Were the Councils of Jasy (1642) and Jerusalem (1672) subject to adequate, Pan-Orthodox synodical receptions? The topic of synodical reception is relevant, as both historically and canonically it is the means in which the Church discerns whether a council is authoritative. Many assert the aforementioned councils had irregular receptions, both due to an alleged small amount of subscribers to them and the delays in their being received, thereby invalidating the authority of these councils. But is this really the case?

The Delayed Receptions of the Ecumenical Councils. The topic of delayed synodical reception is scandalous to some as it implies that a council somehow lacks authority. However, delayed synodical reception has proved to be the rule rather than exception in Church history, at least when it pertains to the ecumenical councils.

The Council of Ephesus was only accepted by Antiochian synod in 433, two years after it was completed in 431. Second Constantinople was only accepted by the Roman synod a year later in 554 (parts of the western Church, like Spain, failed to receive the council as late as 684). Second Nicea arguably did not receive “official” synodical reception until the Photian councils (though scholarship asserts that it took until the Crusades).

As for the preceding councils, there were also significant debates over what precisely was received. For example, the Council of Ephesus had appended to its conciliar decree a significant addition to its florigelium. Saint Cyril of Alexandria modified the conciliar minutes by his admission. (Epistle 55, Par 8; cf p. 434 of Price and Gruamann’s Ephesus) This altered form of the minutes was received and treated as authoritative by Chalcedon. Chalcedon in its 16th session contained a dispute over what was written in Canon 6 of First Nicea, the Roman church containing a different rendering than the rest of the Church. Third Constantinople discounted versions of Second Constantinople that evidently were doctored with monoenergist language. Second Nicea has significant differences in its Greek and Latin manuscript traditions, which led to no little debate during the Photian controversy. Therefore, it should be no surprise that Pan-Orthodox synods subsequent to the Great Schism exhibit similar delays in reception as well as textual issues–creating some question as to what exactly was received.

Understanding Numbers. It should also be noted that due to the Turkish Yoke, the size of Pan-Orthodox synods were quite small in total episcopal attendance when compared to past councils–but not necessarily significantly smaller by proportion. For example, at present there are approximately 941 Orthodox bishops on earth, compared to about 278 in the 19th century (many of which were titular and functionaries subservient to the Ecumenical patriarchate), and approximately 1,200 during the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. (Price and Gaddis, Chalcedon, Volume 2, p. 151) Though this is not terribly precise, the number of Orthodox bishops in the 17th century would have been within the same ballpark as their totals in the 19th century.

In any event, despite de jure synodical reception with similar proportions of episcopal attendance, it is obvious that such councils never had the general enthusiasm behind them that the ecumenical councils had (nor the funding to put together very large synods). This lack of enthusiasm popularly is perceived as a lack of reception. One must reflect upon that during the era of the Turkish Yoke, there tends to be less enthusiasm for everything across the board.

In order to compare apples with apples, it is helpful for our purposes to compare the total (proven) peak episcopal/legate subscriptions to Chalcedon (370; Price and Gaddis, Chalcedon, Volume 3, p. 134) and Ephesus (approximately 150; Ibid., Volume 1, p. 20) with Jasy (26) and Jerusalem (69). This means Chalcedon represented approximately 31 percent of the world’s bishops, Ephesus a total of 12.5 percent, Jasy a total of 9.3 percent, and Jerusalem a total of 24.8 percent. Typical of councils, all of the preceding had subsequent synodical receptions and re-receptions which are not counted towards the total (i.e. Rome’s reception of Chalcedon or Moscow’s reception of Jasy). The point of the preceding is to demonstrate that there really was not anything remarkably different, considering proportions, about the receptions of Jasy and Jerusalem. However, due to there being more Orthodox people on Earth but less total bishops, this may explain why the reception of these councils was more bureaucratic and thereby invisible, or at least not of significant note, to the laity.

Jasy in Detail. Concerning Jasy 1642, the introduction written by an attendee specifies that in a follow-up synod in 1643 the council was received by all four antique Patriarchs and a mere nine other bishops. Archbishop Vasily (Krivoshein) (a Moscow Patriarch bishop of Brussels who died in 1985) in his Symbolic Texts in the Orthodox Church records for us a few more details. Saint Peter Mogila’s confession was received by the Moscow Patriarchate in Kiev in 1640. An edited form of the text (removing Latinisms pertaining to the Eucharist and Purgatory) was then received in Jasy by the four antique Patriarchs and 22 bishops between 1642-1643.

Mogila allegedly refused to receive this version. What Vasily does not note is that Mogila was one of the signatories in Jasy in 1642, so perhaps the edits to his confession were not completed at this point or he simply felt that his original version was better for Ukraine and that he’d tolerate the edited version elsewhere. Signatures of Russian legates to Jasy (recorded on p. 104-105 in Jersualem 1672) mention Mogila’s Confession being accepted without reference to whether edits occurred. Yet, Mogila carried the Patriarchal letter from the Constantinopolitan council in 1643, which implies some level of acceptance. Without reference to additional primary sources in English, I can only speculate.

In any event, in 1696, Patriarch Adrian of Moscow and his synod received the Greek (edited) version of the text (as well as other synods, such as Blachernae 1285), which was then translated into Church Slavonic. One may perceive that the Pan-Orthodox reception of Mogila’s Confession had occurred in a matter of five decades, a period of time that is by historical synodical-reception standards “not too shabby.” Textually there is no doubt which rendering has Pan-Orthodox approval–the modified version approved in 1643.

Despite scholarly quibbling with the council, such quibbling is wholly lacking at the synodical level. The council was identified as Spirit-led and binding by the Encyclical of the Council of Crete issued in 2016 (attended by 10 jurisdictions and a total of 168 bishops–17.8 percent of the world’s total). No synod (i.e. Russia, Alexandria, etcetera) has reneged on its reception to this day. Crete serves as a (nominal) re-approval as almost all the same jurisdictions whose approval was necessary between 1642-1643–Constantinople, Alexandria, and Jerusalem–approved again. So much for “problems” surrounding Jasy.

Jerusalem in Detail. Concerning Jerusalem 1672, Vasily records the following:

[I]n January 1672. The Local Council, chaired by the Patriarch of Constantinople Dionysius IV and with the participation of three other Eastern patriarchs and about 40 bishops, compiled a tomos of faith in an anti-Calvinist spirit. Soon after that, in March of the same year, a participant in the Council of Constantinople, Patriarch Dositheos of Jerusalem, continued the anti-Calvinist action of this Council: taking advantage of the fact that the bishops and clergy, who had gathered there for the festivities of the consecration of the Church of the Nativity of Christ in Bethlehem, arrived in Jerusalem, submitted for the approval of the audience compiled by him [a] Confession of faith. They approved it with their signatures on March 16, 1672, and included it in their conciliar decree condemning Calvinism. This document was sent to Constantinople to the French ambassador. It was signed by 69 people present, of which only eight bishops from Patr. Dositheus at the head [во главе–literally “in charge of”] (by the way, among the signatories is Archimandrite Joasaph, the representative of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, who arrived at the feast). 

Historically, events like the preceding generally get “telescoped.” Presented here, the impression one is given is that two different councils were held. However, at the time, the whole episode was obviously treated as the continuous work of a singular council–an event fairly common considering that several ecumenical councils endured for months at a time. The most extreme example of this is Third Constantinople, which did not issue its canons for another ten years. In sum, there was a significant reception of an anti-Calvinist tomos and the work of the council continuing in Jerusalem, whose document was happily received upon return to Constantinople–including by Moscow’s legate.

Vasily complains that Jerusalem’s council was merely “a liturgical assembly of a small number of bishops of [the] Jerusalem patriarchy.” The minutes themselves indicate there were approximately 9, including a legate representing the Georgian synod. (see p. 174-175 of Jerusalem 1672) However, as pointed out previously, synods at this time never had large episcopal attendance (there were simply less bishops to begin with). Additionally, eight bishops, as he indicates made their way with Dositheus to Constantinople (or de facto lived in Constantinople on a near-permanent basis), is actually a large showing. Presuming the numbers are roughly similar, the Jerusalem Patriarchate in the 1800s only had 11 bishops.

Vasily admits that the document was again received at the Council of Constantinople in 1723 “by four eastern patriarchs.” Landon’s A Manual Of Councils Of The Holy Catholic Church states that in 1721 a Council in Constantinople with all four antique Patriarchs accepted Dositheus’ confession. This then occurred again in 1723 with three of the Patriarchs and nine other bishops–other bishops approving this work were abroad, such as Arsenius, Metropolitan of Thebais in Egypt. Saint Justin Popovic’s Dogmatics: Volume 1 records:

in 1723 [the Confession of Dosiethus] was sent to the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church on behalf of all Orthodox patriarchs as an example of an accurate statement of faith. Accepted by the Russian Holy Synod, it subsequently (in 1838) was published in Russian under the title “Epistle of the Patriarchs of the Orthodox Catholic Church on the Orthodox Faith.” (Chapter 7)

So, similar to Jasy, not only was the work of Jerusalem accepted by the world’s Orthodox synods within approximately 50 years, it has likewise been endorsed in the encyclical of Crete 2016. Whatever one thinks of the Council of Crete, the fact of the matter is this shows additional synodical reception of the same synod. Like Jasy, no synod has ever reneged on its reception.

Vasily’s estimation of Jerusalem 1672 is very low, but he brings up an interesting fact that the text in Russian has significant differences (likely because of Saint Filaret of Moscow altering it before it was published). This too is not very radical considering the textual variants found in the historical record for the Councils of Ephesus, Constantinople II, and Nicea II. They are oftentimes significant. These councils’ variant renderings have large parts of sessions with dramatically different renderings or even profound omissions of what is recorded. To the uninitiated, the preceding appears highly problematic. However, the reality is that it is par for the course for synodical documents.

Why the Opposition to Jasy and Jerusalem? While there are vocal opponents to the conciliar documents of Jasy and Jerusalem, there appears to be no consistent basis to invalidate these texts on the grounds that their synodical receptions were insufficient. Their receptions were Pan-Orthodox and roughly met the same proportional acceptance from the episcopacy that the ecumenical councils did. The existence of textual variants and delays in reception do not offer any serious difficulties as these are common issues amongst the ecumenical councils. One can only lament that the prevalent motivation behind sowing doubt in these councils is simply because modern people don’t like what they say. Nevertheless, this is not a good basis for rejecting the historical and synodically received teachings of the Orthodox Church.

However, one may rightly speculate as to why these councils don’t feel ecumenical. Perhaps the decrease in global bishops has muted the actual serious interaction the laity has with synodical decisions. For example, what percentage of Orthodox laymen cared about Crete 2016? Less than a tenth of a percent? It is far easier to feel invested in a local bishop one actually sees on a regular basis versus a political functionary who lives in a far off city conducting business you don’t care about. This would have only been worse in the 1600s, where many bishops were titular and living in Constantinople, and there was no internet or even newspapers. Additionally, the Arab Christians in this era sometimes had ethnic Greeks bishops imposed over them. For the Jerusalem Patriarchate, that persists on some level to this day. In short, the more removed the bishop is from “the people,” the less invested everyone feels in a synodical decision–as popular reception is certainly a positive feedback for the episcopacy and vice versa.

Another possibility is that without the capacity to hold a true ecumenical council due to lacking the Roman synod (who is presently in schism), subsequent councils just “don’t feel the same.” Even popular post-schism documents, like the Palamite Councils, do not seem to be accorded equal dignity with the ecumenical councils. As for the Roman Catholics, being cut off from the other Patriarchates, they likewise cannot hold a true ecumenical council either, but simply a local council of the Roman synod.

Yet another speculation is that Orthodoxy has not yet shed the imperial culture of its past. Almost six centuries without a Roman emperor, Orthodox bishops still stand on images of the imperial eagle, Greek churches have these often on their furniture, and a lack of “officialness” that the Roman state accorded has not since been replaced. Even the Ottoman and Russian Empires fed into this, so until a little more than 100 years ago this was a dominant cultural undercurrent. Things like these do not disappear in a few generations.

One must also consider the somewhat innovative way in which people now interact with theology. While seminaries have existed since the 1600s, they did not get particularly popular in Russia until the 1800s (only to have a large dying off during the Communist Yoke) and outside the eastern bloc until the 20th century. On top of this, the laity are far more educated since the advent of universal education in the 20th century. The laity lack both professional training and traditional ascetic preparation, but this does not prevent them from asking “big questions” which their past equivalents would have not cared about. In the past, the laity would have known of the ecumenical councils almost entirely from icons and hymns in their commemoration. Today, people in search of epistemic certainty take to the search engines in search of answers to questions that normal people never used to care about. Hence, without a firm knowledge of how synodical reception works, the post-schism Pan-Orthodox councils seem to be too unpopular and questionable in their synodical basis. All the meanwhile, the ecumenical councils, due to their priority liturgically, never get the same scrutiny exacted upon them. Oftentimes, those who discover the questionable aspects of the ecumenical councils begin questioning their authority as well. Obviously, this modernist tendency undercuts the authority of all Orthodox tradition, the councils of Jasy and Jerusalem being no exception.

Conclusion. In the end sum, perhaps there is something to be said about “enthusiasm” being a legitimate measure of reception. After all, synodical reception is not a dry, legal process where by begrudging acceptance something becomes official. Perhaps this is why the ecumenical councils needed the controversies that surrounded them, as this put the enthusiasm for them under trial and vindicated them. One can only speculate. In any event, what one cannot deny is that on an official level Jasy and Jerusalem are Pan-Orthodox and that there were no significant issues with their reception.