World's Orthodox patriarchs prepare for June gathering of Great and Holy Council in Crete

(Photo: WCC)Orthodox Patriarchs who met in Chambésy, Geneva, Switzerland from Jan. 21 to 28, 2016 and convened a Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church to be held in the month of June, 2016 in Crete. In the center of the photograph with a short staff is the Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew and on his right is the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit.

The heads of most of the world's Orthodox churches have called a Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church to be held in the month of June in Crete that will be a first for the churhces.

They said in a statement released by the World Council of Churches Feb. 2 that a meeting chaired by the Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, set the date in Chambésy, Geneva, Switzerland.

The Council will be held at the Orthodox Academy of Crete from 16 to 27 June 2016.

"The items officially approved for referral to and adoption by the Holy and Great Council are: the mission of the Orthodox Church in the contemporary world, the Orthodox diaspora, autonomy and its manner of proclamation, the sacrament of marriage and its impediments, the significance of fasting and its application today, and relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world," the patriarchs said in their statement..

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FIRST MEETING OF 14 CHURCHES

John Chryssavgis, an archdeacon and theological advisor to Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, wrote, "The council of 2016, which has been on the table for discussion and preparation since at least 1961 (although there were earlier proposals for such a council in the 1920s and 1930s), will for the first time ever gather representatives from all 14 independent Orthodox Churches.

"The very conception, let alone the convocation of such a great or general council, is entirely unprecedented.

"It will be attended by patriarchs, archbishops, and bishops from the fourteen autocephalous Orthodox Churches, including those from all of the ancient patriarchates, with the exception of Rome," he wrote on the website First Things.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew convened a Synaxis of Primates of the Orthodox Autocephalous Churches at the Orthodox Center of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Chambésy, from Jan. 21 to 28.

Virtually all of the primates attended the synaxis in person with a few exceptions.

Patriarch John X of Antioch and Metropolitan Sawa of Poland were unable to attend due to health reasons, and Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece was absent for personal reasons. All three were represented by officially authorized delegates.

The primates also determined the establishment of a Panorthodox Secretariat, the by-laws of the Council, the participation of non-Orthodox observers in the opening and closing sessions, and the Council's budgetary costs.

"Moreover, the Primates expressed their support for the persecuted Christians of the Middle East and their ongoing concern for the abduction of the two Metropolitans, Paul Yazigi of the Patriarchate of Antioch and Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syriac Archdiocese."

Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), hosted a dinner with the Primates of the Orthodox churches at the Ecumenical Institute at the Château de Bossey.

They were reminded of the role the institute has played in the ecumenical theological education of church leaders since its creation in 1946.

Patriarch Bartolomew was a Bossey student 50 years ago, and Patriarch Daniel of the Romanian Orthodox Church was a Bossey professor for many years, while Archbishop Anastasios of Tirana and all Albania was president of the WCC from 2004-2013.

The following primates attended the January meeting in Switzerland:

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
Patriarch Theodore of Alexandria
Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem
Patriarch Kirill of Moscow
Patriarch Irinej of Serbia
Patriarch Daniel of Romania
Patriarch Neophyte of Bulgaria
Patriarch Ilia of Georgia
Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus
Archbishop Anastasios of Albania
Archbishop Rastislav of the Czech Lands and Slovakia

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