Rifts among Orthodox Hierarchs Demonstrate Urgent Need for a World-Wide Pan-Orthodox Synod

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Disclosures of a serious rift between the Orthodox Patriarchs of Constantinople and Moscow and serious divisions among Orthodox leaders in America demonstrate the “urgent need for a Pan-Orthodox Synod,” Orthodox Christian Laity declared in a prepared statement released today.

“The members of Orthodox Christian Laity were deeply disappointed to learn that continuing tensions between Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and Alexy ll, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia over jurisdictional matters in Europe have increased dramatically much to the detriment of Orthodoxy everywhere,” said Peter Haikalis, President of OCL, an independent Orthodox movement in America.

The seriousness of the rift between Constantinople and Moscow was revealed in a recent letter sent by Alexy in challenging an assertion by Patriarch Bartholomew that Orthodoxy’, including Russian Orthodox Churches, in Western Europe is exclusively within Constantinople’s jurisdiction. This dispute mirrors similar jurisdictional clashes between the two Patriarchs concerning Orthodox churches in Estonia and Ukraine. Relations became so strained several years ago that these two centers of Orthodoxy seemed on the verge of a schism.

Further exacerbating the situation was a recent decision by Patriarch Bartholomew to accept into the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America six renegade parishes in California previously affiliated with the Antiochian Archdiocese of America. This action forced the postponement of a meeting of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America (SCOBA) slated for early May. It should be noted that the Patriarchate refused to meet with these parishioners when they visited Constantinople in the early 1990’s on their journey to become Orthodox.

“These jurisdictional disputes between the Patriarchates are most troubling,” commented Dr. Haikalis “particularly for American Orthodoxy which has been plagued by “Old World” ethnic divisions. They unfortunately indicate that the Orthodox Church worldwide is in deep crisis. Another indication of this instability was reflected in the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s heavy-handed imposition last year of an irregular charter on the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.”

“These critical developments clearly demonstrate the urgent demand for a Pan-Orthodox Synod where they can be addressed through the traditional medium of Orthodox consultation and conciliarity. This long overdue meeting of Orthodox leaders offers an appropriate and open environment for a discussion of the enormous spiritual and secular challenges facing World Orthodoxy,” Dr. Haikalis concluded.

Orthodox Christian Laity has consistently expressed deep concern and surprise over Patriarch Bartholomew’s apparent unwillingness to convene such a synod. Particularly as the Patriarch in a November, 1993 meeting with an OCL delegation in the Phanar, promised that the Pan-Orthodox meeting would definitely take place before the end of the Twentieth Century.

George Matsoukas, OCL Executive Director and others who participated in the meeting recalled that “Patriarch Bartholomew was emphatic in assuring us that the Pan-Orthodox Synod would most certainly be convened to address the irregular/uncanonical status of a divided Orthodoxy in America. While we wait for this synod, the mission of Church in America continues to suffer form continuing disunity caused by Old World Patriarchates enmeshed in harmful ethnic and administrative feuds.”

OCL has repeatedly pointed out that these oftentimes petty disputes have undercut Orthodoxy’s sacred mission in the New World and impeded the progress of former Soviet bloc churches in reorganizing themselves after years of oppression and persecution.

“The clear message of these Patriarchal controversies is that Orthodox Christianity cannot afford such small-mindedness if it is to effectively proclaim Christ’s message and confront the challenges facing its communicants in an ever changing world. We urge Patriarch Bartholomew in cooperation with other Orthodox leaders to announce immediately the date for a world Pan-Orthodox dialogue and meeting,” Mr. Haikalis concluded.

A summary of the Patriarchal letter is posted on the OCL Web site at www.ocl.org. OCL is a non-profit independent group of Orthodox Christians of all backgrounds.

George Matsoukas is an active member of St. Catherine Greek Orthodox Church of West Palm Beach, Florida, and has been a delegate to the Clergy-Laity Congress. He also serves as executive director for Orthodox Christian Laity (OCL), a non profit, independent, membership organization of clergy and laity of all Orthodox jurisdictions in the US. Through Matsoukas and Associates, he provides resource development consultant services to non-profit organizations world-wide. President of AHEPA Family Charities of the Palm Beaches, and a past president of AHEPA Chapter 18, Matsoukas is also a member of the Hellenic Society Paideia of South Florida, the Historical Society of Palm Beach County, the Florida Association of Community Colleges as the group’s Vice President and a recipient of its Distinguished Services Award. He is a Paul Harris Fellow of the Lake Worth Rotary Club. His writings have appeared in a wide range of publications; HCS viewers can read several posted on the website: “OCL Statement on Release of Proposed Charter by the Patriarchate (co-authored with Evan Chriss and George Karcazes),” “The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America: Fragmented,” “OCL Issues Statement on SCOBA Meeting Cancellation—Laments Church Dispute,” “Rift Among Orthodox Hierarchs Demonstrate Urgent Need for a World-wide Pan-Orthodox Synod,” and “OCL Launches New Inter-Orthodox Cooperative Initiative.”

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