|Hagia Irene in Istanbul, to be the site of|
the first Eastern Orthodox council in centuries
A Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church has been scheduled for 2016. …
The council of 2016, which has been on the table for discussion and preparation since at least 1961 (although there were earlier proposals for such a council in the 1920s and 1930s), will for the first time ever gather representatives from all fourteen independent Orthodox Churches. The very conception, let alone the convocation of such a great or general council, is entirely unprecedented. It will be attended by patriarchs, archbishops, and bishops from the fourteen autocephalous Orthodox Churches, including those from all of the ancient patriarchates, with the exception of Rome.
... the convocation of a Great Council in 2016 [is] tentatively planned to be held in the Church of Haghia Irene—the site of the second ecumenical council of 381, which completed the “creed” recited by most Christians today. Haghia Irene is now a museum in Istanbul, never having been converted into a mosque since the fall of Constantinople in 1453.
“Autocephalous” churches are kind of like the “denominational structures” or bureaucracies within Orthodoxy, although they are based on geographic differences rather than doctrinal differences.
Keep in mind that Rome was one of the five “Patriarchates” that evolved during the fifth and sixth centuries. (EOs would consider that Rome was “first among equals” among these Patriarchates – although, as several conciliar pronouncements made clear, “first” meant that it was based on “Old Rome’s” status as the original capital of the Empire.
Theological commentators and historical analysts should bear in mind that the process in the Orthodox Church may undoubtedly not appear as orderly or organized as that in some Western churches precisely because it involves a consensus among all churches, rather than the imposition of one church or leader.
However, it is naïve to dismiss disagreements among various churches sweepingly, implying that these merely result from rivalries of power. While such a perception may not be entirely erroneous, and while such a process may be frustrating to those inside as to those outside the Orthodox Church, it is in some ways a profoundly—even if often painful—democratic method than frequently perceived.
The issues for discussion and decision at the Great Council have been painstakingly determined since the early 1970s, with some of them going back to the early 1960s. The topics and texts include some esoteric items, such as the ranking of churches (they will continue to argue among themselves as to who is greatest, Luke 9:46, Luke 22:24, Mark 9:34) and discussion about a common calendar; but they also include problems that emerge from adapting an ancient faith to a modern reality—like precepts of fasting and, in particular, regulations of marriage in a multicultural and interreligious world.
Most importantly, the documents tackle sensitive matters, such as relations of the Orthodox Church with the other Christian confessions, the role and response of the Orthodox Church to the contemporary challenges of our age, as well as “unorthodox” (or uncanonical) governance issues facing the Orthodox Church in the Western world.