Παρασκευή, 21 Οκτωβρίου 2016



One of the interesting things about the Great and Holy Council held earlier this year after much preparation was that it was convened with the understanding that it would be a source of great consequences and blessings for the future of Orthodoxy, and, indeed, for all humanity.
But like all Councils of the Church, it has come not without resistance. One of the prime things some opposed to the Great and Holy Council often miss or neglect are the big pictures of the Council. For example, they make much about following the order of the Ecumenical Councils and how this Council failed to meet all those requirements (their own personal ones1), even though this Council didn’t claim to be Ecumenical. Others say the Council was too banal in its topics (an assertion I disagree with), while still others bring up other diverse grievances. But how can one have any Council at all without meeting? The opponents proposed and still propose more time to build consensus. They demanded the G&HC look exactly the same in certain aspects (their pick) to perhaps a certain Ecumenical Council of the past (though no single Ecumenical Council looked the same as another one), but they ignore that decades worth of preparation, which they demanded and still demand, is itself an anomaly unheard of in the ancient Councils and in the history of the Church. So, they freely and diversely pick and choose what aspects to condemn about the G&HC2. Yet, no longer having a Byzantine emperor to help us and even force us to convene in Council and not having met in a Synod of this scale for centuries, such concessions made were needed to revive the conciliar process. But ultimately, I believe, like many of their arguments that sound great on the surface, it is ultimately unworkable. They can demand more time, but in my observation, they will never be satisfied. As soon as one Church’s demands are met, another will raise new ones and so on and so forth. That is why it is necessary to stick to the common agenda.
One of the most helpful admissions I heard years ago from a certain prominent Orthodox hierarch in the North American Orthodox jurisdiction I belong to is the truth that “the Orthodox Church has to change in order to stay the same.” I would like to go into and explain this more than what I am going to suggest here, but I am afraid some “traditionalists” are not mature enough to handle this truth. There are those, for example, who think and acts as if the trappings and expressions of the Church are set in stone for all eternity and any adaptation done prior to the last time they got their prescription drugs refilled constitute no less than a violation of Orthodoxy unworthy of examination or of compatibility with her organic development. Their logic might as well lead to thinking the bishops installed by the apostles were monks who dressed in black, wore a Turkish hat and a large medallion over their chests, and who when celebrating the Liturgy celebrated the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom dressed like the Byzantine emperor with crowns on their heads. But we know the reality of history up to the present is that the Orthodox Church has changed, does change, and will change her expressions in order to preserve, clarify, and adapt her truth to the situation she finds herself in.
Personally, in the spirit of “change in order to stay the same,” I share the view of those at the Council who suggested gathering more systematically/institutionally. Again, the “traditionalists” can cry out “novelty!” But, really, what is novel is to not have such large scale pan Orthodox Councils more often, always ready to meet the challenges of the day and to re proclaim the gospel when necessary. I believe by having Pan Orthodox councils more institutionally the isolationist, non-attending Churches will slowly realize the pettiness of their arguments and will be far more likely to join the ancient conciliar Church, abandoning the novel isolationist mentality and theology that prevails among them today. Once the Church is exercised and comfortable with Councils, we can desystematize/deinstitutionalize them, confident that when needed we can gather again accordingly to take on the challenges of the day and re proclaim the gospel along with them.
Once the Church reinvigorates her conciliar life, I believe a revitalization of the Orthodox Church unheard of since the first millennium will occur. Theological studies will boom. The laity will be better informed and more zealous. Missions will be better organized. There will no longer be a need to rely on statements that condemn Ethnophyletism because once the Church is more unified (theologically, organizationally, pastorally, relationally, etc.) Ethnophyletism will naturally start to fade until it is done away with. Orthodox Christians living in persecuted lands will find strength in their accountability to a more worldwide Church in undergoing martyrdom for the faith, and will better resist compromises with the state. Hierarchs will no longer need the goods of the state knowing that their fellow brothers throughout the whole world love them and will come to their aid according to their ability. The Councils will be able to resolve the problems of the day as much as possible, and disunity and disorganization will be better kept at bay so that she will speak with one mouth, be one body, and follow one direction in a more manifest way. Even regional councils will benefit. I believe there will be more and better local Councils. Knowing they will have to take more into account what happens around the world in Orthodoxy, they will be better informed, regulated, and held accountable. In short, everyone will win when the body becomes healthier - when the Church, being herself a council and conciliar, acts more accordingly3.
Let us then consider the bigger pictures. Let’s first get our conciliar life back, and then things will start to become clearer and solving problems will loom closer4.  
1 For example, the demand for every bishop to vote. Of course this is unheard of in the history of the Church. No council has ever fulfilled or required that. In fact the Second Ecumenical Council did not invite a single western bishop. The Third limited the number of bishops a metropolitan could take to the Council and, with St Cyril as its president, avoided Antioch. The entire west was represented by only two bishops and a priest under the pope. Examples can easily be multiplied, and let us not forget these Councils came complete with power, plays, conspiracies, claims of fraud, and even violence. Yet all are considered perfectly legitimate by all Orthodox Christians. The demand for all to attend is a novel knit picking. Further, it doesn't meet the reality of the strictly defined nature of the autocephalous churches today. The only reason for that demand, I suspect, is their hope of overturning the consensus of the Church, which they fear will not be in their favor. The reality though is that such a method was and is not required for manifesting truth. It is only necessary for creating unnecessary noise, delays, diversions, etc. What was and is necessary is a fair representation of each Church, which means sending their best and most able hierarchs to represent the entirety of each local Church.  
2 Of course, one may likewise accuse us of picking and choosing too - which we do. But we do it to serve the bigger pictures - not details - lest we be found by the Lord straining at gnats and swallowing camels (Matthew 23:23-24). 
3 Some will say because there were no universal councils before Constantine, universal Councils are not necessary for the life of the Church. But I would say universal conciliarity was, even before Constantine, very much a part of the life of the Church - much more than today. We have plenty of writings from that time period that demonstrate well the degree of conciliarity at the universal level - even without the universal Councils in the form of the Ecumenical Councils of the Christian empire. There is no wonder in this, since nationalism and Ethnophyletism did not exist and there was a great sense of universal unity - relationally, doctrinally, and organizationally. Examples of this are the extensive correspondence between hierarchs at the universal level we have from that time period, which was far more ecclesial and theological in nature than much of what we see today, which is often tainted by political agendas, conspiracies, Ethnophyletism, etc. Another example is the Paschal controversy of the second century as recorded in Eusebius’s Church History. The Ecumenical Councils were therefore a continuation of that same conciliar spirit present in the life of the Church before Constantine.
4Such is the power of the conciliar life that, unwittingly, even those who are against the very idea of a council in this “modern age” are contributing through it to the very conciliar life of the Church, and all are reaping its benefits. As the Rev. John Chryssavgis reported at the Clergy Laity Conference of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America (2016), never before has a Council generated so much publicity (both positive and negative). Indeed, all the writing, debating, blogging, meeting, etc. are part of conciliarity, is manifesting the truth, uniting people together both on the personal as well as the theological level, and all will eventually manifest what we are working for - the clearer manifestation of truth, the Church, unity, and direction. 
There are those who say we already had that unity before the Council and that the Council only served to divide us, but the truth is the contrary. The Great and Holy Council exposed the different and conflicting views that have been circulating in the Church for decades at all levels - theologically, administratively, pastorally, etc. Therefore what the Holy Synod of the OCA said in reference to this holds true, “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.” I cannot agree more with that statement. The Great and Holy Council was the venue for it as future councils should be too.