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The Final Decision of the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church on the Council in Crete

"The Council in Crete is neither Great, nor Holy, nor Pan-Orthodox"

(The following is a summary of the Decision based upon an automatic translation and separate summary, and not the final and official translation. We expect a full English translation soon.)

The Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church has issued its final decision on the Council in Crete and the text "Relations of the Orthodox Church with rest of the Christian world." In a unanimous decision, with the full hierarchy present at the meeting, which took place on the 15th of November, 2016, the Holy Synod:

  1. Recalled that on June 1st it had called for a postponement of the Council and that subsequently three other Autocephelous Local Orthodox Churches (the Patriarchates of Antioch, Georgia and Russia) likewise followed suit.

  2. It likewise noted that while representatives of the media and various heterodox religious groups were invited to attend and observe the Council, representatives of the Orthodox Church of America, which is recognized as an Autocephelous Church by the Bulgarian Patriarchate, were not invited to attend, even as observers.

  3. It then noted that, with respect to the text "Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world," a large group of hierarchs in attendance refused to sign the document, among them prominent Orthodox theologians.

  4. The Holy Synod's decision then addressed in more detail several problematic sections of the conciliar document:

    1. Addressing paragraph #4 of the text, the Holy Synod explains that the meaning of the Church's prayer for "union of all" is not a recovery of unity with other Christians, as if unity is something that has been lost to Church, but rather the return to Her bosom through baptism, chrismation and the Eucharist of those who have fallen away. Furthermore, the Holy Synods states, the Orthodox Church cannot accept the various concepts of this unity prevalent among the heterodox, such as the "invisible church" theory, the "branch theory," the "equality of denominations," or the newly formulated "baptismal theology" which claims a primordial unity in "a common baptism." The Holy Synod stated that these theories can all be connected to the teaching on "created grace" of the Holy Spirit, an idea which the Church has clearly condemned. And, in closing, the teaching found in the Decree on Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council is summarized and rejected as being an expression of the same erroneous ecclesiological outlook presented in the above-mentioned theories.

    2. Addressing paragraph #5 of the text, and in particular the statement that the Orthodox Church is involved in ecumenical initiatives "with the aim of seeking" a lost "unity of all Christians," the Holy Synod considers this unacceptable and inadmissible, given that the Orthodox Church has never lost its unity. Rather, the schisms and heresies which have arisen have fallen away from the Church, without this meaning that the Body of Christ can ever lose its primordial ontological integrity - an indissoluble unity which implies the ontological inseparability of Christ's hypostasis.

    3. Addressing the much-debated paragraph #6, the Holy Synod sees the phrase, " the Orthodox Church accepts the historical name of other Heterodox Christian Churches and Confessions that are not in communion with her," as being in conflict with paragraph #1 of the same text, which states that the Orthodox Church is the One Church. The dogmas and canons of the Church make it impossible to entertain the idea of there existing many churches. Likewise, this phrase is seen as being in conflict with paragraph #2 of the text, "The Orthodox Church founds the unity of the Church on the fact of her establishment by our Lord Jesus Christ, and on the communion in the Holy Trinity and in the sacraments. This unity is expressed through the apostolic succession and the patristic tradition and is lived out in the Church up to the present day." The Holy Synod does not see the addition of accepting the "historical name" and the explanation that heterodox confessions are not in communion with the Orthodox Church has saving the text from error. Rather, the acceptance of the name necessarily implies the acceptance of the reality that name expresses. If the signers of the text understood that the reference to accepting the "historical name" was not intended to correspond to a historical reality, i.e. was not meant to say that they are referring to churches, it should have stated as much. Otherwise, it implies recognition of the existence of other churches than the One, Orthodox Church, which is in clear contradiction to paragraph #1 and the opening words of paragraph #6 (that the Church is One and Orthodox).

    4. Addressing paragraph #12, the Holy Synod sees the statement that "in the theological dialogues the common goal of all is the ultimate restoration of unity in true faith and love" as too simplistic and not representative of the many dimensions of the process. Unity implies unity in faith, unity in thought and action with regard to dogmatic definitions and church canons which have been approved by Ecumenical Councils, as well as in relation to the liturgical tradition and sacramental life in the Holy Spirit. The way to achieve unity is through repentance, confession of Orthodox faith and baptism.

    5. Addressing paragraph #12, the Holy Synod suggests that in the sentence, "The prospects for conducting theological dialogues...are always determined on the basis of...the canonical criteria of the already established Church Tradition," the phrase "established Church Tradition" should be replaced with "the tradition of the Orthodox Church."

    6. Addressing the overall impression that the "Relations" text imparts, the Holy Synod states that there are many ambiguous expressions and terms and inconsistencies with regard to ecclesiology. Moreover, the Holy Synod suggests that the text does not clearly formulate the main objective and founding principles of the various dialogues and involvement in ecumenism, namely, the return of the heterodox to the bosom of the Orthodox Church. Rather, the text, and paragraph #16 in particular, legitimizes the "World Council of Churches," in which, the Holy Synod states, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church thankfully decided long ago to cease participation.

    7. Likewise, the Holy Synod takes issue with what it sees throughout the text (paragraphs 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15) as an overarching and overly minute regulation of how various dialogues must be conducted.

    8. Finally, with regard to paragraph #22, which states that the "preservation of the true Orthodox faith is ensured only through the conciliar system," the Holy Synod states, rather, that the final criterion for the acceptance of Church Councils is the vigilant dogmatic conscience of entire Orthodox pleoroma (the fullness of the Body). It states that the Ecumenical Council does not provide automatic or mechanical correctness of the faith professed by Orthodox Christians.

In conclusion, the Holy Synod summarizes its decision, stating that it does not consider the Council in Crete to be either great, holy or pan-Orthodox, giving the following reasons and explanations:

  1. On account of the lack of participation of a number of Autocephelous Churches and due to organizational diversions and theological errors. Having said this, the Holy Synod still appreciates the efforts made towards implementation by all the organizers and participants.

  2. After careful consideration of the texts adopted by the Council in Crete, the Holy Synod is led to the conclusion that they contain divergiences from Orthodox tradition, the dogmatic and canonical tradition of the Church and the spirit and letter of Ecumenical and Local Councils.

  3. The Holy Synod considers that it is necessary for the texts adopted by the Council in Crete to be subject to further theological examination and discussion, with a view toward amendment, editing, correction and/or replacement with other, new documents in the spirit and tradition of the Church.

The Bulgarian Orthodox CHurch is an integral and living member of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. As a part of the Body of Christ, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church will continue to be in fraternal, Eucharistic, spiritual, dogmatic and canonical communion with all other Local Orthodox Churches, both those which participated in the Council in Crete and those which did not. The Church is not a secular organization but a divine-human organism. The Church is not affected and should not be influenced in Her Way and Life by political and social interests and their respective divisions. Her Head is the Lord Himself, Jesus Christ, Who is "the Way, the Truth and the Life."

Finally, the principles of autocephaly and catholicity in Church life not only do not contradict, but rather complement each other, stemming one from the other, being in complete unity.

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