The Ping-Pong-Ball Solution
Many of us have heard that part of the trepidation that some of the Churches have about a Great Council is the concern over the ordering of seats and the possibility that the bishops may decide to reorder the ‘seniority’ of the various Sees. While this is a minor concern, given the inability to get the various Synods to agree on a date and place for a Great Council, I think that we ought to remedy as many of the stumbling-blocks in the way of this much-needed gathering of the hierarchs.
So, I have a solution, and it involves ping-pong balls (you can call them ‘table-tennis balls’ if you like). Yes, that’s right… ping-pong balls. And, Sharpie Markers.
My plan is very simple: at the opening of the Great Council, representative monks will gather from all the various Patriarchates and Autocephalous Churches. They will prepare (using the markers) two sets of ping-pong balls: one set with the names of the Patriarchates and Autocephalous Churches, and the other set with a series of numbers from one to 15.
These two sets will be loaded into two separate lottery machines. Then, one ball shall be drawn from each machine. The name of the Church and the number be matched together to determine what rank that Church will hold for the next three years. Then, everyone will be seated accordingly. In three years time, the Churches will gather again to hold the next lottery to determine the new order.
His will serve several purposes: first, it will eliminate much other concern over rank, since all rankings will be temporary. Don’t like your low rank, just wait a few years and you’ll have a one-in-fifteen chance of being Number One!
Second, it will provide incentive for the Churches to gather. We’ve been waiting for more than 100 years for the Churches to organize such a meeting. Is that reasonable? If ranking is important, the lower-ranking Churches will certainly want to have another meeting to change their status.
I think this is more in keeping with the spirit of such honorific rankings. It also bears similarity to the present system on Mount Athos, where the leadership of the Holy Mountain rotates between monasteries. This isn’t a strict ‘rotational system,’ which give it more unpredictability and thus less subject to potential scheming.
Of course, it will also help to keep things interesting.
Now, the Churches that occupy the top of the present list may think they have little incentive to give up their ancient ranks, but one must ask whether these rankings really serve any real purpose. On a functional level, however, these ranks mean little: bishops from Constantinople are no different from bishops from Russia. Bishops are bishops, and Orthodox Christians are Orthodox Christians.
If we say that Jesus Christ taught us to be humble and seek the lower seat, it would be nice to occasionally demonstrate how serious we are about His teachings.