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What is on the agenda for the Holy and Great Council?

The Holy and Great Council will address important issues of concern to Orthodox Christians and all people. This includes the mission of the Orthodox Church in the modern world, the Orthodox diaspora, autonomy, marriage, fasting and relations with other Christians. Rev. Dr. John Chryssavgis tells why these are matters important not only to the Orthodox, but to the entire world.

The Holy and Great Council gathers in Crete in the latter part of June 2016. It is the first time in 1200 years that 14 autocephalous Orthodox churches are meeting. Approximately 500 individuals will be part of this historic gathering, with a common desire to reinforce their relations and address contemporary spiritual and social challenges in the world.

Council to Address Six Major Themes in Orthodoxy

For a selected bibliography, click HERE.


Autonomy and the Means by Which it is Proclaimed

Logo of the Holy and Great Council


The Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church concerned itself with the matter of Autonomy and the Means by Which it is Proclaimed.  Therefore, the respective document, which was submitted by the Fifth Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference (Chambésy, October 10-17, 2009) was discussed and was approved with some minor amendments as follows:

The questions of the text examined by the Council addressed: a) the concept, nature, and various forms of the institution of autonomy; b) the prerequisites for a local Church to request autonomy from the autocephalous Church to which it belongs; c) the exclusive prerogative of an autocephalous Church to initiate and complete the process of granting autonomy to a certain segment of its canonical jurisdiction – autonomous Churches shall not be established in the geographical areas of the Orthodox Diaspora; d) the impact of this ecclesial act on the relations between the proclaimed autonomous Church and with the autocephalous Church to which it belongs as well as with the other autocephalous Orthodox Churches.

  1. The institution of autonomy is a canonical expression of the relative or partial independence of a particular ecclesial region from the canonical jurisdiction of the autocephalous Church to which it canonically belongs.
    1. The implementation of this institution through ecclesial praxis has given rise to various degrees of dependence with respect to the relationship of the autonomous Church to the autocephalous Church to which it canonically refers.
    2. The election of the Primate (First Hierarch) of an autonomous Church is approved or executed by the appropriate ecclesiastical entity of the autocephalous Church. The Primate of the autonomous Church commemorates and is canonically related to the primate of the autocephalous Church.
    3. In the application of the institution of autonomy, we find various forms of its implementation in ecclesial praxis defined by the degree of dependence of the autonomous Church on the autocephalous Church.
    4. In some forms of autonomy, the degree of dependence of an autonomous Church is also expressed through the participation of its primate in the Synod of the autocephalous Church.
  2. The initiation and completion of the process for granting autonomy to a region within the canonical jurisdiction of an autocephalous Church is the canonical prerogative of the autocephalous Church. The Church proclaimed autonomous refers to the autocephalous Church. Accordingly:
    1. A local Church that requests autonomy, after showing that it has fulfilled all necessary ecclesial, canonical and pastoral prerequisites, may submit its application to the autocephalous Church to which it has its reference, explaining the serious reasons prompting such a request.
    2. Upon receiving the application, the autocephalous Church considers, in Synod, all of the prerequisites and reasons for the submission, and decides whether or not to grant autonomy. In the event of a favorable decision, the autocephalous Church issues a Tomos, which defines the geographical boundaries of the autonomous Church and its relationship with the autocephalous Church to which it refers, in accordance with the established criteria of ecclesial Tradition.
    3. The primate of the autocephalous Church informs the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the other autocephalous Orthodox Churches of the proclamation of the autonomous Church.
    4. The autonomous Church realizes its inter-Orthodox, inter-Christian, and inter-religious relations through the autocephalous Church from which it received autonomy.
    5. Each autocephalous Church may only grant autonomy within the borders of its canonical geographical region. Autonomous Churches are not established in the region of the Orthodox Diaspora, except by pan-Orthodox consensus, upheld by the Ecumenical Patriarch in accordance with prevailing pan-Orthodox practice.
    6. In the event that two autocephalous Churches grant autonomous status within the same geographical ecclesial region, prompting contestation over the status of each autonomous Church, the parties involved appeal—together or separately—to the Ecumenical Patriarch so that he may find a canonical solution to the matter in accordance with prevailing pan-Orthodox practice.
  3. The implications for the autonomous Church with respect to its relationship to the autocephalous Church, following its proclamation of autonomy, are as follows:
    1. The Primate of the autonomous Church only commemorates the name of the primate of the autocephalous Church.
    2. The name of the Primate of the autonomous Church is not entered into the Diptychs.
    3. The autonomous Church receives holy chrism from the autocephalous Church.
    4. The bishops of the autonomous Church are elected, appointed and judged by its own appropriate ecclesiastical organ. In the event that the autonomous Church finds this absolutely impossible, it receives assistance from the autocephalous Church to which it refers. 

† Bartholomew of Constantinople, Chairman

† Theodoros of Alexandria

† Theophilos of Jerusalem

† Irinej of Serbia

† Daniel of Romania

† Chrysostomos of Cyprus

† Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece

† Sawa of Warsaw and All Poland

† Anastasios of Tirana, Durres and All Albania

† Rastislav of Presov, the Czech Lands and Slovakia

Delegation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

† Leo of Karelia and All Finland

† Stephanos of Tallinn and All Estonia

† Elder Metropolitan John of Pergamon

† Elder Archbishop Demetrios of America

† Augustinos of Germany

† Irenaios of Crete

† Isaiah of Denver

† Alexios of Atlanta

† Iakovos of the Princes’ Islands

† Joseph of Proikonnisos

† Meliton of Philadelphia

† Emmanuel of France

† Nikitas of the Dardanelles

† Nicholas of Detroit

† Gerasimos of San Francisco

† Amphilochios of Kisamos and Selinos

† Amvrosios of Korea

† Maximos of Selyvria

† Amphilochios of Adrianopolis

† Kallistos of Diokleia

† Antony of Hierapolis, Head of the Ukrainian Orthodox in the USA

† Job of Telmessos

† Jean of Charioupolis, Head of the Patriarchal Exarchate for Orthodox Parishes of the Russian Tradition in Western Europe

† Gregory of Nyssa, Head of the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox in the USA

Delegation of the Patriarchate of Alexandria

† Gabriel of Leontopolis

† Makarios of Nairobi

† Jonah of Kampala

† Seraphim of Zimbabwe and Angola

† Alexandros of Nigeria

† Theophylaktos of Tripoli

† Sergios of Good Hope

† Athanasios of Cyrene

† Alexios of Carthage

† Ieronymos of Mwanza

† George of Guinea

† Nicholas of Hermopolis

† Dimitrios of Irinopolis

† Damaskinos of Johannesburg and Pretoria

† Narkissos of Accra

† Emmanouel of Ptolemaidos

† Gregorios of Cameroon

† Nicodemos of Memphis

† Meletios of Katanga

† Panteleimon of Brazzaville and Gabon

† Innokentios of Burudi and Rwanda

† Crysostomos of Mozambique

† Neofytos of Nyeri and Mount Kenya

Delegation of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem

† Benedict of Philadelphia

† Aristarchos of Constantine

† Theophylaktos of Jordan

† Nektarios of Anthidon

† Philoumenos of Pella

Delegation of the Church of Serbia

† Jovan of Ohrid and Skopje

† Amfilohije of Montenegro and the Littoral

† Porfirije of Zagreb and Ljubljana

† Vasilije of Sirmium

† Lukijan of Budim

† Longin of Nova Gracanica

† Irinej of Backa

† Hrizostom of Zvornik and Tuzla

† Justin of Zica

† Pahomije of Vranje

† Jovan of Sumadija

† Ignatije of Branicevo

† Fotije of Dalmatia

† Athanasios of Bihac and Petrovac

† Joanikije of Niksic and Budimlje

† Grigorije of Zahumlje and Hercegovina

† Milutin of Valjevo

† Maksim in Western America

† Irinej in Australia and New Zealand

† David of Krusevac

† Jovan of Slavonija

† Andrej in Austria and Switzerland

† Sergije of Frankfurt and in Germany

† Ilarion of Timok

Delegation of the Church of Romania

† Teofan of Iasi, Moldova and Bucovina

† Laurentiu of Sibiu and Transylvania

† Andrei of Vad, Feleac, Cluj, Alba, Crisana and Maramures

† Irineu of Craiova and Oltenia

† Ioan of Timisoara and Banat

† Iosif in Western and Southern Europe

† Serafim in Germany and Central Europe

† Nifon of Targoviste

† Irineu of Alba Iulia

† Ioachim of Roman and Bacau

† Casian of Lower Danube

† Timotei of Arad

† Nicolae in America

† Sofronie of Oradea

† Nicodim of Strehaia and Severin

† Visarion of Tulcea

† Petroniu of Salaj

† Siluan in Hungary

† Siluan in Italy

† Timotei in Spain and Portugal

† Macarie in Northern Europe

† Varlaam Ploiesteanul, Assistant Bishop to the Patriarch

† Emilian Lovisteanul, Assistant Bishop to the Archdiocese of Ramnic

† Ioan Casian of Vicina, Assistant Bishop to the Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese of the Americas

Delegation of the Church of Cyprus

† Georgios of Paphos

† Chrysostomos of Kition

† Chrysostomos of Kyrenia

† Athanasios of Limassol

† Neophytos of Morphou

† Vasileios of Constantia and Ammochostos

† Nikiphoros of Kykkos and Tillyria

† Isaias of Tamassos and Oreini

† Barnabas of Tremithousa and Lefkara

† Christophoros of Karpasion

† Nektarios of Arsinoe

† Nikolaos of Amathus

† Epiphanios of Ledra

† Leontios of Chytron

† Porphyrios of Neapolis

† Gregory of Mesaoria

Delegation of the Church of Greece

† Prokopios of Philippi, Neapolis and Thassos

† Chrysostomos of Peristerion

† Germanos of Eleia

† Alexandros of Mantineia and Kynouria

† Ignatios of Arta

† Damaskinos of Didymoteixon, Orestias and Soufli

† Alexios of Nikaia

† Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Aghios Vlasios

† Eusebios of Samos and Ikaria

† Seraphim of Kastoria

† Ignatios of Demetrias and Almyros

† Nicodemos of Kassandreia

† Ephraim of Hydra, Spetses and Aegina

† Theologos of Serres and Nigrita

† Makarios of Sidirokastron

† Anthimos of Alexandroupolis

† Barnabas of Neapolis and Stavroupolis

† Chrysostomos of Messenia

† Athenagoras of Ilion, Acharnon and Petroupoli

† Ioannis of Lagkada, Litis and Rentinis

† Gabriel of New Ionia and Philadelphia

† Chrysostomos of Nikopolis and Preveza

† Theoklitos of Ierissos, Mount Athos and Ardameri

Delegation of the Church of Poland

† Simon of Lodz and Poznan

† Abel of Lublin and Chelm

† Jacob of Bialystok and Gdansk

† George of Siemiatycze

† Paisios of Gorlice

Delegation of the Church of Albania

† Joan of Koritsa

† Demetrios of Argyrokastron

† Nikolla of Apollonia and Fier

† Andon of Elbasan

† Nathaniel of Amantia

† Asti of Bylis

Delegation of the Church of the Czech lands and Slovakia

† Michal of Prague

† Isaiah of Sumperk


The Convening of the Holy and Great Council of worldwide Orthodox Christianity – the first in over one thousand years, is a sign of hope and reassurance for not only Orthodox Christians, but for all people of faith around the globe. The remarkable and relentless pursuit of this Spirit-filled event is a signature characteristic of the life, mission and leadership of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. In convening the Great and Holy Council this June, during the holy celebrations of Pentecost, His All-Holiness is bringing to fulfillment the vision of his two predecessors, Athenagoras and Demetrios, both of blessed memory.

But more than the completion of a more than fifty-year dream, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has transformed the process beyond the mere structural process of the last fifty years, by adapting to the radically changed reality of Orthodoxy in the 21st Century.

When the road to the Holy and Great Council was embarked upon, World War II was only fifteen years in the past, the atheist Soviet Union controlled the lives of most Orthodox Christians and the church institutions that struggled to minister to them, and the world was deep into the winter of the Cold War. Orthodox Christianity in the Diaspora was profoundly segmented, if not outrightly fragmented. The Ecumenical Patriarchate had – only five years before – suffered a massive and systematic persecution in Constantinople, displacing hundreds of thousands of its communicants. Mount Athos was turning one thousand years old, and though life on the Holy Mountain had scarcely changed over the centuries, the world at-large was bracing to change at a pace unknown in history.

The need for dialogue, thinking together, interconnection, and new perspectives was everywhere. At the same time the Orthodox were commencing a process that is now taking place on the Island of Crete (a sacred topos of Apostolic visitation!), Pope John XXIII was convening the Second Vatican Council, a council that would radically push the Roman Catholic Church – in many ways quite unprepared – into the latter half of the 20th Century. Although the process has been much slower for the Orthodox Church to convene such a similar process, in retrospect we can see that the deliberate and slower pace has been more of an advantage, rather than the reverse.

Nearly half of the time that it has taken to finally arrive at the Holy and Great Council has occurred under the patriarchy of His All-Holiness Bartholomew, which coincided with the dissolution of the former Soviet Union and the resurgence of the Moscow Patriarchate under the autocracy that currently governs the Russian Federation. As the national aspirations of the Ukrainian, Estonian, Czech, and Slovak peoples have created conditions for national and autocephalous or autonomous Churches, it has been Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew who from a position of only spiritual strength, has steered the Ark of Salvation through the dangerous shoals of self-interest and power-seeking. From the Phanar, despite and perhaps because of the difficulties as a religious and ethnic minority that continue unabated, His All-Holiness seeks only the benefit of all the local (autocephalous) Churches, putting the good of all above the ephemeral desires of any one. This has manifested as the kind of leadership that leaves a legacy of unity and conciliarity in its wake, even as the naysayers and gainsayers give rise to fear and even paranoia.

The significance of this Holy and Great Council cannot be overstated. The fact that all the Autocephalous Churches have agreed to meet, to dialogue, to exchange view and position – this in itself is an accomplishment of historic proportions. There are those who would contradict the former statement, but let us remember, that this has not happened in centuries, and for Orthodoxy, there have been no serious doctrinal disputes in over six hundred years, since the Hesychast controversies of the 14th Century.

Inasmuch as Orthodoxy is based in model of conciliarity under the aegis of the Holy Spirit, Hierarchy must be as much horizontal in its orientation as it is vertical, with consensus and unanimity forming the core of the process of adaptation. This is precisely why the Holy and Great Council is so necessary and so timely. As long as the local, autocephalous Churches are only speaking among themselves, each Church’s local culture, economy, language, and local traditions will limit its scope and perspective on is own mission. The Bishops must be in dialogue with one another in order to see the world from a differing perspective and consider the needs of their flocks from the holistic sense of the whole Body of the Church, whose Head is Christ.

The six preparatory documents: Autonomy, Diaspora, Ecumenical Relations, Fasting, Marriage, and Mission, address contemporary concerns of all the faithful. In doing so, the Bishops of the Church, under the guiding hand of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, are demonstrating the living, breathing vibrancy of the Spirit of God, that infuses the Church to be the living Body of Christ.





The Council will address the institution of Autonomy, which is a canonical status of relative or partial independence of an ecclesiastical segment from the canonical jurisdiction of the Autocephalous Church to which it belongs. The initiation and completion of the process for granting Autonomy is the canonical prerogative of the Autocephalous Church, which governs the area considering autonomy that must be within the boundaries of its own canonical geographical region. Note that Autonomous Churches cannot be established in the area of the Orthodox Diaspora, except by a pan-Orthodox consensus, secured by the Ecumenical Patriarch in accordance with prevailing pan-Orthodox practice. Currently, there are six Autonomous Churches: The Church of Crete, the Church of Finland, and the Church of Estonia under the Ecumenical Patriarchate; The Church of Sinai under the Jerusalem Patriarchate; and the Church of Japan and the Church of Ukraine under Moscow Patriarchate.



All of the most holy Orthodox Churches desire to resolve the problem of overlapping jurisdictions within the Orthodox Diaspora as swiftly as possible. Furthermore, the common will is to organize the Diaspora in accordance with Orthodox ecclesiology, as well as the canonical tradition and practice of the Orthodox Church. In the present circumstances, an immediate transition to the strictly canonical order of the Church – namely, the existence of only one bishop in the same place – is unachievable for well known historical and pastoral reasons. In order to address this, the Churches decided to create a transitional situation, namely Assemblies of Bishops in various regions, that will prepare the ground for a strictly canonical resolution of the problem. Each Assembly is charged to prepare a plan to present to the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, in order that the latter might proceed to a canonical solution of the problem.


Ecumenical Relations

The Orthodox Church, as the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, firmly believes that it has a central place in the matter of promoting unity among Christians in the modern world. The Orthodox Church has always cultivated dialogue with those estranged from it, both far and near. It has even pioneered to restore unity among those who believe in Christ, and participated in the Ecumenical Movement since its inception, contributing to its formation and further development. While participating in ecumenical relations, the Church never sacrifices Her principles, and the positions She does take all have as their end the ultimate restoration of unity in true faith and love, the final goal of the process of all theological dialogues.



Like a nurturing mother, the Orthodox Church has defined what is beneficial for salvation and established the holy periods of fasting as divinely-given “protection” for believers’ new life in Christ.  In Her pastoral discernment, the Church has also established boundaries of philanthropic dispensation for the institution of fasting. This is why, in cases of physical infirmity or extreme necessity as well as of difficult circumstances, it has preordained an appropriate application of the principle of ecclesiastical dispensation, in accordance with the responsible judgment and pastoral care of the body of bishops in the local Churches. It is left to the discretion of the local Orthodox Churches to determine how to exercise philanthropic dispensation and clemency, relieving in these special cases any “burden” of the holy fasts. All this should occur within the aforementioned context and with the objective of not at all diminishing the sacred institution of fasting.



The Orthodox Church proclaims the sacredness of marriage as a fundamental and indisputable teaching of the Church. Defending the sacredness of the mystery of marriage has always been especially important for the preservation of the Family, which radiates the communion of the persons yoked together both in the Church and in Society at large. Those members of the Church who contract a civil marriage must be approached with pastoral responsibility, which is mandatory in order for them to understand the value of the sacrament of marriage and the many blessings that result. The Church does not recognize same-sex unions or any other form of cohabitation for its members other than marriage. The impediments for marriage follow the canonical norms of the Church throughout history, with some allowance made for pastoral reasons.



The Church, drawing from the foretaste of the Heavenly Kingdom and the principles embodied in the entire experience of the patristic, liturgical, and ascetical tradition shares the concern and the anxiety of contemporary humanity with regard to fundamental existential questions that affect the world today, in its desire to contribute to these issues so that the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:7), reconciliation, and love may prevail in the world. As such, the Church is concerned with the dignity of the human person, the limits and implications of human freedom and responsibility, the nature of true peace, the cessation of war and violence, and social, political and economic justice. In service to the human family, the mission of the Church encompasses the full breadth of the human experience, ministering where necessary to the needs of each.