Can Orthodoxy exist without the Constantinople Patriarchate?
Is Patriarch Bartholomew truly the head of Orthodoxy by canons and are his actions beneficial to the Church? How do his actions affect the life of an ordinary Christian?
In 2018-19, events took place in World Orthodoxy that can well lead to a global split in the Ecumenical Orthodox Church.
In October 2018, the hierarchs of Phanar legalized the leaders of the breakaway groups of Ukraine, and in December they created a structure from them, which was called the Orthodox Church of Ukraine – OCU.
In October 2019, the OCU was recognized by the Church of Greece, in November – by the Church of Alexandria.
Similar events are already brewing in Macedonia and Montenegro, where local rulers are also liasing with Phanar in order to legalize the schismatic structures of their countries and get their Tomos from Patriarch Bartholomew.
As politicians, they seem to be right seeking to create their own national church.
But from the point of view of the Orthodox Christian, who regularly attends church in Ukraine, Montenegro, Macedonia, the situation looks completely different: a believer cannot understand whether those, who have always been disguised laity and schismatics, have now become or will become the canonical Church. Do the temples of the former Kiev Patriarchate and UAOC have Sacraments now? Can people confess, receive the Holy Communion and basically save their souls there? Who is right – the Greeks, who assert that the OCU is the Church, or the rest of the Local Churches, which continue to call members of this structure schismatics?
In this story, we will collect all the facts and give simple answers to complex questions.
Is the Constantinople Patriarch truly the Head of the Church?
From the point of view of the Church’s teachings, no one can grant priestly or episcopal rank to the laity in retrospect – this is pure nonsense. But the Patriarchate of Constantinople, echoed by part of the Greek and Alexandrian Churches, claim that it is not at all nonsense. Why? Because the Patriarch of Constantinople said so and cannot be mistaken, because in the eyes of the Greeks he is the main figure in the entire Church. Yet, is it really so?
One of the most important truths taught by the Gospel is that there are no major people in the Church. Her Head is Christ. The Savior resolved the issue of primacy among humans once and for all: “Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last of all and the servant of all’.” (Mark 9, 35)
It is especially significant that Christ spoke these words precisely after the apostles had argued which of them was the most important: “They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.” (Mk. 9, 33-34)
There can be drawn an analogy between apostles and Local Churches in a way that all Local Churches taken together to form a single Ecumenical Church are absolutely equal to each other. They have no first and no last. True though, there is the so-called Diptych – a list where the Churches are recorded in a certain sequence, but a place in the diptych does not give any privileges other than the privilege of honor and respect among equal brothers.
However, Phanar thinks differently.
In the twentieth century, an idea emerged in the Patriarchate of Constantinople that it was superior to other Churches and had the right to dominate them.
“Orthodoxy cannot exist without the Ecumenical Patriarchate ... If the Ecumenical Patriarchate ... leaves an inter-Orthodox scene, the Local Churches will become "like sheep without their shepherd."
The Archbishop of Constantinople and, accordingly, the Ecumenical Patriarch is the first without equal.
Archbishop Elpidophoros (Lambriniadis)
“The Orthodox Church without the Ecumenical Patriarchate would be a kind of Protestantism ... It is inconceivable that some Local Church ... terminated its communion with it, since the canonicity of its existence flows from it.”
Metropolitan Amphilochios (Stergiu) of Adrianople
“Although basically we consider Christ to be the Head of our Church, on earth this is the Ecumenical Patriarch.”
Metropolitan Eustathios of Monemvasia and Sparta
“On the basis of canons, according to the teachings of the Orthodox Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has privileges. Whoever disagrees with this actually breaks away from Orthodoxy.”
Archbishop Job (Getcha) of Telmessos
Hence, Archbishop Job says that the primacy of Phanar is spelled out in the canons. Therefore, let's find out the following:
According to what canons is Constantinople the Head of the Church?
The Patriarchate of Constantinople appeared rather late in the 4th century. In the list of Churches – Diptych – it was immediately placed after Rome. It was purely for political reasons – only because Constantinople was the capital of the empire, where the emperor lived and the government sat in sessions. After the Roman Church fell into schism, Constantinople automatically became the first in the diptych, and this was understandable – the proximity to the emperor gave it the respective influence and rights.
But in 1453 Constantinople was conquered by the Turks, the Byzantine Empire collapsed and the Patriarchate of Constantinople turned into a small isolated Orthodox group in a huge Muslim country.
Consequently, all the conditions thanks to which this Church was the first in Diptych completely disappeared. Even Constantinople ceased to exist for it turned into Istanbul.
Nevertheless, other Churches, in which the Greeks would mainly have their ministry, continued to consider Constantinople the first in honor wishing to preserve their spiritual center.
And now, Constantinople decided to monetize this respect in the primacy of power and declared that this power is confirmed by canons.
There are several canonical rules written during the existence of the Empire, which Constantinople cites as evidence of its right to rule over other Churches. Let's take a closer look at them.
Canon 3 of II Ecumenical Council (381): "The Bishop of Constantinople, however, shall have the prerogative of honor after the Bishop of Rome because Constantinople is New Rome."
Actually, the canon says that in the Diptych, the Church of Constantinople was given the second place after the Roman Church. The reason is again that the emperor lived in Constantinople and the government sat in sessions there. That’s all. There are no rights of supremacy over other Churches. Whatsoever.
Canon 28 of IV Ecumenical Council (451): “The bishop of New Rome (Constantinople) shall enjoy the same privileges as the bishop of Old Rome, on account of the removal of the Empire. For this reason the [metropolitans] of Pontus, of Asia, and of Thrace, as well as the Barbarian bishops shall be ordained by the bishop of Constantinople.”
Here again the rights of honor of Constantinople are mentioned, based on the fact of its proximity with the king and the government. However, the rights of power are mentioned for the first time: over the regions of Pontus, Asia and Thrace. Let’s take a look what they correspond to on the modern map: Pontic region is the southern coast of the Black Sea, located in Turkey, Asian region is an eastern part of Turkey, washed by the Aegean Sea, while Thracian region is an eastern part of Turkey, adjacent to Bulgaria on the one side and washed by the Sea of Marmara on the other.
Consequently, according to this canon, the Patriarchate of Constantinople has the right to power over the territory of modern Turkey and nothing more than that.
Canon 36 of VI Ecumenical Council (691): “We decree that the see of Constantinople shall have equal privileges with the see of Old Rome, and shall be highly regarded in ecclesiastical matters as that is, and shall be second after it.”
As you can see, the same thesis is duplicated here as in the previous canons that Constantinople is the second after Rome. Whether this empowers it to lead other Churches – no, nothing is said about this, although it was adopted during the heyday of the empire.
Canon 17 of IV Ecumenical Council, which supposedly gives Constantinople the right to trial all bishops: “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.”
Indeed, if one reads this rule in isolation from the rest, and in addition to beautiful interpretations by modern Phanariots, it may seem that the Patriarch of Constantinople has the right to judge all. But let us recall the 28th Canon of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, which assigns to the throne of Constantinople only the areas of "Pontus, Asia and Thrace".
The great Byzantine canonist of the 12th century, Ioann Zonara, says more precisely on this occasion: “The Constantinople [Patriarch] is recognized as a judge not at all over all metropolitans, but only over his subordinates. For neither the Syrian metropolitans, nor the Palestinian, nor the Phoenician, nor the Egyptian are subject to his judgment against their will, but the Syrian are judged by the Patriarch of Antioch, the Palestinian – by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, and the Egyptian – by the Patriarch of Alexandria, whom they are ordained by and subordinated to."
As can be seen in the canons, Phanar has absolutely no right to dominate other Churches. And if it did not have such rights during the period of the Byzantine Empire, then it does not have them all the more now.
This nostalgia for the times of the greatness of the empire and the greatness of Hellenic civilization is the main key to what Phanar is doing now.
The reason for a split in Orthodoxy: Greeks versus Slavs or Church versus anarchy?
For what the Greeks gave the mankind, few can compare with them in culture, philosophy, poetry, politics, mathematics, physics, medicine ... Probably, there are no such areas that would not be rooted in the Hellenic legacy.
Almost all of the books of the New Testament were written in Greek. Most of the Holy Fathers and teachers of the Church were Greeks. The entire sequence of our worship is performed according to the Typicon compiled by the Greeks. The Miracle Workers Nikolaos of Myra and Spyridon of Tremython are Greeks.
On the other hand, all these achievements led to the development of Hellenic nationalism. Realizing the greatness of their culture and the splendor of the Byzantine Empire, the Greeks, who constituted its core, began to rise above other nations and often dismissed them as barbarians.
In 1453, the Empire fell, the Greeks scattered around the world, but nostalgia for the imperial past continued to indwell with them. The restoration of the great Byzantine Empire is an idée fixe for the Greeks. And since this is not possible in politics, some of them see such an opportunity in the Church.
The vast majority of the episcopate in modern Local Churches is Greeks. Greeks are the primates of the Churches of Constantinople, Greece, Alexandria, Jerusalem, Cyprus, and Albania. In the Church of Alexandria, which embraces all countries in Africa, out of 37 bishops, there are only 5 Africans, the rest are Greeks.
And although they know perfectly well the words of the Apostle Paul that the Church does not have either Hellenes or Hebrews, for many Orthodox Greeks the grandeur of the Patriarch of Constantinople is a prototype of the greatness of the Hellenic nation. Thus they prefer to interpret the protests of a number of Local Churches against the unlawful actions of Phanar as an ethnic conflict – a revolt of the Slavs against the Greeks. Something like Russian barbarians claim the primacy and therefore challenge the actions of Constantinople.
In autumn 2018, Patriarch Bartholomew declared to the Greek Diaspora:
“Our Ecumenical Patriarchate. This is where the ideals, values of our Nation, the glory of our Nation, the passion and martyrdom of our Nation come from, their source is here ... at the moment, our Patriarchate is trying to solve the Ukrainian church problem shows its privileges and rights in accordance with the Canons of Ecumenical Councils, first of all, the Chalcedon Fourth Ecumenical Council, which gives specific privileges to appeal to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, these rules are mandatory for the whole of Orthodoxy; whether our Russian brothers like it or not, sooner or later they will follow the decision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, because they have no other choice ... This is why our Slavic brothers cannot resent primacy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and thus our nation in the World Orthodoxy."
It came to the point that Patriarch Bartholomew accused the UOC members of the Filaret schism and called them Russians: “It was the Russians who committed the schism, not the Ecumenical Patriarchate or the Ukrainians, as they say now ... As the mother Church, we had to take care of canonical unity millions of Ukrainians who did not want to be in the same Church with the Russians.”
Phanar’s attempt to position the schism in Orthodoxy as national, as Russians versus Greeks, fits well into the geopolitical context, where many political forces harp on about the “Russian threat”, though it has nothing to do with the church reality. The Russian, Serbian, Polish, Antiochian Churches, the Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia do not oppose the Greeks at all. They oppose lawlessness, the admission of schismatics and laity into the Church, and Phanar’s attempts to impose any decisions on the Church simply because it allegedly has the right to rule over others.
Let's draw simple analogies: if you tell your brother about his offence, this does not mean at all that you yourself want to commit this offence, you only say that to commit an offence is bad and wrong.
And if Phanar were not dominated by the Greeks but, say, Jews, Germans or Portuguese, this would not change a critical attitude towards them.
Well-timed treachery is not a treachery but foresight?
We know that the Church is a meeting place of a person with God, and therefore we have especially high requirements and expectations for her ministers, and even more so for the primates.
They cannot a priori act in the way politicians act: to lie, betray, and change their position on the fly.
For a quarter of a century, Patriarch Bartholomew considered members of the Kiev Patriarchate and UAOC to be lay people, but suddenly in 2018 he called them bishops. Back in 2016, the Patriarch called Metropolitan Onuphry the only legitimate head of the Church in Ukraine, but in 2018 he began to call so Sergei Dumenko. Moreover, all this surprisingly coincided with the beginning of the presidential election campaign of Poroshenko, with the Tomos and OCU being the primary focus.
Even more surprising is the metamorphosis of the Primate of the Alexandrian Church, Patriarch Theodore.
Until 2019, he would make a number of statements in which he called His Beatitude Onuphry the only legitimate head of the Church in Ukraine and urged believers to be faithful only to the UOC. But then November 2019 came and Patriarch Theodore forgot about Metropolitan Onuphry and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, they simply vanished for him.
Patriarch Theodore (in 2016): "I lived in Odessa for 10 years, I personally know Metropolitan Onuphry and I know he is a holy man. May he know that the Patriarchate of Alexandria and all of us are with the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, led by His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry."
Patriarch Theodore (29 October 2018, after "rehabilitation" of Filaret and Makariy): "I lived through the complicated schismatic time when all these big processes started with a view to creating their own schismatic church. I experienced those difficulties in Odessa when they wanted to seize our Orthodox temples. I had a round-the-clock shift near our metochion in Odessa. As our Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry would say, the Church should stay away from politics. We cannot hide behind our finger but should understand that a political interest lurks in these developments."
One cannot but recall the metamorphoses on Mount Athos. The Abbot of the Vatopedi Monastery, Archimandrite Ephraim, many times called on Ukrainians to be faithful only to the UOC and His Beatitude Onuphry.
Archimandrite Ephraim: "I'm addressing the Ukrainian people asking them to stand by the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, led by His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry. The whole Mount Athos receives and recognizes only the canonical Church with its Head, Metropolitan Onuphry."
As a result, the Archimandrite came to Kiev to Epiphany’s enthronement and was unable to attend the ceremony solely for health reasons, while his monastery on Mount Athos was receiving schismatics from the OCU.
Christ in the Gospel tells us: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.”
Looking at dignified figures of the Phanar hierarchs, it is almost impossible to believe that they are doing anti-church deeds. But alas, facts don’t lie.
Phanar's declarations by the creation of the OCU seemed beautiful and noble – to heal the schism and unite all Ukrainian Orthodoxy. But what do we see after a year, what are the results, what are the fruits?
- No unification of Orthodoxy in Ukraine has occurred. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church exists separately from the OCU structure, created from the schismatics of the Kiev Patriarchate and the UAOC.
- The legalization of Filaret by Phanar without any repentance proved to be an obvious mistake. Filaret has not changed at all and already split the OCU, from which he left with part of his schismatic bishops and is now actively ordaining new ones. Moreover, Filaret said that no possible anathema from now Phanar worries him.
- The creation of the OCU has brought along another factor of separation into Ukrainian society – a religious one. Having failed to lure the bishops and priests of the UOC into the new church structure, Poroshenko gave instructions to the relevant authorities to transfer the UOC temples to the OCU by force. The opinion of believers was ignored. Residents of villages were told that the OCU is patriotic, while the UOC is the aggressor’s Church and its temples should be taken away from it. Temples were seized, parishioners were thrown out. In once quiet and friendly villages, a real war was sparked. Enmity and hatred settled among neighbors, friends, and even within families.
- A year ago, the relationship between the Local Churches was, if not cloudless, then completely fraternal and friendly. Now the Churches are divided into those which support the actions of Phanar to legalize the OCU, and those which are against them. Obviously, the split will only deepen.
- The recognition of the OCU by the Greek and Alexandrian Churches caused conflicts and disagreements within them. There are a lot of Greek hierarchs who refused to recognize the OCU and still consider its members laymen. There is no doubt that it will be a similar case with any other Church that will choose to recognize the schismatic Ukrainian structure.
- But most importantly – according to the canons, a priest who enters into communion with schismatics becomes a dissenter himself. The 10th apostolic canon clearly illustrates this: "If someone prays with the excommunicated, even if it is in the house: let him be excommunicated."
The above rule is not from the category of those canons that give Phanar mythical rights to command others. It applies to every Christian and is directly related to our salvation.
The ultimate goal of every Christian is to save the soul and achieve the kingdom of heaven. Did the Orthodox Church ensure this goal throughout its existence? Of course. Is it now achieved by those who have legalized and recognized the Ukrainian schism, not to mention the OCU itself? Very doubtful.
The current attack by Phanar on Orthodoxy has brought believers only schism, contention and strife. We recall on this occasion the words of Christ: “Every tree that does not bear the fruit of good is cut down and thrown into the fire. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in Heaven.”
Do the actions of Phanariots fulfill the will of the Heavenly Father? And should we support their actions?
Throughout its history, the Orthodox Church has overcome heresies, schisms, and union attempts. However, it was founded by Christ and will exist until the end of time. The fate of those who tried to destroy the Church is sad.
The commandment of Christ poses a challenge for each of us: to gain the whole world, yet forfeit our soul or to preserve our soul by sacrificing secular benefits. The choice is always ours.