Monday, March 10, 2014

Great and Holy Council to meet in 2016

As widely reported in the Orthodox blogosphere the recent Synaxis of the Primates of the Orthodox Church held in Constantinople made some very important announcements.
  • The long anticipated Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church is to convene sometime in 2016.
  • It will be composed of twenty hierarchs from each of the canonically recognized autocephalous Orthodox Churches (some may have less than twenty bishops). No, the OCA will not be represented.
  • The agenda currently has eight items on the list. This may grow.
  • Each local Church will have one vote. Decrees of the Council will require the unanimous support of all the local churches.
  • Presumably the local Holy Synods will give some form of authority to their delegates to speak on their behalf, so that the Council's decrees will have binding effect upon the universal Church.
Some, mostly non-Orthodox are referring to this as an Orthodox Ecumenical Council.  And in fairness it might eventually become an Ecumenical Council. But Ecumenical Councils don't become Ecumenical before they meet. In the Orthodox Church a council first needs to meet, and then have its pronouncements received by the universal Church before it is considered Ecumenical. And even then the actual term 'Ecumenical' may not be everywhere applied.  There have been seven councils that are universally accepted within the Church as Ecumenical. But there have been nine Great and Holy Councils whose edicts are universally recognized. The last two are also termed as Ecumenical by many Orthodox (including this blog's author). But others have shied away from that term though all accept their pronouncements. So yes, it is possible that this could become either the eighth or tenth, depending on your reckoning, Ecumenical Council.

But don't get too worked up over it. The way things work in the Orthodox Church any such final determination, if it actually happens, would almost certainly come long after anyone reading this has been reduced to dust. The last Great and Holy Council met over 700 years ago and we are still not all agreed if it was Ecumenical! (It was, but that's another topic.)


Fr. J. said...

I dont think a council can be called ecumenical without the pope's approval. Of course, if things go well, the pope might well approve this council, giving us the 22 ecumenical council, at least by the Latin count.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

That certainly summarizes the Roman Catholic POV.

Irenaeus of New York said...

I thought that only an emperor could call an ecumenical council from the eastern perspective? And it would not be an ecumenical council until another later council declared it so in its decrees.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

To the best of my knowledge there is nothing in church canons that limits the authority to call a council to the Emperor. That said, it is true that the first nine Ecumenical Councils were convened under Imperial authority. As to the question of a later council definitively ruling on the status of its predecessor, that would have some problems. On what authority would a future council be able to define this council as Ecumenical, when presumably the future council was not yet so described? Or to put it another way, how would those who only recognize the first seven councils as Ecumenical be able to use that term for the seventh?

But I do think it is a proper tradition to confirm the councils that have gone before for the sake of canonical and doctrinal clarity.

Irenaeus of New York said...

The last bit was told to me by a Greek Orthodox priest. But I agree that the situation you presented would be a dilemma for that position.

VinnyF said...

It's hard to believe that after 961 years after the Great Schism - the body of Christ remains divided. Are there (2) Holy Spirits? Are there (2) truths? Are there (2) Bodies? For over 961 years, the Bishops have not been hearing the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, there would be ONE church today.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Vinny, thanks for the comment. For clarification, there are not two Holy Spirits, or two truths. Nor is the Church divided. There is only one. The other is in schism. For us The Church is the Orthodox Church, for Catholics it is the Roman communion. The only question is which one is right.