Orthodox Church to hold ecumenical council?

What do our Orthodox readers make of this?

Twelve heads of autonomous Orthodox churches, the second-largest family of Christian churches, also agreed to hold a summit of bishops, or ecumenical council, in 2016, which will be the first in over 1,200 years.

The Istanbul talks were called to decide on the council, which the Orthodox have been preparing on and off since the 1960s, but the Ukraine crisis overshadowed their talks at the office of spiritual leader Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.

Don’t do it!

I’m not very well informed, so this was news to me.  It’s funny that googling “next Orthodox ecumenical council” yields very few results.  This background article from Catholic World Report is one of the few.

Now, an ecumenical council doesn’t necessarily mean a Vatican II spiritual shipwreck.  Maybe the Orthodox bishops are just going to get together and talk about jurisdictional and calendar issues that nobody but bishops cares about.  Let’s see what we can learn about the agenda.

This article gives a history of the council’s preparations to date.  About the goals of the council expressed after the 1976 Pre-Synodal Pan-Orthodox conference:

From all the accounts in the Orthodox press (reflecting different jurisdictional viewpoints) and from subsequent state. meets of Orthodox hierarchs, there would indeed seem to be no doubt that the leaders of Orthodox public opinion are agreed, not only on the necessity for a “Holy and Great Council,” but also on the basic outlook which the Council should express. One official Orthodox newspaper expressed this outlook quite frankly and simply: “The Great Council is needed to update the Church to meet the challenges of modern times” (Carpatho-Russian Church Messenger, Feb. 13, 1977, p. 2). Patriarch Demetrios of Constantinople, in his Christmas Encyclical for 1976, said rather the same thing in more ideological language (to be precise, in the language of the ideology of freemasonry!): “The aim of the Council is the aim of Christmas: Humanity. The humanity of today and the humanity of all times… The first Pan-Orthodox Presynodal Conference decided unanimously that our Holy Church should face vital issues concerning the holy clergy and faithful, developing its activity for Christian unity… and that in a parallel direction the Orthodox Church cooperate with all religions so that the Christmas Gospel can become a reality of peace on earth and goodwill among all humans.” Further, “interpreting this holy and generous feeling of the whole of Orthodoxy… we propose and proclaim from the Ecumenical Throne that the coming year, 1977, be a year of full religious liberty, of tolerance, of cooperation of all religions for the good of humanity, and that more especially 1977 be a year of watchfulness against the great sin of religious fanaticism… so that full religious liberty and tolerance may triumph and that religious fanaticism may disappear from the face of the world.” (Orthodox Observer, Jan. 5, 1977, pp. 1, 3.) This is a well-expressed statement of the modern credo of secular humanism; but not until our truly corrupt days was an Orthodox Patriarch preaching it!

Shortly after this Encyclical appeared, the secretary of Patriarch Demetrios, Metropolitan Bartholomaios, gave an interview to the Roman Catholic newspaper National Catholic Reporter, expressing the renovationist aims of the future Council yet more dearly: “Our aims are the same an John’s (Pope John XXIII): to update the Church and promote Christian unity… The Council will also signify the opening of the Orthodox Church to non-Christian religions, to humanity as a whole. This means a new attitude toward Islam, toward Buddhism, toward contemporary culture, toward aspirations for brotherhood free from racial discrimination… in other words, it will mark the end of twelve centuries of isolation of the Orthodox Church.”*

Oh no.

11 thoughts on “Orthodox Church to hold ecumenical council?

  1. From what very little I understand about the Orthodox (I hope Joseph A. will weigh in), a council is “ecumenical” only if it is accepted in its entirety after the fact by all of the autonomous churches that are part of the communion. So it is not the first ecumenical council in 1200 years because it is not clear yet whether it will be ecumenical; there have been other councils in the mean time that have qualified but weren’t universally accepted.

    Let us hope and pray that they don’t go too far off the deep end, and that the prospect of unification with Rome is at least considered.

  2. I am Orthodox and I doubt this lead balloon will fly. It is not welcome by a large majority of Orthodox Christians.

    HAH +Bartholomew can dream, but it all depends what Moscow will say (and pay for) in the end. There are no faith related issues, like heresies, in the OC today. The only issues that really need to be addressed are the world-wide jurisdictional chaos and maybe the calendar. But to discuss those there is no need for a Great Council… an administrative synod will do just fine.

    Sorry Proph, but there will be no move towards unification with Rome (if Constantinople pushes this, it will find itself very quickly out of communion with the rest of Orthodoxy)… this is a non-starter if there ever was one. If you are familiar with the mood among most Orthodox Christians, then you know that even what goes today by ecumenism is considered a heresy.

  3. Hi Joseph,

    I hope you’re right. I would hate to see you guys gut your church the way we have ours. (Of course, nobody says that that’s the purpose. They didn’t say it at Vatican II either. But there would be a very great danger of the same dynamics playing out, especially given the information on that orthodoxinfo link, which makes it sound like the agenda is all ecumenism, PC, and relaxing discipline.)

    • Bonald,

      Constantinople who has, under its current leadership, delusional dreams of an Eastern Papacy and of close embraces with Rome, is but one of the jurisdictions that would make up the membership of the Great Council. Yes the Throne of Constantinople is the first among brothers, but in this and any case concerning topics outside of its local jurisdiction (encompassing about 1100 souls in Istanbul and its over-seas eparchies) the bishop of Constantinople has no jurisdiction to force anything on any one. He is the Elder Brother, his influence is circumscribed and restricted by the respect offered by the churches to the see of the former imperial city.

      In the Orthodox Church even an Elder Brother, if he preaches heresy can and will be excommunicated. We do excommunicate even Patriarchs, as you can find out if you check the recent history of Jerusalem and the general history of the church. Concerning Constantinople, that would not be the first time in history. I am not accusing Constantinople of heresy, of course not, but let’s face it, that see and its small hierarchy has some weird understandings and ideas about what its appropriate place among the churches is. There are also some politically-correct fantasies promulgated from that see which cause other Orthodox Christians the theological equivalent of acid reflux.

      As I said, this is a dream of Constantinople, not of Moscow, not of Romania, not of Bulgaria, not of Serbia and all the other autocephalos churches. Since an event of that magnitude needs to be paid for by somebody which is definitely NOT Constantinople, but in all likelihood Moscow, my advise would be to listen to the sounds emanating from Moscow. You know, the horses mouth….

      As for me, I will neither hold my breath nor start packing my suit-cases any time soon…

  4. I am but a catechumen at my nearest Orthodox parish; but I can say with confidence that union with Rome will not happen at *least* as long as the doctrines of papal fullness/supremacy/universality and the Filioque are believed; not to mention purgatory, scholasticism, original sin, created grace, the Immaculate Conception, a physical hell, etc.

    • John,

      hahaha, right. There would be another way to get instant re-unification. Have the bishop of Rome, make an Orthodox confession for himself and declare a confirmation of the Orthodox faith in the name of his church and that would be it….That would not be different from any Catholic coming back home into the Orthodox faith….. not going to happen. EVER!

      And we won’t ever become Uniates either…

  5. Thus spake the Zeitgeist of hype.

    Proph ‘s skepticism about the upcoming “ecumenical” council (should it actually happen) is well justified. First council in 1,200 years? The Churches get together all the time (in Orthodoxese — that means once a century or so) — e.g. the Council of Constantinople in AD 1872. And Bonald’s supplied comment expresses well the folly that festers all too often in Constantinople of late. The patriarchs there for the last century have been lost shepherds without their flocks.

    I suppose that one could call these gatherings local councils rather than ecumenical ones, but it’s not clear what makes a council “ecumenical.” All the bishops present? If so, I doubt that any council would be considered ecumenical. Approved by the majority or great majority of representative bishops? What about robber councils, as mentioned above? Received by the faithful — well, which faithful? The ones who are content with the decisions or the ones who are anathematized? Called by the bishop of Rome? Were any of the early universally agreed upon councils initiated by Rome? Were they not rather convened by the emperor? Do we need a Roman emperor to have an ecumenical council? In practice, it seems to be so, but who believes that the Church needs a particular secular authority to govern herself? Certainly not the Roman Church of late antiquity, which expressly declared as much. Confirmed by Rome? This has the position of the Roman Church for a long time, but its history is hazy. Much (and I would argue most) of the esteem for (and supplication to) the Roman Church in the early centuries came from Rome’s orthodoxy. The Roman Christian community and its leadership were solid on the faith. They were more independent from imperial interference, they were less interested in Eastern theological controversies, and they were consistent in maintaining a simple adherence to the apostolic faith. Ultramontanists interpret Roman honor and invitations for Roman jurisdiction in Eastern disputes as evidence for papal supremacy and infallibility; they hold that the bishop of Rome establishes orthodoxy. I think that the causal direction is the opposite — Rome’s orthodoxy was the reason for its authority and for the appeals from the East. And to Eastern eyes, that authority waned as its orthodoxy waned. So, having seen fourteen more councils occur in the West, especially the last two, the Orthodox quickly dismiss papal confirmation as the key to an ecumenical council.

    So, what is the magical formula for determining an ecumenical council? No one knows. Such is a powerful argument from the papist apologist’s perspective — those confused and disorganized Greeks . . . they are so lost without the One True Vicar to shepherd the flock. I, however, am wary of such formulations. Truth does not depend on procedural measures, and all human institutions have failed and will continue to do so, including the Roman papacy. There is no substitute for a sincere good will, purified soul (with lots of prayer and fasting), and charitable disposition open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When the bishops, priests, deacons, and all the people of God attend to the Lord in spirit and in truth, then Christians will find the right path. Any attempt to abstract and to formulate such is but dowsing rod idolatry.

    As for the upcoming council, regardless of its status, who knows? I certainly don’t trust the wisdom or piety of contemporary bishops much. We are a faithless and perverse generation, and I do not see good things to follow. And Bonald is quite wrong when he states “calendar issues that nobody but bishops cares about.” The “C” word is a fight’n one!

    If I, lowly sinner that I am, had to pick an agenda for a council, it would be:

    * Address the calendar issue. It is crazy that the Orthodox Churches follow different calendars. I am personally ambivalent about the resolution, but I have strong opinions that the Constantinopolitan brewed mess from the 1920’s was terrible and probably illegal. Such a change must come from a conciliar resolution, and it must involve all the Orthodox. Mixed calendars, hybrid calendars. It’s madness!

    * Canonical update. I know, I know, civil defense sirens and all that. However, they really do need to update the canons — not in the sense of getting groovy in the modern world, but in the sense of applicability. The canons, after all, are practical and pastoral.

    * Common guidelines for relations with the non-Orthodox, including intermarriage and reception issues as well as “ecumenical” activity. I have to agree with my co-confessors, Proph, in that union with Rome will not be on the table. However, the bishops could declare that we Orthodox are happy to cooperate with Rome, Protestants, rabbinical Jews, Mohammedans, or whomever in doing God’s work.

    * Jurisdictional tidying . . . the recent move by Jerusalem (establishing a diocese in Qatar, which is in Antioch’s territory) proves that pan-Orthodox cooperation is necessary to resolve differences between the Churches . . . not to mention the problems of the “diaspora.” [I hear those papist chuckles out there!]

    * Encouraging a normalization of irregular groups, including various Old Calendarist groups, the Macedonians, and the Ukrainian schismatics. A welcome mat for the uniates might be nice, too. And the disaffected Protestants.

    As I hinted earlier, we’ll see what actually happens. They have been kicking this can for generations, and I suspect that it will be delayed . . . until further notice.

  6. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow is the head of by far the largest of our Orthodox churches, and while Constantinople retains the title “Ecumenical Patriarch,” that See really can’t change anything outside its jurisdiction. No one is modernizing or unifying anything without Moscow and the other patriarchal on board, and that’s not going to happen.

  7. I am not worried. I think the bishops will attempt to straighten out the jurisdictional mess and I hope they address the calendar issue. Recently Pat. Kirill of Moscow made consensus a dealbreaker: if decisions are not made by consensus, Russia wasn’t going to participate.

  8. Two years later . . . and my bishops have released a letter that marks their concerns with some proposed documents: Holy Synod Response to Preconciliar Documents” (pdf). It seems that the proposals are as bad as we feared. Thank God (literally) that the Russians will veto such junk.

    The (eastern) councils that were held during the Arian ascendency were messes. Only self-consciously “reactionary” councils (against Arianism) contributed positively to the life of the Church at the time. It’s just a bad idea for men who breathe toxic (or heretical) ideas in their societies/cultures to discuss or to decide anything of import — unless they fully and zealously reject those omnipresent toxic ideas. To allow such unfortunately poisoned men to decide important matters is like letting a dissolute grandson restructure a successful company that has been in business for generations. Wait for a clear-headed generation to arise before you tweak the business model.


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.