‘for it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials’ (Acts 15:28). Unfortunately, history shows us that this is not always the case. The unity of the Church must remain either only a metaphor, or else, the church that holds itself to be ‘the only true’ must protect itself and God instead of following Christ.
Why the Council? My guess is, the Orthodox are thinking that they have been gradually growing apart from each other, as well as in relation to ‘the world,’ which cannot see us as a faith to be reckoned with, because visibly we seem fragmented and ineffectual. Myself, I feel that this apparent disunity is a symptom of our lack of heroic and decisive leadership, which produces a general confusion from the top down. In the 20th century we had such heroic, yes, even Christlike, leaders. The last of them are quickly dying off, and they seem to have few, if any, successors of like stature. Whatever they think the ‘Great and Holy Council of 2016’ will achieve, I hope (and yes, pray) that it will be commandeered not by political and religious interests, but by the Holy Spirit. How will we know the difference?
I have yet many things to tell you, but you cannot bear them now. But when the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth. For He will not speak on His own authority. But He will speak whatever He hears, and He will tell you things that are to come. He will glorify Me, for He will receive from Me and will declare it to you. All that the Father has is Mine. Therefore I said that He will take what is Mine and will declare it to you.
To call a Council at the threshold of the third millennium has to be the work, not of men, but of the Holy Spirit. The Roman Catholic pope, John XXIII, prophetically inaugurated this work at the end of the second millennium. For those who were not yet alive, the last pope John was very much like the current pope Francis. They both have a way of living, speaking, and acting as if they were ordinary humans, not wearers of infallible authority. This behavior generates both hope and fear in members of their Church, and in the world generally. I have a hunch that, had pope John lived to see the Vatican Council to its conclusion (instead of presiding only at the first session), he would have been the last Roman pope, and the herald of the end of the Great Schism. The non-Roman observers he had invited would have been accepted for who they were—hierarchs and leaders of the universal Church—and the course of the Church, and of all of human history, would have been radically altered.
What do I hope for in a ‘Great and Holy Council’? Notice, I did not call it ‘the’ nor did I append a year. Why not? Because I do not know that this Council will be anything but a further estrangement between Christians, and the perpetuation of a ‘religious’ Christianity. I can only hope that it will be the final Council, the one that establishes for all time, not only the truth as Christ, but the way and the life as well. What I mean is, seeing as how we have verified beyond all shadow of a doubt who Jesus Christ is, we can begin to follow Him for real, not for religion. The Church must finally decide what she is, now that she knows who He is.
There is only one controversy to be decided. It is not about jurisdictions, nor about primacy. It is not about devotional practices, worship and the like, nor about morality, rules and regulations. It is about the life or death of the Church. We already have Christ’s promise that ‘the gates of Hades will not prevail against it,’ and so we know the Church will survive, and not only survive but triumph, and continue till the Day of Christ’s return. The controversy is, is the Church a religious society dedicated to its own perpetuation, or is it the transfiguration of all of humankind by the promotion of life in Christ? We’ve been doing the first—by our own efforts ‘preserving and protecting’ the Church—for two thousand years. Isn’t it about time to ‘let God be God,’ to stand on His promise to preserve the Church till the end of time, while we follow Jesus, doing what He does, learning from Him, obeying Him?
Whoever hears these sayings of Mine and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on a rock. And the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house. And it did not fall, for it was founded on rock. And everyone who hears these sayings of Mine and does not do them will be likened to a foolish man who built his house on sand. And the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house. And it fell. And its fall was great.
Let me put it another way. The Church has spent a great deal of effort, all through history, of creating structures real and theoretical, to tabernacle God, letting ‘Lord, have mercy’ replace being merciful, building a religious edifice that Christ Himself does not want. He did not come to start another religion, but to be the end of religion. Christ is not a religious reformer. He is the re-creation of the perfect Man. We call Him the ‘new’ or the ‘second Adam.’ His resurrection from the dead is an absolute novelty in the history, not only of the earth, but possibly of the universe. He didn’t rise from the dead and then die again, like Lazarus. Religion pales into absurdity and insignificance when we consider these facts, yet we make Christ’s teachings a metaphor instead of following them. Is this the Church that the ‘Great and Holy Council’ is going to secure for us and for humanity in the third ‘Christian’ millennium?
No, the Council shall alone be ‘great and holy’ that enthrones Christ, the King of kings of kings, not as a religious idol, but as the God who lives among us, healing our infirmities, curing us of blindness, raising us from the tombs of our sinful nature, preparing us by His holy commandments, making us in spirit and in truth (that is, in reality) a holy nation of priests and kings, extending the borders of the Church to encompass all of humanity, welcoming all to the life of transformation, expecting not the end of the world, but the end of the world as we have known it, dissolving division, slaying slander, abolishing the darkness of earthly ignorance and overturning the poverty of the knowledge of God, preaching and pursuing peace, inaugurating the wedding feast of heaven and earth.
How can the Council that is being planned be that one which transforms the human race, and history, in the way I have so inadequately described? By letting go, perhaps, of all concern for self-preservation, by abandoning exclusiveness, by seeing the Church not as a subset of humanity that intellectually accepts a body of religious doctrines, but as all humankind waiting for illumination, and, most of all, by returning to the word of Jesus, for that is the house built on rock.