If one peruses world Orthodoxy news from the last few months, one is likely left with the impression that the forthcoming 2016 Pan-Orthodox Council will either not happen or be rendered meaningless by a lack of global participation if it does. The Council, which some observers see as a power play by the Ecumenical Patriarch (EP), has received — at best — tepid enthusiasm from the Moscow Patriarch (MP), the largest patriarchate in the Orthodox Church today. It is well known that the EP and MP have been at each other’s throats in recent years over the question of primacy, with the comparatively weaker EP asserting by right with the MP quietly, but noticeably, holding to primacy in fact. Given Moscow’s expansive vision of its power and influence as embodied in its “Russian World” ideology, it is extremely doubtful that it would acquiesce to any proceedings which risk compromising its unique — and some might say “central” — position in Eastern Orthodoxy today.
Beyond the high-level political squabbling, there are other compelling reasons why this Council should not take place. First, if the experience of the Roman Catholic Church means anything to the Orthodox (and it probably does, even if they don’t like to admit it), then they should know the risks of holding a a sweeping council at this juncture in history, especially one which seems directed toward “openness” and “adjusting” with the times. Second, it doesn’t appear that the Orthodox Church is prepared to settle major internal disputes such as the status of certain “breakaway” churches like the Kyivan Patriarchate (KP) in Ukraine. Given the millions of MP members who have switched over to the KP in recent years, this is no minor matter. And last, unlike many earlier councils (ecumenical or otherwise), it does not appear that the 2016 Council is directed toward confronting concrete heresies or major disciplinary matters. While world Orthodoxy arguably needs to sort out any number of serious doctrinal issues, ranging from primacy to contraception, that’s not going to happen this year anyways and, indeed, may not happen for decades (if ever).