How does its “front-line defender” protect Orthodoxy?
Head of the Phanar Archdiocese in the USA, Elpidophoros, called Patriarch Bartholomew "the front-line defender of Orthodoxy". The article analyzes if it is really so.
On February 5, 2021, the head of the Archdiocese of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the United States, Archbishop Elpidophoros, called Patriarch Bartholomew "the front-line defender of Orthodoxy".
Agree that the phrase “the front-line defender of Orthodoxy” sounds loud, which means that it must be confirmed by facts. Archbishop Elpidophoros did not give any facts, so we have to look for them ourselves.
Orthodoxy can and must be protected in at least four directions – from heresies, schisms, non-Christians and the harmful influence of sin on Christians. Therefore, let's see how exactly the head of the Phanar acts in each of these directions.
Protection from heresies
In recent years, the Patriarchate of Constantinople has stepped up its efforts to unite with Catholics. During frequent meetings with representatives of the RCC, the Phanar repeatedly highlighted the need to “overcome the millennial schism” and enter into Eucharistic communion. At the same time, the Phanariotes seem not to see any serious theological obstacles to a joint Liturgy with Catholics. For example, during his last visit to Athos, the head of the Phanar stated that there are only historical differences between Orthodox Christians and Catholics rather than dogmatic ones. This position allows him to calmly perform joint prayers with representatives of the Catholic hierarchy, and during numerous speeches at various ecumenical meetings – to keep silent about questions of dogmatic nature.
At the same time, on June 29, 1995, at the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle, in the presence of Patriarch Bartholomew I, Pope John Paul II in his sermon expressed the wish that the “traditional doctrine of Filioque” be clarified. Here, it would seem, is a great opportunity for Patriarch Bartholomew right at that moment to speak out with such an explanation! Moreover, an Orthodox assessment of the Filioque controversy was given, in particular, in a document entitled: "The Circular Epistle of the Eastern Patriarchs on the Orthodox Faith" of 1848, which says that "The One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, following the holy fathers ... proclaims conciliarly that this newly introduced opinion that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son is sheer heresy, and his followers, whoever they are, are heretics ... the societies made up of them are heretical societies, and any spiritual communion of the Orthodox children of the catholic Church with them is lawless."
Does Patriarch Bartholomew know about the existence of this document? Undoubtedly. Does he know that it was the Filioque clause that caused the schism between the Orthodox and Catholics? Certainly.
One of the most zealous supporters of the Phanar, Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos), a man who is currently actively developing the doctrine of the "first without equals", emphasizes that in ancient times "all attempts to unite the ‘Churches’ after the schism of 1054 had as their central question the Filioque heresy, and all the aspirations of the Orthodox to bring Latins to the Orthodox faith stumbled upon their dogmatic teaching about the Filioque ... The schism between the two Churches was due to the Filioque heresy ... and the Church Fathers argue that it is impossible to return papism back to the Orthodox Church from which it fell away if it does not turn away from the Filioque heresy."
Why, then, neither in 1995 nor later did Patriarch Bartholomew try to express the Orthodox teaching on the procession of the Holy Spirit with no word of his?
Probably, because he has already solved this problem (Filioque) for himself. So, in 2007, commenting on the final document of the X plenary meeting in Ravenna of the mixed Orthodox-Catholic Theological Commission, the head of the Phanar pointed out the main obstacle in the dialogue with Catholics. And this is by no means the Filioque: “If we, with the help of God, come to an agreement with the Catholic Church as to the meaning of the term ‘primacy’ as it was in the first millennium, then the Ecumenical Patriarch will have no difficulty in recognizing the primacy of the Roman See and take the second place – what he held before the schism."
Pope Francis also agrees with the head of the Phanar, who in September 2019 stated that "today's theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, serving the unity of the Church of Christ, is trying to find a common understanding of the primacy of the bishop of Rome and synodality". The Pope stressed that the members of the Society for Eastern Canon Law, of which Patriarch Bartholomew is the vice-president, "in mutual hearing, compare traditions and experience in order to find ways to full unity". Superiority, traditions and experience are what, in the opinion of both the Pope and the head of the Phanar, separates Catholics and Orthodox. Neither dogmas, nor a heretical teaching about the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son, but "traditions".
Primacy, traditions and experience are what, in the opinion of both the Pope and the head of the Phanar, separates Catholics and the Orthodox. Neither dogmas, nor a heretical teaching about the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son, but "traditions".
Therefore, based on these facts, we can conclude that it is impossible to call Patriarch Bartholomew the defender of Orthodoxy in the face of heresies.
Protection from schism
Even the Apostle Paul warned Christians: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. 18 For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery, they deceive the minds of naive people” (Rom. 16: 17-18).
In the opinion of St. John Chrysostom, "To create divisions in the Church is no less evil than to fall into heresy ... the sin of schism is not washed away even by martyr's blood" (Interpretation of the letter to the Ephesians). From these words, we can understand that schism is a great evil for the Church, and the task of every Christian, let alone a bishop or patriarch, is to save the Church from this evil.
However, granting the Tomos to the Ukrainian schismatics, Patriarch Bartholomew has already provoked a schism both in world Orthodoxy in general and in individual Local Churches in particular. At the same time, the head of the Phanar himself is well aware that becoming the initiator of the schism in Orthodoxy is not something which he would like to enter the history of the Church with. That is why he prefers not to notice the rupture of Eucharistic unity with the Russian Orthodox Church, does not listen to the opinion of other Churches on the "Ukrainian question" but asserts that there is "no schism" in Orthodoxy.
Granting the Tomos to the Ukrainian schismatics, Patriarch Bartholomew has already provoked a schism both in world Orthodoxy in general and in individual Local Churches in particular.
However, the hierarchs and even the Primates of other Local Churches (and not just the Russian Orthodox Church) categorically disagree with this and believe that it was the actions of Patriarch Bartholomew that led to the fact that world Orthodoxy is in a state of actual division. Thus, Patriarch Irinej of Serbia asked the head of the Patriarchate of Constantinople not to interfere in the church affairs of Ukraine, warning him of the consequences. Bishop John (Mladenovic), the head of the Belgrade-Karlovatsk Archdiocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church, said that “when the Patriarch at a personal meeting begged the Ecumenical Patriarch not to interfere in Ukraine, not to cause a schism, Bartholomew did not want to listen to him. To which the Serbian Patriarch said: "You will bear full responsibility for what happened. And I am afraid that you will not be left alone on the Bosphorus."
The opinion that Patriarch Bartholomew caused a schism is also supported by the hierarchs of the Greek Orthodox Church. Thus, Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus writes: “The Ecumenical Patriarchate tried with the help of Ukrainian autocephaly to lead (allegedly) a handful of people, an insignificant minority of the Ukrainian people, onto the ‘path of salvation’. And what did he achieve in the end? He failed to set them on the "path of salvation", but at the same time created a pan-Orthodox schism. Was this an ‘achievement’ of the Ecumenical Patriarchate? Is this to be on the ‘path of salvation’?"
So, does Patriarch Bartholomew protect the Orthodox Church from schism? No, he doesn’t. He creates it.
Does Patriarch Bartholomew protect the Orthodox Church from schism? No, he doesn’t. He creates it.
Protection from non-Christians
Let's note only two facts:
- Tacit agreement on the transformation into a mosque of the main shrine of Constantinople – Hagia Sophia by the Turkish authorities.
- The lack of evangelical preaching on the territory of Turkey by the Patriarchate of Constantinople and, as a result, the gradual disappearance of Orthodox Christians in this country.
Yes, Patriarch Bartholomew did not make a harsh condemnation of the transformation of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque. Indeed, no processions of the cross, no prayer services, or even a single protest from Patriarch Bartholomew followed. All this time, the head of the Phanar kept complete silence. And only two weeks before the change in the status of Sophia, the patriarch timidly noted that the upcoming event upset him. And a week later he said that Sophia is a place of meeting and solidarity between Christianity and Islam. More than a strange position of the patriarch, who is being deprived of the main shrine of his Church.
And the point is not even that Patriarch Bartholomew feared for his life and therefore kept silent. No, now the Patriarch of Constantinople is not threatened with this, everything is simpler. He was afraid that he would be deported from Turkey and, together with Sophia, he would lose the little that he had - his residence in Phanar and the “right” to be called “Patriarch of Constantinople”. It was this symbolic "right" that turned out to be more important for him than Hagia Sophia.
In this regard, is it worth wondering about the actual disappearance of Orthodoxy in Turkey? For example, at the beginning of the XX century, the country's Orthodox population was 45% (that is, almost half of all residents), and 38% of the population were Orthodox Greeks. In 1923, according to the terms of the Greek-Turkish exchange, the Orthodox Greeks had to leave Turkey, and the Muslim Turks – Greece. Now the number of Orthodox Christians in Turkey has decreased to 0.008% of the total population of this country, and currently numbers about 5,800 people. Someone may argue that, they say, the number of Orthodox Christians in Turkey has decreased not because of the patriarchs of Constantinople, but for political reasons.
And objectively it is so. But do not forget that in addition to the Greeks in Turkey 100 years ago, there were still 7% of the Orthodox population of other nationalities. If you project it onto the current situation, then this is about 6 million people, and not today's 6 thousand. Where did they disappear? The answer is simple – they have become Muslims or atheists.
Most of the Orthodox dioceses of the Patriarchate of Constantinople exist only nominally – without churches and parishioners. Why is the Gospel not preached among Muslims? For fear of death? It is unlikely that today the preachers of Christ in Turkey will be killed. In the worst case, they face jail. But even if death, shouldn't “the successor of the Apostle Andrew the First-Called” (Patriarch Bartholomew often speak of the connection between the Phanar and this disciple of Christ), despite threats, speak to Muslims about the Resurrection of the Saviour? After all, if the apostles acted as Patriarch Bartholomew does now in Turkey, no one would have heard of the Good News until now.
If the apostles acted as Patriarch Bartholomew does now in Turkey, no one would have heard of the Good News until now.
It must be stated that the Phanar does not conduct educational and evangelical work among Muslims at all. Moreover, the “successor of the holy apostles”, “the front-line defender of Orthodoxy” ... interrupts the prayer reading during the consecration of the waters at Theophany (according to the Julian calendar) in Bursa, because of the namaz reading in a Turkish mosque. What kind of "protection" of Orthodoxy can we talk about in this case? Not the case.
Protection from sin
Let's see if Patriarch Bartholomew can be called the defender of Orthodoxy in the face of the secular world and ever-growing sin.
We remember the Patriarch's greeting to the newly elected President of the United States, Joe Biden. In his congratulatory message, the head of the Phanar writes: "Since you are well aware of my sentiments for you throughout the years of our friendship, you can only imagine my great delight and pride for your successful election as 46th President of your prominent nation, the United States of America." According to Patriarch Bartholomew, Biden's electoral success is welcomed by " citizens of the entire free world, to whom you now offer hope …. for a better future, where the eternal values and ideals of a civilized humanity may prevail."
What are these "ideals" and "values" can be seen during the first days of Biden's rule. For example, the US Senate for the first time in history approved the candidature of an open gay as a minister, Biden himself decided to appoint a transgender person to the post of Assistant Secretary of Health of the United States, allowed transgender people to serve in the army, appointed an LGBT supporter as the head of its administration, said that the United States would promote LGBT rights around the world ... Perhaps Biden used to be completely different, and for Patriarch Bartholomew such actions of the president became an unpleasant surprise? Not at all. For many years, Biden has consistently promoted abortion and LGBT people. He even "married" homosexuals in his own home. What "eternal values and ideals of a civilized humanity" is the patriarch talking about?
After all, such a clear anti-Christian position of Biden did not leave indifferent even Catholic hierarchs and Protestants. For example, Joseph F. Naumann, Archbishop of the RCC in Kansas City, believes that the Catholic clergy “should continue to talk with President Biden about what abortion is. Abortion is not health care. This is the willful murder of a child. Participating in abortion or promoting abortion is a serious evil."
At the same time, the head of the Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, Albert Mohler, believes that President Biden’s policies and personnel selections are “normalizing” transgenderism for Americans, and Biden is leading a "transgender revolution" that is “in direct collision” with “religious liberty” and the “liberty of conscience” of religious Americans.
Statements criticizing Biden's position on LGBT and abortion issues should have been heard, first of all, from the “defender of Orthodoxy”. But we do not hear a word of criticism from Patriarch Bartholomew. And silence, as we know, is a sign of consent.
Agree that these are bold statements criticizing Biden's position on LGBT and abortion issues. Statements criticizing Biden's position on LGBT and abortion issues should have been heard, first of all, from the “defender of Orthodoxy”. But we do not hear a word of criticism from Patriarch Bartholomew. And silence, as we know, is a sign of consent.
Therefore, having analyzed the activities of Patriarch Bartholomew as head of the Phanar, we can state that it is impossible to call him “the defender of Orthodoxy”. A defender of Orthodoxy can be a person who seeks the truth of God, not personal gain, cares about the preaching of the Gospel, and not about asserting his own ambitions, and fears God, not people.
Therefore, we have to state that Archbishop Elpidophoros in his assessment of Patriarch Bartholomew was tragically mistaken.