Monday, June 20, 2016

You like 1 more Council? How about 4 more?

( - In addition to discussing the six documents prepared beforehand at previous conferences, participants at the ongoing council, begun yesterday on the Great Feast of Pentecost on the island of Crete, are also to deliberate over and publish the official "Message" of the council.

A draft of the document covers an array of topics including the questions of remarriage and marriage to non-Orthodox, the oneness and unity of the Church in the holy Eucharist, the importance of the Patristic Tradition, and the Church's vision of conciliarity which places no one bishop over all others, among other matters, according to a source familiar with the document.

While the document mainly "states the obvious" on such topics in terms that all the Local Churches can agree on, the draft document, in large part prepared by theologians of the Greek and Serbian Churches, does contain some more noteworthy passages.

In it, the current gathering is referred to as a preparatory council for a further series of councils, rather than a one-time event, noting that the absence of four Local Churches is properly speaking the failure of all involved, and that the issues preventing certain Churches from participating in the current council are to be resolved before the convening of the next, that all might attend in good conscience.

Notably, the draft document currently under consideration also recognizes as ecumenical the Photian Council of 879-880, already sometimes referred to as the Eighth Ecumenical Council, which condemned the Latin addition of the Filioque into the Nicene Creed; the hesychast councils of Constantinople held between 1341 and 1351, already sometimes collectively referred to as the Ninth Ecumenical Council, which upheld the distinction between the essence and energies of God and man's ability to commune with these energies; the 1642 Council of Iași (Jassy) which countered certain Catholic and Protestant heresies which had exercised some degree of influence on Orthodox theology; and the 1672 Council of Jerusalem which refuted Calvinism and also rejected the Filioque.

Regarding these councils, the document especially notes their statements against Western scholasticism and the imbalanced emphasis on reason as obstacles to unity, and in light of the Councils of Iași and Jerusalem, states that the Catholic and Protestant confessions in no way make up a part of the Church, while avoiding the use of the word "heretic."

The overall atmosphere at the current council is that most have a favorable impression of the document, according to the source. However, it is as yet a draft document and it remains to be seen what precise message the participating bishops and Churches will release.


  1. Is this a case of the pot doing the same thing for which it called the kettle "black"? - namely, declaring as "ecumenical" councils held in the West after the first seven?

  2. Strikes me as more of a bishops' conclave than a pan-Orthodox council.

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  4. What was representation like at the councils of Jerusalem and Jassy compared with the current council?

  5. This is all light on very important details. Very few in the Church have held the latter two synods to be OEcumenical in nature while the 8th and 9th Councils have been received as great Councils (though not all call them Ecumenical) and their teachings are considered dogmatic. That said, what I am reading is hugely encouraging.

    Let us pray for the success of this preliminary meeting and future meetings of a Great and Holy Council of the Church

  6. The more relevant question considering the sturm und drang from many regarding this Council is how 'ecumenical' the Ecumenical Councils were, if the standard used is the originally expected representation at the Council of Crete.

    In fact, I have not seen anyone address the assertion that “Orthodox church leaders haven’t held such a meeting since the year 787”. The news coverage of and PR around this Council is premised on this very claim, but is it true? After all, a number of “the last… seven councils recognized by both Orthodox and Catholics” were not as broadly attended as the Council in Crete was envisioned to be. That is, are journalists using consistent measuring sticks in determining the importance of this and previous Councils, or are they accepting a PR line put forward by those with an agenda? Are large numbers of representatives from all Orthodox churches ‘necessary’ for this Council to be important? Do all Orthodox churches need to be present? Is a ‘broadly’ representative Council more authoritative than a more ‘narrowly’ representative Council, or is that a modern Western bias for democracy that may not find exact parallels in the ancient Orthodox Church? For that matter, has Orthodoxy always been structured as autocephalous (self-ruling) national churches where they would each have expected to have representation, or were historic Councils’ authority and ‘ecumenicity’ measured differently?

    A few examples of Councils that could claim broad representation among the Orthodox could include: the Synod of Jerusalem (1672) under Dositheos had 68 Eastern Orthodox bishops and ecclesiastics including some from Russia (though a cursory looks show many of the representatives to be clergy and monastics, but not necessarily bishops); a 1590 Council in Constantinople (which described itself in its deed as ‘Ecumenical’) issued a Conciliar Charter on Russian autocephaly signed by the Patriarchs of Constantinople, Antioch, and Jerusalem - the see of Alexandria was vacant during the Council) - and some of their subject bishops; and the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch attended the 1666-1667 Council of Moscow personally, while representatives of the Patriarchs and Constantinople and Jerusalem were also in attendance. None of these were as truly representative of the entirety of world Orthodoxy as Crete was envisioned to be, but by that measure neither were many of the “Ecumenical Councils” of the first millennium.

    And, to acknowledge the messiness of this process and its definitions, it should be noted that in Orthodox theology Councils need to be “accepted” by the Church as a whole. So, the true status of such meetings is only clear ex post facto, both positively and negatively. On the 'unreceived’ side, cf. Robber Council of Ephesus (449), Council of Basel-Ferrara-Florence (1438–45). On merely local councils taking on something more like “Ecumenical” or at least non-local authoritative status over time, cf. the what are sometimes referred to as Orthodoxy’s Eighth and Ninth Ecumenical Councils (Constantinople 879-880 and Constantinople 1341/1347/1351), not to mention the Quinisext Council “in Trullo” of 692 that saw itself as completing the two Ecumenical Councils that had preceded it, as the name implies, as well as the 1590 and 1672 Councils mentioned above.