5 most important church milestones of 2016

The year of 2016 has been rich in significant events in the religious plane, some of which marked true “tectonic upheavals” in the Orthodox world. The UOJ has made a selection among the most important and crucial of them.

1. Pan-Orthodox Council in Crete


The Pan-Orthodox Council which was held from July 16 to 26 in the Crete Island can be truly considered a key event of the passing year. It has been the first large-scale assembly in over 1000 years. It’s no surprise then that it took over 50 years to prepare for this Council. The agenda, documents’ names and content were subject to correction or change. In January of this year there was a final preparatory Assembly of Primates of all Local Churches in Chambesy (Switzerland). Rules of Procedure of the Council and document drafts were approved at the meeting.

Despite the documents having been signed, several Local Churches declared about their disagreement to the content of some of the documents, the main “bone of contention” being the rules of procedure and the document “Relationships of the Orthodox Church with the rest Christian world. Outstanding is an issue of why the odjectors’ response was delayed, however, the arguments put forward by the Council critics are worthy of attention in themselves.

As a result, the Council sessions were not attended by four Local Churches – Bulgarian, Georgian, Antiochian and Russian, the last having stood in support of the first three. These Churches exceed all the rest Local Churches by the number of their believers. Besides, a number of hierarchs criticized heavily the Council documents of the other Local Churches. However, the Council organizers refused to recognize an opt-out of four Local Churches to be a solid reason for its postponement till a later term. Consequently, it led to reasonable reservations about the Pan-Orthodox statute of the Council and a binding character of its decisions.

Such state of affairs did not bring about a split in the Orthodox world, although there is a serious tension due to different evaluations of the course and results of the Council, which range from declarations about treachery of Orthodox faith to the opposite ones that the Council in Crete did not betray Orthodoxy.

Despite all the above said, the documents adopted at the Council are an important display of the Orthodox faith in today’s world. The documents of the Crete Council can be familiarized to here.

2. Meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill in Havana


Mass media called this event the meeting of the millennium. A clamorous name matched its content quite enough. There had been tense relationships between Vatican and ROC for centuries. One of the key obstacles for this meeting was an aggressive policy of the Catholic Church, according to which “schismatics” could return to fold through the so called “union”. It was only in the second half of XX century that the Catholic Church changed its policy and began to act more diplomatically, no longer referring to Orthodox Christians as schismatics.

However, the fruits of the unionism had their effects even through centuries after forcible catholicization of the Orthodox. Ukrainian Greek-Catholic crashed three Orthodox eparchies in the West of Ukraine last century at the beginning of the 90-s. Namely these events made it impossible to have any contacts of the ROC Primate with the Roman Pontific.

Nevertheless, a quarter-century later after the above events the meeting did take place on February 12 in Cuba. Having started from fraternal greetings, it ended up with signing the so called Havana Declaration. It condemned, in particular, “uniatism”: “a method of “uniatism” of the previous centuries, which foresees bringing one community into a union with another by means of the latter’s separation from its own Church, is not a way to the unity recovery”.

The meeting was evaluated ambiguously both by Greek-Catholic and Orthodox believers. Leaders of the Ukrainian Uniates called their parishioners to ignore the Havana Declaration, simultaneously trying to interpret paragraphs of the Declaration regarding “uniatism” in their own way. As for the Orthodox, part of them viewed this meeting as a demonstration of ecumenism in a sense. By the way, not so long ago the Primate of the ROC sent a piece of the relics of Venerable Seraphim of Sarov as a gift to the Pope. After all, during his visit to France, the ROC Primate clearly said that “cooperation of the Russian Church with Catholics excludes any compromise on dogmatic issues.”

3. All-Ukrainian Cross Procession-2016


The Cross Procession, organized on the occasion of Kiev Rus Baptizing, has taken place in Ukraine for the second year. However, in 2016 it gained the status of all-Ukrainian. Nearly 100 thousand faithful gathered in Kiev from every part of Ukraine. The believers covered hundreds of kilometers from the West and the East to get united symbolically in Kiev at the Divine Service, dedicated to the Rus Baptizing at the monument of Prince Vladimir.

The aim of the Cross Procession was first and foremost to pray for peace in Ukraine. “Having put off fury, hate, evil, and armed with love and forgiveness, we must enhance our praying feat to stop mothers shedding their tears, to stop leaving children orphans, women – widows, youth – disabled, out cities and villages – destroyed, and houses – abandoned. This is the aim of All-Ukrainian Cross Procession – the procession for peace, love and prayer for Ukraine,” reads an address of the UOC Primate Metropolitan Onuphriy.

Despite numerous provocations from politicians and right radicals, as well as disinformation and fake of many mass media, the Cross Procession managed to achieve its goal safely. Sociological studies showed the majority of Ukrainian citizens felt positive about this event.

4. Edicule reconstruction and examination of Jesus Christ’s Tomb


The Church of the Resurrection appears as one of the main sanctities of the whole Christian world. In the center of the Temple Rotunda there is a small domical chapel – the Edicule that includes the Holy Sepulchre – the greatest Christian sanctity. Due to the earthquake of 1927 only some part of the cave walls and entrance have survived, therefore supporting steel balks and brace rods are installed outside. The Edicule restoration began in May 2016 and will finish in the spring of 2017.

In 2015 the Jerusalem Patriarch, with consent of the heads of the other two communities, offered Athens-based National Technical University to study the Edicule. The restoration was agreed in March 2016 and is carried out under supervision of the specialist on landmark and construction materials preservation Antonio Maropolo. The overall budget exceeds $ 4 bln.

For the first time in 500 years a marble board has been removed. Upon the analysis of the content the scientists arrived at the conclusion that Jesus Christ’s Tomb in the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem is the very Sepulchre, found in IV century by Saint Empress Helena – mother of Emperor Konstantin.

5. Celebration of 1000 anniversary of Russian monkhood on Athos


Monkhood has always been revered in Orthodoxy, while the Holy Mount Athos has always occupied a special place in the hearts of Orthodox believers. Namely from Athos monkhood came to the ancient Rus, with Anthony of the Kiev Caves becoming a father of the Russian monkhood.

In 2016 there was a number of events, dedicated to the celebration of the millennium anniversary of the Russian monkhood on Athos. One of the remarkable events for Ukraine was canonization of the Venerable John Vishensky, whose activity at the end of XVI – beginning of XVII was closely connected with the Holy Mount Athos, Ukraine, and Poland. The decision on canonization was taken by the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church on 20 July 2016.

During November-December the Ukrainian Orthodox Church held a range of events dedicated to spiritual and cultural ties of Kiev and Athos. In nine European cities the UOC and International Institute of Athonite Heritage in Ukraine actualized a large-scale spiritual and educational project on 1000th anniversary of the Holy Mount Athos legacy.

The UOC delegation visited Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France, in which there was held a series of spiritual-educational events on the topic “Athos – Kiev. To the 1000th anniversary of spiritual and cultural ties”.
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