Will the first-ever Orthodox council occur this year? We'll know soon.

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jan 18, 2016

Since the Great Schism, the Roman Catholic Church has held 13 ecumenical councils; the Orthodox churches have held: none. That failure to arrange a worldwide gathering, for nearly a millennium, is a major failure for Orthodoxy. It is an indication that the Orthodox world has been troubled by nationalism and caesaropapism. Or to put it differently, it is a powerful argument that the Orthodox Church is not universal. In his book The Russian Church and the Papacy, the great Russian theologian Vladimir Soloviev cites the failure to convene an Orthodox council as one of the signs that the Church of Rome is the one true Church.

Seen against that background, the plans for a pan-Orthodox council—the first-ever universal council of leaders in the Orthodox world—is a very big story. Consequently, the serious questions about whether such a council will actually take place are also very big stories—even if they are not much noticed in the West.

In that context, take careful note of the statement released on January 18 by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, about a meeting of Orthodox primates to be held next week in Geneva. Nearly all the primates of the Orthodox world are expected to attend, and the agenda will be the “preparation” for the pan-Orthodox council that is tentatively planned for later this year.

In this case “preparation” does not mean merely settling the logistical details. The Orthodox primates have agreed that their council can take place only if they have reached essential agreement on all the crucial issues before they meet. The meeting that will take place in Geneva, then, might well decide the question of whether or not a pan-Orthodox council is possible.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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