The news that the Patriarchate of Antioch has withdrawn its participation in the so-called ‘Pan-Orthodox Episcopal Assemblies’ (to be translated into our plain English as ‘Inter-Orthodox Bishops’ Meetings’) is not surprising. Fed up with heavy-handed Greek Imperialism, it has quit. It is ironic since certain Antiochian converts, quite unrealistically, saw them three or four years ago as panaceas (admittedly, to largely non-existent illnesses). This event was all too predictable given the way in which the Patriarchate of Constantinople took over everything in the so-called ‘assemblies’, ‘presiding’ and issuing decrees, even giving the meetings the name ‘Pan-Orthodox’ – ancient, and not so ancient, code for ‘All-Greek’. Perhaps the only surprise is that it was Antioch that went first.
The withdrawal is hardly surprising, since the other five groups – Bulgarians, Russians (both parts) and Serbs (and probably the Romanians and the Georgians) felt much the same. As one commentator in the USA put it, in its recent polite letter to the North and Central American group the Russian Church (ROCOR) took a fly swatter to the problem of Constantinople’s philetism, whereas Antioch took a hammer. Probably all (except Constantinople) are now relieved, as the abscess has been pierced. However, this does not mean that the process is over. All it means is that the primitive and crude attempt of US-backed Hellenist Imperialism to take over the Orthodox Diaspora is over. Now that that is out of the way, we can make a serious attempt to organise the Diaspora on an Orthodox, and not a papist, basis.
What have we learned? Firstly, we have learned that no Local Church should attempt to take over the Diaspora. Imperialism, however much it may be dressed up in pseudo-theological, in fact philosophical, terms is not part of the Church. That may seem obvious – but to some it appears to be an astounding revelation. Secondly, we would suggest that all Inter-Orthodox meetings be presided by a different Church in turn. Thirdly, we would suggest that the bishops and committees meet only once a year – otherwise they risk turning into mere talking shops and empty photo-opportunities.
Finally, we would suggest that the bishops should encourage the grassroots to work together; Church unity will not be founded top-down but bottom up, as the very word ‘found’ suggests. This, like the rest of what we have said, is nothing more than the obvious, obvious to even the least of our parishioners. Unfortunately, ideology never takes into account the least of our parishioners or the obvious. Therefore, we suggest that all ideologies be thrown out of the window and we start again, with Inter-Orthodox Bishops’ Meetings, and forget the highfalutin ‘Episcopal Assemblies’ of the past and all their philosophical jargon on ‘being and communion’ and talk instead about the life in Christ.