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Why No Ecumenical Council Since 787 A.D.?

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#1 SeanN



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Posted 30 July 2016 - 02:45 AM

Hi All,


As an Orthodox, I have some doubts that have been lingering in me for a while. Why hasn't the Orthodox Church been able to have an Ecumenical Council, since 787 A.D.? I find it a little strange that the Church was able to have 7 Councils over the course of 450 years, only to have a long period of no councils for over 1200+ years. Sure, we had the Photian Council of 879 A.D, the Palamite Councils of the 1300s, the Jerusalem Council of 1672, the Council of Crete in 2016, etc, but none of those councils attained Ecumenical status. In contrast, the Roman Catholic Church was able to organize 14 more Ecumenical Councils, since 787 AD (for a total of 21 Councils). It makes me wonder whether the Holy Spirit is really working in the Roman Catholic Church, not the Orthodox Church. For why would the Holy Spirit guide the Church through Councils between 325-787 AD, and then stop there? That just seems a bit arbitrary and inconsistent.


I've heard it said many times that it has not been necessary to have more Ecumenical Councils, for heresy has not penetrated the Church enough so as to require one. I used to find that answer satisfactory, but not anymore, for there are a whole mess of disagreements and controversy in the Orthodox Church that are still not settled, such as the issue of autocephaly and the calendar. Apparently, there are heresies going on with respect to autocephaly and the calendar, and they have been penetrating the Church for over a century. Yet to this day, we haven't been able to settle those issues, not even through a council.


Yes, there are some Orthodox who say that the Photian and/or Palamite Councils were Ecumenical, but that is not the consensus view of the whole Church. Which brings up another doubt: Why do Orthodox disagree on whether the Photian and Palamite Councils are Ecumenical? Do we not even know where the Holy Spirit is? The fact that we are disagreeing on which Councils are guided by the Holy Spirit makes me wonder if the Holy Spirit is even guiding our Church to begin with. It could be that He is instead guiding the Roman Catholic Church, as evidenced by the fact that they continue to have more Ecumenical Councils after us. (I hope I'm making sense; I have a hard time explaining my logic, sometimes.) 


I would appreciate any answer someone has for me. 



Edited by SeanN, 30 July 2016 - 02:53 AM.

#2 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 30 July 2016 - 10:18 AM

An immediate answer might be that there have not been issues central to our faith which needed dogmatic definition. Remember that the Church is Apostolic - we keep the faith which was given to the Apostles by Christ and our doctrine does not change (whilst doctrine in the various Christian denominations, including that of Rome, has done). Further, ecumenical councils were considered to be such retrospectively. Autocephaly is not a matter of dogma. The so-called New Calendar Churches (I say 'so-called' because all Churches (save that in Finland) follow the same Paschalion) are not heretical; after all, clergy observing the two calendars concelebrate. It is very wrong even to think that the Holy Spirit is not active and guiding the Church since Christ promised that He would and Christ keeps His promises. As Orthodox Christians, we must not think that the Holy Spirit has 'jumped ship' and left the Church for Rome! The Orthodox Church is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church we confess in the Creed and is capable of calling a Council which could subsequently be considered ecumenical. It seems that the recent meeting in Crete is little regarded by a great many and can be discounted.

Edited by Rdr Andreas, 30 July 2016 - 10:22 AM.

#3 Lakis Papas

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Posted 30 July 2016 - 12:55 PM

The synodical system works very well and with no pause for 20 centuries. It is not right to think that the synods should be ecumenical. There are hundreds of local synods in the orthodox church during last centuries. The orthodox system is decentralized, local bishops and local synods are efficient to solve problems.

The roman catholics organized with a centralized model, where Vatican is in control of even local issues and actually Vatican destroyed synodical system.

In the following link Metropolitan Hierotheos presents that there many more ecumenical synods beyond the 7 well known:


So, historicaly, Metr. Hierotheos presents that the Holy Spirit never stopped working in Orthodox Church, as presented in the series of Panorthodox councils that produced answers to problems throughout centuries, after the 7th council. Also Metr. Hierotheos rejects the propagandistic claim that the recent Great and Holy Synod was the first after many centuries.

Edited by Olga, 30 July 2016 - 01:12 PM.
fixed hyperlink

#4 Rdr Daniel (R.)

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Posted 31 July 2016 - 04:23 PM

Actually the Catholics have not had continues ecumenical councils since Rome split from the Church, the fact of the matter is that they have a tendency to call any council presided over by the Pope ecumenical, quite honestly the scope of many of there ecumenical councils was not only far less then the three councils mentioned above (8th 'Ecumenical', Palamite councils, council of Jerusalem) but in fact pales compared to many non-ecumenical local councils both east and west, it is an issue of terminology not Ecclesiology let alone Pneumatology.  It is helpful to look at them in order :


1-7: Orthodox


8. They alone now recognise the synod of  A.D. 869 which deposed ST Photios despite formerly recognising the council of A.D. 879.

9. Three hundred years after the last ecumenical council and relating only to local ecclesiastical matters involving the Frankish 'emperor' and not Theology, it is clearly a local council and the idea that it is ecumenical is quite frankly laughable. 

10. Concerned only with ending patriarchal schism interesting that a council was need to deal with the matter of having three patriarchs of Rome it seems papal infallibility proved a little tricky here. Again only local in scope. 

11. Regarding local schism and local heresy. Again not ecumenical even in scope. 

12. Multiple Ecclesiastical and theological issues and local reform agenda.
13. On removing a German emperor and a few other mundane issues such as taxation. Not really even worthy of the title of local synod.
14 Attempted to heal great schism it was ecumenical in scope but  was rejected by all other patriarchs and the eastern bishops hence a failed council.

15. To disband knights Templar. How a council to remove a menace previously approved by the Papacy can be seen as ecumenical is anyone guess. 

16. Local council concerning schism ('anti-popes' again, local again)
17. Attempted to end great schism ecumenical in scope and accepted by eastern patriarchs under duress but rejected by most bishops and all the faithful hence reputed, another failed council.
18. Local church reform.
19. To deal with protestantism heresy.

Another three hundred years gap.

20. First Vatican

21. Second Vatican

Only 4 (14, 17, 19, 20, 21) could be regarded as ecumenical in scope and given they are accepted only by one patriarchate and its local churches they are not ecumenical in practice. To clarify an Ecumenical council is a council of the whole church focused on a Theological matter which is then accepted by the church as a whole, it is not a local synod, or a patriarchal council.  The idea that the Catholics have had a continual period of ecumenical councils is a myth propagated by Catholic apologists in an attempt to appeal to Orthodox ecclesiology.  


In regards to why we have not had any further ecumenical councils, many would argue we have certainly in the case of the Council of 879 which was accepted by all patriarchs. Now the history of ecumenical councils is that they were called for by the Roman Emperors starting with St Constantine to deal with Theological issues affecting the Church, they were regarded as ecumenical because unlike a local synod the decisions affected all the churches across the Empire. Over time given the Theological issues involved, the consensus that could be reached by the meeting of the bishops of all the churches and the indwelling of God they came to be seen as universal. Given that most Theological issues had been settled by the 9th century and the Roman Empire (which supported and paid for the councils) had diminished it is not at all odd that they ceased from this period. How for example could the Orthodox Church hold an ecumenical council  in the 16th century when there was no longer an Empire (hence an area to define as ecumenical in the original sense of the word which was never lost) and the former empire was under Muslim and Catholic rule? 


In Christ.

Rdr Daniel,

#5 SeanN



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Posted 31 July 2016 - 11:08 PM

Thanks, everyone! All of your answers have been very helpful. 

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