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One Bishop in One Territory

The Orthodox-Catholic Church: Sacramental and Hierarchical





Orthodoxy has always attached great importance to the place of councils in the life of the Church. It believes that the council is the chief organ whereby God has chosen to guide His people, and it regards the Catholic Church as essentially a conciliar Church. (Indeed in Russian the same adjective soborny has the double sense of 'catholic' and 'conciliar', while the corresponding noun, sobor, means both 'church' and 'council'.) In the Church there is neither dictatorship nor individualism, but harmony and unanimity; its members remain free but not isolated, for they are united in love, in faith, and in sacramental communion. In a council, this idea of harmony and free unanimity can be seen worked out in practice. In a true council no sinlge member arbitrarily imposes his will upon the rest, but each consults with the others, and in this way they all freely achieve a 'common mind'. A council is a living embodiment of the essential nature of the Church.


[By the time of Saint Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (martyred in 258)] it had already become usual to hold local councils, attended by all the bishops in a particular civil province of the Roman Empire A local council of this type normally met in the provincial capital, under the presidency of the bishop of the capital, who was given the title Metropolitan. As the third century proceeded, councils widened in scope and began to include bishops not from one but from several civil provinces. These larger gatherings tended to assemble in the chief cities of the Empire such as Alexandria or Antioch; and so it came about that the bishops of certain great cities began to acquire an importance above the provincial Metropolitans. But for the time being nothing was decided about the precise status of these great sees. Nor during the third century itself did this continual expansion of councils reach its logical conclusion: as yet (apart from the Apostolic Council [as described in Acts 15]) there had only been local councils, of lesser or greater extent, but no 'general' council, formed of bishops from the whole Christian world, and claiming to speak in the name of the whole Church.

  from The Orthodox Church (1963; 1997), by Metropolitan Kallistos Ware (born 1934)  




Like the recognition of a model of primacy at the universal level which is both canonical and workable, so too a return to the canonical principle of one bishop in one territory is of paramount importance if the unity and enduring restoration of Full Communion among the divided parts of the Orthodox-Catholic Church is to be achieved, if God's prayer and commandment is finally to be complied with.


Having lofty goals which seem utterly unrealistic under present circumstances give a writer a particular kind of freedom to state the truth uncompromisingly. And circumstances have a way of changing.