On the True Meaning of "Conciliarity"

Few words are bandied about so recklessly in the English-speaking Orthodox world as “conciliarity” [sobornost’]. A great many opinions on its nature and practical implications are routinely advanced in support of various agendas, but I’m quite certain that few of those who pay lip service to “conciliarity” could stomach the elucidation of the concept found in the following homily by the great St Nikolai Velimirović:

“Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another” (1 Peter 5:5).

Here is the principle of the true Orthodox conciliarity [sabornost]! It is based on the unconditional obedience of the younger toward the elders and on reciprocal obedience of equals among themselves, and on the humility of both the elders and the younger. Humility [poniznost] is a good word but better still is the word humbleness [smernost] and the best word is humble-mindedness [smirenomudrije]: in essence, humble-mindedness corresponds exactly to the Greek word which the apostle used in his epistle [i.e., tapeinophrosynē], and it signifies lowly thoughts about oneself and higher thoughts about God and constant admission of one’s helplessness, one’s ignorance, one’s viciousness, one’s unworthiness and constant recognition of God’s power, God’s wisdom, God’s mercy and God’s dignity.

God is the only King of mankind. That is why God opposed the wishes of the Israelites that a king be appointed for them from among the people. God rules and men serve God. Those who rule and those who submit are equally the servants of God. When it is known and recognized that God is King and that all men are servants of God then, by this, the foundation of conciliarity [sabornost] is established, the foundation of the angelic society. Upon this foundation then is built the House of God, the angelic society, with the help of the obedience of the younger toward the elders and on reciprocal obedience of peers among themselves and upon the humble-mindness of all. In this manner, two terrible evils are avoided in the world: tyranny, i.e., one ruling over many by force, and anarchy, i.e., mob rule, thereby avoiding mono-tyranny or poly-tyranny.

The principle of conciliarity [sabornost] is an organic principle, i.e., the principle of life. This is the principle of mutual service, mutual help and mutual love. Brethren, may God endow us with wisdom to have recourse toward this saving principle in our lives.

Lord Jesus, obedient and humble Lover of Mankind, implant and confirm in us obedience to Thy law and mutual obedience out of love and humble-mindedness toward Thy unutterable power and wisdom. To Thee be glory and thanks forever. Amen.

Considering the above, it is hard to disagree with a now retired Orthodox Bishop who has been known to remark that, while some loudly and insistently call for sobornost’, what they want in actual fact is the people’s soviet.

2 responses to “On the True Meaning of "Conciliarity"

  1. Have you read Fr John Jillions’s article defaming St Dionysios the Areopagite on the OCA News website? I won’t link to it because I don’t want ‘theologically inclined readers’ to be misled by his impious distortions of the great hierarch’s teaching, but he seems to be one of those who want the people’s soviet, and he isn’t afraid to chuck traditional Orthodox theology out the window to get it. Suffice to say, St Dionysios is responsible for the current scandal in the Metropolia. Of course, the holy hierarch and mystagogue has also been proven responsible for the decimation of the native peoples of North and South America, so perhaps his role in the Metropolia’s woes should not surprise us.


  2. Yes, I have read that unfortunate piece (as well as a similar one on the same site by Protopresbyter Thomas Hopko), and I couldn’t agree more with your assessment. Instead of wasting their time in such nonsense, readers would be well advised to acquaint themselves instead with the wonderful series “The Areopagite in 20th Century Orthodoxy,” posted earlier this year at Ora et Labora.


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