Icon of the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council

Icon of the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council

Most glorious are You, O Christ our God!
You have established the Holy Fathers as lights on the earth!
Through them you have guided us to the true faith!
O greatly Compassionate One, glory to You! Troparion for the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council

Every year, on the first Sunday after October 11th (according to the Greek tradition), we commemorate the Holy Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council. This year (2011) this feast day fell on the 16th of October – ie, the Sunday just past.

As noted on the Orthodox Church in America website, the Seventh Ecumenical Council was most noted for its defense and restoration of the Holy Icons. One of the lesser-known facts about this Council, however, is that it also re-affirmed the canons (that is, the rules) of the Church. The first rule that the Council laid down was summarised as the following:

That the sacred Canons are in all things to be observed.

The full text of this rule can be found here. In short, they All Orthodox Churches around the world (both Greek and non-Greek) abide by the decisions of this Ecumenical Council (as with all Ecumenical Councils) and place themselves under the Rules (ie, the Canons) of the Orthodox Church – this is what makes us Orthodox. The Seventh Ecumenical Council is of particular importance in this regard because it was at this Council that many of the rules (canons) were defined and made binding on all Orthodox Churches everywhere – from the smallest parish right up to the Ecumenical Patriarchate itself, all became subject to these canons. It has been this way ever since (ie, for well over a thousand years).

In order to be Orthodox, it is necessary for a Church to submit to the authority of these Rules. This is why the Parish-Communities of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese (ie, those parishes that have their own legal identity separate from the Archdiocese itself) have clauses in their Constitution that explicitly place them under the authority of the Ecumenical Councils and the Holy Canons (ie, Rules) of the Orthodox Faith. Take, for example, this extract from a typical Constitution of one of these Parish-Communities:

2. The objects and purposes of this Association are as follows:- (a) To preserve teach and propagate in uncorrupted form the Christian Orthodox faith and traditions in conformity with the Doctrine, Holy Canons, administrative rulings, discipline, divine worship, usages and customs of the Church, stipulations according to the Holy Scriptures and the Sacred Traditions of the Orthodox Faith as set and formulated by the Seven Ecumenical Synods [ie, Councils] of the Undivided Church and the decisions, regulations, encyclicals of the Local Synods as accepted and interpreted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate and its Canonical Church authority namely the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia.

Following the Canons and the Seven Ecumenical Councils is the first stated purpose of the Parish-Community. Thus, as noted in our earlier post on Legal Entities, although the Parish-Communities of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese are separate legal entities, they are spiritually united to the Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese by including clauses like this in their Constitution. These clauses likewise bind the Parish-Communities and place them under the authority of the Canons and the Ecumenical Synods of the Church.

What about GOCSA? If they claim to be Orthodox, what is their position on the Seventh Ecumenical Council, and the Rules that this Council put forth? This is a very sad story. In 1972, GOCSA (paranoid about coming under the authority of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese) amended their Constitution to insert clause 2A (1), which sets for the absolute independence of GOCSA. In particular, it states that “neither in its government nor in its administration shall the Community be subject to any ecclesiastical […] authority.” Which leads us to wonder: did the GOCSA parishes commemorate the Seventh Ecumenical Council yesterday, and if so why?

After all, the Seventh Ecumenical Council (as with all the Ecumenical Councils) was the ultimate expression of Church authority, and at this Council they explicitly decreed that all the rules of the Church must be respected. And yet because GOCSA is explicitly forbidden by its Constitution to be subject to any Church authority, this must mean that they are forbidden from being subject to this Council and to its Rules (or to any Church Council or Rules, for that matter). Presumably they celebrated this Council yesterday just as we did – but how can this celebration really be genuine if at the same time they refuse to place themselves under the Council’s authority? As pointed out above, we in the canonical Orthodox Church commemorate this Council because we are under its authority – but how can GOCSA commemorate it if they are not? And if they want to be under its authority, how can they when their own Constitution explicitly forbids them from doing so? And more importantly: What business do they have running Orthodox Churches if they can’t submit to the authority & rules of the Orthodox Church? These are not easy questions for the present members of GOCSA to answer or to deal with. Unfortunately they have been placed in this predicament by the amendments made way back in 1972, and the present members have been left with this difficult legacy by their predecessors. We pray that God will give them the strength and the will to sort out these issues so that they can once again commemorate the Seventh Ecumenical Council (and all Ecumenical Councils) without hypocrisy.