The Great and Holy Council maps an Eastern Orthodox future

After the global meeting in Crete, conciliarity and orthodoxy hang in delicate balance.

Perhaps the most significant thing about the Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church that met in June in Crete is that it took place at all. The Eastern Orthodox churches hadn’t met in this way in nearly a century, and it was their first meeting since the fall of the communist regimes that had decimated the religious landscape of Eastern Europe, home to the majority of Ortho­dox Christians. Even if the decisions taken at the council are contested, there is now a mechanism in place by which they might be revisited.

In the Orthodox Church, nothing happens quickly. Yet the ripples of conciliarity being felt from the June meeting are significant, and they will not soon die out. Some within the Orthodox Church are proposing regular meetings, perhaps not unlike the Lambeth conferences held every decade in the Anglican Com­munion. Regular assemblies like this would be something new, and all of a sudden they feel more possible.

The Eastern Orthodox Church is composed of 14 self-governing churches (15 if you count the Orthodox Church in America, whose independent, self-governing status is contested). Of these, four did not attend, largely due to disagreements over some of the texts that were to be discussed in Crete.