Thursday, June 16, 2016

So, if you're keeping score...

Holy and Great Council
Pentecost 2016
He called all to unity

Ecumenical Patriarchate
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

Patriarchate of Alexandria
Patriarch Theodore of Alexandria

Patriarchate of Antioch
Patriarch John of Antioch

Patriarchate of Jerusalem
Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem

Church of Russia
Patriarch Kirill of Moscow

Church of Serbia
Patriarch Irinej of Serbia

Church of Romania
Patriarch Daniel of Romania

Church of Bulgaria
Patriarch Neophyte of Bulgaria

Church of Georgia
Patriarch Ilia of Georgia

Church of Cyprus
Archbishop Chrysostomos of Cyprus

Church of Greece
Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and all Greece

Church of Poland
Metropolitan Sawa of Warsaw and all Poland

Church of Albania
Archbishop Anastasios of Albania

Church of Czech Lands and Slovakia
Archbishop Rastislav of Czech Lands and Slovakia

Orthodox Church in America
Metropolitan Tikhon of Washington, All America, and Canada


  1. This robber council is rightly falling apart.

    1. Can a council be declared a robber synod a priori any more than it could be declared an ecumenical synod? On what canonical or dogmatic basis?

  2. On the basis that the documents are already prefabricated and considered to be binding. Also, that there has never been a Synod where all bishops didn't have a vote. Or one with official heterodox observers. Or one preceded by bureaucratic prepatory meeting... ad infinitum... etc.

    1. I'm asking an honest question, here. I am not trying to be the gadfly.

      I asked by what theological and canonical means one may identify a "robber synod," i.e. an illegitimate council. You gave a list of procedural objections. So does the conscience of the individual Orthodox Christian trump a council when it does not proceed according to their liking? Or only if the council promulgates heresy? Or can the council promulgate authentic Orthodox dogma while likewise proceeding in a canonically questionable way? Does this make illegitimate the teaching of the council? And once the synod is rejected as such, how much consensus among the faithful must be built for the synod to be overruled? What about when the hierarchs and faithful are both divided?

      Forgive me, but the issue does not seem black and white. At all. Which is why I question those who rush to deem the upcoming council a "robber" council.

    2. But there have been councils where not all bishops attended and this could not vote. So would it be enough to invite all bishops and then just see who shows up? I'm really asking because it seems so impractical as to be impossible to find a time and place where all bishops could actually attend, if only for reasons of health if not international politics.

    3. Peregrinus,

      I wasn't trying to be sarcastic at all. Any council that innovates is likely to be labeled a Robber Synod. This one certainly has in various ways which I mentioned above. Look at the worldwide reaction to it; whole Synods, Mount Athos, theologians, etc have all objected to it. Surely you've read enough even on this site to see the reasons why certain persons are against this synod. The conservatives have accused the Constantinopolitan Synod of attempting to give Pan-Orthodox authority to their particular brand of ecumenism. Well, it's not just traddies who think that way! Check out this excerpt from OCA Deacon P. Gavrilyuk's "The Future Pan-Orthodox Council on Relations with the Non-Orthodox Other: A Measured Defense of Christian Unity against those who Consider Ecumenism a Heresy (a working paper)":

      "I will discuss the main message, select issues, and potential impact of the draft document titled 'The Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World'…

      The main message of the document is to affirm a robust pan-Orthodox commitment to the pursuit of Christian unity through multi-level ecumenical dialogues….

      Addressing an internal problem, 'the Orthodox Church believes that any efforts to divide the unity of the Church, which are undertaken by persons or groups under the pretext of the protection or defense of true Orthodoxy, must be condemned' (22). This statement is a condemnation of certain influential fringe elements within the Church, who often style themselves “traditionalists” rejecting any engagement in ecumenical dialogue as a heresy that damages the 'purity of Orthodoxy.' While some Orthodox leaders have criticized such a stance, this is the first global pan-Orthodox condemnation of fanaticism, obscurantism, and traditionalism.

      The guidelines for engaging in ecumenical dialogue include “the efforts to coordinate the work of different pan-Orthodox theological commissions” (13). The document specifies that if the representatives of a particular self-governing Orthodox Church decide to absent themselves from a bilateral meeting, the dialogue continues without interruption (9). If this particular Church has strong grounds for discontinuing its participation in a particular dialogue, this Church should inform the Ecumenical Patriarchate and other local Churches in writing (10). This provision was introduced to prevent the practice of abandoning the floor of the meeting in protest, as did the delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church during a meeting of a joint Orthodox-Catholic International Commission in Ravenna in 2007, reacting against Constantinople’s policy vis-à-vis the Orthodox Church of Estonia.

      In this document, the Council Fathers send a strong message that the quest for Christian unity is at the core of the Orthodox Church’s mission. The guidelines for engaging in the dialogue are adumbrated and the obscurantists who reject ecumenism as “heresy” are condemned.
      Roman Catholics will find many parts of this document congenial. For example, the concept of the “hierarchy of difficulties” (12) echoes the language of the “hierarchy of truths” that was adopted by Vatican II’s decree on ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio. It should be noted that Unitatis Redintegratio spells out the common features of Orthodoxy and Catholicism, whereas the document under discussion is silent on the matter.

      There is presently some talk about the meeting between pope Francis and patriarch Kirill of Moscow “under the tropical skies” of Central America in mid-February this year. Will the patriarch invite the pope to the Great and Holy Council? Unlikely, but a limited number of Catholic observers will be invited. Let’s hope that their participation bears as much fruit as the Orthodox participation at the Vatican II did."


      Obviously, Fr Dcn Paul is no traditionalist. Yet again, Vat II comparisons abound from those for and against the Synod, and you wonder why Orthodox consider this to be robber synod?

    4. Maximus,

      I've read the paper you reference above. I'm not questioning *why* *some* Orthodox consider this a Robber Synod. I am question the epistemological framework within which a Robber Synod is identified as such.

      A fair question would be: how many Robber Synods have actually taken place in the history of the church? How is it that the lack of reception was voiced such that the synod was effectively canceled ex post facto? At least three of them (Ephesus I, Hieria, Ferarra-Florence) were annulled by synodal repudiation. And for each of these, they were repudiated because they plainly taught heresy. As of right now this council has taught nothing because it has not convened, and the bishops and the people are not unanimous on the documents as they stand.

      Anyway, how do we know that the theory of receptionism per Khomiakov & Co. is actually how the church works? Has there been a ecumenical council which taught this and which was officially received by the laity? How was this reception voiced? How much dissent is too much? Is it ever possible that the majority of the church can be in error, as in the days of Jerome when "the world groaned to find itself Arian"? Or in the days of St. Maximus against the monothelites?

      Again, I understand the criticisms of the council that have been voiced over the last 10 days. I don't entirely disagree with them. I simply question the epistemic rights of those who have already passed judgment on the council as a "robber council."

      For what it's worth, I question any such perspectives as Archdeacon Chryssavgis which presume the council's binding status apart from a ratification by the local churches.

      I don't see these events, as they are unfolding, as a "liberal" vs. "conservative," or "traditionalist" vs. "progressive" or "ecumenist" vs. "anti-ecumenist" or even "us" vs. "them." I think we find ourselves in the midst of a veritable crisis of authority and identity among the Orthodox. Vilifying certain bishops by writing them off as heretics is a recipe for schism, a schism which I think sadly has been a latent reality for some time now.

    5. Peregrinus,

      I see division according to liberal vs. conservative lines as merely a simplistic way of speaking. Of course, the reality is much more complex. As far as robber synods go, you bring up brilliant points. I think most people using the term are simply saying, "the council innovates, ergo, it is a robber synod". Whereas you are attempting to delve into the Mystery how the Holy Spirit teaches the Church. No, I don't even think you're asking out of hubris. I don't have an satisfactory answer but I can share some opinions:

      Life of St. Maximus: Then the saint [Maximus the Confessor] mentioned how the synod convened in Rome by the blessed Pope Martin had condemned the Monothelites, to which Bishop Theodosius responded, "It is the Emperor's summons that gives authority to a council."

      "If that were so, the Orthodox faith would have long since come to an end," said Maximus. "Recall the councils summoned by imperial decree to proclaim that the Son of God is not of the same essence as God the Father. The first was held in Tyre, the second in Antioch, the third in Seleucia, the fourth in Constantinople under Eudoxius the Arian, the fifth in Nicaea, and the sixth in Sirmium. Considerably later, a seventh false council took place in Ephesus, at which Dioscorus presided. All these synods were convened by imperial decree, but were rejected and anathematized, since they endorsed godless doctrines. On what grounds, I would like to know, do you accept the council which condemned and anathematized Paul of Samosata? Gregory the Wonder-worker presided over that council, and its resolutions were confirmed by Dionysius, Pope of Rome, and Dionysius of Alexandria. No Emperor convoked it, but it is unassailable and irrefutable. The Orthodox Church recognizes as true and holy precisely those synods that proclaimed true dogmas. Your holiness knows that the canons require that local councils be held twice yearly in every Christian land for the defense of our saving faith and for administrative purposes; however, they say nothing about imperial decrees."

      Hieromonk Seraphim Rose: There are some who look at our Orthodox Church and say, “It’s impossible for people to find truth there. You say you don’t believe in any one pope or bishop, and thus there is no guarantee; you don’t believe in the Scriptures like a Protestant might and say that they are the absolutely ‘infallible’ word. If you have a controversy, where is the final word?” And we say that the Holy Spirit will reveal Himself. This happens especially when bishops come together in council, but even then there can be a false council. One might then say, “There’s no hope!” But we say that the Holy Spirit guides the Church, and therefore He will not be false to the Church. If you haven’t got the feeling that this is so, then you devise things like making the Bible infallible, making the Pope infallible. Also, you make Orthodox things – as the Roman Catholics did – into some kind of “law”, so that everything is nicely defined: if you break this law you go your confessor, get such-and-such a penance, and you’re all “set” again. Orthodoxy does not believe this; from this came the whole idea of indulgences, which is a totally legalistic perversion of the idea of repentance. If you repent, like the thief on the cross, you can be saved at that moment.

      Orthodoxy always emphasizes this spiritual aspect of the relationship of one’s own soul to God; and all the sacraments and discipline of the Church are only a means of getting one’s soul right with God: this is the whole of our Faith. In the Roman Church until very recently when things began to dissolve, the emphasis was rather on obeying a whole set of laws and thereby getting “right” with God in a legalistic sense, which is a substitute for the Holy Spirit. (God’s Revelation to the Human Heart: Questions and Answers, pg 48)

    6. Many Autocephalous Churches have a Synod where not all bishops are invited or can vote, this does not deny the legitimacy of the their Synods. The Holy and Great Council has many problems but this persistence with the belief that every bishop must attend and each must have a vote detracts from the other issues.
      Dcn Alexander

  3. It's over. These guys are gone...

    H/T Misha.

    The Ecumenical Significance of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church by Archbishop Job of Telmessos, Permanent Representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate at the WCC:

    Another very important and significant event that is often ignored not only by the antagonists of the participation of the Orthodox Church in the Ecumenical Movement, but by many Orthodox in general, is the lifting up of the anathemas of 1054 between the Churches of Rome and Constantinople at the end of the Second Vatican Council, on December 7th, 1965. As the Church historian and canonist Vlassios Phidas writes, “it is obvious, from a canonical point of view, that this ecclesial situation of the rupture of communion (akoinonesia) is clearly distinguished from the state of an accomplished schism, since, by the lifting up of the anathemas of 1054, we are now standing in the situation we were before their imposition”.[9] Therefore, if the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople are now in a state of rupture of communion (akoinonesia), due to historical events and theological disputes, while both sides wish today to restore the full ecclesiastical communion, how can some dare, even through the voice of a local synod, not to acknowledge the Church of Rome as a Church, or to consider her members as schismatics, or even, as heretics?"(May 30 2016)

    They view Rome and Orthodoxy to be in a state analogous to the present situation between Jerusalem and Antioch.

  4. It is embarrassing not to be able to find this on my own. What is the basis for OCA being crossed out?

    1. They were both not invited as their own body or by the Russian Church as a representative.

    2. I have heard credible rumors that Moscow may have been open to having an OCA bishop in the delegation, but that the OCA found it problematic to function as part of the Moscow Patriarchate.

    3. I've heard that, too. And if you are claiming autocephaly you don't play pretend Russians for a meeting.

    4. Thank you for both replies. I am grateful to understand the context of events.

  5. " Therefore, if the Church of Rome and the Church of Constantinople are now in a state of rupture of communion (akoinonesia), due to historical events and theological disputes, while both sides wish today to restore the full ecclesiastical communion, how can some dare, even through the voice of a local synod, not to acknowledge the Church of Rome as a Church, or to consider her members as schismatics, or even, as heretics?"(May 30 2016)"

    Wow. As I have said before the EP has been "off the reservation" for at least 100 years when it comes to "relations with the heterodox 'churches'"

    There will be no "Great and Holy Council" until some local Church with a semblance of moral and spiritual authority leads it (Moscow?). The work of the next truly Ecumenical Council will be the dissolution (i.e. the simple recognition of reality) of the EP since this Church is only "Ecumenical" in name only (and has been for a long long time).

  6. Looks like Moscow has decided to skip the Council, too.

  7. Since passage of anything requires unanimity, it is obvious that what is keeping delegations home is nationalism and factionalism, which is at least on the spiritual continuum with schism.

    Orthodoxy shouldn't dialogue with other Christian churches* because we can't even dialogue with each other. We're like a bunch of old biddies. Why is not talking better than talking? And why didn't they all bring these issues up during the years of preparation, and before the final documents were put out. The fact this is being done at the last minute points to petty politicking and pandering. They should all be ashamed of themselves.

    * Sorry, can't call them or their buildings churches even to simply acknowledge they think they are and very want to be in the True Church regardless of how mistaken they might be, so how about "so-called churches" or some footnote acknowledging the use of the word colloquially alone as opposed to dogmatically, or how about something vague like "ecclesial communities" - wait that comes from Dominus Iesus, argh, anathema! anathema! anathema!

  8. I find a lot of truth in this evaluation of the situation:

  9. As a mere cradle Orthodox layperson in North America, my opinion of those heirarchs unwilling to sit and meet with their brothers, is that they now appear petty, greedy, motivated by ethnic xenophobia, and irrelevant to the crises facing society today. They give confirmation to what many other Christians think of us, that we are irrelevant and that our leaders are more like pharises than shepherds.-henry

    1. the Church was established at the four centers of the Greco-Roman Empire: Rome, Constantinople, Antioch and Alexandria. Now the Eastern and Western Empires have been replaced by secular nation-states. So, as +Touma (Bitar) and I have pointed out, the Church's ecclesiology no longer reflects reality, as with the Julian calendar.

      But what is also clear is that people want a Church that is wedded to their national culture, and this impulse appears from the Copts to the problems in the Jerusalem Patriarchate, to the attempts to sanctify a Western Rite.

  10. Motivated by greed? Xenophobia? Don’t you see that’s highly judgmental and ignores the actual reasons outlined in the documents put out by the local churches not participating in the Council?

  11. Well, I,m just an old farmer who's never read the church rule books or the proposals being thrown around, but I do know that refusing to meet with your neighbor/brother is no way to settle disputes or build harmony.If my neighbor objected to a fence I was building over our property lines I could just let my cows run over his property, ignore him and do whatever I want, or meet him and settle our differences.If I refused to meet him my other neighbors would rightly assume I didn't care about him, that I wanted to antagonize him, or that I was too arrogant or self centered. My previous comments stand.

    1. Well, perhaps you should read those documents. It’s more complicated than a simple dispute between farmers.

    2. Old McD, you're clearly correct here. Those who can't see it share the same blindness as our hierarchs and are equally culpable.

    3. Sorry, I’m going to have to disagree with you and the other farming commenter. If I am truly blind, then may God enlighten me.

    4. Antioch did. Jerusalem refused to honor the settlement, and now presumes to expand its jurisdiction as a Greek supremacist island in the Middle East. Atrocious.

  12. This entire process has merely highlighted that the church is still alive. When agendas are pushed by individuals, the church responds through its monastics, its theologians, its clergy and hierarchs.

    "theguide42" seems to believe he possesses the spiritual authority to declare hierarchs, theologians, and monastics "blind" and anyone who agrees with them; I believe Christ said we should care for the log in our own eye before we attempt to help others with the speck in theirs.

    That this council is being resisted, critiqued, and refused by many with spiritual authority, discernment, and experience; should be a cause for grave concern and consideration. That they are a minority is irrelevant and unsurprising given the history of the "little flock" Christ adopted.

    St. Nicholas was thrown out of a council for slapping Arius, a popular bishop (and heretic), he was of course vindicated by providence. Today St. Nicholas would be called "blind" by those who judge according to the world's standards.

    It also bears considering that many have called for a mere postponement or an amendment for the documents prepared; but Constantinople refuses to negotiate or wait, so who is refusing to be reasonable "old Mcdonald"?

    In all fairness; I'm the one who is posting on an online forum, something with no spiritual value or merit, so feel free to ignore me :)


  14. I'm curious - what will happen now that Moscow has pulled out? While I don't believe that the EP has the moral (i.e of the Spirit) authority to pull a REAL council off, what will be his tactical/political move now? Will he delay, and at least make the appearance of dealing with the factors that lead to the current situation, or will he be "full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes" and the "council" really only being a "conference" of like minded/allies of the EP? SURELY he has the sense not to do such a thing, for it would simply degrade what little moral authority he has already...

  15. Let's assume the various local Churches are being honest about their reasons and believe they are valid. This is still a fiasco and shows the Orthodox acting with a spirit of schism and partisanship. It shows us acting like Old Calendarists. It shows us acting like what Rome claims we are. In fact, it shows us acting as old time Protestant national churches where it wasn't so much about the individual but about nation. It's one thing to represent an ecclesiology focused on the charism of local churches in communion with one another over some sort of platonic ideal of a united church (cf. Rome), it's another thing to allow local expressions, traditions, and preferences to take preeminence over all others - even one's coreligionists! If we can't even talk to each other, we can't be the church.

  16. "It shows us acting like what Rome claims we are. In fact, it shows us acting as old time Protestant national churches where it wasn't so much about the individual but about nation."

    It also tends to bear out Vladimir Soloviev's prediction of 1895:

    "It is obvious that there are questions on which the Russian Church could and ought to negotiate with
    the Mother See, and if these questions are carefully avoided it is because it is a foregone conclusion that a clear formulation of them would only end in a formal schism. The jealous hatred of the Greeks for the Russians, to which the latter reply with a hostility mingled with contempt — that is the fact which governs the real relations of these two national Churches, in spite of their being officially in communion with one another. But even this official unity hangs upon a
    single hair, and all the diplomacy of the clergy of St. Petersburg and Constantinople is needed to prevent the snapping of this slender thread. The will to maintain this counterfeit unity is decidedly not
    inspired by Christian charity, but by the dread of a fatal disclosure; for on the day on which the Russian and Greek Churches formally break with one another the
    whole world will see that the Ecumenical Eastern Church is a mere fiction and that there exists in the East nothing but isolated national Churches. That is the real
    motive which impels our hierarchy to adopt an attitude of caution and moderation towards the Greeks, in other words, to avoid any kind of dealings with them. As
    for the Church of Constantinople, which in its arrogant provincialism assumes the title of “the Great Church” and “the Œcumenical Church,” it would probably be
    glad to be rid of these Northern barbarians who are only a hindrance to its Pan-Hellenic aims."

  17. For Soloviev, Rome is simply the more evolved species. His assessment might not be far from the truth, but it is most definitely colored by his metaphysical commitments.

    But isn't that the case for all of us?

  18. Peregrinus,

    Yep, it is. While this quote of Soloviev's contains alot of truth it is also a kind of exaggeration - a "people are sinners and thus = their sin". Without God (i.e. Holy Spirit) it of course all falls apart (Church, nations, people, everything) rather quickly (well, instantly).

    Fact is that the Faith is the Faith and the Church holds together despite these nationalistic tendencies by the His Grace and the better side of the bishops, people etc. Dr. Tighe would no doubt note this himself about his own Church (he is a eastern rite Catholic) with all the real theological/cultural divisions and incoherence they have.

    I also wonder if a real (if temporary) schism is not in the cards, if only to work out and force a real, honest, open dealing-with the existential (to say nothing of the theological and ecclesiastical) situation of the EPcate...