So, Eastern V2 Didn’t Happen

The “Holy and Great Council” of the Orthodox Church is over. You can read all of the conciliar documents, including the gathering’s encyclical, here. I am going to refrain from in-depth commentary for the time being since I am committed to writing about the Council and its fallout elsewhere. However, as even a cursory run through these documents make clear, the Council was anything but Orthodoxy’s “Vatican II moment.” Nothing substantial concerning canon law, the liturgy, moral theology, or ecclesiology was touched (though some peripheral matters were certainly clarified). The ostensible “ecumaniacal” document on relations between Orthodoxy and world Christianity is pretty flat, though it does include two paragraphs which ought to rile-up the Eastern fundamentalists.

22. The Orthodox Church considers all efforts to break the unity of the Church, undertaken by individuals or groups under the pretext of maintaining or allegedly defending true Orthodoxy, as being worthy of condemnation. As evidenced throughout the life of the Orthodox Church, the preservation of the true Orthodox faith is ensured only through the conciliar system, which has always represented the highest authority in the Church on matters of faith and canonical decrees. (Canon 6 2nd Ecumenical Council)

23. The Orthodox Church has a common awareness of the necessity for conducting inter-Christian theological dialogue. It therefore believes that this dialogue should always be accompanied by witness to the world through acts expressing mutual understanding and love, which express the “ineffable joy” of the Gospel (1 Pt 1:8), eschewing every act of proselytism, uniatism, or other provocative act of inter-confessional competition. In this spirit, the Orthodox Church deems it important for all Christians, inspired by common fundamental principles of the Gospel, to attempt to offer with eagerness and solidarity a response to the thorny problems of the contemporary world, based on the prototype of the new man in Christ.

The swipe at “uniatism” in paragraph 23 is, more likely than not, directed at the Moscow Patriarch, which for centuries has attempted to forcibly bring Greek Catholics into its fold. (It should be noted that the Romanian Patriarch signed-off on these provisions, thus signaling a retreat from its own history of force-converting Greek Catholics.) All in all, however, the Council did little to advance the work of reunifying Orthodoxy and the Catholic Church and, arguably, spent too much time worrying about its relationship with the World Council of Churches.

As for the rest of the documents, they’re a mixed bag. The document on marriage, for instance, contains some noticeable tensions, such as affirming the indissolubility of marriage while sidestepping the sad truth that the Orthodox dissolve sacramental marriages all of the time. Moreover, the document speaks forcefully on the crisis surrounding marriage and the family in the modern world and yet says nothing direct about contraception.

Clearly the biggest point of interest now is seeing how the local churches which opted not to attend the Council (e.g., Moscow, Antioch, and Bulgaria) “receive” (or not) the conciliar documents. Needless to say, the “Holy and Great Council” came up short in broadcasting an image of Orthodox unity to the world.

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5 comments

    1. I’m writing from an “interested observer” point of view, otherwise known as my point of view.

    2. Orthodoxy is not a “point of view”, and if it were, it could claim no privileged access to truth, only “come and look at the apparentness of things from this position”. This “point-of-view” jargon must die. I am Orthodox, and my point of view is likely different from that of most other Orthodox. Thus it is with unique beings who occupy unique trajectories.

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