Pan-Orthodox Council

The growing number of Orthodox churches deciding not to participate in the “Holy and Great Council” reminded me of a remark of Vladimir Solovyev’s:

Otherwise, if apart from Peter the universal Church can expressly declare the truth, how are we to explain the remarkable silence of the Eastern episcopate (notwithstanding that they have kept the apostolic succession) since their separation from the Chair of St. Peter? Can it be merely an accident? An accident lasting for a thousand years! To those anti-Catholics who will not see that their particularism cuts them off from the life of the universal Church, we have only one suggestion to make: Let them summon, without the concurrence of the successor of St. Peter, a council which they themselves can recognize as œcumenical! Then only will there be an opportunity of discovering whether they are right.

10 thoughts on “Pan-Orthodox Council

  1. Let’s remember that Solovyev’s Catholicism was an outgrowth of his historical idealism/sophianism. If the *institution* of *regular* ecumenical councils (however we choose to define this) are somehow an essential function of the Church, then how was one expected to identify the Church for the first three centuries? His remarks here also bear conspicuous silence regarding the very real developments in Orthodox tradition from the 13th century onward. I of course cannot disagree with the implied moral evaluation of the chaos surrounding the current council.

    Nonetheless I am an Orthodox Christian, and I hope you will join me in prayer for my Church during this particularly turbulent chapter of our history, which shows all too much continuity with the historical experience of the Eastern churches even when we *were* one with Rome. Yet I will boast in our Church’s weakness; as Nietzsche remarks, “better a whole-hearted feud than a friendship that is glued.”

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    • It could be argued that the canonical Gospels themselves are each an attempt to bring unity to the received practices and oral traditions regionally received, and that they do not agree, in their historical context, regarding how exactly to do this. There are as many resolutions to these tensions as there are attempts to bring the writings of the fathers to unity on contended points. Every interpretation that synthesizes the debris of the tradition is seized upon by its cracks, broken open, only to receive a new interpretation by which it is synthesized. (Catholics have already learned about this through the career of Lombard’s _Sentences_, to say nothing of the career of the canon law tradition; Orthodox largely dodge this bullet –almost certainly to our own eventual peril– by cultivating different habits, depending on what kind of Orthodoxy or Orthodox sub-culture one is part of.) What is the main trunk of Orthodoxy, what is central to it in its preaching? You’ll get more answers than there are Orthodox camps. The reasons that bring me to Orthodoxy are not compatible with some of the reasons why other Orthodox are Orthodox. We are all Protestants, on closer inspection, and we do not even know how to do decent historical research and argue, let alone hold discourse, to resolve differences or to explain how such dissonant differences are (or could be) compatible; in such an environment, only power otherwise holds things together.

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      • The appellation of “protestant” is not entirely fair. We are a conciliar church – and this works more or less at the local level. It’s global conciliarity which is today being tested, and the decay of inter-church relations is largely a result of the 19th century geopolitical, ecclesial, and intellectual landscape. This is precisely the kind of situation both Rome and Constantinople sought to avoid through the definitions of Vatican I and the anathema against ethnophyletism respectively. Ironically, Rome since Vatican II has been working to endow more responsibility on local bishops conferences whereas Orthodoxy has been fighting to re-centralize its identity. We’re better off in this together and we both have issues to sort out. I think the upcoming council is crucial for us to get our own house in order.

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        • First off: the “Protestant” description is fair, because the tradition has fault lines in it that are both preserved in textual authorities and are irreconcilable, and these lines cannot be ironed out by any authority that could command universal assent. This applies to Catholics as well as Orthodox. I can’t think of a single situation in which the Orthodox Church could possibly be considered “conciliar”: if one speaks of the GOA, it is heavily primatial (there are few bishops in the US); if one speaks of the OCA, it seems to get very Game-of-Thrones very fast (these are the two largest bodies); the Bulgarians (my own jurisdiction) have so shockingly few bishops in the Western world. The Orthodox Church is a Church of _Primacy_, and _not_ one that elevates Conciliarity above this. Geopolitics are not to be blamed for this.

          I think I like your comments comparing Orthodoxy and Catholicism in the 20th c.


          • I fully agree with your assessment, understanding Protestantism as you’ve here defined it. I also agree about the place of primacy in Orthodox tradition. Indeed conciliarity presupposes primacy, cf. Apostolic Canon 34.


    • As a fellow Orthodox Christian, I have been amused while reading Catholic responses to our Churches not showing up to the council. There are many, many reasons why they are not coming, and not being able to sit in a room together bc of ethnicity is not one of them. Personally I love the way that our councils work, they require unanimity from ALL Orthodox Churches to be accepted. The Catholics could learn a thing or two about avoiding councils, look at the state of the RCC since Vatican II. They Churches that aren’t coming are not attending because there are problems with certain texts.

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      • Your statements about “our councils” live in a fairy tale, and have no historical traction. Also, the state of the RCC after V2 (more precisely, the cluster of things I am assuming that you object to) is not the result of a lack of unanimity among Catholics, something that no living community could ever obtain. Your statement about why churches are no longer going to be attending assumes things that it needs to demonstrate, namely, that these churches judgments’ about texts are valid, and that this is the real reason they reneged on attending. The Church is a hot mess in many ways administratively, and needs some basic order in the so-called “diaspora”.


      • But you don’t require all Churches to accept a council for it to be valid. Coptics still reject Chalcedon to this day. If all churches must accept a council in order for it to valid, then the Pope of Alexandria’s rejection of Chalcedon in the fifth century makes it invalid.

        I don’t think Orthodox have a logically coherent account to explain Ecumenical Councils.

        Christi pax,


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  2. Pingback: On the Pan-Orthodox Council – Followup | Opus Publicum

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