Many Questions, Simple Answer: On Process and Governance of the Holy and Great Council
Fr. John Chryssavgis
Social media and news organizations have reported confusion in advance of the convening of the Holy and Great Council. The following Q&A is offered to help clarify the process and governance of the Holy and Great Council.
Can changes be made to texts and if so, what is the process?
Yes, changes can be made. The decisions and rules of the council, approved by the primates in January, encourage and welcome criticism so that there will be further discussion and revision during the sessions of the council. The bishops attending the council are expected to contribute actively to the process of revising and adopting the decisions and documents of the council. No one has precluded revisions, no one has excluded deliberations, and no one has predetermined decisions.
The documents and decisions, as well as the final message of the Holy and Great Council, represent the entire Orthodox Church through its 14 autocephalous Orthodox Churches, all of whom committed to the convocation and agenda of the council by their approval, endorsement and repeated participation in a series of pan-Orthodox preparatory conferences and planning commissions.
Is this a council of the church or a gathering of local churches?
A “great” council has greater jurisdiction than any administrative synod of an autocephalous Orthodox Church. It is called “great” not because of any presumptuousness on the part of the participating bishops, but because it involves a wider representation than any individual or regional synod.
Without the attendance of one or more Churches, the Council may not be pan-Orthodox, but it is definitely “great.” In this particular case, however, it is also pan-Orthodox because, while not all Churches may be present, all of the Orthodox Churches decided to convene the Holy and Great Council (on more than one occasion, over a period of at least two years); approved the decisions and documents and rules (with only one or two particular instances as exceptions); and agreed to hold a Synaxis of Primates immediately prior to the convocation of the Holy and Great Council on the Feast of Pentecost.
All Churches also voted on the binding nature of the Council. Therefore, the decisions of the Holy and Great Council are valid and authoritative for all Churches – including those that change their minds about attending. The decisions are binding and authoritative because they emerge from a Holy and Great Council approved and convened by pan-Orthodox consensus.
Finally, any and all decisions and documents will undergo a natural process of reception and adoption by the conscience and consensus of the people of God – that is to say, by the official Churches, clergy and laity of Orthodox faithful throughout the world. That was also the case with paramount decisions and doctrinal definitions even of Ecumenical Councils in the past.