For the past five months since the Council in Crete, concerns about a possible split have been making rounds around the Orthodox world.
Indeed, the opinion of the majority of the episcopate wasn’t presented at the Crete Council, as four Autocephalous Church – and inter alia the Russian Orthodox Church with the majority of Orthodox Christian believers in the world and more than one third of all Orthodox Christian bishops – didn’t consider it possible for themselves to take part in the event (at least in the one that was supposed to be held as of June 18). Delegations presented at the Council were also divided among themselves over the documents in question and on how to address the agenda. For example, about two thirds of the Serbian Orthodox Church’s delegates didn’t sign the document about the relations with Non-Orthodox Christians.
But now, finally, it has became clear that the fears were groundless. By God’s grace, the split did not happen. Moreover, the Council’s stated goals – to come together in one place, create a climate of mutual trust and express in a visible way the unity of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church – were achieved at long last.
The Primates of the Patriarchates of Alexandria, Jerusalem, Serbia, Georgia, Orthodox Churches of Cyprus, Poland, Albania, Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia, Orthodox Church in America, as well as representatives of other Local Churches gathered in Moscow on November 20-22 to con-celebrate at the Divine Liturgy and congratulate His Holiness Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill on his 70th birthday.
Despite the seeming prosiness of the occasion, this solemn event surely played an important role in the life of the Church. No wonder that even those Primates who were not particularly inclined to demonstrate their solidarity with the Russian Orthodox Church, namely Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria Theodore II, Archbishop of New Justiniana and All Cyprus Chrysostomos II, Metropolitan of Warsaw and All Poland Sava, Archbishop of Tirana and All Albania Anastasios did come to Moscow. The Patriarchate of Constantinople, whose alleged rivalry with the Moscow Patriarchate is so widely spoken of, and the Romanian Patriarchate sent their representatives.
The Metropolitan of Warsaw spoke his joy or a kind of relief and said: “All the Orthodox came! If unity was broken, they would not have come here!”
And, perhaps, it doesn’t matter what was the number of the delegates and who sent them to the jubilee (for example, Patriarch Bartholomew sent one single representative, i.e. less than the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia did). What is important is that the amount of clergy and the lineup of attendees (note the number of monastic klobuks, including white metropolitan ones) indicate: all the fullness of the Church finally did get together.
“It is safe to say that these days the heart of Orthodox Christendom beats there. And this is because the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill, is a respected church and religious leader for the whole world,” said Metropolitan Timothy of Vostra, a representative of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, said.
At the same time, in addition to solemn speeches and greetings, each of the speakers hierarchs has talked about the challenges facing the Church: secularization, ethnophyletism, divisions, attempts of external actors to disorganize the canonical structure of the Church, suffering of the people in Iraq and Syria, persecution of Christians in the Middle East, Kosovo and Metohija. They talked about things that really concern the clergy and flock of the Local Churches.
Many people were impressed by Patriarch Kirill’s speech. I was impressed by it also. First of all, with how sincere it was, from personal memories to the anguish for the Church that is being crucified by evil external forces, for the suffering of Christians in the Middle East, for the souls of all of us who are in the midst of the raging elements of our world.
I’d like to exclaim: “Thanks to God we are on the board of the Ship of Salvation, in our Orthodox Church!” Seems like precisely this joy, the joy of communal prayer and unity around the bowl with the Holy Sacraments overshadowed the gladness of the anniversary in the speech of the Russian Patriarch.
Jelena Rakocevic is a Orthodox Christian believer from Podgorica, Montenegro, and belongs to the Serbian Orthodox Church. Rakocevic graduated from the University of Montenegro in 2013 with a Masters in International Relations.