“But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’” records Matthew the Apostle and Evangelist (5:37).
Five short months ago a Synaxis of Primates of the Orthodox Autocephalous Churches took place in Chambésy, Geneva. At that time, all autocephalous churches agreed to convene the Holy and Great Council.
They said ‘Yes.’ They said ‘Yes’ to unity. They said ‘Yes’ to conciliarity. But the ‘Yes’ of all has unfortunately become the ‘No’ of some.
Now, the Holy and Great Council - which begins this week on the island of Crete in Greece - is being held hostage by whimsical arbitrariness.
Beginning with Bulgaria earlier this month, a number of local churches began reversing course, letting their ‘Yes’ become ‘No.’
As one church mused about not participating, another would say the same thing, creating a negative narrative about the Holy and Great Council. The timing and message alignment mimicked the exquisite choreography of a St. Petersburg ballet performance.
Under demanding circumstances - and despite continued criticism - the Ecumenical Patriarchate and His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew calibrated a careful response.
In short, Constantinople called for previous agreements and procedures - note agreement, not imposition - to be respected and followed. The Ecumenical Patriarchate, which has responsibilities unlike no other local church, focused its efforts to safeguard the unity of Orthodoxy, especially with the world watching.
The Holy and Great Council will proceed as normal; whether it is actually ‘Holy’ and ‘Great’ will be determined only after the Council - not necessarily by who is present but by what is decided.
It is not enough for Councils to follow formal regularity; moreover, participation by all autocephalous churches does not make them automatically valid.
One of the shortcomings of the entire pre-conciliar process was the rigid requirement for unanimous consent from all local churches thus giving each of the fourteen Primates a veto over pan-Orthodox decisions - which is inconsistent with the tradition and spirit of Orthodoxy.
“Indeed, those Councils which were actually recognized as “Ecumenical,” in the sense of their binding and infallible authority, were recognized, immediately or after a delay, not because of their formal canonicalcompetence, but because of their charismatic character: under the guidance of the Holy Spirit they have witnessed to the Truth, in conformity with the Scripture as handed down in Apostolic Tradition.” -Georges Florovsky
Orthodoxy’s Opportunity: Creative Destruction
There are six agenda items to be discussed in Crete, each having its own supporting document adopted with unanimous approval (with the exception of the document dealing with marriage).
Setting aside some serious theological concerns that have arisen, the documents themselves are rather unexciting, dare I say uninspiring. This should not come as a major surprise.
Most of them have been developed over decades, by a relatively small group of church representatives, each, presumably, with their own contributions, with compromises made along the way in order to reach consensus.