"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

Monday, 6 June 2016


The Convening of the Holy and Great Council of worldwide Orthodox Christianity – the first in over one thousand years, is a sign of hope and reassurance for not only Orthodox Christians, but for all people of faith around the globe. The remarkable and relentless pursuit of this Spirit-filled event is a signature characteristic of the life, mission and leadership of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. In convening the Great and Holy Council this June, during the holy celebrations of Pentecost, His All-Holiness is bringing to fulfillment the vision of his two predecessors, Athenagoras and Demetrios, both of blessed memory.

But more than the completion of a more than fifty-year dream, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has transformed the process beyond the mere structural process of the last fifty years, by adapting to the radically changed reality of Orthodoxy in the 21st Century.

When the road to the Holy and Great Council was embarked upon, World War II was only fifteen years in the past, the atheist Soviet Union controlled the lives of most Orthodox Christians and the church institutions that struggled to minister to them, and the world was deep into the winter of the Cold War. Orthodox Christianity in the Diaspora was profoundly segmented, if not outrightly fragmented. The Ecumenical Patriarchate had – only five years before – suffered a massive and systematic persecution in Constantinople, displacing hundreds of thousands of its communicants. Mount Athos was turning one thousand years old, and though life on the Holy Mountain had scarcely changed over the centuries, the world at-large was bracing to change at a pace unknown in history.

The need for dialogue, thinking together, interconnection, and new perspectives was everywhere. At the same time the Orthodox were commencing a process that is now taking place on the Island of Crete (a sacred topos of Apostolic visitation!), Pope John XXIII was convening the Second Vatican Council, a council that would radically push the Roman Catholic Church – in many ways quite unprepared – into the latter half of the 20th Century. Although the process has been much slower for the Orthodox Church to convene such a similar process, in retrospect we can see that the deliberate and slower pace has been more of an advantage, rather than the reverse.

Nearly half of the time that it has taken to finally arrive at the Holy and Great Council has occurred under the patriarchy of His All-Holiness Bartholomew, which coincided with the dissolution of the former Soviet Union and the resurgence of the Moscow Patriarchate under the autocracy that currently governs the Russian Federation. As the national aspirations of the Ukrainian, Estonian, Czech, and Slovak peoples have created conditions for national and autocephalous or autonomous Churches, it has been Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew who from a position of only spiritual strength, has steered the Ark of Salvation through the dangerous shoals of self-interest and power-seeking. From the Phanar, despite and perhaps because of the difficulties as a religious and ethnic minority that continue unabated, His All-Holiness seeks only the benefit of all the local (autocephalous) Churches, putting the good of all above the ephemeral desires of any one. This has manifested as the kind of leadership that leaves a legacy of unity and conciliarity in its wake, even as the naysayers and gainsayers give rise to fear and even paranoia.

The significance of this Holy and Great Council cannot be overstated. The fact that all the Autocephalous Churches have agreed to meet, to dialogue, to exchange view and position – this in itself is an accomplishment of historic proportions. There are those who would contradict the former statement, but let us remember, that this has not happened in centuries, and for Orthodoxy, there have been no serious doctrinal disputes in over six hundred years, since the Hesychast controversies of the 14th Century.

Inasmuch as Orthodoxy is based in model of conciliarity under the aegis of the Holy Spirit, Hierarchy must be as much horizontal in its orientation as it is vertical, with consensus and unanimity forming the core of the process of adaptation. This is precisely why the Holy and Great Council is so necessary and so timely. As long as the local, autocephalous Churches are only speaking among themselves, each Church’s local culture, economy, language, and local traditions will limit its scope and perspective on is own mission. The Bishops must be in dialogue with one another in order to see the world from a differing perspective and consider the needs of their flocks from the holistic sense of the whole Body of the Church, whose Head is Christ.

The six preparatory documents: Autonomy, Diaspora, Ecumenical Relations, Fasting, Marriage, and Mission, address contemporary concerns of all the faithful. In doing so, the Bishops of the Church, under the guiding hand of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, are demonstrating the living, breathing vibrancy of the Spirit of God, that infuses the Church to be the living Body of Christ.
Pre-Conciliar Documents Documents with Unanimous Approval 

The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World 

The Orthodox Diaspora 

Autonomy and the Means by Which it is Proclaimed

The Importance of Fasting and Its Observance Today

Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World


There is a very vocal opposition to the Council, as shown by these videos:

June 1, 2016    
The governing body of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, the Holy Synod, signalled on June 1 its withdrawal from the Pan-Orthodox Council to be held on Crete from June 16 to 26.

Strictly speaking, the Holy Synod demanded the postponement of the council unless its various demands were met, but given that this is unlikely to happen, the Synod’s decision effectively amounts to withdrawal.

The Pan-Orthodox Council has been planned as the first such gathering in about 1000 years, but has been beset by controversies – one of the most significant ones being the fact that it is being held in Crete, not in Istanbul, the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch. The move was made under Russian pressure because of the tensions between Moscow and Ankara.

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church, where senior figures are strongly influenced by their Russian Orthodox co-religionist Church figures, said that it would not participate if Bulgarian proposals for “thematic and organizational changes” to the planned council were not taken account of and respected.

The Holy Synod said that at its June 1 meeting, it had held “extensive discussions” on issues related to the convening of the Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church in Crete in June.

The Bulgarian Orthodox Church’s leaders found a number of pretexts to call for the postponement of the Pan-Orthodox Council meeting and to say that unless the council was postponed, the Church would not participate.

The Holy Synod listed six objections.

These included, the Church said, the absence from the agenda of the council topics of particular importance for Orthodox Christianity “that have contemporary relevance and require a timely Pan-Orthodox Council resolution”.

The Synod did not say what these topics were.

The Holy Synod said that the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches had already officially declared disagreements on some of the texts already approved for the council meeting.

It also objected to the rule that at the Pan-Orthodox Council, texts being discussed would not be subject to editing in the course of discussions.

Further, the Bulgarian Church objected that the proposed seating arrangements for the primates of the Orthodox Churches in the meeting room “violates the principle of equality of the primates of the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches”.

It also objected to the “inappropriate location of observers and guests of the Pan-Orthodox Council”.

Finally, the Holy Synod objected to the need to undertake “large and unjustified” expenses for the Bulgarian Orthodox Church to take part in the Pan-Orthodox Council.

The Holy Synod said that it had decided unanimously for the Pan-Orthodox Council to be postponed while preparations continue, and unless this postponement happened, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church would not take part.

Councils Are the Norm for Church Life, Not It’s Distortion
Source: DECR

A Pan-Orthodox Council, which has not been convoked for more than thousand years and has been in preparation for more than fifty years, will take place on Crete in June. At a meeting of the First Hierarchs in January in Switzerland the drafts of six documents were approved which are intended to be adopted at the Council. They were published on the internet so that people could familiarize themselves with them. Some of them were subject to criticism among the Orthodox.
Councils Are the Norm for Church Life, Not It’s Distortion
Vladimir Legoida

In an interview with Interfax-Religion the head of the Synodal Department for Church-Society Relations and the Mass Media Vladimir Legoida gave us an insight into the forthcoming Council and its preparation, and also spoke of how it differs from an Ecumenical Council and how the criticism of this forum should be perceived.

– What place does the Pan-Orthodox Council occupy in the life of the Local Orthodox Churches?
– First of all, it is important to emphasize that Councils are the norm of Church life and not its distortion. The Seven Ecumenical Councils – the most important assemblies of bishops in the period of ancient of Christianity – have become firmly embedded in our consciousness. However, there were other extremely important councils of Orthodox hierarchs. For example, the Fourth Council of Constantinople, also known as the Council of Hagia Sophia, convoked in 879 under the presidency of Patriarch of Constantinople St. Photius. This Council, among other things, included the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 among the Ecumenical Councils. The decisions of the Council of 879 have become a part of the canon law of the Orthodox Church. Some saints considered this Council to be the Eighth Ecumenical Council. And although there was no later council in Church history which would affirm that this Council had such a high status, the importance accorded to the Council of Hagia Sophia has to be taken into account, especially when we look at the fact that people say that the conciliar life of the Orthodox Church ended with the Seven Ecumenical Councils. This is not the case.

– An Ecumenical Council has not been convoked for a long time. How do we account for the thousand-year pause in their history?
– One of the reasons for the cessation of the Councils was the Schism. The events of 1054, which led to the breakdown of unity between Rome and Constantinople, the two capital cities of Christianity at the time, could not but have an effect on Church life. It would appear that for a time Christians believed that Church unity would be restored. There were, after all, divisions before the Schism, but they did not have such far reaching consequences. When the finality of the Schism became an insuperable reality, the Orthodox Church found herself under the dominion of the Ottoman Empire, which in effect excluded the possibility of holding further Councils.

At the same time, it would be wrong to say that Councils on dogmatic issues were no longer convoked after the ninth century. Thus, for example, the so called Palamite Councils condemning Barlaam and his adherents and affirming the teaching of St. Gregory Palamite on important dogmatic issues. These Councils were not called Ecumenical, they were attended primarily by the bishops of the Church of Constantinople, but the resolutions they adopted were also recognized by the other Local Churches.

His Holiness the Patriarch, when presenting the drafts of the Pan-Orthodox Council at the Episcopal Council of the Russian Orthodox Church on 3rd February 2016, went into detail on how the idea of holding the Pan-Orthodox Church was developed, beginning with the twentieth century. I should note that he personally was present at the many stages of Orthodox consultations on this issue. Incidentally, the Patriarch specially emphasized that the Council would not have the status of an Ecumenical Council.

– Why is the Council not Ecumenical?
– Unlike the ancient Ecumenical Councils, the present Council does not have the task of resolving dogmatic issues as they have already been resolved and cannot be reviewed. Moreover, the Council will not introduce innovations into the canonical structure or the liturgical life of the Church. Even more so as the review of dogma is nonsense that can enter the head only of a non-Church person. The Church has no need too of innovations in her canonical structure – there simply is no necessity for this, and this is evident to any believing Orthodox Christian.

All of the issues that the Council will look at are outlined in the published drafts of the Council documents. And the schedule of the Council, which has also been published, clearly and precisely states that no other issues can be the subject of review of the Pan-Orthodox Council on Crete. Full stop. So there is absolutely no foundation for those who voice their concern that it will permit second marriage for the clergy, adopt the Gregorian calendar, abolish the fasts and so on. These are all fantasies that bear no relation to reality.

– What role is played by the fact that the delegations of the Local Churches consist of twenty four bishops?
– Constantinople’s initial proposal was that the delegations should have only twelve bishops. Then the Russian Church proposed as an alternative that the Council should be held with the participation of all Orthodox bishops. There are about seven hundred of them throughout the world. We said that in order to make this proposal a reality we would be prepared to take upon ourselves the organization of the Council and hold it with the participation of all bishops in, for example, St. Petersburg or Moscow, which was within the bounds of possibility. Unfortunately, this idea did not find any support. Then we decided upon the number – twenty four – of members in each delegation, also thanks to the stance of the Russian Orthodox Church, which insisted upon enlarging the numbers of participants. But this also means that, let’s say, the Polish Orthodox Church will be represented by the entirety of her bishops, while the Russian Church only by one fifth of her bishops.

In this regard one Greek bishop expressed his opinion that under these conditions the Council on Crete can hardly be called Great (the official title is the ‘Great and Holy Council’ – Interfax-Religion), and that it would be more correct to call it an enlarged sessions of heads of the Local Churches. This point of view has some justification.

– You said that the Council would not review dogmatic problems. What is the reason for the selection of six topics for the affirmed draft documents?
– Here we should recall the history of the preparation of the Council. In 1961at the first Pan-Orthodox convocation held on the island of Rhodes in Greece one hundred topics were proposed for discussion. Let me emphasize that all of these topics were thoroughly examined by our Church and that quality documents were produced on each of them. However, in 1971 representatives of a number of Local Churches agitated for a reduction in the Council’s proposed agenda. And the Pan-Orthodox Pre-Conciliar Convocation of 1976 cut down the list of topics to… ten. Today there remain only six documents which are expected to be adopted by consensus, that is, without objections on the part of any of the Local Churches. At a later stage there was removed from the agenda the document on autocephaly which had in effect been ready since agreement could not be reached on the order in which it should be signed by the First Hierarchs of the Local Churches.

Incidentally, the proposal that decisions should be reached by consensus was also keenly supported by the Russian Church. The alternative would have been to reject unanimity and adopt decisions by a majority vote. However, this would mean there could be issues where the number of those Churches voting ‘for’ would be very small, while consensus means that if one Church is against, then the resolution is not adopted. This, of course, better reflects the conciliar nature of taking decisions in the Church.

– What do you think of the criticism expressed publically of the drafts of the Council documents?
– We do not consider the draft documents to be ideal. But it cannot be otherwise. These texts are the result of long and difficult discussions, attempts to balance often various perspectives. They are compromise texts. There are no deviations from dogma or the canons, as was also testified by the Episcopal Council of the Russian Church in 2016. But this does not mean we cannot make more precise certain formulae, clarify not fully clear places or remove possible ambiguities. Our Church initiated their publication, proceeding from the need to receive a wider reaction from the Orthodox faithful of all the Local Churches. We therefore can only welcome the discussion and reasonable criticism of the documents. Our Church held a seminar on this topic at the Ss. Cyril and Methodius Theological Institute of Post-Graduate Studies and a conference at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University which published the final document and also sent to His Holiness the Patriarch their proposals for improving the drafts the of three documents: ‘The Relationship of the Orthodox Church towards the Rest of the Christian World’, ‘The Mission of the Orthodox Church the Contemporary World’ and ‘The Sacrament of Marriage and Obstacles Towards It’. Strictly speaking, there is only one proposal concerning the third document, that of a more rigorous formula for rejecting so called same-sex unions. In the first two instances there are proposals for making more precise certain formulations or additions, including, for example, quotations from the Fathers.

Moreover, the publication of the drafts of the documents will, as I have already said, reassure those who even now believe that something terrible and concealed from the faithful will be signed or approved. The schedule clearly states: ‘The Council will not discuss newly presented texts or issues which have not been unanimously approved by the Pan-Orthodox Pre-Conciliar Convocations and assemblies of First Hierarchs’.

Here is Metropolitan Kallistos Ware talking on the present state of the Orthodox Church and the importance of councils:

Here is Pope Benedict XVI talking about another council:

Vatican II and Eastern Orthodoxy’s Approaching Council
June 02, 2016
There are stylistic and substantial differences between the upcoming Great and Holy Council of Orthodoxy and the Second Vatican Council, but also three important similarities.
Dr. Adam A. J. DeVille 
my source: Catholic World Report

Pope Francis walks with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, left, and Orthodox Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens and all of Greece as they met refugees at the Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, April 16, 2016. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

After much anticipation, the Great and Holy Council (GHC) of Orthodoxy is finally set to begin in mid-June on the island of Crete. After decades of discussion and preparation, including much recent commentary on the draft documents that were published—commentary to which I have myself contributed in official Orthodox venues—the leaders of the Eastern Orthodox churches from around the world will gather to deliberate on some issues unique to them, and on other issues that are very familiar to Catholics. 

How are Catholics to view this upcoming GHC? Naturally for most Catholics the analogue closest to hand is Vatican II. And in certain respects this GHC will be similar to Vatican II—a gathering of bishops, with theological advisors, trying to grapple with both old and new challenges to the Christian life today.

But in other crucial respects the GHC will be both different in itself, and very likely be very different in its aftermath also. (Let me go on record as hoping that its aftermath is indeed very different from what happened in the Catholic Church after 1965!) A great deal of the difference stems, of course, from the fact that there is no centralized papal authority in Orthodoxy, a fact that I discussed in detail in my 2011 book Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy.

Stylistic Differences

Other differences are merely superficial, such as size (Orthodoxy’s GHC will be much smaller than Vatican II because Orthodoxy is much smaller—approximately 250 million faithful compared to well over 1 billion Catholics); or length: Vatican II met in four sessions, running to many weeks, over four years whereas the GHC is only meeting from June 16-27, 2016. Whether future meetings can be expected after this one remains to be seen, and will very likely depend on how acrimonious this first meeting is.

Preparation has also differed: Vatican II was a surprise council, announced in January 1959, and convened in October 1962. Orthodoxy’s GHC is no surprise at all, having been talked about in some form for nearly a century now since a partial, informal gathering was held in Constantinople in 1923. More proximate preparation began in 1961, but more serious and more immediate preparation was not begun until 1976, the first (of several) pre-conciliar pan-Orthodox consultations over the last forty years to work out an initial agenda.

Substantial Differences

The ten-point agenda from 1976 has continued to guide discussions to the present day. More than half the agenda items had no corresponding Catholic counterpart a decade earlier at Vatican II. Only the final three treat issues that Vatican II also addressed, and with similar difficulties and controversy as we now find in Orthodox discussions.

A Catholic looking at this Orthodox agenda (and doing so, I stress, without the slightest bit of triumphalism for the modern papacy is, as we have been learning recently, a double-edged sword) could easily see that the first four items are all questions of leadership that could not really arise in the Catholic Church under the modern centralized papacy: Thus the questions of the Orthodox diaspora, of autocephaly and its manner of proclamation, of autonomy and its manner of proclamation, and of the diptychs were never on the agenda of Vatican II.

Diaspora: Most Orthodox churches began, and maintain roots in, some “homeland” or other—Greece, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, etc.—but have, thanks to modern immigration, existed in Western Europe, North America, and Australasia for over a century in some cases. How should a Greek parish in Manhattan, say, or a Russian parish in Palermo, or a Ukrainian one in Montreal relate to both its surrounding culture and to its homeland? What language should liturgy be in—Greek or English, Russian or Italian, Ukrainian or French? Should these “diasporic” parishes be more self-governing, or continue to report to bishops back home? Catholic ecclesiology, with a much stronger “universalist” and trans-national thrust, scarcely regards such questions as worth asking. A parish founded by, say, Irish Catholics in Boston reports to the archbishop of Boston, not to some bishop in Ireland.

Autocephaly and Autonomy: Following on from the above, when an entire diocesan, regional, and national structure gets set up in a new country, does it continue to report to the old country and be accountable to bishops and synods there, or can it be granted total independence (autocephaly) or partial independence (autonomy) in its new place? The dispute here is whether the “mother-church” grants such independence or whether doing so is a prerogative that belongs exclusively to the Ecumenical Patriarch. Again, Catholic ecclesiology and canon law don’t even consider these as live issues for Catholics because the pope himself (Sovereign Pontiff indeed!) is the only truly “independent” authority in the Church: “the first see is judged by nobody,” as canon 1404 of the Latin code bluntly puts it.

Diptychs: The diptychs are merely prayers in the liturgy which commemorate by name the bishop with whom one is in communion, and the bishops in communion with him. (Latin Catholics also do this during the eucharistic prayer, when the celebrant prays for “Francis our pope and Kevin our bishop.”) The usual practice is to name these bishops by the seniority of their see, starting with the ancient patriarchates (Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, Jerusalem), but there are several problems here for the Orthodox: does the lack of full communion with Rome justify moving Constantinople into the first place, and perhaps granting additional authority to it? And what about patriarchates created in the second millennium—Moscow, Bucharest, Sofia, and others? Finally, if one church’s autocephaly is not recognized by others, how, if at all, should one pray for them?

If the foregoing four issues were not on the agenda of Vatican II, thanks largely to a different Catholic ecclesiology and the role of the modern centralized papacy in dealing (often unilaterally) with many structural issues, then the next three items on the GHC agenda were not discussed at Vatican II either, though for different reasons.

First, the matter of a common calendar has almost never been a serious issue in Catholic circles since the sixteenth century. The only treatment of this issue at Vatican II comes in its ecumenical debates, when it briefly called for Christians to work towards one common celebration of Easter (Orientalium Ecclesiarum no. 20). But Orthodox attempts to adopt a common calendar since 1923 have led to schisms in places such as Greece and Romania, which remain unhealed today. (As I argued last summer, calendar questions are absurdly vexed because they have nothing to do with science, logic, or reason. They are, rather, emotionally fraught issues of identity.)

Second, the question of adaptation of church regulations on fasting was not on the agenda of Vatican II because, once more, the papacy unilaterally imposed changes on the entire Latin Church, beginning with Pope Pius XII’s relaxation of the ante-eucharistic fast from midnight to three hours, and then down to one hour under Pope Paul VI. Lenten fasting regulations were similarly changed by papal fiat.

Finally, marriage questions (including contraception) were largely thought too delicate for debate at Vatican II, and so were debated later, and are debated still as we have recently seen with the publication of Amoris Laetitia. Catholic debates have been enormously messy and controverted, and there is little reason to think it will not be similarly messy at the GHC and for some time afterwards. Here the Franciscan papacy has proven to be of no advantage at all, denying Catholics any excuse for smugly assuming they can come up with a more coherent or consistent answer than one finds in Orthodoxy’s more decentralized approach.


Only when we get to the last three items on the GHC’s agenda do we find startlingly similar issues following a remarkably similar trajectory as at Vatican II. The final three issues on the agenda of the GHC were, in fact, on Vatican II’s agenda also:

One should expect no controversy with the last item on the GHC’s agenda—who isn’t in favor of peace and justice?—but the first two have long engendered a furious reaction from some Orthodox, very much like the reaction of some Catholics at and since Vatican II. For the fundamental problem that VII and the GHC have to grapple with is the same: “soteriological exclusivism” (as the Polish theologian Waclaw Hryniewicz called it), that is, both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church believe themselves quite simply to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church proclaimed in the Nicene Creed.

The problem here is that if I think my church the only true church, to the exclusion of all others, then what do I make of those others who claim to follow Christ outside my church—German Lutherans, say, or Brazilian Pentecostals? Both Catholicism and Orthodoxy have answered this question in one of three ways. The first, more “traditional” answer in both Catholicism until Vatican II and parts of Orthodoxy still today is the same: such “Christians” are not really Christians at all and their rites and sacraments are utterly null and void. (In this view the pope isn’t a bishop for he isn’t even a Christian, having never been baptized!) The only solution is for these wayward, unbaptized pagans to “return” to “holy mother Church” and become Christians for the first time. This remains a minority view in Orthodoxy, but a vocal one.

An even smaller minority within Orthodoxy (as within Catholicism) takes a relativist approach: anybody who feels himself a Christian and tries to follow Christ is fine. The solution to division is either to just accept it, even perhaps to rejoice in it (“let a thousand flowers bloom!”); or at best to think that we can find unity by setting aside whatever divides us and just focusing on what we have in common. This position has virtually no traction (and certainly no official sanction) within Catholicism or Orthodoxy, but it has proven, for the latter, a useful straw dog to denounce any and all discussions with Catholics and Protestants as being guilty of the “pan-heresy of ecumenism.”

The final approach to this, which may well be the one adopted by Orthodoxy, was the ingenious (inspired?) solution adopted by Vatican II in what I would regard as the most important passage of the entire council:

This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which He erected for all ages as “the pillar and mainstay of the truth.” This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity (Lumen Gentium no.8).

At one stroke, the fathers of Vatican II cut the knot and freed Catholics to maintain their self-understanding while expanding it to see how God was working in the lives of non-Catholics, compelling them and us towards the fullness of catholic unity.

Will Orthodoxy’s GHC take a similar approach? It is hard to tell just now, given how controversial such notions remain. The more likely course seems to be the cautious one: they will avoid taking a stand on this, perhaps waiting for a more opportune time. After all, not having had a pan-Orthodox council of this sort since 787, what’s the sudden rush now?

My hope, for what it’s worth, is that this first meeting will soon give rise to further sessions of the GHC where these and other issues can be slowly worked through. Given Orthodoxy’s fissiparous nature, any haste now will be fatal, leading to fresh schisms. Let us as Catholics pray fervently that the Spirit of truth will serenely guide the fathers on Crete, allowing them in God’s good time to say “It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us….”

About the Author

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).

 Holy Synod issues Statement, Petitions on the Holy and Great Council

The Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America

The Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America has issued a Statement on the Holy and Great Council, slated to be convened on the Island of Crete from June 16 through 27, 2016.  Concurrently, petitions have been made available and are to be included in the Litany of Fervent Supplication at all Divine Services, beginning immediately.

The Statement and Petitions that appear below also are available in PDF format.

The Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America
Statement on the Holy and Great Council to be convened on the Island of Crete
June 16-27,  2016
We greet you in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ,  Who is the Way and the Truth and the Life (John 14:6).

For many decades, the Orthodox Church has witnessed the efforts to assemble a Holy and Great Council as a contemporary witness to the Holy Orthodox Faith.  The initiative in this modern endeavor belonged to the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras.  The long pilgrimage toward the Holy and Great Council began in the 1960s.  There were long pauses in this pilgrimage, followed by a renewed period of intense preparation at the initiative of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.  Through the decades, Pan-Orthodox conferences, consultations, and meetings of patriarchs and primates have revised the list of topics.  During recent months, as the churches have reviewed draft documents and reflected on their formulations, new proposals have been brought forth and fresh disagreements have arisen.

Even at this late stage, participation in the Holy and Great Council is uncertain, and its outcome is equally uncertain.  In the midst of all this uncertainty, there is one certainty:  the Orthodox Church in America, not being universally recognized as an autocephalous church, is not invited to be a participant.  Our reaction to this is one of sadness, but not alienation.  With gratitude to God, we affirm our identity as the Orthodox Church in America.  We also affirm with gratitude to God our autocephaly, as granted to us by the Russian Orthodox Church, and as recognized by the Churches of Georgia, Bulgaria, Poland, and the Czech Lands and Slovakia.  We affirm with profound gratitude to God our Eucharistic communion with all Orthodox Churches, beginning with the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  We therefore accept and affirm our right and duty to accompany the Holy and Great Council with love and reflection and prayer.

The discussions and debates surrounding the draft documents express concerns and objections that emerge in the Orthodox Churches.  It is argued that the intensity of the objections demonstrates that the Holy and Great Council should be postponed so as to avoid possible schism.  Such a conclusion appears to reject the conciliar vision and practice of the Orthodox Church.  The challenges of our time require more theological reflection and debate, not less.  The urgency of such theological reflection and debate calls for more conciliarity, not less.

At the heart of concerns and objections to the Council and its draft documents is the fear of eroding the Orthodox identity and self-understanding, diluting Orthodox theology (the truth about God) and ecclesiology (the truth about the Church).  Today’s challenge to the Orthodox Church is the same it has always been: to bring to all people the Christ who is the way and the truth and the life, to bring the Gospel of Christ to all people with love and compassion, to worship God eucharistically in Spirit and in Truth.  In faithfulness to this Orthodox way lies deliverance from fear and growth in life and faith and spiritual understanding (Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom).

The commitment of His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the building of consensus, as shown by periodically convening the Synaxis of Patriarchs and Primates, has opened the path to the Holy and Great Council. Even at these last moments of preparation the obstacles on this path are emerging with even greater strength than before.  The most recent sign of the crisis came at the meeting of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church on June 3, 2016.  The minutes of this meeting enumerate the procedural and substantive challenges faced by the Orthodox Churches on the eve of the Council – including the unresolved dispute between the Patriarchates of Antioch and Jerusalem, the demands for changes in some of the draft documents coming from the Churches of Georgia, Serbia, and Greece, and also from the Monasteries of Mount Athos, and finally the decision of the Church of Bulgaria insisting on the postponement of the Council and declaring categorically that she will not participate in the Council set for the end of June 2016.  The Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church concludes that this extraordinary situation may be resolved by the convening of an extraordinary Pan-Orthodox Preconciliar Consultation not later than June 10.  This Consultation would have as its purpose a review of the existing situation and a study of the proposed changes to the Council documents.  On the basis of the conclusion of the Consultation the Churches could determine whether the convening of the Council on the announced dates is possible.

The convening of the Holy and Great Council as a sign of unity and as a witness to unity is a worthy vision for Orthodoxy pursued with patience and determination by His All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.  The painful difficulties in realizing this vision have always been evident.  The dangers on the road towards this vision are now seen in bold relief, yet the beauty of the vision is clear as never before.  Today, the Orthodox Churches stand before the world unable to conceal the wounds of our fractured relationships.  Yet the vision of unity will not be denied, because it comes from the heart of the Orthodox Faith and is intrinsic to the Good News of Christ. Whatever the difficulties and wounds we bear, we are following the Risen Christ and are empowered by Pentecost to witness to the Gospel of Christ everywhere and at all times.

It is our sincere hope and fervent prayer that the pilgrimage towards the convening of the Holy and Great Council will bear fruit for the Orthodox Church’s unity and for her mission and witness in the world.  Just as we pray in the Divine Liturgy for the descent of the Holy Spirit on us and on the gifts that are offered, so let us pray that the Holy Spirit may descend on us all and on the gifts of conciliarity that are offered to God.

Petitions for the Holy and Great Council
To be Included in the Litany of Fervent Supplication at All Services
Furthermore we pray: O Lord our Almighty and Eternal God, Source of all wisdom and understanding!  As Thou didst send Thine All-Holy Spirit upon Thine apostles and disciples, gathered on the great day of Pentecost, confirming them in the fullness of the faith which they proclaimed to the ends of the earth, fill the hearts and minds of our Holy Fathers gathered in Council with that same Spirit, enabling them to discern Thy holy will, that they may serve and glorify Thee, enlightened with right judgment and good purpose to the building up of Thy Holy Church throughout the world, we pray Thee, hear us and have mercy…

Again we pray: O Lord our God, Giver of every good gift, look with favor upon Thy Church and bless and guide the minds and hearts of those gathered in Thy Name, granting them and us by the grace of Thine All-holy Spirit an increase in faith and understanding, that in vigilance, fasting and prayer they may discern Thy holy will with one heart and one mind, we pray Thee, hear us and have mercy…

Again we pray:  O Lord our God, send Thy Holy Spirit upon them and upon us so that, inspired by Thy gifts of discernment and understanding, Thy will might be accomplished throughout the world in these turbulent times, for the good of all Thy People, that all might be one, even as Thou—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—are one, we pray Thee, hear us and have mercy…

Again we pray: O Lord our God, in Thy holy and providential care for Thy Church, grant our Holy Fathers gathered in Council wisdom, understanding, mutual love and respect, sanctity, and the faith and hope to reflect and reveal Thy abundant love for mankind throughout the world, so that Thy Holy Church may be that light on the lampstand and salt of the earth in loving service to Christ our God and thus to one another, we pray Thee, hear us and have mercy…


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