Amman event: Will Phanar’s demarche affect validity of Council's decisions?

The pan-Orthodox meeting in Jordan is scheduled for late February 2020. Photo: UOJ

Who has the right to convene Councils in the Church, and will the absence of Phanar affect the legitimacy of decisions of the Pan-Orthodox Synaxis of Primates in Amman?

Now that there are actively coming messages from one or another Church confirming its presence at the meeting of the Primates of the Local Churches in Jordan, it's become completely clear – this event will take place. Moreover, specific dates are already indicated – February 25 and/or February 26, 2020.

But as it draws nearer, the split in Orthodoxy into Greek and Slavic parts becomes more and more obvious. In fact, we are dealing with the maneuver organized by the Phanariots, whose main goal is the struggle for the “rights” and “privileges” of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The rhetoric of Phanar hierarchs in this regard is astonishing even for people far from the Church. It comes to the point that some hierarchs claim that "the Holy Theotokos is on the side of Patriarch Bartholomew in the fight against the Russian Orthodox Church."

Refusal of the Albanian Church – an unexpected move?

Threats, insults, political pressure and other kinds of “leverage” have led to the situation at hand – apart from the Patriarchs Theophilos of Jerusalem and John of Antioch, none of the Greek-speaking Primates of the Local Churches will participate in the assembly. The last person to refuse a trip to Jordan was Anastasios, Archbishop of Albania. In his opinion, "the initiative to heal the new reality undoubtedly belongs to the Ecumenical Patriarchate." That is why, says Archbishop Anastasios, “the proposal to meet in Jordan, instead of healing, will complicate the situation which goes beyond the prescribed treatment. We cannot therefore participate in the meeting proposed.”

However, until quite recently it was Archbishop Anastasios who emphasized that the “Ukrainian issue” can only be solved together, at the Council of Primates.

In his letter to Patriarch Kirill, Archbishop Anastasios promised that he would do everything possible to prevent a split in World Orthodoxy. According to him, “such a development of events would be a painful blow to confidence in Orthodoxy, which must be avoided by all means. No matter how impossible this may seem, we believe that we all must ‘do everything’ to return to the practice of Primates’ Councils and plan a new Great Council. We are aware that some will find these proposals unrealistic and ultimately unfeasible. Yet, I am convinced that no one can be realistic if he does not believe in miracles, and that what is impossible for humans is possible for God (Luke 18: 18-27).”

In addition, the Primate of the Albanian Church pronounced the words that "time does not automatically correct church schisms, nor does it cure them, but on the contrary, it petrifies and aggravates them." Therefore, "we urgently need to find ways to overcome church heterogeneity", which can only be done by applying the "principle of conciliarity" as "the only one capable of opening a way out of the existing crisis." Moreover, according to him, “just as much the application of the principle of conciliarity is postponed at the pan-Orthodox level as many-sided division in the Orthodox world will become many times more dangerous.”

However, despite all these right words, Archbishop Anastasios refused to participate in the Pan-Orthodox Assembly of the Primates in Amman. The main argument for his opt-out was the fact that it is convened by Patriarch Theophilos, not by the head of Phanar. Moreover, the Primate of the Albanian Church voiced the opinion that the prerogative to convene Councils belongs exclusively to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. What is this erroneous opinion, which is repeated not only by him but by all of Phanar sympathizers, based on?

Flawed assumptions

The doctrine of Phanar's exclusive right to convene pan-Orthodox Councils is based on a misunderstanding of the third canon of the II Ecumenical Council which states, "The bishop of Constantinople, however, shall have the prerogative of honor after the Bishop of Rome because Constantinople is New Rome."

Therefore, the Council recognized the Bishop of Constantinople as having the privilege of honor (πρεσβεία τής τιμής, prioris honoris partes), which no one has ever contested. At the same time, this privilege in no way gives the Patriarch of Constantinople special rights regarding power in the Church, for it is only a place in the Diptych where Constantinople, after the fall of Rome, moved from the second position to the first. The Patriarch of Constantinople may appear at the councils (but not chair them), put his signature before other bishops, and enjoy primacy at divine services. That’s all.

In one of his works, Bishop Tikhon of Gostomel writes: "Giving the Bishop of Constantinople the privilege of honor, the Second Ecumenical Council points to the only reason for this privilege – ‘because the city is New Rome’. Such a purely political motivation for the conciliar resolution (having the nature of a concession to state authority) excludes any church grounds (for example, a reference to the apostolic origin of this see, to the special merits of its bishops, etc.).”

In addition, contemporary supporters of Phanar’s exclusive right to convene Councils, unprecedented in the Church, rely on some documents of the Cretan Council in 2016. For example, in the text of the “Epistle” it is proposed “to establish the Holy and Great Council as a regularly functioning Institute”. In the first paragraph of the same “Epistle”, special attention is paid to the fact that this Council was convened by Patriarch Bartholomew. So, Phanar concludes that only the Patriarch of Constantinople can initiate such meetings. A peculiar logic, one should admit, is that if the head of the Church of Constantinople convened the Council once, it means that only he has the right to convene all the subsequent councils. However, what should be done if any of the Local Churches has claims against the head of Phanar? Phanariots fail to answer this question.

Who of the Patriarchs initiated Ecumenical (Pan-Orthodox) Councils?

We know from the history of the Church that Ecumenical Councils have never been convened by any of the patriarchs. The initiative of a pan-Orthodox solution to church problems almost always came from emperors. At the same time, several cases are known from history when Councils claiming Ecumenical status were convened by the Primates of the Church of Jerusalem.

In particular, the Greek theologian Nicholas Mannis cites at least three historical examples that vividly testify that the Patriarch of Jerusalem has every right to convene Councils.

So, on Sunday of Pentecost, 763, Patriarch Theodore I of Jerusalem (745 - 771) convened the Council, condemning the heresy of the iconoclasts, which was attended by Patriarch Cosmas of Alexandria (727 - 755) and Patriarch Theodosius of Antioch (751 - 773) with their bishops. It is especially worth emphasizing that the then Patriarch Constantine II of Constantinople did not participate in it because he sympathized with the iconoclasts and was even anathematized after his death at the VII Ecumenical Council.

In April 836, during the second phase of iconoclasm, Patriarch Basil of Jerusalem (820–838) convened another Council, which backed the veneration of holy icons. It should be noted that this was done for the reason that all the patriarchs of Constantinople of that time adhered to the iconoclastic heresy and did not want to solve the issue of icon veneration in a conciliar manner. And, just like in the first case, this Council received the support of Patriarch Christopher of Alexandria (817 - 841) and Patriarch Job of Antioch (813 - 843).

Finally, in April 1443, at the initiative of Arsenios, Metropolitan of Caesarea in Cappadocia, who arrived in the Holy City on the pretext of pilgrimage, Patriarch Joachim of Jerusalem convened the Council of  Jerusalem, which was attended by Patriarch Philotheus of Alexandria (1435–1459) and Patriarch Dorotheus of Antioch (1435–1452). This Council condemned the Union of Florence and its supporter, Patriarch Metrophanes II of Constantinople.

As we see, the history of the Church tells us that if the Patriarch of Constantinople falls into heresy or exceeds his authority to lead the Church (which puts Orthodoxy on the brink of schism), then any other Primate of the Local Orthodox Church can and must initiate a Council to decide on the emerged problem. Moreover, the case of Patriarch Metrophanes II, who supported the union with the Catholics, shows that the initiative of the Council can belong even to a bishop (Metropolitan Arsenios of Cappadocia). Therefore, the current words of Archbishop Anastasios, Primate of the Albanian Church, that every Orthodox Christian has a concern about the unity of the Church are especially urgent.

How many Primates are needed for the Council?

To date, Jerusalem, Romanian, Serbian, Moscow Patriarchates, the Polish Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia have already confirmed their participation in the Pan-Orthodox Сouncil in Amman. Judging by the statements of Patriarch John of Antioch, he will also arrive in Jordan. In addition, there is information that bishops of the Georgian Church will be also present in Amman.

The Patriarchates of Constantinople and Alexandria, the Orthodox Churches of Albania and Greece refused to participate in the Council in Amman. The Primate of the Cypriot Orthodox Church, Archbishop Chrysostom, probably won’t attend it either.

In other words, we can already state that the words of the Archbishop Anastasios of Albania about the split in Orthodoxy turned out to be prophetic. Back in November 2019, he wrote that further delaying the solution of the “Ukrainian problem” “would result in the ethnophiletic division (into the Greeks, Slavs, and those who want harmonious relations with everyone), which in turn contradicts the multinational and multicultural character of Orthodoxy and its universal nature.”

Hence, it is clear that most Greek-speaking Orthodox Churches (except Antioch and Jerusalem) will boycott the Council in Amman. But will their absence affect the legitimacy of the decisions of this Council?

Again, the history of the Church tells us that the number of participants in the Council does not give its decisions automatic legitimacy. For example, only three of all the Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches participated in the Council of 1443, which condemned Uniatism. But can we say that because of this the decisions of the Council were less legitimate than the decisions, for example, of the First Ecumenical Council? Of course not.

Similarly, the absence of anyone does not affect the legality of the decisions made. For example, there were no representatives of the Pope at the Second Ecumenical Council. Pope Vigilius refused to participate in the V Council, and not all the eastern patriarchs attended VI and VII Councils. However, the decisions of these councils were accepted by the whole Church and have never been in doubt.

It is important to remember that the Church is the Body of Christ, and Its Head is Christ Himself. The task of the Council is to find a solution that would express the Truth granted by Christ rather than the opinion of the majority. From this, we can say that the main thing in the Orthodox Councils is not the maximum number of participants. Any problem is solved here not by the majority vote but by the Holy Spirit. So, even one person, if he is with Christ, may be right, as it was with Mark of Ephesus, the only bishop from the delegation of the Church of Constantinople, who did not accept the Union of Florence in 1439.

Let’s, therefore, pray that decisions at the Amman Council in Jordan will be made by the hierarchs of the Council led by the Holy Spirit and the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ.

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