Last Sunday, we commemorated the Holy Fathers of the First Ecumenical Council who met in Niceae in the early fourth century (325 AD). When I got home I started to think about why we haven’t had an ecumenical council since the eighth century. Historically, we should review some facts about all the councils. All these gatherings had some common denominators.
- The were never called as “ecumenical” councils.
- They were later recognised as such.
- They were called to decide specific questions, which had arisen and troubled the Church.
- These included : “Who was Jesus?” and “What is the nature of the Holy Trinity”?
- They also settled issues that were derived from the above questions such as: “Who was Mary?”
- They were convened by Imperial Decree.
OK, what is the hold up, it’s been since 787AD. Haven’t we had burning issues in the Church since the eighth century? What about the Great Schism? Didn’t this issue warrant a great conclave to settle the dispute? It seems to me (just personal speculation) that two related reasons may have disturbed the accustomed polity of the Church. One was the person and influence of the imperial house. Namely, the emperor who, following the example of St. Constantine, always convened the councils. What happened after the eighth century was Islam. The Byzantine Empire was confronted by the peril of Islam and the Church’s regular relationships between all the five ancient patriarchates was disturbed. Later, the emperor was literally fighting for the life of the empire. We all know about the estrangement of the western church through political issues and ego. Then came the crusades and the relationships between the East and West deteriorated. There were several attempted councils of “reunion”; but they were, quite frankly, coerced in the face of the eminent fall of Constantinople and the Islamic threats. The works of St. Mark Eugenics detail the difficulties for the Orthodox at Council of Ferrara-Florence in the mid 15th century. Then came the times of captivity, both the Ottoman and the Communist eras.
Now times have changed, but one thing that has not changed is the great need for the Church to come together and discuss things that need attention. I, for one applaud, His All Holiness for moving in the direction of calling a great council of the Church. Let’s not be so cynical by immediately thinking of “evil agendas” and “egos”. This week as we prepare for Pentecost, don’t we, as Orthodox Christians, still believe that the Holy Spirit lives in the Church? The council will convene and the Spirit will assure the outcome, not the machinations of politics and human desires. What should you and I do to guarantee the outcome? PRAY, start from now and fervently pray for the council. Then and only then can we as the faithful influence the conclave.