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Remarks on the Holy and Great Council at the Synod of the Hierarchy of the Church of Greece (8 March 2016)

Translated into English, original text (in Greek):

Κύριο ἄρθρο: Παρατηρήσεις γιὰ τὴν Ἁγία καὶ Μεγάλη Σύνοδο

Preparations for the Holy and Great Council have taken over 110 years, divided into three periods, the first from 1902 to 1952, the second from 1952 to 1990 and the third from 1990 until today.  In 1961, when Pan-Orthodox Councils began, around 100 issues were raised. Over time they were reduced, so eventually six topics are included in the Holy and Great Council, namely: "The mission of the Orthodox Church in the contemporary world, the Orthodox Diaspora, Autonomy and how it is proclaimed, the sacrament of marriage and impediments to it, the significance of fasting and its application today, relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world" (Press report by Primates, 27.1.2016).

Since the convocation of the Holy and Great Council is a great event for the Orthodox Church, special attention is required and both the Council and its decisions need to be addressed theologically.

It is known that it has been agreed that in the Holy and Great Council two basic principles will apply. The first is that each Church will have one vote, and the second that decisions will be made unanimously, meaning that if a Church does not agree on an issue, a decision will not be taken on this issue.

Therefore, our Church should prepare itself appropriately for this Council, with all the theological potential it has, which is largely superior to that of other Churches. This is obvious from the fact that a large group of theologians in other Churches have studied and have received doctorates from Theological Schools in Greece, as well as from the fact that professors in our Theological Schools are used as theological advisors by other Orthodox Churches. This indicates that the presence of the Church of Greece in the Holy and Great Council will not be insignificant.

In what follows, two issues will be highlighted, which in my opinion are serious.

1. The identity of the Holy and Great Council

The Council which will be convened in the period of Pentecost has been designated as a Holy and Great Council. Many times I have wondered what the identity and self-perception of this Council will be. One interpretation is that it will be an Ecumenical Council. However, there are many who claim that it will not be convened as an Ecumenical Council, but rather as a Pan-Orthodox Great Council. This thought conceals the notion that after 1009 and 1054 AD an Ecumenical Council cannot be convened, because the Church is in Schism and "the Church of Old Rome" could not attend this meeting.

However, such an explanation immediately creates the ecclesiological problem that the unity of the Church, whereas it is a given fact, is considered as something that needs to be sought. So, the Church loses its self-awareness as the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, which is able to meet and to make decisions, irrespective of whether some of its former members have distanced themselves from it.

The other interpretation is that it will be exactly what it is designated as: a Holy and Great Council. Indeed, it is said that no such major Council has been convened during the whole of the second millennium.  If this is correct, then the Holy and Great Council is perceived as a continuation of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, convened in 787 AD in Nicaea. But in this case the Eighth Ecumenical Council in the time of Photios the Great (879-880), which dealt with major ecclesiological issues and above all with the heresy of the filioque, and the Ninth Ecumenical Council in the time of Saint Gregory Palamas in 1351, which dealt in particular with the heresy of  the actus purus, i.e., the identification of essence and energy in God and the assertion that God communicates with the world  through created energies, are bypassed and not taken into consideration.

Prompted by this, I think it was an error of the Church of Greece not to discuss the agenda items raised in the Hierarchy in October 2011 regarding the Eighth and Ninth Ecumenical Councils.  And although the ten agenda items of the Holy and Great Council had already been drawn up by then and other issues could not be added, those proposals ought to have been discussed by our Church, in order to establish the basis of Orthodox theology, that the Holy and Great Council cannot be regarded as a continuation of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, circumventing the Great Councils of 879-880 and 1351, whose validity and authenticity no one can challenge.

2. Theological Comments on the drafted texts

As mentioned above, out of the ten issues that had been decided upon for discussion in the Holy and Great Council, eventually six of them will be discussed. First it should be stressed that I am deeply concerned about the way these texts were elaborated in the Preconciliar Conferences.

The draft texts were never brought to the attention of all the Hierarchs and they were never discussed in the Hierarchy of the Church of Greece, at least in my day, that is, in the last twenty years.  The content of these texts was known to and elaborated by the Committee for Inter-Orthodox and Inter-Christian Relations. It seems that occasionally this Committee would dispatch to the Standing Holy Synod of the time reports on the Preparatory and Preconciliar Conferences and the texts. The Standing Holy Synod took note of these reports and texts and usually filed them away in the archives without any further discussion.

I have asked to be provided with the reports of the Committee for Inter-Orthodox and Inter-Christian Relations to the Standing Holy Synod, and any possible guidelines given by the Standing Holy Synods of the time to the Committee for Inter-Orthodox and Inter-Christian Relations for the improvement of the texts, in order for me to obtain a clear view of the matter.

I already have a document dated 4 June 2015 from Metropolitan Jeremiah of Switzerland to the Holy Synod, in his capacity as secretary for the preparation of the Holy and Great Council, calling for "any comments and recommendations by your Holy Church with a view to preparing the dossier and submitting it to the Fifth Preconciliar Pan-Orthodox Conference to be held soon, which will approve and send them in their final form to the Holy and Great Council". The Standing Holy Synod was supposed to answer by the end of July 2015.  From what I have learned, no response was given by the Standing Holy Synod and the text was finalized and submitted to the Holy and Great Council.

I also think that the presence of our Church in the elaboration of the documents which will be discussed at the Holy and Great Council has been deficient. This is testified to by the fact that, although the topics were pre-eminently dogmatic and canonical, such as what the Church is and how its unity is established, as well as issues relating to fasting, impediments to marriage, the Orthodox Diaspora, Autonomy and how it is proclaimed, they were nevertheless assigned to the Synod’s Committee for Inter-Orthodox and Inter-Christian Relations and not, in parallel, to the Synod’s Committee for Doctrinal and Canonical Issues, the Synodal Committee responsible for these matters.

This means that our Church has not been adequately prepared to address these issues.  Yet, to the contrary, some Hierarchs who dealt with the issues actually reassured us that these texts would not cause problems in the Church. But there are indeed theological problems.

Many comments could be made, but I would like to limit myself to two. The first observation refers to the ecclesiological issue. Studying carefully the text "Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world", one notices the existence of two different languages. On one hand, the Church is considered to be the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and on the other hand, other Churches are recognized too. Also, in one part of the text it is said that the unity of the Church is a given fact, and elsewhere that the Orthodox Church is seeking the unity of the Church through dialogues.

Moreover, a serious issue arises about how those outside the Church return to it. Although, since the 9th century, the ‘Franco-Latins’ have introduced many heresies and the biggest problem is so-called scholastic theology, which clearly differs from Orthodox patristic theology, as well as the fact that baptism takes place with an altered faith and disregarding its canonical ritual, the text nevertheless speaks of accepting it by virtue of “economy”, in other words, of receiving Christians outside the Church by Chrismation.

This is the so-called "baptismal theology" which in recent years has been set as the basis for so-called union among the so-called Churches. The Second Vatican Council relied on "baptismal theology" to show that there is unity with all the Churches and Confessions, despite minor, according to them, shortcomings.  The problem is deeper, because many theologians and Bishops interested in the so-called union of the Churches do not identify the charismatic boundaries of the Church with its canonical boundaries.. This is a serious ecclesiological problem.

Therefore, for the acceptance of Christians who are outside the Church and their return to the Holy Church, one should not ostensibly invoke Canon 7 of the Second Ecumenical Council and Canon 95 of the Quinisext Ecumenical Council. In another text of mine I reminded readers that an authentic interpretation of these Canons was given by the three Patriarchs of the East in 1756, and this should be taken seriously into account by the Holy and Great Council in order for it to be an Orthodox Council.

This is the reason why double language should be removed from this text so as to reveal the Orthodox Church’s self-awareness that it is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, that it was never divided, like the Eucharistic Body of Christ which "is broken and is not divided", and that those outside the Church who want to return must return through Baptism.  

The second comment concerns the issue of the person. In the text "The mission of the Orthodox Church in the contemporary world" the first chapter, entitled "The value of human person", forms the basis.

For sure, in the Summit of the Primates of the Orthodox Churches held at Chambesy-Geneva on 18-28 January 2016, at the last moment, I don’t know how, there was an intervention that improved matters, i.e., some views and phrases about the person were omitted.  However, the phrases "the value of the human person", “communion of persons on the model of the communion of the Persons in the Holy Trinity", etc. remained.

I have already recorded my views in another text, which was given to the Standing Holy Synod. The whole problem about the person constitutes, without being alarmist, a heresy, a continuation of Arianism, of Monotheletism, and it is influenced by the existential philosophy of Kierkegaard, Marcel, Sartre and the German idealism of Heidegger.  Today there is much talk about the "ontology of the person", about the "communion of persons", about the "dignity and sanctity of the human person", about the difference between an “individual and a person", the "communion of persons as a reflection of the Persons of the Holy Trinity" etc. All these are anti-Orthodox.

I have repeatedly pointed out that the Fathers analysed the concept of person with regard to the Triune God and not with regard to man.  Also, it seems very clear that the concept of the person is reminiscent of Arianism, Monothelitism, Nestorianism, etc. on two basic concepts, namely, in identifying nature with necessity, saying that everything from nature is also a necessity, and in associating the person with volition, will and love. That is, they speak of a hypostatic will, hypostatic love, hypostatic energy, things which were condemned by the Sixth Ecumenical Council.

Therefore, the whole problem of the concept of "the value of human person" is that it replaces and ignores the theology of man as being in the image and likeness of God, and is more focused on human rights. That is, it converts theology into sociology. No one denies, of course, the respect due to humans and their rights, particularly nowadays when rights are violated, but Orthodox theology cannot be secularized. I know there are some who teach the concept of the human person - such as Elder Sophrony Sakharov who spoke about man as a person - but who link it unambiguously with the theological concept of the human as in the image and likeness of God, and they neither associate nature with necessity nor do they end up with  voluntaristic personalism.

This is why I think that the term “person” needs to be replaced with the term “human”. Anyhow, all foreign theologians, the other Confessions and even people outside the Church understand the meaning of human, but they cannot understand the philosophical concept of the "human person", which implies the existence of man and something else, namely, the “human person”.

Concluding these observations, I emphasize that the Church of Greece with the lively theological teaching it has, with the academic competence found in Theological Schools, and the experiential, charismatic theology expressed by experienced monks and clerics, should play an important role in drafting the texts and in the decisions of the Holy and Great Council. This means that care should be taken especially regarding the following points:
1. That the unity of the Church is a given fact and self-awareness of this unity is something accepted, not something sought after.
2. Baptismal theology is not accepted as a basis for Theological Dialogues.
3. The term “person” should be replaced by the term “human”.
4. The Holy and Great Council is not to be regarded as a direct continuation of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, ignoring the Eighth and Ninth Ecumenical Councils.

The Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church

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