Introduction: The 2016 Conference
Most of humanity’s over 7 billion Non–Orthodox (http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/) have not heard that there is going to be an Inter-Orthodox Conference next year. But then neither have most of the world’s 216 million Orthodox. Information about the proposed 2016 Inter-Orthodox Conference to be attended by a maximum of 24 bishops from each of the 14 Local Churches is, to say the least, sparse. (Will it take place at all? When will it take place? What will be discussed?) Occasional rumours appear on the internet. The vast majority of both Orthodox clergy and people have no idea that such a Conference is even to happen and hardly anyone knows what it going to be discussed. The fact that the conspiracy theorists have been at work regarding it is entirely due to the total lack of transparency and total lack of communications of the highly secretive Conference organizers. It almost seems as though the lack of openness of the obscurantist Conference organizers is deliberately intended to provoke schism. At present, therefore, there appear to be two common scenarios for the outcome of this Conference.
The Apocalyptic Scenario
The first scenario is the apocalyptic one. This is the scenario favoured by the conspiracy theorists, old calendarists, schismatics etc in order to justify themselves. Since all the preparations are going on behind closed doors in Switzerland (of all places!) and hardly anyone even knows what the agenda is and since there has been absolutely no consultation by the bishops with the clergy and people and even many bishops seems to know nothing about this Conference, the internet conspiracy theorists have been having a field day. It seems that we are deliberately being kept in ignorance (shades of the disastrously-organized Nyack Conference in 2003 in ROCOR, of which we were informed after it had happened). Clearly for the conspiracy theorists, the whole agenda of the Conference (for some reason billed as a Council, when a Conference can only be declared a Council if its resolutions are afterwards received by the whole Church) has been dictated by the secularist powers of this world.
According to the conspiracy theorists, the Conference will be a repeat of the 1923 Constantinople meeting, that is a meeting of apostasy which will deny the Seven Universal Councils, close all monasteries, throw out relics, shorten the services, marry the bishops, adopt the secular calendar, abolish fasting, do away with clerical dress etc. In a word, it will simply be a copy of the protestantizing Vatican II and its secularist agenda. Indeed, the apocalyptic scenario even bills this ‘Council’ as ‘The Eighth Universal Council’ – even though in the Greek practice the Eighth Council is that of the ninth century when the Roman Patriarchate repented and for a time returned to the Orthodox fold before its final schism in the eleventh century. I have even been asked what ROCOR will do in such a case. Well, we will simply carry on being a self-governing part of the Russian Orthodox Church, ignoring everything decided by the apostates at such a Conference. As for other Local Churches, including the part of the Russian Church which is inside the Russian Lands, they will be rent by schism. Is this what the secretive Conference organizers want?
The Bureaucratic Scenario
that the apocalyptic scenario is highly unlikely and has been engendered only by the total lack of transparency of those preparing the Conference, what is far more likely? Given the highly detailed preparations going on, it is that the Conference will take place and produce a document of extraordinary blandness, couched in Chancellery-speak and meaningless pseudo-intellectual waffle about ‘being’ and ‘communion’. The result will be that the whole Conference will continue to be totally ignored by the people, the guardians of Orthodoxy, and will pass immediately into the dustbin of history. Of course, there will be total unity – but such is the effect of blandness. Rumours from Switzerland that the Patriarchate of Constantinople is promoting homosexuality, obeying its paymasters in the US State Department (and sadly, certain of its bishops), and that this is being opposed by the other Local Churches, tend to confirm that the result will indeed be a meaningless document written in diplomat-speak.
The latest rumours that Patriarch Bartholomew wants to use the Conference to promote a hopelessly old-fashioned 1960s liberal-type secularist agenda of ‘human rights and racial equality’ are laughable because of their hypocrisy – or is it simply profound ignorance of the real world? Go to almost any Greek parish in Western Europe and ask to join and you will be told to ‘go away (and often much ruder than that) because you are not Greek’. This is commonplace and I could quote several examples with details. Amidst the forest of Greek flags (and the Patriarchate of Constantinople is not the only guilty party – is flag-waving a special parochial Balkan phenomenon?) of the average Greek parish ethnic club, where is the place for Christ? Surely if there is to be a Conference, we could talk about the real problems of the Church in the world, which are not doctrinal, but administrative, and are all due to the utter failure to implement Orthodoxy, that is, to go beyond empty words to deeds.
The Third Scenario: The Holy Spirit
In 2006 I was honoured to be present at the Fourth All-Diaspora Council in San Francisco. There was only one real question on the agenda: whether the Russian Church inside Russia was free and so ROCOR could at last link up with Her, as we had been waiting for over three generations to do. I had definitely made up my mind only on the aeroplane coming from London, when I had learned the news that the local diocese of the Church inside Russia, the Sourozh Diocese, had at last freed itself from modernism and ecumenism, from its hatred for the Russian Church Tradition and its contempt for the New Martyrs and Confessors, and that therefore the last obstacle to unity had gone. However, I seemed to belong to a small group, sure that the time was ripe for unity; equally, there was a small group that was definitely opposed to any sort of unity, declaring that it was premature. The majority at the Council, including most of the bishops, seemed not to have come to a decision. All appeared to be at an impasse.
Those present will remember the third day of that Council, when a miracle happened and suddenly virtually everyone came together and the path to the future opened up before us. What happened? What is the authority of the Church? Who is the most important person at a Council? What is the difference between a Council and a mere Conference? The answer to all these questions is: The Holy Spirit. Suppose such a miracle happens at the 2016 Conference? Suddenly then all those worldly, weary words will vanish ‘as wax melts before the fire…at the presence of God’. All those tired secular agendas will return to the dust from which they are made. Then we could talk about the really important tasks of proclaiming the authentic Christian Tradition to the world, about updating the real situation of the Church to 2016 and forgetting 1453, when for some history stopped. The possibilities are endless – if the bureaucrats heed the Holy Spirit.
Conclusion: Endless Possibilities
A real and free Inter-Orthodox Council could first consult with monastics, parish clergy and people about what all the diocesan bishops of the whole Church (some 800 of them – who knows?) could discuss. It could reaffirm the Orthodox truths before the end to the apostate West and to all those parts of the world which after 2,000 years have still not heard of the Church and Orthodoxy, only of compromised and deformed colonial versions of Christianity, from which Orthodoxy must be distinguished and distanced. Support could be given to the Patriarchate of Alexandria for missionary work in its huge territory of Africa, a potential flock of over one billion Non-Orthodox. Support could be given to the Russian Church for missionary work in its huge territory of Asia, a potential flock of nearly four and a half billion Non-Orthodox. Support could be given for Orthodox unity and missionary work, instead of ethnic rivalry, in Western Europe, North and South America and Oceania (over one and a half billion Non-Orthodox), where new Local Churches have to be set up, given the millennial apostasy of heterodox structures, which are not going to return to Church Christianity. The possibilities are endless because with God in the Holy Spirit all things are possible.