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a local or special ecclesiastical council, esp of a diocese, formally convened to discuss ecclesiastical affairs



a meeting of higher clergy in a number of Orthodox and Protestant churches. A synod was the supreme governing body of the Orthodox Church in Russia from the early 18th through the early 20th century; since 1917, it has been an advisory body under the patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’.

The Synod was created in Russia in 1721 to replace the patriarchate, which had been abolished. The Synod was responsible for purely religious matters, such as the interpretation of church dogmas and regulations on church rituals and prayers; for church administrative and economic matters, such as the appointment and removal of church officials and the management of church property; for matters of church “policing,” such as the struggle with heretics and schismatics, the supervision of church prisons, and church censorship; and for judicial matters involving the clergy. The Synod was also the supreme organ with jurisdiction in certain areas of family law, such as marriage cases, including marriages between relatives, and divorce cases. The members of the Synod were chosen from among high church officials and were appointed by the emperor. The synod was supervised by the chief procurator (ober-prokuror), a secular official appointed from the military or the civil service. The authority of the chief procurator increased in the late 18th century and became especially great at the end of the 19th century, when the office was held by K. P. Pobedonostsev.

The Synod as a state body was abolished by one of the first decrees of the Soviet government. After the restoration of the patriarchate in the Russian Orthodox Church in 1917, the Synod was reestablished as a purely ecclesiastical body—an advisory council of hierarchs under the patriarch. It is composed of permanent and temporary members. Permanent members include the metropolitans of Krutitsy-Kolomna, Kiev, and Leningrad, the bishop in charge of the affairs of the Moscow patriarchate, and the chairman of the department of external church relations of the Moscow patriarchate. Temporary members include the eparchial bishops, who are summoned in turn to attend one of the sessions of the Synod.

In the Catholic Church, the Synod of Bishops was established in the 1960’s. There are also synods headed by patriarchs in some of the churches that recognize the primacy of the papacy, such as the Coptic Church in Egypt, the Armenian Church in Lebanon, and the Chaldean Church in Iran.