In a few days time there will be a meeting in a modernist concrete building in Calvinist Geneva (instead of at the historic Russian Orthodox Cathedral) to discuss the possible forthcoming meeting of Orthodox bishops (Where? When?), which the US State Department has pretentiously billed as a ‘Pan-Orthodox Council’. In the Ukraine, from where I have just returned (graffiti like ‘Down with Poroshenko’s Party of Thieves and Murderers’ are now even more common), I found two attitudes to this ‘Council’. One was pure ignorance (‘never heard of it’), the other attitude was fear and rejection (‘whatever they decide, we shall ignore them’). If this meeting, against the background of civil wars in the Ukraine and Syria, happens, it does indeed seem to be a most inopportune time.
Popular attitudes like those in the Ukraine are to be expected when there has been no consultation with monastics, parish clergy and people about this ‘Council’, let alone about its virtually unknown and meaningless agenda (try googling for it), and when all preparatory meetings are conducted behind closed doors and no reports on those meetings are issued. As the much-respected Metr Hierotheos of the Church of Greece has written, this ‘Council’ should be stopped, for its agenda contains not a single theological issue (unlike real Councils). And yet the ailing and elderly Patriarch of Constantinople is desperate to see the ‘Council’ take place before he dies, even reconciling himself with Metr Rostislav of the Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia. Going from negative to positive, what are the possible outcomes?
1. The meeting (‘Council’) will not take place. With the difficulty between the Patriarchates of Jerusalem and Antioch, between the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Church of Greece, with the political impasse between Russian and Turkey (and the representatives of the Patriarchate of Constantinople are all Turkish citizens), with calls from senior churchmen in the Ukraine and Greece for the meeting not to be held at all, with its secular agenda on which there is no agreement, this outcome seems quite possible. A non-event.
2. The meeting takes place somewhere and some time in 2016, but it will issue some vague and meaningless statement full of secularspeak, ensuring unanimity but also meaning that the meeting is still a non-event.
3. The meeting takes place but begins and ends in disagreement. Faithful monasteries and parish churches declare that they belong to ‘the Church of the Seven Councils’; schismatic and modernist ones declare that they belong to ‘the Church of the Eight Councils’. Although this may seem the most negative outcome of all, perhaps it is time for there to be a cleansing and that the small minority of Halfodox at last leave the Church, taking their heresies with them, in their apostasy becoming Uniats or forming some new ‘Protestant with icons’ sect, whatever they want. Let the dead bury the dead.
4. The meeting takes place and a miracle happens. It obtains an eternal meaning, becoming a Council. Once hesitant Local Churches affirm Orthodoxy and reject spiritual death; the minority of Orthodox who have compromised return to the Orthodox calendar, refusing to die out in the worship of the past as a 1453 nationalistic irrelevance in a global world, rejecting ecumenism and modernism, adopting the global missionary responsibilities of the Church, launching worldwide mission. In this way this Council confirms, seals and extends the Seven Universal Councils of the Church and the Creed and refuses to act as a secular organization like the Vatican or CIA-run Protestant sects, confirming Christ and rejecting Antichrist.