"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Saturday, 30 January 2016


Keynote Address By His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew To the Synaxis of the Primates of the Orthodox Churches
AP Photo/Shakh Aivazov

Pan-Orthodox Council to be held in Greece this June

Your Beatitudes and beloved Brothers in the Lord, Primates of the local most holy Orthodox Churches and venerable representatives of brother Primates precluded from participating in this Synaxis, together with Your honorable entourages.

Welcome to this sacred place of our most holy Church of Constantinople, this Center dedicated to the service of Pan-Orthodox unity, which has for decades hosted and continues to host numerous Inter-Orthodox and Pan-Orthodox encounters hammering out and advancing the unity of the most holy Orthodox Church. We wholeheartedly pray that Your sojourn here may prove for each of You satisfactory and pleasing in every way, while our work may be guided by the breath of the Paraclete in order to bear abundant fruit for the love and edification of the body of the Church to the glory of God.

As we know, this Synaxis of ours was to be held at our see, but extraordinary objective circumstances that prevented some of our brothers from traveling there imposed the relocation of our meeting here. We thank all of You for understanding the necessity of this change and for agreeing to come here in order to realize the sacred purpose of the present Synaxis.

Indeed, every Synaxis that gathers us together, as entrusted with by God’s grace and mercy with the leadership of His most holy Church, is sacred. However, this particular Synaxis has a very special character because it is bound to the fundamental ecclesiological principle of the Church’s conciliarity inasmuch as it its primary objective is to prepare the forthcoming convocation, God willing, of the Holy and Great Council of our most holy Orthodox Church. Therefore, we have assembled here to perform a truly sacred obligation, which is precisely why we have an entirely particular need for the support and illumination of the Paraclete as well as of the favorable goodwill of each of us, beyond any other kind of interests, in order that our decisions may contribute to the realization of the Holy and Great Council, which we have already announced. For it is unto us that Divine Providence has assigned the great duty and privilege to give flesh and bones to the visions of our blessed predecessors, who more than fifty years ago conceived the notion of convening this Council. To us, then, belongs the great responsibility to reduce the time, which is already much detained, in order without further delay to transform the vision into reality. After all, this is expected of us not only by our late predecessors, but also by the faithful people of God, as well as even by Christians outside the canonical barriers of our Church. This is why every further postponement in realizing the Council will only satisfy the enemies of our Church and the Enemy that rejoices in evil.

Our Synaxis has a particularly special significance because it is called to settle matters and aspects that remain from the preparation and relate to the overall operation of the Holy and Great Council. In this regard, we wish to remind Your love of certain basic principles, which we have already accepted and established through formal decisions, and which we are naturally obliged to respect and maintain to the end.

1. On the Agenda

As known, the agenda of the Council was determined by Pan-Orthodox decision of the First Preconciliar Pan-Orthodox Consultation (1976) and includes the following ten items according to the order in the Acts of the Consultation:

a)Orthodox Diaspora

b)Autocephaly and its manner of proclamation

c)Autonomy and its manner of proclamation

d)The Diptychs

e)The matter of a common calendar

f)Impediments of marriage

g)Adaptation of church regulations on fasting

h)Relations of the Orthodox Churches with the rest of the Christian world

i)Orthodoxy and the Ecumenical Movement

j)Contribution of the local Orthodox Churches to the prevalence of the Christian ideals of peace, liberty, brotherhood and love among peoples, and the lifting of racial and other discrimination.

According the prevailing By-Laws, each of the above items should pass through the stage of preparation in order to be examined by an Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Committee, which would repeatedly convene until it achieves unanimous formulation of the text in question, which should consequently be approved by a Preconciliar Pan-Orthodox Consultation in order finally to be referred without further ado to the Holy and Great Council.

Of the above items, eight have already passed through the stage of preparation and approval by Preconciliar Pan-Orthodox Consultations, while two of them – pertaining to Autocephaly and the Diptychs – have not received unanimous acceptance in the recurrent meetings of the Preconciliar Committee in order to receive final approval by a Preconciliar Consultation and comprise items for discussion at the Holy and Great Council.

In light of the situation that has developed in this way, we were faced with the dilemma of either postponing the realization of the Holy and Great Council until agreement is also reached on these two items or else proceeding with its convocation contented with the eight items.

On this question, there was a Pan-Orthodox decision to proceed with the convocation of the Council contented with the eight items, which received unanimous approval by Preconciliar Consultations.

Subsequently, our Synaxis in March 2014 unanimously decided to convene the Holy and Great Council in 2016 after a Special Inter-Orthodox Committee has previously undertaken the following actions by Pascha 2015:

a) the revision of the texts agreed by the Third Preconciliar Consultation on the items:Orthodoxy and the Ecumenical Movement; Relations of the Orthodox Churches with the rest of the Christian world; and, Contribution of the Orthodox Churches to the prevalence of peace, etc.

b) the editing of texts from the Second Preconciliar Consultation regarding: Adaptation of church regulations on fasting; Impediments of marriage; and, A common calendar.

c) If possible (“it is desirable”), the discussion of the items of Autocephaly and the Diptychs by the Preparatory Committee in order to achieve unanimity.

This Special Committee completed its task within the prescribed timeframe with regard to points (a) and (b), working until the eve of Holy and Great Week 2015, but was unable due to lack of time to fulfill the expressed wish of the Synaxis on point (c).

Accordingly, the items that remained for the Holy and Great Council were the eight originally agreed, which received the approval of a Preconciliar Pan-Orthodox Consultation as foreseen by the By-Laws.

In the meantime and despite what was unanimously agreed, certain Churches expressed their desire and even demand that the Holy and Great Council be postponed until there is discussion and unanimous acceptance both on the items of Autocephaly and the Diptychs as well as on the texts of the Second Preconciliar Pan-Orthodox Consultation (1982) on Impediments of marriage and A common calendar, which were not unanimously edited by the above-mentioned Special Committee. As far as the last two items, we cannot but express our surprise from such a demand, given that the decision of our Synaxis in 2014 did not at all foresee any radical revision of these texts, but simply their editing by the Special Committee; which is why the presiding chairman correctly forbade any radical revision since this would constitute transgression or transcendence of the mandate given to the Committee by our Synaxis. The demand on the part of certain Churches to revise these texts would clearly require a new unanimous decision of the Synaxis of Primates, different to the one taken in 2014 about a simple editing of the texts, which editing by its very nature could not affect the core contents of the same texts.

Therefore, brethren, we find ourselves before the dilemma, presented to us by certain Churches, either to persist with the decision taken jointly in 2014 to convene the Holy and Great Council with the eight agenda items, which have already acquired unanimous Pan-Orthodox approval, or to delay the convocation of the Council until we achieve Pan-Orthodox agreement also on the items of Autocephaly and the Diptychs as well as the texts on Marriage and the Calendar. If we choose the latter, we shall require a whole series of meetings by the Preparatory Committee, which in accordance with the prevailing By-Laws for preparation of the council must conclude with unanimous approval of the relevant texts that must then be submitted for final approval by a new Preconciliar Consultation. Given these procedures, whether and when the Holy and Great Council is to convene would remain unknown and its ultimate cancellation would not be excluded. Our responsibility is indeed immense for whatever might transpire and we are obliged to take this into consideration before preferring what is better over what is good and what is greater over what is necessary if we go back on our original joint decision. Our most holy Church declares that it cannot assume the historical responsibility of delaying the convocation of the Holy and Great Council or the danger resulting from its cancellation.

2. Remaining Matters

a) The Draft of By-Laws for the operation of the Holy and Great Council:

As known, the Special Committee that recently met in Athens to compose a draft for the procedural By-Laws of the Holy and Great Council did not manage to complete its task, finally approving only four of the sixteen proposed articles, which means that we must discover a way to conclude this work, if possible during the present Synaxis, by means of a special committee composed from our very own members, with the clear directive to complete its task during these days in order to submit it here to our plenary for approval so that there is no need of another Synaxis of Primates for the approval of the by-Laws.

b) The matter of inviting observers to the Holy and Great Council:

This matter is before us for purposes of deciding at this Synaxis in two forms: namely, regarding the invitation of observers (clergy, monastics and laity) both from within the Orthodox Church as well as from other Christian Churches and Confessions, especially from those with whom we are in theological dialogue. In our opinion, both of these categories should be invited to attend the sessions of the Council, without of course the right to speak or vote, given that the Holy and Great Council is of immediate and vital interest both to Orthodox laity, clergy and monastics, but also to the rest of the Christian world. It should be noted that, during the sessions of the Second Vatican Council, our Church was invited to and did send observers.

If there is agreement on the principle of inviting such observers, then we must proceed to the determination of the manner in which they are represented, their number as well as their seating on the Council floor and every other question related to this matter.

c) The matter of the Council’s authenticity must also concern this Synaxis. The Holy and Great Council will take place at a time when institutions are generally undergoing a crisis of authenticity, being disputed by contemporary people, something that unfortunately also tends to influence the domain of the Church.  Conciliar decisions, which at other times enjoyed the respect of the clergy and the people as the voice of God (“it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” [Acts 15.28]), are today challenged by a group of our faithful, sometimes even before they are formally taken and announced. We know that even the Holy and Great Council that we have decided to convene is questioned by some “defenders of Orthodoxy,” who label it as a “robber council” before it has actually convened. What canonical validity will the decisions of the Holy and Great Council have, and what canonical repercussions will any disobedience toward these involve? We believe that this matter must be clarified by us in order to avoid confusion among the people of God and other unfortunate ramifications in the body of the Church.

d) Finally, it is necessary that we clarify a matter that emerged – unexpectedly, in our opinion – namely, the question of the precise meaning of the term consensus, which we accepted as a way of reaching decisions both during the preparation as well as during the proceedings of the Holy and Great Council. On this matter, we should clarify the following issues:

First, the concept of consensus, and not unanimity, internationally signifies that if one or more delegations disagree with a specific proposal and choose to formulate their own, an effort must be made to accept the opinion or proposal of these delegations; however, in the case where consensus is not achieved on the counter-proposal, then this disagreement – should those disagreeing persist – is recorded but does not invalidate the original position that resulted in the disagreement, while those disagreeing sign the original text and, should they so wish, record their disagreement. If someone declines to sign the text, this would imply veto, which would lead to an impasse.

A second matter that requires clarification is whether consensus refers to those present during the deliberations “of a body or requires the physical presence of all members of the body.” If we accept the latter, then any absence or else voluntary and deliberate absenteeism of some members would lead to dissolution of the body on the premise of lack of consensus.

The first of these matters emerged during the sessions of the Fifth Preconciliar Pan-Orthodox Consultation, where two delegations declined to sign the joint text for the reason that the position of their Churches were not accepted by all members of the Consultation; thus, we find ourselves before an impasse with regard to preparations for the Council because one of its basic texts remains unsigned by certain delegations.

The second matter emerged during the recent meeting of the Special Committee for preparing the draft of the Council’s procedural By-Laws in Athens. At that meeting, certain delegations persistently sought to include a provision in the By-Laws, according to which if one Church for any reason withdraws from the sessions of the Council, then the Chairman is obliged to secure that Church’s presence, otherwise the Council cannot continue its deliberations (i.e., is dissolved) since there is no consensus. That is our predicament if we regard consensus as applying not only to those present but also to those absent.

We wish to state forthrightly that our most holy Church and we personally cannot conceive or accept the realization of a Council that would operate under the Damocleian sword of dissolution should one or more Churches decide to withdraw. It would be preferable for such a Council, operating under the threat of dissolution, not to be held at all.

The tradition of the Church knows numerous examples where conciliarity is applied in Councils, indeed even Ecumenical Councils, when certain Churches were absent – sometimes voluntarily, at other times involuntarily – from the sessions of the Council, without this at all preventing their operation. Many Council decisions were recognized retroactively by those who did not participate in them. So far as we know, dependence of consensus on physical attendance has no historical precedent.

We are, therefore, also called to deliberate on this matter fraternally and with love.

We propose these issues to Your love, brethren, as outstanding for our deliberation and decision so that we might arrive at the Holy and Great Council in unanimity. Apart from these issues, there are some other matters ofr a practical nature, which we are called to resolve in light of the Council. By way of example, we mention some of these here:

a) The duration of the Council. We do not know what you think about this, but in our opinion the number, scope and importance of the items for discussion will necessitate the duration of the Council to be at least two weeks, if we also bear in mind the liturgical and other events, which would be added to the sessions.

b) The procedure and placement of the Chairman and Primates decided at our last Synaxis will create aspacial distance betwen them an the members of their delegations, which will complicate the communication between the Primates and their delegations. This practical matter needs to be resolved.

c) We must promptly create a common Inter-Orthodox Secretariat of the Council, which will work alongside the existing Secretariat for the Preparation of the Council, assuming the difficult, albeit extremely important task of promoting the Council to the plenitude of the Orthodox Church but also to the world beyond, publishing and circulating the agreed texts, so that the Council may discern the reactions of the faithful and the world in order to bear these in mind in its work as far as this is possible.

d) Finally, it will soon be necessary to confront the practical matter of the financial cost of the Council, which due to its magnitude exceeds the capacity of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. As you already know, throughout the preparation over decades for the Holy and Great Council, the Ecumenical Patriarchate bore the burden of the financial expense for many and repeated meetings of the Preparatory Committees and Preconciliar Consultations, as well as the Synaxis gatherings of the Primates. It did so and continues to do so gladly, from its deficiency. Nevertheless, we now require the contribution of each Church, according to its ability, toward a common fund controlled on an Inter-Orthodox level in order to respond to the large expenses demanded by such an undertaking as the forthcoming, with God’s grace, Holy and Great Council. We are certain that all of the sister Churches appreciate this and will contribute, each according to their ability.

Dearly beloved and most esteemed brothers in Christ,

We have briefly outlined the issues that, in our opinion, remain outstanding and await our resolution as Primates of the sister Churches. You will deem whether and which of these require immediate priority or if there are also other issues that should concern our present Synaxis. We look forward to Your observations in this regard.

Behind our proposals lies the conviction that all of us yearn with the same zeal for the convocation of the Holy and Great Council of our most holy Church without further delay, as we have stated, given that “the appointed time is short” (1 Cor. 7.29) since over fifty years of deferment and postponement have seriously exposed our Church in the eyes of adversaries and friends, not to speak also of God and History. Let us, therefore, advance swiftly with the task that lies before us, “looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12.2), who through the intercessions of His All-Pure Mother and all the Saints “will not leave us as orphans” (cf. John 14.18), but through the Paraclete will unite us in the same place at the Council, just as He unites us in His body and blood. “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.” (Luke 18.27)

“Therefore, brethren, rejoice in the Lord, and may the God of love and peace be with you.” (Cf. 2 Cor. 13.11) Amen!

Patriarch Kirill addresses the Synaxis of Primates of local Orthodox Churches

On January 22, 2016, the Primates of Local Orthodox Churches met at the Patriarchate of Constantinople’s Orthodox center in Chambesy.
Patriarch Kirill addresses the Synaxis of Primates of local Orthodox Churches
Pan-Orthodox Council to be held in Greece this June

Addressing the Synaxis, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia noted that each meeting of the Primates of Orthodox Churches is an event of special importance. ‘It is an opportunity for us to exchange opinions, to discuss problems of concern for us and to make agreed decisions on matters of pan-Orthodox significance. But above all, it is an opportunity to feel again our unity, especially when we together partake of one Cup in the awareness that we all are one Body in Christ (Rom. 12:5)’, His Holiness said. He also expressed gratitude to His Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople who initiated and organized the meeting.

In his address, Patriarch Kirill spoke on various aspects of the preparation of the Pan-Orthodox Council.

‘Gathering together, we are clearly aware that our Church is One and Catholic, that our priority concern is to preserve and consolidate her unity, which is the basis of our entire ministry, including our joint efforts for strengthening the conciliar principle in the Church. The Holy and Great Council is called to become a visible, clear and convincing testimony to the unity of the Orthodox Church. And we all realize that the Council can become such only if it reflects the true unanimity of the Local Orthodox Churches. It is for the sake of this unanimity that we all are to work hard together in the pre-council period’, His Holiness stressed.

In this context, Patriarch Kirill stated with satisfaction that ‘the concern for the absence of pan-Orthodox recognition of His Beatitude Metropolitan Rostislav, Primate of the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia, which has been repeatedly voiced both by the Moscow Patriarchate and other Churches, has been heard. His Beatitude is with us today, duly recognized now by all the Local Churches.’

Speaking about problems impeding the full-fledged unanimity among the Local Orthodox Churches, Patriarch Kirill expressed regret over the breach in communion between the Patriarchate of Antioch and Jerusalem. To restore it, His Holiness believes, is an urgent task in our days when the whole world is following with anxiety the developments in the Middle East since, indeed, ‘it is from religious communities in this region that people expect an example of solidarity and readiness to overcome differences’.

His Holiness highlighted in detail the church situation in Ukraine, saying, ‘In Ukraine today over 30 churches have been captured by force and 10 more are under threat. Schismatics and nationalists who support them claim it as ‘voluntary moves’ of the faithful to the so-called ‘Kiev Patriarchate’. Actually, these are real gangster raids in which they hold an assembly of persons who have nothing to do with the community and then, with the help of local authorities, forge the deeds and capture the church through the efforts of local militant nationalists, driving out into the street the community of the church together with its priest!’

The Primate of the Russian Church expressed deep concern for the actions of some hierarchs of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, who, on their visits to Ukraine, expressed their support for the schismatics allegedly on behalf of His Holiness Patriarch of Constantinople, thus sowing temptation among the Ukrainian faithful and clergy. It is impossible to imagine, he continued, that in Switzerland or in Greece or in any other country in Europe representatives of a different confession could come to an Orthodox church and ‘make the decision’ that they will use this church from now on. ‘But in Ukraine it is a reality. The canonical Church’s communities driven away from their churches have won all their legal cases, but schismatics and their semi-gangster armed units ignore court rulings’.

Patriarch Kirill cited as a glaring example of nationalists’ hatred towards the faithful of the canonical Church in Ukraine the situation in the Ptichya village near Rovno, stressing that the proponents of the schism ‘are sowing evil by consciously creating an inter-confessional conflict and splitting the Ukrainian society’.

‘Quite recently, one of their supporters said in public that if His Beatitude Onufry, Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine, still belonged to the canonical Church, it was only because no suitable tool of torture, such as an electric or soldering iron, was found. It is terrible to imagine what would have happened if these bandits had been granted canonical legalization and had joined us!’ His Holiness stated.

Patriarch Kirill thanked sister Local Churches, especially those of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Serbia, Bulgaria and Poland, for their prayer and support for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. ‘His Holiness Irenaeus, Patriarch of Serbia, was quite right when he wrote to me about Ukrainian schismatics: these people belong to Orthodoxy only by name and ‘their disdain for Christian moral norms and willingness to hate and spill blood is a living testimony to this’. The only path for these people to come back to the Church lies through repentance. We are asked why we do not want to unite with them and are called to begin dialogue almost on an equality with them, but what harmony is there between Christ and Belial?

‘The Orthodox people of Ukraine continue to support the canonical Church. Now the schismatics are frantically fabricating public opinion polls to prove their popularity in the country. However, many Ukrainian archpastors say that the number of people in churches of the canonical Church has grown. The recent procession with the cross held by our faithful in Kiev on the St. Vladimir Day brought together tens of thousands of people, whereas the similar event conducted by schismatics ended in a shameful fiasco. Few churches, which they have managed to grab from Orthodox communities, have become deserted while real Orthodox communities have not disintegrated but continue to worship in the most unfavourable conditions. I trust in the future of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church; her faithful are united in their condemnation of the schism and violence, and this evil only strengthens them in their feat of love and faith’.

His Holiness continued by noting that the process of preparations for the Pan-Orthodox Council has noticeably intensified of late. He dwelt on the reasons for the failure to implement a number of instructions given by the previous meeting of the Primates to the Special Inter-Orthodox Commission and the 5th Pan-Orthodox Pre-Council Conference. He pointed in particular to the importance of taking into account the positions of all the Orthodox Churches which carry out their mission in various situations. In this connection, he mentioned still unconsidered proposals made concerning the Pan-Orthodox Council agenda items in the last two years by a number of Local Churches including the Churches of Antioch, Russia, Georgia, Serbia and Bulgaria.

Patriarch Kirill also spoke of the need to review the draft document on Calendar, noting that the topic of ‘a more accurate determination of the date of Pascha’ is not at all relevant for the Orthodox Church and can only sow discord among many believers’.

No less concern, His Holiness said, is caused by the draft document on Impediments to Marriage, which only contains a bare list of canonical impediments and fails to reflect the Church’s position on the institution of family in the modern world.

As one of the very important areas of work Patriarch Kirill singled out the topic of Autocephaly and the Manner of Granting it, proposing that the Council approve the fundamental agreement already reached by the Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission that the establishment of new autocephalous Churches should be a pan-Orthodox action requiring consensus of all the Local Orthodox Churches in each particular case.

His Holiness also stressed the need for a preliminary examination of the Council’s draft document on the Orthodox Diaspora.

Among the points of detailed consideration in Patriarch Kirill’s address was the issue of the venue of the Council, which had already been raised in the address of His Holiness Patriarch Irenaeus of Serbia.

‘As we can see, many problems are to be solved together in order to make possible the convocation of a Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church. I am sure that the real reason for which many documents are still lacking agreement does not lie at all in the existence of opposite opinions of Churches but in the ineffective methodology of preparing the Council’, Patriarch Kirill stressed. In this connection, he shared the experience of the work of the Inter-Council Present of the Russian Orthodox Church in the form of open discussions enabling any church member concerned to express his or her position.

‘I believe, it is in this way, openly, the preparation of the Council should proceed if we really care for its success’, the Primate of the Orthodox Church said, stressing the importance of having the Council’s draft documents published and overcoming a lack of reliable information that provokes suspicion among many believers.

‘It is my conviction that the long ripened publication of the Council’s draft documents and an opportunity for discussion on them will not at all prevent the holding of the Council but will show us and the whole world the truly conciliar nature of our Church, thus helping consolidate the pan-Orthodox unity’, His Holiness said calling the gathering to pray together to the Lord for His help in the joint efforts for the benefit of the Church and in overcoming all the difficulties standing in the way towards her Great and Holy Council.

Five Best Practices for the Great Council of the Orthodox Church

Five Best Practices for the Great Council of the Orthodox Church

Pan-Orthodox Council to be held in Greece this June

Pentecost 2016 will mark the opening of the Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church. It has been over 1,000 years since the Eastern Orthodox Church has held a Great and Holy Council. The world has certainly changed in the past millennium. Electricity, flight and the Western Hemisphere are all examples of things that were unknown to the participants in the last Council. Needless to say there is some catching up to do! Despite all of these changes, the question today is a simple one.

Is the Church truly what it says it is or is all the talk of Orthodox conciliarity for naught? One wonders how a Church that cannot agree on a date for Christmas can work together and face the future.

The first millennium always looks perfect from afar and after over 1,000 years of waiting it is easy for leaders focus on nostalgia for times gone by. The greater challenge is to turn outward and show an increasing secular world the truth and beauty of the Orthodox Christian Faith. The vocation of the Council is not to serve itself but to serve the world. This is the essence of Apostolic witness.

Here are five best practices the Great and Holy Council must embrace to meet the challenge of the future.

1)TAKE THE TIME: One of the temptations in the organization of the Council is to conduct it in haste. It would be a tragedy if the Council was held over a two or three day period and followed a tightly prepared script. Previous Councils lasted for months and there is no reason for the 2016 Council not to take its time and allow the Holy Spirit to work. Modern technology makes it easy for leaders to govern their dioceses from afar and to communicate with one another. It has never been easier than it is today to conduct a Great and Holy Council.

2)BE TRANSPARENT: Technology has been a challenge for the Orthodox Church but it also has offered many blessings. It is important to harness the blessing of technology to share the work of the Council with the world. There is no need for secrecy in the Orthodox Church. Leaders can demonstrate this by broadcasting the Council’s proceedings. In the age of the internet this is quite easy and there are many Orthodox media outlets who are capable of providing these services. Every person should have the opportunity witness the work of the Council by being able to listen as it unfolds in real time. Transparency is the foundation of authentic conciliarity and never hurts the Church. It helps strengthen the Body of Christ.

3)EMBRACE DEBATE: History shows that the Councils that have promoted healthy debate have born the most fruit. There is no reason this cannot be true today. The Church must show it welcomes robust debate in the defense of the Faith. The greatness of Orthodox Christianity has always been made manifest when it has taken the time to address the great questions posed by society. This is a Tradition that should continue in 2016.

4)EVANGELIZE FIRST: The Orthodox Church rejects clericalism at all times. Questions of power and control have no place in the Body of Christ. Instead of falling for the trap of debating the order of Churches and who is subject to whom, Council leaders should focus on first growing the Church through mission and evangelism. The Council must answer the question: How can the Orthodox Church reach those who are unchurched or fallen away? Archbishop Anastasios of Albania is correct when he writes.

“Church without mission is a contradiction in terms. If the Church is indifferent to the apostolic work with which she has been entrusted, she denies herself, contradicts herself and her essence, and is a traitor in the warfare in which she is engaged. A static Church which lacks vision and a constant endeavor to proclaim the Gospel to the oikoumene [“whole inhabited world”] could hardly be recognized as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church to whom the Lord entrusted the continuation of His work.”

5)INVITE WOMEN: Orthodoxy has always held women in the highest regard. Church history is full of amazing women such St. Olha of Kyiv and St. Maria of Paris. One can only imagine what these women would say if they could address the Council in 2016. There is simply no sensible reason not to invite women monastics and other faithful Orthodox women to participate in this important event. Not to do so undermines the voice of the Church and its ability to witness to the world. It also denies the great role women have played in the history of the Church.

There is no question the Great and Holy Council will measure the health of the Church as it exists today and for decades to come.

Will the world see a Church that is simply a museum from a time long gone or will the world see the Apostolic Faith that turned the world upside down ultimately changing it for the better?

Only time will tell for certain.

Andrew Estocin is a lifelong Orthodox Christian. He received his B.A. with a double major in Philosophy and Theology from Fordham University. His writings have appeared in numerous publications including The Albuquerque Journal, Touchstone, Beliefnet.com and The Orthodox Observer. Andrew’s work is featured on the The Orthodox Christian Network where he writes on a variety of contemporary issues.

If I were running the Eastern Orthodox Council
(A Catholic Comment)
Pokrov church at sunset in Sevastopol
(us.fotolia.com | M.V
The Orthodox Council, if it takes place, must ask itself: Why should people care about this Council and about Orthodox Christianity itself? Why is it relevant?January 26, 2016 

by Dr Adam A. J. DeVille 

The Orthodox Church has, for the better part of a century, been talking about holding a global council, often labelled the ‘great and holy synod.’ As we are repeatedly told, this will be the first such synodal gathering in the Christian East since the last ecumenical council of Nicaea met in 787 to deal with iconoclasm.

Catholics watching the lead-up to this council will be only too aware—as I have discussed here and here—of the promises and the perils of synodal gatherings in the life of the Church, whether East or West. Synods or councils, ancient or modern, are always a gamble, always a source of surprises one did not expect at the time, and almost always a source of confusion—or at the very least considerable hermeneutical debate, after the fact. Sometimes, it is hard to resist the thought that it would have been better never to have held a council if one’s goal is a neat, over-tidy faith with no messy questions or problems—if, that is, one wants to live in a morgue rather than the Church of the living God.

But one can have no idea, when calling for a council, what those surprises will be, or whether and how they will manifest themselves, so one proceeds in the blithe hope that the risks will not outweigh the benefits. What benefits might we hope to see from an Orthodox synod this Pentecost if it happens? Picking up where I left off nearly two years ago now (“Some Thoughts and [Unsought] Advice on Holding Church Councils”, March 18, 2014), let me offer some wild-eyed hopes for this Orthodox synod.

The Orthodox themselves generated a lengthy list of things a future council should attend to. This list has been in circulation for over sixty years, and includes items such as updating fasting requirements, dealing with divisions over the Julian vs. Gregorian calendar, ecumenical dialogue, liturgical reform, and internal jurisdictional divisions, including the question of primacy both within Orthodoxy itself and in its once and future relationship with the bishop of Rome.

All of these questions are weighty, and I have myself given no little reflection to a few of them on CWR and elsewhere, especially the questions of primacy and jurisdiction, and of fasting. But let me not get into those questions again. Let me, instead, attempt here something of an imaginative-speculative exercise which, as a university professor, I force myself to undergo several times each semester. It is not an easy exercise, and I have no reassurance that I ever complete it with anything like thorough-going success, but it is, I submit, a worthwhile exercise.

When I started teaching here at the University of Saint Francis nearly a decade ago now, I read James Lang’s helpful book Life on the Tenure Track: Lessons from the First Year, in which he counsels professors in each class to offer, at least once a semester, the “Who Gives a Damn” lecture: who gives a damn about the Byzantine iconoclast crisis? or the debate over the two natures of Christ? or the rise of nominalist philosophy? He also encourages faculty to allow students to pose that question at any point in the semester about any matter under consideration.

Doing so often makes for vigorous and bracing classroom discussions in which students are allowed to ask: why is today’s chapter about events 800 years ago relevant to me in 2016? Why do I need to know about this arcane political debate, or tortured bits of mathematical formula, or complex set of causes of World War I? Why should I care? Though challenging, and sometimes a little disconcerting because you never know where the conversation will go, our “Who Gives a Damn” sessions are ones I have come greatly to love as my students and I both open up windows to try to see better or at least a little differently.

These questions are precisely the ones that Orthodox Christians should be asking whether or not the council happens.  Why does a council matter? Who gives a damn whether it meets or not? What relevance will this have not just to Orthodox Christians around the world, but to other Christians and, perforce, to the world itself?

For it is obvious—I hope!—to the Orthodox themselves that in today’s hyper-connected world, no council can take place in secret, and no council can be seen as an exclusively Orthodox preserve, having nothing to do with, and nothing to offer to, other Christians in particular and the world in general.

Instead the council must be prepared to interrogate itself: who gives a damn not just about this meeting, but about Orthodox Christianity itself? Why is it relevant? Why should I care about these people in their strange hats, with their long beards, longer liturgies, and exotic looking icons and churches bearing off-putting ethnic designations?

That is not a flippant question, and the answer to it is not difficult to surmise: millions of people around the world care about Orthodox Christianity, and millions more could potentially care if Orthodoxy did a better job of explaining itself and showing the world what it has to offer. With the press attention focused on a council, Orthodoxy has a privileged moment unlike any other in over a thousand years to reach myriads.

But to what end? What will all that attention be directed towards? Old men in debates over the diptychs, or trying to decide whether fish with/without backbones may be eaten during Lent? Patriarchs debating who has jurisdiction over tiny parishes in far-away countries (e.g., Qatar) of which we know nothing (to paraphrase Neville Chamberlain’s infamous dismissal of Czechoslovakia in 1938)? If that is what comes of it, the media will quickly lose interest, and most people, Christians included, will yawningly ignore the rest of the gathering.

Here, with complete seriousness and sincerity, let me make the most ardent of pleas to the fathers of any upcoming council. I offer this not only as a scholar but especially as a lover of the Christian East in all her maddening messiness: deal with “housekeeping” questions if you must—fasting, calendars, primacy—but before and above all else answer the world’s “Who gives a damn?” in clear, compelling ways that showcase the beauty and splendor of the East. Give people real, repeated, and unforgettable insights into Christianity in its Eastern forms. Show people, seriously but not sanctimoniously, why it was an Orthodox writer, Dostoevsky, who said that “beauty will save the world.” Show the world the beauty not just of liturgy and iconography, but also the beauty that comes “when the brethren dwell together in unity,” as the psalmist puts it.

Let the council, in other words, be a theophany, a place for the world to glimpse the beauty of God and to gain insights into the God of beauty. Let the council be a place where everyone points not to their own narrow or nationalistic agenda, but instead points to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Let the council be a place of evangelism before all else and in all else.

I know many who, of course, will say “That’s not what councils are for.” But anyone who reads anything about Vatican II knows that councils are complex gatherings that do many things in addition to their officially stated purposes. And anyone who reads, or recalls, the massive media attention that Vatican II garnered will be able to tell Orthodoxy that its council will be a unique opportunity, unlikely to come again for centuries, and it should squeeze every last drop out of it for the glory of Christ and the spread of His life-giving message. The world today needs Christ more than ever, and Orthodoxy has unique and often under-utilized resources to make him known to the world in singular and saving ways.

Evangelism—no matter how many Orthodox like to froth at the mouth when I say this—goes hand-in-hand with ecumenism. But I have never, ever entertained notions from the swinging Sixties that “ecumenism” means we gut doctrine, junk creeds and liturgy, and sit around holding hands while singing guitar-driven songs about peace and brotherhood. No sane Catholic or Orthodox ecumenist or hierarch has ever advocated any of that rot.

Ecumenism must lead us to unity in the truth who is Christ, which is the same point as evangelism: Christ, and him alone. If done right, the upcoming Orthodox synod can be both evangelical and ecumenical, showing the world, including the Catholic Church, the face of Christ in unique and compelling ways that can be beneficial to all of us.

My hope and prayer is that any Orthodox gathering will realize it has much to offer not just to the world, but also to the Catholic Church. Orthodoxy has much that Catholics desperately need. In saying this, I am not for a moment granting a hearing to the triumphalistic and sanctimonious Orthodox apologetics one so often encounters on the internet. In saying this, I have in mind a passage from a book written by one of the foremost Roman Catholic theologians of our time, the English Dominican Aidan Nichols. In his 1999 book Christendom Awake: On Reenergizing the Church in Culture, Nichols wrote this:

At the present time, the Catholic Church, in many parts of the world, is undergoing one of the most serious crises in its history, a crisis resulting from a disorienting encounter with secular culture and compounded by a failure of Christian discernment on the part of many people over the last quarter century from the highest office-holders to the ordinary faithful. This crisis touches many aspects of Church life but notably theology and catechesis, liturgy and spirituality, religious life and Christian ethics at large. Orthodoxy is well placed to stabilize Catholicism in most if not all these areas (p.186; my emphasis).

It is, of course, too much to expect any one Orthodox synod to deal both with Orthodoxy’s own internal issues and also to offer assistance to the much larger challenges besetting the Catholic Church. But a council could at least begin this process. And having met once, that very experience of meeting could relieve much of the anxiety about such an unknown entity as a council. We all have the experience of realizing that, having surmounted a hurdle once, it is often progressively easier to do so again each subsequent time. Having had a council in 2016, it could be easier to do so again in 2017, 2018, 2019, much as Vatican II met in multiple sessions over several years. The work could be spread out and accomplished more carefully and at greater length. There is no need to rush. Indeed, rushing would lead to disaster.

So let the work begin in serene patience and prayerful petition of the holy, consubstantial, and life-creating Trinity. Let the work end with the good news that the world so desperately needs to hear: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs giving life! No other message will make such a long-expected, long-delayed council worth the effort.

About the Author
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Dr. Adam A. J. DeVille  

Dr. Adam A. J. DeVille is Associate Professor and Chairman of the Department of Theology-Philosophy, University of Saint Francis (Fort Wayne, IN) and author of Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy (University of Notre Dame, 2011).

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