This article was put forth to analyze the speech of the Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew, at the Synaxis (Council) of the Archbishops of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which was held in Istanbul on September 1-4, 2018.
In his speech—which was not disputed by any bishop of the Church of Constantinople, but was even met with general approval—Patriarchal Bartholomew at the official ecclesiastical level proclaimed the dogmatic position that the Constantinople (or “Ecumenical”) Patriarchate and its Patriarchs have the primacy of the sacral, administrative, and judicial-appellate1 power in the fullness of the Church of Christ.
These provisions are a recension [related to/in the style of—Trans.] the Latin Heresy of Papacy. Developed especially during the last century by the works of various Phanarite [Constantinople Patriarchate] theologians, this recension was called “Eastern Papism”. This means the claim of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to create a model of governance and authority in the Orthodox Church, similar to that of the Roman Catholic, only with the Patriarch of Constantinople in place of the Pope, and in place of the Roman Church—The Church of Constantinople.
The current Ecumenical Patriarch has declared the Primacy of Honor, which in the eleventh century Church the Patriarch of Constantinople possessed in place of the Pope in the Diptych2 of the Orthodox Church, to be a special institution with authorities, prerogatives, and privileges that were never known in Church Tradition.
It is lamentable to see how after so many centuries of struggle with Roman Papism, the Church of Constantinople itself is falling into the same heresy, the same seduction as papism. The imposition of power over the fullness of Orthodox by the Phanar, as it was with the Pope in its time, is a presumptuous and prideful attempt to seize the position of “Head of the Church” from Our Lord Jesus Christ, to revise the apostolic and patristic ecclesiology, to become above the Church, to destroy the canonical structure of the Church, and to deprive the Local Churches of the true freedom that has always been so characteristic and distinctive of Holy Orthodoxy. The Papism of the Phanar dares to disregard and nullify the podvig3 [valorous feat] of opposition to Western Papism, bathed in the blood of the martyrs and the suffering of the Confessors of the Orthodox Faith.
And so, in his speech, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople uttered the following:
“The Ecumenical Patriarchate is, for Orthodoxy, a leaven “which leavens the whole lump” (cf. Gal. 5.9) of the Church and of history.”4
It is clear that the Patriarch of Constantinople wanted to express by these words that his Patriarchate is a special, sacred institution, a special force that forms the very Church and history itself, like leaven for a lump of dough.
It is difficult to imagine, however, a more unfortunate quote. What was quoted from the Holy Apostle Paul (Gal. 5:9) was in the context of a reproach addressed to the Galatians5. The Holy Hierarch John Chrysostom explains this as follows:
“And so, this slight error, if left without correction, has the power (as leaven has with dough) to lead you into complete Judaism.”
And here is the explanation of the Blessed Theophylact of Bulgaria:
“This seemingly insignificant circumstance causes significant harm. For leaven, small as it may be, can ferment and change the dough, so circumcision6, although it’s only a teaching, can lead you into complete Judaism.”
To compare the role of a Patriarchate in the Church with circumcision which can lead to Judaism is certainly bold, but in fact, we repeat, it is clear what Patriarch Bartholomew wanted to say.
Further in the text of his speech, the Primate of the Church of Constantinople more than once emphasized that his church, and he means his own throne, has a special sacred place in the entire Orthodox Church:
“As the First Throne of Orthodoxy, the Ecumenical Patriarchate exercises a prophetic ministry, extending the mystery of the Catholic Church in Christ Jesus throughout the world in each era”7
“In the beginning was the Word . . . in him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (John 1.1,4) The beginning of the Orthodox Church is the Ecumenical Patriarchate; “in this is life, and the life is the light of the Churches.” The late Metropolitan Kyrillos of Gortyna and Arcadia, a beloved Hierarch of the Mother Church and personal friend, was right to underline that “Orthodoxy cannot exist without the Ecumenical Patriarchate”8
Patriarch Bartholomew is speaking everywhere, it would seem, about the Patriarchate, and not a Patriarch of Constantinople. Here we see an important caveat: A declaration of the Ecumenical Patriarchate “As the First Throne of Orthodoxy”.
That is to say, the speech was not simply about exclusive rights and privileges of the Church of Constantinople, in itself would be a serious digression from ecclesiastical truth, but rather, it went as far as speaking about being “The First Throne of Orthodoxy”, just like the “Apostolic Throne” in the Roman Catholic Church.
And so, according to Patriarch Bartholomew and his uncontested doctrine:
The Synaxis of the Hierarchs of the Church of Constantinople,—The Thone of Constantinople—has an exceptional, unique position and prerogatives in the church, that no other throne or Local Church possesses.
The prerequisite for the very existence of the Universal [Ecumenical] Church is the presence of the Throne of Constantinople in it; that is to say, its presence in the church is the very criteria of the truth of the latter. Without this throne, the existence of Orthodoxy is impossible! It is the leaven that forms the very Church of Christ itself and history.
The Throne of Constantinople is the mystical beginning of the Orthodox Church, just as the God The Word was at the beginning of everything. And just like, In Christ “there is life” which “is the Light of Man”, so the Constantinople Patriarchate has a special life peculiar to it, being the light of the other Churches.
Hence, the logical conclusion is that the Patriarchal Throne of Constantinople has a unique right, unique only unto “the first throne of Orthodoxy”—the right to extraterritorial [outside of his jurisdictional territory],9 universal teaching throughout the world at all times.
The administratively papist pretensions of the Patriarch of Constantinople are expressed in these words of his speech:
“...the Ecumenical Patriarchate ... enjoys canonical jurisdiction and all apostolic privileges in its responsibility for safeguarding the unity and communion of the local Churches but also for the overall journey of Orthodoxy in the contemporary world and history. In this spirit, as President of the body of Orthodoxy, the Ecumenical Patriarch convened the Holy and Great Council in Crete in June 2016, the greatest ecclesiastical event in recent years.”10
“The Ecumenical Patriarchate bears the responsibility of setting matters in ecclesiastical and canonical order because it alone has the canonical privilege as well as the prayer and blessing of the Church and the Ecumenical Councils to carry out this supreme and exceptional duty as a nurturing Mother and birth-giver of Churches. If the Ecumenical Patriarchate denies its responsibility and removes itself from the inter-Orthodox scene, then the local Churches will proceed “as sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9.36), expending their energy in ecclesiastical initiatives that conflate the humility of faith and the arrogance of power.”11
And so, the administrative authority of the Throne of Constantinople, in accordance to the doctrine of Eastern Papism [and outlined above—Trans.], includes:
Apostolic privilege and ecclesiastical jurisdiction over the whole church, in matters of the preservation of Church Unity, and the communion of the Local Churches. That is to say, without speaking in the “high” style of the Phanar, this means the Phanar is the establishing apostolic cathedra [episcopal seat], communion with which determines the belonging of a particular Local Church in the unity of the Orthodox Church. As such, the communion of the Local Church happens through the Cathedra of Constantinople. The term “canonical jurisdiction” emphasizes the subordinate position of the Local Churches to the Phanar in this scheme.
The Throne of Constantinople is the head or “President of the body of Orthodoxy” with the sole prerogative of convening Pan-Orthodox (and Ecumenical) Councils.
The Throne of Constantinople empowers itself with the vaguest yet most exclusive rights of “setting matters in ecclesiastical and canonical order12” It specifically emphasized that “it alone13” has this right out of the entire church, and the source of its “canonical privilege” is “the prayer and blessing of the Church and the Ecumenical Councils”. This in fact declares his unlimited power throughout the entire church, in as much as everything in it can be included under [the provision and pretext of] ecclesiastical order14. This particularly emphasizes the authority of the Phanar in canonical questions. The “Duty” of the Cathedra of Constantinople—establishment of “ecclesiastical and canonical order” throughout the Church—is “supreme15”; that is to say, it processes the highest and indisputable character.
The Church of Constantinople is the “Mother and birth-giver of Churches16”. It is not entirely clear what Patriarch Bartholomew wanted to say here: either that he alone has the exclusive power to grant autocephaly to any new Local Churches around the world, or that all Local Churches have the Constantinople Patriarchate as the source of their origin and genesis. Proceeding from the other materials of the Synaxis, one thing is clearly certain: The Patriarch of Constantinople declares he exclusively is the possessor of the right to grant and recognize the autocephaly of rising Local Churches, all while defining and changing the canonical boundaries of existing ones!
And finally, the crux of it all—the assertion that in the absence of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, “local Churches will proceed “as sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9.36)”. That is to say, The Throne of Constantinople is declared as the supreme pastor of the entire Orthodox Church, in relation to which the Local Churches with all their Patriarchs and Primates are simply a herd, sheep, obedient to the voice of the shepherd.
The last privilege which Patriarch Bartholomew assigned to his Cathedra was the highest ecclesiastical judicial-appellate authority in the Church of Christ!
“...We imagine that all of the Hierarchs serving within the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Throne know very well that the 4th Ecumenical Council, among other decisions, honored the exceptional privilege of “the right to appeal” (ekkliton) of the Throne of Constantinople with the decrees of its 9thand 17th Canons. Numerous instances of the exercise of this right to appeal by Hierarchs and clergy of other jurisdictions have been recorded through the centuries in the historical journey of the Mother Church. Worthy of mention here is the determination of the canonist Miodrag Petrovic, that “the Archbishop of Constantinople alone has the privilege to judge and adjudicate conflicts of bishops, clergy and metropolitans of other patriarchs.” (Nomocanon on the 14 Titles and the Byzantine Commentators, p. 206)”17
“The right reverend Bishop Kyrillos of Abydos, Professor at the National and Capodistrian University of Athens, a devout scholar of the written and spoken word, will address the unique privilege of the Church of Constantinople to receive the appeal of Hierarchs and clergy seeking refuge from all local Orthodox Churches in his presentation, entitled “The Privilege of Eccliton (Right to Appeal): Historical, Canonical and Theological Perspectives.” We gladly await his analysis of this subject…”18
Such a deliberately expressed doctrine of the privileges and powers of the Throne of Constantinople bears the clear influence and symptom of the Roman Catholic doctrine of the papacy. Of course, there is a difference, but the multiple similarities and relation of the two dogmatic doctrines clearly indicates that we are dealing with two subspecies of the same false teaching.
Let’s examine the Roman Catholic view of the Papacy.
Classical Roman Papism
The dogmatic constitution of Pastor Aeternus of the First Vatican Council states:
“…And, so that the Episcopate also might be one and undivided, and so that, by means of a closely united priesthood, the multitude of the faithful might be kept secure in the oneness of faith and communion, He set Blessed Peter over the rest of the Apostles. And He fixed in him the abiding principle of this two-fold unity with its visible foundation… (Latin: perpetuum principium ac visibile fundamentum…
…Therefore, it has always been necessary that each Church—that is, those who are the faithful everywhere—should agree with the Roman Church, because of the greater power of the principality that She has received, in order that, all being joined together in the unity of that Seat, from the veneration of which the rights of communion flows to all, might associate closely as members of one Head, in the compact unity of the body…
…We renew the definition of the Ecumenical Council of Florence, in virtue of which all the faithful of Christ must believe that the Holy Apostolic See and the Roman Pontiff possesses primacy over the whole world, and that the Roman Pontiff is the successor of Blessed Peter, Prince of the Apostles, and is the true Vicar of Christ, and the Head of the whole Church, and Father and Teacher of all Christians; and that full power was given to him, in Blessed Peter, by Jesus Christ our Lord, to pasture, to rule, and to govern the Universal Church; as is also contained in the acts of the General Councils and in the Sacred Canons…
…pastors and faithful, both individually and collectively, are bound, by their duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, to submit, not only in matters which belong to faith and morals, but also in those that appertain to the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world, so that the Church of Christ may be one flock under one Supreme Pastor…
…And since, by the Divine right of Apostolic primacy, the Roman Pontiff is placed over the Universal Church, We further teach and declare that he is the supreme judge of the faithful, and that in all causes, the decision of which belongs to the Church, recourse may be had to his tribunal…
… the supreme power of teaching is also included in the Apostolic primacy which the Roman Pontiff, as the successor of Peter, Prince of the Apostles, possesses over the whole Church…”19
The Papal Apologist Joseph de Maistre wrote “The Pope is indispensable. He is the single exceptional Father of Christianity…without him, unity disappears, and that means the Church too!”
The True meaning of the 9th and 17th Canons of the Fourth Ecumenical Council
These are allegedly giving the Patriarchate of Constantinople the special right of [being] the supreme appeals court of the Church, including the right of revising the ecclesiastical courts of other Patriarchs and Primates of Local Orthodox Churches. Here are excerpts from the texts of these canons:
The 9th Canon: …If, on the other hand, a clergyman has a dispute with his own Bishop, or with some other Bishop, let it be tried by the Synod of the province. But if any Bishop or Clergyman has a dispute with the Metropolitan of the same province, let him apply either to the Exarch of the diocese or to the throne of the imperial capital Constantinople, and let it be tried before him.20
The 17th Canon: “…But if anyone has been unjustly treated by his own Metropolitan, let him complain to the Exarch of the diocese, or let him have his case tried before the throne of Constantinople, according as he may choose…”21
This canon is reinterpreted in the sense that clerics and bishops are given the right to challenge the courts of their own Patriarchs through the Patriarch of Constantinople.
This misunderstanding is supported by the fact that the “Exarch(s) of greater diocese(s)22” are understood to be Patriarchs23. Only Aristenos adheres to this view of the three classical interpreters of the canons. But there is no reason to call other Patriarchs exarchs, nowhere else in the canons of the Ecumenical Councils does that occur.
Two other interpreters of the canons, Balsamon and Zonaras, clarify that when it says “exarchs” it refers to the Metropolitans of the well-earned and greater cathedrae—dioceses—in the body of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, whose canonical territory was formed precisely by the Fourth Ecumenical Council (see the 28th Canon of the Fourth Council24).
Therefore, this is speaking to the Patriarchate of Constantinople’s right as the court of appeals within its own Patriarchate, and not over other Patriarchates.
Otherwise, an absurd situation is purposed: that these canons give the Patriarch of Constantinople the right of being the highest judicial-appellate authority, in relation to the Roman Church, and the Bishops of Rome, who at that time [at the time of the Fourth Ecumenical Council—Trans.] undoubtably occupied the first place in the Diptych of the Churches.
Balsamon, interpretation on the 9th Canon: The Exarch of a Region (Russian: Okrug) is not, I think, a Metropolitan of every province (Russian: Oblast’), but the Metropolitan of the entire Region. And a region includes many provinces.25 Now the privilege/advantage of Exarchs has no effect; for although some of the Metropolitans are called Exarchs, they do not have other Metropolitans in their regions subordinate to them. So, most likely, in those days, there were some different kind of Regional Exarchs; or all the same, the privileges given to them by the canons have ceased to act.
Zonaras, interpretation of the 17th Council: Thus, the idea of this rule on the separation of the courts would be this: when a Bishop has a case with another Bishop, or a cleric with a Bishop, then the Metropolitan will judge them, whom the canons call the Exarch of the Region. But when a bishop has an accusation against his Metropolitan, then the canons entrust this to the court of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. But the Patriarch of Constantinople is not sent as judge over all Metropolitans without exceptions—just only over his subordinates. For he can not bring to his court the Metropolitans of Syria, or Palestine and Phoenicia, or Egypt against their will; but rather the Metropolitans of Syria are subject to the court of the Patriarch of Antioch, and the Palestinian ones to the court of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, and the Egyptians must go to the Patriarchate of Alexandria, from whom they received ordination (laying of hands), and to whom they are subordinate. Other Exarchs, for example, the Bishop of Caesarea of Cappadocia, Ephesus, Thessaloniki, and Corinth were also called Exarchs, who, therefore, were given the privilege of wearing the Polystavron26 in their churches.”
Like bees round a hive, various opinions have surrounded this part of the present Canon. For our own authorities, being opposed to the rule and primacy of the Pope, and desiring to honor the Patriarch of Constantinople, have inclined to exaggeration; Hence Makarios the Bishop of Ancyra understands by “exarchs of the diocese” the other Patriarchs, while to the Patriarch of Constantinople he refers the final appeal, and he wants him to be the chief and supreme judge over all the Patriarchs. Makarios was followed also by Alexios in “History”, and by Nicholas the bishop of Methone in writing against the principle of the Pope.
The Papists, again, wish to establish the monarchal status of the Pope, follow our authorities and concede that the Bishop [Patriarch] of Constantinople is chief judge over all, because the Bishop of Rome [Pope] is first [in honor] according to these same canons, over even the Bishop of Constantinople. So the Bishop of Rome is the ultimate and common judge over all the Patriarchs, and ahead of even the Patriarch of Constantinople in respect of jurisdiction; and accordingly, it is to him that appeal must be taken from all the Patriarchs of the inhabited earth (called in Greek the “occumene/Ecumene”).
All of these men, however, are wandering far astray from the truth. Constantinople has no authority to officiate in the dioceses and parishes (or districts) of the other Patriarchs, nor has this Canon given him the right of final appeals in the whole church. It is clear from the following:
In the fourth act of the present Council of Chalcedon, The Bishop of Constantinople Anatolius was blamed by the rulers as well as by the whole Council for overstepping his boundaries and taking Tyre from its Bishop - Photius, and handing it over to Eusebius, the Bishop of Beirut, having deposed and excommunicated Photius. Notwithstanding that he offered many pretexts, in spite thereof, whatever he had done was annulled and invalidated by the Council, and Photius was justified, and he received back the episcopate of Tyre. That is why Isaac, the Bishop of Ephesus, told Emperor Michael I Paleologos, the first of the Palaeologi: that the authority of the Bishop of Constantinople does not extend over the Patriarchates of the East (according to Pachymeres, Book 6, Chapter 1).
Civil and imperial laws do not state that only the judgment and decision of the Patriarch of Constantinople alone, are not subject to appeal, but merely says indefinitely (unlimitedly) of “any Patriarch or Patriarchates” in the plural case…
And so, according to the laws of these Emperors, which agree with the sacred Canons, the decisions of all Patriarchs are insusceptible of appeal, or, in other words, they cannot be carried to the court of other Patriarch for review, how then can the Patriarch of Constantinople grant them a hearing and revise them? And if the present Canon of this Fourth Council, like the 17th Canon, had the goal of giving the Patriarch of Constantinople the power to entertain appeals over the heads of the other Patriarchs, how could the emperors have decreed the diametrically opposite and contrary view, at a time when they well knew that civil laws which disagreed with the Canons were considered invalid?
If we agree with the aforementioned papists, that the Patriarch of Constantinople can judge the other Patriarchs, and that he can review their decisions and judgments, then, since the Canon makes no exception of any or which Patriarch, he is therefore to the logical conclusion considered to have the right to judge the Bishop of Rome himself, and thus, the Patriarch of Constantinople becomes the first and the last and the common judge of all the Patriarchs, and even of the Pope himself.
And so, seeking to justify the monarchy of Rome with these tricks, they are in fact wrecking and demolishing their own argument with these very tricks.
If no one—neither a Metropolitan or a Patriarch has the right to impose any thing upon churches outside his jurisdiction, but only the ones within the boundaries and subject to him, according to the 34th and 35th Canons of the Apostles, and Canons 6 and 7 of the First Ecumenical Council, as well as 3-8 of the Second Ecumenical, 20, 36, and 39 of the 6th Ecumenical, 3, 11, and 12 of the Synod of Sardica, 9 of Antioch, as well as others, how can the present Canon or others decide and ordain the opposite and contrary of all these?
If Constantinople had received any such privilege, how is it that the Patriarchs of Constantinople, when quarreling oftentimes with the Pope, did not claim any such right, but merely insisted that the privileges of all were equal? Or why is it that other Christians amid their quarrels and differences, ever say that the Patriarchate of Constantinople is greater than that of Rome?
And so The Lord Liveth! He Lives! The true explanation of the Canon is this:
The Exarch of the Diocese, according to Balsamon, is not the Metropolitan of the province (since a diocese comprises many provinces and metropolis), but the Metropolitan of the Diocese is also not the Patriarch, as can be seen from the test of the 6th Canon of the Second Ecumenical Council.
If anyone dishonors all the Bishops of the Diocese, which is the same thing as saying the Exarch of the Diocese, which indeed the present Canon does say; whereas a Synod of the Diocese and an Exarch of the Diocese occupies a different position from that held by each Patriarch together with the bishops subject to him.
And so the Exarch of a diocese is the Metropolitan of the diocese, who has some privilege over and above the other Metropolitans of the same diocese.
But this privilege of Exarchs is not today in effect. For although certain Metropolitans are called Exarchs, the other Metropolitans in their dioceses are not in fact subordinate to them.
Thus according to what Balsamon says, the Exarchs of dioceses lost their privileges either immediately, or not long after this Fourth Ecumenical Council was held.
That explains why Justinian fails to mention it in what he says concerning disputes between clergymen, notwithstanding that he enumerates the other courts or tribunals of clergymen.
So it is evident that the Canon means that if any bishop or clergyman has a dispute or difference with the Metropolitan of a dioceses, let him apply to the Exarch of the diocese: which is the same thing as saying that clergymen and metropolitans subject to the throne of Constantinople must have their case tried either before the Exarch of the diocese in which they are situated, or before the Bishop of Constantinople, as their own Patriarch.
It did not say that if any clergyman has a dispute or difference with the Metropolitan of some other diocese, or if a Metropolitan has a dispute or difference with the Metropolitan of any diocese or parish whatever, they must be tried before the Bishop of Constantinople.
It also did not say, he must first appeal to the Exarch of the diocese, and then to the Bishop of Constantinople, as Pope Nicholas above distorts the Canon; but, on the contrary, it left it to the choice of the ones to be judged to determine with equal rights, whether they should go to the Exarch of the diocese or to the Bishop of Constantinople and be tried in precisely' the same manner and equally well either before the one or before the other.
Therefore Zonaras, in his interpretation of the 17th Canon of the 4th Ecumenical Council says that the Bishop of Constantinople is not necessarily entitled to sit as judge over all Metropolitans but only over those who are judicially subject to him
And in his interpretation of the 5th Canon of Sardica, he also says:
"The Bishop of Constantinople can only hear the appeals of those who are subject to the See of Constantinople, precisely as the Bishop of Rome can only hear the appeals of those who are subject to the See of Rome."
Now, however, that the Synod and the Exarch of the diocese are no longer active or in effect, the Bishop of Constantinople is the first and sole and ultimate judge of the Metropolitans under him, but not of those under any of the rest of the Patriarchs.
For it is only an ecumenical council that is the ultimate and most common judge of all Patriarchs, and no one else, as we have said about this.”