The meeting comes nearly three years after their last encounter, in Chambesy, Switzerland. There, all the patriarchs and archbishops agreed to hold the first – since the 1054 Great Schism with the Roman Catholic Church – Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, in Kolimbari, Crete.
The Council took place, but the Moscow Patriarch did not attend, citing the arguments of the patriarchs of Antiochia, Georgia, and Bulgaria.
Today, amidst revelations about efforts to hack emails of Ecumenical Patriarchate staff, Cyril has prepared documents with all the open issues to be resolved with Vartholmeos.
Those in the know are aware that the top issue was and remains the prospect of Vartholomeos ceding autocephaly (independence) to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which is under the jurisdiction the Russian Patriarchate.
The issue has enraged Moscow, as Kiev is a basic political and ecclesiastical pillar of Russia.
The Ecumenical Patriarch, despite the repeated petitions of the Ukrainians to be proclaimed autocephalous, has for years been maintaining delicate balances, as what took priority was the convening of the Holy and Great Council, and there were underlying concerns that Moscow might torpedo the effort, so Vartholmeos adopted a stance of friendly neutrality with Kiev.
Now, however, many Ecumenical Patriarchate clerics are saying that one cannot turn a blind eye to the efforts of the Ukrainians, while at the same time clerics and lay people in Moscow are warning that the affair could lead to a schism.
For months, the Ecumenical Patriarch resisted invitations and pressures from the Moscow Patriarch to visit Russia on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution and also for his birthday.
Facing an impasse and the ability to even have direct contacts, Cyril’s request to visit Vartholmeos at the seat of the patriarchate, in the Phanar in Istanbul, was accepted.
It should be noted that the two church leaders will be meeting for the fifth time since 2009, when Cyril visited the Phanar five months after his election as patriarch.
In May, 2010, Vartholomeos paid a visit to Moscow. In October, 2013, the two met in Montenegro, and in 2014 in Istanbul, where it was decided that the Holy and Great Council would be held in 2016, at the church of Agia Eirini.
The last encounter of Vartholomeos and Cyril was in March, 2014, in Chambesy, Switzerland amidst an extremely tense atmosphere between Ankara and Moscow, due to the Turkish Air Force’s downing of a Russian plane. For that reason, it was decided to hold the Council in Kolimbari in Crete, so that Russian clerics could avoid any problems in Turkey.