Author Topic: What is a 'binding' decision of the Church?  (Read 2488 times)

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Offline FatherGiryus

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What is a 'binding' decision of the Church?
« on: June 23, 2016, 12:36:01 PM »

Lately, there are those who have insisted that the decisions of the “Great and Holy Council” in Crete will be 'binding' on all the Autocephalous Churches, whether these churches agree or not, and whether they have attended the meeting or not.  Such a declaration, which deliberately disregards the conscience and voice of fellow Christians, is unheard of in the history of the Church. We should probably ask why the term ‘binding’ is being used in official statements, and what the term 'binding' implies. 

As an adjective, the Oxford Dictionary defines 'binding' as 'obligatory.'  Coming from the root word 'bind,' it implies something restrictive and compulsory.  This terminology assumes that something that was once free is no longer so after being 'bound.'

Orthodox Christianity has never been communicated in terms of 'binding.'  In fact, we often preach of the 'freedom' we have in Christ:

Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:31-32)

The knowledge of truth, the Truth of Jesus Christ, is not a 'binding' truth, but a liberating one.  It is the devil who tempts men to bind and enslave themselves to their passions.  But, our Lord frees us from the heavy burden of sin and death.  Thus, the Apostle Paul wrote:

We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.  For he who has died is freed from sin.
But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.  For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.
The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.  Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. (Rom 6:6-12)


When we speak of the Councils of the Church, we run across this 'opening' taken from the Scriptures: For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us (Acts 15:28).

Notice the focus is not on 'binding' or 'authoritative,' but on goodness.  Of course, we can say that what is 'good' is also 'true,' and so what is 'good' frees us from what is bad.  The Councils are not tasked with creating 'binding statements,' but rather bearing witness to the Truth that is Jesus Christ and freeing us from the falsehood of sinful doctrines.

When bishops gather, they do not gather to 'bind' the Church.  No one can do that.  Now, we do know that Christ told us this:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.  But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:15-18)


This 'binding' has to do with sin, and leaving one bound with the sin he has committed.

So, when one speaks of 'binding statements,' it is as if one is binding the Church to a sin!  Is this really what anyone of pure heart would want to do?  We know this is not the case, and so this talk about a council of the Church formulating 'binding' statements is utterly alien to the Scriptures.

Nor does the Church 'bind' its hierarchy or laity.  If we 'bind' anyone, it is the devil and his minions through the ministry of Exorcism.  Here, the original word for exorcism, ἐξορκίζειν, is often translated as 'to bind with an oath.'  Such language is not reserved for the Church or Her members, but the fallen angels.

We are all servants of God, and yet he liberates us and calls us to freedom (c.f. 2Co:3-17).  Those who are called by God to preside over the Church do not 'lord' themselves over others:

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt 20:25-28)

Such talk of a council 'binding' the Church smacks of this very sin of 'lording' over the Church.  This is a true danger, because we, as Orthodox Christians, give great respect to our bishops as the inheritors and defenders of the Apostolic Faith.  When they come together, they are not to be 'lordly,' but to humble themselves before God and bear witness to the eternal Truth that has always been believed.  Sadly, a few 'councils' have not lived up to this ideal.

In fact, some councils have been, in history, condemned as 'Robber Councils.'  Why? Because, despite have the outward appearance of 'legal authority' to meet as a synod and speak for the Church, such gatherings did not.

Councils are gatherings of bishops in which we hope that the Holy Spirit will come into their midst and manifest the will of the Most Holy Trinity. However, not every council did so. In fact, if every 'legally constituted' synod was automatically held to have borne to witness to Christ, then our Church would likely be very different than it is today.  The Council of Ferrara-Florence and the Ephesian Synod of 449 would have taken the Orthodox Church in a very different direction. The decisions of these councils were never ‘binding’ for one basic reason: they were wrong.

History has taught us that councils are not 'binding' in advance of their coming together, nor are they so even after they are concluded.  Rather than be declared ‘binding’, they are simply declared to have borne witness to the Truth, and therefore the entire Church wholly accepts their witness, which remains as a guiding light of Truth for subsequent generations.

Make no mistake, Truth never needs to be imposed as an obligation. It is willfully and freely accepted. It is confirmed by the whole Church and rings true in the conscience, heart and mind of every individual member.  This is why something being 'binding' has nothing to do with the Truth, but has more to do with limiting freedom.  To declare that something is binding does not make it true.  It just makes in compulsory. Something compulsory never leads to oneness of mind and heart.

Those who continue to say that the meeting in Crete will produce 'binding' statements have riled the Church and caused disorder precisely because many Orthodox Christians sense in this language something papal, which is alien to our theology.  It is the language of legalism and force.  Orthodoxy is not based on these principles, but on a universally-recognized Truth proclaimed as 'good' rather than 'mandatory,' as liberating and not ‘binding.’

We are servants of God and we are called to be so.  Yet, we are also more than that.  We are 'friends' of Christ, as the Lord Himself has called us (John 15:15).  But, we are also partakers of His deified humanity.  We are not called to enslave and 'bind' others, nor does one bishop 'bind' another.  We are obedient servants of God because we love God and one another, and He has made known His Truth to us, which why He said:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you.  No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (Jn 15:12-15)

In our Lord's most eloquent words, we see the key to understanding how our Church's conciliar system works.  True Councils bear witness to the Truth, which the entire Church confirms.  ‘Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church’ (Acts 15:22). The Truth is pronounced through love, not 'binding statements' which removes our free-will acceptance of truth.  What has been lacking from the official statements leading up to the meeting in Crete has been love: love and respect for all the Autocephalous Churches and the hierarchs who serve in them, and their different point of view.

Such a demand for compliance, accompanied by threats and insults, which ignores the conscience of others in the Church who do not agree, is not from God.  Orthodox Christians know this in their hearts. It is as if the guilty consciences of those who pronounce these words, so alien to our Faith, that drives them to repeat them over and over.  It would seem they are much more intent on convincing themselves than they are the rest of us.

If what comes from this meeting in Crete is not beautiful, and if it is not seen by the Universal Church as being true, then it will be rejected. No declaration of the ‘binding’ nature of what is not true will make things otherwise. Perhaps this is the most important aspect of this gathering, to remind us that we are a Church of the Truth, not a Church of the law.


- V. Rev. Fr. George Aquaro
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Offline J Michael

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Re: What is a 'binding' decision of the Church?
« Reply #1 on: June 23, 2016, 02:38:09 PM »
Nice post, Fr., even if it was a little long for my aging attention span.  :)!

Just who are these people "...who have insisted that the decisions of the “Great and Holy Council” in Crete will be 'binding'...", anyway?
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Offline FatherGiryus

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Re: What is a 'binding' decision of the Church?
« Reply #2 on: June 23, 2016, 02:42:10 PM »
Nice post, Fr., even if it was a little long for my aging attention span.  :)!

Just who are these people "...who have insisted that the decisions of the “Great and Holy Council” in Crete will be 'binding'...", anyway?

Here's a video which is fairly 'standard' on that opinion.
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Offline Ainnir

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Re: What is a 'binding' decision of the Church?
« Reply #3 on: June 23, 2016, 03:08:25 PM »
Thank you, Father!  Your words have renewed some hope in me today.  :)
Is any of the above Orthodox?  I have no idea, so there’s that.

Pray for me, a sinner.

Offline J Michael

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Re: What is a 'binding' decision of the Church?
« Reply #4 on: June 23, 2016, 03:08:41 PM »
Nice post, Fr., even if it was a little long for my aging attention span.  :)!

Just who are these people "...who have insisted that the decisions of the “Great and Holy Council” in Crete will be 'binding'...", anyway?

Here's a video which is fairly 'standard' on that opinion.

Okay.  So, Fr. Chryssavgis uses the term "binding".  But is this a term used by enough other people (however many that might be  ??? ) in Orthodoxy so as to make it a commonly used term, albeit misunderstood and mis-used in light of what you say in your post?




Btw, I can see how the "powers that be" in the OC or any other Church for that matter, would want their conclusions/decisions, etc. to be binding as in obligatory given that those in "power" tend to want to stay in power and have their view of things "accepted" [or imposed...] on those over whom they are in power.  (All that's more in the way of an aside on my part reflecting my general disillusionment and disgust with institutionalized religion and the "institutional Church".)
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Offline FatherGiryus

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Re: What is a 'binding' decision of the Church?
« Reply #5 on: June 23, 2016, 04:06:33 PM »
Nice post, Fr., even if it was a little long for my aging attention span.  :)!

Just who are these people "...who have insisted that the decisions of the “Great and Holy Council” in Crete will be 'binding'...", anyway?

Here's a video which is fairly 'standard' on that opinion.

Okay.  So, Fr. Chryssavgis uses the term "binding".  But is this a term used by enough other people (however many that might be  ??? ) in Orthodoxy so as to make it a commonly used term, albeit misunderstood and mis-used in light of what you say in your post?




Btw, I can see how the "powers that be" in the OC or any other Church for that matter, would want their conclusions/decisions, etc. to be binding as in obligatory given that those in "power" tend to want to stay in power and have their view of things "accepted" [or imposed...] on those over whom they are in power.  (All that's more in the way of an aside on my part reflecting my general disillusionment and disgust with institutionalized religion and the "institutional Church".)

No, 'binding' is not an established word.  I never heard it used when in seminary to describe canons or council decisions.  Usually, we heard about 'dogmatic' or 'doctrinal' statements that were 'dogmatic' or 'doctrinal' in terms of recognition or, perhaps, 'authoritative.'  The hesitancy to use established and customary expressions, at least in the English versions, seems to indicate a certain level of discomfort with using pre-existing matrices to understand what is going on in Crete.

This ambiguity of language has largely been a feature of the pre-conciliar 'process,' where there have been rather 'Byzantine' interpretations of the rules largely in favor of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which submitted the original documents and then made their editing very difficult.

Nowhere has that been more abused than in the claims that there was 'unanimous' support for the 'council' up until Bulgaria announced it was withdrawing.  Antioch never signed either the Bylaws or the declaration, insisting that a true Great Council would deal with its territorial dispute.  And, while the other Autocephalous Churches did sign, it was not without reservations.  I think they were hoping that Constantinople would blush and compromise, but it did the opposite.  Hence, Moscow's proposal to have a 'pre-conciliar' meeting right before the actual meeting itself was rejected.  Constantinople has played a rather poor leader in refusing to negotiate.  As a result, the Cretan Convention will always have a black cloud over it.

Whatever 'good things' may come of it, the real damage has been to inter-church relations.  Antioch will not soon forget how it was treated, nor will Moscow, Sofia, and Tbilisi.
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Offline scamandrius

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Re: What is a 'binding' decision of the Church?
« Reply #6 on: June 23, 2016, 04:28:45 PM »
A little off topic but is Fr.Chryssavgis a priest, archpriest or a deacon?  I know that we address deacons as Fr. Deacon, but I have never seen a deacon wear a pectoral cross.  So, which is he?  And what is  his "official" position within the EP because he's been getting a lot of the media attention lately?
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Offline FatherGiryus

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Re: What is a 'binding' decision of the Church?
« Reply #7 on: June 23, 2016, 04:52:29 PM »
A little off topic but is Fr.Chryssavgis a priest, archpriest or a deacon?  I know that we address deacons as Fr. Deacon, but I have never seen a deacon wear a pectoral cross.  So, which is he?  And what is  his "official" position within the EP because he's been getting a lot of the media attention lately?

Here's his bio.
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Re: What is a 'binding' decision of the Church?
« Reply #8 on: June 23, 2016, 04:53:48 PM »
- V. Rev. Fr. George Aquaro

THIS V. Rev. Fr. George Aquaro?!?




Beard and librarian glasses are on point, Father.


A little off topic but is Fr.Chryssavgis a priest, archpriest or a deacon?  I know that we address deacons as Fr. Deacon, but I have never seen a deacon wear a pectoral cross.  So, which is he?  And what is  his "official" position within the EP because he's been getting a lot of the media attention lately?

He's an Archdeacon to the EP, so maybe it's a fancy award. 
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Offline FatherGiryus

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Re: What is a 'binding' decision of the Church?
« Reply #9 on: June 23, 2016, 04:59:54 PM »
- V. Rev. Fr. George Aquaro

THIS V. Rev. Fr. George Aquaro?!?




Beard and librarian glasses are on point, Father.


A little off topic but is Fr.Chryssavgis a priest, archpriest or a deacon?  I know that we address deacons as Fr. Deacon, but I have never seen a deacon wear a pectoral cross.  So, which is he?  And what is  his "official" position within the EP because he's been getting a lot of the media attention lately?

He's an Archdeacon to the EP, so maybe it's a fancy award.

Actually, I prefer this photo (I'm third from the left):



It's because of the inflatable globe.  There's along story behind it.  I just like the fact that Metropolitan Teofan gave a speech with a beach ball on the table.  You don't see that every day...
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Re: What is a 'binding' decision of the Church?
« Reply #10 on: June 28, 2016, 01:12:30 PM »
What is binding in the Church laws then?

Is any agreement binding?

Can I be excommunicated by a binding Church law which condemns my heresy ?

What laws of our church am I bound by?

What is obligatory in our Church? That I risk excommunication if not in compliance?
« Last Edit: June 28, 2016, 01:16:30 PM by Sinful Hypocrite »
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Re: What is a 'binding' decision of the Church?
« Reply #11 on: June 29, 2016, 01:06:59 PM »
What is binding in the Church laws then?

Is any agreement binding?

Can I be excommunicated by a binding Church law which condemns my heresy ?

What laws of our church am I bound by?

What is obligatory in our Church? That I risk excommunication if not in compliance?

Good questions.
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Offline Porter ODoran

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Re: What is a 'binding' decision of the Church?
« Reply #12 on: June 29, 2016, 08:59:35 PM »
I think it's pretty clear that those who gave up attending are reserving a right to look over the final documents at their leisure. No one is really going to expect the Church of Moscow to give up say in how it wants to phrase its position on these issues, for example. That said, there's really no controversial substance in the documents and the bulk of the wording was well-vetted by every church before the Council. If something was really a point of disagreement -- like autocephaly -- it just didn't go into documents. I imagine what Fr. Chryssavgis had in mind was that the Council and its participants have no intention of rescinding the documents as Orthodox position statements.

As for a general discussion of what might be "binding" on the Church, I think the Church binds herself. If the Church agrees to some articulation of faith or canonical position, and then agrees to bind herself by it, then future generations should abide in the agreement out of honor for our spiritual forebears and wise sense of what is safe (and saving). What I am trying to say is that while I don't think there could be any legal magic in such a concept -- yet, on the other hand, it strikes me that, compared to the modern idea of what a church is and does, we the Orthodox are indeed bound by much.
« Last Edit: June 29, 2016, 09:03:23 PM by Porter ODoran »
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Offline Samn!

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Re: What is a 'binding' decision of the Church?
« Reply #13 on: June 29, 2016, 09:04:39 PM »
If something was really a point of disagreement -- like autocephaly -- it just didn't go into documents.


That's not entirely true. The Ecumenical Patriarchate pressed forward with the document on marriage despite its being unacceptable to both Georgia and Antioch. This is one of the actions that helped to convince some of the non-participating churches that there was no use in attending.

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Re: What is a 'binding' decision of the Church?
« Reply #14 on: June 29, 2016, 09:11:25 PM »
If something was really a point of disagreement -- like autocephaly -- it just didn't go into documents.


That's not entirely true. The Ecumenical Patriarchate pressed forward with the document on marriage despite its being unacceptable to both Georgia and Antioch. This is one of the actions that helped to convince some of the non-participating churches that there was no use in attending.

I'm sure that some objective differences of opinion remain, altho it might be hard to separate them from the general subjective hysteria. It should be a relief to those churches then that their signatures are not on the documents. It is after all the best one can hope for when one decides on a strategy of suddenly withholding participation.
"Love ... is an abyss of illumination, a mountain of fire ... . It is the condition of angels, the progress of eternity" (Climacus).

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Yes we who are far from sainthood we can recognize a living saint and I'm talking from personal experience.Yes they are gentle soo gentle it can not be described it is like gentleness and humility in one and also they have this light this energy it's beyond words...and when you are near them you feel ecstatic and very happy