After about a century of off and on preparations and discussions the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church opened yesterday in Crete with an impressive concelebration of the Divine Liturgy. The Archdeacon of the Ecumenical Throne, who seems to be the English Language press officer, gave a very upbeat assessment of everything it is going to achieve. But we all know that the facts are rather different.
I wanted this to work. I really did. I think Orthodoxy has a great deal to give to wider Christianity. The idea that all theology is mystical theology – that one cannot divorce the study of God from prayer, that it belongs in the liturgy not just (or even at all) in the lecture room – is a vital idea. In the west, since scholasticism, we have obsessed too much with angels and pinheads.
But Orthodoxy seems to prefer its own internal squabbles and power struggles.
I am no authority (thank God) on Orthodox Church politics. I know that the Patriarchate of Antioch threw a strop because the Patriarchate of Jerusalem erected a bishopric in what it considered to be its territory (at the same time that the said Patriarchate of Antioch was erecting a bishopric in the United Kingdom for a group composed mostly of ex-Anglicans …). For some reason this gave Moscow the pretext it doubtless wanted to stay away too. Now the Church of Russia represents about three quarters of world Orthodox. So this is a major blow.
At least when Anglicans have public spats it is about doctrine. About something which actually matters.
Orthodox unity, even in faith, is actually a smoke and mirrors business. They are deeply disunited. OK, I know Anglicanism is too, and the RCs, and everyone else. But this was Orthodoxy’s big moment. A chance to act like grown ups, rather than squabble like children.
But it seems to me (correct me if I am wrong) that they have blown it.