In search of the successor: Pat Bartholomew’s visit to USA and its outcome

The question of the successor to Patriarch Bartholomew remains open. Photo: UOJ

The Phanar is already discussing the candidacies of hierarchs to replace Patriarch Bartholomew, who might have gone to the USA to resolve the issue.

The fact that Patriarch Bartholomew is ill has been known for a long time. However, only recently in the Phanar, as well as in the Greek-language press, rumours have been circulating persistently that Patriarch Bartholomew would resign in the very near future.

The impetus for these rumours was the sudden hospitalization of the Phanar head during his last visit to the United States. Not having time to fly to America, on October 23, the Patriarch of Constantinople went to hospital in Washington. The official reason for the hospitalization was called fatigue after a long flight, but how often do plane passengers go to hospital after a flight? However, on October 25, Patriarch Bartholomew left the hospital and held a number of meetings with top US officials, including President Joe Biden and Secretary of the State Department Antony Blinken. However, on November 3, he was re-hospitalized. This time with a more specific reason – a heart surgery. The Patriarch underwent stenting and soon returned to Istanbul.

Interestingly, in America, Patriarch Bartholomew said at least twice that he always "keeps a possible resignation in mind". After everything that happened to him, such statements are not surprising. It was these statements, in addition to real health problems, that caused rumours of an imminent change on the Throne of the Church of Constantinople.

However, on November 12, after returning from the United States, the Patriarch, according to the Phanar's official website, "denied rumours about his resignation for health reasons". The head of the Phanar’s Archdiocese of America stirred the pot, saying that God brought Bartholomew to the United States to rule for another 30 years. Usually, such "comforting" phrases are said to those whose health or life is running out because everyone understands that Bartholomew, who is already 81 years old, will hardly live to see 111. According to Archbishop Elpidophoros, “it turned out that the patriarch was unwell, and he, of course, did not know about it. We learned about it here and mobilized all our forces, not only American but also Greek ones."

In the USA, Patriarch Bartholomew said at least twice that he always "keeps a possible resignation in mind".

Analyzing the statements by Archbishop Elpidophoros, one gets the impression that he is trying to justify himself, to evade responsibility for the two hospitalizations of the Patriarch. After all, the Greeks living in the United States accused Archbishop Elpidophoros of the second hospitalization. Say, he made a schedule for the 81-year-old patriarch too tight, which could have had dreadful circumstances. However, the head of the Phanar safely returned home to Turkey, and now the question is being discussed in the Greek-speaking environment – was the visit to the United States only a pastoral one or did it pursue other goals?

Perhaps, Patriarch Bartholomew, having health problems, visited the USA to personally see the results of Archbishop Elpidophoros’s activities and make a decision for himself.

Elpidophoros and Emmanuel

There are two reservations here.

Firstly, in circles close to the Phanar, Patriarch Bartholomew is believed to be ready to give up power. But since the situation with the change of the patriarch is extraordinary in Orthodoxy (to say the least), then it will be solved in a non-trivial way. Patriarch Bartholomew will have the right to choose his own successor, who will then only be approved by the synodal decision. That is why the choice of Patriarch Bartholomew is of such great importance.

Secondly, two people are named among the main candidates: the above-mentioned Archbishop Elpidophoros (Lambriniadis) of America and Metropolitan Emmanuel (Adamakis) of Chalcedon. Both the first and second candidates have quite serious trump cards, which at any moment can appear from the sleeve of both the patriarch himself and other "players".

Adamakis is a longtime favourite of the Phanar head. It was he who the Synod of the Church of Constantinople appointed to the second most important see in the patriarchate – Chalcedon, giving him the title of "Geronda Metropolitan". Adamakis is supported by the hierarchs of the Patriarchate of Constantinople living in Europe. He is considered a gentle and docile person, a true diplomat and a European, and is called the "foreign minister" of the Phanar. Adamakis is a Greek, born in Crete (in contrast to Lambriniadis, an ethnic Kurd), in the priesthood since 1985, in 1996 he became a bishop. Largely thanks to the efforts of this hierarch, the Tomos of the OCU was written out, he actually destroyed the Western European Archdiocese of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, contributing to its complete dependence on the Phanar. However, Emmanuel also has a very significant "minus" – he is not a citizen of Turkey. Of course, there have been cases in history when candidates for the Patriarchal Throne received Turkish citizenship within a few hours after a call from Washington, but this is another case.

The fact is that the White House is on the side of Elpidophorus (Lambriniadis). We have already said that this hierarch has a direct connection with the upper layers of the American government. Thanks to his ties, Lambriniadis helped arrange meetings of the President of Greece and Patriarch Bartholomew with the President of the United States. In addition, rumours have long been circulating that the US government is using Elpidophoros to negotiate with Erdogan. Moreover, the US Archbishop himself is not against meeting with the President of Turkey once again, as well as taking part in important events.

So, more recently, Lambriniadis, together with Erdogan and the head of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Ersin Tatar (not recognized by anyone except Turkey), cut the red ribbon at the opening of the "Turkish House" in New York. This move caused a real storm of indignation from both Greeks and Cypriots resulted in the cancellation of the meetings of the President of Greece Kyriakos Mitsotakis and the President of Cyprus Nikos Anastasiadis with Archbishop Elpidophoros (however, later the meetings did take place). And even Elpidophoros's attempts to explain his presence at a joint event with the Turkish leader and the head of the pseudo-state by the "special" position of the Phanar, forced him to balance between the Turks and Greeks, did not save the situation. The Greeks, both in the United States and in Greece, believe that this "special status" cannot be used to cover up the actions since such steps were not taken by the predecessor of Elpidophoros, Archbishop Jacob (who headed the archdiocese for almost 37 years – from February 14, 1959, to July 29, 1996).

Moreover, in circles close to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, they argue that the decision to accept Erdogan's invitation was made by Elpidophorus without consulting Patriarch Bartholomew. The reason is simple – the American Archbishop needs the support of the Turkish authorities, "when and if the question of the succession of the Ecumenical Patriarch is open". However, claiming the support of Turkey and the White House, the Archbishop of America is gradually losing influence in the Greek-speaking circles of the United States, which are convinced that "no service should be provided to Turkey" and consider the presence of Elpidophorus as the head of the American Archdiocese problematic. He is already reminded of his own scandalous enthronement and sending two metropolitans from Boston and New Jersey to retirement (the Metropolitan of Boston, however, returned for a bribe of $ 500,000 – but that's another story).

The Archbishop of America needs the support of the Turkish authorities "when and if the question of the succession of the Ecumenical Patriarch is open".

Or-or choice?

The situation is further complicated by the fact that between Metropolitan Emmanuel and Archbishop Elpidophoros, there is, if not a personal enmity, then at least a serious confrontation of ambitions. For example, on October 24, when Patriarch Bartholomew was in the hospital, Metropolitan Emmanuel arrived in the United States to lead the divine service at the St. Sophia Cathedral.

The "joy" of Archbishop Elpidophoros from the joint divine service with Metropolitan Emmanuel is obvious. Photo: GOA / D. Panagos

All photographs from this service depict the gloomy and disgruntled Archbishop Elpidophoros. Those present at the celebrations claim that although both hierarchs declared "unity" in the face of the sudden illness of Patriarch Bartholomew, in fact, Archbishop Elpidophoros "fears" Metropolitan Emmanuel. Those who met him after his service at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., said that "he looked like a caged animal".

Moreover, people close to Patriarch Bartholomew believe that Metropolitan Emmanuel is a person “who solves problems”, and Archbishop Elpidophoros is a person “who creates them”. Therefore, the issue of preference for Patriarch Bartholomew is allegedly resolved. Moreover, during his visit to the United States, the head of the Phanar noted several times that the American Archdiocese is one of the largest and most important dioceses of the Church of Constantinople while calling Archbishop Elpidophoros exarch.

At the same time, the Phanar has to admit that in a short time Elpidophoros almost managed to solve three main problems in the Archdiocese of America: the construction of the St. Nicholas Church, the Boston Theological School and the clergy's pension fund.

At the same time, they casually and reluctantly mention that Lambriniadis also solved another "problem" – the financial situation of Patriarch Bartholomew. According to only rough estimates, the “Patriarch Bartholomew Foundation”, which was recently opened by Archbishop Elpidophoros, currently totals about US $ 30 million, which will not only ensure the comfortable existence of the current head of the Phanar but also allow him to “engage in charity” to go down in history.

Perhaps, that is why during his tour of America, Patriarch Bartholomew several times spoke rather flatteringly about the "administrative and spiritual gifts" of Elpidophoros, emphasizing that "he learnt a lot from me".

American Greeks often, and lately too often, ask the same question: why should we pay huge sums to the Phanar treasury?

At the same time, Patriarch Bartholomew has constantly focused on the fact that he needs the "stability" of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in the United States. After all, autocephalist sentiments and the desire of the influential and active part of the Greek diaspora to gain independence from the “Istanbul Patriarchate” have not gone away. American Greeks often, and lately too often, ask the same question: why should we pay huge sums to the Phanar treasury? For example, only the archons of the Patriarchate of Constantinople pay the Phanar about 3 million dollars a year, and the Archdiocese of the Phanar in the USA – 1.5 million dollars a year. And this is only if we talk about the official amounts. In this situation, removing Elpidophorus from America means, with a high probability, losing it. The solution? Transfer the Patriarchal Throne to the United States or elect another candidate.

Many problems, no solutions?

Patriarch Bartholomew, when choosing a successor, has to keep in mind not only America; his biggest problem is not there now. The biggest problem is the Russian Orthodox Church and the recognition of the OCU by other Local Churches. The second problem is the Church of Crete, in which the issue of the Primate's succession has not yet been resolved. And the third problem is the Church of Greece, which by all its actions shows that it has a great desire to finally get full but not declared independence from the Phanar. These are the challenges that the new Patriarch of Constantinople will have to deal with. Is Archbishop Elpidophoros suitable for addressing them? Hardly. Yes, this person has a reputation as a communicator, but as mentioned above, he is more capable of creating problems than solving them.

Therefore, Metropolitan Emmanuel of Chalcedon is seen as a more suitable candidate for the post of the future head of the Phanar unless, of course, some unforeseen circumstances intervene. For example, another candidate coming out of the shadows – Metropolitan Demetrius (Kommatas) of the Princes' Islands, who is supported by the majority of hierarchs living in Turkey.

Thus, Patriarch Bartholomew (if he really decides to retire) faces a very difficult task – to decide on his successor. He has held the Patriarchal Throne for a very long time and will leave it with a big number of problems, much more than those left by other patriarchs. Schism in the Church, communion with non-ordained schismatics, discontent in the diaspora, lack of mutual understanding in the Greek-speaking church world, the fall of the authority of the Patriarchate of Constantinople as a whole – such an "impressive" list Patriarch Bartholomew will leave to his successor. And whether it will be a politician dressed in the toga of a hierarch (Archbishop Elpidophoros) or a hierarch striving to become a politician (Metropolitan Emmanuel), it does not matter for us, believers in the Church of Christ. Whoever takes the Patriarchal Throne in Istanbul will try to preserve the “traditions” of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, which, unfortunately, have recently boiled down to tearing the robe of Christ rather than building it up.

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