Conference in Kyiv: a step to condemning "Constantinople papism" heresy

At the conference, the catholicity principle of the Church was countered with the "Constantinople papism"

The conference addressed the heresy of papism of Patriarch Bartholomew, who claims to be "the first without equals", and contrasted it with the catholicity principle.

On November 11, 2021, the International Conference "Catholicity of the Church: Theological, Canonical and Historical Dimensions" took place at the Holy Dormition Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra. This event should be considered in the context of other events, whose general vector can be described as the process of recognizing "Constantinople papism" as a heresy at the pan-ecclesiastical level.

If we recall the response of the Orthodox world to the legalization of Ukrainian schismatics by the Patriarchate of Constantinople, we can see that it was a protest against specific anti-canonical actions of the Patriarchate of Constantinople: "reinstatement" of Filaret and bishops without legal ordination, “annexation” of Ukraine from the Moscow Patriarchate, etc. But no one noted that such actions became possible due to the emergence of Phanar's new doctrine, which presupposes the existence of special and exclusive powers of the Patriarch of Constantinople to govern the Church. In fact, it was "thanks" to this new ecclesiology that the anti-canonical decisions of the Patriarchate of Constantinople over Ukraine were implemented. For example, the Statement of the Holy Synod of the ROC, in which the ROC ceased Eucharistic communion with the Patriarchate of Constantinople, does not say anything about the ideology of "the first without equals", which was the reason for these actions. The same can be said about the decisions of the Council of Bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of November 13, 2018.

For some time after the formation of the OCU, it was considered possible to cure the schism that had affected Orthodoxy by a conciliar solution to the "Ukrainian issue". Constantinople had a chance to somehow disavow its decisions, to make certain compromises and to restore the status quo that had existed before its anti-canonical actions. However, Phanar chose not to take this chance, but on the contrary, began to drive itself into a deadlock even more, pushing its decisions by force.

On February 26, 2020, at the initiative of Patriarch Theophilos of Jerusalem, a Council (Synaxis) of Primates and Representatives of the Orthodox Local Churches was held in the Jordanian capital Amman. The meeting also discussed ways to cure the church situation in Ukraine, Montenegro and North Macedonia. Although Phanar's claims to supremacy in Orthodoxy were criticized during the discussion, the final document did not say a word about it. By and large, this first Amman meeting did not yield any significant results other than a general call for dialogue. Patriarch Bartholomew came down hard on the meeting, claiming that he alone has the right to convene such meetings.

Since then, the actions and rhetoric of the head of Phanar and other bishops of the Patriarchate of Constantinople have further aggravated the situation and testified to the perseverance in promoting the new Phanariot ecclesiology, which is increasingly called "Constantinople papism". Patriarch Bartholomew does not bother to do anything to overcome the schism that has arisen in Orthodoxy. According to the Greek newspaper Makeleio, speaking in New York on October 29, 2021, he generally stated that he "does not care" about the exclusion of his name from the diptychs of the ROC.

At the same time, Phanar is increasingly promoting unification with the Vatican in the near future. Simultaneously, Phanariots openly say that the main debatable issue on the way to unification is not dogmatic discrepancies and different interpretations of what salvation is and how it is achieved, but the issue of supremacy in the united religious structure-to-be.

All this has led to the fact that most Local Orthodox Churches have become aware that the root of today's problems in the Church is the heresy of "Constantinople papism", that as long as this false doctrine has not been overcome, it is impossible to solve any church-related problems in Ukraine, Montenegro or other countries.

Therefore, the Local Churches are becoming more and more aware that the agenda is not so much about finding ways to resolve the Ukrainian issue or other ecclesiastical conflict, but about exposing the new Phanariot ecclesiology.

The Local Churches are becoming more and more aware that the agenda is not so much the search for ways to resolve the Ukrainian issue as the denunciation of the new Phanariot ecclesiology.

In September 2021, Moscow hosted a conference "World Orthodoxy: Primacy and Catholicity in the Light of Orthodox Doctrine", which was attended by representatives of Jerusalem, Cyprus, Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Serbia and the Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia. Opening the conference, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill said, “Claims for special rights and privileges were voiced by the Constantinople hierarchs and theologians before, but they have never been voiced with such a harsh tone and in such a radical interpretation as today. It got to the point that the Patriarch of Constantinople was called not the first among equals, but ‘the first without equals’. This new ecclesiology has no foundation either in the sacred canons or in the Church Tradition as a whole.” Patriarch Kirill also said that the Council of Bishops of the ROC at its meeting in November 2021 would have to give a canonical assessment of the actions of the Patriarchate of Constantinople on behalf of the entire ROC. Unfortunately, the Council of Bishops was postponed to 2022 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A few days after this conference, the Holy Synod of the ROC appraised the visit of Patriarch Bartholomew to Kyiv in August 2021. In particular, it was said: “Supporting the split in Ukraine, Patriarch Bartholomew has lost the trust of millions of believers <…> The responsibility for undermining the unity of the Orthodox Church lies entirely with Patriarch Bartholomew due to his anti-canonical actions."

The current conference in Kyiv – “Catholicity of the Church: Theological, Canonical, and Historical Dimensions” is a continuation of a process that clarifies and articulates the Church's original dogma about Herself and exposes the incompatibility of Phanar's actions today. Representatives of the Local Orthodox Churches of Antioch, Russia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Poland, the Orthodox Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia, as well as the Orthodox Church in America also took part in the conference in Kyiv. The latter is recognized as autocephalous by five Local Churches, while the rest consider it part of the ROC.

Here is a small analysis of the main, in our opinion, statements made at the conference.

His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry

In his welcome address to the participants of the conference, the Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry described the current situation and placed emphasis clearly and capaciously, as always.

First, he called catholicity the basis of the structure of the Church: “The catholic structure of the Church is one of the foundations of Orthodox ecclesiology. Since apostolic times, all disputes and disorders in the Church have been resolved in a conciliar manner."

Second, he pointed out that those “who fought against the Church or wanted to subdue it with their power, first of all tried to restrict its freedom in convening and holding Councils <…> This is not accidental. For the Council is a special expression of the inner strength of the Church, of Her freedom in the Holy Spirit."

Third, Metropolitan Onuphry called papism one of the main threats to the Church: “One of the main threats that almost always haunted the conciliar structure of the Church was attempts to raise the authority of individual hierarchs over the authority of the Councils, and this is the path taken by Catholicism, viz. establishing papal supremacy in the Ecumenical Church. However, in the East they never agreed to recognize the primacy of any bishop over ecclesiastical councils, the latter’s priority having been always indisputable for Eastern theology."

Fourth, he stated that now Constantinople is infected with this very papism and that it threatens the whole of Orthodoxy: “Unfortunately, today we see that in the Orthodox Church its conciliar structure is under threat. The Patriarchate of Constantinople speaks more and more loudly about its special rights and tries to solve the most important ecclesiastic issues alone. It is the idea of the Church of Constantinople about its special status that is the root cause of the severe crisis, which the entire World Orthodoxy is encountering today."

Finally, His Beatitude Onuphry said where to begin in order to overcome today's crisis in Orthodoxy: "We must delve again and again into the study of the patriarchal heritage in order to properly assess the challenges facing the Church now."

The catholic structure of the Church is one of the foundations of Orthodox ecclesiology. Since apostolic times, all disputes and disorders in the Church have been resolved in a conciliar manner.

His Beatitude Onuphry

It is this profound and comprehensive study of the Sacred Tradition of the Church on this issue that is the main task of combating the heresy of "Constantinople papism" at this stage. The agenda of the conference fully meets this task. According to the press release of KDAiS, it is as follows:

  • The catholicity of the Church as a theological and canonical category;
  • The Apostolic Council in Jerusalem as the basis of the catholicity of the Church;
  • Ecumenical Councils: historical circumstances of convocation and principles of their work;
  • The problem of primacy in the Ecumenical Church in the era of Ecumenical Councils;
  • Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council: theological, canonical and historical aspects;
  • The problem of appeals against the decision of ecclesiastical courts in the canons of the Ecumenical Councils;
  • Discussions on the primacy of the Ecumenical Church in modern Orthodox theology;
  • The crisis in the World Orthodoxy caused by the actions of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Ukraine.

As we can see, Phanar's actions in Ukraine, which caused today's crisis, are only one of the eight issues, and even then the last one, because, as has already been said, this is only a ramification rather than the root cause.

Metropolitan Anthony of Boryspil and Brovary

"The doctrine of supremacy in the Ecumenical Church <…> is a serious threat to the unity of World Orthodoxy. Today we should return to the apostolic understanding of the Church Councils as special means of knowing the Divine Truth. We must remember that it is in the Councils that the grace of the Holy Spirit works in a special way, guiding the Church in truth.”

These words of Metropolitan Anthony signify deeper truths than simply the statement that the Church is characterized by a conciliar, rather than a single form of government. The fact is that catholicity is often confused with democracy, when the opinion of the majority is considered correct. Church catholicity is completely different. This is not a contest of different points of view, not a majority vote and not even a way to find a “one-size-fits-all” consensus. In the councils, the action of the Holy Spirit is manifested in a wonderful and incomprehensible way. At the very first Apostolic Council, described in the book of Acts, the apostles made a decision with the wording: "It is pleasing to the Holy Spirit and to us" (Acts 15:28). And this was exactly the description of what was really happening at the Council, not just a beautiful metaphor. Accordingly, the encroachment on the conciliar way of governing the Church is an encroachment on the action of the Holy Spirit in this world.

Today we should return to the apostolic understanding of the Church Councils as special means of knowing the Divine Truth. We must remember that it is in the Councils that the grace of the Holy Spirit works in a special way, guiding the Church in truth.

Metropolitan Anthony

Bishop Victor of Baryshivka

"According to the existing Orthodox tradition, neither catholicity can be understood without delving into the concept of primacy nor can primacy exist without catholicity at all levels, at which they are practically interconnected, because catholicity and primacy complement and depend on each other."

Church historians say that the Councils as a form of church government began their vigorous activity in the second half of the second century. From a purely practical point of view, it was necessary for someone to convene a Council, organize its course, chair its meetings, and then control the implementation of the decisions of the Council. This is how the notion of primacy in the Church historically arises. Conciliarity and primacy not only complement and depend on each other, but also stipulate each other. As the church historian A. Lebedev writes: "Should the Councils be closed – the metropolitan power (primacy – Ed.) will be no longer revealed; should the metropolitan institution be eliminated – there will be no Councils."

Based on the foregoing understanding of primacy and catholicity, Patriarch Bartholomew shouldn’t have resolved the Ukrainian issue alone or with the help of obedient Phanar bishops, but should have convened a real council with participation of all those concerned in one way or another. However, Patriarch Bartholomew acted differently, thus having distorted the concept of primacy that the Church has adhered to throughout Her history.

Patriarch Porfirije of Serbia

In his welcoming speech to the participants of the conference, the Primate of the Serbian Church once again confirmed that he recognizes in Ukraine the exclusive jurisdiction of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church under His Beatitude Onuphry: “The Church of St. Sava has always recognized only one canonical Church in Ukraine – the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the omophorion of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry. Sharing our communion from a single chalice, we pray for an end to the unrest on the Ukrainian land."

Yet, the core of the Patriarch's message is the same as that of other bishops – the Church is experiencing a crisis of catholicity: “The Lord judged us to live in an age when 'the love of most will grow cold because of the increase of wickedness' (Matthew 24:12) and impoverished sense of catholicity in the Orthodox world. The consequence of this crisis was the hardships that befell the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The trials facing the Orthodox people of Ukraine are not easy. According to the law of ecclesiastic life, unity and catholicity, we empathize with our brothers. When in the recent past Serbian churches were turned into ruins and thousands of Serbs became refugees, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was with us spiritually, and we always felt the prayerful support of Kyiv.”

Bishop Anthony of Moravici, Vicar of His Holiness Patriarch Porfirije of Serbia

“Patriarch Bartholomew did not consult with any of the Local Orthodox Churches. This offends other Primates of the Local Churches, and they believe that Bartholomew is the first among equals in honour, but not the first like the Pope. He has no such authority. The Ecumenical Councils and the Church Fathers say that the Patriarch of Constantinople cannot be the one who solely makes decisions such as granting autocephaly to one of the structures of the Local Churches."

This position was reaffirmed in the reports of Bishop Victor of Baryshivka and many other participants in the conference. If we recall the events that preceded Phanar's recognition of the Ukrainian schismatics and the establishment of the OCU, we will see that before making their anti-canonical decisions, the delegation of the Patriarchate of Constantinople visited a number of Local Churches. At the same time, Phanar's hierarchs emphasized they neither consulted with the Local Churches nor found out their position, but simply notified them of the decisions actually made.

Bishop Anthony also said that the Serbian Church could sever Eucharistic communion with Phanar if it recognized schismatics in Montenegro or northern Macedonia.

Metropolitan Sawa of Warsaw and All Poland

In his welcoming address to the organizers and participants of the International Conference, which was read by Archbishop Georgy of Wroclaw and Szczecin, the Primate of the Polish Church said:

"The fact of the emergence of the so-called ‘Orthodox Church of Ukraine’, instead of healing religious sentiments in Ukraine, aggravated and complicated them. Instead of the unity of society, a division took place that went beyond the framework of the so-called 'Ukrainian schism' and affected the entire global Orthodoxy. Therefore, we need to constantly remind one that the main feature of the Catholicity of the Holy Orthodox Church is its unity, it lives by faithfulness to the dogmatic teaching of the Holy Church and there is no room in it for an ecclesiological compromise."

Two things stand in these words catch an eye. First, it is a statement of the fact that the "Ukrainian issue" has gone beyond Ukraine and affected the entire Orthodox World. The solution now requires the participation of all the Local Churches. And secondly, the Primate of the Polish Church asserts there can be no compromise on the dogma of the Church, which suggests that Patriarch Bartholomew's claims to supremacy in the Church will be properly assessed to be called a deviation from the dogma of the Church, or in other words – heresy .

The Church not only rejects "Constantinople papism," but contrasts it with the catholicity principle. 

Conclusions

The format of this article does not allow a comprehensive analysis or at least an insight into a significant part of the speeches of the conference participants, but the foregoing statements are enough to draw the following conclusions:

First, the very fact of holding the Conference "Catholicity of the Church: Theological, Canonical and Historical Dimensions" testifies that the Church diagnoses the heresy of "Constantinople papism” being a significant threat to Orthodoxy.

Second, the participation in the conference of representatives of other Local Churches shows that this problem is perceived as a problem of the entire Church, rather than just as a conflict between the Patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow.

Third, the struggle against the heresy of "Constantinople papism" occurs at different levels:

  • theological as a comprehension of the original Orthodox doctrine of the Church and how the Church is governed in its earthly existence;
  • conventionally political – the counteraction of the Local Churches to the aggressive policy of Patriarch Bartholomew.

Fourth, the Church not only rejects "Constantinople papism," but contrasts it with the principle of catholicity. The local Churches, in cooperation with each other on the principles of Christian love and mutual respect, are looking for concrete mechanisms of implementing the catholicity principle in today's historical conditions.

How events develop further will be known soon enough, but we can assume the following so far:

  • Phanar will continue to persevere in advancing the "first without equals" theory.
  • An increasing number of Local Churches, as well as hierarchs from those Churches who still recognize the supremacy of Phanar, will realize the need to denounce "Constantinople papism" as a heresy. This will happen, in part, because the theological understanding of this issue at the Kyiv and Moscow conferences is so deep and thorough that there is simply nothing to oppose it.
  • Several more similar conferences are expected to be held, possibly in other countries.
  • The Council of Bishops of the ROC, which is to take place in 2022, will give a clear and well-founded assessment of the "heresy of Constantinople papism". This assessment will serve as a guide for the joint efforts of the Local Churches to combat the new ecclesiological heresy.
  • Another meeting of the heads and representatives of the Local Churches in the so-called Amman format should be held in the foreseeable future. This meeting promises to be much more productive than the former.

Of course, sooner or later the "Constantinople papism" heresy will fade away like any heresy, while the true Orthodox teaching will last forever. The whole history of Christ's Church is a good case study in this respect.

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