The "Great and Holy" Council: An Analysis, Questions, and Impressions

Source: Notes on Arab Orthodoxy

June 7, 2016


Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)

His Beatitude, Our FatherJohn X

and Their Emminences, the Members of the Holy
Synod of Antioch

the Patriarchal Center, Balamand

Our Father, Your Beatitude the Patriarch,

After asking for your blessing and prayers, I present you,
as a child of the Orthodox Church in the Holy See of
Antioch, this analysis and some questions and impressions
regarding the “Great” Council that is to be held
in June 2016. I present these to you and the Holy Synod as
a modest contribution to approaching the coming council.
May they be of benefit as background and for shaping the
possible end result of this extraordinary event in the
life of the Church today.

Your child in Christ,
Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Holy Trinity Family
May 21, 2016

The “Great and Holy” Council: An Analysis,
Questions, and Impressions

The synod is not “power” in the juridical
sense of the word, for there can exist no power over the
Church, the Body of Christ. The synod is, rather, a
witness to the identity of all churches as the Church of
God in faith, life and “agape”.

— Alexander Schmemann, 1963

A Necessary Preface

This is the council set to be held between June 16 and 27,
2016. Its characterization, by those who have prepared it,
as “great and holy” does not mean anything at
this stage, even if perhaps they meant things by it. We
are a theanthropic Church. The Church is Jesus Christ!
That which belongs to the Spirit of God is only judged
spiritually (cf. 1 Corinthians 2)! The Spirit works and
speaks in the consciousness of the Church, which is
neither limited to an individual nor to a group–
including a council, any council, no matter who they are
who gather in it, what their number may be, or the issues
that they examine! This, in the expression of the Acts of
the Apostles, at what is known as the Council of
Jerusalem, where the Apostles, presbyters and all the mass
of the faithful gathered– that is, the Church there– I
say is two statements taken from the message to the
brethren from among the gentiles in Antioch, Syria and
Cilicia. The first: “it seemed good to us, being
assembled with one accord” (Acts 15:25). The second:
“it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us”
(Acts 15:28). These two statements are not made as
representation, because the Holy Spirit is a revealer of
secrets and the final say belongs to divine truth. It is
not the property of “pillars”. God is not a
respecter of persons, as the Chosen Apostle says, because
the Spirit can raise up the little ones without them as
bearers of His word. The final is not the property of
those who are regarded as wise and knowledgeable because
the Spirit reveals the truth, again and again, and
sometimes causes the ignorant of the world to shame the
wise (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:27)!

Therefore, the current council is nothing more than a
council or even a meeting of bishops, even if they are the
“representatives” of what are considered to be
all fourteen of the “autocephalous churches” in
the Orthodox world. Sees increase and decrease– this is a
human arrangement! In the Church, there are not
representatives of groups, but voices for the Spirit of
God in the Church because they do not derive their value
from themselves or from their blocs and they are of no
regard in themselves! Only if the Spirit is in them and in
what they bring about do they become a “great and
holy” council! I say this so that no one will think
that the Church of Christ is a pagan tribe or that she is
kingdoms ruled like the people of the world are ruled,
those of whom God’s Word judges: “the rulers of
the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great
exercise authority over them.. but but whoever desires to
become great among you, let him be your servant”
(Matthew 25-26).

These six papers that were the product of meetings and
preparations that lasted fifty-five years and which bear
the signatures of the representatives of the Orthodox
Churches as the Orthodox meeting in Chambésy,
Switzerland on January 21-28, 2016, as also their
quasi-final formulation that will be presented to the
coming council for one last look and a decision– I say
that these papers are presented to the conscience of the
Church, not imposed upon it! Therefore, whatever their
final formulation may be, they do not derive their
authority over the Church from their having been issued by
those gathered at the coming council! That is not correct!
The decisive say remains with the Spirit of God who is
active in the Church! No identification is possible
between any council and the Spirit in the Church!
Consultation at the council, even if it is discussed,
cannot be considered to be a foregone conclusion. Even if
the council speaks in the name of God and His Church, its
decisions cannot be considered to be expressing the truth
of the Gospel automatically. The council, as individuals,
has respect in any case, but what is issued by it is not
automatically accepted. It does not oblige the Church
unless it is in transparency and according to the Spirit
of God and the conscience of the Church! We cannot submit
to the decisions of a council, any council, unless it
submits to God, in Spirit and in truth! Identifying the
correctness of the conciliar statement is the
responsibility of the Church in her entirety, and
therefore of each believer in her, by the power of the
grace that is liberally bestowed upon the people of God to
be kings, priests and prophets for God!

Therefore, those papers marked with the signatures of
those who attended the Chambésy meeting– not to
even speak of what came before it– are, until further
notice, nothing more than indications of the presence of
those who attended! Their positions, whether out of
conviction, ignorance, or acquiescence, toward what is in
them, do not oblige the Church. The Church may reject what
these papers contain, either wholly or partially, if they
sense, in the Spirit of God, that it is defective! Is it
not that God is the one who must be obeyed, not men?
Therefore, we are not bound by a paper or by signatures!
We are not in chains for the sake of men, but ambassadors
in chains for the sake of Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory,
like Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles (cf. Ephesians

I say this so that none of those who signed will reckon
himself obliged, or obligating the Church, on the grounds
that they previously agreed on a text or were bound to a
position! Their signature is their conscience in Christ
first of all! Repentance from error, which may occur, is
better than persistence in it in order to preserve human
honor. Herod, who ordered John the Baptist beheaded
knowing that John was a prophet, and did not turn back
from this, in order to save face in front of the
dignitaries and officers because, in addition to an
adulterer, a criminal! Therefore, that which appears
Article 11, Paragraph 2 of the Rules of Operation of the
“Great and Holy” Council, regarding amendments
to the texts, that amendments, additions, or corrections
” that [are] not approved unanimously shall not be
passed” is not in harmony with trust in the Lord
Jesus Christ, to Him be glory. This does not leave room
for any significant change to the prepared texts, as
though they were sent down from heaven! Flexibility is
necessary! Only that which is in the Holy Bible and what
is established in the conscience of the Church, we do not
change a letter of it. Apart from that, everything is
under examination and testing, no matter how much time
looking in to them has taken! There are no acceptable
limits in dealing with the proposed texts, especially if
there is ambiguity in them or if they touch on dogmatic or
ecclesiological issues, as is the case with some of what
is contained in these texts. Therefore it is assumed that,
until the end, they remain open to addition, editing, and
even total deletion, because “the word of God is not
chained” (2 Timothy 2:9).

Then, it is not acceptable to gain the conscience of the
bishops or of the people of God by arm-twisting or
extortion! If the work of the council is not open to
Spirit and truth in every case, then it ignores God in
God’s name! God forbid that this be! The final say, in
every matter, belongs to the Word alone! The council acts
in Christ, or what value does it have?

Some Ecclesiological

The Church is a people and a bishop, in Christ, on a given
territory. There is no people without a bishop and no
bishop without a people. The people are in the bishop and
the bishop is in the people (St Cyprian of Carthage). They
are both in Christ, in correct faith in the Lord Jesus
Christ, active in living love. We do not domesticate any
flaws in the faith and we do not permit any counterfeit in
love! Thus it is said, “Little children, keep
yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). Every fault in
the faith that we ignore is an idol and all counterfeit in
love is idolatry! “Whoever is born of God does not
sin… we know that the Son of God has come and has given
us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and
we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ”
(1 John 5:18-20).

As for correct faith, we received it handed down. Of this
the Apostle Paul says to the Corinthians, “keep the
traditions just as I delivered them to you…” (1
Corinthians 11:2). And as John the Elder says to the elect
lady and her children, “If anyone comes to you and
does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your
house nor greet him” (2 John 1:10).

As for love, it is without hypocrisy (cf. Romans 12:9).

As for the bishop, he is the icon of Christ in his people.
His motto with regard to them is the motto of the Chosen
Apostle toward the Corinthians, “Imitate me, just as
I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:1)! He is
the scion of the Apostles. It is assumed in his every
attitude that “his desires are in agreement with the
will of God” (St John Chrysostom). The love of Christ
compels him (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:12). He longs for them
with the affection of Jesus Christ (cf. Philippians 1:8).
He is an extension of Jesus in bearing the suffering of
his people! “Who stumbles and I do not burn?”
said Paul about the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 11:29).

As for territory, it is not in itself anything of the
Church. But the discourse, every discourse, is directed to
the Church, to the faithful, to the brethren, to the
saints in Jerusalem or Antioch or even in the house of one
of the brethren like Nymphas (cf. Colossians 4:14) or
Philemon (cf. Philemon 1:1)!

The path of handing down in faith has accompanied the holy
fathers for generation after generation. Like what they
cried constantly out at the Fourth Ecumenical Council,
“This is the faith of the fathers! This is the faith
of the Apostles! Peter speaks thus through the mouth of
Leo! Thus taught the Apostles! Thus taught Cyril!”

The ties of love that bind the people and the bishop in
Christ caused the likes of Ignatius of Antioch to say,
preserving the unity of the Church, “Obey the bishop
as you obey the commandments of God” (Epistle to the
Trallians 13) and also, “the Spirit proclaimed these
words: Do nothing without the bishop; keep your bodies as
the temples of God; love unity; avoid divisions”
(Epistle to the Philadelphians 7). Likewise, it is the
bishop who ” is in harmony with the commandments [of
God], even as the harp is with its strings” (Epistle
to the Philadelphians 1). This is what makes the bishops
in every corner of the earth “one mind in Jesus
Christ” (Epistle to the Ephesians 3). This is the
given that guides the holy God-Bearer to urge “to
respect the deacons as Christ Jesus, the bishop as the
image of the Father, and the priest as God’s council
and the band of the Apostles” (Epistle to the
Trallians 3).

God is in each church. Jesus Christ is her head and His
truth is her leader. There is no difference between one
church and another except in piety. Therefore, the
churches are not taken according to their size or their
worldly greatness, nor according their wealth, lest Christ
come to be despised in consciousness. Thus the bishops are
equal in honor, whether they were ordained for a large
church or a small one. God’s prestige is our
precedence, not maximizing income! Even if a bishop is
bishop of people in a village, it is his zeal for the
Church of God that places him, when the need calls, over
every church throughout the inhabited world! Are we not
all brethren in the Lord and a brother is just as zealous
for his brother as he is for himself.

Then the bishops in the district, or city, or see, after
the scope of evangelism has widened and the believers and
pastors have increased in number, should not place one of
them over another, so that the headship of Jesus, the
chief of our salvation, may not be challenged, He who is
present here and now (cf. Matthew 28:20) in His truth and
His Gospel! For the ordering of affairs, a first among
equals may be established among them, having the gift of
serving the servants among them, applying God’s words,
” he who is greatest among you, let him be as the
younger, and he who governs as he who serves” (Luke
22:26)! This is not a scope for glory and authority in
disguise, lest the name of God be blasphemed because of
them. But rather, it is a model for the service of piety
and for humility of heart in the love of the Lord!

In Light of the Above

In order to present a view of the coming council in light
of what we have received from the tradition of the
Orthodox Church, we determine whether we are in line with
the patristic, apostolic mind and in accordance with the
theantrhopic consciousness that has come down to us from
the early Church, the consciousness that constitutes, in
correct faith and divine grace, the sole guide for
discerning that which is of the Church from that which is
not of the Church! Defining whether we need to hold a
council, on the level of the whole Orthodox world and the
issues that the council must treat in order to preserve
the correct faith and edify the faithful depend on the
current situation of the Orthodox Church and the
challenges that she is facing on every level, as well as
on the approach that should be taken in dealing with these
challenges and this current reality. I say this because
there are question marks regarding the premises of the
“makers” of the coming council and some aspects
of their approach to the issues raised. Merely presenting
an opinion about what they have reached, with regard to
certain details, here and there, is not sufficient, but
rather places us in the position of someone acquiescing to
the mentality, the premises and the approaches upon whose
foundation the prepared documents have been built. It is
certain to many, ourselves included, that at the
foundations or the starting-points that have been adopted,
there are defects that cannot be neglected and that cannot
be regarded as harmless for us! Therefore, we will
question the starting-points first of all, so that we will
not be taken on the basis of the approach with their
results, lest we find ourselves pouring water into a
cracked well!

Where there is no church, in the sense elucidated above,
there is no bishop because he is not bishop over a
territory, or rather over a church abiding in a territory,
and there is no bishop over a territory where a church had
previously been established but no longer exists. There is
no bishop over Chalcedon, for example, because there is no
longer a people, a church in Chalcedon. There are no
honorary bishops because their very existence degrades the
honor of the Church of Christ, since they do not deal with
the Church and take pride in her as a living entity, but
rather as a historical, geographical entity that has
ceased to exist! There are no auxiliary bishops because
their bond is to a task and not to a people! Honorary
bishops, auxiliary bishops and those like them invalidate
the meaning of the episcopacy and therefore corrupt
traditional practice that as long as there is a church is
there is a bishop. If the need exists for there to be
assistants for bishops of the Church in a territory
(patriarchates, dioceses, archdioceses…), then it is
assumed that people will be appointed and given titles
that correspond to the jobs that they hold, not the title
of bishop, so as to preserve the meaning and the
traditional place of the title “bishop” and so
that the Church will not become accustomed to replacing
the honor of shepherding the people of God, like one to
whom the sheep belong, with empty, honorific titles and in
doing so see the Church of Christ– which is identical to
Him– become a focus for false glory and lust of
self-aggrandizement! The episcopacy is a locus for dying
every day in Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:31), not a locus
for that which honors the servants of the Church in this
world! Nostalgia for a bye-gone past is understandable and
one can sympathize with it, but the true practice of the
Church cannot be based on it!

Geography is subject to politics. But the Church is
hostage neither to geography nor to politics because her
North Star is the Kingdom of Heaven everywhere, under any
ruler and under any political system! Jerusalem was called
Jebus before the Jews. The Roman emeror Hadrian named it
Aelia Capitolina. The Arabs named it al-Quds. In the
Church, cities do not have Christian or holy names and
there are no ecclesiastical political kingdoms! Therefore,
it is not fitting for children of the faith to hold on to
the names of places and cities, as though they had an
eternal, mystical character!

The Byzantine Empire ended. The geography of the imperial
world, which was known as the “oikoumene,” has
changed. The population distribution of the churches in
the empire, geographically, is not what it was. A new
reality has come about. One formula has not changed and
cannot change: a bishop over a people living in a
territory! Nicaea has changed its name and bcome Iznik, so
what? If there was a people and a church there, we would
call it “the Church that is in Iznik.” If we
installed a bishop over the church there, we would call
him the “bishop of the Church that is in Iznik.”
Where is the error in taking a realistic approach? But if
there is no longer a church in Iznik, then there is
absolutely no need to name an honorary bishop for the
church that was in Nicaea but no longer exists! Do we keep
the name “Nicaea” for sentimental reasons? This
cannot overshadow a realistic way of treating the Church,
lest the Church become a church of psychological
complexes! This, moreover, causes us to act as though
historical geography stops at the boundaries of the
Byzantine Empire! No history after that can move forward
and no geography remains capable of changing. Everything,
then, is measured by the standards of the distant past, as
though history reached that point and stopped and
geography reached that point and its milestones became
fixed forever! We continue to be nourished by the theology
and spirituality that developed under the empire. That we
understand, because it has a profound relationship the
faith of the Church and life in her. But for us to be
bound by situational arrangements derived from the extinct
civic and political reality of the empire, as though the
empire didn’t cease to exist 563 years ago, this is an
indication of a mental illness whose consequence is either
despising the present or hampering it, like people who
want to live in the past and don’t want to face the
challenges of the present! This inevitably establishes, as
we think is the case today, an affective schizophrenia.
Does this not sometimes disrupt the life of the Church to
the point of paralysis?

If there is no longer a Byzantine Empire, then this means
that there is no longer, primarily, justification for the
continuation of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and its
component parts! The See of Constantinople is no longer
capable of being an example to be imitated. I say
“primarily,” because the Patriarchate of
Constantinople that impressed its character upon the
Orthodox world when the empire still existed, if the
Orthodox world continues to be influenced by its character
after the empire has ceased to exist, then it will exist
and has existed, as a non-entity impeding the pastoral
care, evangelism and witness of the Church in the time and
place where she has been brought by civilizational,
political and geographical changes in the world. Moreover,
it will exist and has existed as an entity that draws us
to itself and not to Christ, as though the Ecumenical
Patriarchate continues to derive its “authority”
from the person of the Byzantine emperor, not from the
service of Christ, the emperor to whom it was organicalled
tied in history (see the article by John Meyendorf,
“On the Ecumenical Patriarchal Claims to

There is no more Constantinople! Those who follow the
Patriarchate of Constantinople there have come to be less
than two thousand in number. A city named Istanbul has
taken its place. Even Istanbul isn’t currently the
capital of the state that succeeded the Byzantine Empire
and the Ottoman Sultanate, where the Ecumenical
Patriarchate had certain prerogatives, but rather Ankara,
where there is not a single Christian! The Turkish
authorities have at times pressured the Ecumenical
Patriarch to move to Ankara. Should we not be humble and
accept that Constantinople is no longer patriarchal, but
rather an ordinary parish with around five hundred
families? We bow down before the terrible sacrifices of
the Church of Constantinople, but geography has changed,
history has changed, the Church has gone to other places,
and the “oikoumene,” in the Byzantine sense of
the word, no longer has any existence! The issue goes
beyond human sentimentality and nostalgia. In the name of
what sound mind and what upright theology is it right to
call for the patriarchate to continue to be a patriarchate
and the patriarch a patriarch, and for the patriarch to
continue to keep the title “ecumenical”– not
over the oikoumene, as it was understood in the Byzantine
period, but over the inhabited world in the sense of the
whole world, as is the case today?!

With serenity of soul, but with profound pain, we say that
insisting on holding on to the See of Constantinople and
its “ecumenical” primacy in the Orthodox world
means two fundamental things:

First, that the See of Constantinople, represented by the
patriarch and the synod, insofar as it is no longer over a
people or a church existing in a territory that bears its
name– that is, Constantinople– establishes its authority
over a phantom church! So you have a see, or rather, a
group of bishops over no people and no church! Therefore,
the work of the See of Constantinople is not normal in the
Church and is not for shepherding the Church. Its service
is no longer service in the explicit ecclesiastical sense
of the word. It no longer serves the Church, but rather
serves in the name of the Church– and what a difference
there is between these two things! The rights and
prerogatives that the See of Constantinople talks about
place it in the position of someone eternally seeking, not
to deal with the Church, but authority and prerogatives!
So holding on to the Patriarchate of Constantinople means,
with all apology, substituting for the Church those who
are regarded as representing her which frankly makes them,
in practice, talk about the Church, but also behave as
though they regard themselves as being the Church and
above the Church, as mandated above, eternally (!), by an
emperor who no longer exists!

Secondly, the See of Constantinople’s manner of
treating its “historical authority” means
intervening in the other churches, on territory that is
not their own, and claiming authority over them, by the
force of situational canons that can no longer be put into
effect because they are civilly tied to the Byzantine
Empire which no longer exists, insofar as their guarantor
was the person of the emperor and they are tied to him
personally. An example of this is Canon 28 of the Fourth
Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon. The formulation of the
150 fathers at the council was expressed as follows:
“the city which is honored with the imperial
government and the senate and enjoys equal privileges with
imperial Senior Rome should be exalted like her in
ecclesiastical affairs as well.” First of all, there
is no exaltation except for Him who is depicted in the
icon “the Extreme Humility.” So by what is this
exaltation represented? With the consecration of “the
metropolitans alone of the Pontic, Asian and Thracian
dioceses, and also the bishops from the aforesaid dioceses
in barbarian lands…” Some interpreters understood
it as being authority over the dioceses of the
“barbarians” in their time, okay. Even if we
were to accept this by way of argument, what would we
conclude from the background to which it belongs?

We would conclude that this canon, when it was issued, was
conditional upon the city of Constantinople being the seat
of the emperor and the senate! So insofar as the city is
no longer royal because the empire no longer exists and
there is no longer an emperor or a senate in it, the canon
is no longer in effect and there is no longer any
justification for the exaltation (!) of the See of
Constantinople in ecclesiastical affairs, just like
“Old Rome.” The prominent role of the Patriarch
of Constantinople, derived from his proximity to Caesar,
has become a thing of the past! Here it is noteworthy, as
it appears in the Pedalion, was that one of the reasons
that the canon was enacted by the fathers of the council
was service of the other churches and meeting their needs
before Caesar. When the bishop of Laodicea, Nuncius,
wanted to defend the glory of the bishop of
Constantinople, he said, “He is our glory, because he
is concerned with meeting our needs!” As for the
barbarians, those who do not speak Greek and were
considered barbarians according to the Byzantine
Empire’s classification, the arrangement adopted for
the consecration of their bishops has been cancelled
because of the absence of its civil imperatives and the
abandonment of of the classification of peoples into
Greeks and barbarians as had existed in Byzantine times.

Insofar as the Patriarchate of Constantinople no longer
has a people and a church for whose service it is
responsible, its continued use of authority, considered to
be ecclesiastical, has come to be based, in effect, on
three claims:

1. The permanent primacy of the See of Constantinople over
the other sees in the Orthodox world. Insofar as primacy
of service is effectively no longer available, and insofar
as primacy of honor is not enough to sate
Constantinople’s longing for the bye-gone
“greatness” of the Byzantine Empire and its
glories, that nevertheless lives on in some souls up to
today, the primacy represented by the formula “primus
inter pares” is no longer enough for the Ecumenical
Patriarch, because it has no explicit evidence of
leadership giving it real authority over the other
churches, as it had had under the empire. This places it
in an unstable and uncomfortable equilibrium. It has
before it the Vatican model as a sort of incentive,
“reminding” it of what it longs to recover! It
is evident, as voices repeat here and there, that
Constantinople’s restlessness has always been, since
days of old, over how the patriarch can bring together the
Orthodox in himself into a semblance of Papal primacy, and
the correct faith into unilateral authority over the
Orthodox world, and dependence on a single man who derives
his authority from himself– that is, the Ecumenical
Patriarch– insofar as there is no longer an emperor from
whom he can derive his authority! We are not saying this
as a way of making false allegations or with an intent to
harm, but rather by way of objectively observing what
voices are saying about it in Constantinopolitan circles.
To the best of our knowledge, his yearning has been
expressed by at least two people close to the current
Ecumenical Patriarch:

The first is Elpidophoros Lambriniadis, Metropolitan of
Bursa in the Patriarchate of Constantinople, who was
previously secretary to the Ecumenical Patriarch, in his
response to the text on primacy issued by the Patriarchate
of Moscow, following their response to the Ravenna
Document issued by the international body for theological
dialogue between the Orthodox Church and the Vatican.
Among other things, Lambriniadis said, “In the case
of the archbishop of Constantinople, we observe the unique
coincidence of all three levels of primacy, namely the
local (as Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome), the
regional (as Patriarch), and the universal or worldwide
(as Ecumenical Patriarch). This threefold primacy
translates into specific privileges… The primacy of the
archbishop of Constantinople has nothing to do with the
diptychs… If we are going to talk about the source of a
primacy, then the source of primacy is the very person of
the Archbishop of Constantinople, who precisely as bishop
is one ‘among equals,’ but as Archbishop of
Constantinople is the first-hierarch without equals
(primus sine paribus).”

The second is Father John Panteleimon Manoussakis, a
professor of Orthodox theology and philosophy in America.
He wrote a book entitled For the Unity of All:
Contributions to the Theological Dialogue Between East and
West, which is dedicated to Pope Francis and Ecumenical
Patriarch Bartholomew. Its foreword is written by the
Ecumenical Patriarch. The author talks about Petrine
primacy as being fundamental to the hierarchical edifice
of the Church. This cannot be a primacy of honor,
according to him. The author likewise defends Petrine
primacy as including the universal primacy of the
Patriarch of Constantinople. According to him, this
solution can put an end to autocephalies and autonomies
and even put a stop to schisms! He does not talk about a
Petrine primacy by divine right and declared as a dogma,
as it is in the West, but rather of a service of primacy
on a unversal level (belonging to the Ecumenical patriarch
as he is the true leader of all the Orthodox)! Manoussakis
likewise states that there is no contradiction between
primacy and active conciliarity in the Church. He adds
that establishing universal primacy for the Patriarch of
Constantinople, which allows him to speak in the name of
the Orthodox, can, to a remarkable degree, facilitate the
possibility of regaining unity with Rome!

2. Effective domination over the Greek-speaking Orthodox
churches. The Ecumenical Patriarch behaves, with regard to
the Greek-speaking Orthodox churches, as though he has a
sort of function or even moral authority over them, like a
his lasso going back to Ottoman times. Likewise, there is
a common sentiment in the Greek-speaking sees that they
are heir to the Byzantine Empire. The canonical borders of
these sees are easily swept aside by Greek ethnic and
nationalist sentiments. Candidates for the episcopacy are
taken from one see to be installed in another, as is the
case with priests, theology professors, monks and nuns who
easily move from one see to another within this Byzantine
Greek quasi-world. This is rarely subject to examination,
but it has been cause for restlessness among some clergy
and professors in the Greek-speaking churches– sometimes
in very frank terms– as during a recently-recorded talk
by Protopresbyter Theodore Zissis. In practice, we can
only observe that the Ecumenical Patriarch, as a normal
matter of course, exploits Greek ethnic and nationalist
feelings in order to establish his authority and his
primacy in the Orthodox world. In this context, it can be
pointed out that the council held in Constantinople itself
in 1872 declared ethnophylitism to be a heresy in the
Church! This happened after what the Bulgarian Orthodox
did in Constantinople, when they established
Bulgarian-speaking churches directly dependent on their
mother church and only opening their doors to
Bulgarian-speakers. It bears mentioning that
ethnophylitism became common, starting in the early 19th
century, as a response to domination, and extended to the
entire Ottoman Sultanate, in every place, and it– that
is, ethnophylitism– is still strongly active even today,
not only in the Greek-speaking churches, but also the
Slavic and other churches! The truth is, there is no
church where nationalist or ethnophylitist sentiments
don’t play an influential or even primary role. A
condemned heresy, but one that is still active.

3. The Ecumenical Patriarchate regards itself as being
over the Orthodox in what is called the “countries of
the diaspora.” This, referred to openly or obliquely,
is on the basis of Canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon,
which was previously mentioned. So the Orthodox in the
“countries of the diaspora” are either regarded
as being covered by the canon that deals with bishops in
barbarian lands, or are regarded (if they are ethnically
Greek) as flocks of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, whether
they left to the “countries of the diaspora”
from Greece, Cyprus, or elsewhere. As for the primacy of
the See of Constantinople there, it is expressed by the
leadership of the representatives of the See of
Constantinople in different regions at the assemblies of
bishops that were recently established by a decision
issued in 2009 by the Fourth Orthodox Preparatory
Commission for the Great Council. To what extent can this
formula of episcopal assemblies, under the leadership of
the representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, hold
up and succeed in such an environment? So long as the
concern remains affirming the authority of the Ecumenical
Patriarchate, this formula remains fragile, for two

1) The autocephalous churches with a presence in the
“countries of the diaspora” cannot be happy with
the See of Constantinople having over them anything more
than a position of honorary leadership. Any attempt at
domination by the Patriarch of Constantinople there will
cause the others to leave the assembly, as though it
didn’t exist.

2) The leadership of the representative of the Ecumenical
Patriarchate is not always agreeable to the episcopal
assemblies, either because of the small number of
“Greeks” in a given region or because the
Constantinopolitan bishop is not appropriate. Both
situations provoke reservations among the other sees. This
is the situation of the Orthodox in South America, for
example. The Antiochian bishops there object because the
Antiochian presence is more deeply rooted and greater in
size. Then it isn’t easy for them to accept the
leadership of a bishop who is new to them, simply because
he represents Constantinople. People are not easily
molded! Thus, the question posed here is: is the
leadership of the representative of the Patriarch of
Constantinople in every place a sound idea? Would it not
be more effective, if service and good pastoral care were
the concern, for the bishops themselves to choose, in
their assemblies, their own leaders, perhaps on a rotating
basis or on the basis of gifts and merit, as was the
ancient practice? The Second Ecumenical Council, for
example, was not headed at the beginning by the Archbishop
of Constantinople, but by the Archbishop of Antioch, Saint
Meletius the Great because he was a man of sacrifices and
gifts and was radiant. Noteworthy in this context is the
position of Protopresbyter Theodore Zissis, who considers
the multiplicity of bishops, and thus the episcopal
assemblies, to be contrary to the Church’s canons and
artificial and he proposes that everyone everywhere follow
the bishop of the largest church.

In What Environment will the Council be

Since the last great council– whichever you consider it
to be, whether in the eighth century, the fourteenth
century, up to today– numerous changes have entered into
the consciousness of the Orthodox world, which govern the
path of the coming council and to a great degree determine
what will come out of it. If we make these things clear
and make sure to treat them with the necessary wisdom and
sobriety, we find them not only liable to cause great
dissapointment, but also– and we do not know when the
council will be held– likely to have reprecussions that
threaten the cohesion of the Orthodox world!

In light of the above, Constantinople is in a situation in
which it cannot remain for long. It is shrinking on its
own territory to the point of almost disappearing. It is
in dire need of a council that will return to it, on the
earth, the role fitting its bye-gone nobility and
privilidges. In preparing for the great council over the
past twenty years, the Patriarchate of Constantinople has
been racing against time. The one thing constant in the
prepared papers has been the leading role of

Anyone familiar with these papers will notice in general
that they are modest and do not attain the level of needs
and expectations. These needs to not appear to be
fundamental to the architects of the coming council, and
they are liable to postponement. The password with them
seems to be, first of all, gathering the word, even
superficially, no matter what it takes, into the
leadership of the Patriarchate of Constantinople! After
that, everything follows. The important thing is that we
start! The rest will be revealed in turn! For this reason,
Metropolitan John Zizioulas talks about the council being
a process.

Ethnophylitism in the Orthodox world today dominates to a
significant extent. There is something more dangerous than
atheism. There is the rampant conviction that Orthodoxy is
part of a national or ethnic identity. What is the impact
of this new fact? Its impact is that it empties Orthodoxy
of its content and quickly leaves it nailed to the cross
of ethnic and national entities, and so becoming a
dimension in support of the political purposes of these
entities! In the Byzantine Empire, there was a peerless
civilizational synthesis for the peoples of different
backgrounds. Ecclesiastically, there was no need, for
example, for Greek or Syriac churches for nationalistic
reasons. When Chrysostom preached in Greek at Antioch,
there were translators there for Syriac in the church.
Those who gathered around great saints like the great
Saint Simeon the Stylite were Greeks and Syrians, and they
found nothing wrong with praying in their languages in one
place– at different times or even at the same time– or
in establishing adjacent monasteries under the care of one
elder, whether a Greek- or Syriac-speaker, it made no
difference, as long as he was outstanding. Today,
Orthodoxy is for the most part a vehicle for

Today, theoretical atheism has abated. Today, the atheism
is practical. Christians without Christ and Orthodox
without a true, living Orthodoxy that is active in love,
in Spirit and in truth. This is what worldliness has done
today. By worldliness, what is meant, in Christian terms,
is adapting the Church to put her in the service of the
affairs of this world. Pragmaticism takes the place of
matters divine. Worldliness, then, whether on the level of
the consumerist approach to life or on the level of
science and thought! Theology without Spirit, rituals
without worship, study without the fear of God, theology
for scholars, not for saints, bishops for authority, not
for pastoring!

There is a unity that many today who are called believers
long for with intense zeal: the unity of Christians! They
regard this as the unity of the body of Christ, the unity
of the Church! They say that Christ prayed that all may be
one… but what unity can we possibly hope for? The issue
of the relationship of the Orthodox Church to the rest of
the Christian world, what are its implications? How will
this unity be? Will they be brought to the truth or will
each of them be made into truth? The important thing is
that they unite! That they feel that they are one! One
font, one chalice! Their thinking? Let each think in his
own way! Their intent? Let their Lord judge this! So why
was there tradition and correct belief? A major question,
the response to which will define the Church’s present
and future.

Observations about the Council and its

We have most often noted objections to the paper “The
Relationship between the Orthodox Church and the rest of
the Christian World.” Those objecting are
traditionalists who have for some time held positions
rejecting this relationship to degrees ranging from
moderate opposition to total opposition to all ecumenical
activity. This is a sample of what exists, in order to
clarify the picture and explain the reactions:

1) First we must realize that the Orthodox Church entered
the ecumenical movement, as represented by the World
Council of Churches, with one mentality and then they
changed and took on a mentality completely different from
how they had been at first. What do I mean? Father Georges
Florovsky, who was one of the founders of the World
Council of Churches, represented his position by affirming
that “there is no schism within the unity of the
Church, but rather breaking away from the Church,”
that the Orthodox Church is the true Church, the only true
Church, and that for him, regaining Christian unity is
“universal conversion to Orthodoxy.” He also
stated that he did not judge as to whether anyone was
outside the Church, because judgment belongs to the Son
“no one is authorized to preempt the judgment.”
However, this does not preclude and is not in
contradiction with the Church having authority in history
that is, first of all, “the authority to teach and to
preserve the word of God faithfully.” For him, sound
theology is the proper foundation for Christian unity.
This does not only mean agreement on formulas and the
Creed. The current separation is “a separation in
faith, in the experience of the faith itself.” For
him, there is no separation between theology and Orthodox
spirituality. A common consciousness is missing. Our way
of reading things isn’t one. Only “by returning
to the common mind of the early Church is it possible to
overcome divisions.” This is what the Orthodox Church
must help the others to attain, because she alone is the
true Church who bears the apostolic consciousness to the
present day.

The Orthodox who are ecumenically-inclined today have, in
practice, conceded to the branch theory and the Orthodox
Church has become for them like the others, one of the
churches and denominations, which are in need of the
reform of a unity that has been lost, instead of bringing
the others back to the original consciousness as the only
one that has preserved it in herself in history.

2. Metropolitan Athanasius of Limassol sent a letter to
the Holy Synod of Cyprus on February 11, 2016 in which he
commented on the paper “The Relationship of the
Orthodox Church to the Rest of the Christian World.”
Among what he said in it is that the Orthodox Church is
the Church and “there do not exist other Churches,
only heresies and schisms.” As for the expression,
“towards the restoration of Christian unity,” it
“is incorrect because the unity of Christians –
the members of the Church of Christ – has never been
broken, as long as they remain united to the Church.”
He then explains that there are no churches and
denominations, there is “one Church and that all the
others are schisms and heresies.” He adds with regard
to the purpose of theological dialogues that saying
“the final restoration of unity in correct faith and
love” is “theologically unacceptable for us
all.” He also states that, “The view that the
preservation of the genuine Orthodox faith is guaranteed
only through the synodical system as the only
‘competent and final authority on matters of
faith’ is exaggerated and ignores the truth that
many synods throughout Church history taught and espoused
incorrect and heretical doctrines, and it was the faithful
people which rejected them and preserved the Orthodox
faith and championed the Orthodox Confession. Neither a
synod without the faithful people, the fullness of the
Church, nor the people without the synod of Bishops, is
able to regard themselves as the Body of Christ and Church
of Christ and to correctly express the experience and
doctrine of the Church.” He closes by stressing the
need for precisely formulating the text and eliminating
any ambiguity in it and he reminds us that in order for
the council to be acceptable and canonical, it must not
deviate in any way from the spirit and dogmas of the holy
councils that preceded it.

3. Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus has commented on
paragraph 22 of the paper, which condemns ” all
efforts to break the unity of the Church, undertaken by
individuals or groups under the pretext of maintaining or
defending true Orthodoxy”on the grounds that
conciliarity is “the suitable and final judge in
matters of faith in the Church.” He commented on it
by saying that it gives the impression that the coming
council is preemptively seeking for itself
“infallibility in its decisions.” As for the
last part of the phrase, it seems that it does not take
into account that the final measure of the faith in the
Orthodox Church is the “dogmatic consciousness of the
Church’s members,” something that caused some
councils in the past that claimed to be
“ecumenical” to be revealed as robbers’

4. Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos, in his third letter to
the Holy Synod of Greece (May 5, 2016), examines, among
other things, paragraph 6 of the document, and states that
the phrase “the Orthodox Church acknowledges the
existence in history of other Christian Churches and
confessions which are not in communion with her”
must, in order to prevent doublespeak in the document, be
replaced with “the Orthodox Church knows that her
charismatic limits correspond to her canonical boundaries,
as she also knows that there exist other Christian
Confessions, which are cut off from her and do not find
themselves in communion with her.”

5. In a letter to the Holy Synod of Greece about the paper
that we are discussing, Dr Demetrios Tselengidis, after
engaging in a lengthy analysis of its contents with the
necessary theological precision, arrives at the following
conclusion: “With all that is written and what is
clearly implied in the text above, it is clear that its
initiators and authors are attempting the institutional
and official ratification of Christian
Syncretistism-Ecumenism by means of a Pan-Orthodox Synod.
This, however, would be catastrophic for the Orthodox
Church. For this reason I humbly propose the text’s
total withdrawal.”

What will Result from the Paper if it is

If the paper is adopted as it has been presented to the
“Great” Council, the consequences resulting from
its acceptance will be numerous and serious. Here are some
impressions in this regard:

Accepting the lowest common denominator of the faith, as
represented by the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed and the
theology of baptism as sufficient grounds for the unity of
Christians will mean abandoning the basis of tradition in
the Church! All the fathers and councils of the Church,
from Saint Leo the Great to Saint Photius the Great to
Saint Mark of Ephesus to all the fathers and councils who
have condemned the Catholics for heresy on account of the
Filioque, purgatory, the infallibility of the pope, the
Immaculate Conception, and many other things, no longer
have any value to their judgments! It is no longer
possible for us to say, “This is what Leo and Photius
taught us, this is what we have received from Mark, this
is the dogma of the Church…” because outside the
bounds of the teaching of the Councils of Nicaea and
Constantinople, there is nothing, in light of the paper,
that remains obligatory! Each church may say, then, what
it likes. If the Orthodox Church wants to hold on to the
likes of Saints Leo, Photius and Mark, that is her
business. In any case, there are no longer heresies! Only
differences in perspective. The true faith and heresy are
twins. It is no coincidence that the word
“heresy” does not occur even once in the entire

Accepting the paper and its being binding upon the Church
means that the basis of “hypostatic truth”, the
Lord Jesus Christ, the Spirit who speaks and and with the
Church, the ecclesial dogmatic consciousness that exists
within the believing people, and the lived experience of
the faith in the Church, handed down once to the saints
and transmitted to us through the righteous ones, saints,
and martyrs, is no longer has the decisive say in the
affairs of the Church, but rather is entirely replaced by
a bureaucracy that arrogates– in the name of formal,
nominal conciliarity, in which there is effectively no
commitment of spirit, no consultation, no relationship to
the Church, the people of God, and no bounds of
consciousness– I say it arrogates authority over the
Church and gives itself the quality of infallibility in
the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, tradition, and correct

Reliance on the logic of distinguishing between the
invisible, mystical Church and the visible, historical
Church, regarding the former as one in every case and
comprising all, while the latter is divided and undergoing
a process of unification through a effort to express her
unity in a perceivable manner through uniting the faithful
in her in the image of the mystical Church– I say that
reliance on such a logic means replacing the Church of the
Holy Spirit with a worldly, psychological church, emptied
of her spiritual content, in which judgment is superficial
and not spiritual! If the mystical Church is not present,
abiding and active in us and translated into history while
remaining herself, here and now, then what church remains
for us?! In this case, deep down, the love that the paper
talks about is no more than fallen human sentiments, not
love in Spirit and in truth! In this case, the unity of
Christians, in stifling worldly time, a unity that is more
political than anything. This means that the work to
realize the unity of Christians becomes a value in itself,
even if it is regarded, falsely and fantastically, to be
an effort for the hoped-for unity of the Church, because
in reality it is no more than an effort to attack the
Orthodox Church from within and to empty her of her
spiritual, dogmatic content! This is a demonic and not a
divine activity!!!

Of course, one understands that there is a problem between
the Orthodox Church and those outside of her. One also
understands, in the words of Father George Florovsky, that
“Christian division means nothing less than the
failure of Christians to be true Christians… even if
they are one in the site of the fullness of truth…
because it in impermissible for anyone to be free of
responsibility for others.” Of course, in all
honesty, we in the Orthodox Church are responsible to a
great extent for the suffering of those on the outside.
This reflects on us, on our failure and our incompetence
in “employing the authority to teach and preserve the
word of God faithfully in the world,” as Florovsky
puts it! However, this does not mean, does not permit,
does not excuse in any way our consecrating our sin with a
canon in order to make it the foundation of our effort to
realize a hollowed-out Christian unity in place of the
unity of the Church that we can only maintain in
ourselves, first of all through repentance, faith and
love, in Spirit and in truth!

Where to Sail?

The situation is dangerous! Therefore, let us not talk
about it. Let us walk in faith, not by sight.

I do not want to delve into where the journey of this
“Great” Council may lead. That is the reckoning
of the people of the world. In human terms, the Orthodox
world is swimming in an inner sea and an outer ocean,
where adverse winds are increasing and the fish are
sharks! But the spirit of Orthodoxy is bold, and your Lord
has grown bored with monotony and inaction and souls in
many breasts have grown restless. Until when? Paul said to
the people on the boat, on his journey to Rome (let the
reader understand), “I perceive that this voyage will
end with disaster and much loss…”

Finally, despite the warning, after a long wait, they
resolved to set sail. When the south wind blew softly,
they supposed that they had obtained their desire. Not
long after, a tempestuous head wind blew against the ship
and it was caught and could not head into the wind. They
suffered for seven days and seven nights. But do not fear,
O Paul, God has given you all those journeying with you.
Thus it happened that all safely made it to shore.

It is best for the ship to not be launched, but since it
has set off, do not fear, because your Lord is sleeping on
a pillow in it! What do you see me do when the water is
stagnant in the Church and my soul burns with the Spirit
in it, boiling in a body whose bonds had grown great over
history? Your Lord only manifests Himself in the storms,
since He comes to you walking on water! Do not fear!

The important thing is that no one be alone in himself,
like the sailors on Paul’s ship, in order to save
themselves! In that case, you cannot be saved. Let us hold
fast to one another, with you before us! The Spirit of
communion teaches you. The Orthodox are crazy, no doubt.
For this reason, they are not controlled! This is the
mystery of God in them and the mystery of the
Opponent’s inability to beat them! There is nothing
easier for the Enemy than to crush rational people!
“You are all fair my love, there is not a spot in
you” (Song of Songs 4:7) and this is how your Lord
has seen you, O my Church!

Suffice is for us for each one to see to his brothers,
even if the neighbors and politicians of the world shriek
against it! My Christ, in You first! Then, may your Lord
turn everything with you into a blessing. Serve each other
in love, He said, But if you bite and devour one another,
beware lest you be consumed by one another (cf. Galatians

But first we must find ourselves on an island, because
there are those who want you fight.

So what, then? At least let the muddy water stir. Perhaps,
by the grace from above, we may shed this dead skin, lest
we rot! May the Lord God pardon your adventures, O New

Our father and beloved patriarch,

This is what I have. I offer it to your fatherhood and to
our honorable Synod, asking for pardon in advance for
every failing or superfluous word in it.

I ask for your blessing and your prayers,
In the love of the Lord Jesus Christ,
Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan the
Athonite– Douma, Lebanon
Sunday, May 21, 201

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