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“We decided not to go to Crete independently and according to conscience”

- Metropolitan Gabriel

June 1, 2016 the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church decided not to take part in the “Holy and Great Council” on Crete. The liberal Bulgarian media saw in it “the hand of Moscow.” Metropolitan Gabriel (Dinev) of Lochev reflects on what dogmatic considerations stood behind their decision and why it could not have been made under Moscow influence, how Bulgarians relate to Russians and Greeks, why the Bulgarians agreed at the preliminary meetings to the principle of consensus for making decisions, and how to relate to the World Council of Churches and ecumenism.

—Your Eminence, the decision of the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church not to participate in the Pan-Orthodox Council on Crete aroused divergent responses. Many of them were highly critical and judgmental, including in Church media. How would you explain in plain language what happened and why the hierarchs decided to proceed in such a way?

—Our decision was consequent of another decision on April 21, 2016, when the Holy Synod expressed its position on the draft documents prepared by the Pan-Orthodox commission for reviewing and accepting at the Holy and Great Council. About one document, regarding the relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world, we were rather critical. And we decided that this text could not be accepted in its present form, inasmuch as it would legitimize ecumenism. We were intending to go to the Council. We had reserved our places in the hotel on Crete. We agreed about the plane to fly on to the island to participate in the Council. We pre-paid no small sum for hotel accommodations on Crete, which means we had serious intentions of going to the Council to advocate our Orthodox position. In the extreme case that we wouldn’t be able to defend it or that we wouldn’t be heard, we thought we just wouldn’t sign the Council documents.

However, at our Synodal meeting on June 1, after discussing we decided to suggest postponing the Council to another time, so that preparations for it could continue. We decided that there is presently a lack of preparedness for such a big, Great and Holy Council. Our considerations were the following: