The author of this analysis of the current threat hanging over world Orthodoxy, Arkady Maler, is a scholar and teacher of philosophy specializing in Russian religious philosophy. He is a member of the Synodal Biblical-Theological Commission of the Inter-Council Presence of the Moscow Patriarchate, and founder of Moscow’s “Byzantine Club”. Maler is the author of four religious-philosophical books, which include the theme of Constantine the Great, and Russia’s spiritual mission.
A half a year did not go by from the formation by the Constantinople Patriarchate of a hastily-cobbled, politically strategic, fake church in Ukraine under the deliberately ridiculous yet official abbreviation of, ULUOC,1 when its main participants predictably started schisming, moreover so rapidly that this schism within a schism can be watched on regularly updated in news feeds in real time. But as these quite expected tragic-comic processes unfold in Kiev, in the Constantinople Patriarchate itself a very important event has taken place, which promises very serious consequences in the long-term: Enthroned as archbishop of all the Greek parishes in the U.S.A was the active proponent of unlimited power for the Constantinople Patriarchate, Metropolitan Elpidophoros (Lambriniadis, born 1967, previously Metropolitan of Bursa), who also received the title, “Exarch of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans” (in the Greek tradition an archbishop is higher in rank than a metropolitan).
We remind our readers that from the time of the fall of Byzantium the residence of the Constantinople Patriarchate was located in the Istanbul region called the Phanar—basically a religious-ethnic ghetto that corresponds to the small and disappearing number of its parishioners in Turkey itself. After the formation of the Greek Orthodox Church in the nineteenth century the canonical territory of the Constantinople Patriarchate beyond the borders of Turkey significantly ebbed, retaining only the northern regions of Greece and most of the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. Therefore in the twentieth century the Phanar gradually developed a new religious-political ideology of a curious “Constantinople papism”, according to which Greeks throughout the entire world must automatically submit only to the Constantinople Patriarchate; moreover, all the countries and lands of the world that do not belong to the canonical territory of other Local Orthodox Churches also belong by default to the Phanar. But now in the twenty-first century these ambitions are apparently too limited for the proponents of Phanar expansionism, and they are pushing a new theory of how the Constantinople Patriarchate has the right to revoke the autocephalies it once granted and establish new ones on the territories of other Churches—as they did on January 5 of this year, when Constantinople Patriarch Bartholomew signed a tomos of autocephaly for that same ULUOC. Of course, these politics in the Phanar are a direct violation of basic canon law, and not one Local Orthodox Church has recognized the “Ukrainian Autocephaly”, while the Russian Orthodox Church has broken Eucharistic Communion with the Constantinople Patriarchate; and there is no sign of its restoration in sight.
In this situation the appointment of Metropolitan Elpidophoros as head of the American archbishopric is a final confirmation that the Phanar has no intention of reversing its ideological course. The fact is that the Greek diaspora of US and Canada, which includes around two million people, makes up the Constantinople Patriarchate’s main constituency, and it is the Phanariot lobby in Washington that still provides for American politicians’ special patronage to the Phanar. Is there any point in arguing the fact that the close cooperation between the Phanar and Washington was in no small way brought into play by their common opposition to Russia’s geopolitical rebirth and the strengthening of the Russian Orthodox Church on the international level, and in this whole scam of “Ukrainian autocephaly” American officials played an unprecedentedly obvious role. And now against this political backdrop, appointed to the American cathedra is a man who is not only an adept of Phanariot omnipotence, but its forthright ideologue—in fact ideologue Number One; and this means that this man is the most likely pretender to the role of future Patriarch of Constantinople. In other words, while many Orthodox on both sides of canonical borderlines piously hoped that the Phanar’s dabbling in papist fantasies would soon pass and Eucharistic communion would soon be restored, in realty these hopes have turned out to be in vain. If Patriarch Bartholomew was only the stubborn implementer of the “Constantinople papsim” ideology, then the most likely candidate for his position is that ideology’s chief engineer.
Since 2011, when Elpidophoros became a metropolitan, he was outwardly very unnoticeable and always in the Patriarch’s shadow, occupying the modest position of abbot in the monastery on Chalki island, where the once famous theological academy was located—closed by the Turkish authorities in 1971. Though it was promised many times, the academy was never restored and its spacious buildings are still empty, and that is not surprising given that Elpidophoros’s main mission was not to develop academic education but to carry out the Phanar’s geopolitical claims. Precisely Elpidophoros was a key figure in the Constantinople Patriarchate’s legalization of the Ukrainian schism. With Patriarch Bartholomew’s knowledge he met with and conducted negotiations over the span of many years with leaders of the Ukrainian schism, and at the most convenient political moment of Poroshenko’s Rusophobe presidency he pushed the patriarch into the fatal decision of establishing a “Ukrainian autocephaly”. It is no accident that back in 2008, under President Yushchenko, when Patriarch Bartholomew came to Kiev and many people expected that any minute the Ukrainian schism will be legalized, the barely noticeable Metropolitan Elpidophoros was awarded with the highest Ukrainian award—the Order of Prince Yaroslav the Wise, fifth degree; and on April 4, 2019, at the completion of this anti-canonical and anti-Russian project, President Poroshenko awarded Metropolitan Elpidophoros with the same Order of the fourth degree.
For those who have observed Metropolitan Elpidophoros’s political adventures, his appointment to the American cathedra was quite expected and completely predictable. This was the same man who had long ago provided for the regular connection between the Phanar, Washington, and Kiev, and was the most likely candidate for this position, which is basically second in importance after the patriarch himself. It is enough to recall that in 1948, the American Archbishop Athenagoros (Spyrou), who did not have Turkish citizenship and who was famous for his ultra-ecumenist views, was chosen as the patriarch of Constantinople. The American authorities were so interested in his rule that, as it has been told, he was flown to Istanbul from Washington in Harry Truman’s personal jet. But compared to Patriarch Athenagoros the current Archbishop Elpidophoros has a huge advantage: He not only has Turkish citizenship, but he was also born and raised in Istanbul and served in the Turkish army.
If we speak of the conceptual contribution of Archbishop Elpidophoros to the ideology of “Constantinople papism”, it surpasses even the boldest fantasies of its adherents. It was Elpidophoros who authored the Constantinople Patriarchate’s official response to the “Position on the problem of primacy in the Ecumenical Church”, accepted on December 25, 2013 by the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church. Met. Elpidophoros’s response was published on Janurary 7, 2014, the day of the Nativity of Christ according to the Julian calendar, and was passionately and revealingly entitled, “First without equal”. This is the clearest example of the new ecclesiological heresies that have arisen in our time.
As should be well known to any Orthodox parishioner, all the canonical Local Orthodox Churches of the world, which number fourteen, are fundamentally equal to one another, and have the right to grant autocephaly to their own parts, and to open parishes and dioceses on territories that are free of other Churches. But if a territory is within the canonical borders of any Local Church, then no other Church has the right to invade that territory without the permission of that territory’s ecclesiastical authorities. The Constantinople Patriarchate’s status as the “first among equals” (primus inter paribus) bears a purely formal character and does not give him any real superiority over other Churches. This elegant status is based exclusively upon the fact that during the time of the Byzantine Empire, the Constantinople Patriarchate was located in the imperial capital and had greater possibilities for influencing the religious politics of Byzantine emperors. But Byzantium fell 566 years ago, and the Constantinople Patriarchate has not had any of the functions of a capital city for a long time, except within the framework of Turkey itself. If this formal status has any significance at all it would be only on that Patriarchate’s being first in order of commemoration of canonical Local Churches, in what is called the diptychs, which are needed in the divine services when prayers are made for the primates of all the canonical Churches. I will also remind the reader that in connection with Moscow’s break in Eucharistic communion with the Constantinople Patriarchate, the name of Patriarch Bartholomew is not offered up in the Russian Church, and the list of Orthodox primates begins with the next patriarch after him, Theodore of Alexandria.
Nevertheless, for the ideologues of Phanar omnipotence the Constantinople Patriarchate has the right to do practically anything; but if in the past they have attempted to base their authority on a highly creative explanation of the canons, then in 2014 Metropolitan Elpidophoros went even further and decided to draw a direct analogy between the position of the Constantinople Patriarchate and God the Father Himself! He begins his theoretical construct with the following reasoning:
In the long history of the Church, the first-hierarch was the bishop of Rome. After Eucharistic communion with Rome was broken, canonically the first-hierarch of the Orthodox Church is the archbishop of Constantinople. In the case of the archbishop of Constantinople, we observe the unique coincidence of all three levels of primacy, namely the local (as Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome), the regional (as Patriarch), and the universal or worldwide (as Ecumenical Patriarch). This threefold primacy translates into specific privileges, such as the right of appeal and the right to grant or remove autocephaly…
There is no logical connection in this reasoning at all, because the Constantinople Patriarch, just like the Roman pope in pre-schism times, was the canonical bishop only of its own city and first-hierarch only of its Local, “regional” Church. If we ascribe to the Constantinople patriarch those privileges of universal authority, which the Roman pope ascribed to himself in his time, then why didn’t we recognize the Roman papism at the time? It is worth noting that very many simple, logical questions arise here, but the newly appointed Archbishop Elpidophoros not only does not bother to canonically argument his position, he even wades into an arbitrary discussion of the Divine Trinity, straightforwardly insisting that the primacy of the Constantinople Patriarch is analogous in the Universal Church to the primacy of God the Father in the Holy Trinity.
Let us note that this dogmatic innovation, not yet fixed on the synodal level, belongs to another ideologue of “Constantinople papism”: the theologian and philosopher Metropolitan John (Zizioulas), who in my point of view discredited the philosophy of Orthodox personalism and neo-patristic synthesis with his artificially contrived and arbitrary reasoning. Unfortunately, Metropolitan John’s (Zizioulas’s), to put it mildly, strange, and strictly speaking, heretical concept was supported by the participants of a session of Orthodox-Catholic theological dialogue in Ravenna in 2006, against the position of the Russian Church, represented by Bishop Hilarion (Alfeyev). After the concluding document of the Ravenna convention was published, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church officially rejected its resolutions.
Basing his conclusions upon the Ravenna document, Metropolitan Elpidophoros says:
The Church has always and systematically understood the person of the Father as the First (“the monarchy of the Father”) in the communion of persons of the Holy Trinity. If we were to follow the logic of the text of the Russian Synod, we would also have to claim that God the Father is not Himself the cause without the beginning of the divinity of the fatherhood … but becomes a recipient of his own “primacy”. Whence? From the other Persons of the Holy Trinity?... Is it possible for the Son or the Holy Spirit to “precede” the Father?
And further down comes the ecclesiological conclusion:
The primacy of the archbishop of Constantinople has nothing to do with the diptychs, which, as we have already said, merely express this hierarchical ranking… If we are going to talk about the source of a primacy, then the source of primacy is the very person of the Archbishop of Constantinople, who precisely as bishop is one “among equals,” but as Archbishop of Constantinople is the first-hierarch without equals (primus sine paribus).
We cannot help but notice that this reasoning is absolutely absurd in both fact and essence. Factually, in the Synodal document of the Russian Church it is nowhere asserted—nor can it be asserted—that the cause of the divinity and fatherhood of God the Father is the Son and the Holy Spirit. To the contrary, confirmed is the incorrectness of comparing the roles of a primary bishop in the Universal Church with the position occupied by God the Father in the Divine Trinity. Such a comparison leads not only to a distorted understanding of Orthodox triadology, introducing into the teaching on the Trinity a heretical subordinationism (the idea of the Son and the Spirit being subordinate to God the Father), but also to a distorted understanding of ecclesiastical order—namely the one being propagated by Metropolitan Elpidophoros. Essentially, the person of a bishop or patriarch is the person of a created and mortal human being, who receives his hierarchical powers from the Church, which was founded and is headed by God the Trinity. The bishop or the patriarch himself can never, in no way be the “unoriginate source” of his own power; he remains no more than its bearer, and this authority can be taken away from him by the decision of the Church itself. If the bishopric of the Constantinople Church is not in agreement with this, then it is already in heresy, and not only ecclesiological but also anthropological, and triadological heresy. There can be no worse distortion of the Orthodox faith than such heresy.
To what practical results do this idea of the Trinity and the mystical power of the Constantinople Patriarchate lead? Precisely to the very ones that the current American archbishop voiced in his scandalous response to the Russian Church. So, it turns out that the Constantinople patriarch, as the source of ecclesiastical authority throughout the fullness of Universal Orthodoxy, has the right to accept appellations from any Local Church, and in its sole capacity grant, and, what is most interesting, revoke (!) autocephalies previously granted. And all of this is not just the abstract theory of individual fantasizers in ecclesiastical rank, but direct instructions for action. After all, the Phanar is now applying these very politics to the Russian Church in the case of the Ukrainian schism, and to the Serbian Church in connection with the Macedonian schism.2
Lest anyone doubt the seriousness of these intentions, Metropolitan Elpidophoros’s response was published on the official site of the Constantinople Patriarchate,3 and is thus expresses its “general line”. Five years have passed since the moment of its publication, and on January 6, 2019, on the eve of the Nativity of Christ, Patriarch Bartholomew put the “rights” formulated by Metropolitan Elpidophoros into action by granting autocephaly to Ukrainian schismatics. Incidentally, even before this decision the Patriarch of Constantinople exercised yet another of his “rights” by accepting into Eucharistic communion the leader of the Ukrainian schism who had been excommunicated from the Church, and “restored” other schismatics to their episcopal rank.
In fact throughout the history of the ULUOC, Patriarch Bartholomew has been acting like the “first without equal”, not only by not enlisting the support of other Local Orthodox Churches, but also by demonstratively ignoring the precisely expressed position of those that have clearly come out against the legalization of the Ukrainian schism.
The question of how the Orthodox Church should grant autocephaly in the future was discussed at the Commission for the preparation of the Pan-Orthodox Council over the course of several decades. The result was the production of a draft document, according to which the granting of any new autocephaly presupposes the united recognition by all the generally accepted Local Orthodox Churches, and a tomos of autocephaly must be signed by their primates in the order of the diptychs. The main text of this document was agreed upon, but they were unable to agree as to how the primates’ signatures should be arranged. The Phanar insisted that the signature of the Constantinople Patriarch should be accompanied by the word, “resolves”, while the signatures of all the other primates should have a different word next to them, which could be translated as, “join themselves to the resolution”. Certain other Churches quite lawfully did not agree with the Phanariots’ proposition, which obviously would officially confirm the primacy of the Constantinople Patriarch—and as a result the matter was left hanging in the air.
Now Patriarch Bartholomew considers that all the agreements achieved then are “as if they had never been”. According to the new, even more radical theory of Phanar papism, so clearly formulated by Metropolitan Elpidophoros, the Constantinople Patriarch has the right to unilaterally grant autocephaly precisely because he, like God the Father in the Trinity, is the singular source of power in the Universal Church and therefore no councils or citations of Scripture and Tradition can limit his ambitions. We have to note that such claims are appearing now for the first time since the Roman Catholic schism, and many Orthodox people throughout the world simply cannot imagine how to react to it, moreover they don’t even want to believe that all of this is happening with even the slightest shred of seriousness. But all the Phanar’s actions in Ukraine and then the appointment of the main ideologue of “Constantinople papism” to the key American Cathedra show unambiguously that the Constantinople Patriarchate has in all seriousness conceived itself as the absolute and only authority throughout the entire Orthodox world—it’s for the long term, and there is no hope whatsoever of this situation correcting itself, nor can there be.
Therefore, there is nothing more dangerous to the development of fruitful inter-Church relations and unity with the Russian Orthodox Church than to naively hope that all of this will somehow correct itself and everything will calm down all by itself, that the whole affair is only the mindset of Patriarch Bartholomew, and some personal relationship between Church politicians. In reality, we will have no other Phanar in the foreseeable historical future, and the Constantinople Patriarchate will remain the source of continual destabilization in the Orthodox world, forcing its ambitions and arbitrary theological innovations on everybody else. Understanding this objective fact without any illusions or self-deception is a minimal precondition for adequately and effectively reacting to these challenges.