The conciliar nature of the Orthodox Church:
definition and implications
Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology
It is an unmistakable fact of the 20th century that the Christian
church has rediscovered an interest in itself. Ecclesiology, the
doctrine of the church, has flourished in the last 50 years or more.
Stimulated by such things as the modern ecumenical movement, the
Second Vatican Council, and the Pan-Orthodox Pre-Conciliar process,
theologians, church leaders and ordinary Christians have brought
renewed attention to the questions of “what is the church?”
“How is meant to function in its earthly form?” “What
are its instruments of authority?”
Eastern Orthodoxy has experienced a particularly poignant ecclesial
renewal. After centuries during which Orthodox theology existed
in what has been called a “Western captivity” —
an exile of sorts, in which most theological activity took place
in western Europe, subsumed by the Roman Catholic/Protestant polemic,
while most autocephalous churches lived in isolation from each other,
in uncongenial political contexts — Orthodox churches are
now reasserting the living tradition of authentic Orthodox ecclesiology.
Socio-political change, diaspora experience, development of missiology,
and the ecumenical conversation have all stimulated new ecclesial
In attempting to express its authentic identity, the Orthodox church
has rediscovered that it is “neither papal nor protestant.”1
Orthodoxy resists the vertical authority structure of the Roman
Catholic church; “as a third way beyond the antithesis that
had been set up during the Reformation era, Eastern Orthodox ecclesiology
seemed to present a view of the church that hallowed its traditions
as even Roman Catholicism did not and that nevertheless did not
identify those traditions with an authoritarian and juridical institution.”2
Likewise, Orthodoxy resists the horizontal, individualistic pietism
of the Protestant church. The Orthodox church is neither overly
horizontal nor overly vertical in focus; rather, it is conciliar.
Under any circumstance, Orthodoxy has “an intense ecclesial
The Church is a subject of doctrinal, and not simply political,
consideration. The renewed interest in the conciliar nature of the
church has highlighted the distinctive approach and importance of
ecclesiology for Orthodoxy. The Church, as an article of faith,
is neither a mystical body nor an historical institution. Rather,
it is an incarnational reality, an embodiment of the triune God,
set in order by the Holy Spirit.
The Church is constitutive of Christian faith precisely because
of its trinitarian, relational nature. Human life in the image of
God is life in relationship: relationship with the world, other
people, and God. Human spiritual fulfillment is not a moral attainment
or accomplishment, it is a way of being in relationship. The Church
is the place where such relational fulfillment is (or should be)
most realized. Indeed, a solitary Christian is a contradiction in
terms. To be a Christian is to be part of a Christian community.
Therefore, the qualities of the community are anything by incidental.
The way of being as Church is the way of being as Christian.
The modern Orthodox ecclesial renewal, and its reexamination of
patristic conciliarity, has centered around several nodes of inquiry.
The Pan-Orthodox Pre-Conciliar movement — the process of preparing
for a Great and Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church — has stimulated
deeper consideration of the meaning of a Council within Orthodoxy.
The Russian theology of sobornost — a complex and evocative
synthesis of trinity, unity, catholicity and conciliarity —
highlighted the relational spiritual quality of the Church at all
levels which undergirds the conciliar event. “Eucharistic
ecclesiology” has focused attention on the local eucharistic
community as the most fundamental instance of the Church, upon which
conciliarity is rooted. The modern ecumenical movement, with its
project of comparative ecclesiology and the dominance of Protestant
confessionalism, has created an urgent need to articulate more clearly
the Orthodox understanding of the Church. Through each of these
four venues, a consensus has emerged which reaffirms that the Orthodox
Church is by nature conciliar, and should experience its conciliar
nature at all levels. A corresponding awareness has emerged that
the Church is not always faithful to its conciliar nature, and may
benefit from a self-examination, critique and perhaps corrective.
elements of a definition of conciliarity
No concise theological definition exists to describe the conciliar
nature of the Church. However it is possible to describe the elements
of such a definition, and I will attempt to do so here. At its most
superficial level, conciliarity refers to the holding of councils
for the purpose of common agreement in faith and practice. However
this level of description utterly belies the theological meanings
of conciliarity. Therefore, the first claim to make is a negative
one: conciliarity can not be defined by describing a council.
The church has experienced a variety of patterns of councils at
many levels, in many historical contexts. An external description
of a council — its membership, constitution, or procedures
— can not provide a normative definition of conciliarity.
Such an external study, focusing on the council as an institution
of church government, with certain criteria necessary for validity,
represents an ecclesiology of form which is foreign to Orthodox
theology. The question is not “what is a valid council”
but “what is a council and how does it reflect the conciliar
nature of the church itself”4
Thus our second element of a definition, also in the negative,
is that conciliarity is, at the core, non-institutional.
Orthodox ecclesiology is an ecclesiology of content rather than
form. The church is the life of grace and communion with God, the
sacrament which expresses (represents, makes present, fulfills)
the reality of new life. This sacrament takes a certain form, but
it is not reduced to it. It is certainly not fulfilled simply by
the convening of the external form of a council or synod.
To put this is a more positive sense, conciliarity is an all-pervasive,
constitutive mark of the Church. “For conciliarity
is not something which the Church has — it is what
the Church is”5
Conciliar theory begins by seeing the Church itself as council,
just as the Greek word “ekklesia” literally means synod
or council. “The Church’s synodal structure is a constitutive
principle, which is of divine origin, essential and irreplaceable.”6
Synodality … is a characteristic expected to pervade every
expression of ecclesial life. … The synodal expression of
ecclesial life should be found in every act of communion among all
the members of the body of Christ. … The church’s order
is an organic expression of the very nature of the church.7
Thus, according to a conciliar model, all matters of faith and
practice at all levels of the Church should be determined by a council.
Conciliarity is not, as is sometimes assumed, an attribute of the
episcopacy. It is a defining attribute of the entire Church, from
patriarch to laity, for conciliarity is not something to be found
in the church, it is the very nature of the church.
The deepest meaning of conciliarity is trinitarian. “Each
person of the Holy Trinity lives not for himself but for the other.”8
Because the Trinity is council, a communion of persons, the Church
is also council; the church reproduces on earth the Trinitarian
mystery of unity. The conciliar Church is “an orderly communion
of persons freely united in the Holy Trinity in truth and in love.”9
This is not due to any authoritative command that the Church “ought”
to be conciliar, but because, by participation in the divine life,
the Church takes on the qualities of the Trinity. “The very
act of organizing the life of the Church becomes an act of worship
and in this worship we participate in the very life of God: Father,
Son and Holy Spirit.”10
Conciliarity is the experience of divinely restored human life.
It describes an experience of synergy between God and humans, in
which humans participate with God through the Holy Spirit in the
formulation of Truth. “Through conciliarity, the nature of
the Church as theanthropic communion in Christ is expressed.”11
By participating in the conciliar life of the community —
unity in diversity through mutual-indwelling — we participate
in the divine life, and vice versa. Thus conciliarity is found “in
every act of communion among all members of the Church’s body.”12
Rooted in Matthew 18:20, it represents an understanding of Christian
life lived in mutually accountable community.
According to most Orthodox theologians, conciliarity is hierarchical.
This is closely tied to its trinitarian nature, for the Trinity
itself is hierarchy. It is claimed that, far from being contradictory
or competing systems, conciliarity actually presupposes and requires
hierarchy. (This is a point which I will return to, since, speaking
from my own Christian tradition of radical non-hierarchy, I am not
convinced of the necessity of hierarchy as a element of a definition
Conciliarity, as the communion of divinely restored humanity, is
deeply eucharistic. It is in the eucharist that we are
made one in Christ, a unity in diversity. The revival of eucharistic
ecclesiology has especially emphasized the fact that unity and catholicity
are attributes of the eucharistic community. All conciliar activity
is grounded in the eucharistic experience.
Through its eucharistic nature, conciliarity manifests the
catholicity of the Church. Each eucharistic community is the
one holy catholic and apostolic church in its fullness. The conciliar
communion between these communities guarantees the catholic identity
of each and the unity of the entire body of Christ. The common celebration
of the eucharist as the climax of a Council seals the unity of the
Church which is a divine gift.
Conciliarity is, of course, historically normative for
the Church. Although the central role of the Council in the Tradition
can not be disputed, it bears some review here. In the earliest
days of the Christian community, the Church existed only in Jerusalem.
The followers of Jesus experienced their new faith in such a way
that their life together in community was of central importance.
They came together as a whole Church whenever important decisions
needed to be made. This lived experience of the apostles —
that their faith impelled them into relationships of mutual accountability
and in-dwelling — forms the basis for all future conciliar
activity. As the church grew in the next centuries, so did the manifestations
of, and understanding of, conciliarity. When the church spread beyond
Jerusalem, each local church was seen as being the same, full, catholic
church. Unity of the faith was maintained by councils between the
local churches. When the church became an Imperial Church, with
the Emperor holding some right over it, the concept of council evolved
again. The Emperors began to call councils of bishops for the sake
of civil order and imperial unity, although the bishops maintained
their own goal of unity of faith. The seven “Ecumenical Councils”
existed within this concept of the Christian empire, and can not
be repeated. However, it is a mistake to think that the Ecumenical
Councils exhaust the concept of conciliarity. While we can not replicate
the context of the past, we must look always for manifestations
of conciliar life in the current situation.
As a corrective against rigid traditionalism, it must be clear
that conciliarity is a dynamic and living experience. This
is necessarily the case in light of the pneumatological, incarnational,
sacramental emphasis above. The Conciliar Church is not simply the
Church which follows the teachings of the Councils of the past,
but is primarily the Church which lives in spirit-filled conciliar
relationships today. This point has become increasingly clear through
the experience of the Pan-Orthodox Pre-Conciliar movement, as we
Thus we have accumulated a list of adjectives to describe conciliarity:
non-institutional, constitutive, trinitarian, theanthropic, hierarchical,
eucharistic, catholic, traditional, and dynamic. Clearly this is
a complex idea which eludes mechanical definition. Ultimately, it
is an experience which is given by grace and recognized by faith.
It can not be created, but only received in gratitude and humility.
Following logically from this, a Council, as an event, is “a
reflection and manifestation of the conciliar nature or conciliarity
of the church”13
implications of this definition of conciliarity
One of the results of the renewed interest in conciliar theory
among Orthodox theologians has been a fruitful process of self-examination
and critique. Rediscovering this basic emphasis in Orthodox ecclesiology,
and presenting it to the world via the ecumenical movement, has
let to a reconsideration of both theology and practice within the
There seems to be general agreement among Orthodox theologians
that the conciliar life of the Church has broken down in recent
times. There is a confusion in practice which stems from a neglect
of the theology, especially in the area of the conciliarity of the
whole church at all levels. There are various explanations of what
went wrong. Some would say that the development of provincial councils
as the preeminent instrument of church government obscured the local
councils on which conciliarity is based, and which included bishops,
priests and lay people. Others would see the call for the inclusion
of lay people in councils as a secularization and democratization
of the holy synod.
Hopko offers an explanation of how Orthodox conciliarity broke
down in practice as
the result of an unfortunate combination of late Byzantine hierarchical
thinking and modern Westernized ‘school theology’ mixed
together with contemporary ‘neo-patristic’ and ‘eucharistic’
ecclesiology — all poorly understood and wrongly applied.14
The patristic idea of the bishop as the icon of God is now interpreted
without benefit of the patristic context, in which each bishop was
rigorously engaged with all other bishops. Instead, a neo-platonic
“emanationist” doctrine and a counter-reformation doctrine
of “holy orders” combine to place bishops “at
the top of a hierarchical ecclesiastical structure no longer understood
as imaging the Holy Trinity”15
In the cultural context of the Ottoman and Russian empires, such
bishops ruled over the faithful by virtue of their special grace,
authority and power. Priests and deacon were their delegates. The
people themselves had no Christian ministry of their own. This is
clearly far from the apostolic model.
offers a similar critique in terms of spiritual corruption and loss
of relational spirituality. He sees contemporary Christians as so
far gone in our selfishness that we don’t even perceive the
problem of our lack of conciliarity. Instead, we assert our own
rights, and try to justify ourselves. The church councils, when
they are founded on “me” individualism rather than “thou”
conciliarity, will become tyranny. Carras reminds us that St. Gregory
the Theologian described how the councils of bishops were consumed
with rivalry, power and ambition. Our human lack of faithful response
to God’s gift has undermined the conciliar beauty of the Church.
But we can repent of our self-centeredness and separation. We can
experience death, resurrection and new life in Christ. We can experience
what we were made for: participation in the divine life.
It seems clear that some of the loss of conciliarity can be attributed
to an over-emphasis on so-called “universal” ecclesiology,
for which “eucharistic” ecclesiology has been offered
as a corrective. In the crudest terms, universal ecclesiology is
top-down, whereas eucharistic ecclesiology is bottom-up. Universal
ecclesiology, which is the ecclesiology of the Roman Catholic Church,
sees the whole church in the whole world as a single organic entity
with a single head. Each local manifestation of the church is a
part of the body. Afanassieff17
reminds us that universal ecclesiology is a product of the imperial
mindset, which sees unity as derived from centralization. This was
the Roman political ideology, and it seemed logical to church theologians
like Cyprian, who were worried about the looser, more subjective,
unity of the conciliar church — a number of autonomous local
churches united by concord and love, except that in practice they
were sometimes more engaged in discord and enmity.
Using Paul’s image of the body of Christ, Cyprian developed
the idea that fullness and unity are attributes of the whole church,
and each local manifestation is merely a member or part of that
whole, not itself possessing catholicity. The Catholic Church is
the sum of its parts, like the branches of a tree.
But universal ecclesiology is not the only means to Christian unity,
and it was not the pattern of the primitive church. This was eucharistic
ecclesiology. In the early centuries, every local church was autonomous
and independent. This was not just historical circumstance; it was
a doctrinal assertion that the eucharist assembly constituted the
church. The Universal Church idea, when it took hold, represented
a change in both circumstance and doctrine. Recent Orthodox theology
has sought to reclaim eucharistic ecclesiology as being more authentically
Orthodox and more suitable to a conciliar church.
Eucharistic ecclesiology claims that the local church is the Body
of Christ in its eucharistic aspect — by partaking of the
one loaf which is the one body of Christ, the eucharistic community
becomes the Body. “The local church is autonomous and independent,
because the Church of God in Christ indwells it in perfect fullness.
… There may be a plurality of such manifestations, but the
Church of God itself always remains one and unique.”18
Each local church is the whole church, and at the same time all
the local churches together are the one church. “In the Church,
unity and plurality are not only overcome: the one also contains
There is no sense of the church being made up of parts. Rather,
the eucharistic assembly around a bishop — the diocese —
is the fundamental unit of the church. Anything larger, such as
a metropolitanate or patriarchate, is derivative in nature, consisting
simply of a number of dioceses in mutual fellowship.
In eucharistic ecclesiology, the catholicity of the Church is fundamentally
a concrete, visible aspect which is made real in the eucharist.
The eucharist is the experience which brings together the “many”
and the “one”, the “already” and the “not
yet.” This one eucharistic community transcends all natural
and social divisions. The one bishop at the table signifies the
one catholic church before God. The catholicity of the church is
christological, in that it is a mark of the real presence of Christ
in the Christian community. It is pneumatological in that it is
dynamic in history. It is local because it is living and concrete.
The fact that catholicity is eucharistic, is highlighted by the
fact that the conciliar activity of the church from the earliest
time was concerned with issues of eucharistic communion as the local
churches related to each other.
It is clear that each of these ecclesiological thrusts —
universal and eucharistic — contains a certain view of the
catholicity of the church, of where the fullness of the church is
located. Catholicity and conciliarity are related but not identical
concepts. “One could characterize conciliarity as the ‘conscience’
and realization of catholicity.”20
If we accept the proposition that conciliarity is catholicity made
manifest, then both universal and eucharistic ecclesiologies will
have distinct views of the church council. One of the places where
this distinction is most clear is in the understanding of how authority
operates in the Church.
Much discussion has taken place between the Roman Catholic and
Orthodox churches on the topic of authority and primacy. The simplistic
version is that supreme authority for Roman Catholics lies in the
papacy, whereas for Orthodox it lies in the Ecumenical Councils.
While the actual situation is much more complicated than that, the
element of truth here is that the two models of ecclesiology, universal
and eucharistic, do lead to two understandings of supreme ecclesial
authority, monarchical and conciliar. The Orthodox Church is still
in process of reclaiming its understanding of conciliar authority.
Beginning in the 19th century, Orthodox theologians began to express
a critique of authority in both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.
Khomiakov, a Russian lay theologian, felt that his sobornost concept
was an important response to the Western ideas of Papal infallibility,
Protestant individualism and Reformed rationalism, all of which
placed authority in the autonomous individual rather than in the
collective body of Christ. Khomiakov wrote:
Protestantism was nothing more than papal individualism brought
to its logical conclusion. Rome had imposed upon the Christian West
unity without freedom; the Protestants achieved freedom, but at
the expense of unity. Yet neither unity without freedom nor freedom
without unity was of any use. They both meant the isolation of man,
and his exclusion from the redeeming influence of true Christian
fellowship. The West had rejected the fundamental teaching of love,
on which the whole life of the Church was based.21
The Orthodox understanding of authority through freedom and love
takes shape in the concept of reception. A council is not authoritative
in and of itself, but only as it is received. A council is the supreme
authority in faith, not because it has juridical power, but because
it has charismatic authority which has withstood the test of reception
over time. Councils do not have automatic infallibility. It is the
church which affirms the council. “Truth in the church does
not depend upon any infallible institution but is an experience
always available in the communion of the Church – this communion
being understood, of course, both as faithfulness to tradition and
as openness to the consensus fidelium today.”22
The importance placed on reception is the consequence of eucharistic
ecclesiology — every church is the whole church, which recognizes
the whole church in other local churches. Ultimate authority lies
in the Holy Spirit, who can not finally be captured by a council.
Councils of bishops can err. How is it determined that a council
is ecumenical or not? Who or what validates a council? There is
no satisfactory answer to that question, according to Ware23.
Reception by the whole church is a simplistic answer, but what about
the case of Chalcedon? It was not received by the whole church.
Which was flawed, the council? or the churches which did not receive
it? How do we decide? There is some danger that an overemphasis
on reception democratizes the conciliar principle by requiring councils
to be, in a sense, ratified in a juridical process. The true sense
of reception is more subtle. Either a council is taken into the
life of the Church, or it is not. Reception is not expressed formally;
it is lived. The validity of a council is not ultimately based on
any external criteria, but rather on the presence of God.
In universal ecclesiology, reception does not make as much sense.
How can a universal council be subject to a local church? Rather,
the local churches, as parts of the universal church, are naturally
subject to its pronouncements. According to universal ecclesiology,
unity of the one organism in its many parts requires a single head,
which for Cyprian was the throne of Peter. This throne was to be
shared collectively among all the bishops, just as the oneness of
the Church is distributed among all the local churches. The corpus
of the bishops in concord preserves the unity of the local churches.
The bishop embodies the church, so that concord of bishops constitutes
unity of the church.
Cyprian felt that the church of Rome was the root of the universal
church, and as such it rose above the “harmonious multitude”
of the local churches. Cyprian didn’t himself take this doctrine
to the logical conclusion, but it is clear what that conclusion
would be — there really should be a corresponding single bishop
rising above the general concord of the bishops, and this would
naturally be the bishop of Rome. “If a universal theory of
the Church is adhered to, the doctrine of primacy will somehow be
a necessary concomitant.”24
It is clearly too simplistic to contrast an ecumenical council
with the Pope as analogous concepts. According to Afanassieff, the
idea of the universal church being governed by a universal council
is not an alternative to the idea of primacy. In fact, the ecumenical
council presupposes primacy, in two ways: first, it assumes that
the bishops who participate in the council are themselves “heads”
of their churches. The local body has a head. Why, then, shouldn’t
the universal body? Second, the ecumenical council begs the question
of who convokes it and who enforces its decisions. When the idea
of the ecumenical council was fully developed and enacted, it presupposed
an Imperial Church, with an Emperor as its head. The Ecumenical
Council, as it came to be known in the imperial context, was a product
of universal ecclesiology.
Is there a corresponding idea of primacy in eucharistic ecclesiology?
Obviously (according to Afanassieff), one person must preside at
the eucharist, and certainly would have done so from the very beginning.
The eucharistic leader would naturally also be the leader of the
church community, and would therefore represent the community in
its relations with other communities. “Though a local church
did contain everything it needed within itself, it could not live
apart from the other churches. … Every local church must be
in concord with all the other churches, because within the Church
of God, ever one and only one, there can be no discord.”25
Each accepts (receives) the life of the others into its self, thereby
bearing witness that the other is in conformity with the will of
God. If the life of the other is rejected, this implies that the
other is not in conformity with the will of God. A system of mutual
recognition through a fellowship of equality served the purpose
of unity and catholicity without the need for primacy.
In eucharistic ecclesiology, churches recognize each other,
rather than bishops. According to Afanassieff, one of the local
churches will naturally rise to a place of priority, due it its
exceptional faithfulness of witness, but this is not the same thing
Eucharistic ecclesiology excludes the idea of primacy by its very
nature. … In eucharistic ecclesiology, priority belongs to
one of the local churches; but the concept of primacy, in its historical
shape and setting, assumes that primacy belongs to one of the bishops,
and that he governs the whole Church by established right.26
The church which holds a place of priority doesn’t have power
over the others, or have more honor than the others, but rather
makes a self-sacrifice for the sake of the others. It won its place
through services rendered, and not prestige. It can’t force
other churches to conform to its will, but the doctrine of the church
in priority is held to be orthodox, and contrary doctrines, heretical.
If it starts to set itself as a power over the others, it will lose
its place of priority.
It is not at all obvious to me that one church should rise above
the others, and be granted authority as the “first among equals.”
Why should this be necessary or inevitable? The assumption that
the church requires a human hierarchy seems entirely unexamined
by Orthodox theologians. The assertion that Christ is the Head of
the Church is, according to Afanassieff, no answer to the question
of primacy, since Christ is an invisible Head. All churches acknowledge
Christ as the Head, but that doesn’t help us when it comes
to church governance. The church also needs a visible head.
Yet I question that assumption. I wonder if it is true, that Christ’s
headship is not directly operative in the church. Orthodoxy leaves
space for the work of the Holy Spirit in the highest levels of council
by refusing primacy, but creates human headship at other levels
of the church. But if we say we don’t need a visible head
at the universal level, then why do we need a visible head at the
local level (bishops)? And within the autocephalous churches, why
do we acknowledge primacy of one bishop as patriarch? Either we
accept the concept of visible heads, or we don’t. And of course,
it is assumed, we must have visible heads. How could it be otherwise?
Afanassieff is right that by pulling the thread of “visible
head”, we unravel the whole episcopal system. That’s
exactly what we Quakers have done. We go back to the original assumption
— that Christ, an invisible head, is not directly relevant
to governance — and try to answer the question differently.
The assumption that Afanassieff makes leads to a separation between
the church and Christ’s Headship. Our institutional life no
longer has a direct spiritual leadership. Instead we put human leadership
in the place of Christ. This is the crux of Quaker critique of the
But isn’t this also a critique which can be derived from
within Orthodoxy? Ware says “Orthodox theology never treats
the earthly aspect of the Church in isolation, but thinks always
of the Church in Christ and the Holy Spirit.”27
This is exactly where I think Afanassieff’s logic is flawed.
He presupposes a division between the Church and the Spirit, so
that human institutions of hierarchy are needed in the place of
God’s direct government. I question whether this is indeed
The concept of hierarchy in the church is based on idea of hierarchy
within the Trinity. The Trinity is three persons who share the one
reality. Each of the three is interrelated with the others in a
matrix of relationships which forms the ultimate model of conciliarity.
But there is order within the Trinity. The Father presides, as the
origin of Trinitarian life. The primacy of honor belongs to the
Father; the Son and Spirit are like the two hands of the Father.
“The church becomes hierarchical in the sense in which the
Holy Trinity itself is hierarchical: by reason of the specificity
There is sometimes a tendency to oppose “conciliar”
and “hierarchical”, or to subsume one within the other.
But true conciliarity is neither clericalism nor democracy. Because
the Trinity, in Orthodox theology, is hierarchical, hierarchy is
the essential quality of conciliarity. Hierarchy means mutual recognition
of unique persons, and obedience within mutual relationships. It
is not a matter of subordination or clericalism.
Ultimately, the inner relationships of the Trinity are a mystery.
Given that this is so, I don’t feel convinced that those inner
relationships are hierarchical in nature. Preservation of a specificity
of relationship and person within the Godhead does not, in my mind,
require any ranking among the three. I wonder, rather, if we have
failed to overcome our limited human imagination, and are unable
to conceive of true, sublime, equality and mutuality. Have we constructed
a Trinity which reflects our human power structures? Might we instead
take inspiration from the triune life of unity in diversity to challenge
the patters of human power and domination?
Perhaps the theology of hierarchy has become too deterministic
and “realized.” An eschatological perspective of “already/not
yet” might help bring some balance. There is no separation
between the church visible and the church invisible, for the two
make up a single continuous reality. The invisibility is only in
reference to our earthly ability to perceive, not in reference to
actual existence. There is no distinction between the ideal church
and the actual, concrete church. Yet there is a human element in
the church. “The Church on earth exists in a state of tension:
it is already the Body of Christ, and thus perfect and sinless,
and yet, since its members are imperfect and sinful, it must continually
become what it is.”29
“The mystery of the church consists in the very fact that
together sinners become something different from
what they are as individuals; this ‘something different’
is the Body of Christ”30.
Wainwright also reminds us of the eschatological gaze of the church.
The Church is already and also not yet one. The Church is one because
our Lord is one. Yet our human response belies that unity, revealing
our predilection for separation – from God and from each other.
An overly exclusivist ecclesiology claims “we are the true
Church; all others have separated from us.” An overly docetic
ecclesiology claims “institutional unity is unimportant because
the Lord knows the membership of the invisible church.” Eschatological
ecclesiology holds these two in tension. “The Church is
becoming what it will be. In this perspective, we
can both admit that some disunity still exists among Christians
and also see the need to overcome such disunity; we can
rejoice in the measure of unity which we already have and
at the same time commit ourselves to striving for its increase.”31
Perhaps this eschatological emphasis will help us refrain from claiming
that our human power structures already represent the Kingdom in
all its fullness.
On a similar note, one unexplored aspect of the authority and infallibility
of councils has to do with the dialectic of tradition and change.
We stated above that conciliarity is both traditional and dynamic.
A council’s authority is the authority of the Holy Spirit
who lives through it, and then continues to move into new, contemporary
contexts. As the living Church grows and changes, the question is
raised about the perpetual authority of past councils. As Patriarch
Ignatios IV said in an interview:
“I think we must stop this confusion of Tradition with
history, stop looking at history in this rather formal and materialistic
manner. We must take the Holy Spirit much more seriously, leaving
him free to be active now and for the future. Without
that we shall always continue living in the past. … Is it
not true that we must preserve what has been handed down to us?
Yes. But what is it that we have been given? Life in all its fullness.
And this Life has always expressed itself in relation to real
needs and in a way which is understandable and communicable to
the men and women who are — and who are meant to be —
‘the temples of God’, precisely so that the Holy Spirit
will not disappear and so that the Church will not ‘disincarnate’
itself in a book, or in a particular ‘elite’.”32
This question is raised rather pointedly as a result of the growing
convergence with the non-Chalcedonian churches. If the Eastern and
Oriental Orthodox churches can reach a point of full eucharistic
communion on the basis of a shared substance of Christological doctrine,
albeit in divergent words, it raises the question of the distinction
between the true substance of faith and its verbal expression by
the councils. Which is “Orthodox” from the Council of
Chalcedon — the experience of faith or the words which were
used to express it? Perhaps the Orthodox apaphatic tradition can
be helpful here. Orthodoxy has always understood that ultimate truth
dissolves words and concepts, and it may be good to be reminded
that this is true, even of the great councils and creeds. No conciliar
formulation of Truth can claim abiding authority, as if we had managed
to capture the Holy Spirit in an earthen vessel. The Church abides
in Truth through the continuing and ever-present gift of divine
participation, an eternal now.
Thus far we have considered the implications of conciliarity on
the supra-diocesan level. However, much attention has been given
in recent decades to questions of local and parish life, especially
in regards to the role of laity and the significance of ordination
in the conciliar life of the church.
It is clear that, in the Orthodox Church, ordination is not an
objectified thing which conveys a power to be possessed
by the ordained individual (and not by the non-ordained). In fact,
there is no such thing as a non-ordained Christian. At the most
basic level, we are all ordained by our baptism, called into an
ordered community of transforming relationships. The variety of
“orders” represent the diversity of relationships within
the Church and in its relation to the world.
According to Zizioulas, ministry is essentially ambassadorship
— representation by participation. It is a charism of the
community, lifted up in one person in a representative way. There
is no individual ministry which is separate from the community.
It is the particular ministry of the ordained minister to represent
the interests of the people of God. The grace of the ordained minister
is a gift to the whole community, exercised by the minister on behalf
of all and for all.
The validity of ministry is based on the validity of the community
to which the ministry belongs. Recognition of ministries becomes
recognition of communities. “Instead of trying to recognize
each other’s ‘orders’ as such, the divided communities
of our time should rather try to recognize each other as ecclesial
communities relating to God and the world through their
ministries in the way that is implied in the mystery of Christ and
The bishop has a particular ministry as the focus of unity, both
of the church community which he heads, and between that community
and all others. To the extent that the bishop embodies the unity
of the church in time and in space, through apostolic succession
and through conciliarity, he does so as a representative of his
community. Apostolic succession is carried through the community,
which is the guardian of the faith through time, rather than through
the episcopal office per se. The unity which is represented by the
council of bishops is not constitutive of the council or of the
bishops themselves, but only of the communities which raise up,
send and hold accountable the individual bishops.
The office of bishop, as the living image of God on earth, is so
necessary that without a bishop (according to Ware)34,
the church does not exist. But likewise, without the church, the
bishop does not exist. The bishop has the special tasks of ruling,
teaching and celebrating the sacraments. The whole people of God
are also given spiritual gifts. In particular, charismatic and prophetic
ministries are given to the laity. Sometimes these come in conflict
with the hierarchy, but there is never any true contradiction, since
the same Spirit is at work in both. “Bishop and people are
joined in an organic unity, and neither can be properly thought
of apart from the other.”35
The orders of the church are not a system of autonomous administration,
but are rather “an integral part of the Church as the sacrament
of the Kingdom”36
The presbyters form the church council with the bishop. The presbyters,
in their plurality in council, represent the laity. This plurality
is transformed into unity by the special charism of the bishop.
Conciliarity is rooted in the relationships between the orders of
This principle has become obscured by the practices by which bishops
are elected, which often do not reflect the basic accountability
of the bishop in the eucharistic community. The question of the
election of bishops becomes key in understanding the bishop as representative
of the catholicity of the local church. If they are elected solely
by the other bishops, as is common today, there is a tendency for
the bishops to see themselves as a class apart from the church,
with special rights and privileges. Yet the participation of the
council of bishops in election serves as an expression of the fullness
of the local church, recognized as catholic by the other churches.
If bishops are elected by the people (priests and laity), there
is a tendency to see the bishop as an employee of the church or
representative of a particular local ethnic or political agenda.
Yet participation by the people allows the local accountability
and representative nature of ministry to be clearly drawn. It may
be that the ideal situation would involve a combination of the two
methods, thereby highlighting the dual focus of the bishop.
The question of election of bishops is just one of the areas in
which there has been a popular call for increased lay participation
in church governance. Although many Orthodox would agree that there
is a need for increased conciliarity at the parish level (which
I will discuss momentarily), the larger question of the role of
laity in the conciliar nature of the church is far from decided.
The call for lay participation has been met with a range of responses
from theologians and hierarchs. Schmemann feels that the catholicity
of the church at any supra-diocesan level is fulfilled through the
council of bishops without lay participation. The supreme power
in the Church belongs to the bishops. The contemporary tendency
to try to include priests and laity in the council of bishops distorts
the idea of conciliarity, which is based on a hierarchical principle.
It creates the impression that the laity have different interests
from the clergy, and can only be adequately represented by lay persons.
However, it is the particular ministry of the clergy to represent
the interests of the people of God. If every member is participating
according to his (or her) calling, there should be no need for any
conciliar structure other than the council of bishops.
Sabev, on the other hand, sees historical precedent for lay participation
in councils of bishops:
Bishops are considered bearers of the major responsibility for
the unity of the church, the fulfillment of conciliar fellowship
and decision-making at councils and synods, but these decisions
should be a result of the collective, collegial voices of all those
present, searching for coherence and consensus. The Acts of the
Apostles, early patristic writings and the Acta and canons of councils
and assemblies clearly indicate the role of both clergy and laity
in many church gatherings. In an organic body, each organ is in
vital relation and interaction with the others.37
The idea is that the laity are the guardians of the faith, the
bishops are teachers. Therefore, the laity may participate in the
deliberations of a council of bishops, but can not take part in
the final decision.
The Moscow Synod (1917–18) of the Russian Orthodox Church
rejected the idea of a “bishops only” synod and included
lay participation. This decision was clearly a result of several
influences which are considered suspect by other Orthodox. Sobornost,
the romantic Russian theology of Khomiakov, was modeled after the
rural peasant collectives, and promoted the idea of lay representation.
The Russian church was emerging from a time of Czarist domination,
and standing on the brink of the Soviet era. Many theologians consider
this synod to be an aberration.
That may be true, but I think it can not be said, as some have
claimed, that the concept of “representation” is foreign
Isn’t the whole idea of ordination a theology of representation?
What is meant, I think, is that the idea of a lay voice is foreign
to Orthodoxy. What is at stake that makes theologians reject lay
participation so strongly? Whose power is challenged by a lay voice?
One thing that is certainly clear is that, at the level of the
parish, conciliarity and lay participation are in need of renewal.
Some of the difficulty at the parish level stems from a persistent
confusion about the nature of the parish, a unit of ecclesial life
which did not exist in the early church. The pattern of the early
church was of a eucharistic assembly with a council of presbyters
gathered around the bishop. This pattern was completely transformed
by the shift to a parish system. By dismantling the council of presbyters,
and establishing each one instead as priest of a parish community,
the bishop-presbyter relationship was transformed into one of subordination
and delegation of power. At the parish level, the conciliar nature
of the church was utterly obscured, and an excessive clericalism
reigned. In recent times, the laity have expressed a deep desire
for a more conciliar parish.
It is interesting to ask why, when the church grew beyond the single
urban congregations, it preferred a parish system to a proliferation
of bishops. The early churches, all located in urban centers, had
a sort of natural catholicity because of the diversity of their
members. The church was not identified with a preexisting community
(race, ethnicity, class, trade/vocation, etc). With the conversion
of the empire, this began to change, and local churches began to
be identified with other forms of community. But these communities
could never be catholic, since they were defined by narrow common
interest. The acceptance of the parish system wherein each local
community is bound with others in a larger unit, was an attempt
to counteract the danger of the church being absorbed by natural
This situation is still true today. The local parish is still conditioned
by its context, and thus essentially limited in catholicity. Therefore
it is from the diocese that the parish receives its catholicity.
The bishop’s particular ministry is to be the bearer of catholicity.
In order to fulfil this call, the bishop must be in conciliar relationship
with the parishes through the priests.
Some theologians, most notably Zizioulas, seem to wish for a reversion
to the time when the eucharist was celebrated in the presence of
all four orders of ministry (bishop, presbyter, deacon and laity).
However, most contemporary Orthodox would recognize that, unlike
the patristic period, today the concrete expression of the church
is the parish. This of course raises questions about the role of
the priest. He now does much of what was originally the work of
the bishop, and he does not function as the presbyter of old. He
is not simply the bishop’s delegate, but he is not autonomous
There is agreement that the parish, for a long time, lost its conciliar
quality. Church participation became pietistic rather than communitarian.
When parish councils began to emerge, often by lay initiative, they
were seen in juridical terms, effectively legislating a division
between material and spiritual. Especially in Protestant-dominated
countries, parish councils began to function as if the priest were
their employee. The pendulum had swung too far in the direction
of an American congregational model of lay governance.
The way to transform this situation will certainly not be through
a brute assertion of clerical power. Rather, an embrace of conciliarity,
understood in terms of each member discovering his (or her) particular
gift and vocation within the church, can empower the parish to experience
conciliarity in its fullness. “If the conciliar principle
is not restored on the parish level, its other expressions will
remain meaningless and inoperative.”39
As a way of summing up the implications of conciliarity, we might
usefully return to the concept of sobornost, which is perhaps the
most integrative and spiritually evocative form of Orthodox ecclesiology.
Sobornost, as an integrating ecclesial principle, was articulated
by Khomiakov, a 19th century Russian lay theologian. Khomiakov was
inspired by agricultural collectives which practiced consensus decision-making;
he saw it as a sign of the voice of the Holy Spirit when all agreed.
The word sobornost is hard to define, but at a simplistic level
it translates “catholic” in the creed. However, according
to Ritchey, it does not have the connotation of universality, but
rather of organic unity and fellowship in faith and love.40
Sobornost is a “fellowship of members united together in
mutual love where each member is free to achieve his or her potentiality
but in the spirit of prayerful consideration and personal constraint.”
Sobornost can be translated catholicity, but it is much more than
simply universality, by which is meant that the church is everywhere.
Khomiakov said sobornost-catholicity is
to apply the trinitarian model to the life of the Church; unity
in multiplicity, oneness in diversity, togetherness in dispersal,
a catholicity realized in quality not in quantity, in depth rather
than in breadth, a characteristic communicated by the Holy Spirit
which enables individual communities, and even persons, to give
full and complete manifestation to the mark of catholicity.42
“Unity, catholicity and conciliarity are the essence of the
church’s being; and sobornost is an overarching principle
of their intertwinement.”43
At its deepest, sobornost is “the reflection of Trinitarian
unity in man and his relationship to other men [sic]”44
It is essentially an organic, rather than institutional, image of
pointing the way forward
The two contexts which have most stimulated Orthodox conciliar
reflection are the Pan-Orthodox Pre-Conciliar process, and the modern
ecumenical movement. Both of these conversations have benefited
greatly from the conciliar revival of recent decades, and will undoubtedly
continue to do so.
Beginning in the early 1960s, the Orthodox churches began the process
of preparations for a universal council of the Orthodox Church.
It was determined to call the council a Great and Holy Synod rather
than an Ecumenical Council, since ecumenicity is only perceived
in retrospect, as a result of the reception process. In addition,
it was recognized that an Ecumenical Council, in the manner of the
patristic Councils, can not be replicated in this post-imperial
context. Rather, the attempt was to experience afresh the conciliar
consensus of the entire Orthodox church — an enormous proposition
which will take some time yet to achieve.
The pre-conciliar process was begun with much enthusiasm in 1961,
but was slowed down in the early 70’s, as the churches recognized
the dimension of the task. When the first Pre-Conciliar Pan-Orthodox
Conference was convened in 1978, there was a much deeper understanding
of the issues facing the church today. It was felt to be essential
that the Council concern itself with issues which will make a substantial
difference in the lives of Christians, not just abstract doctrinal
proclamations which hardly cause a ripple. The original agenda from
1961 had to be completely revised in order to allow the people truly
to raise up the agenda of the Council. It came to be understood,
through the subsequent process, that the pressing issues of the
current Council are: to put in order the jurisdictional questions,
and to define the relationship of the Orthodox Church with other
churches. “The judgment of history upon the Council under
preparation will depend on the Pan-Orthodox solving of these questions
upon the basis of sound Orthodox ecclesiological and canonical criteria.”45
The current preparatory process prior to the Council itself requires
intensive work on gathering a consensus on these most difficult
issues in Orthodoxy today.
Orthodoxy, through this process, has discovered some very significant
things about conciliarity which perhaps could not have been revealed
quite so sharply in the absence of actually trying to convene a
Council. There are still some who doubt the usefulness of a Great
and Holy Synod, or see it as an anachronistic and imperial form
of conciliarity. Before a Council is ready to be convened, more
questions must be satisfactorily answered. The Council is not yet
The process of intensive preparatory work on each of the agenda
items before the meeting highlights how the Council seals the unity
of the church rather than creates it. When the Council is ready
to be held, it will be because the local churches have lived into
new and deeper relationships, common action, and consensus of opinion.
This “delay” in the convocation of the Council is in
no way a deferment of conciliarity, as if, due to some various failings,
the church was not able to be a conciliar church at this time. Rather,
the current process, prolonging the preparations for the council,
gives evidence to the deepest conciliar nature of the church. Conciliarity
is growing, through the power of the Holy Spirit, such that when
the Council is finally felt to be ripe, the whole church will feel
the presence of God through the Council. Indeed, conciliarity is,
in its deepest sense, embodied in this time of ripening. This is
a profoundly important insight, both for panorthodoxy, and for the
ecumenical movement. Visible conciliar unity will come, not as an
achievement of the church, but as a gift from God, grown through
our ever-deepening relationships, to be received in thanksgiving,
humility and praise.
The ecumenical movement has provoked much reflection on conciliarity,
both by Orthodox and non-Orthodox participants. In particular, the
Orthodox churches have been called upon to articulate the basis
on which they are willing to engage in ecumenical activity with
non-Orthodox. The problem of an exclusivist self-understanding for
ecumenical engagement is obvious: “Can one particular Church,
when identifying its limits with those of the One, Holy, Catholic
and Apostolic Church, accept a similar self-identification on the
part of other churches without relativizing its own continuity and
It seems to me that this is only a dilemma within universal ecclesiology.
Clearly, there can not be two universal churches. But in Orthodox
eucharistic ecclesiology, each church is the full church, recognizing
each other as full churches. There should be no inherent challenge
to the self-identification of a church to accept another church.
Indeed, a church which accepted no other could not really be living
the trinitarian life of unity in diversity. It would have become
a monad, in isolation, a non-relational church, which is no church
at all. Just as a solitary Christian is no Christian, “a eucharistic
community which deliberately lives in isolation from the rest of
the communities is not an ecclesial community.”47
Conciliarity is based on the conviction that “no local Church
could be a Church unless it was open to communion with the rest
of the Churches.”48
This would seem to provide a very congenial basis for ecumenism,
particularly as visible unity has increasingly been defined in conciliar
The concept of conciliarity in has grown within the World Council
of Churches over time. Uppsala (1968) summoned the member churches
to “work for the time when a genuinely universal council may
once more speak for all Christians.” This made explicit what
was implicit in the New Delhi (1961) articulation of church unity:
unity is a process by which “all in each place”
are eucharistically united, and each local community is conciliarly
united with all others in a universal fellowship. This image of
visible unity as conciliar fellowship places great weight on the
eucharistic/conciliar aspect of unity. Salamanca (1973) further
elaborated the vision of Uppsala by describing conciliar Christian
unity as follows: “the one Church is to be envisioned as a
conciliar fellowship of local churches which are themselves truly
united.” Each local church should be truly — organically
— united, since each contains the fullness of catholicity
within itself. This is obviously a model which resonates with Orthodox
As a model to be taken up by the ecumenical movement, it poses
some problems. The definition of church unity, in this concept,
is concretely linked to the idea of place. A local church is “all
in each place.” This is certainly the traditional Orthodox
model, rooted in the experience of the Imperial Church. But is it
anachronistic in this non-Imperial age? Can geopolitical concepts
of space really be considered elemental to the church? Is God’s
sense of space confined to our three-dimensional perception? The
experience of the Orthodox church in diaspora, and of growing religious
pluralism in the “Orthodox countries”, indicates that
the imperial model has irrevocably broken down. It may not be possible
to organize the universal church into geographical provinces, and
even if it were, it may not be desirable. The temptations of the
church to enter into nationalistic and racial politics have proven
too great in the past. There is a sense in which unity in space
erodes catholicity, reduces the imperative for relatedness.
The emphasis in eucharistic ecclesiology on concrete, material
acts of unity, most significantly in sharing the one loaf, should
remind us that a non-geographical definition of unity can not simply
mean a reversion to mystical, invisible unity. To take a Trinitarian
approach, we would look for a conciliar unity of diversity, even
at the local level. In this respect, the agreements on “full
communion” which have been achieved in many places represent
a conciliar, Trinitarian, relational model of spatial unity.
The modern ecumenical movement is a pre-conciliar movement. In
this respect the experience of the Pan-Orthodox Pre-Conciliar movement
is instructive. Even in the case of a universal Orthodox Council,
true unity must rise organically from the lived experience of the
people of God. The Council doesn’t create, manufacture or
negotiate the terms for unity. It recognizes the unity which is
given. Likewise, the ecumenical movement can encourage, stimulate
and proclaim our progress toward Christian unity, but it can not
create it. Conciliarity is an expression of Truth, not a determiner
A conciliar view of the church recognizes that the walls which
“do not reach to heaven. … The grace and mercy of God
are wider than the dividing lines of canons, structures and jurisdictions.
… The body of Christ is one and cannot be divided. …
Sobornost implies unity in a legitimate diversity: freedom for differentiations
in liturgy, spirituality, culture, theology and structure relevant
to the particular situation of a local church, while still expressing
the same basic truth and Christian love. Since the main source of
division and schism is the failure of moral unity, leading to pride
and rivalry, intolerance and fanaticism, the road toward renewed
fellowship is to be found in repentance and charity”49
What we experience now in the ecumenical movement is not the fullness
of conciliarity, since our intercommunion is not complete. Sobornost
becomes a call to the fullness of unity which is not yet ours. But
we can say that we have experienced the spirit of sobornost in our
ecumenical fellowship already, and that “our councils today
are called to give greater expression to the fullness, integrity
and totality of life in Christ and to help articulate common faith,
truth and love.”50
From a sobornost view of the church, the church is an organism,
and its conciliar structure is an organizational entity which serves
the living body. The experience of the Orthodox Church has it rediscovers
and revives its conciliarity, and deepens it understanding of the
spiritual journey toward a Great and Holy Synod, demonstrates that
ecumenical progress will be made from the bottom-up, by local churches
living in closer love and harmony. The work of ecclesiastical authorities
can only codify and celebrate what they Spirit has already done.
Thomas Hopko, “On ecclesial conciliarity,” in The legacy
of St. Vladimir, ed. by J. Breck, J. Meyendorff, and E. Silk (Crestwood,
NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press: 1990), p. 211.
Jaroslav Pelikan "The Sobornost of the Body of Christ",
ch. 6 in Christian Doctrine and Modern Culture, v. 5 of the series
The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine.
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989) p. 294.
Hopko p. 209.
Alexander Schmemann “Toward a theology of councils,”
in Church, World, Mission: reflections on Orthodoxy in the West,
(Crestwood NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1979) p. 163.
Hopko p. 224.
Lewis J. Patsavos “The synodal structure of the Orthodox Church,”
St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 39 no 1, 1995, p. 73.
Michael A. Fahey “Eastern synodal traditions: pertinence for
western collegial institutions,” in Episcopal conferences:
historical, canonical and theological studies, ed. by Thomas J.
Reese, SJ, (Washington DC: Georgetown University Press, 1989) p.
Costa Carras “The problems of conciliarity,” Sourozh
35, 1989, p. 38.
Hopko p. 224.
Carras p. 37.
Patsavos p. 71.
Bp. Maximos Aghiorgoussis, “Theological and historical aspects
of conciliarity: some propositions for discussion,” Greek
Orthodox Theological Review 24, 1979, p. 5.
Hopko p. 220.
ibid p. 221.
Carras op cit. passim.
Nicholas Afanassieff, “The church which presides in love,”
in The Primacy of Peter: essays in ecclesiology and the early church,
ed. by John Meyendorff, (Crestwood NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press,
ibid p. 109.
Todor Sabev, “The nature and mission of councils in the light
of the theology of sobernost,” Ecumenical Review 45, 1993,
Mary G Ritchey, “Khomiakov and his theory of Sobernost,”
Diakonia 17 no 1, 1982, p. 55.
John Meyendorff “What is an ecumenical council?,” St.
Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 17 no. 4, 1973, p. 270.
Bp. Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Church, new ed. (New York: Penguin
Books, 1993) p. 252.
Afanassieff p. 99.
ibid p. 112.
ibid p. 115.
Ware p. 240.
John D. Zizioulas Being as Communion: studies in personhood and
the church, (Crestwood NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1985)
Ware p. 244.
Ware p. 244, quoting Meyendorff, Ecumenical Review (1960).
Geoffrey Wainwright, “Conciliarity and eucharist,” Mid-Stream
17, 1978, p. 149.
Ignatios IV, “The dichotomy between theological speculation
and the reality of the church,” Sourozh 20, 1985, p. 14–16.
Zizioulas p. 246.
Ware p. 249.
ibid p. 250.
Schmemann p. 168.
Sabev p. 266.
ref. Aghiorgoussis op cit.
Schmemann p. 173.
Ritchey p. 57.
ibid p. 58.
Sabev p. 261.
Ritchey p. 53.
Metr Damaskinos., “Towards the great and holy council,”
Greek Orthodox Theological Review 24, 1979, p. 108.
ibid p. 110
Zizioulas p. 236.
ibid p. 241.
Sabev p. 265–66.
ibid p. 268.
on conciliar ecclesiology:
Afanassieff, Nicholas, “The church which presides in love,”
in The Primacy of Peter: essays in ecclesiology and the early
church, ed. by John Meyendorff, Crestwood NY: St. Vladimir's
Seminary Press, 1992, p. 91–143
Aghiorgoussis, Maximos, “Theological and historical aspects
of conciliarity: some propositions for discussion,” Greek
Orthodox Theological Review 24, 1979, p. 5–19.
Bria, Ion, The sense of ecumenical tradition: the ecumenical
witness and vision of the Orthodox, Geneva: World Council of
Burns, Patrick, “Communion, councils, and collegiality: some
Catholic reflections,” in Papal Primacy and the Universal
Church, ed. by Paul C. Empie and T. Austin Murphy, Minneapolis:
Augsburg, 1974, p. 151–172.
Carras, Costa, “The problems of conciliarity,” Sourozh
35, 1989, p. 36–43.
Denisenko, Filaret, Metr., “The catholicity of the universal
and local churches,” Communio Viatorum 24 no 3, 1981,
Fahey, Michael A., “Eastern synodal traditions: pertinence
for western collegial institutions,” in Episcopal conferences:
historical, canonical and theological studies, ed. by Thomas
J. Reese, SJ, Washington DC: Georgetown University Press, 1989,
FitzGerald, Thomas and Peter Bouteneff, eds., Turn to God,
Rejoice in Hope: Orthodox Reflections on the way to Harare,
Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1998.
FitzGerald, Thomas, “Conciliarity, Primacy and the Episcopacy,”
St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 38, 1994.
Gregorios, Paulos, “Ecclesiological issues concerning the
relation of Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches,”
in Does Chalcedon divide or unite? ed by Paulos Gregorios,
William H. Lazareth and Nikos A. Nissiotis, Geneva: World Council
of Churches, 1981, p. 127–137.
Hajjar, Joseph, “Patriarchal synods and the new eastern code
of canon law,” in Collegiality put to the test, ed.
by James Provost and Knut Walf, London: SCM Press, 1990, p. 88–97.
Hopko, Thomas, “On ecclesial conciliarity,” in The
legacy of St. Vladimir, ed. by J. Breck, J. Meyendorff, and
E. Silk Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press: 1990, p. 209–225.
Huizing, Peter and Knut Walf, eds. The Ecumenical Council:
its significance in the constitution of the church, New York:
Seabury Press, 1983.
Ignatios IV, “The dichotomy between theological speculation
and the reality of the church,” Sourozh 20, 1985,
Konstantinidis, Chrysostomos, Metr., “Authority in the Orthodox
church,” Sobernost (incorporating Eastern Churches Review)
ns 3 No 2, 1981, p. 197–209.
Loya, Joseph A, “For harmony and freedom in truth: radical
visions of the church from 19th century Russia,” Ostkirchlichen
Studien 33, 1984, p. 302–309.
McKibben, Michael T., Orthodox Christian Meetings. Columbus
OH: St. Ignatius of Antioch Press, 1990.
Meyendorff, John, “What is an ecumenical council?,”
St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 17 no. 4, 1973, p.
————, The Orthodox Church, 4th
ed. Crestwood NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1996.
Orthodox/Roman Catholic Consultation in the USA, “An agreed
statement on conciliarity and primacy in the church,” St.
Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 34 no. 4, 1990, p. 343–355.
Papadopoulis, John, “On the hierarchy of the church,”
Greek Orthodox Theological Review 1 No 2, 1955, p.142–151.
Patsavos, Lewis J., “The synodal structure of the Orthodox
Church,” St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 39
no 1, 1995 p. 71–98.
————, “The primacy of the See of
Constantinople in theory and practice,” Greek Orthodox
Theological Review 37, 1992, p. 233–258.
Pelikan, Jaroslav, "The Sobornost of the Body of Christ",
ch. 6 in Christian Doctrine and Modern Culture, v. 5 of
the series The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development
of Doctrine. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989.
Ritchey, Mary G, “Khomiakov and his theory of Sobernost,”
Diakonia 17 no 1, 1982, p. 53–62.
Sabev, Todor, “The nature and mission of councils in the
light of the theology of sobernost,” Ecumenical Review
45, 1993, p. 261–270.
Schmemann, Alexander, “Toward a theology of councils,”
in Church, World, Mission: reflections on Orthodoxy in the West,
Crestwood NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1979, p. 159–178.
Timiadis, Emilianos, Metr., “Consensus in the formulation
of doctrine,” Mid-Stream 20, 1981, p. 177–190.
————, “Reception, consensus, and
unity,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review 26, 1981,
Vischer, Lukas, “Conciliar fellowship and councils: churches
on their way to a universal council,” Ecumenical Review
41, 1989, p. 501–514
Ware, Kallistos, Bishop, “Patterns of episcopacy in the early
church and today: and Orthodox view,” in Bishops: what
kind? ed. by Peter Moore, London: SPCK, 1982, p. 1–26.
————, “The exercise of authority
in the Orthodox church,” Ekklesia, 1982, p. 941–969.
————, The Orthodox Church, new
ed. New York: Penguin Books, 1993.
————, The Orthodox Way, rev. ed.
Crestwood NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1995.
White, Gavin, “Collegiality and conciliarity in the Anglican
Communion,” in Authority in the Anglican Communion,
ed. by Stephen W. Sykes, Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 1987, p.
Zizioulas, John D., “Ecclesiological issues inherent in the
relations between Eastern Chalcedonian and Oriental non-Chalcedonian
churches,” in Does Chalcedon divide or unite? ed
by Paulos Gregorios, William H. Lazareth and Nikos A. Nissiotis,
Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1981, p. 138–156.
————, Being as Communion: studies in
personhood and the church, Crestwood NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary
on the Pan-Orthodox Pre-Conciliar process (in chronological
Ware, Kallistos, Bishop, “Towards the great council?,”
Eastern Churches Review 4, 1972, p. 162–168.
Aghiorgoussis, Maximos, “Towards the great and holy council:
the first pre-synodal pan-Orthodox conference in Geneva,”
Greek Orthodox Theological Review 21, 1976, p. 423–428.
Papademetriou, George C., “Theological reflections on the
forthcoming Great Council,” Greek Orthodox Theological
Review 24, 1979, p. 95–98.
Damaskinos of Tranoupolis, Metr., “Towards the great and
holy council,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review
24, 1979, p. 99–116.
Poyarkov, Juvenaliy, Metr., speech [no title given], Journal
of the Moscow Patriarchate 3, 1980, p. 43–49.
Bobrinskoy, Boris, “The second panorthodox preconciliar conference,”
Sourozh 12, 1983, p. 18–25.
Denisenko, Filaret, Metr., “Concerning the decisions of the
Second Pre-Council Pan-Orthodox Conference,” Journal of
the Moscow Patriarchate no 8:53–55; no 9:35–38;
no 10:40–43; no 11:45–48, 1983.
Skobei, Grigory N., “The second Pre-Council Pan-Orthodox
Conference,” Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate 8,
1983, p. 56–62.
“Second pre-council conference,” Journal of the
Moscow Patriarchate 1, 1983, p. 62.
“Session of the Inter-Orthodox Commission for the Preparation
of the Council,” Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate
5, 1986 p. 53.
Denisenko, Filaret, Metr., “Decisions of the Third Pre-Council
Pan-Orthodox Conference,” Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate
no 3:52–54; no 5:56–59; no 6:46–49; no 7:52–54,
Skobei, Grigory N., “Third Pre-Council Pan-Orthodox Conference,”
Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate 2, 1987, p. 48–50.
Interorthodox Preparatory Commission, “The Orthodox diaspora:
the text adopted by the Interorthodox Preconciliar Preparatory Commission
of the Holy and Great Council,” Sourozh 55, 1994,
on ecumenical conciliar theory:
Bria, Ion, “Ecclesial unity in the ecumenical movement: theology
and expectations,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review
26, 1981, p. 314–324.
Deschner, John, “Visible unity as conciliar fellowship,”
Ecumenical Review 28, 1976, p. 22–27.
Houtepen, Anton, “Toward conciliar collaboration: the WCC
and the Roman Catholic communion of churches,” Ecumenical
Review 40, 1988, p. 473–487.
Lazareth, William H, “The meaning of ‘conciliar fellowship’,”
Mid-Stream 18, 1979, p. 68–71.
Nelson, J Robert, “Conciliarity/conciliar fellowship,”
Mid-Stream 17, 1978, p. 99–117.
Nissiotis, Nikos A., “Visions of the future of ecumenism,”
Greek Orthodox Theological Review 26, 1981, p. 280–304.
Norwood, Donald, “A reunion council?,” Ecumenical
Review 45, 1993, p. 482–489.
Popescu, Dumitru, “The local church and conciliar fellowship,”
Ecumenical Review 29, 1977, p. 265–272.
Schmidt, William J, “Conciliar renaissance,” Mid-Stream
17, 1978, p. 161–168.
Stephanopolous, Robert G., Guidelines for Orthodox Christians
in ecumenical relations, The Standing Conference of Canonical
Orthodox Bishops in America, 1973.
Vischer, Lukas, “After the debate on collegiality,”
Ecumenical Review 37, 1985, p. 306–319.
Wainwright, Geoffrey, “Conciliarity and eucharist,”
Mid-Stream 17, 1978, p. 135–153.
© 2000 Eden Grace
back to table of contents
The work published on this web site is the intellectual
property of Eden Grace, who retains full copyright (except where noted).
Nothing on this web site may be reprinted in whole or in part without