Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission completes its work

Source: Moscow Patriarchate (12/17/09)

The Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission, meeting in Chambesy, Switzerland, closed its work on December 16 with a thanksgiving.

The Commission, whose task is to elaborate the agenda of a Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, continued to consider the problem of autocephaly and ways of declaring it – the discussion which began in 1993, and prepared proposals on autonomy and ways of declaring it.

The documents prepared by the Commission will be submitted to a Pan-Orthodox Pre-Council Conference. They stipulate in particular that the ecclesiological, canonical and pastoral prerequisites for granting autocephaly to a particular church region, if requested, are to be assessed by the Mother Church at her Local Council. If the Council’s decision is favourable, the Mother Church is to notify it to the Ecumenical Patriarchate which is in its turn to inform other Local Autocephalous Churches in order to find out whether there is a pan-Orthodox consensus expressed in the unanimity of Councils or Synods of the autocephalous Churches. Expressing the consent of the Mother Church and the pan-Orthodox consensus, the Ecumenical Patriarch is to declare the autocephaly of a petitioning Church by issuing a Tomos of Autocephaly to be signed by the Ecumenical Patriarch and verified by the signatures of the Primates of Orthodox Churches invited for it by the Ecumenical Patriarch.

The question of the contents of the Tomos and the signing procedure will be considered additionally by the next meeting of the Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission.

The Commission has also prepared a document expressing a common position of Orthodox Churches on autonomy and the ways of declaring it, describing the notion of autonomy, the procedure to be observed in declaring autonomy and its consequences.

It was agreed that the initiation and completion of the procedure for granting autonomy to a certain part of its canonical jurisdiction is exclusively under the competence of the respective autocephalous Church. It is noted that in church practice there are different degrees in which an autonomous Church depends on the autocephalous Church that has granted autonomy to it. A petition for autonomy is considered by the autocephalous Church which, having assessed the prerequisites and reasons for this petition and taken a favourable decision, issues an appropriate Tomos defining the territorial boundaries of the autonomous Church and its relationships with the autocephalous Church to which it belongs in accordance with the established criteria of church Tradition. Then the primate of the autocephalous Church notifies the Ecumenical Patriarchate and other autocephalous Orthodox Churches on the declaration of an autonomous Church.

The draft document also provides for measures to find a canonical settlement of an issue in case of differences arising from two autocephalous Churches’ granting the autonomous status to church communities in the same geographical church region.

The question of Diptychs of the Primates of the Local Churches will be considered by the Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission at its next meeting.

— DECR Communication Service


  1. Sounds like Canon 28 got burned at the stake (but I hope the ashes don’t pollute the ground water). Sounds like it takes all at the dance to tango together.

  2. George Michalopulos :

    Nick, canon 28 was always a nullity. The pope nullified it at the council when his legates told him about it. (And they were the collective chairmen of the council.) Shame on Holy Cross’s “theologians” for writing stating otherwise last April/May. They didn’t even have the courage to sign it, that’s always a red flag to me.

  3. This statement doesn’t say anything at all about Chalcedon Canon 28, whether for or against it or how to interpret it.

    The context of this statement is canonical territory which is already constituent to an autocephalous church gaining a more independent status. It does not address the issue of whether a particular piece of land actually constitutes one church’s canonical territory.

    • Hence the term “Mother Church.”

      The issue of autonomy is going to have to resolve on that.

      My question is does EP Bartholomew get out his seal for the 1970 Tomos.

      Canon 28 isn’t dead yet.

      • This statement actually represents something of a hybrid of the positions of the MP and the EP. Until now, the MP has argued that every mother church may unilaterally grant autocephaly to one of its parts. The EP has argued that only a pan-Orthodox consensus, with the EP as spokesman, can declare autocephaly.

        This new statement gives the mother church the initiative to begin the process, but it gives the pan-Orthodox consensus with the EP as spokesman the task of ratifying that initiative.

        Again, this has nothing to do with determining how a church can expand its previously existing canonical territory, which is what the debates over Chalcedon 28 are about.

        • Fr. Andrew,

          I don’t read it that way at all.

          “If the Council’s decision is favourable, the Mother Church is to notify it to the Ecumenical Patriarchate which is in its turn to inform other Local Autocephalous Churches in order to find out whether there is a pan-Orthodox consensus expressed in the unanimity of Councils or Synods of the autocephalous Churches.”

          My take on this is 1.) the Mother church must start the process and 2.) there must be a consensus among the other Churches. it does NOT say that the EP can veto the process…interestingly.

          One of the real questions, to me, will now be – how to handle the OCA, and potentially other churches which have not followed this formula (Estonia? Georgia? Macedonia?)

          Common sense would seem to dictate a grandfather clause….but then we are Orthodox, not common sensical.

          It will be particularly interesting to see how this is handled.

          Best Regards,

        • George Michalopulos :

          Fr, if memory serves, canon 13 of the council of Carthage has resolved the issue as to which church has the order to evangelize out of its territory. According to this canon, the closest diocese to the unchurched land has the duty and obligation to undertake the initial missionary effort. If its bishop does not, then a regional council of the dioceses contiguous to it can force him to do so. He’s got a deadline of 6 months and if he still doesn’t send missionaries, then its open to the other bishops.

      • Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

        Isa, flesh that out for us. I’m not following it.

        • As I posted recently, there were similar discussions in the Phanar a century ago:

          “On October 30/November 12, 1907, was read before the Holy Synod of Constantinople of the report presented on this matter by the Metropolitan of Nicomedia Pelagonia and Grevena. He concludes, Based on the holy canons-which one does not quote-that all churches and Greek communities abroad, not included in the constituency of an autocephalous Orthodox Church is dependent on the Ecumenical Patriarchate. For the success of this project, the Commission over has been of the opinion that one should write to the sister autocephalous Churches to ask the Ecumenical Patriarchate for formal consent for the appointment of the Ecclesiastical [authorites], charged with their annexes abroad. In this case, the Ecumenical patriacat would have no right to refuse, it would, in short, be a mere formality, but that still imposes the recognition of the Patriarchal jurisdiction over all Greek communities of the dispersion [ie Diaspora].”

          This was the basis which issued the infamous Tomos of 1908, which Met./Archb./EP/Pope Meletios (already in 1907 moving in the top circles of governance of the Ottoman Church) used to claim North America, Europe, etc…, formulated the present day Chalcedon 28 claims.

          If a unanimous consensus is needed for autcoephaly, as is implied in this communique, the Greek Churches need not even stick together for Omogeneia to defeat Orthodoxy as regards the OCA, or for any other local Church for that matter. The EP can veto it by himself. Any other Church can too, but I have a tough time seeing Cyprus, for instance, either holding out or leading the pack on any vote on any Church. The EP will continue to claim that she is the Mother Church, per canon 28, of North America, and it will not even get to the point where other opinions will be needed.

          Then there is, for instance, the case of the Russian Orthodox Church Outsdie of Russia: by definition, she is not within the canonical territory of Russia. Who would be her mother Church? Per canon 28, all territory outside the defined canonical boundaries of an autocephelous Church, are under the EP.

          And what is going to stop the definition that Ukraine is “diaspora,” as the EP argued in the Tomos it issued for autocephaly for Poland?

          The test is going to be the case of the OCA. Her Tomos predates the agreement. If the EP is successful in insisting that this present day agreement is binding on the OCA (who is not involved in its issuance), then we can see which way this is going to be interpreted, without a hair’s difference between it and the canon 28 argument proclaimed loudly until now.

          • George Michalopulos :

            Isa, interesting. Because this appears to be a hybrid, it will unravel in time as it appears untenable. Oh sure, on paper it looks good: Local Church —>Mother Church —> EP —> all patrriachates —>EP —-> Mother Church —> New Local Church. But anybody with eyes to see can see that the chances for mischief multiply explonentially. Let’s see: six variables = 6!

            I for one trust nothing that will come out of the Phanar. Even though this was a clear loss for them, they’ve got their eye on the ball, which is North America, that’s all they really care about. As long as they (or another Greek-speaking church) can play the veto card, they’re going to do everything within their power to bring the OCA under the omorphor of the GOA. And I mean EVERYTHING no matter how ridiculous ora blameworthy.

            Hence we should ignore it. After all, we’ve got our own cards to play: the tomos of autocephaly of 1970 doesn’t seem to have been addressed. Is it valid? Did this “pre-conciliar” commission invalidate it? Can the ROP be the only church that invalidates it? I could go on. Hence, I think it very likely that the issue of the OCA will NOT be addressed because it brings up way too many embarrassing questions.

            Basically, I say turn the tables on them. I don’t think that they want to revisit the issue as it will possibly unravel these protocols which I feel is inevitable, given the Rube Goldbergian scheme outlined above. Anyway, that’s my take.

    • George Michalopulos :

      Fr Andrew, it seems to me that if canon 28 is not mentioned at all, one way or the other, then we can safely say it’s dead. I know that’s not the wish of the Phanar, but this was their chance to rally around the canon 28 flag. The fact that they didn’t run it up the pole means that they realize it’s a red flag. Using common law reasoning, it would appear that if it’s not brought up now, it can’t be brought up in an appelate process further down the road. (Of course, they probably will, but the point is made and if they do, it will only cement the idea in Orthodoxy’s mind that they are not good-faith actors.)

      • Does casuitry count as reasoning?

        Anyway, like all other Orthodox Churches, they’re not under common law reasoning. Not that it would matter: they would veto it by holding a synod in the negative, mention canon 28 in passing, and soon back to square one. You’re right that they see it now as a red flag. So now they don’t hoist it up until the other ships are in range.

  4. The very idea of an EP is an anachronism. The Empire (that which is civilized vs. the barbarians) does not exist – and history has shown that even if it was re-constituted it would soon dissolve (such is the nature of Empire in the fallen world). The present day existence of the EP deserves a parody on SNL.

    This centralizing, “papal” tendency is wrong, and MP is right to reject it.

    God save us from the possibility of a “ecumenical council” that is based on this work…

  5. It should be quite clear to all by now that all of these meetings are nothing more than +Bart. trying to become an Eastern Pope. His actions are non-canonical and anti-apostolic. The Holy Apostles did not organize churches to have them under “one” particular bishop. They organized “local” churches giving them full authority to operate on their own, in their own territory, without influence from the outside. Clearly what + Bart is doing is not what Christ nor the Holy Apostles taught. All these preliminary councils are a sham!

  6. George Michalopulos :

    Diogenes, which is why it will all come to naught. Or be ignored. Same difference.

  7. Christ's unprofitable servant, Seraphim :

    Glory to Jesus Christ!

    Personally, I am encouraged by this statement of the Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission on how autocephaly is to be achieved. It is clearly based upon the principle of conciliarity, and it acknowledges both the regional and universal realities of the Church. It strives to promote authentic unity.

    Of course, consensus on larger scales involving more personalities and perspectives is a greater challenge, but this is what is required of us in the 21st century. We no longer live in an Empire comprised of the regions on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. We live in a global society. We are multi-ethnic, multe-cultural, multi-lingual, and so on.

    Yes, consensus is a “burden”, but the Church is conciliar in its very nature. Just look at St. Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity: it says it all. Conciliarity with primacy. Equality with order. Isn’t this why we reject the papal form of Church government and get so bent out of shape when we see bishops acting unilaterally?

    I hope we do not fall prey to the pathological tendency of looking at Church history through rose-colored glasses and thinking everything has always been ideal and pristine. May we never think that the earl Ecumenical Councils went smoothly or quickly. The bitter reality about how unpleasant these meetings were is evidenced by the graphic words of St. Gregory of Nazianzus who described just how miserable it was to attend these councils of bishops because of all the quarreling and rivalry. This is only because of our human pride. However, we must remember that the Holy Spirit is the source of peace, truth and unity. We simple have to cooperate in humility. Therefore, we cannot attempt to bypass this process by writing it off because we feel it is “impossible”. “Looking upon them Jesus said to them, ‘With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'” [Matthew 19:6]

    St. Paul obviously recognized the practical nature of this challenge. That is why he wrote to the Ephesians stating, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

    The is no other path than humble co-operation with each other and, most importantly, with the Holy Spirit. Any other way is foreign to the Gospel. Any other approach is worldly, and will ultimately fail. This is the simple yet profound truth that our Lord taught us.

    As far as canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon is concerned, I don’t believe it is dead. The geographical areas (i.e. the three Roman civil dioceses of Pontus, Asia and Thrace) that the canon refers to are still under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople to this very day. How is this “dead”.

    Nevertheless, the relatively recent and untenable interpretation of the barbarian clause has never been “alive” to begin with. As Nicholas Katich has underscored in his essay earlier this year, entitled “Chalcedon Canon 28: Historic Truth or Greek Mythology?”, if Constantinople’s present-day interpretation had any historical basis then it would have been impossible for any legitimate missionary work to have occurred outside a defined bishopric in any region of the world without first having secured the permission of the See of Constantinople. Of course, history is not consistent with this scenario.

    As the text of canon 28 explicitly states, Constantinople was only entitled to ordain the bishops who were shepherding the faithful just outside the Imperial boundaries of these three regions.

    It really is that simple.

    To support this claim I am content to quote St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite’s interpretation of this infamous canon in his colossal work entitle The Rudder (which was blessed by Patriarch Neophytos VII of Constantinople in 1802 and shortly after this by the entire Constantinopolitan Synod): “Not only are the Metropolitans of the said dioceses to be ordained by him, but indeed also the bishops located in barbarian regions that border on the said dioceses, as, for instance, those called Alani are adjacent to and flank the diocese of Pontus, while the Russians border on that of Thrace.”

    The problem is not with the actual canon, but rather with this preposterous interpretation. George, I lament with you over the sad fact that Holy Cross’ “faculty” supported this embarrassing claim with a very unscholarly paper, which strangely enough was devoid of personal signatures. Tisk, tisk, tisk.

    Nevertheless, this most recent statement of the Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission inspires me with hope and, dare I say it, confidence that the bishops are making progress the struggle to humbly cooperate with each other in the Holy Spirit.

    My brothers and sisters in Christ, I pray that the remainder of the Nativity Fast will be spiritually profitable for you all as we prepare to enter into the mystery of our Lord’s birth in the flesh for our salvation!

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