Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Christian Dogmatics


Conciliarity as an element of communion and unity
by Stavros Yagazoglou
 Source:  "Theologia" magazine, Issue 2/2009.  (A dedication to the Conciliar Institution) pp. 3, 4.



The unity of the Church is not a given thing - something that can be imposed as an objective reality.  It is the fruit of a perpetual struggle by the ecclesiastic community to seek, to become acquainted with and finally to surrender, to the truth of the Church, which is a person:  Jesus Christ.

All the same, the unity of the Church does not imply an aggregate of individual experiences with a psychological or ideological content, in which we normally observe differentiations, oppositions, subjective interpretations, or even forgeries.  The faithful express their personal (and for that reason unique) charismas, and they place them at the disposal of the ecclesiastic community.  The coordinating of the charismas, which was assigned to the bishop during his ordination, is a far more difficult and more essential labour than the exercising of administrative authority of the secular kind.  The local Church, through Her Bishop, becomes organically linked to the other local Churches, thus creating the broader community of the one, Holy, catholic and Apostolic Church, and in that way, transcending every localizing and introverted orientation.

Consequently, the truth and the unity of the Church are not de facto institutions, which are imposed objectively as an infallible authority, nor are they of course an individual psychological experience.  Conciliarity presents itself as an element of communion and unity, as an expression of the ecclesiastic ethos, as a lattice of inter-personal relations, but not as a faceless organization and an institutional operation.  In the Orthodox Tradition, a synod (without being a formation that "hovers" above the local Churches) is an instrument that organically links the local Churches, thus transcending the temptation of being a universal organization.  Conciliarity, therefore, is a factor of unity but also of communion between the members of each particular ecclesiastic community, as well as between the local Churches themselves, and cannot even be considered without the congregating and the experience of the Divine Eucharist.

In fact, the institution of synods - in its historical and theological prerequisites - came into being because of the Eucharist congregating of the Church; in other words, thanks to the specific corpus and experience of the ecclesiastic community of faithful.  The Eucharistic character of the institution of synods also explains why the composition of the synods was episcopal (=comprised of bishops) from the very beginning. A Bishop is not rendered a source of power and administration in the ecclesiastic community because he as an individual has supposedly acquired juridical powers through his ordination.  He, as the head of the Eucharist, assembles and represents the unity of the members of that specific Eucharist corpus; in other words, he represents the catholicity (the wholeness) of the local Church. At the same time, it is through its Bishop -only- that the local Church can transcend every localizing and introvert orientation and become united with other local Churches, in a communion of the One Church.  Consequently, a synod comprised of Bishops is not a tertiary instrument of power or some kind of worldwide super-organization that draws its power from necessary polls;  a synod is rather an expressing of the Church's Eucharistic conscience.

This Eucharistic viewpoint bases the structure of the Church on specific theological and ecclesiological principles, and not on organizational needs and forms of establishment that Her historical course has produced.  The Church is an eschatology-based community.  Her organization and Her institutions, Her structural principles and Her basic characteristics, the functions, the order and the charismas, like every other expression of Her life within History, must express existential events that pertain to the eschatological experience of the Church, and not to any institutionalized formations.

To the opportune question regarding the relationship of the multitudinous local Churches with the one, Universal Church, the answer is Conciliarity and its proper operation.  An absolute autocephalous status, but also the worldwide and absolutist role of the Papal primacy and infallibility, are both expressions of the ecclesiological skirmishes of the western Church, which is unable to organically compose a unity from within variety and otherness.  The institution of synods, which also springs from the Eucharist experience - as a reflection of the community between the Persons of the Holy Trinity - is opposed to every kind of anti-hierarchic levelling, as it is to every form of monarchic absolutism.

Conciliarity is a procedure that is continuously renewed as an existential event for the entire prism of faith and experience of the ecclesiastic body.  Every Bishop, as the head of a local Church, carries to the synods the expression of the faith and the life of the members of that Eucharist body, and not his personal convictions alone.  However, conciliar decisions per se are subsequently subjected to a procedure of approval by the body of the Church.



Translation:  K.N.

Article published in English on: 10-10-2009.

Last update: 10-10-2009.