What is Pan-Orthodox Christian Conciliar Unity?
The Pan-Orthodox Christian Conciliar unity is focused on bringing Orthodox Christians across various jurisdictions, cultures and origin on a common universal platform. It is a cross- cultural interaction and approach between various Orthodox jurisdictions and a call for an extensive dialogue and action between Eastern, Oriental, Western, Non-Canonical, Old Believers, traditional, Old- Calendar, new generation Orthodox Churches. It aims at full sacramental communion between the various Orthodox Christian families. The stress is given to conciliarity, because the nature and structure of administration and decision in Orthodox Churches is always based on councils, unlike the Roman Catholics or Protestants. Councils are given importance as they are considered to be the measuring scale. If a dispute arises in the church, then a council is organized to take an appropriate decision. Orthodox Christianity gives importance to the fusion of episcopacy and democracy. There is always a scope for collective decision making. The primate of each local Orthodox Church (Patriarch or Catholicos, Archbishop, Metropolitan) is considered to be first among equals in the Synod of Bishops who is chosen to lead the church, but does not have authoritarian rights to decide by himself.
The Schism between the Orthodox families, particularly between Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox, was a result of politics, misunderstanding, misinterpretations of theological and Christological doctrines.
The Chalcedon Synod
The Council of Chalcedon is considered to be one of most important significant ecumenical councils in the history of Christianity. Sadly it split the Christian East into two families of Churches – Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox. Later in 1052 the great schism split the Roman Catholic Church (Old Orthodox Patriarchate of Rome) from the Eastern Orthodox communion of churches.
The first major schism in the East was between Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches. We should not forget the fact that the Roman Catholic Church (at that time the Orthodox Church of Rome) was part of the Orthodox Communion. There have been several attempts in the past to reconcile. At present the phase of reconciliation is slow in several aspects. A number of agreements along with official and unofficial dialogues between Eastern and Oriental Orthodox families have been accomplished which have to be upgraded to the next level. The volume and intensity of dialogue by the Eastern Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox for Christian unity and ecumenism practiced with the WCC (World Council of Churches), the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian bodies, is very high in comparison to the extent of dialogue and action between the various families of Orthodox Churches. I personally believe that there should be an immense shift. There should be more focus on inter-orthodox action. The sacramental unity and agreements between both families of churches have remained on papers rather than in practical action. It has not yet been properly circulated or practiced among the faithful and clergy. Moreover these agreements are yet to be officially recognized by the Synods of EO and OO Churches. Only then will it have practical effects. Agreements reached are not just to be shelved or for theological and academic purposes or just for the sake of publishing, but should aim at achieving full sacramental unity between both families of Orthodox churches. It should also invite other Orthodox jurisdictions like the Old believers, traditional, non-canonical, old calendar, unrecognized and new generation churches for dialogue. We need to overcome a lot to boost inter-orthodox cooperation. We need to fight our ignorance, skeptical issues, attitude towards each other, we need to forgive our past mistakes and all those elements that hinder smooth process of pan-orthodoxy. There is a long way to go.
Why Pan-Orthodox Conciliar Unity?
Conciliar unity of Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox is to bring together those brothers and sisters who separated 1500 years ago due to misunderstanding of theological interpretation, certain misguided terminologies, words, language and politics. It is to bring all families of orthodox Churches into dialogue, sharing with love and mutual respect and to achieve full sacramental unity or at least to build a world platform and conciliar organizational structure which will enable them to share their diversity, to build a common voice and to work for a better tomorrow. To bring them together to experience the power, glory and blessings of the ‘United Orthodox Christian Witness’. In the words of Fr HeikkiHuttunen (former president of SYNDESOMS & Finnish Orthodox delegate to the Official Theological Dialogue) “The rediscovery of the unity in faith among the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox is unique event in the Christian History. To recognize the Orthodox faith in brothers and sisters separated for 1500 years, and to discover together the divine-human mystery of Christ is a great gift from God. The gift is also a calling, a challenge for us. We are to act it out, to incarnate it in our lives. It takes humility to admit that we are only beginners on the Orthodox way, and it takes a grain of free will to open ourselves to the ever-surprising new possibilities of growth and spiritual renewal offered to us by God who is with us.”Pan-Orthodox Christian Conciliar Unity is a wholesome and inclusive approach.
Pan-Orthodox Christian Conciliar Unity is not something that should be restricted within the various local Orthodox churches of Eastern Orthodox Communion nor the Oriental Orthodox communion. The essence of Pan-Orthodoxy should be widely circulated among all Orthodox jurisdictions. Pan-Orthodoxy is complete when it has representations from all Orthodox jurisdictions.
A briefing on the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Dialogue for Sacramental and Conciliar Unity.
The first unofficial meeting between clergy and theologians of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches took place in Aarhus, Denmark in 1964. There were 4 unofficial meetings:
Aarhus – 1964
Bristol – 1967
Geneva – 1970
Addis Ababa – 1971
These were followed by a series of official dialogues between the Churches. These took place at:
Geneva – 1985
Egypt – 1989
Geneva – 1990
Geneva – 1993
Working Group Consultation
Athens – 2014
A number of statements have been issued by the Joint Commission, as well as agreements relating to Pastoral matters. The main agreement is that ‘We have inherited from our fathers in Christ the one apostolic faith and tradition.’
“Gratefully acknowledging the guidance of the Holy Spirit so far in the work of the Joint Commission, the working group called for the continuation of the dialogue in all earnestness and for a formal meeting of the full Commission at an appropriate time at the earliest. While acknowledging the good work of the Sub-Committees on theological, canonical, liturgical and pastoral issues, the working group recognized that some Churches raised some serious issues that require further clarification such as lifting of anathemas, common enumeration of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, mutual recognition of Saints and some questions on Christology. Some solutions to these issues have also been proposed in the Sub-Committees, but they need to be communicated effectively to the clergy, monks, schools of theology and people on both sides to arrive at a consensus. It was noted that three local Churches from the Orthodox family (Alexandria, Antioch and Romania) and three Churches from the Oriental Orthodox family (Alexandria, Antioch and Malankara-India), had already declared their acceptance of the agreed statements and proposals from the Joint Commission. The working group that met in the 50th year of the first unofficial dialogue meeting between the Orthodox and the Oriental Orthodox took place in Aarhus, Denmark, 1964. Hence, in the spirit of jubilee the group called for liberation from the misapprehensions and separations of the past, while praying for the joyful common celebration of our life together in Jesus Christ our Saviour in mutual forgiveness, reconciliation and communion in love and truth for the glory of the Triune God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”. Working Group of the Joint Commission for the Dialogue between Eastern Orthodox Churches and Oriental Orthodox Churches – 2014