iron Curtain generated quite a few problems to those who are in charge of Orthodox life in the Diaspora because of the very close association of the Christian message to the ethnic origin of the faithful, a situation that has often been misunderstood or exploited with political and economic repercussions.

By a unanimous decision, Orthodox bishops’ conferences will be set up in the Diaspora and come under the chairmanship of the oldest metropolitan in Constantinople. If he is absent, then he will be replaced according to the canons of ecclesiology. The creation of new bishops’ conferences will thus reflect the new circumstances that have emerged in the Diasporic world.

All decisions will have to be based on the principle of unanimity of all Churches, each of which will be represented by their own bishops. Members in bishops’ conference will be bishops recognised by all Orthodox Churches. Constantinople will remain the coordinating centre for all the conferences.

A clear signal of the new situation came when it was reported that Kyrill, the new Patriarch of Moscow, will make his first foreign trip to Constantinople on 4 July.

The proceedings, chaired and skilfully directed by the Metropolitan of Pergamon Ioannis Ziziulas, [Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon, ed.] took place in a calm and constructive atmosphere, like never before, and were permeated by a desire to finally set a common path for Orthodoxy as a whole in the face of the challenges of today’s world.

The proceedings thus confirmed the turning point reached in October of last year in Constantinople when the Pan-Orthodox meeting, strongly backed by Bartholomew, laid down guidelines for the Orthodox world. Behind the scene, Kyrill and his predecessor, Aleksij, contributed to the effort. For the latter it was also his last trip.

Certainly, some sources noted that given its age-old experience Constantinople had already anticipated what is happening now when Bartholomew opened the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 2004 to include bishops from the Diaspora, and not only from Turkey. In doing so he was highlighting the role of collective management of Orthodox affairs.

Several times in the past Bartholomew had already expressed a desire to see someone who was not a Turkish citizen become Patriarch and be granted Turkish citizenship afterwards.

In his Sunday reflection Patriarch Bartholomew reiterated the importance of the Geneva proceedings, making clear that through these proceedings the Orthodox Church is preparing to work as one in the face of the demands and challenges of today’s world and this without becoming secularized.

Monsignor Dositheos of the Ecumenical Patriarchate Communications Bureau [Fr. Dositheos Anagnostopulous, ed.] told us that a very important step forward had been taken, and that a number of messages had been sent out in every direction.

With such a step one truth is renewed and reiterated, namely that love and dialogue are at the heart of the Christian message. And this context communicating free from pre-established formulae is a sign of liberty, which is the very foundation of Christian thinking. Consequently, no importance should be given to any form of Talibanism that might exist among some Christians and denominations, whatever its nature or origin.

As for the future, the next meeting has already been set for mid-December, again in Geneva. Several issues on the agenda will be tackled, like the rules for granting the status of autocephaly to a Church or recognizing its autonomy; the application of Dipticha, the rules of mutual canonical recognition among Orthodox Churches; the establishment of a single calendar with the same dates (to avoid the situation of having some Churches celebrate Christmas on 25 December and others almost two weeks later); impediments and canonicity of the sacrament of marriage; fasting in today’s world; relations with other Christian denominations; the ecumenical movement; and Orthodox contributions to asserting the Christian ideal of peace, brotherhood and liberty.


  1. Wesley J. Smith :

    How does this move us toward a united American Orthodox Church, particularly since American and other “diaspora” voices were not allowed to be present? Moreover, considering the growth in conversion of Americans to Orthodoxy, including this commenter, is the term “diaspora” even accurate any more?

  2. George Michalopulos :

    Wesley, the more I think about it, the more it seems to me that there’s less here than meets the eye. Just last nite, I read a complaint from a Ukrainaian (MP) bishop that Ukraine was being sold down the river by the MP. This makes absolutely no sense because the MP’s brank of the Uk Church is by far the largest. I can’t see +Kirill giving up the UOC (esp when all of the anti-OCAers said that he was going to consolidate his hold over the UOC in exchange for giving up the OCA). If this is true, then everybody was wrong about Ukraine. This would also mean that the OCA is going to be aggrandized as opposed to the UOC which will be emancipated from the MP. This situation was never in the cards.

    Instead, I have a feeling that a lot of feelers are being put out, and even some provocations (like the UOC bishop mentioned above) in order to marshall anti-this forces against anti-that forces.

    So I stand by what I said last nite, probably nothing is going to happen in N America or W Europe based on way too much acrimony. In E Asia, Oceania, S America, that’s a different story and I image the Chambesy model will stand.

    But we’ll see.

    Your points are correct however. Reviving the Byzantine model in N America is going to be so counter-evangelistic that it’s not even funny.

  3. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    Wesley, I think the only conclusion you can draw from the meeting is that the argument that the Greek pedigree of the Ecumenical Patriachate grants universal jurisdiction over the “disapora” because of the universal character of Hellenistic ideals has fallen by the wayside.

    Having said that, the suggestion to make some sort of episcopal synod in the “diaspora” is encouraging because at least it is official confirmation that the status quo in America and other places is not sufficient. How they will be administered remains to be seen.

    Yes, the term “diaspora” is wholly unworkable. It is used in two senses I think. From the Constantinopolitan side it is used in the same sense the Jews use it — a dispersion of people united by ethnicity/race; from the other side it functions as diplomatic shorthand to describe the countries where Orthodoxy is still fractured by jurisdictional divisions, like America.

    I think that the increasing secularization of Christendom as well as the increasing threat of Moslem domination is one of the drivers behind meetings like this. The Russian Orthodox Church has been the most clear on these issues with warnings and analysis as good as Rome has offered in recent years. The Greek Orthodox Church lags behind. The difficult circumstances of the Ecumenical Patriarchate no doubt factors into this.

  4. Kevin Allen :

    I take my hat off to the E.P. for bringing this meeting together in the first place. Whatever one ascribes to be underlying motives, I think it was historic as the article states and courageous on the part of the E.P. In some ways, the E.P. has everything to lose by bringing such an issue to the collective episcopal table! I think the E.P. exercised his authority as “first-among equals” well indeed, when he convened a conciliar conclave such as Chambesy (2009) to address such a politically prickly issue. I also think having Metropolitan John (Zizioulas)chair the meeting was a brilliant stroke. As I understand it, he is widely respected on most fronts.

  5. George Michalopulos :

    Zizioulis wrote a fantastic book, called “Being as Communion.” He’s enlightened many (me included) about the proper role of the episcopacy and how Christianity is an organic process, which arises from and extends to the diocese. How the bishop is the presider-in-love of the diocese and the pastor.

    His work directed me to disovering more about the primitive Church and how each diocese was autocephalous. See for example the works of Fr John Erickson (“The Challenge of our Past”), Meyendorff (Rome, Constantinople, and Moscow”), etc. The present top-down approach of patriarch-metropolitan-archbishop-bishop is quite bogus.

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