Regarding the Orthodox understanding of being one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, one text that might be worth reading is The Church is One
by Khomiakov (an online version is available here
Is the Orthodox Church, Catholic, ie universal? ...
This is something that I've also struggled with. If you look at those maps that show where different religious groups are, it's plain how geographically confined Orthodoxy has historically been. Christ said to go to all the world, yet Orthodoxy looks like it has only reached a small sliver of the world. Well, to this I would first say that no Church is truly "universal," if by that you mean having a large presence in every country. Even the largest Christian group, the Roman Catholic Church, has a minimal presense in some areas of the world. Even if you add all the Christian groups together, Christianity is still very much a minority in some parts of the world. Obviously if either the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Churches are what they claim to be, then being "universal" means something different than "having a large presence everywhere".
It is true that to be catholic does, in a sense, mean to be spread out or to be throughout the world. Regarding the geographical aspect of it, Khomiakov puts it this way: the Orthodox Church is catholic "because she belongs to the whole world, and not to any particular locality; because by her all mankind and all the earth, and not any particular nation or country, are sanctified; because her very essence consists in the agreement and unity of the spirit and life of all the members who acknowledge her, throughout the world". However, I would argue that being "catholic" has also do with the faith being held, and cannot be limited to the geographical aspect. Being catholic also means holding to that faith which is catholic: which is whole and complete and which has a fullness to it.
Now, as to the geographical aspect of it, and the lack of an Orthodox presence in many places, I think a couple things need to be kept in mind. First, I think Orthodoxy has done missionary work, just not on the same scale, and in the same manner, as Roman Catholicism. But Orthodoxy has done missionary work in the world. For example, Orthodoxy managed to missionize Russia, which is not exacty a small place (it makes up like 11.5% of the world's land). Second, much of the Orthodox world has been under Muslim oppression for most of it's existence. It's hard to send out missionaries to other countries when you're fighting for your very survival in your own country. I don't think this excuses Orthodoxy from doing missionary work, but I do think it puts a different slant on the volume of missionary work we should have expected from the Orthodox Church through the centuries.
As for the mark of being One, this is also something that puzzles me. The Orthodox Church claims to share a common faith, yet where is the evidence for this? There is no Catechism approved by all the Patriarchates, so how does one truly know that the faith is shared between them all?
Think of it this way: for how many hundreds of years did the Church manage to keep the one faith together without an agreed-upon catechism? For the matter, the Church managed to keep the same faith without even an agreed-upon Biblical canon for a few hundred years. I would say that the only way you can be sure that we hold to the same faith is to research Orthodoxy and see if we do indeed all believe the same thing when it comes to dogmatic issues (of course there will be disagreements and diversity when it comes to non-dogmatic issues). Also evidence for sharing the same faith is simply that Churches have kept in communion with each other, considering that the various local Churches have shown a propensity for cutting off communion over the smallest deviation from the true (dogmatic) faith.
The one thing about Orthodoxy is that there aren't really many ready-made and easy answers to be had. You have to dig and dig, and learn and learn, when it comes to Orthodoxy. There is no one agreed-upon book to consult for matters of the faith, other than the Bible, so you have to research things if you want to get answers. This can be both good and bad, but I think for the most part it is good, especially in our age when we want all the answers right away and sometimes don't take the time needed to dwell on important decisions. I'm not saying that you are this way, I just think our culture in general is impulsive.
I bring up the Catechism of the Catholic Church for the fact that within that Catechism, that is the Faith that all of the 22 Catholic Churches (east + west) hold.
Interestingly, on another thread a day or two ago, a Catholic was arguing in the opposite direction: that you couldn't just take what the CCC said as infallible truth, and had to look beyond it sometimes.
The Church has not held an Ecumenical Council in over 1200 years.
And even that is uncertain in Orthodoxy, as some modern theologians argue that there were 8th (Photian) and 9th (Palamite) Ecumenical Councils. But why there have been no more Ecumenical Councils is a subject unto itself (and one that would be hotly debated, I think).
Since about the 1920's the Church has been planning for the next "Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church," but it has yet to happen...
My first reaction is to say that things go slowly in Orthodoxy, but you're right, they've been planning this thing for quite a while! But maybe it's God's will that it hasn't taken place yet. We don't want to make a mess of things and then need to have further councils to clean up the mess.
Also, there is suppose to be only one Orthodox Church per country. The Church has been in the U.S. for over 200 years and still there are multiple jurisdictions here. In the U.S. the Orthodox Church have institutionalized this jurisdictionalism, ethnic nationalism of the old country churches, in the SCOBA. Can this be a form of Phyletism?
Well, I think the multi-jurisdictional problem is about a hundred years old, but it's still a scandal. I think it's one of those messes that will eventually get cleaned up, though. I personally wouldn't consider the situation akin to phyletism, though some individuals might fall into that error and give Orthodoxy as a whole a black eye.