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02-04-2013 20:12
ENGLISH VERSION: The Great Council Is The Problem It Seeks to Resolve. Interview with Mark Stokoe, the former editor of OCANews.org and long-time Orthodox activist

"Portal-Credo.Ru": Why won’t there be a Pan-Orthodox Council? Or do you think otherwise? Do you still hope to see in Chambesy the triumph of Orthodoxy? The ambition of the ecclesiastical authority of the Moscow Patriarchate have gone beyond reason, and their actions do not appear rational.

What do you think of such a primitive course as fragmenting the ROC’s dioceses and increasing the number of bishops to represent it at the Pan-Orthodox Council? And what about the Greek churches? - Should they tremble at the sight of the vast hordes of the Russian episcopate?

By the way, what can the Greek world do to counter the ROC, in order not to lose its dominant role in the Orthodox world. And, can anyone else intervene in dispensing grace among the Orthodox?

Mark Stokoe: The problems with holding a future Great Council are both one and many. There are many practical problems: location, composition, procedures, finances - not to mention political, social, and ecumenical considerations.

It was so much easier when there was an Emperor!

The heretofore insurmountable obstacle, however, has been the one theoretical problem: that is, how to reconcile the symbols of Orthodox ecclesial power with the realities of it. For 650 years, since the Fall of Constantinople, the Greek Churches, who possess all the symbols of ecclesial power, have had increasingly held less actual potentas. Conversely, the Russian Church, which has few symbols of power, has increasingly gained in actual power.

A sort of equilibrium was achieved in the 16th century with the recognition by Constantinople of Russia’s autocephaly; but this solution grew increasingly unstable as the Ottoman Empire continued to wane, and Russia continued to wax, i.e., to grow. For much of the 20th century equilibrium was again achieved as the Russian Church suffered under the Communists. Since 1991, however, the theoretical problem has come to the fore again, as Constantinople continues to decline, and Russia is resurgent.

The current dichotomy between symbolic power and potentas is stark and undeniable. Russia is the fifth Patriarchate in the order of dyptichs, and thus unable to initiate or promote anything inter-Orthodox apart from the Greeks. Yet all the Orthodox Christians in the four ancient Greek Patriarchates, including their dependencies around the world, don’t even equal half the population of the city of Moscow itself! It is an absurd situation.

Russia tries everything to accrue symbolic power equal to its actual power: to re-establish itself as the Russian State Church, promoting ties on moral and social issues with the Vatican, ecumenical ties with everyone, establishing countless parishes and dioceses throughout the world, even on the territory of other Local Churches.

And still they cannot outflank the Phanar’s "dominant role in the Orthodox world" as you put it.

Until this theoretical problem can be resolved, no Council can be held --- for this theoretical problem lies at the basis of all the practical problems as well: location, composition, finances, procedures, etc.

Constantinople cannot allow a Council that would be dominated by Russians, lest their monopoly be lost forever. Russia cannot allow a Great Council that might be seen as re-confirming Constantinople’s monopoly of symbolic power.

And so the Great Council remains a dream desired by everyone -- as long as it is never held.

- And will we, that is, the OCA be summoned to the Pan-Orthodox Council if it suddenly takes place? And where will Metropolitan Tikhon sit? Generally, is there a possibility that the Greek world will begin to recognize us? In exchange for what? Or perhaps the time will come -- there’s no avoiding it -- that the Greek world will recognize us? Isn’t that so?

- This reminds me of an old ecumenical joke. "Question: Where does the Archbishop of Canterbury stand on authority in the Church? Answer: He is standing because there is only one seat of authority in the Church, the Chair of Peter, and the Pope is sitting in it."

The Greeks have no intention of inviting the OCA to any Great Council because it would diminish their symbolic power, since they did not give us autocephaly -- Russia did. Until the theoretical problem discussed above is resolved, the Greeks will not recognize us, because they can only see the theoretical problem as a zero -sum game. I win, you lose. You win, I lose.

Alas, then, should a miracle happen and a Great Council be held, Metropolitan Tikhon will not be sitting. He, like the Metropolitans of Karelia and All Finland, the Metropolitan of Tokyo and All Japan -- and all the Orthodox bishops in the Americas, Western European, Asia, etc. will be kept standing outside.

As St. Justin Popovich warned 50 years ago about any Great Council: it most likely will create more problems than it resolves. But that is another question.

Can anything ever change, then? Of course it can, but I have to confess I don’t much care which of these contemporary sons of Zebedee (Mark 10:34ff) achieves its goal. My hope in this world is not that Jesus will "change" things. My hope is for the next: that ‘He Who Sits on the Throne’ will keep his word: "Behold I make all things new." (Rev. 21.5). That is the change for which I am waiting.

Interview by Svetlana Vais,

New York,

for "Portal-Credo.Ru"

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