For years people have been talking about the coming Great and Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church, but as the date approaches it seems to be shrinking, to be neither great nor holy. It gets less great as more and more churches say that they will not participate, and less holy as more and more object to the way it is being planned and run.
Here are some comments that are worth reading Some Reflections on the Approaching Great and Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church | Public Orthodoxy:
It seems to me of paramount importance that the Synod, as His All-Holiness asserts, should show that the Orthodox Church wants genuinely to communicate with the world. We have treasures to share, in the Gospel, and the wisdom acquired through many centuries of believers following in our Lord’s footsteps and living in the grace of the Resurrection. It is also true that many in the West want to hear our voice, what we have to tell them of Christ. It will be a betrayal of everything we hold dear if the result of the Synod is that the world perceives the Orthodox apparently concerned solely with themselves in a fearful and introspective way.
I’m not sure that I agree with that.
It seems to me that synods and councils are introspective. They are not the means by which the church communicates with the world. They are essentially the Church looking at itself, and perhaps in relation to the world, but for its own sake, and not for the sake of the world. It is in other activities that the Church interacts with the world, not through synods and councils.
When the fathers of the first Ecumenical Council met in Nicaea in 325, the world was not desperately anxious to know whether the Son was of the same essence as the Father, or only of similar essence. That was an issue that was really internal to the Church, though of course it would affect the way the Church approached and saw the world.
I suppose that is one reason that the coming Great and Holy Synod has hardly made any impression on me until now. There hasn’t been any burning issue of dogma that has needed to be resolved. I was content to wait and see what the Synod came up with, and then discuss it. And that is where Dr Andrew Louth’s paper gets interesting — as he points out, the discussion documents came out late, and there was no time for discussion, and that is the main reason that some churches are withdrawing. Instead of being a Pan-Orthodox Council, as many had hoped, it seems to be turning into a Constantinopolitan Council to which some other churches have been invited.
Among the reasons given for not attending the council is this one 11 reasons not to participate in the Pan-Orthodox Council | Katehon think tank. Geopolitics & Tradition:
The draft document “of the Orthodox Church’s relations with the rest of the Christian world” provoked the greatest debate and criticism in the various Local Churches. It is of great concern that Christians, who have fallen away from the Church, are not called by traditional theological terms as heretics and schismatics anywhere in the project, and only the “Christian churches”, “confessions” (p. 6), “near and far” (p. 4).
And that seems odd to me, because that is one issue where things differ notably between the times of the Seven Ecumenical Councils and now, and so it really needs to be discussed by representatives of all the Orthodoc Churches. The Seven Ecumenical Councils dealt with heresies, and there were schisms, and so it was appropriate to speak of heretics and schismatics. But today there is a phenomenon that was entirely unknown to the fathers of the Seven Ecumenical Councils — denominationalism.
While it still makes sense today to call those who contumaciously reject the teaching of the Church “heretics”, and those who contumaciously reject the fellowship (kinonia) of the Church “schismatics” (cf Acts 2:42), it makes no sense, it seems to me, to use those terms to refer to those who have never been members of the Orthodox Church. Those are people who belong to denominations that may have been schismatic in their origin, and are often schisms from schisms from schisms, but those who belong to such denominations today, and have never been members of the Orthodox Church cannot be regarded as “heretics” or “schismatics” in the sense that the fathers of the Seven Ecumenical Councils used those terms. Many such people have never heard of the Orthodox Church, and have no idea of its origins, teachings or even its existence. There are more than 10000 Christian denominations in South Africa alone — nobody knows exactly how many, and new ones are being formed every week. Some of their teachings might be heretical from an Orthodox point of view, and if members of the Orthodox Church propagated any of those teachings they could indeed be called heretics, but the same term loses its meaning when applied to people who are not members of the Church and are not, in many cases, even aware of its existencve.
Perhaps the Pan-Orthodox Synod/Council needs to consider denominationalism, and to define the term and decide on how to approach it, but if it should, the preparation for it seems to be very inadequate. And those who are calling for a postponement are probably right.
For more on the synod and its background, see As Pan-Orthodox Council Approaches, Conflicts and Uncertainty Intensify | Catholic World Report – Global Church news and views