A synod (also known as a council) is a council of a church, usually a Christian church, convened to decide an issue of doctrine or administration. An ecumenical council is so named because it is a synod of the whole church (or, more accurately, of what those who call it consider to be the whole church.)
The word comes from the Greek "synodos" meaning assembly, and it is synonymous with the Latin word "concilium" – council. Originally synods were meetings of bishops, and is still used in that sense in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.
Sometimes the phrase general synod or general council refers to an ecumenical council. The word synod also refers to the standing council of high-ranking bishops governing some of the autocephalous Eastern Orthodox churches.
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Uses in different Communions
Roman Catholic and Orthodox usage
In the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, synods are composed of bishops. Power in the Roman Catholic Church is subordinate to that of the Pope.
In the Anglican Communion, General Synods are elected by clergy and laity. In most Anglican churches, there is a geographical hierarchy of synods, with "General Synod" at the top; bishops, clergy and laity meet as "houses" within the synod.
In Lutheran traditions a synod can be either a local administrative region similar to a diocese, such as the Minneapolis Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, or denote an entire church body, such as the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. Sometimes the word is also used of the meeting of the priests of a diocese. In such case, the word carries no adminstrative meaning.
In some Presbyterian polities of church, a synod is a level of administration between the general assembly and the local presbytery. This applies in the Presbyterian Church in Canada, Uniting Church in Australia, and the Presbyterian Church USA.
Some ecumenical synods of note
- Synod of Ancyra 314
- Synod of Tyre and Jerusalem 335
- Synod of Whitby 664
- Cadaver Synod 897
- Synod of Charroux, 989
- Synod of Rathbreasail, 1111
- Synod of Verona, 1184
- Synod of Toulouse, 1229
- Synod of Dort (Dordrecht) 1618/1619
- General Synod: Anglican churches
- Holy Synod, Russia