February 1, 2016 Length: 1:34:34
The 33rd Annual Schmemann Lecture at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary featured a talk by Archdeacon John Chryssavgis titled "Toward the Great and Holy Council: Retrieving a Culture of Conciliarity and Communion." The seminary also granted two honorary doctorates at the convocation. Archdeacon John received the degree Doctor of Divinity and Charles Ajalat received the degree Doctor of Canon Law.
Choir: Let us who love their words come together with hymns and honor the three great torch-bearers of the triune Godhead: Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, and John Chrysostom. These men have enlightened the world with the rays of their divine doctrines. They are flowing rivers of wisdom, and have filled all creation with springs of heavenly knowledge. They ceaselessly intercede for us before the Holy Trinity! [Troparion of the Synaxis of the Three Holy Hierarchs]
O Lord, heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of truth, who art everywhere and fillest all things, Treasury of blessings and Giver of life, come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity and save our souls, O Good One.
Eis polla eti, Despota.
Introduction: On behalf of the trustees of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, I have the pleasure of declaring the assembled body to be an official academic convocation of the seminary, and would like to call upon the Dean, Fr. John Behr, to preside over the convocation.
Fr. John Behr: Your Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon, Your Grace Bishop Ilia, and Your Grace Bishop John, distinguished guests, fathers, brothers, and sisters: It’s a great pleasure and honor to welcome everybody here this evening to St. Vladimir’s Seminary for this annual lecture in memory of our former beloved dean, Fr. Alexander Schmemann. This event, along with the Fr. John Meyendorff Lecture at the beginning of the fall semester, they are the two most august academic convocations of our school year, along, of course, with our commencement. It’s these two figures, Fr. Alexander Schmemann and Fr. John Meyendorff, who are preeminently associated with St. Vladimir’s Seminary, its building up, its stature, its identity, its mission, and its work, and, indeed, on really must say, the shape and life of contemporary Orthodoxy in the West: our approach to liturgy, tradition, canonical order, or at least our quest for it, and theological reflection and expression more generally.
Fr. Alexander in particular was also deeply concerned about and engaged with the broader world, the world of art and literature, the beauty of culture, and indeed the world itself, and spoke passionately about the dangers of increasing secularization. In one way or another, these characteristics are also shared by those whom we’ve invited to speak in his honor over the past three decades, covering the full range of topics from the more theological to music and everything in between.
And this evening we also have the honor of being able to bestow honorary doctorates upon two most-worthy candidates. The first, Mr. Charles Richard Ajalat, is well-known to us at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, having been a member of the Board of Trustees for many, many years, and always involved in and concerned for our life and our work thereafter. And this involvement looks set to continue in the next generation, as Charles’s son, Richard, is a recent alumnus of our seminary. Welcome, Richard.
Charles’s work, for the Orthodox Church and beyond over the last decades has been extensive, hugely significant and influential. He served as a chancellor of the Self-ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese for over 18 years, and through his efforts, both in this role and beyond, many key Orthodox organizations were founded, efforts initiated, which have served literally millions of people. Charles was involved in the formation of the humanitarian aid agencies of SCOBA, first as the Orthodox Christian Charities, and then as IOCC, the International Orthodox Christian Charities, which has now distributed over $500 million of aid in people in more than 50 countries. He was instrumental in the transformation of the Greek Orthodox Missions Board into the Orthodox Christian Mission Center, bringing the Gospel to so many all around the world. He’s a person behind one of the largest Orthodox philanthropic organizations, Orthodox Vision Foundation, which has helped innumerable Orthodox institutions, again, around the world. And in the last half-dozen years, he began FOCUS North America, “FOCUS” standing for the Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve, which distributes over $7 million a year in aid to hundreds of thousands in need in over 50 American cities.
Besides all of these charitable and missionary works, Charles has also been involved in many other levels and dimensions of Church life in American and throughout the world. He was a key figure leading to the first Conference Assembly of Canonical Bishops in North America. Through his influence with the Patriarch of Moscow and the leaders of the Parliament, Charles was a significant and influential force in the 1993 adoption of the laws on religious freedom. He was also influential in bringing together 74 members of the U.S. House of Representatives to urge the Secretary of State to make the release of the kidnapped bishops in Syria a top priority.
In addition to all of this, Charles has been at work on the Orthodox Christian Liturgical Commission, the National Prayer Fellowship of St. Philip the Evangelist, and behind the publication of the Orthodox Study Bible. And, close to my heart, he initiated the program now run by the Antiochian Archdiocese called “Becoming Truly Human.” All this work as a churchman and a philanthropist has been recognized in many ways before, such as the highest medals of the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese and the Orthodox Church in America; the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, just to name a few.
All of this, and there is much more, is indeed a huge amount to have accomplished, but it’s also been done, we should bear in mind, while simultaneously pursuing a very successful career in real estate and a brilliant career in law. In the legal realm, for instance, he was honored by being selected as a law clerk to the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court; by being selected by the governor as one of the seven Commission members working on revising California’s tax laws; and having history-making cases in the Supreme Courts of the states and of the United States; and many, many other such distinctions.
So it’s with great honor today that we’re able to award Mr. Charles Ajalat with the degree of Doctor of Canon Law, honoris causa. But before we call Charles up to receive the award, as I mentioned, we are doubly honored this evening by being able to award the degree of Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa, to Archdeacon John Chryssavgis, our Fr. Alexander Schmemann lecturer for this evening.
Fr. John comes from “Down Under.” He studied theology as an undergraduate in Athens and gained diplomas in catechetical studies and Byzantine sacred music. He then went to Oxford where, under Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), he wrote his doctoral dissertation, his thesis, on St. John Climacus, a study which has recently been republished by Ashgate Publishing House: John Climacus: From the Egyptian Desert to the Sinaite Mountain.
After completing his doctorate, he returned to Sydney where, in 1986, he co-founded St. Andrew’s Theological College, at that time the only fully-accredited Orthodox theological seminary in Australia. During the following decade, he also taught at various educational institutions in Sydney, such as a school of divinity and a school of the studies of religion. In 1995, Fr. John was invited to the United States to take a position as professor of theology at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School in Boston. In 2002-2003, he was a visiting fellow and a member of the Center for Theological Inquiry in Princeton. And in 2003-2005, he was a visiting professor at the University of Balamand in Lebanon. Since then, he’s served as a visiting professor and a guest lecturer at numerous and prestigious institutions all around the world: Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Chicago, Utrecht, Cambridge, many others, too many to mention.
Most importantly, over the last decade or more, Fr. John has been called to work ever more intimately in the life and functioning of the Church, inter-church relations, and other matters. So he works in the Ecumenical Office of the Greek Archdiocese in North America, where he assists His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios in matters pertaining to the Assembly of Bishops, which really is one of the most important initiatives in the life of the Orthodox Church, especially here in North America. He also works as a special theological consultant to His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew on a wide range of matters, from environmental concerns, where his influence has clearly been shown in all the work that the now-renowned “Green Patriarch” has initiated on his truly cosmic concern over the past years; to broader inter-Orthodox and inter-Christian relations; and especially over the past few years and months and weeks in preparation for the Great and Holy Council. In fact, Fr. John is literally just back from the meeting in Chambésy last week, which settled some of the remaining issues pertaining to the planning of the Council, most of which now seem to be resolved, and the Council will go ahead in a few months’ time.
We are all, I’m sure, looking forward to hearing his words about this this evening, and as far as I’m aware and as far as Fr. John’s aware, this is, in fact, the first presentation about the Council anywhere in the world after the Chambésy meeting. In this ecclesial work, Fr. John has shown himself to be a truly great friend to St. Vladimir’s Seminary and the Orthodox Church in America, and we owe him a great deal for all that he has done for us in this.
And then, in and through all of that, Fr. John has continued his own academic work. His bibliography of publications includes no less than 35 books, many of them multi-volume and many of them translated into other languages. He has continued his interest, shown in his doctoral work, in the spiritual traditions of fourth-century Egypt, fourth- and fifth-century Palestine, seventh-century Sinai, and used his wealth of learning, gained through his long immersion in this material, to write books also on a contemporary, popular, spiritual level. So he’s translated the correspondence of St. Barsanouphios and John, the sixth-century ascetics of Gaza, for the prestigious Fathers of the Church series published by the Catholic University of America. He’s translated the shorter catechesis of St. Theodore the Studite for Cistercian publications. He’s published books on Abba Isaiah of Sketis, St. John Climacus, Abba Zosimas of Palestine, and most recently, I believe, on St. Antony the Great.
He’s written numerous books on a more popular level. Just to mention a few of them: Soul Mending: the Art of Spiritual Direction; The Way of Tears: A Spirituality of Imperfection; Light Through Darkness: Insights into Orthodox Spirituality; much more personally, The Body of Christ: A Place of Welcome for People with Disabilities; and many, many others. He’s written on the diaconate, a book entitled, Reclaiming and Remembering the Diakonia: The Diaconate Yesterday and Today. He’s written a book on human sexuality: Love, Sexuality, and Marriage. He’s written a number of books on ecology and environmental issues, such as Orthodoxy and the Environment: Greening our Lives and our Parishes; Towards an Ecology of Transfiguration: Orthodox Christian Perspectives on Environment, Nature, and Creation, written together with Bruce Foltz.
He’s edited three volumes of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on the environment, with extensive introductory material and notes, published by Fordham University Press. He’s also translated three major works of Archbishop Anastasios of Albania: on Africa, on Albania, and on Islam. And most recently, just a few days ago, we just received the first copies; we’re very pleased to see in print a new book, edited by Fr. John: Primacy in the Church: The Office of the Primate and the Authority of the Councils. It’ll be a two-volume series; volume one is literally just hot off the press. Needless to say, it’s available for purchase this evening, and perhaps if Fr. John is good enough, also for signing.
So before we hear from Fr. John and his Fr. Alexander Schmemann Memorial Lecture this evening, I call on the Secretary of the Faculty, Fr. Alexander, to read the two citations, then invite the two recipients up to be hooded and to receive their diplomas.
Fr. Alexander Rentel: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and everything else needed will be added to you.” These words apply to you, Charles Richard Ajalat. God has given you a vision for the Church and the ability to implement that vision in ways that have provided blessings throughout the world and have inspired the laity. As founder of numerous key Orthodox Christian organizations and efforts that serve millions of people, you have led and challenged others, and you have provided means through which God has particularly blessed his holy North American Church. God has used your talents in the areas of Church governance and canon law; in the realms of social and spiritual outreach by preaching the Gospel with words and actions and in so many other spheres of Church life, including making accessible to others through publication the Scriptures and liturgical and private prayer books. In your actions, your leadership, your writings, and in your speeches and interviews, you have been a model for many, influencing countless Orthodox Christians. You have given freely and sacrificially of your time, your talents, and your earthly treasure, with a heart inspired and nurtured by God. Truly you are a servant of Christ, a churchman, an honorable and inspiring human being, a leader and true philanthropist, a lover of mankind.
Therefore, we are honored to affirm that, by virtue of the power vested in the Board of Regents of the State of New York and the Board of Trustees and the faculty of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary and by their unanimous decision, the degree of Doctor of Canon Law, honoris causa, is bestowed upon the servant of Christ, Dr. Charles Richard Ajalat. [Applause]
Theologian and teacher, scholar and interpreter, servant of the Ecumenical Throne, and defender of God’s creation. In your theological scholarship, translating, interpreting, and presenting the spiritual masters of the early Church, you have nourished countless faithful today, showing them how to find blessing in brokenness and comfort and guidance in ancient wisdom. In your educational work across continents, establishing an accredited seminary in Australia and teaching in this New World, you have been guided by the faith which, as St. Gregory the Theologian says, “gives fullness to reasoning,” showing the fruits that come from education at the highest level in its students that you have inspired and who now bear witness to Christ in this world.
In your labors on behalf of the environment, speaking, writing, and advocating on its behalf, you have made us all aware of the vulnerable and fragile beauty of God’s creation, encouraging us all to be better stewards of this good earth. In your service to the Orthodox Church in this country, helping build good inter-church relationships, especially between the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese and the Orthodox Church in America, and working to build up the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the U.S.A., you have shown yourself to be a servant of all, self-effacing and thereby all the more effective. And in your service to the Ecumenical Throne as Archdeacon of the Throne, theological adviser and consultant on inter-Orthodox affairs, you have worked to build up a culture of conciliarity and consensus for Orthodoxy worldwide so that we might indeed be able to speak with one heart and one voice for the life of the world and for its salvation.
In all of this you have amplified and exemplified the vision of faith, theological learning, and ecclesial being, to which we at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary aspire. Therefore we are honored to affirm that, by virtue of the power vested in the Board of Trustees and the faculty of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary and the Board of Regents of the State of New York, the degree of Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa, is bestowed upon the Reverend Doctor John Chryssavgis, Archdeacon of the Ecumenical Throne. [Applause]
Archdn. John Chryssavgis: I’m guessing this is the closest any deacon gets to dressing like a bishop. [Laughter] So I drove from Maine this morning, and we have very little snow in Maine. You’ve had quite a storm here in the last days. I had one that I’m just back from in Geneva. Just a week ago, I honestly thought I’d be standing here this evening saying, “Thank you very much for this honor.” Period. But I have to admit, I never cease to be amazed at how fast things change in the Orthodox Church! [Laughter] I should note from the outset that I have modified the subtitle of my address, so from what you’ve seen on your webpage, I’ve substituted “communion” for “consensus.” I’m convinced that consensus is not an Orthodox concept, but I’ll come back to this at the end.
Your Beatitude, Very Rev. Dean, venerable hierarchs and reverend clergy, very distinguished friends, faculty, beloved seminaries, and dear guests: Permit me to say that I could not imagine a more touching affirmation for my regard for the legacy of your school than this honor. My admiration for Frs. John Meyendorff and Alexander Schmemann shaped my ministry both here and in Australia, and I would be hard-pressed to identify any other clergymen with the breadth and boldness of the man whose name graces this memorial lecture who decried the shameless grandstanding of a Church woefully disregarding its role in the world, yet not of the world.
We are paying the price (he writes in his journals) of the crisis of Orthodoxy, because we created so many idols. We are concerned with the fate of patriarchates and engulfed in jurisdictions, all of them brandishing canons, yet we try to conquer the West with what is weak and ambiguous in our heritage. This arrogance, self-satisfaction, and pompous triumphalism are frightening.
Some five decades later, in a similar assessment that I consider definitive for the Orthodox Church, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew addressed the fifth synaxis of primates in Constantinople in October of 2008.
We have received the true faith (he said). We commune of the same sacraments, we basically keep the same Typikon, and we’re governed by the same canons. Despite this, we must admit that we present an image of incomplete unity, as if we were not one Church, but a federation of churches.
And as I listened, I recalled Fr. Meyendorff writing in 1978.
Unquestionably (he said), our conception of the Church recognizes the need for leadership in the world episcopate, spokesmanship by the first patriarch, and a ministry of coordination without which conciliarity is impossible. In our chaotic years, we could indeed use wise, objective, authoritative leadership from the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Fr. John died just months after the election of His All-Holiness. I sometimes wonder how he might welcome the patriarch’s visionary leadership today, especially in light of the Holy and Great Council, to which I now turn your attention.
Of course, it might be better to avoid any meeting of bishops. [Laughter] I know of no good to have come from even a single synod. I know of no solutions that resulted, only additional problems that arose. Their outcomes are arguments, ambitions, and rivalries. Bishops prefer to reprove others rather than resolve eternal issues. That’s a description that very well echoes my experience with regard to the futility and frustration of ecclesiastical meetings, but the words actually belong to St. Gregory the Theologian—and who am I to disagree with such a prominent saint? [Laughter]
Today, even enlightened Orthodox hierarchs and theologians, along with, of course, uninformed and malevolent critics, diminish the importance of the forthcoming Great Council. So, given St. Gregory’s skepticism, why bother convening a council? Would it be recognized as ecumenical? What issues will the council address? Will it prove a source of unity, or disunity? These are some questions I hope to address at least partially this evening, since everything is unpredictable, or at least everything depends on providence.
At the same synaxis of 2008, the final communiqué reaffirmed the primates’ obligation to safeguard Church unity, to heal canonical anomalies in the Diaspora and to resume preparations for the Great Council. When the primates assembled again for their sixth synaxis at the Phanar in March of 2014, arguably their foremost decision was to convene the Holy and Great Council at the church of Hagia Eirene, the site of the Second Ecumenical Council, on Pentecost 2016, “unless something unforeseen occurs.” Since then, some churches rejoiced in this decision; other churches reiterate the phrase, “unless something unforeseen occurs.” So the “unless something unforeseen occurs” Holy and Great Council has been on the table, in fact, since the early 1960s in Rhodes, although plans and proposals began as early as the 1920s in Constantinople and the 1930s on Mt. Athos. The Church of Russia did not send representatives to those initial meetings, because, we’re told, of complicated relations at the time with the state.
But the forthcoming council is unprecedented in that it will mark the first-ever gathering of delegates from 14 autocephalous Orthodox churches, including the ancient patriarchates except Rome. In the first millennium, there were only five sees, located exclusively around the Mediterranean and monitored rigidly by a secular authority, because someone has to supervise the bishops, too. I’m not sure that it is correct naïvely to dismiss disagreements between Orthodox churches as “ecclesiastical rivalry”; while such an impression is not entirely mistaken and while the process is painfully frustrating, it remains a far more nuanced and representative process than perceived. Orthodox authority is essentially and indelibly circular, at least symbolical, of conciliarity and communion.
Yet, despite assessments by critics and pundits, both cynical and constructive, we should not expect from the Holy and Great Council such radical consequences as the Second Vatican Council had for the Roman Catholic Church, because, while the Ecumenical Patriarch has responsibility, has authority as the first among equals, he would never imagine or impose primacy without collegiality; and second, the autocephalous Orthodox churches are involved in decision-making, which invariably incorporates local reception and not just universal imposition; and third, while change in the Orthodox Church really does move at glacial speed, it is always, nonetheless, organic, neither reform from above nor revolution from below; it is the continuity of a living tradition and a succession of an apostolic authority.
The Second Vatican Council marked the 21st council of the Roman Catholic Church, seven of which are shared with our Church. By contrast, the Orthodox have not summoned or sanctioned an ecumenical council since the Seventh General Council of 787. Some maintain that the Council of Constantinople in 879/880, which referred to itself actually as a holy and ecumenical council, that that was the eighth such council, because it incorporated all of the churches at the time, including Rome. Others claim that the councils of 1341 and 1351 in Constantinople, the ones that ratified the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas, should also be recognized as ecumenical. The same is sometimes said of the Council of Constantinople in 1484, the one that repudiated the Union of Florence. But most theologians continue to speak of seven ecumenical councils.
In some ways, every council is a confirmation and a prolongation of previous councils, so can the Great Council be considered ecumenical? Canon law does not define any principles of ecumenicity. There’s really only one test, ultimately, and that’s retrospective acceptance and adoption by the people of God. Of course, while the Church is not democratic, neither is it hierocratic. We must constantly disabuse ourselves of the temptation to objectify truth, identifying it with the letter of Scripture or the office of the bishop or even the institution of the council. In 1848, the eastern patriarchs affirmed:
Among us, neither patriarchs nor council could ever introduce new teaching, for the defender of religion is the very body of the Church, that is to say, the people itself, which desires that its doctrine remain unchanged from age to age, identical to that of its fathers.
Now, at the Council of Jerusalem, we read that the elders and apostles met to deliberate. The multitude kept silent, but it was not passive. Much like in the Eucharist, the Holy Spirit is invoked upon us and upon the Gifts before us, so, too, it seemed good to the apostles and elders, with all the Church, the power rightly to divide the truth is not granted to hierarchy in isolation but to believers in communion.
What, then, will be discussed at the Holy and Great Council? Certain detractors are very quick to dismiss the Council as inconsequential, claiming that “no weighty doctrine will be defined there,” but I’m not so sure that bishops attending earlier councils did so with some predetermination that they were destined by inspiration to settle some major theological debate or ecclesiastical dispute. That would be arrogance of the highest degree, even for clergy. Most councils, in fact, focused primarily on internal governance. That’s natural! Councils are how the Church is supposed to function. In the felicitous remark of Patriarch Daniel of Romania at the recent synaxis of primates:
The forthcoming Great Council should not be seen as an eschatological phenomenon in the sense of being our last chance to meet before the Last Times, but as a significant historical event reinforcing conciliarity.
You see, councils are what bishops are expected to schedule on their calendars. How did we ever lose sight of that? And then once assembled, the bishops would deal with the issues at hand. So the agenda of the “unless something unforeseen occurs” Great Council is an opportunity, in fact, to reveal the heart and mystery of Orthodoxy to a world that yearns for an account of the hope that is within us. Yet an air of paranoia appears to cloud the agenda. This is not excessively inflated a description for much of the reaction to the Council.
Fr. Schmemann might label it “Pentecost of the Devil,” the polar opposite of what a council is or is supposed to be, the expression of Pentecost. How else do I justify the concern among—I am talking here official Orthodox churches—about the Phanar’s “hidden agenda”? How can you explain religious websites that suspect, and I’m quoting, “Top U.S. officials setting the agenda specifically for homosexuality”? Or university professors who would lured devotees, their devotees, to “Phanariote schemes plotting unity with papacy and Protestantism”? How do we respond to respected Orthodox hierarchs who express fears about “secret inter-Orthodox meetings”? Other detractors contend that ecumenical councils convene only to eradicate treacherous heresy.
However, the notion that contemporary challenges somehow don’t measure up to the glamour of early heresies is, I think, just another ruse for subverting the Great Council. I’d love to sympathize with those who dust pews in search of contemporary Arians or look in religious haystacks for current Nestorians, but they will more likely find their modern heretics among Orthodox believers who are intolerant of other faiths or among Orthodox clergy who find ways of reconciling the Gospel creed with secular greed. They may even discover heterodoxy cajoling a synaxis of primates or an assembly of bishops to justify ethnophyletism as “differences in missionary or pastoral approach.” Are these not matters of truth and salvation? Are these not issues of life and death? Is it just the filioque and the papacy that scandalize us?
In 1961 at Rhodes, the agenda actually included over 100 items, subdivided even into eight distinct categories. Well, the final ten on the agenda today relate to, first of all, internal relations among the churches; secondly, issues of pastoral and practical nature; and thirdly, external relations with other churches and the world. Over the past 18 months, two special committees, a pan-Orthodox pre-conciliar consultation and a synaxis of primates, labored to revise and finalize documents for each of the agenda items. Here’s a brief run-down of the events. There was meaningful progress on item one, the Orthodox Diaspora, with the creation of the Assemblies of Bishops. I’ll return to this specifically.
A document was adopted on the second item, autonomy, but no conclusion was reached on the third and conversation was conducted on the fourth, both dealing with the landmine of how autocephaly is determined and the hypersensitive ranking of churches on the diptychs. The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew lamented at the synaxis just this past week: “No church wants to forfeit its place in the order.” It didn’t take a rocket scientist to predict—I did this two months ago as I was thinking of this lecture—that these items would be somehow circumvented.
On item five, about a common calendar, no revision was made to the original language dating back to 1986. The text on the calendar initially considered the date of Easter on the basis of scientific calculations in order just to ponder—again, no hidden secret meetings here—a common celebration of Easter. But any favorable impact on Orthodox communities in the West notwithstanding, the mere prospect of alarming people by even uttering the word “calendar” buried the entire discussion, and at the synaxis this past week, the item was dropped from the Council’s agenda.
As for item six, on marriage impediments, a hasty revision under pressure to stand up to the “evil forces in the world” resulted in an incompetent, even impotent, statement. But should I be that surprised that celibates struggled to produce a reasonable or charitable text on marriage? The text on marriage impediments might actually have brought some consolation, some dignity to numerous widowed clergymen, or even monastics seeking to surrender their celibacy, but the Church often handles issues of sexuality by denunciation or denial.
As for item seven, on rules of fasting, while a revised text was approved, there was a fundamental shift in emphasis from the original intent of addressing fasting regulations in missionary fields and in Western societies to reinforcing familiar precepts of fasting. Again, instead of striving to understand canons, it is often simpler to underline rigidity for fear of undermining rules. Items eight and nine, on inter-Christian dialogues and the ecumenical movement, were combined into one text, and item ten, on the role of Orthodoxy today, was adopted but not signed by all until the synaxis this past week.
Look, the texts are clearly imperfect, even incomplete. Most hierarchs are dissatisfied, and the general public will certainly be disappointed. I will analyze briefly the Diaspora and ecumenism in a moment, but was it realistic to expect more of the agenda? In response to one hierarch’s plea that his “church sees no reason for the Great Council to convene unless we improve the documents to the level of those produced by Vatican II,” the Archbishop of Cyprus pointed out at the same synaxis of primates that what was achieved was actually the best we could do. And it was spiritually refreshing to hear a man that I admire so much, Archbishop Anastasios of Albania, contend, “Let’s admit our humility, our inefficiency, and our poverty.” And he added, “Our documents are the deficient, even defective prosphoron that we offer to God who alone can transform them into Body and Blood of Christ.”
But still, how do you imagine that observers might view the issues where our hierarchs have either reached agreement or chosen to differ? Will people interpret ostensible consensus or ostentatious controversy as misplacement in the hierarchy of values? Will they sense a glaring omission of other topics like the pain of divorce or the second-class role of women? Why so little headway on the pastoral issues of marriage and fasting? Why the contentious stand-off on autocephaly and the diptychs? Would it not be scandalous if bishops at the Great Council argued over the desire to rule, which St. John Chrysostom called “the mother of heresies,” at the expense of addressing practical concerns of our faithful? Would it not reflect a dismal lack of moral compass and prophetic criticism if a document related to Orthodoxy in the world—instead of in its own world—did not condemn social and financial injustice as well as racial and sexual discrimination, on which many of our churches are often guilty of silence, if not collusion?
But let me further explore the first item on the agenda, an indication, I think, of its paramount importance for the founding fathers of the Council. The item related to normalizing the canonical status of our churches in places with overlapping jurisdictions. Will our bishops work toward a unified Church? is the basic question; or will they persist in clinging to ethnic blinders? I would contend that the most consequential and enduring pronouncement of the Great Council will be its determination on the Diaspora. The question is whether churches in the United States, in western Europe, in Australasia, comprising immigrants and converts, long-established in their new homelands, miles away and cultures apart from their mother churches, have the single-mindedness and commitment to work in harmony.
Regrettably, many Orthodox churches seem to be retreating into a sheltered, albeit stifling provincialism, which they explain, even excuse, as pastorally more urgent than concerns of collegiality and communion. It is depressing—it’s even deplorable to see contemporary leaders, exposed to and educated in the global challenges of the modern world, less interested in transcending parochialism and prejudice than their predecessors, who were restricted by an oppressive xenophobia behind the Iron Curtain. Isn’t this sin of nationalism alone sufficient reason to convene the Great Council? How can we so brazenly justify this heresy, sometimes even theologically and canonically?
In 1872, the Council of Constantinople “decried, denounced, and condemned ethnophyletism,” emphatically declaring its proponents schismatics. In 2009, the Fourth Pan-Orthodox Pre-Conciliar Conference in Geneva unanimously established the Assemblies of Bishops in countries with overlapping jurisdictions, a decision unanimously referred for approval to the Great Council in June. The explicit mandate of these Assemblies, their “unswerving obligation,” is to safeguard the unity of the Church and, to quote the 2008 primate synaxis, “to advance the swift healing of canonical anomalies.”
Despite justifications or vindications, we must candidly admit that our churches have flagrantly diverged from the canonical and ecclesiological principles of two millennia. For a Church that prides itself on tradition, surely it’s embarrassing to defend our contention and competition on the basis of preference for ethnic fascination or preeminence of historical foundation or a predilection for numerical force. We must frankly admit that we are relentlessly enticed by the ideologies of panhellenism, panslavism, and panarabism. I appreciate that we should embrace the broader social and cultural, even the political, even the financial dimensions of global immigration, but our ultimate vision should always remain ecclesiological, and the Assemblies of Bishops constitute a positive and constructive way forward. Accordingly, the primates recently issued a formal decision in Geneva.
The Assemblies of Bishops, on the one hand, tangibly reveal the unity of the Orthodox Church (or the lack of unity), and on the other hand ascertain the impossibility of immediately transitioning to the strict canonical order of the Church. So this synaxis resolves to propose to the Holy and Great Council that this institution may be maintained until such time as circumstances mature to apply canonical precision.
In a way, the issue of the Orthodox Diaspora has already been resolved, by the synaxis, at least, by the Council. There may be no adopted text, but there is an agreed procedure, so the creation of the Assemblies of Bishops is really itself a test of our willingness and readiness, ultimately our integrity to be and to work together, to acknowledge and to affirm our unity. Are we deliberately shrugging the responsibility for Church unity, placed in our humble hands, by the Church, by our own mother churches, by pan-Orthodox decision? And, if so, are we squandering another invaluable, once-in-generations opportunity to advance the Church in this country?
Just as the newly-ordained deacon holds the precious Body of Christ in his fragile hands, the promise to shape the Church has been placed before us. We bear this treasure in our earthen vessels. Have we become so dysfunctional by division and ambition that we are bereft of the will and the humility to remember and realize the vision of unity?
The other item I’d like to examine briefly concerns external relations with non-Orthodox churches. I don’t think that we can continue disregarding Orthodox isolationism and its attending fundamentalism that consider dialogue with the other as contamination or heresy. The tyranny of fragmented truth blinds people to the fullness of truth, whereas the spirit of truth leads us into all the truth. It does not obsess about partial or partisan truth. Think of how saintly theologians like Photius the Great and Mark of Ephesus, those genuine confessors and giant pillars, are frequently parodied as mirroring the conscience of the most orthodox of Orthodox, although they were far more receptive to dialogue than their small-minded contemporary cheerleaders. Is not such a perverse and divisive distortion a sufficiently ecclesiological heresy for a council to convene? Such abuses do not reflect the catholic experience of the Church; they’re even incompatible with statements by St. Mark of Ephesus himself. Listen to one passage from St. Mark.
We need investigation and conversation in matters of theological disputation so that compelling and conspicuous arguments may be considered. Profound benefit is gained from such conversation, if the objective is not altercation but truth, and if the motive is not solely to triumph over others. Inspired by grace and bound by love, our goal is to discover the truth, and we should never lose sight of this, even when the pursuit is prolonged. Let us listen amicably so that our loving exchange might contribute to consensus (”omonoia” is his word).
A united and unequivocal response to extremist circles often influenced by rigid clergy is important here: a reminder to our people that Orthodoxy must be in constant dialogue with the world. If Orthodoxy is enclosed, not in dialogue with those outside, it will both fail in its mission and no longer be the catholic Church. It will, as Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew wrote on the Sunday of Orthodoxy 2010, “It will be reduced to a ghetto on the margins of history,” which does not imply resignation to denominationalism or minimalism. The Church always seeks the whole truth about the whole of humanity within the whole cosmos.
But one of the paralyzing factors in the conciliar process has been the introduction of consensus as a way of appealing to or even appeasing churches. Under the rules of operation adopted in 2009 and also in 2014 at the synaxis, decisions are taken by consensus, which is of course intended to build trust in a mutually respectful process. The Patriarchate of Moscow flaunts the principle of consensus as “a trophy.”
But how did voting take place in the early Church? Since unanimity echoes uniformity, no church, not even Rome, could veto or control the ultimate decision. From the mid-third century, based on Roman law, decision by majority was the general practice. Majority vote was proof of tradition, though it was inspiration, not numbers and not power, inspiration brought about a majority of votes. So to invoke, or at least imagine the presence of the Holy Spirit, a copy of the Bible became a prominent and permanent fixture in the councils, as it is in the synaxis and as it will be in the Great Council.
Professor MacMullen, formerly of Yale, writes:
Democracy teaches the equation: “Many is good,” but a truer understanding suggests another equation: “Many is god.” In voting, a power beyond the human might assert itself. Argumentation going off track invited divine rebuke.
Now, the method of voting is of course a matter of conjecture. Evidence is very scant and very obscure. Out of over 15,000 councils that might have convened between the fourth and sixth centuries, we can only identify about 250. These councils were well-attended and, for the most part, representative. Historian Philostorgius claims that during the First Council of Nicaea, a paper was circulated for the bishops to sign. At other councils, bishops or churches changed places to join another group—a little bit like what will happen in Iowa tomorrow. Sometimes voting reflected the system in the Roman senate, resembling decision-making at the British House of Commons: the yeas standing on the right, the nays on the left. So while the majority vote was irrefutably the way that decisions were taken, there was no clearly established manner of determining such majority, so long as seniority and fair representation were assured.
It is, of course, incumbent on some Orthodox churches not to obfuscate consensus with unanimity, manipulating it for procrastination. The shield of consensus reflects the lamentable lack of conciliarity ultimately in the Orthodox Church. How otherwise explain Moscow’s insistence on consensus, when this was virtually ensured that the council, in its preparatory meetings and even in the council sessions itself, would not reach agreement on any vital matter? Is it so surprising that Moscow’s Department for External Church Relations complained, “Preparations for the pan-Orthodox Council have progressed not quickly enough”? And, by the way, it’s the same church that insists in 2014 on including the phrase “unless something unforeseen occurs.”
Consensus was never a model of conciliar expression. While consensus is neither orthodox nor traditional, voting as churches, that people criticize today, churches rather than as bishops, is both orthodox and traditional. Personal voting probably reflects more modern individualism. It’s a way for rambunctious critics to have their day in court. Consensus would be inconceivable and intolerable in the internal synodal procedure of any church today, even Moscow, even Constantinople. No patriarch waits for consensus.
But let me conclude: Conciliarity implies retrieving a process that involves renouncing preconceptions of authority and communion, and relearning fresh ways of being and working together. To retrieve conciliarity, our bishops must first of all assemble. The Greek word for “council,” “synodos,” simply means being on the same road: “syn-odos.” And journeying towards conciliarity means acquiring a sense of re-conciliation. It’s called forgiveness. It’s called—the Greek word “synchōresis”—being in the same space with one another, because we must honestly admit that we have become estranged from the culture of conciliarity and communion.
Are we surprised that so many of our churches are saturated by un-Western or anti-Western bias? To quote Fr. Schmemann’s favorite, Julien Green, “Culture cannot be improvised.” You see, culture matters, and culture matures with time. It will take a long, arduous exercise of discipline and schooling, a lifetime of cultivating and convening councils, to rediscover this culture as an intrinsic and grace-filled etiquette of Church life, which is not a luxury but compulsory for the Church. There is no Church without council.
St. John Chrysostom defines Church as “institution and the synod.” In the absence of a council, a church may function institutionally, but it’s not Church. When bishops gather together, as we’re told, the Spirit descends. Suddenly, breathtakingly, then even bland statements miraculously produced by consensus at a synaxis prove less important than the promise of the Spirit that appeared as tongues of fire, albeit only after the apostles held their own tongues. Then bishops in council can boldly pronounce, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…”
Of course, only time will demonstrate whether the Orthodox autocephalous churches can lay aside the temptations of power and trends toward nationalism, because I was surprised that one primate at the last synaxis vehemently protested that he had “never heard a more outrageous and offensive a statement” in pan-Orthodox meetings than another primate reprimanding the plenary for ethnocentrism. But if they can, if the churches can overcome this ethnocentrism, then the Holy and Great Council—unless something unforeseen occurs—promises to be a watershed event, even if the conscience of the faithful will reveal where it stands.
Even if imperceptibly, something changed last week, something changed profoundly and permanently for Orthodox Christianity. I predict that things won’t be the same, moving forward, because the spotlight is on us now. People can tell who’s playing political Hunger Games or Trivial Pursuit. Our Church can play a major role in the world, but for this to happen, all of the Church’s indispensable structures, especially its bishops, especially its councils, must be humbly placed at the service of God, the Gospel, and the Body of Christ. Then centers of primacy will no longer be centralized powers, but sanctuaries of communion. What a refreshing example that would prove for a Church that is called and claims to be in the world, yet not of the world!
Thank you very much. I’m sorry to drag on. [Applause]
Fr. Chad Hatfield: Thank you, Fr. John, for giving us insight into what to anticipate, what to look for, and the possibility of what can be through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We have a few moments for some Q&A, and because this is being recorded for Voices from St. Vladimir’s Seminary that you can then find on Ancient Faith Radio, so we don’t have competing microphones, there’s just one. So the way it’s going to work, if you have a question, I ask that you be concise, have it well-formed, and come to the front there, and then we’ll be able to turn the microphone so we can pick you up…
Assistant: I can bring this, too. We have a portable one.
Fr. Chad: We’ve had a change in technological brilliance here. So where do you want people to stand?
Assistant: I can come to them.
Fr. Chad: Okay, but I think it’s still better for you to come here and sort of queue up so we can actually have some order to this. So if you have your questions, Fr. John’s anxious to respond.
Q1: Thank you, Fr. John. You had made some rather pointed remarks quoting some rather influential figures in Church history about the role of bishops in councils. Has there been any discussion about the role of laity and theologians in a council? Even the Ecumenical Councils involved not just bishops but emperors and lay people and influential leaders within the Church. I have not heard any conversation about that regarding this council.
Archdn. John: Neither have I. [Laughter] Ah, no, look. Let’s see. How do we answer this? You do know that there—and I’m not sure what’s out there sometimes, so you need to tell me if, no, you don’t know—that 24 bishops from each of the autocephalous churches will be represented at the Great Council, each of the primates with two or three of their close advisers behind, them, and then behind them the rest of the delegation. It was adopted at this past synaxis, just a few days ago, that there would also be six—I think the original wording was “one quarter of each delegation,” to which the Archbishop of Albania said, “We don’t have 24 bishops. It would amount to two-and-a-half people for us, and we wouldn’t be able to do that.” So in the end he got his way, which I think was the right way.
Each church is now entitled to six—they call them, I think, advisers. Again, the Archbishop of Albania wanted to call them, and it’s mentioned in the decisions, “co-workers in Christ.” And these advisers are the only non-bishop representatives that would attend the council, all of the sessions of the council, without a right to speak and without a right to vote. So that’s not what you wanted to hear; it’s not what I wanted to hear.
The good news is that we got at least six people in, and out of those six, we’re guessing that most of them won’t be bishops, that they’ll in fact be clergy, and they’re probably thinking priests, deacons, monastics. So we’re cutting the lay people down already. It’ll be up to each church, just to see how open they are. I asked several people whether they would include women, for instance, in these six. I didn’t get much of an answer. So I’m hoping that there will be some lay people among those six. That’s the best news I have, not the good news.
The bad news, the frustrating part to listen to was not an insignificant portion of the hierarchy feeling that the presence of lower clergy, non-bishops and certainly laity, is just not the same as having a bishop at a council. That was pretty disappointing to hear, but that’s there. That’s how some people feel. I have a feeling that if some women are involved from some of the churches, maybe from some of the more traditional churches, even the Church of Bulgaria, Georgia, there may be even, for instance, some nun or a mother superior or something that may be in attendance. That’s my general sort of feeling from just listening.
Q2: I don’t think you ever said it explicitly, Fr. John, but my impression from the discussion on consensus was that, unless something changes, it will take a full participation of everyone in consensus and not a majority vote or anything else. Is that correct?
Archdn. John: Yeah, that’s what consensus is about. That’s how consensus is at least interpreted, and I think even that interpretation of consensus is not a very good one. There are expressions of consensus in bodies throughout the world—ecumenical bodies, other church bodies—that function, function very well, but the consensus that some people have in mind, at least those who want consensus is that if one church says no, then it’s just a no-go. Even if one church leaves, maybe the council can be dissolved. So that’s the sort of, I would say, picture of consensus that some churches have.
On the other hand—this is a personal reflection, now; it is a personal reflection, so not quoting Patriarch Bartholomew here and not speaking for him, either—the fact that we’re going to the council—unless something unforeseen occurs—is already at least our watering-down, a little bit of the shattering of the glass of what consensus means, because there wasn’t full agreement on all of the texts. Not all of the texts were signed; not all of the decisions were agreed on, and yet we’re moving ahead. By the consensus rule, someone should have gotten up and said—even Moscow could’ve gotten up and said—that, whoa, hang on a second: we’ve all got to say yes here. In fact, they didn’t all say yes. Moscow did; others said no. Others signed and said, “We disagree, but we’re signing to move ahead.” Others didn’t sign, at least one of the documents a church didn’t sign. So for me, that’s already a little bit of the cracking of that rigidity of consensus and may allow enough room for the Spirit to breathe in the council itself.
Q3: Thank you so much, Archdn. John. I’m so grateful that you are playing a central role in this process, although I’m sure it causes you tremendous pain to do so. Following up on this question of consensus, you mentioned ecumenical bodies that have taken up this as a methodology. I was instrumental in trying to get that process going with the World Council of Churches which adopted it in 2002 on the pretext that it was an Orthodox model of decision-making. And then none of the Orthodox admitted that none of their churches actually took decisions that way. And the difficult lesson was how difficult consensus is to actually do. I think everybody came into it thinking, like you were saying, it gives everybody veto power, but consensus is a very intricate culture that depends a lot on a very intentionally trained moderator to sound out the room. Has there been any… You hinted just now in your answer to Dr. Ajalat’s comment that consensus is a differentiated thing. Has there been much reflection on what a culture of consensus today actually looks like and how it can be done, with attention especially to who is moderating the meetings?
Archdn. John: The simple answer to that is no, and the sad answer. Look, because I deliberately used the word “culture” here, because it takes time for these things to develop, it takes time for these things to be refined, and, trust me, we’re not there. We’re nowhere near there. Where people say, for instance, “Oh, look at Bartholomew. He’s constantly conceding he wants to get to the council, so he’s selling off anything to Kirill and so forth.” That’s not what’s happening here. Patriarch Bartholomew wants to have a council to start meeting in council. You have to start somewhere. If you want to talk about being together, you have to be together.
So that’s possibly the only radical change I see happening at the Great Council, just if we can get there: big step, because hopefully, as many have said, Patriarch Bartholomew said, so Patriarch Daniel of Romania has said very clearly and very articulately that we should be meeting every five, every seven, every ten years. And if you know that you’re meeting again in three years, or the synaxis is every two years, and then a council every five years, then you’re not concerned with “what happens if I lose this one opportunity to lose one piece of what I want the whole council to stand for.” You can let go of that because the whole thing’s a process. So it will take time, does take time, it is a culture, and we’re a very Eastern bunch of churches.
And can I just say—which really frustrates me, because you’re saying about the World Council of Churches, the people that have been involved even with the Assembly of Bishops to write up what consensus is all about for the Assembly. I know that Anne Glynn-Mackoul, for instance, has been involved as well, and some of that work has gotten through to our patriarch to… It is frustrating knowing that people actually function in consensus in non-Orthodox bodies, but when we meet together, it’s not. So that is very frustrating. Just finding what that common core is among us, and there’s surely so much. That’s what koinonia is: it’s just literally what do we have in common, after all? There is something in common that we share, and that’s not where we start usually in meetings like this, unfortunately.
But even so—I’m sorry [Laughter]—I’ve seen stand-up comics do things like that. Even so, just even if we’re airing our laundry, even if we’re just jabbing at each other, that’s a good place to start. At least we’re doing it there and not outside of there. At least we’re looking at Bartholomew in the face and asking him something and he likewise to Kirill and so forth, as opposed to wondering, “What’s the Phanar up to now?” and so forth. So that’s a step; that’s already a step. You know what, if we had not been preparing for this council, we would not have been meeting at all! We have to remember that. We are meeting together and fighting over meeting together. Not even that would have happened had we not been dreaming or not wanting a council, all right? So—it’s time. [Laughter]
Q4: Father, thank you for being here again. I guess my question is related to the Oriental Orthodox churches specifically. You’ve talked a little bit about ecumenism, but you didn’t really go into that specifically. I know you just came from Chambésy and a little over 20 years ago there was the official declaration, and it’s just kind of been sitting there since then. Is there any talk of the Oriental Orthodox churches at this council, even just looking at that document since this is the first time that all the heads of the Eastern churches are coming together? Just to comment on the relationship with the Oriental Orthodox churches, because I truly believe that if we’re really going to be united, they also have to be part of the conversation.
Archdn. John: I think that’s a very good point, and thank you for mentioning it, and I’m sorry I didn’t, actually. Let me make very, very clear that our patriarchs certainly didn’t push, suggested, and it was accepted by everyone, that certainly these churches, or your churches, should be invited formally, so there’s no question about that. They did not go into details. I think there was a lot of uncertainty about who should be invited from various other churches, as in non-Orthodox churches, and so I think what they decided was that we will simply say that these particular churches will be represented, but all of the Oriental churches will be represented.
The question is how much—probably not enough. I know that the observers from other churches are invited to attend the opening session and the closing session. I know that there were a number of churches that did not want any non-Orthodox, non-specifically Eastern Orthodox bishops and advisers in the sessions of the council. Unfortunately: I would have like to see a little more openness, but that’s fairly clear a decision by the primates that it’s just for the opening and just for the closing, but most definitely there was reference to the Oriental churches explicitly.
Where it’s all going? That’s a long subject, of course, and complicated. I think people see things differently, but, again, I know that, from the people that I spend time with—Patriarch Bartholomew and Metropolitan John of Pergamon, for instance, and Metropolitan Emmanuel of France—that is an issue that should be given top priority and has just been in suspension for far too long. Again, I think the person from our patriarchate that’s been given some responsibility for that is Metr. Emmanuel of France, so if there’s someone you want to push, that’s the way to go. Thank you. [Applause]
Fr. Chad: His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon.
His Beatitude Metropolitan Tikhon: We offer our thanks to God for the opportunity to gather this evening to bestow the Doctor of Canon Law degree, honoris causa, to our former Trustee and generous friend and supporter of our seminary, Mr. Charles Ajalat; and to bestow the Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa, upon Archdn. John Chryssavgis, and to hear his enlightening and timely thoughts on the great themes of conciliarity and communion and on the specific topic of the upcoming Great and Holy Council.
I think it is in no small way providential that these two men are with us being honored by our seminary today. Charles has always been a fervent advocate of the role that laymen and lay women should have in the Church, and beyond that he has often brought forward in many forums and in many different ways the question, the frustrated question perhaps: How difficult can it be to achieve unity? And we’ve heard this evening from an archdeacon of the Church who has just returned from a very heavy meeting with the primates and patriarchs of the Church, and who shares with us the question how difficult it can be to achieve unity. The same phrase, but with a little different emphasis.
To me, this is life in the Church. We emphasize or we focus on the external expression of things: rules, for example. Much mention was made this evening of rules on various levels. But I am reminded of a story from Abba Pambo, who traveled with some of the brothers to visit another gathering of monastics at which meat was served. You didn’t speak about the fasting paper, but I thought I’d bring this up. Meat was served and all of the monastics, knowing the rule of monasticism—of course, monastics don’t eat meat, but when it’s served, you eat the meat—so all of the monastics ate the meat except Abba Pambo. He did not eat the meat, and all the brothers who ate the meat were scandalized that Abba Pambo did not follow the monastic rule, which is to break the monastic rule of fasting from meat. So they came to him and said, “Abba Pambo, you are Pambo and you did this?” And he was quiet for a moment and said, “Ah, I am Pambo, and I have care for my brethren, and if they had seen me eat meat, they would have been scandalized. So for their sake, I did not eat the meat.”
What does this mean? You can figure it out. [Laughter] Which is precisely our Orthodox way: we look at the rules, and then we have to live them in our own way. And this takes place on a personal level, but it also takes place on the pan-Orthodox level. I am encouraged by the report and the words that Archdn. John has shared with us this evening, that in fact no matter what our opinion of the successes or failures of the recent synaxis, that indeed we have, as he reminded us so clearly this evening, the Church has met and gathered together. To me that is our way, not only for monastics but for our families, for our churches, for our parishes. We all face these struggles and problems, and we need to work together to overcome them.
My hope is that we could get to the point where the other two monastics from the Desert Fathers [were], who had reached dispassion, and felt something lacking, so they said to each other, “We must understand what ‘possession’ means, what it is to possess something.” Because they had reached dispassion, they had no self-love and were completely dispassionate, so they said, “Let’s meet together, and we’ll place a brick between ourselves. I will try to take it, and you prevent me from taking it.” So they did that. They sat down, they got the brick in the middle, and the first monk tried to take the brick, and said, “That’s my brick,” and the other monk said, “Okay.” [Laughter] And this went on for several hours, and they gave up.
So that’s a positive, I think, goal that we need to strive for in whatever state we are in, whether we are in our families, in our communities, as a synaxis, or as a gathering of the Great and Holy Council. I hope that we can strive for that simplicity and that humility that is offered to us by our Lord Jesus Christ and is open to us who follow the lives of the great saints, great saints such as St. Isaac the Syrian, who said, “A monk is one who is separate from all and united to all.”
This reminds us of the power of prayer, that all of us here in this hall, in North America, throughout the world, whether or not we are participating in the Great and Holy Council, or future great and holy councils, we can pray to Christ and in solitude, in our icon corners, separate from everyone and yet in our hearts united to all as our Lord wants us to be. So we thank Archdn. John for giving us some small hope and encouragement in the work of the Great and Holy Council, and we thank you for being with us this evening. May God grant all of us to gather as often as we can as Christians in love and fellowship and in the unity of the faith. Thank you. [Applause]
Fr. Chad: As we bring this 33rd Annual Schmemann Lecture to a conclusion, I have a couple of announcements. One is, I simply want to thank all of you for coming out tonight. You’re the people who are the strong supporters of this seminary. You enjoy what we’ve been doing for 33 years and other events as well, and many of you have recently received a copy in the mail of our newest annual report, “Tell Me a Story.” We have extra copies outside; please take them. But seriously, in the middle, once you’ve enjoyed seeing this really magnificent publication, that envelope actually needs to be returned with a vote of thanks in terms of monetary support for the seminary, so we can actually continue the witness and life for which St. Vladimir’s is known from around the world. So please take them; share them with your friends.
You’ll also, in addition to Fr. John’s book on primacy, first volume, find a bright yellow copy of, I think, a very unusual double-issue of The St. Vladimir’s Quarterly with the title, “The Forthcoming Council of the Orthodox Church: Understanding the Challenges.” They’re available as well, so please take those, stop by the bookstall. And I invite you enjoy fellowship, some wonderful refreshments, this time on both levels of the Rangos Building below us. We’ve got a nice crowd, and that means we’ve got two separate places, and I think, Fr. John Chryssavgis, you’re ready to sign books as well, right? Okay. So we’ll find the place and we’ll have that activity that’s going as well. We’ll stand for the singing of, “It’s Truly Meet.” I would ask that the six of us in the front stay behind for group photographs, and the two visiting hierarchs, the rest of you will make your way out and begin to enjoy the refreshments; we’ll join you later.
Choir: It is truly meet to bless you, O Theotokos, ever-blessed and most-pure and the Mother of our God, more honorable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim; without defilement you gave birth to God the Word: true Theotokos, we magnify you!
Eis polla eti, Despota!