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June 16, 2016

Church and Churches in Relation to the Holy and Great Synod (1 of 4)

By Dr. Gregory Larentzakis
(Professor at the University of Graz)

The multiple negative reactions of some to the Holy and Great Synod in general or to specific positions found in the texts also have a positive element. They give the occasion or rather the challenge for responses, which not only reveal that their arguments are unfounded and that they are motivated by fanaticism, but they give the opportunity for an Orthodox formulation of our faith without prejudices and arguments.

The various negative reactions by ascribing the term "Church" to heterodox Churches proves indeed that this apologetic attitude completely ignores the consequences of their claim. They even claim that this is the theology of the saints and the holy fathers and the sacred canons of our Church!

And it is regrettable, because the minority has imposed on the Hierarchs of the Church of Greece these innovative views, which of course is inapplicable and very detrimental to Orthodoxy in generally.

The Development of Ecclesiology

It is first necessary to stress that the dogmatic branch which today deals with what the Church is, namely "Ecclesiology", is very new compared with the whole structure of Theology.[1] Indeed, it was not known even in the 1960's if it belonged to the wider branch of Dogmatics.[2]

In the West they began to occupy themselves with the definition of the Church in the 16th century after the Reformation for apologetic and argumentative purposes during the Reformation. The systematic study as to what the Church is, namely Ecclesiology, began to evolve after this first in the West from Scholastic Theology![3] In the 20th century it grew systematically again in the West and then in the East and of course in Orthodox Theology. For this reason the 20th century is characterized by Orthodox,[4] Catholics and Protestants[5] as "the century of Ecclesiology".[6] The systematic dealing with it in Orthodox theology was promoted by the Professor of Dogmatics of the University of Athens, John Karmires, a connoisseur and enthusiast of Patristic Theology, together with his students, who began to publish doctoral studies, mainly researching the works of the Holy Fathers. Moreover, he himself describes his monumental work as "the first such effort by us", "in the hopes that it will be useful to Orthodox theologians and those who may wish to know Orthodox Ecclesiology and seek for a theological basis of the dialogue of Churches with heterodox theologians.[7] From the Orthodox view of course there is no Ecclesiology without Triadology, Christology, Pneumatology and Soteriology. All these aspects have an inter-embracing relationship, without the possibility of isolation and exclusivity.

The Mystery of the Church

And with these investigations it was found that in the long history of our Church there does not exist a precise definition of the Church. Neither Holy Scripture[8] nor the Church Fathers ever attempted to give an accurate and systematic definition of what essentially the Church is! They would always speak of the Church metaphorically, with symbols and images mainly from everyday life.[9] "The Church is written about as an image, metaphorically proclaiming the word."[10] Also no Synod, either Local or Ecumenical, ever dogmatized what the Church is!

Thus, the consciousness of all the Church Fathers was and should be even today in our Theology that the Church is a Mystery without definition or limitation, because the Church has a divine origin and constitutes experience, it constitutes life. And Archbishop Stylianos of Australia stresses that "a complete definition and clear identification of the Church happens to be very weak."[11] Early on Origen identifies the Church as a Mystery.[12] John Karmires says these things, and also points out that this Mystery "is incomprehensible to the human mind!"[13] Furthermore, it is not possible to define and establish with the strongest proof its mysterious and supernatural character.


1. Franz Dvornik, Byzanz und der römische Primat, Stuttgart 1966, 16.

2. J. Ratzinger, LThK, Bd. 6, 19612, 173.

3. Hugo Rahner, Symbole der Kirche. Die Ekklesiologie der Väter, Salzburg 1964, 7.

4. K. Mouratidou, Ἡ Οὐσία καί τό πολίτευμα τῆς Ἐκκλησίας κατά τήν διδασκαλίαν Ἰωάννοπυ τοῦ Χρυσοστόμου, Athens 1958, 5.

5. H. de Lubac, Betrachtung über die Kirche, Graz 19542, 22.

6. John Karmires, Ὀρθόδοξος Ἐκκλησιολογία, Athens 1973, 7.

7. John Karmires, Ὀρθόδοξος Ἐκκλησιολογία, 6.

8. Georg Galitis, Eingliederung in die Kirche nach dem Neuen Testament, in Taufe und Firmung, hg. V. Ernst Christian Suttner, Regensburg 1971, 9.

9. Hugo Rahner, Symbole der Kirche. Die Ekklesiologie der Väter, Salzburg 1964.

10. John Chrysostom, "On Psalm 44" 44:10, PG 55, 199.

11. Περί τό ἀλάθητον τῆς Ἐκκλησίας ἐν τῇ ὀρθοδόξὡ θεολογίᾳ, Athens 1965, 39.

12. "On the Gospel of John" 20, PG 12, 1036.

13. John Karmires, Ὀρθόδοξος Ἐκκλησιολογία, Athens 1973, 18.

Translated by John Sanidopoulos.