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On Councils and Decisions

Well, I guess I can finally dispose of those old, tattered, and now obsolete and irrelevant text books that I read during my seminary days!  I had supposed they were also to guide and inform me after seminary as well.  But the recent decision of the Holy Synod of Antioch (read: "The decision facilitated by His Eminence, Metroplitan Philip) makes those text books old hat.  So much for "conciliarity" and "catholicity." 

These now obsolete text books -- along with our Archdiocesan-approved seminary professors -- taught us that the Holy Orthodox Church is conciliar.  Yes, that means She makes decisions in council.  

Wasn't this recent decision made in a "council"?  Perhaps it had much of the external appearance of a council, a holy synod. However, conciliarity means much more than gathering some bishops together and handing down an arbitrary decision to the "occupied territories."  The conciliar or collegial ethos of Orthodoxy assumes a spirit of equal dignity among bishops and brotherly love, so that decisions are made which seem "good to us and to the Holy Spirit."  It assumes fidelity to the Tradition and the traditions of the Holy Church.  It echoes the integrity of the Holy Canons.  It hears the voice and attends to the needs of the flock of Christ.  

The now "obsolete" seminary textbooks told us that councils were not true councils until the Holy Spirit confirmed them through their faithfulness to the Tradition and by the embrace of the people of God.  

Is the Church the bishops only?  Even if we were to answer in the affirmative, bishops are only bishops inasmuch as they embody and act according to the Holy Tradition.  The Church is "catholic."  She is complete and whole inasmuch as She lives and preaches according to the reality of the fullness of God in Christ.  Last time I checked the Orthodox Church still does not have an infallible bishop.  She does not have a "Pope."  She has a brotherhood that is presided over by a fallible "first among equals."

I can only imagine how our Antiochian Archdiocese would react if the first among e quals in the Orthodox world, the Patriarchate of Constantinople, dictated to us a decision for the administration of our Archdiocese. I would love to see the calls for "obedience" on that day!  Of course, the analogy does not hold.  The Patriarchate of Antioch is an autocephalous Church.  Nevertheless, truth be told, the Patriarch of Constantinople claims its jurisdiction over the "diaspora" in America to this day. Perhaps all that is missing to officially assert this authority is a "council" set up for this purpose.

Yet this vision of episcopal authority is more akin to a post-schism, distorted, western theological vision.  It is what Father Alexander Schmemman called "canonical subordinationism."  In his article "Problems of Orthodox in America: the Canonical Problem" published in St. Vladimir's Seminary Quarterly

(Vol. VIII, No. 2, 1964) he wrote:

"Canonicity is thus reduced to subordination which is declared to constitute the fundamental principle of church organization.  Implied here is the idea that a 'high ecclesiastical power (Patriarch,20S ynod, etc.) is in itself and by itself the source of canonicity: whatever it decides is ipso facto canonical and the criterion of canonicity."

Fr. Alexander thus points to a faulty view of conciliarity where pronouncements are made by an "authoritative" body or figure without regard to the rule (canon) of Faith which is the only true authority in the Church.  Surely there must be more to an authentic council of the Church than a "meeting" and a "pronouncement."     How many false councils did I read about in my now irrelevant seminary textbooks?  Many.  

And what would the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church look like if these councils were adhered to with the same kind of benign obedience we have been called to?  Here are a few examples of non-conciliar councils.

 - The Robber Council of Ephesus, called by the Emperor Theodosius II and presided over by Dioscorus,20Patr iarch of Alexandria, affirmed Eutyches' teaching that Jesus had only one (divine) nature.  The first to recognize this heresy of Eutyches was none other than Domnus, Patriarch of Antioch.  This false council attempted to overturn a council held in November 448 which condemned the teaching of Eutyches.  The formal accusation at this council was made by Eusebius, Bishop of Phrygia (a mere Diocesan Bishop, which today would be a symbolic "Auxiliary" Bishop subject to the will of his Metropolitan).

- The Council of Toledo, Spain in 589 inserted the Filioque clause into the Nicene Creed, teaching that the Holy Spirit proceeded from both the Father and the Son.  

- In 754 a council was called by Iconoclast Emperor Leo III and his son, the Iconoclast Emperor Constantine V.  The patriarchates of Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem refused to participate. The bishops whowere compelled to attend, accepted the heresy of Iconoclasm under pressure from the emperor. This false c ouncil anathematised Saint John of Damascus and Saint Germanus of Constantinople for idolatry of images.

- A council presided over by the legates of the Pope of Rome in 869-870 condemned Saint Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, after his defense was cut short and he refused to sign his own condemnation.

- At the Council of Ferrara (1438) all Eastern Orthodox Bishops but one (Saint Mark of Ephesus) accepted the Filioque addition to the Creed, the claims of papal primacy, and the doctrine of Purgatory.  Upon return to the East, most bishops renounced agreement largely due to the rejection of the council by the Orthodox faithful throughout the Roman Empire and Slavic areas.

So taking merely some of the false councils in Church history would leave us with a Jesus without human nature, a "Trinity"...sort of, a new doctrine of Purgatory due to an adherence to papal primacy, and the loss of one of the greatest Saints and theologians in Church history.  Just a few "minor tweaks," I suppose, to the deposit of the Faith.

Was the recent Synod meeting of Antioch a Council in the Orthodox Christian sense?  We have innumerable reasons to doubt that.  There certainly was very little conciliar about it.  It did not follow various requirements of the Constitution of the Holy Synod of Antioch itself (a Constitution I would assume was created in a conciliar fashion).  It trampled upon and contradicted the Constitution of the Archdiocese.  It did not warn, inform, contact, or take into consideration in brotherly love the Diocesan Bishops of America.  It butchered the previous agreements between Antioch and the Archdiocese of North America regarding self-rule.  It did not consider the needs or sentiments of the faithful Orthodox lay people of this country.  It has no historical precedence and provides no justification for lacking one.  The decision was made in haste (and with coercion?) with at least some signers not physically present.  And Antioch just happens to have been the beneficiary of a large donation from Englewood during the Patriarch's visit to America just prior to the meeting of the Holy Synod.  

When the self-rule status for our Archdiocese wasbeing promoted by our Metropolitan Philip he was on record as saying he would bypass the Holy Synod of Antioch if necessary. Now we are asked to humbly honor a decision of the Holy Synod with which he agrees and just happens to restore unambiguous, unilateral control of the Archdiocese to none other thanthe Metropolitan.

Who will gain from this decision and who will lose?

 The loser in the arbitrary and unorthodox demotion and control of the Diocesan Bishops will be the people of the Archdiocese, the spiritual growth of the Diocese that was in progress, and Orthodox in America in general.  

The winner?  Political expediency and lust for power.

Perhaps I'll keep my seminary textbooks around for a while longer as I pray that the Holy Spirit will bring all into agreement with the conciliar spirit of the Holy Orthodox Church.

Fr. R. U. Kiddenme




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Fr. Michael Plekon  

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