|Patriarch Bartholomew of|
The rules are different for this Holy and Great Council than for an authentically Ecumenical Council. In an Ecumenical Council—and here I am referring to the first seven Councils which are accepted by both Churches of the East and West—all bishops are invited to participate and the vote of each bishop counts. There is also free (and often free-for-all) discussion of the agenda with decision by majority and not by universal consensus.
The rules set forth for the upcoming Holy and Great Council to be held the end of this week in Crete call for each self-governing Orthodox Church to send 24 Bishop-delegates and each Church will have but a single vote in the final deliberations. Moreover, the documents of the Council have been pre-agreed on (with some exception regarding the proposed legislation on marriage) and not subject to editing upon the discussion and voting. It is then quite rigidly structured.
And now, at the last minute, the Holy and Great Synod appears to be imploding as several of the constituent Churches—including the most powerful, the Russian Orthodox Church—withdraws. Orthodoxy is not a single Church, nor even like Catholicism, a communion of Churches but rather a family of Churches in communion with one another. Let me explain. The Roman Catholic Church is a single Church comprised of local Churches (dioceses) who have irrevocably submitted their autonomy to the Patriarchal Church of the West, the Bishopric of Rome, the papacy. The Catholic Church (as distinguished from the Roman Catholic Church) is a communion of Churches, the largest and most influential of which is the Roman Catholic Church, in Eucharistic Fellowship with the Bishop of Rome. Some of these Churches in Communion are the Melkite Patriarchate and its constituent local Churches (eparchies or dioceses), The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Major Archbishopric (some would say Patriarchate) and its constituent Churches, The Maronite Patriarchate of Antioch and its constituent Churches, The Syro-Malabar Major Archbishopric and its constituent Churches, and others. While there is, and certainly more so after Vatican II, a certain amount of autonomy exercised by these Churches in communion with Rome, it does not compare with the total independence of each of the fourteen Churches that comprise Orthodoxy. The authority exercised by the Patriarch of Constantinople over the other Churches is purely titular and without any means of enforcement. Thus the Patriarch is unable to prevent the Holy and Great Synod from dissolving before it even assembles.
There are factions within Orthodoxy that have long militated against the assembly of a Holy and Great Council. One motivation is political. While the primacy belongs to Constantinople, the power has long belonged to the Moscow Patriarchate which holds—by far—the allegiance of the largest number of believers. Moscow has long been jealous of the influence of Constantinople and anxious to take over, as the “Third Rome” the universal primacy. But even among the smaller Churches there has been a certain amount of jostling over precedence as might be expected in a religious culture so sensitive to the details of ceremonial as in Orthodoxy.
Even more serious, however, is that there is a significant number of Orthodox who fear that any assembly of bishops will bring the Church into encounter with modern heresies. Many Orthodox oppose ecumenism for fear that it will introduce into Orthodoxy the “modernist heresies” that have infected the West. Indeed Ecumenism is seen by many, particularly in Russia and Greece, as the arch-heresy. The lack of a contemporary theological education on the part of many clergy and bishops in the more remote corners of the Orthodox world has confused theological substance with human traditions—a situation with which we Catholics are not unfamiliar on the part of our Katholik Krazies. Changes in the liturgical calendar, for example, are often treated with the same apprehension as would be the controversy over the Procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father. I am not saying that the krazies in the Orthodox world are irrational to fear a Council. Assemble a Church and should the Holy Spirit decide to process from the Father (and the Son) onto that assembly, who knows what will happen? Vatican II is pudding-proof of that.