Entries with tag holy and great council .

Non-Orthodox Observers at HGC Were Moved by the Conciliarity and Spirituality in Orthodoxy

It was a moving experience for me to be able to catch a glimpse of the hierarchs and other participants in the Holy and Great Council in the space where they did their work.

I had the privilege of being present at the opening and closing sessions where I heard His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew first express his vision and hope for the historic gathering, and then thank God for the successful conduct and conclusion of the Council. I also heard his heartfelt congratulations and thanks to the hierarchs, theologians, and scholars who devoted themselves tirelessly to its holy work.

It was obvious that I was not alone among the observers in being deeply moved by being able to participate even in those modest slices of the work of the HGC.

There were also a number of non-Orthodox observers in the impressive auditorium of the Orthodox Academy of Crete, and I was honored that they shared their thoughts with me.

Inviting non-Orthodox observers to the Holy and Great Council was one of the important matters under discussion during its period of preparation. It was finally decided that they would be invited to hear the messages of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the primates of the other autocephalous Churches during the opening and closing sessions.

The visitors were able to learn about the work of the council during the closed sessions from their Orthodox friends and colleagues, and they were impressed with what they heard.

Official Photo of the opening session of the HGC. Credit: Dimitrios Panagos

After the closing session, I was able to speak with Bishop Christopher Hill, a member of the Anglican Church and the President of the Conference of European Churches.

He grasped what even the Orthodox members of the media sometimes missed: “The Council is not just an event but a process… For me, the importance is the beginning of the conciliar process,” he said.

The bishop also understood the HGC’s significance for the Orthodox diaspora, telling me, “It is enormously important for the churches in North America, given both the tensions and the opportunities for their mission which require different circumstances from what prevail in their ancient heartlands in Europe and the Mediterranean world.  We are in a very different world now and this is a process that will help the mission of the Orthodox churches in today’s world…We support that. Christians need to support each other in their common mission in Jesus Christ for the Gospel of God for human society.”

I was very interested to know what he believed Orthodoxy brings to ecumenical discussions.

“First, you bring tradition in the best sense, the deep sense of the continuity of the Church from the New Testament and the patristic age. A sense of continuity is important in a world that is changing all the time. Second, the spirituality that it brings. It’s is not just a trivial thing of the custom of [non-Orthodox churches] now using icons. The third element is the very special newer thing that the Ecumenical Patriarchate in particular brings is the deep theological concern rooted in patristic and Orthodox theology for the environment,” he said.  

He was also delighted to return to the island of Crete. In between the open and close of the council he enjoyed visiting special holy places on the island and experienced some of the famous Cretan hospitality, which he said his weight gain proved to be very generous.

He first visited the island as a student in 1965. “It’s a fantastic place,” he said, but added what he will bring home this time is being deeply impressed with the work of the Council and its meaning for the future.

I also had a conversation with the Old Catholic Archbishop of Utrecht in the Netherlands is Goris Vercanmen, who is also the president of the International Old Catholics Bishops Conference and he was very pleased to be in Crete.

“I am really touched by the openness I observed, and the Orthodox churches opening themselves up to the modern world,” he said, and continued, “Someone said to me we are here in order to be healed, and we are healing one another. It means the Church is reaching out to the world and to modernity. It’s extremely important for society in the United States and in Europe to engage in social questions, environmental issues, and to the individual need for spirituality.”

Archbishop Goris also noted Orthodoxy’s contributions to the Ecumenical movement, emphasizing ecclesiology.

“Orthodox theology has a feeling of ‘being Church’ that is extremely important,” and he noted also the Orthodox Church’s emphasis on the Eucharist.

“The Church is born around the table of the Eucharist. We are there incorporated and interested in one another, and interested in the world in order to work for the Kingdom of God,” he said.

Experiencing Orthodox spirituality is one of the motivations for non-Orthodox participation in the Ecumenical movement.

The Archbishop said that “The tradition of prayer and the belief that together we are the Body of Christ, that we belong to something bigger than ourselves, that the Church is not an organization, that it is an organism and that organism is given to the world as the living Lord in the midst of the world,” is an important Orthodox contribution.

“In the Ecumenical movement there is such a strong need for this kind of experience and the perspective of being Church, because we lost that a little bit,” in the West, he said.

“The experience of the presence of the Lord is connected to being Church,” he emphasized, adding that “the experience of the living presence of the Lord…has to be experienced in the Church as a living body, where brothers and sisters are entrusted to one another and on behalf of the Lord, entrusted to the world.”

Roman Catholic Bishop Brian Farrell is from Ireland. After we shared observations about the beauty of both glorious islands, Crete and Ireland, he told me his thoughts about the Council.

“This has been an extraordinary occasion in which we have seen how the tradition of conciliarity in the Orthodox Church continues and is taking on new vitality and strength, and we are full of hope that as all churches are challenged by the new situation that exists in the world we will be able to work together more closely and in this way respond to the real questions of the people who look to the Church for answers,” he told me.

The bishop is in charge of organizing the Catholic Church’s ecumenical activities and has been a member of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue Between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church for 13 years.

“We have been examining for a long time the structure of authority and conciliarity in the Church. We are presently working to develop the theological principles that were in effect in the first millennium, because in the second millennium we divided, and in the third we must find a model for us to come together,” he said.

Bishop Brian noted that their work is not easy because any model for the new situation for coming together also has implications for the internal affairs of the separated Churches. “But that is the whole point of our dialogue – to bring the two churches together in a way that is respectful of the huge diversities – and that diversity is a richness, not an error of history.”


Young Stewards Shined LIke the Star of Bethlehem at the Holy and Great Council

The students who dedicated themselves to serving their Church in Crete as stewards of the Holy and Great Council are preparing to celebrate Christmas with their loved ones. Those who will be travelleling far from their schools and will be speaking to friends and family for the first time since last June will spice their holidays with some remarkable stories of their participation in a great moment in the history of the Orthodox Church.


A historic gathering like the Great and Holy Council (GHC) is more than rooms full of distinguished people. Infrastructure had to be built and human resources gathered, and the GHC was graced with an extraordinarily talented and dedicated group of young people, the stewards.

Their main task was to be the contact between delegations and the organizing committee of the GHC as people traveled to and from their hotels, council sessions and special events.

The future of an ancient Church depends on the transmission of the love and passion for the faith to the younger generations, and judging from the energy and spirit of the GHC stewards the future of Orthodoxy in America is very bright.

Archbishop Demetios of America hosted a special dinner on Crete for the HGC volunteers.


The organizing committee of the GHC was tasked by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to provide stewards as part of its logistical requirements. With the blessing and support of Archbishop Demetrios of America and under the leadership of Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, Chairman of the GHC organizing committee, Michael Karloutsos and Andrew Veniopoulos, Executive Director and Deputy Executive Director of the committee respectively, moved forward.

“We thought that the seminaries would provide large pools of talent” said Veniopoulos, who handled airline and hotel arrangements and assigned stewards their responsibilities.

He said “they are all very enthusiastic about participating in the Council,” a quality they were looking for when he and Karloutsos went on recruiting trips to the various seminaries. “We wanted to pick the best of the best. We developed a questionnaire but we also wanted to personally meet them, Veniopoulos said.

“They are the best,” Karloutsos, echoed, “but what’s incredible is that none have ever done anything like this before…to do what they are doing is nothing short of a miracle…I’m so proud of them.”

Some arrived on June 8 and others on June 12. The first group had more responsibilities and they did advance work, travelling to different sites in Crete. Most will be leaving after the Council ends on June 27.

The endeavor was strongly supported by Fr. Chris Metropulos, the President of Hellenic College Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, MA, and Fr. John Behr, the Dean of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary in New York.  The former asked for students at the college who were not on the ordination track to also participate because “they are laymen and they are part of the Church and the future.”

More than 50 young people applied at HC/HC. They knew they would not be paid –  it was more than an unpaid internship however as airfare, meals, and accommodations on the wonderful island of Crete were covered – but they were eager to help and to serve.

Approximately 20 came from Brookline – about six from the College and the rest seminarians – and there were also three students from St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological School.

Many of the stories are similar – about half were Greek Americans and the others are a testament to  how strongly Orthodoxy speaks to contemporary issues and crises. Among today’s parallels – there are of course many differences – with the times of the early Church councils, is the that philosophy appears to be a favored path into Orthodoxy.

The intellectual pull is secondary to the spiritual, however. Many converts arrive at Orthodoxy after a desire to discover the roots of Christianity turned into a journey in search of the True Faith.

Jordan Parro, born in Albuquerque, NM, even drew his own family into Orthodoxy a few years after he converted.

“I was in Southern California studying for my degree in philosophy and I had a friend who invited me to his Orthodox Church. Nothing happened all at once but the rest is history. “

His early religious influence stemmed from his parents, non-practicing Catholics, and the evangelical school he attended. After graduating from University of New Mexico with a degree in philosophy and math, and when his wife completed her college degree, they decided it was the right time for seminary.

“We sought the blessing of our parish priest and our Metropolitan, Isaiah of Denver and I left my position as a math teacher and moved to Boston,” Jordan said.

In Crete he was assigned to the delegation of the Patriarchate of Serbia.

Daniel Greeson has just finished his first year at St. Vladimir’s after earning a degree in religious studies and philosophy at Western Kentucky University.

“I grew up protestant and my father and grandfather were ministers,” he said. “I went to a bible college for my first two years and I basically read too much,” he said with a smile, then added, “I wanted to know about the history of the Church and how to understand the bible and step by step eventually I wanted a Eucharistic-centered Church with the Divine Liturgy.”

Fr. Behr made an announcement that helpers were needed for the Council and he put the interview date on his calendar – but then forgot about it. “About a week later my friend Demitrios Nikiforos told me ‘you should go, you should go!’ and I sent in my application,” Daniel said.

“It’s been an incredible experience on every level. I’m not used to seeing all these hierarchs from all over the world come together and it’s fascinating to see so much collegiality and jovialness” he encountered among the Church’s highest officials.

“I am a steward for the Romanian Church and they have been very warm and kind group,” he said but he also appreciates new friendships with students from other seminaries. There is an inter-Orthodox seminary movement, but people like Daniel, who is married with children, don’t have much time to participate.

Dimitrios Nikiforos is from Kavala in Greece. “My father is a cardiologist and my mother is a social worker and I have two younger sisters,” one of which lives in New York with him, he said.

He was excited about the GHC from the start, but he did not expect the honor of being a steward for the Church of Greece and working with his Metropolitan.

Dimitrios studied law at the University of Thessaloniki with a specialization in Constitutional law and in 2013 he attended New York University for a second Master’s in legal theory. That prompted him to finally pursue a Master’s in Theology at St. Vladimir’s.

“Law and theology share, I think, a common goal in the search for truth” and the just and the good. “Each day at vespers we chant Fos Ilaron, which refers to Christ as Ilion Dikeosinis – the Sun of Justice.”

Sam Kim has is also a St. Vladimir’s student. He said he has a “pretty conventional story” about coming to Orthodoxy. “I grew up fairly religious…and Evangelical…and if you are religious you start reading books on theology and history and there is the trajectory that brings you to the Church…The further back in history you go the less Protestant it looks and the more Orthodox it is.”

He just received his Master’s in Divinity from St. Vladimir’s and as an under graduate he double majored in philosophy and religious studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

Asked which philosopher made the greatest impact on him he said it was more the task of philosophy “the pursuit of wisdom,” rather than particular thinkers that attracted him.

The desire to go deeper than the surface of the world had for him a spiritual dimension.

As a student on scholarship from the Antiochian Archdiocese he will be called to serve them in some capacity. “That is usually ordination and that is probably in my future,” he said, but not immediately, and helping with the Council is part of his path.

“I am very grateful to be here and to be a part of history,” he said.

Diana (pronounced Dee-a-na) Khalil was born in the City of Homs in Syria and grew up in a nearby village. Her father came to America to work and prepare immigration papers for the rest of the family. She grew up in Pittsburgh, “in the Antiochian Church, which was the center of our lives and the source of our values,” she said. She has numerous Greek friends and koumbari- her cousin is married to the son of Father George LIvanos and she says “I feel no difference other than the language. It’s the same culture.”

She always had a strong relationship with God, which was reinforced by attending her Church’s Antiochian Village summer camp during her junior year in high school, and Diana is now a sophomore at Hellenic College.

She had a good time her first year at Slippery Rock University but she said, “I was not growing there as a person…in high school I regretted not getting more involved and challenging myself, and did not want to do that again. I wanted to be challenged academically, mentally, and spiritually and by the Grace of God I found myself at Hellenic…they do a great job of teaching the students how to place Christ and the Church at the center of everything you do in any profession.”

At the Council she plays a key role in coordinating the work of all the stewards by organizing information on the activities through spreadsheets and schedules and relaying them to her co-workers.

“I have been here since June 8. All I can say is that it’s been a blessing and I am completely honored to be here and feet totally unworthy.  Any room I walk into, I am in awe. It’s completely beautiful,” she said.

Stavronikitas Damianakis is from Tampa. FL and has roots in Lesbos and Crete, which he visited for the first time.  “It’s beautiful. It’s one of the best places I’ve ever been,” he said, but it’s not a vacation by any means.

The stewards, some of whom arrived ten days prior to the Council, work from early morning until evening.

He is a sophomore at Hellenic College and was already on track to become a priest, nevertheless he called the trip “a life changing experience.”

Stavronikitas hopes to stay in Greece a couple of more weeks after the Council, in Athens and hopefully for his first visit to Mount Athos.


Precedent-Setting Participation by Women at the HGC

CRETE - Among the historic elements of the Holy and Great Council (HGC) that was held in Crete June 17-27 was the participation of women. 

Each delegation was permitted to send up to six consultants, and among them was Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou, Professor of Conflict Resolution and Negotiation at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and former Vice Chair of the U.S. Commission of International Religious Freedom.

“I am very humbled to have been appointed; it is a great honor to enjoy the confidence of the Mother Church,” she said. 

Prodromou was one of two women in the delegation sent by the Ecumenical Patriarchate, along with Gerontisa Theoxeni from the Chrysopigi monastery near Chania.

The Church of Albania, which is led by Archbishop Anastasios, also had a woman among its six advisors, Sister Rakela of the Monastery of the Myrrh Bearing Women in Durres.

“I was appointed by His All Holiness, Prodromou said. “In January, he had convened a meeting in Constantinople of about 30 Orthodox scholar-practitioners. We were tasked to make presentations about the HGC; our group intervention asked for a Council that would recognize the fullness of the ecclesial body, including priests and laity, which of course, would include women.”

Consultants/advisors do not speak at the Council, but there were meetings of the delegations where all their members can fully participate in open discussion.

Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou is working on a document with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on the right and Archbishop Anastasios of Albania at left. 

“That there are women here speaks to the visionary leadership of His All Holiness is…I would wager that his was a position not easily embraced by some; after all, consider that we are only three women in the entirety of all the delegations. He is a leader who expresses his commitment to recovering, sustaining, and enlivening the fullness of the ecclesial body--to put it in the vernacular, he practices what he preaches,” said Prodromou who added that the Patriarch’s inclusion of women in the delegation sends an important message about women in the life of the Church, a message for all to hear. 

And she agrees that by convening the HGC even with the regrettable absence of some Autocephalous Churches who had committed to come to the HGC, this Council sent a hopeful message that Councils at all levels of the Church must include laity, with this precedent of including women, as well. 

Prodromou was deeply moved by the way the Council was conducted. “What we have experienced these last days is the extraordinary possibilities flowing from the authenticity of the conciliar approach: the Council unfolded with free flowing, highly spirited, impassioned discussion about the Church as a living church, and as many have emphasized, as a global Church in the 21st century.”

She noted the inspiring voices of what can be understood as Orthodoxy’s mission churches--in Albania, the Americas, and Africa--who emphasized the importance of the Church as a global ecclesial body, moving beyond the terminology of "diaspora." The Church of Cyprus and the Church of Alexandria also spoke eloquently, echoing this message and mindset of globality. She noted that she heard Archbishop Demetrios’ reflections as "a compelling encapsulation of America as a microcosm of the reality of the Orthodox Church as a global church, with diversity within our unity and within a reality of enormous religious pluralism." 

“It is very important for the Church in America, the Assembly of Bishops, to be in the forefront of the issues of participation of women… in the U.S. there exist the sociological and ecclesial conditions for the full embrace of women and their role in the daily life of the Church,” she said. 

Asked about discussion regarding the female diaconate, Prodromou said this was not an issue discussed at the Council.  Nevertheless, there is now a trajectory for women to participate in future HGCs, and Prodromou emphasized "the importance of the Church in America committing to the loving, respectful, and expansive inclusion of women in the life of the Church."  She added, "we can, we must, set an example, without fear or hesitation. This is critical for the present, and especially, for the future, vitality of all of us as Church."

Prodromou said that she participates in the life of the Church "in any way that I can and, certainly, in terms of my daily life” - which she exercises in the context of family life with her husband, Professor, Dr. Alexandros Kyrou, and their young daughter Sophia – “and through my professional commitments. It’s my Orthodox conscience that informs all that I do.”

Prodromou has been very active in Washington, DC, the center of policy debates that impact the Orthodox world. After completing eight years of diplomatic service on the U.S. Commission of International Religious Freedom, then, from 2011-15 she served on the U.S. Secretary of State’s Working Group on Religion and Foreign Policy. 

She remains active on particular issues related to Christians in the Middle East and is working on a number of publications. Prodromou co-edited with Fr. Nathaniel Symeonides, Director of the Office of Inter-Orthodox, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, a special edition of the prestigious journal The Review of Faith and International Affairs, dedicated to Orthodox Christianity and humanitarianism – the first time an entire issue was dedicated to Orthodoxy.


From Lesbos to Crete: The Orthodox Church and It’s Commitment to the World

by V. Rev. Dr. Archimandrite Nathanael Symeonides

In just a few hours, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew—the religious leaders of the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches—will once again have the opportunity to embrace each other as brothers in Christ. Since the Great Schism of 1054, which marked the division between the Church of the West and the Church of the East, the spiritual leaders of the Churches of Rome and Constantinople have met on twenty-two times. This doesn’t come as a surprise until one considers that prior to the schism between East and West, the two Primates only met on three occasions!

The road to reconciliation between the two Churches was largely paved by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, who, in 1964 invited Pope Paul VI to meet in Jerusalem after centuries typically marked by isolation and mistrust between the two Churches. The meeting in Jerusalem sparked a new era of dialogue, cooperation, and love between the two Churches. Evidence that the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches were committed to overcoming the differences that kept them from the “common cup” came a year later, when both the Churches of Constantinople and Rome lifted from the memory of the Church the common anathemas declared in 1054. Much more work was still needed for the two bodies to be joined once again.

Since his election in 1991 as the 270th Archbishop of Constantinople, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has worked tirelessly to build bridges between East and West. During his tenure as Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew has met with the Pope of Rome on sixteen separate occasions; he has met with Popes John Paul II, Pope Benedict, and Pope Francis. What is important to note about these meetings is that they represent far more than formal occasions to exchange gifts and good tidings, and they are certainly diachronic, transcending beyond the daily news cycle.

Since 2013, marking the election of Pope Francis as the chief-shepherd of the Church of Rome, both Francis and Bartholomew have become even more committed to the dialogue between their two Churches. Indeed, their actions lead one to believe that they have made a conscious decision to pivot and shift the dialogue from one primarily focused on the theology of words to a dialogue concentrating on the theology of deeds.

This is perhaps first seen in 2014, when Francis and Bartholomew met with Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas in Rome and encouraged them to find ways to bring about peace in the Middle East. The new dialogue of praxis is also recognized in the Ecumenical Patriarch’s and the Pope’s concern about the environment; for the first time in history, a Pope directly cites an Ecumenical Patriarch in a Papal Encyclical—Laudato Si’.

When the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch meet on the Greek island of Lesbos to express their prayerful solidarity and concern for the migrants and refugees that have fled their homelands in the Middle East, they will once again convey a message to the world. This time, however, the message will not only come via a common declaration, but will more importantly be expressed through their common initiative. Like Christ, the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch will approach and embrace those who are on the margins; they will give hope to the hopeless; they will praise the peacemakers; and they will commend the humanitarians.

Their work together on the island of Lesbos will not come to a close upon their departure. Both men understand the need for a common Christian response to ongoing humanitarian crises around the world—Lesbos represents just one example, albeit an acute one. The two Churches have much work to do in order to provide an appropriate response to such pressing conditions.

In June, on yet another Greek Island (Crete), Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will convene the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church. The Holy Council represents a singular opportunity for the Church to reaffirm that the Christian faith is one that invites individuals and communities to care for the world, especially for the downtrodden, marginalized, and afflicted. The Council’s agenda will include such topics as “The Importance of Fasting and its Observance Today,” “Relations of the Orthodox Church and the Rest of the Christian World,” and “The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s World.”

Many are hopeful that the Holy and Great Council will provide the faithful the guidance and clarity needed to navigate today’s turbulent waters. In this respect, the Council’s Decisions will play a pivotal role in the internal life and governance of the Church for years to come. At the same time, however, the Council will be convened to help us look beyond ourselves, to refine our focus on the condition of the world around us, and to respond to sighs of those in need.

Recognizing the importance and need for the Orthodox Church to meet in Council, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has remained committed to the conciliar process. After centuries, the Orthodox Church will experience once again a more profound degree of conciliar life, and in so doing, it will have the opportunity to form unified and universal vision concerning the nature of the Church, namely, that while the Church may indeed not be of the world, it never ceases to function in the world, and certainly always exists for the salvation of the world.
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