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Hierarchs Reflect on the Holy and Great Council

Editor’s note: The work of the Holy and Great Council that took place June 19–26 was a historic milestone in the life of the Orthodox Church. The following articles offer reflections by some of the participants. Included is the technological “backstory” that enabled the Council to proceed smoothly and efficiently with its work and communicate its message effectively with the rest of the world. The articles are written by Constantine Sirigos, Special Projects writer for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Communications Department and contributor to the Orthodox Observer.

CRETE – The Archdiocese’s presence at the Holy and Great Council (HGC) included administrators who helped make the event possible and hierarchs led by Archbishop Demetrios who participated in the discussions that were the substance of the HGC. The hierarchs included Metropolitans currently serving their rotation as members of the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, including. Metropolitans Isaiah of Denver, Gerasimos of San Francisco, Nicholas of Detroit and Alexios of Atlanta. Also present were Metropolitan Nikitas of Dardanelles, and Bishops Gregory of Nyssa and Antony of Hieropolis.

Metropolitans Isaiah, Nikitas and Gerasimos reflected on their experiences as Council members and about the important aftermath which includes communicating and discussing its work with clergy and laity. The hierarchs noted that, although rooted in ancient Orthodox tradition, the HGC was a completely new reality for its more than 300 participants. Metropolitan Isaiah said that, “until recently geopolitical realities made it very difficult to bring people together in an environment of peacefulness in order to understand each other," he reminded, and added “I thank God that I am here.” “I have to say that during the last two sessions I feel very comfortable saying that the Holy Spirit is guiding us because I see a very peaceful consensus in regard to finding in clarity and what the truth is in regard to what these documents will say not only for us, the hierarchs, but to the people in the outside world,” including the non-Orthodox.

The communications process after the council is important because it is easy for people who are not experts to misinterpret the Council’s documents, Metropolitan Isaiah said. He believes that the Holy Spirit is at work. Regarding the Ecumenical Movement, Metropolitan Isaiah said 50 years ago he began “to notice statements made by people about how we who call ourselves Christians can come together – not to become one church – as far as we are concerned we are the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church – but to work together as Christians.”

After returning to the U.S, Metropolitan Gerasimos shared some preliminary thoughts and elaborated upon the experience. “I am still trying to tease out the importance of this event... Of course, I was blessed and honored to be together with so many other hierarchs in this historic event. And this is the most crucial point of this gathering: convening all together, under the guidance of the Ecumenical Patriarch and the blessings of the Holy Spirit, in order to discuss and dialogue about our faith today and tomorrow.” Metropolitan Gerasimos said, “I feel that we had a good beginning with this Synod, in making ourselves a little more opened to others’ opinions and ideas...Our journey as the Orthodox Church of the 21st century however is full of challenges, some of them more serious than others. Therefore, the substance of this gathering is that it is an unprecedented gathering of so many different Churches with so many different opinions, yet united over the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Faith!” 

“And here is the wonder of this Synod,” he continued, “we might have differences of opinions in substantive matters, but at the end we were able to convene together and agree on issues that will shape our spiritual lives and those that we shepherd throughout the world.” He believes that eventually, the success of the Synod, beyond what was discussed there, will depend on the hierarch rising to the challenge of “taking this event and making it real throughout the world by implementing our decisions. I pray that our Lord will be kind and merciful to us all as we begin working for the realization of the Synod’s implementation tasks.” 

Metropolitan Nikitas, the director of the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute in Berkeley, Calif., said, “I think the first and most important thing is to see the wisdom, the guiding hand of the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and the courage to convene not only this Holy and Great Council but to overcome challenges and difficulties, the confrontations and different problems - which takes a man of thought and vision.” In addition to the intellectual capabilities a spiritual leader requires to preside over a Council, Metropolitan Nikitas noted Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s “Compassion, and embracing attitude” that was needed to reinforce “the idea of being inclusive rather than limiting.”

The Metropolitan used everyday life to show that a Council’s challenges are not unique: “A family that has a dozen children has its own problems at the dinner table. Not everyone likes the same food, some like salt and others don’t, but still they sit together and at that table they discuss and talk, - they share – and that’s the spirit of this Council.” He continued, “The Church has a space for everyone, and this Council and the challenges and the discussions are a part of that everyone and everything. The question was, are we able to come to some conclusions and resolutions, some statements? I think we were able to because of the wisdom and the vision of the Patriarch.” And because the spirit of the HGC will be conveyed to those who were absent, the process of the reception of the decisions of the council, which Fr. John Chrysavgiss has said is part and parcel of the work of the Council, moves forward and will fuel discussions around the world. “Councils are never frozen in time. They are ongoing events because they are lived by the Community and the Church...the decisions are lived, and we have to see that and remember that,” Metropolitan Nikitas concluded.