The Faculty of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology fully supports the coming Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church to be held at the Orthodox Academy on Crete June 16-27, 2016. The Faculty affirms the importance of this Council for the life and witness of the Orthodox Church in today’s world.
His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew deserves much appreciation and gratitude for his selfless and faithful devotion to the cause of Orthodox unity and Orthodox witness to the Lord and His Gospel.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has acted wisely and judiciously to strengthen the bond of unity and to deepen conciliarity among the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches. He has exercised his own responsibility as the first bishop of the Orthodox Church while not intruding upon the proper responsibilities of other primates or the integrity of the other Autocephalous Churches. In consultation with other primates, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has led the Orthodox Church in addressing common challenges and in giving a united witness to Christ and His saving Gospel.
More than fifty years ago, Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras (+1972) envisioned a Council which would bring together representatives from all the Orthodox Churches to strengthen the bonds of unity and to address critical issues facing the Church. He realized that the conciliar tradition had been diminished. He saw that the tragic events and political changes of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th century contributed to isolation and divisiveness among the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches.
The first step in this conciliar process was Patriarch Athenagoras’ decision to convene four Pan-Orthodox Conferences between 1961 and 1968. At these meetings, the participants began to identify topics of church life which deserved discussion and common agreement. They began to respond together to the new challenges of dialogue with other churches and confessions. These discussions continued through the 1970s and 1980s. Orthodox bishops and theologians from the Autocephalous Churches actively participated in these meetings. Eventually, they agreed upon ten topics to be thoroughly studied in anticipation of a Holy and Great Council.
Not long after his election in 1991, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew boldly began to strengthen the Orthodox conciliar process by proposing and guiding meetings to increase Pan-Orthodox engagements and discussions. Throughout this process, he exercised his canonical responsibility to strengthen the unity of the Church, to mediate disputes and to propose topics for common study and resolution. He recognized that the historic ‘primacy of honor’ accorded to the Ecumenical Patriarch by the Church in its canonical tradition required that he exercise a sacrificial leadership for the good and well-being of the entire Church. This ministry of service is “to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 2:3) among the Autocephalous Churches.
Among his first actions, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew established a tradition of the Synaxis, a meeting of the Patriarchs and Archbishops who head the Autocephalous Churches. He recognized that a regular gathering of the primates of the Autocephalous Churches would provide a distinctive opportunity to celebrate together the Liturgy, and to discuss together the issues facing the entire Church and the world. He believed that Orthodoxy had to speak with one voice about critical issues facing the Church and the world.
There have been six meetings of the primates since 1992. Patriarch Bartholomew has presided at each of these. The most recent was held January 21-28, 2016, at the Patriarchal Centre in Chambésy-Geneva. At this meeting, the primates unanimously agreed on the date for the Holy and Great Council. Among the topics studied, they selected six to be presented at the Council.
These topics are: The Mission of the Orthodox Church in the Contemporary World, The Orthodox Diaspora, Autonomy and its Manner of Proclamation, The Sacrament of Marriage and its Impediments, The Significance of Fasting and its Application Today, and Relations of the Orthodox Church with the Rest of the Christian World. Each of these topics has a position paper approved by a pre-conciliar Conference.
In addition to convening the regular meetings of the primates, the Ecumenical Patriarch has encouraged the thorough discussions of these topics over the past twenty years in pre-conciliar consultations and conferences. During this period, faculty members from Holy Cross have been involved in these discussions.
Most recently, hierarchs, clerics, theologians, and laity alike have been involved in multifaceted discussions regarding the Holy and Great Council and the six topics to be addressed at the Council. These discussions have been conducted within the context of not only the holy synods of the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches, but also in theological forums, on internet blogs, in scholarly articles, and at numerous public lectures and discussions throughout the world.
Here at Holy Cross, the faculty sponsored three public gatherings with professors and students to discuss the long and fascinating history of pre-conciliar activities, the pre-conciliar documents themselves, as well as the impact and importance of the Council for the Church today. Moreover, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, Geron of America addressed our entire community on the importance of the Holy and Great Council. Also, more than twenty students from Holy Cross and Hellenic College are volunteering at the Council.
Orthodoxy is a conciliar Church. Together with the great Ecumenical Councils of the first millennium, there have been numerous regional councils which addressed significant challenges facing the Church. The coming Holy and Great Council will be consistent with this tradition of conciliarity. As a truly global council, it provides a blessed opportunity for the bishops to pray together, to meet together, and to address together critical issues facing the Church.
We recognize that a number of Autocephalous Churches and individual bishops have raised questions about the content and the procedure of the Council. We are convinced that these questions are best addressed within the context of the Council and in subsequent gatherings, provided there is openness to the guidance of the Spirit.
As a School of Theology, we respect both the ecclesial tradition of faithfulness to the Church led by the Holy Spirit who “will teach you everything” (John 14:26) and the academic pursuit of open and critical dialogue. The conciliar ecclesiology of the Orthodox Church demands that human freedom be expressed in a personal manner, that is, through dialogue of those who are gathered in Christ’s name. It is our firm belief that the Holy and Great Council will provide an opportunity for the Church to manifest its unity to its faithful and to the world, “for in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13).
Our ecclesial context in North America relies upon Orthodox unity. The students whom we educate will serve Orthodox parishes and faithful within a secular, non-Orthodox cultural context that knows very little if anything about the Orthodox Church. Pan-Orthodox unity, as expressed in conciliarity, is an important witness to the Orthodox faithful whom we serve.
The faculty of Holy Cross resolutely supports the convening of the Great and Holy Council. As stated in the ordination service, we believe that the Holy Spirit which “completes that which is lacking” will be present at this historic gathering and will guide the Church. We pray that this same Spirit will guide the participants at the Council and that the Holy Trinity will be honored and glorified—Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and forever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
June 12, 2016