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From the Second Vatican Council (1965) to the Pan-Orthodox Council (2016)

Signposts on the Way to Crete



Delivered to the Diacideian Institute of the People in Patra, Greece, May 18, 2016.


It is an overused but necessary cliché to state that the Orthodox Church is the Church of the Oecumenical Councils. It is more essential to state that the Orthodox Church not only held and lived through those Councils, it also lives daily by the words spoken by the Holy Apostles in that first of all Church Councils in Jerusalem: it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us (Acts 15:28); first to the Holy Spirit and then to the Apostles and all the successors of the Apostles. This theanthropic way of being, which began in earnest in council on the day of Pentecost, is integral to, irremovable from, the life of the Orthodox Church and of Orthodox Christians.


It is the implication of this reality, or rather the absence of evidence thereof among those at the highest levels of the Church, which makes my presentation to you tonight all the more difficult, even painful.


The Orthodox Church stands just weeks away from the long awaited “Great and Holy Council,” which will convene in Crete on the Feast of Pentecost. This Council is unique in the history of the Church for the length of time it has been under preparation, but also for another first: the degree to which its preparatory meetings, organization and certain of its texts have, under the influence of a council of the heterodox, the Second Vatican Council, diverted from the Orthodox way.


This is the reason that, immediately upon the publication of the pre-synodical texts, a wave of objections arose on a Pan-Orthodox level. Certain among the more fanatical enthusiasts of ecumenism have attempted to downplay the serious and studie critiques which have been levelled against the pre-synodical texts and the Council itself asserting the criticism is coming from “extremists” and “fanatics” who are “against the council,” have no respect for the conciliar system or an ecclesiastical ethos. These critics neglect the fact that objections to the ecclesiologically abysmal texts have been expressed on a pan-Orthodox level by:


Professors of Theology from Orthodox Theological Schools.

Monastic Brotherhoods, including the Holy Community of Mt. Athos, monasteries in Moldavia, which have also ceased commemoration of their chief hierarch because he accepted, under pressure from the Patriarch of Moscow, the pre-synodical texts, and monasteries in Greece, Georgia and Bulgaria have expressed sharp disagreement.

Dozens of bishops from throughout the Orthodox world have expressed their categorical opposition to the texts as they presently stand. Among these are more than twenty hierarchs from the Church of Greece which have issued forceful statements opposing aspects not only of the pre-synodical texts but also the Council itself, some of which have, for reasons of conscience, declined to participate. In the much-embattled Orthodox Church of the Ukraine the exceptionally beloved and highly honoured Bishop Longin ceased commemoration of the Patriarch of Russia after he pushed through the Holy Synod acceptance of the pre-synodical texts.

Finally, but most importantly, the Holy Synods of Local Churches, such as the Church of Cyprus, have expressed sharp criticism of aspects of the pre-synodical texts. The hierarchy of the Church of Greece will meet next week to consider the objections of many hierarchs and publish either their rejection of the texts or recommendations for substantial changes. The Holy Synods of the Churches of Bulgaria and Georgia, in spite of intense external pressure exerted against them, have issued unanimous decisions which reject aspects of the pre-synodical texts. And the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad has issued an extensive and well-documented critique of the pre-synodical texts along the same lines as the Local Churches mentioned above.

Hence, in our examination of the Council we do not stand alone but join a large and growing segment of the Orthodox hierarchy and clergy who are calling attention to serious problems with the Council and the texts hierarchs are being asked to endorse.


Let us now turn our attention to the matter at hand. In our analysis we will revisit a number of historical and theological “signposts” the Church has passed on its way to Crete, after which we believe the following will be clear: the way of the Pan-Orthodox Council does not resemble the theanthropic way of the Apostles; and the ecclesiology the Council is being asked to embrace has never been recognized as “good to the Holy Spirit” or to the preceding successors of the Apostles, the Holy Fathers.


Signposts on The Way of the Pan-Orthodox Council


1. The Beginning


The Second Vatican Council was announced by Pope John XXIII on January 25, 1959, and held 178 meetings in the autumn of four successive years. The first gathering was on October 11, 1962, and the last on December 8, 1965.


The first Pan-Orthodox Conference, which was called in order to begin preparations for the Pan-Orthodox Council, took place in 1961, just three years after the announcement of the Second Vatican Council by the Pope and one year before its commencement.


While today, “it is, in the final analysis, impossible to ascertain for certain which side influenced the other,” [1] that the two councils began in earnest together and the Orthodox side regularly compares its work to Vatican II is undoubtedly a signpost of significance.


2. Methodological Similarities


Although it may be contested that the Patriarchate, in calling the First Pan-Orthodox Conference in Rhodes, was reacting to the calling of the Second Vatican Council, what is quite clear is that the methodology adopted in Rhodes and henceforth was wholly taken from Vatican II. Indeed, it is undisputed in ecumenical circles that the organizers of the Pan-Orthodox Council had as their model for the pre-synodical committees and the functioning of the Council itself the modus operandi of the Second Vatican Council.


This is the second signpost on the way to Crete which alerts us to a foreign source of inspiration for the Council.


As researcher Maria Brun, a Roman Catholic specialist on the Pan-Orthodox Council at the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Center in Chambessy, has written: “it is well known that the way in which the Second Vatican Council was carried served as the prototype for the work of the preparatory commission of the Pan-Orthodox Council” and that “the Orthodox Church ... had recourse to the Second Vatican Council for its inspiration.” [2]


Roman Catholic researches of the Second Vatican Council and the Pan-Orthodox Council are not alone in reaching this conclusion. The great professor of Dogmatics and saint of the Church, Justin Popovich likewise came to this conclusion. Far from praising matters, St Justin Popovich, in his 1976 memorandum to the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church, saw in this approach to convening and organizing the Council a sure sign of its alienation from Orthodox Tradition and pledge of its falsity. He wrote:


In reality, all of this manifests and underscores not only the usual lack of consistency, but also an obvious incapacity and failure to understand the nature of Orthodoxy on the part of those who at the present time, in the current situation, ad in such a manner would impose their "Council" on the Orthodox Churches - an ignorance and inability to feel or to comprehend what a true ecumenical council has meant and always means for the Orthodox Church and for the pleroma of its faithful who bear the name of Christ. For if they sensed and realized this, they would first of all know that never in the history and life of the Orthodox Church has a single council, not to mention such an exceptional, grace-filled event (like Pentecost itself) as an ecumenical council, sought and invented topics in this artificial way for its work and sessions; - never have there been summoned such conferences, congresses, pro-synods, and other artificial gatherings, unknown to the Orthodox conciliar tradition, and in reality borrowed from Western organizations alien to the Church of Christ .[3]


3. Common Aims with the Second Vatican Council


A third signpost which alerts us that the Pan-Orthodox Council is not following the Holy Fathers is the stated purpose of the Council. Imitating totally the Second Vatican Council, it shares with it the raison d'être for its calling: renovation or “renewal” of the internal life and organization of the Church. Like Vatican II, the Pan-Orthodox Council is being called not to confront dogmatic error, as has every previous universal council, but to renovate and re-organize the Church.


In an article dating back from when Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was still a Metropolitan, in the journal The National Catholic Reporter, the Patriarch said the following, revealing his i