1. Message of the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church concerning the convocation of the Holy and Great Council to be held on Crete on the occasion of the feast-day of the Holy Trinity, from 17th to the 27th of June 2016.
The Holy Assembly of Bishops of
the Serbian Orthodox Church
№ 62/min. 164
25. Мay 2016
МESSAGE OF THE HOLY ASSEMBLY OF BISHOPS
OF THE SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
to Primates and Holy Synods of the Local Orthodox Churches
In the days of the most joyful Christian Feast, which fills every human being and all of creation with catholic meaning and good tidings of salvation in Christ, we welcome the summoning of autocephalous Orthodox Churches to the Holy and Great Synod which, if God allows it, will be held at the Orthodox Academy in Crete, on Pentecost, from 17 to 26 June 2016.
In brotherly love, with responsibility and great hopes, we reflect on this Holy and Great Synod during the session of our Local Church’s Assembly, and remind ourselves as well as others that the Orthodox Church is a Synod (Council), called by God in Christ and inspired by His Holy Spirit, as was the Synod of Holy Apostles, which took the following words as its guiding hand: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15, 28). We rejoice at the prospect of commencement of the Holy and Great Synod on the Feast of descent of the Holy Spirit. For, it is and should be a pneumatic, Pentecostal event of communion (κοινωνία) of Churches. Assembled in order to “accordantly celebrate the All-Holy Spirit”, we believe that where the Church abides, there the Holy Spirit abides as well; and, where the Spirit of God abides, there abide the Church and all grace, and the Spirit is truth” (Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies 3, 2, 4, 1).
Being aware of the magnitude and importance of this Synod, with sacred trepidation we wonder whether the pending Synod fulfills the criteria and measure of true synods from the history of the Orthodox Church. Alongside, we ask whether the Synod will express the unity of the Church of Christ in the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God the Father: that unity which we ceaselessly witness and invoke in the Holy Liturgy: “Having prayed for the unity of faith and for the communion of the Holy Spirit”. We remind ourselves and others: this unity is a concrete unity according to the image of the Holy Trinity (Jn. 17, 21), the unity of the Body of Christ, “by good will of the Father…, and the communion of the Holy Spirit”. This is the unity in One Christ as One and Only Head of the divine-human Body of the Church regarded as Home of the Father, Abiding place of the Holy Spirit and Body of Christ the Savior.
In thoughts and in feelings we immerse ourselves into the theme of the oncoming Synod and, with reason, we ask whether and in what measure the imminent Synod expresses the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church (as we confess in the Creed). Therefore, aware of the historic importance of this Great Synod for the witness and mission of the Orthodox Church in the contemporary world, the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, with regard to the issue of composition of membership, themes and rules regulating the work of the Holy and Great Synod, offers the following standpoints to the attention of Forestanders and Holy Synods of Local Orthodox Churches:
1. With regard to the accepted Code of Regulations for organizing the work of the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church, it is our position that it allows the introduction of a practice unknown in the synods of the Orthodox Church which have hitherto come to pass: mostly due to the imparity and inequality of all bishops at the Synod. We do not discern in it the centennial living conciliar Tradition of summoning, of presiding at a Synod, of realizing a Synod and of administrating it. So far no one in history has determined and prescribed in advance the code of regulations of work of the Synod. For, this was realized by the Holy Synod itself in virtue of its conciliarity. One could gain the impression that the accentuation of certain “rights” of summoning and presiding makes the Synod a function of one man, even if he happens to be the first. It is Saint Paul who advises as follows: “… Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12, 10). If it happens to be the case that this Code of Regulations anticipates and controls the work of the Synod in advance, then little space will be left for freedom of the members of the Synod in the Holy Spirit and for what the Apostles formulate by the following words: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15, 28).
2. The mentioned weaknesses of this Code of Regulations lead us to the question about the role and status of bishops at this Synod. Are bishops at the Synod to be regarded as participants or as viewers? Apart from the unjustified limiting of the number of participants in the Synod, we hold that the fact that not all bishops have the right of vote is unjustified as well. We believe that the right of vote is not contrary to the proclaimed principle of consensus (which, by rule, is preceded by consultations) and we hold that free and responsible voting by bishops would not restrain the unanimous witness of the Orthodox Church to the glory of God celebrated in the Trinity. The conciliar Tradition of the One Church presupposes the right to vote of each bishop in the Synod, from regional to ecumenical one. This Synod is an occasion to manifest the multitude of local Churches (most of them) to the joy of the Mother Church, — the first in throne Church of Constantinople, — as well as the Mother of all Churches, the Church of Sion.
3. In view of the fact that the question of communion between autocephalous Churches is of crucial importance for the mission of the Orthodox Church in the world, we deem it necessary to discuss the theme of autocephaly, and our Church has insisted on this incessantly. This Synod has a sufficient number of theological and pastoral motifs to acknowledge that today fourteen autocephalous Churches exist and that this is sufficient to confirm their status. Besides, within current preparations for the Synod the theme of autocephaly has been explored in detail, as well as the way in which it is proclaimed, except for the way of signing. Therefore, it is wholly justified and appropriate at the Holy and Great Synod to accept and proclaim that which for decades has been processed and completed.
4. Confessing the unity and unbroken conciliar Tradition of the Orthodox Church, we think that it is not true that there were no synods within the Orthodox Church during the centuries; although it stands as true that in the newer centuries we have not held a single pan-Orthodox or ecumenical Synod. Bearing in mind their dogmatic-ecclesiological importance and pan-Orthodox endorsement, our local Church proposes that the ecumenical importance of the Holy Synod of 879/880, held in the time of Saint Photius of Constantinople, should be confirmed, and that the hesychastic Synod held in 1351 should be confirmed as well. In proposing the conciliar confirmation of these Holy Synods, we have in mind the word of Saint Maximus the Confessor: “The God-revering rule of the Church recognizes as holy and confirmed those synods which have been confirmed by rightness of the dogmas”.
5. Acting in the spirit of the decision of all most holy local Orthodox Churches, namely that each of them is called to actively and ceaselessly participate in the conciliar event of the Church, we express our standpoint that the six prepared texts, although basically good, need amendment and re-working in order to be brought into concordance with the demands of life and mission of the Church. The text Оn the Mission of the Church in the Contemporary World stands in need of enrichment by the Gospel, that is, by soteriological and cosmological dimensions of salvation. In connection to the text Оn the Relation With the Christian World we think that the highly condescending attitude towards other religions should not stifle awareness of the need for the evangelization of this world. We stress that the question of Diaspora should be solved conciliarily, by agreement and pan-Orthodox consensus, under the presidency of the Primate of Constantinople, but, with equal participation of throne co-holders, Orthodox Primates, and their Holy Assemblies or Synods.
Last but not least, the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church, also, is a call for repentance of all, according to the decree of Christ: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel!” (Мk. 1, 15). In that way this Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church will be a renewal and confirmation of the living, true and salvific faith, “… which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Јu. 3); and, it will confirm the true divine-human catholicity (ecumenicity) of Orthodoxy, in time and space, for “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever” (Heb. 13, 8).
Аrchbishop of Peć, Metropolitan of Belgrade-Karlovci and
President of the Holy Assembly of Bishops