Question: The Orthodox world often seems, paradoxically speaking, disunited-united. What do you envision of this relationship following this Council?
Answer: The impression of unity in disunity comes for the most part from the tendency of ethno-phyletism in the majority of the local Churches. This has led to some autocephalous Churches operating with a certain self-sufficiency and isolation, and the atrophy of conciliarity on an ecumenical level. Thus, in many Western church histories our ecclesiology is portrayed as a unity of ethnic churches, based on political and state principles. Such a version finds no comparison in Eastern tradition... It is likely that following the „Council of Crete“ councils will be held more frequently, but not as some „universal structure“ of a permanent nature. It can be a new beginning in experiencing and studying contemporary organization in light of the conciliar Church Tradition, all with the aim of achieving its theanthropic mission in today’s world, on both a local and ecumenical level. In other words, beneath the phenomenon of a Council we must uncover its ontology and then put it into practice. The Church has a very tame nature, in that it exceeds all of our calculations and studies.
Question: If Orthodox have preserved unity without such Councils, why do they need it now and is it under the pressure of globalization?
Answer: Substantial unity, as we have already stated, has been preserved, but the crisis of unity splashes the shores of many autocephalous Churches. Namely, even though every local Church is “universal” and in no way truncated, the Church “throughout the world” should be manifested as a community of Churches. Since the structure of the Church (its identity, authority, ministries, etc.) represents, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, an event of a free communion, then unity, to which Christ calls us, is not some established uniformity in an institutionalized sense. The nature of the Church will always be for us an open book in which the Holy Spirit turns the pages.
The question of globalization can be answered with a counter question: if the Church is the messenger of the cosmic message of salvation in Christ is it not therefore global? The very term “ecumenical” refers to a global character. Of course there are differences, but this moment is critical even if the topics are out-of-date. Delighted by the opportunities presented, I believe that the Council in the scope of its discussions and, eventually, with the content of its message will touch upon and address the most important existential, social, and even political issues.
Question: Or is about establishing “firm leadership” in the East, which will be in response to similar leadership of the Catholic Church?
Answer: Quoting an Athonite elder: “It is a divinely sacred and holy thing for the first in rank among the Orthodox Churches to be robed in the cloak of weakness.” Namely, among all others the Ecumenical patriarch today, together with the Antiochian, finds himself in the most unenviable position. I am obligated to say that the conciliar leadership of the Orthodox Church has not served as a weapon of rule over the Church.
In my humble opinion, it is not an issue of a “game of thrones” but of a unified rush to the Tomb of the Resurrection. A great human element exists therein, but we must recall the image of the Apostles Peter and John as they “ran together” to Christ’s Tomb after His Resurrection, whereby St. Gregory the Theologian characterized their run as a “good competition”. If you recognize some of the “Eastern” leaders-runners in this, then you will have grasped the point. It is precisely the Council’s “dialectic” that has driven out the idea of a supreme rule of one over many. Each gathering of the Synod is opened with a prayer of the invocation of the Holy Spirit who unites all Christians in the body of Christ on both a local and universal level simultaneously. What determines an ancient Apostolic Canon is a balance, that is, mutual respect in relations between bishops with the first (presiding) bishop, while the conciliarity (synodality) of all the bishops is emphasized at the same time, in their pastoring and organizing of the entire Church.
Question: There are indications that the Antiochian Church will not participate in the work of the Council, as well as the decision of the Georgian Church to reject one of the documents, which will be presented for approval. Can such actions endanger the convening of the Council, its significance and the unity among Orthodox Churches in general?
Answer: The Council will be an expression of unity inasmuch as it does not close its eyes to the real problems, and if it succeeds, for instance, in a conciliar manner to heal the divisions or problems in relations between Jerusalem and Antioch, Serbia and Romania, Russia and Constantinople, etc., without prejudicing the decisions. Each local Church lives in the reality of the Future age with its own dynamic, thus it is to be expected that in different geographic and political regions different views exist regarding different issues. This, however, must not be an obstacle for the general effort that the universal and unaltered evangelical message be communicated “with one mouth and one heart.” I am afraid that some individuals are too comfortably reclined in the armchair of conservatism. But history provides a lesson: It is indicative that Polycarp, the famous Bishop of Smyrna, at about the year 155 visited his Roman fellow brother Anicetus to discuss with him the disputable issue of the date of Pascha. Although they did not agree in all things, imagine, they nonetheless served the Liturgy together after which Polycarp returned to Smyrna—to his martyrdom.
The Holy Eucharist also heals unseen wounds. I sincerely hope the Council will do the same. In the history of the Church, every heresy or schismatic division inspired the activation of the healthy ecclesial powers for the healing of divisive tendencies in the body of Christ, with the final goal of preserving unity. The Council can succeed in drawing light even from something that is so narrow and dark as schism.