I have not posted anything yet about the news of an upcoming Orthodox council, but I did respond over the weekend to Bonald’s Orthosphere post, “Orthodox Church to hold ecumenical council?” I commented:
Thus spake the Zeitgeist of hype.
Proph ‘s skepticism about the upcoming “ecumenical” council (should it actually happen) is well justified. First council in 1,200 years? The Churches get together all the time (in Orthodoxese—that means once a century or so)—e.g. the Council of Constantinople in AD 1872. And Bonald’s supplied comment expresses well the folly that festers all too often in Constantinople of late. The patriarchs there for the last century have been lost shepherds without their flocks.
I suppose that one could call these gatherings local councils rather than ecumenical ones, but it’s not clear what makes a council “ecumenical.” All the bishops present? If so, I doubt that any council would be considered ecumenical. Approved by the majority or great majority of representative bishops? What about robber councils, as mentioned above? Received by the faithful—well, which faithful? The ones who are content with the decisions or the ones who are anathematized? Called by the bishop of Rome? Were any of the early universally agreed upon councils initiated by Rome? Were they not rather convened by the emperor? Do we need a Roman emperor to have an ecumenical council? In practice, it seems to be so, but who believes that the Church needs a particular secular authority to govern herself? Certainly not the Roman Church of late antiquity, which expressly declared as much. Confirmed by Rome? This has the position of the Roman Church for a long time, but its history is hazy. Much (and I would argue most) of the esteem for (and supplication to) the Roman Church in the early centuries came from Rome’s orthodoxy. The Roman Christian community and its leadership were solid on the faith. They were more independent from imperial interference, they were less interested in Eastern theological controversies, and they were consistent in maintaining a simple adherence to the apostolic faith. Ultramontanists interpret Roman honor and invitations for Roman jurisdiction in Eastern disputes as evidence for papal supremacy and infallibility; they hold that the bishop of Rome establishes orthodoxy. I think that the causal direction is the opposite—Rome’s orthodoxy was the reason for its authority and for the appeals from the East. And to Eastern eyes, that authority waned as its orthodoxy waned. So, having seen fourteen more councils occur in the West, especially the last two, the Orthodox quickly dismiss papal confirmation as the key to an ecumenical council.
So, what is the magical formula for determining an ecumenical council? No one knows. Such is a powerful argument from the papist apologist’s perspective—those confused and disorganized Greeks . . . they are so lost without the One True Vicar to shepherd the flock. I, however, am wary of such formulations. Truth does not depend on procedural measures, and all human institutions have failed and will continue to do so, including the Roman papacy. There is no substitute for a sincere good will, purified soul (with lots of prayer and fasting), and charitable disposition open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When the bishops, priests, deacons, and all the people of God attend to the Lord in spirit and in truth, then Christians will find the right path. Any attempt to abstract and to formulate such is but dowsing rod idolatry.
As for the upcoming council, regardless of its status, who knows? I certainly don’t trust the wisdom or piety of contemporary bishops much. We are a faithless and perverse generation, and I do not see good things to follow. And Bonald is quite wrong when he states “calendar issues that nobody but bishops cares about.” The “C” word is a fight’n one!
If I, lowly sinner that I am, had to pick an agenda for a council, it would be:
* Address the calendar issue. It is crazy that the Orthodox Churches follow different calendars. I am personally ambivalent about the resolution, but I have strong opinions that the Constantinopolitan brewed mess from the 1920’s was terrible and probably illegal. Such a change must come from a conciliar resolution, and it must involve all the Orthodox. Mixed calendars, hybrid calendars. It’s madness!
* Canonical update. I know, I know, civil defense sirens and all that. However, they really do need to update the canons—not in the sense of getting groovy in the modern world, but in the sense of applicability. The canons, after all, are practical and pastoral.
* Common guidelines for relations with the non-Orthodox, including intermarriage and reception issues as well as “ecumenical” activity. I have to agree with my co-confessors, Proph, in that union with Rome will not be on the table. However, the bishops could declare that we Orthodox are happy to cooperate with Rome, Protestants, rabbinical Jews, Mohammedans, or whomever in doing God’s work.
* Jurisdictional tidying . . . the recent move by Jerusalem (establishing a diocese in Qatar, which is in Antioch’s territory) proves that pan-Orthodox cooperation is necessary to resolve differences between the Churches . . . not to mention the problems of the “diaspora.” [I hear those papist chuckles out there!]
* Encouraging a normalization of irregular groups, including various Old Calendarist groups, the Macedonians, and the Ukrainian schismatics. A welcome mat for the uniates might be nice, too. And the disaffected Protestants.
As I hinted earlier, we’ll see what actually happens. They have been kicking this can for generations, and I suspect that it will be delayed . . . until further notice.