The legalization of schismatics in Ukraine carried out by the Constantinople Patriarchate (CP) under the leadership of Patriarch Bartholomew and the close patronage of the U.S. State Department1 is a challenge to all of world Orthodoxy. Now not only a personal ecclesiastical question is being resolved, but new principles for the Church’s existence are being determined. Legalization of the schismatics is taking place against the desire of the majority of the Orthodox people living in Ukraine, against the protests of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in contempt of the demands of the Russian Orthodox Church, from which the schismatics apostatized and by whose edicts their activities were placed under ban. The reprisals [excomunications, defrockings] were recognized by all the Local Churches including the CP. The general ecclesiastical principle, according to which the right to lift reprisals belongs primarily to the one who placed them, is being held in total contempt by Patriarch Bartholomew and the Constantinople Synod. The bishops of the CP, who arrived in Kiev without any invitation (Archbishop Daniel of Pamphylia and Bishop Hilarion of Edmonton), are occupied with Church affairs in that city against the demands of the primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, His Beatitude Onuphry, the canonical Metropolitan of Kiev, who is recognized as such by all the Local Orthodox Churches, including the CP.
By his actions Patriarch Bartholomew has not only exacerbated the already complicated ecclesiastical situation in Ukraine, but has also dealt a blow to the unity of all of world Orthodoxy. Not a single Local Church will be able to remain neutral in this situation, because there are schisms everywhere of various kinds, which are eagerly waiting for a new mechanism to be devised that could legalize their structures, that they might take advantage of it. A precedent is being created that would allow the CP under the guise of “healing” schisms and other problems to interfere in the life of any Local Church, and there will be no protective mechanisms in place.
The Ukrainian church events are being actively discussed in various circles. Usually they are reviewed from the canonical, historical, political, and moral position. Arguments are already being voiced from various sides, but a constructive resolution has not been found. The break [by Moscow] in Eucharistic communion with Constantinople is a demonstration of the degree of indignation, but it is nevertheless not a resolution to the problem. The essence of this problem is hidden in the deeper foundations of Church life, which will be revealed if we investigate its roots from the position of our Church doctrine.
From that point of view it becomes clear that the Phanar’s supporter have long ago formed their own peculiar teaching on the Church, the Constantinople throne and the patriarch sitting on it. Until recently this idea was not expressed in its entirety, only ambiguously, as personal theological opinion, taking flesh from time to time in specific ecclesiastical actions. Already back in the first third of the twentieth century the pretensions of the Constantinople patriarchs evoked open criticism in the Church,2 and still remain the subject of constant anxiety,3 but for the sake of peace and calm everyone tried to avoid this theme. Only recently did it become the subject of special research,4 and therefore no organized conclusions on it have yet been made.
A generally accepted name has even appeared for this specific Constantinople ecclesiology: “Eastern papism”,5 because the essence of this idea is not new, it is a variation on the Latin teaching of the primacy of the Roman popes in the Church. In order to understand the peril of “Eastern papism”, it is necessary to explain the basic Orthodox teaching on the Church, which proceeds from the Gospels and New Testament books.
The fundamentals of the Orthodox teaching on the Church
1. The Church was created by our Lord Jesus Christ, as He Himself said, I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18). For the Church, Christ the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord (Eph. 20–21). No human being, no ecclesiastical institution other than Christ can be considered the founder or foundation of the Church.
2. The only and inalienable head of the entire Church is our Lord Jesus Christ: Christ is the head of the Church: and He is the saviour of the body (Eph. 5:23). He is the head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all (Eph. 1:2–23). There is always only one head of the body, because no human being, no ecclesiastical institution other than Christ can be the head of the entire catholic Church.
3. Primacy in the catholic Church belongs not to any person, but only to Christ, for He is the head of the body, the Church: Who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He might have the preeminence (Col. 1:18). During the Lord’s earthly life, He did not support any striving for primacy among His apostles and always gave them this advice: If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all (Mk. 9:35).
4. The Church is a Divine-human organism, where people who believe in Christ and who are united with Him through the life of grace are members of the organism of the Church, and together comprise the “body of Christ”: For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many (1 Cor. 12:12–14).
5. The clergy who form the God-established Church hierarchy are not middlemen between people and God, not Christ’s vicars on earth, not bosses over subordinates, but living instruments of God’s providence in the word of people’s salvation, called: For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12). Therefore the apostle Peter teaches: The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble (1 Pet. 5:1–5). The goal of hierarchical service is to bring people to God, and not to oneself; to unite them to God, and not to oneself; to teach them to fulfill God’s will, and not one’s own.
6. None of the members of the Church can exalt himself over others by force of any of the particularities of his ecclesiastical service, but each is called to carry out his vocation and help others in the spirit of Christian love. Apostle Paul explains this truth within the framework of the Church’s anthropological image: God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked. That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it (1 Cor. 12:24–26). And in his epistle to the Ephesians he says that in the Church is the head, even Christ: From Whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love (Eph. 4:15–16).
7. The Church, spread throughout the whole world, has the quality of gathering and uniting different people into one in God, independent of any external obstacles and conditions, and grants to them the fullness of the necessary spiritual gifts. This quality of the Church is called catholicity, or sobornost (conciliarity). St. Cyril of Jerusalem defines it thus:
“The Church is called conciliar because it is located throughout the world from one end of the world to another; it everywhere and fully teaches all of the truth that people should know, the teaching of things visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly; that brings the entire human race to the true faith, superiors and subordinates, the learned and the simple; and that everywhere treats and heals all manner of sins committed in soul and body, it has within it every form of perfection manifested in deeds, word, and all spiritual gifts.”6
That is, the catholicity/conciliarity of the Church means that it possesses the fullness of the gifts of grace of the spiritual life and is able to grant this fullness to any one of faithful in any place in the universe. An important manifestation of catholicity/conciliarity is the Church Councils, where agreed upon resolutions are accepted on the basis of Divine Revelation according to the action of the Holy Spirit (cf.: Acts 15:6–29).
8. It is impermissible in the Church for one Local Church to dominate over another. No dogmatic, canonical, historical, political or any other causes can give authoritative rights for any primate or throne over other Local Churches, which itself is the essence of the Orthodox principle autocephaly (from the Greek αὐτός “self” + κεφαλή “head”). In the earthly aspect, the right of the supreme court and status of the supreme authority in the Church, including over any patriarch, belongs to the Local or Ecumenical Council. In the history of the Church there is no small number of examples of the deposing of patriarchs through council decisions. For example, there is the deposing of the Constantinople Patriarch Nestorius, who fell into heresy, at the Third Ecumenical Council in 431, the deposing of Constantinople patriarchs Sergius I and Pyrrhus, who fell into the Monothelite heresy, at the Sixth Ecumenical Council of 680–681, and others.
All of these theses are well known in Orthodox theology. They could be explained by a large number of patristic testimonies, historical examples, and citations from theological research; however, considering the limits of a short article, we will leave it at this. Violation of these positions of our faith have come up a number of times in the history of Christianity and always led to crises in the Church, the most acute of them leading to the schism of Rome from Orthodoxy in 1054.
The main reason for the break with Rome
Rome’s special situation as the capital of the empire led to the deformation of the self-identity of Roman popes, who came up with the idea of the See of the Apostle Peter, and began gradually increasing their pressure on other Local Orthodox Churches, demanding submission from them in ecclesiastical matters. Moreover, in order to find a basis for the primacy of the Roman patriarchal throne they sought out any possible arguments, even the most ridiculous. They even prepared false documents, for example, the “Gift of Constantine” (Donatio Constantini), which supposedly grants the Roman popes the fullness of power in the Church and secular power in Western Europe, from the very person of Empire Constantine the Great. The Orthodox Church categorically rejected Rome’s false pretensions to primacy of power and judgment in the Church, which was the main cause of the schism in the eleventh century.
Unfortunately, the ecclesiastical upheavals and the passing of centuries have not changed the self-awareness of the Roman popes. Their claims to primacy and domination in the Church have not disappeared. More than that—they became dogma in 1870 at the First Vatican Council.7
In modern Catholicism the principle of papist domination over the patriarchs and ecumenical hierarchy may have softened, but it hasn’t changed a bit. “But the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope’s power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power.”8 For the faithful Orthodox it is obvious that such an authoritative ecclesiological model has nothing in common with Holy Scripture and is unacceptable in any possible recension, because in the place of Christ, Who is the only Pastor of the whole Church (cf. Jn. 10:11–16; Heb. 13:20; and others), there is a man with all his weaknesses.
On the eve of the events of 1054, public themes for heightened discussion were the questions of liturgical practices (serving the Liturgy on unleavened bread, fasting on Saturday, particulars of the chanting of “Alleluia”, the eating of things strangled, celibate priesthood, and so on9), but in deciding them Rome insisted that all accept its point of view, citing primarily its own authority and unquestionable primacy in the Church. Pope Leo IX in 1053 formulated his right to dictate conditions to other Local Churches like this: “The Lord showed that the faith of all the other brothers will be subjected to dangers, but the faith of Peter will remain unstumbling. No one can deny that just as the whole door is controlled by a hook, so Peter and his successors determine the order and establishment of the whole Church. And as the hook leads and moves away the door, while itself remaining immobile, so also do Peter and His successors have the right to freely pronounce judgment over the whole Church, and no one should at all revolt against or shake their state; for the highest see can be judged by no one (summa sedes а nemine judicatur).10
There is no doubt that papism is a heresy, because the teaching of the Church is an extremely important element of the Christian catechism, included in the Creed: “I believe... in the One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” If anyone should substitute the headship and primacy of Christ in the catholic Church with a person or group of people, he by this fundamentally harms the life of the Church, perverts the Orthodox teaching of the faith, and creates enormous obstacles on the path of salvation.
Constantinople papism and the events in Ukraine
The tragic break with the Roman See should have been a lesson for all the Local Orthodox Churches throughout the ages. However, to our profound regret, we have to recognize that the passionate striving to solely rule over the Church has not disappeared, and has begun to grow within the Orthodox Church, first of all in the Constantinople Patriarchate, which after the fall of the Roman throne from the fullness of Orthodoxy became the first in honor among other Local Churches. In naming himself the “Patriarch of the New Rome” and assumption of the title of “Ecumenical”,11 the Constantinople patriarch began to claim the sole right of judgment on the scale of the entire Church, the right to call all Churches to ecclesiastical councils, to grant and even take away autocephaly, and other advantages.
Nevertheless, if until recently the claims of the Constantinople patriarch to his primacy of power and judgment were simply the theme of general announcements and the subject of theological discussions, now his conviction of his own primacy has become an ideology upon which the actions of the current Constantinople hierarchs are built. The legalization of schismatics in Ukraine, undertaken by representatives of the CP contrary to protests from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, against the clear declarations of hierarchs of other Local Churches—Metropolitan Ambrosios of Kalavryta and Aegialis (Church of Greece), Metropolitan Seraphimos of Kythera and Antikythera (Church of Greece), Metropolitan Timotheos of Vostra (Jerusalem Orthodox Church), Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro and the Littoral (Serbian Orthodox Church) and others—speaks to the fact that Constantinople considers itself completely self-sufficient to decide the fate of the entire Orthodox Church, and the opinion of all the rest of its members, who represent the majority of the Orthodox world, can simply be ignored.
An unbelievable situation has arisen wherein autocephaly is being forced on a people, the significant majority of whom neither asks for it nor wants it. The likes of this has never happened in the history of the Orthodox Church. The Religious Information Service of Ukraine, which cannot be suspected of sympathy toward the Moscow Patriarchate, published data that on January 1, 2018 the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church counts 12,348 religious communities, the “Kiev Patriarchate” 5,167, and the “Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church” 1,167 communities.12 In percentages, this would be: UOC—66.1 percent; “KP”—27.6 percent; “UAOC”—6.3 percent. All the other parameters (active communities, monasteries, clergy) are approximately the same: UOC—65–70 percent, with all the schismatic groups taken together constituting 30–35 percent. Approximately the same proportion could be seen in the Cross processions on the eve of the celebration of the Baptism of Rus’ on July 27–28, 2018. Thus, it could be said that two thirds of the Orthodox in Ukraine belong to the canonical Church, while one third are in various schismatic groups.
There can be no doubt that the overwhelming majority of faithful children of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church do no want the autocephaly that Constantinople is forcing upon them. The primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry, the Synod of the UOC, the spiritual beacons of Orthodox Ukraine—the Kiev Caves Lavra, the Pochaev Lavra, the Sviatogorsk Lavra—have categorically condemned the autocephaly that is being pushed on them by politicians.13 These monasteries’s stance is supported by practically the entirety of Orthodox Ukraine. Several fringe personalities from within the UOC have declared their desire for such autocephaly, but they have not been able to organize a significant movement in support of it. Therefore, it can be said with all certainty that the actions of the CP in Ukraine are directed against the majority of the Orthodox in Ukraine. No one is arguing that the Orthodox people in Ukraine do not have a right to autocephaly, but the question of actualizing this right can only be proposed if the majority of ordinary believers and the majority of the canonical episcopate has the desire for it. So far, autocephaly is being pushed upon the majority by the minority for obvious political reasons. And the basis for the CP’s intrusion into the inner life of the UOC is the heretical ecclesiology of “Eastern papism”, which has at this stage reached its peak—and its bearers have gone from words to action.
Papism in the thoughts and actions of the Constantinople Patriarchate
There have been so many confirmations of Constantinople papism over recent years that whole conferences could be held on the theme, monographs could be written, and even thematic collected volumes could be composed. Within the framework of a short article we will limit ourselves to citations from official speeches by Patriarch Bartholomew at his Synaxis (assembly) of hierarchs of the CP, which took place September 1–4, 2018 in Istanbul.14
In his speech, Patriarch Bartholomew tries to base the “unique privilege of the Constantinople Church to accept appeals from hierarchs and clergy”15 of all Local Churches and even patriarchs with the help of the 9th and 17th canons of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, where there is in fact not a single word about the right of appellate judgment over patriarchs and clergy of Local Churches. The authoritative canonists Balsamon and Zonar reject such appellate rights, and St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite in his famous “Pedalion” (“The Rudder”), in commenting on these rights, categorically insists that, “The Constantinople primate does not have the right to act in the dioceses and territories of other Patriarchs, and this canon did not give him the right to accept appeals for any affairs in the Ecumenical Church...” Citing a multitude of arguments, St. Nicodemos makes the conclusion that, “At the present time... the Constantinople primate is the first, only, and final judge over the metropolitans subject to him—but not over those who are subject to the other Patriarchs. For, as we have said, the final and all-encompassing judge over all Patriarchs is the Ecumenical Council, and no one else.” From what has been said above, it unambiguously follows that the CP does not have canonical rights to cancel legal decisions pronounced by other Local Churches.
Out of a lack of sound argumentation, Patriarch Bartholomew is forced to cite modern authors who share the Phanar’s papist ideology: “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’.”16 By this well-disposed quote, Patriarch Bartholomew demonstrates his claims to the right to judge not only the episcopate in subjection to him, all the Orthodox hierarchs all over the world, including the Patriarchs of the Local Churches; he places himself higher than them, and as a judge over them. The principle of “first among equals” of the Orthodox Patriarchates is rejected. In the Rule of the Russian Orthodox Church, just as in the Rules of other Local Churches, it is clearly written that the patriarch is subject to the judgment of his Church.17 There isn’t a single Rule of any Local Church that has a statement on appealing for judgment to the CP as to the final instance of ecclesiastical conflicts. And it is amazing how precisely the words of Patriarch Bartholomew mirror the above-cited papist doctrine of the Catholics: Peter and His successors have the right to freely pronounce judgment over the whole Church, and no one should at all revolt against or shake their state; for the highest see can be judged by no one (summa sedes а nemine judicatur).18
Further, in the same declarative and peremptory manner, the Constantinople Patriarch continues: “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”.19 No one ever placed this responsibility upon the CP, never mind giving him this “canonical privilege”. These claims are absolutely unfounded, not supported by anything, and directly contradict the Gospel teaching: Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican (Matt. 18:15–17). Where in these words of the Savior is a place for the Constantinople Patriarch and his circle? We have before us direct testimony of the usurpation of ecclesiastical authority, which belongs exclusively to Church Councils.
At every convenient opportunity the representatives of the CP declare the headship of their patriarch amongst the primates of all the Local Churches, not specifying that we can speak only of certain privileges of honor, but not headship of any kind.
The Constantinople Patriarch is proclaimed the bearer of truth, while faithfulness to Orthodoxy is equated with faithfulness to the CP: “Some people falsely believe that they can love the Orthodox Church, but not the Ecumenical Patriarchate, forgetting that it incarnates the authentic ecclesiastical ethos of Orthodoxy.”20 Furthermore the role of the Constantinople throne amidst the other Local Churches, in their opinion, is not the “first among equals,” but the pastor amidst the sheep: “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).”21 Has the Constantinople Patriarch really forgotten that the only Pastor of the sheep of the Church is Christ (cf. Jn. 10:11–16), and so occupied His place by mistake?22
Attempts to put himself in the place of Christ have gone to the point of rewording the Gospel so that in people’s consciousness would be formed an equating of Christ with the CP: In the beginning was the Word... In Him was life; and the life was the light of men (Jn. 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.”23 We will make no comment on the outlandish pride that permeates these words, but we can’t help asking: If the “beginning of the Orthodox Church is the Ecumenical Patriarchate”, “in this is life, and the life is the light of the Churches” and “Orthodoxy cannot exist without the Ecumenical Patriarchate,” then how did the Orthodox Church exist until the fourth century—before there was a CP? How did the Orthodox Church exist when the Constantinople patriarchs and their entire synods fell into heresy, signed unions with Monophysites, with Rome, and committed crimes and lawlessness?
We mustn’t think that Patriarch Bartholomew allowed an accidental disclaimer. In this speech he insists that the CP is the “nurturing Mother and birth-giver of Churches,”24 forgetting to specify that it is by far not so for every Local Church. Even before the appearance of the CP, Local Churches were born without it. This means that it is possible. The Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem Patriarchates, the Roman See became autocephalous (in the modern understanding) before the appearance of the Constantinople Church. One gets the impression that the Ecumenical conceit of the Constantinople hierarchs doesn’t allow them to adequately perceive the Gospel and the history of Christianity.
In his speech, Patriarch Bartholomew puts himself in the place of Christ, calling himself the Head of the Body of the Church: “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.”25 In his words are essentially a distortion of the Orthodox teaching of the Church as the body of Christ. According to Patriarch Bartholomew, he is the President (head) of the Church.26 This is no longer a canonical question, but a dogmatic one—a formulated heretical teaching, analogous to the Roman Catholic dogma on the presidency of the Roman pope over the whole Church: “The Roman Pontiff, as the successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity of both the bishops and of the faithful. The individual bishops, however, are the visible principle and foundation of unity in their particular churches, fashioned after the model of the universal Church, in and from which churches comes into being the one and only Catholic Church.”27
Note that the papist heresy in Constantinople has increased its pace comparatively recently. In the actions of the Constantinople Council of 1593 on the establishment of the Moscow Patriarchate it was said that the Patriarch of Moscow “is equal in rank and dignity” to all of his four brothers—the Eastern Patriarchs, and that means to Constantinople. No sort of universal primacy or headship is mentioned here. In the circular missive of the Constantinople Church in 1895 is expressed a precise Orthodox teaching: “The divine fathers, honoring the bishop of Rome only as the bishop of the capital city of the empire, granted him the privilege of the honor of precedence, viewed him simply as the first among other bishops, that is, the first among equals, which privilege was also given to the bishop of the city of Constantinople when that city became the ruling city of the Roman Empire, as the 28th canon of the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon testifies… From this canon it is quite clear that the bishop of Rome is equal in honor to the bishop of the Church of Constantinople and the bishops of all the other Churches, and there is not a single canon and not a single father that would hint at the bishop of Rome being the only ruler of the catholic Church and the infallible judge of other bishops of other independent and autocephalous Churches.”28 Obviously, this does not recognize for either Rome or Constantinople any primacy of power or judgment, and clearly confirms the principle of “first among equals”. What a pity it is that the current Constantinople patriarch and his circle have by their words renounced the clear, true Orthodox position of their forebears.
To all who are following Church events it is well known that the Council of Crete disgracefully failed and essentially demonstrated that under conditions of clearly expressed Constantinople authoritarianism, God-given ecclesiastical conciliarity can simply not be made manifest. Let us note in Patriarch Bartholomew’s words, that the council was not gathered, but rather that he called it. He thus underscores his singular right to call councils—something that is completely unfounded. But let’s compare this declaration with the papist concept of the Roman Catholics: “A council is never ecumenical unless it is confirmed or at least accepted as such by the successor of Peter; and it is prerogative of the Roman Pontiff to convoke these councils, to preside over them and to confirm them. This same collegiate power can be exercised together with the pope by the bishops living in all parts of the world, provided that the head of the college calls them to collegiate action, or at least approves of or freely accepts the united action of the scattered bishops, so that it is thereby made a collegiate act.”29 So this is where this ideology was copied from! The Constantinople Patriarch, analogous to the Roman pope, ascribes to himself the singular right to call councils and preside at them.
It is amazing that Patriarch Bartholomew in declaring that the Constantinople patriarch “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,”30 just a few days before this at the Synod he revoked the Church canons concerning the non-acceptance of a second marriage for the priesthood (17, 26, Ap. Cn.; 3 cn. VI Ec. Ccl; 12 cn. of St. Basil the Great; 1 cn., Ccl. Neoces., and others). These canons are upheld by the entire Orthodox Church, part of them having been confirmed at the Ecumenical Councils, and if they could indeed be placed under question their revision could only be done by the fullness of the Church within the framework of an Ecumenical Council. Why then was a decision of all-Orthodox scope accepted within a tight circle, without any discussion with other Local Churches? The answer is clear. Because the participants in this circle consider that the fullness of ecclesiastical power is concentrated in their hands, and all the other Local Churches are obligated to submit them. This obvious violation of the decisions of the Ecumenical Councils by the Constantinople Patriarchate is an extraordinary event, which should receive a proper evaluation from all Local Churches.
It is no accident that the CP’s decision to legalize the schismatics in Ukraine are bound up with a rejection of ancient canons on the one-marriage rule for the clergy. The fact is that these schismatic groups have long been the refuge for clergymen with these very problems. Therefore in order to create a legal ecclesiastical organization they had to change the canonical principles of the Church. Without the slightest pangs of conscience, Patriarch Bartholomew is declaring his “responsibility of setting matters in ecclesiastical and canonical order” and at the same time he openly tramples upon the many centuries of moral and canonical Church norms.
In studying the pronouncements of Patriarch Bartholomew, the unavoidable question arises: Is the Constantinople Patriarch himself subject to judgment? Can he be subjected to an ecclesiastical court? Can the Church contest his decisions? Within the boundaries of Constantinople’s papist ecclesiology, no, he can’t. Because in his hands he holds the willfully subsumed right to call all-Orthodox Councils where his decisions could be contested or he can be subjected to an ecclesiastical court. Moreover he has usurped the right of a supreme appellate court in the Church. Therefore, if any Local Church is disturbed by Patriarch Bartholomew’s actions, it just has to “humble itself” before his “all holy” will. Recognizing this, it remains for Orthodox people all over the world only to marvel at the adroitness of the Phanar “wise men”, who have created under themselves an authoritative system within the Church, having taken all the levers of influence upon them into their very own hands. The dream of the Grand Inquisitor has now come true: “It will all end with them bringing their own freedom and laying it at our feet. They’ll say to us, ‘Make us into slaves, but just feed us’… They are corrupt and rebellious, but in the end they will become obedient. They will marvel at us and think that we are gods, because by becoming their head, we have agreed to do away with their freedom and reign over them—that is how terrible it will finally be for them to be free! But we will say that we are obedient to You and reign in Your name. We will deceive them again, for we will no longer allow You near us. And our suffering will consist in this deceit, for we will have to lie to them.”31
Having ascribed to himself the right to call councils in the case of ecclesiastical need, Patriarch Bartholomew did not call it in the case of Ukraine, despite the fact that the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church have insisted on it, and this proposal was supported by the Polish Orthodox Church and the Antiochian Patriarchate. This is just one more proof that the CP is ascribing various ecclesiastical rights to itself, not with the aim of ordering the life of the Orthodox Church, but in order to use them exclusively according at his own discretion, to his own advantage and self-aggrandizement.
If we look at the history of the Church, we see that it clearly testifies that the Constantinople patriarchs have committed a large number of doctrinal and moral crimes, for which they were judged and deposed, many times. Nevertheless, their modern-day successors have decided to work out such a teaching, which forms a framework in which they are now unjudgeable “dwellers of heaven”. Undoubtedly, many outstanding personalities and great saints have sat on the Constantinople ecclesiastical throne. But it is just as undoubted that there also happened to be men who brought great harm to the Church, and at times outright heretics. We will name a few of them:
Eusebius (339 –341) an Arian;
Macedonius I (342–346; 351–360), an Arian;
Eudocius (360–370), an Arian;
Demophilus (370–380), an Arian;
Nestorius (428–431), the origninator of Nestorianism, anathematized at the Third and following Ecumenical Councils;
Sergius I (610–638), a Monothelite, anathematized at the Sixth Ecumenical Council;
Pyrrhus (638–641; 654), a Monothelite, anathematized at the Sixth Ecumenical Council;
Paul II (641–653), a Monothelite, anathematized at the Sixth Ecumenical Council;
Peter (654–666), a Monothelite, anathematized at the Sixth Ecumenical Council;
Anastasios (730–754), an iconoclast;
Constantine II (754–766), an iconoclast;
Nicetas I (766–780), an iconoclast;
Theodotus I (815–821), an iconoclast;
Anthony I (821–837), an iconoclast;
John VII Grammatos (837 – 843), an iconoclast;
John XI Bekkos (1275–1282), a Uniate. Under his rule the Athonite monasteries were ravaged, and many monks who refused to accept the Unia died as martrys;
Metrophanes II (1440–1443), a Uniate;
Gregory II Mammas (1445–1450), a Uniate. Opposed St. Mark of Ephesus. After the populace expressed their anger, he left for Rome, where he died.
This is of course not a complete list of heretics who sat on the Constantinople throne; but aren’t these facts enough to conclude that the right of supreme appellate judgment, the right to call pan-Orthodox Councils the right to grant autocephaly, and other distinguishing rights cannot belong to people, who have betrayed holy Orthodoxy dozens of times? Where is the guarantee that a new personality on the Constantinople throne will not belong on this blacklist? It is obvious that out of all the ecclesiastical institutions only the Councils with the participation of all Local Churches are the means that allow for the minimum of error against the truth on the part of any patriarch or bishop, and allow the Holy Spirit to influence the final ecclesiastical decisions.
Therefore, the legalization of the schism in Ukraine is not just a local event, but a crime of pan-Orthodox scope with far-reaching consequences, for through this lawless act a heretical ecclesiology and the dogmatization of Constantinople papism is being confirmed. Because all the CPs decisions on Ukraine are based upon the heretical papist teaching of the Constantinople Patriarch being the head of the Church, they are completely insignificant and have no meaning for the Church whatsoever. Just as all the schismatics in Ukraine were excommunicated from the Church, so do they remain just that.
The way out of the crisis
Despite the Constantinople Patriarchate’s resistance, a pan-Orthodox Council will most likely happen, because it is impossible to get out of the current crisis without calling a Council; but everyone needs to prepare for it now (if not yesterday). Lying on the surface is the Ukraine theme, and it seems that this should be the main question. However, it can’t be resolved if the doctrinal boundaries of Orthodox ecclesiology are not drawn. The main theme of the Council should be the dogma of the Church. It must be formulated at least to the measure of protecting Church life from the heresy of papism. It is not at all mandatory to anathematize anyone or condemn them, despite the fact that concrete manifestations of this heresy have already appeared. We are all human beings, as it says in the Church prayer: “There is no man living who does not sin.” It is quite sufficient if all the Council participants will recognize the ecclesiological problem, and all decide to reject the discovered errors. History shows us that papism is a sickness, which can arise in any ecclesiastical milieu, especially if a reason comes up for someone to think that, I am not like other people (Lk. 18:11). It is necessary to close once and for all the theme of supremacy of one Local Church over another based upon anything, and to condemn any attempts at domination. A medicine should be developed for everyone.32 It is time to return to the New Testament principles of Church life, according to which the head of the Church is Christ alone, and the general Church instrument for realizing God’s will is the Church Council.
If we succeed in drawing the boundaries of Orthodox ecclesiology and disassociating ourselves from papism, then afterwards we can discuss the principles of regulating general Church problems, including the mechanism for granting autocephaly, which had already been worked out just before the Council of Crete33 but were not confirmed for known reasons. After resolving dogmatic questions the given reasons should go away.
The agenda for the pan-Orthodox Council, proceeding from the logic of resolving problems, could be:
The Orthodox teaching on the primacy and headship of Christ and the Church.
The Orthodox teaching of catholicity (conciliarity) of the Church.
Condemnation of the heresy of papism.
The procedure for pronouncing autocephaly
The Church problems in Ukraine
If preparations for such a Council take too long, then during that time there could be scholarly theological conferences conducted in the Local Churches, as well as international inter-Orthodox conferences on the above themes. After broad preparatory discussions, the conciliar decisions could become truly ecumenical [universal], and their reception would not cause serious difficulties. The recognition and exposition of the teaching on the Church could not only cleanse Church life from many harmful accretions, but also provide a new impulse for the witness of Orthodoxy throughout the world.
Archpriest Vadim Leonov is a professor of Dogmatic Theology at the Sretensky Seminary.