The Heresy of Constantinople Papism
Intrusion into Ukraine
The decision of Constantinople patriarch Bartholomew to intrude in Ukraine has caused huge upheavals in the entire Orthodox Church, and they haven’t ceased for many months now. The Orthodox of various countries are looking on in perplexity and horror as the primate of a respected Church suddenly proclaims as his own canonical territory what has for over 300 years been accepted by everyone without exception as part of another Local Church, and pronounces those whom the entire Orthodox Church has unanimously recognized as schismatics to be part of the canonical Church—at the same time threatening to pronounce as schismatics those who have been abiding in Eucharistic unity with all the Local Churches.
Meanwhile, Patriarch Bartholomew as if doesn’t notice that his actions have set a flywheel in motion of government persecutions against the canonical Church of Ukraine. After all, the “received tomos” is one of the main points in the pre-election program of the current Ukrainian president, who wants to be elected for a second term this spring. So now the hierarchs of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church are being called to the carpet by secular officials who hand them letters from the Constantinople patriarch; priests are being taken in for “prophylactic talks” to the special services—the Ukrainian successor to the KGB—and monastics are being threatened with eviction from their monasteries.
Patriarch Bartholomew calls his actions “granting autocephaly to Ukraine,” but at the same time two thirds of the Ukrainian Orthodox are parishioners of a Church that never asked him for autocephaly and refuses to accept it. Probably for the first time in history we are seeing a forced “granting of autocephaly”, which gives us pause to think about many things.
Over the recent months, many articles and speeches have appeared from Local Churches criticizing the actions of the Constantinople Patriarchate. There have also been apologetic articles written by Constinople’s representatives, and the ensuing polemic basically plunges the reader into the thickets of history, where he is offered various interpretations of one or another combination of words from seventeenth century texts. These themes are undoubtedly also important, but we can imagine that it is much more important to look at what is happening in the broader context and understand what caused the current upheavals. For this we need to answer two questions.
The first question:
Are the current actions of the Constantinople Patriarchate in Ukraine something unprecedented?
Alas, no. The same invasion took place in Estonia in 1996, when Patriarch Bartholomew received those schismatics into communion. We will say right off that it would have been a mistake to look for an explanation of this action in the personality of this specific patriarch, because his predecessors made similar actions in the early 1920s, from the time of the ill-famed Patriarch Meletius IV (Metataksis). In 1923 he took over the parishes of the Russian Church in Finland and Estonia, subjecting them to his jurisdiction, and the next year his tore the diocese in Poland from the Russian Orthodox Church, self-willfully declaring it “autocephalous”. In 1936, the Constantinople patriarch proclaimed his jurisdiction in Latvia, five years earlier, against the will of the Russian Orthodox Church, included the Russian émigré parishes of Western Europe, turning them into his own exarchate (recently dissolved by Patriarch Bartholomew).
We can’t help but note that these acts of intrusion and capture were perpetrated right during the time when the Orthodox Church in Russia was literally bleeding, enduring unprecedented persecutions from a godless regime. If the Communists confiscated churches and monasteries of the Russian Orthodox Church within the USSR, then the Constantinople Patriarch was doing this beyond its borders.
But it would be wrong to say that similar actions have only been taken against the Russian Orthodox Church. In the 1920s, the Constantinople Patriarchate obtained from the Greek Church its cessation of ecclesiastical presence in the U.S. and Australia, in 1986 it manage to dissolve and swallow up the Alexandrian Church’s American exarchate, and very recently, in 2008, Patriarch Bartholomew forced the Jerusalem Church to give up its parishes in the U.S. and transfer them to the Constantinople jurisdiction.
These actions did not always end in victory for Constintinople. For example, in 1931, Constantinople Patriarch Photius II tried unsuccessfully to transfer the Serbian parishes outside of Serbia to his jurisdiction. He wrote to Patriarch Barnabas: “All the Church communities located in the diaspora and outside the borders of the autocephalous Orthodox Churches, regardless of nationality, should be ecclesiastically subject to our Most Holy Patriarchal Throne.” But the Serbian Church did not give in to this demand, nor did the Romanian Church.
If in the twentieth century the efforts of the Constantinople Patriarchs were mainly concentrated on subjecting the Orthodox diaspora to itself, then in the twenty-first century their expansion has reached into the territory of the autocephalous Churches themselves.
In speaking about criticism of their actions in the Ukrainian question, Patriarch Bartholomew recently tried to explain it away through national differences—so to say, it’s all a matter of: “Our Slavic brothers cannot endure the primacy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and of our nation in Orthodoxy.” This remark in and of itself racist, which falls under the category of the heresy of ethnophyletism, was calculated to gain support in Greek society. It is a sort of attempt to play on the Greeks’ feeling of national solidarity. However, it by no means reflects the real situation, because the Constantinople Patriarchate acted no less cruelly with regard to the other Greek Churches than it has with the Russian Church.
For example, in 2003 Patriarch Bartholomew suddenly demanded that the Greek Orthodox Church transfer to his control thirty-six dioceses in the so-called “new territories” of Greece—at least regarding the appointment of bishops to these cathedras. The Synod of the Greek Church refused to submit, and its primate at that time, Archbishop Chrystodoulos of Athens, said that submitting to that demand would discredit the very fact of the Greek Orthodox Church’s autocephaly.
After new bishops were chosen without his consent, on April 30, 2004 Patriarch Bartholomew announced a break in Eucharistic communion between the Constantinople Church and the Greek Church. When the Russian Church recently broke communion with Constantinople as a protest and extreme measure against Constantinople’s unlawful intrusion into Moscow’s canonical territory, many criticized this decision as too harsh. However the Constantinople Patriarchate itself used the same measure to pressure another, likewise Greek, Local Church.
The Greek Church was unable to withstand this pressure and in the end submitted, giving over the “new territories” to the rule of the Constantinople Patriarchate. Did this happen because the Greek Church’s hierarchs were convinced of Patriarch Bartholomew’s correctness? No! The Greek Church called its decision an “act of sacrifice for the sake of peace in the Church.”
But did this sacrifice truly preserve peace? Alas, no. Even the historical facts cited above show that the sacrificial acts and concessions by various Churches did not appease but rather whetted Constantinople’s appetite even more and encouraged it to launch new raids.
And now, after its intrusion into the canonical territory of the Greek Church, an even larger-scale and more outrageous intrusion has taken place on the canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church, namely on the autonomous Ukrainian Church. And what if the Russian Church were to respond in this conflict as the Greek Church ultimately did? Would it appease the Constantinople patriarch’s appetite, and could we expect that no more Churches will be subjected to such violations from it? Will it all end after Ukraine?
Alas, no. Patriarch Bartholomew has already announced that he is getting ready to do the same thing in Macedonia, which is the canonical territory of the Serbian Orthodox Church. From the start, the “Ukrainian” and “Macedonian” questions were reviewed together.
On April 9, 2018, Patriarch Bartholomew met with Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, and on April 10 with Macedonian president George Ivanov. Both presidents asked that canonical status be granted to the schismatic groups of their respective countries. And both presidents came away from their meetings with the patriarch optimistic about the future.
On May 30, the Synod of the Constantinople Patriarchate took up a “review of the status” of the schismatic “Macedonian Orthodox Church”, which, just like the Ukrainian schismatics, sent a request for recognition. On June 11, Patriarch Bartholomew publicly announced: “When the Mother Church seeks the path of salvation of our brothers from Ukraine and Skopje, it is fulfilling its apostolic duty. It is our obligation and responsibility to bring these peoples back to ecclesiastical rightness and canonical order.”
All of these steps point to the fact that Constantinople proposed a dual intrusion into Ukraine and Macedonia with recognition of their schismatics contrary to the will of the Local Churches, whose canonical territories those lands are. However, judging by everything going on, precisely the Russian Orthodox Church’s tough position regarding the intrusion into Ukraine, as well as the obvious displeasure on the part of other Local Churches have forced Patriarch Bartholomew to set aside his intrusion into the territory of the Serbian Church. He decided to return to the already proven tactic of breaking the Local Churches one at a time. But without a doubt, if world Orthodoxy resigns itself to the lawlessness perpetrated in Ukraine, then Macedonia will be next.
But will Macedonia be the last intrusion? This is a rhetorical question, for the answer is clear. Not a single Local Church is insured against intrusion from Constantinople. And even if there is no base assumption to this, for example in Romania or Bulgaria, then when the situation changes and the occasion arises, Patriarch Bartholomew or his successors will no doubt take advantage of it.
After Serbia, the very likely candidate for intrusion is the canonical territory of the Georgian Orthodox Church due to the complex situation in Abhazia, where there already are schismatics fighting for the resolution to the local ecclesiastical question by addressing it to the Constantinople Patriarchate. They proclaimed themselves the “Holy Metropolia of Abhazia” and in 2012 had already visited Patriarch Bartholomew, turning to him again in 2016 with a request for “the resolution of the Abhazian church problems.”
Within the current geopolitical conditions an intrusion is not likely, but if the situation changes in the future, then undoubtedly it will happen and nothing will hinder the Constantinople patriarch from again announcing that he is “fulfilling his apostolic duty” to “save our brothers” in Abhazia.
“A new ecclesiological concept”
Now let us go on to the second question: What stands behind these actions of the Constantinople patriarchs? Why do they consider that they have the right to takeover, and what aims are they pursuing? To answer this question we do not need to rely on conspiracy theories or guessing games. It is sufficient for us to pay attention to words that were publicly pronounced.
Behind all the expansions mentioned above, as well as many others that we have not even mentioned, and in order not to drag this article out longer than needed, stands a particular ecclesiological teaching on the exclusive position of the Constantinople patriarch in the Orthodox Church.
In early September, at the Synaxis of bishops of the Constantinople Patriarchate, Patriarch Bartholomew announced that “for Orthodoxy the Ecumenical Patriarchate serves as a leaven that leavens the whole lump (Gal. 5:9) of the Church and history… The beginning of the Orthodox Church is the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in it is life, and this life is the light of the Church”… “Orthodoxy cannot exist without the Ecumenical Patriarchate… the Ecumenical Patriarch as the head of Orthodox Body… If the Ecumenical Patriarchate… leaves the inter-Orthodox scene, the Local Churches will become like ‘sheep having no shepherd’” (Mt. 9:36).
These remarks can be supplemented by remarks made by other representatives of the Constantinople Patriarchate. For example, the words of Metropolitan Amphilochius of Adrianopolis: “What would the Orthodox Church be without the Ecumenical Patriarchate? A form of Protestantism… It is unimaginable that some Local Church… should break communion with [with the Ecumenical Patriarchate], because the canonicity of its existence comes from it [the Ecumenical Patriarchate].”1
And here are the words of Protopresbyter George Tsetis: “The Constantinople patriarch, whether someone likes it or not, is the Primate of Orthodoxy, the visible sign of its Unity and the guarantee of the normally functioning institution that we call the ‘Orthodox Church.’”
As we see, the matter has gone very far. If it all began with the assertion that all the Churches in the diaspora should be in submission to him, now it has reached a point where the Constantinople patriarch, as it turns out, is the primate of all Orthodoxy, the head of the Orthodox Body; all the bishops of all the Churches are subject to his judgment, and the primates of all the other Local Churches are like sheep to their shepherd. And without him, the Orthodox Church would not even be Orthodox.
Is this what everyone, always and everywhere has believed? Don’t these statements shock anyone who is even a little acquainted with Church history? As we know, even claims to exclusive primacy by the bishop of Rome were rejected as heresy by the Orthodox world, but the bishops of Constantinople have even less grounds for such claims—if only because before the fourth century, Constantinople didn’t exist. Who at that time was the source, leaven, life and light of the Church? The Church did just fine without the Constantinople Patriarchate during one of the most glorious periods of its history. And after the creation of the Constantinople See, as everyone knows, there were heretics seated there many times. It would be no mistake to say that in the history of the Constantinople throne, heretics occupied it more often than any other ancient patriarchal see. And these periods stretched on for years, even decades. How, after this, can anyone say that Orthodoxy cannot exist without the Ecumenical Patriarchate and that all the other Churches receive their canonicity from it? In those times it was precisely the opposite—canonicity and belonging to Orthodoxy was determined by the break in communion with the Constantinople throne (and the preservation of purity of faith, of course).
As it is not hard to see, we have to do with a new, false teaching being preached by the Constantinople Patriarchate. This teaching is the very source, and at the same time, theoretical basis for all his anti-canonical intrusions over the past 100 years, beginning with Finland and ending with Ukraine.
Any new false teaching that arose in the Church has met opposition and criticism—and this is how it is with the teaching we are talking about.
Back in 1924, the holy confessor Patriarch Tikhon wrote to Constantinople patriarch Gregorios VII: “We are not a little disturbed and surprised that… the head of the Constantinople Church, without any prior communication with us as the lawful representative and Head of the whole Russian Orthodox Church, is meddling in the internal life and affairs of the Autocephalous Russian Church. The Holy Councils (see canons 2 and 3 of the Second Ecumenical Council and others) recognized only the primacy of honor of the bishop of Constantinople, but did not nor does recognize primacy of authority.”
This was said in response to the Constantinople patriarch’s recognition of the schismatic-renovationists supported by the Communist regime, and that he called for Patriarch Tikhon to step down and revoke the establishment of patriarchy in the Russian Church.
St. John (Maximovitch) also noted in 1938 that the appearance of this false teaching coincided in time with the Constantinople Patriarchate’s loss of almost its entire flock on its own canonical territory as a result of the wars at the beginning of the twentieth century. Thus, the Constantinople patriarchs decided to compensate for this loss at the expense of expansion into other Churches.
In the words of St. John, “the Ecumenical Patriarchate wanted to compensate for the loss of the dioceses that went out from under its possession, as well as the loss of its own political significance within the boundaries of Turkey, in regions were there had never been an Orthodox hierarchy up till this time, as well as the Churches of those states where the government is not Orthodox… At that time there was a subjection of separate parts of the Russian Orthodox Church that found themselves cut off from Russia… Limitlessly expanding its craving to subject the Russian regions to itself, the Constantinople patriarchs even began making statements that the joining of Kiev to the Moscow Patriarchate was unlawful… The next step for the Ecumenical Patriarchate would be to announce that all of Russia is under the jurisdiction of Constantinople.”
But in fact, as St. John says, “The Ecumenical Patriarchate… having lost its meaning as the Pillar of Truth and itself become the source of division, at the same time seized with exorbitant love of power, presents itself as a pitiful sight that reminds us of the worst days in the history of the Constantinople See.”
The disciple of St. Siluoan of Mt. Athos, Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), spoke even more specifically about this problem. In 1950 he wrote:
At the present time, in the bowels of our Holy Church, a great danger has appeared that threatens to pervert the dogmatic teaching on it… You ask: In what is this distortion now seen? We reply: In Constantinopolitan neopapism, which is trying to move quickly from the theoretical phase into the practical…
[Adherents of this teaching] at first accepted that Constantinople has jurisdictional rights… then they began insisting that it has the right of highest appeal in the universal Church, forgetting that it was precisely these claims by Rome that lead to the great and final separation of the Churches (1054)… After assuming the Roman Catholic principle of development, they have accepted that Constantinople has exclusive rights to the entire Orthodox diaspora in the world, and rejected this right for all the other autocephalous Churches with respect to the diaspora… [Constantinople] thinks that other autocephalous Churches are reduced before it: Constantinople is everything, it is the Ecumenical [universal] Church, and all the rest are parts, which only belong to the Ecumenical [universal] Church to the extent that they are connected with Constantinople.
What true Christians will accept this? And if, shall we suppose, due to one or another catastrophe the First and Second Rome disappear from the face of the earth, does that mean that the world will be left without a true connection with God, because the connecting links with Him disappeared? No, this is a strange voice (Jn. 10:5). This is not our Christian faith.
Need we say that this form of papism is also an ecclesiastical heresy, just like Roman papism?.. We reject any “Rome”—the First, Second, and Third—if this means the introduction of a principle of subordination into the life of our Church. We reject any Constantinople, Moscow, London, Paris, New York, or any other papism as an ecclesiological heresy that distorts Christianity.
Not only Russian ecclesiastical authors have written about this problem, but also authors from other Local Churches. Thus for example, after the above-mentioned teaching of the Constantinople Church was stated, Archpriest Radomir Popovich of the Serbian Church noted that “this type of thinking reminds us of Rome… here they are talking not only about the bishop of Constantinople’s primacy of honor, but about a whole package of prerogatives of exclusive powers over the whole Orthodox world. This, unfortunately, is identical to the pretenses of the Roman bishop, and therefore many are justifiably talking about the appearance of a new pope.”
And here are the words of one bishop of the Antiochian Church, the archbishop of Australia and New Zealand:
In educated circles it is well known that the patriarch of Constantinople does not have the same position in the church hierarchy of the Orthodox Church that the bishop of Rome occupies in the Catholic church. The patriarch of Constantinople is not the Roman pope of the East. It is also well known in educated Orthodox circles that in the past there have been cases when the Constantinople patriarchs at Ecumenical and other Local Councils were recognized as heretics… The Constantinople patriarch is not the voice of Orthodoxy and cannot set the standards in Orthodoxy.
Disagreement with Patriarch Bartholomew’s actions, which contradict the holy canons and sow temptations and schisms, was expressed in a Statement by Metropolitan Seraphim of Kithyra and Antikythera of the Greek Orthodox Church.
More commentary could easily be cited here, including by representatives of other Local Churches. But non-acceptance of the Constantinople Patriarchate’s false teaching is not limited to the words of various hierarchs and priests—there has also been a conciliar condemnation of it. This took place in 2008 at the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church. In this special resolution is stated:
The Council expresses its deep concern regarding the tendencies… appearing in the statements of certain representatives of the Holy Constantinople Church.
Based upon the understanding of canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council by the indivisible fullness of the Orthodox Church, these hierarchs and theologians are developing a new ecclesiological concept that is becoming a challenge for all-Orthodox unity. According to this concept: a) Only the Local Church that is in communion with the Constantinople See is considered as belonging to world Orthodoxy; b) The Constantinople Patriarchate has the exclusive right of church jurisdiction in all the countries of the Orthodox diaspora; c) In these countries the Constantinople Patriarchate alone represents the opinion and interests of all the Local Churches before the government authorities; d) Any bishop or clergyman who serves outside the canonical territory of its Local Church is under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Constantinople, even if he doesn’t recognize this himself… e) The Constantinople Patriarchate determines the geographical boundaries of the Churches, and if his opinion does not correspond to the opinion of one or another Church on this matter, it can institute its own jurisdiction on the territory of that Church…
This view by the Constantinople Patriarchate of its own rights and powers enter into insurmountable contradiction with many-centuries-old canonical traditions upon which the existence of the Russian Orthodox Church and other Local Churches are built.”
Although in this council resolution, out of economia the word “heresy” is not stated, the rejected and condemned teaching is defined as a “new ecclesiological concept,” which marks the problem as being in the sphere of dogma and not only canons—for ecclesiology (the teaching about the Church) is a part of dogmatics. In 2013 the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church accepted the document, “On the question of primacy in the Universal Church”, in which it explains why it does not accept the Constantinople Patriarchate’s new teaching:
“In the Holy Church of Christ, primacy belongs in all things to its Head—our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ… Various forms of primacy in the Church are secondary in relation to the eternal primacy of Christ as the Head of the Church… On the level of the Universal Church as a community of autocephalous Local Churches, united in one family by the common confession of faith and abiding in sacramental communion with each other, primacy is determined in accordance with the tradition of the holy diptychs and is a primacy of honor… The order of the diptychs has historically changed… Canon law, upon which the holy diptychs are based, does not grant to the one in the first position any privilege of power on the Church-wide scale… The ecclesiological distortions that ascribe the function of rule to the hierarch in the first position… have received the name “papism.”
Also in a more recent statement of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church dated September 14, 2018 are comments on the above-mentioned words from the Constantinople patriarch: “These statements are difficult to assess in any other way than an attempt to remake Orthodox ecclesiology according to the Roman Catholic model… in attempts to assert its power, which does not exist and never has, over the Orthodox Church.”
All these cited quotes prove that the appearance of a new false teaching that distorts the dogma of the Church has not gone unnoticed—individual authors as well as councils have raised their voices to expose it.
It is very sad to admit that the ancient Constantinople See is again infected with a heresy, but this is no longer just a suspicion—it is a committed fact that has been witnessed many times. It is this very heresy, as we have already noted, that is motivating the Constantinople patriarchs to commit their lawless acts aimed at solidifying their self-ascribed power over the Orthodox Church. And this process will not end in Ukraine or Macedonia—after all, not every Church has given Constantinople its diaspora parishes and agreed with its claims.
This problem cannot be solved by any diplomatic maneuvers, compromises, or attempts to come to an agreement. All of this has been done, to no positive effect. According to the words of St. Mark of Ephesus, “Nothing that has to do with the Church can be corrected through compromises. There is no middle ground between Truth and falsehood.”
A Pan-Orthodox Council is needed
As always in the Church, dogmatic problems are healed only by condemning heresy and heretics, deposing them and placing Orthodox bishops on the cathedrae that had been held captive to heretics. This path is of course painful, but it is the only way to heal the Body of the Church. But modern events show that putting off a church decision on this problem is also by no means painless. It is already painful for the faithful of the canonical Church in Ukraine. But they could become the final victims if only all the Local Churches would find the will to gather for a common conciliar condemnation of neopapism. Furthermore, any attempt at papism needs to be condemned once and for all, so that no other Church would be tempted to fall into it in the future; so that no one would follow in the footsteps of the first and second Rome.
A Pan-Orthodox Council should be called, which would make a sober assessment of the new teaching, as well as its practical expression in the form of lawless intrusions upon the territory of other Churches. Of course, Patriarch Bartholomew is not likely to visit such a Council—after all, within the framework of his false teaching he is pushing the idea that only he can call a Pan-Orthodox Council. Then he won’t have to face anyone’s judgment, because it’s obvious that Patriarch Bartholomew himself will never call a Council to judge his own speeches and actions.
History contradicts this idea—not one Ecumenical Council has ever been called by the Constantinople Patriarch; moreover, some of the Councils deposed and anathematized the heretical bishops of that cathedra. And after the epoch of the Ecumenical Councils, the Church also enacted its judicial power over Constantinople patriarchs. Thus, for example, after the Ferrara-Florentine Unia in 1443 a Council was held in Jerusalem of three Eastern patriarchs, who deposed the heretical Constantinople Patriarch Mitrophan. In those days, for many years the first in honor in the Orthodox Church was the patriarch of Alexandria, until an Orthodox patriarch was placed in the Constantinople cathedra.
In 2005, Patriarch Bartholomew called a Pan-Orthodox Council, at which he succeeded in deposing Patriarch Ireneus of Jerusalem, although the accusations against him were not about canonical violations that would have merited deposition, never mind the subsequent defrocking. The actions and assertions of Patriarch Bartholomew himself are much more deserving of a dispassionate review at a Pan-Orthodox Council.
And with such dispassionate review, of course it should be considered that the false teaching propagated by the Constantinople patriarchs beginning in 1922 directly contradict the faith that their ancient predecessors confessed on that cathedra.
For example, Patriarch Germanos II (1222–1240) said, “There are five patriarchates with specific borders for each, and in recent times a schism has arisen amongst them, the beginning of which was placed by a brazen hand having predominance and lordship in the Church. The head of the Church is Christ, and any demand of headship is against His teaching.” Unfortunately, his modern successors have themselves decided to demand headship of the Church, apparently considering that being under the headship of Christ is not enough for the Orthodox.
In antiquity the Constantinople patriarchs said straightforwardly that they are counteracting the primacy of the Roman pope not because of any desire to assert their own primacy. In part, Patriarch Nilos Kerameus (1380–1388) wrote to Pope Urban VI: “It is not fair what some are saying of us that we desire to have primacy.” The current patriarch has shamed his predecessors, inasmuch as he has, alas, made these accusations entirely fair.
These words are from an Encyclical of four patriarchs in 1848: “The dignity [of the Roman See] consists not in lordship and not in headship, which Peter himself never received, but in the fraternal seniority in the universal Church and advantage given the popes for the sake of the renown and antiquity of their city… we Orthodox have preserved the catholic [universal] Church as the unspotted bride of her Bridegroom, although we have no secular oversight or “sacred rule”, but are only united by the bonds of love and zeal for our common Mother, in unity of faith, sealed with seven seals of the Spirit (Rev. 5:1); that is, the seven Ecumenical Councils, and in obedience to the truth.”
Beneath these words is the signature of Constantinople patriarch Anthimos, who, like his ancient predecessors, shared the same view on the question of primacy in the Church that the Russian Orthodox Church is now expressing. And the current Constantinople Patriarchate has departed from this faith, in fact so obviously that it openly criticizes and even calls it a heresy, as we can see from the words of the former secretary of the Synod of the Constantinople Patriarchate Archimandrite Elipidoros (Lambriniadis), now Metropolitian of Prussia. He stated that “refusal to accept primacy in the Orthodox Church—primacy that can only be embodied by the first [hierarch]—is no less of a heresy.”
Even the Roman Church needed more time than this to dogmatize its teaching on the primacy of the pope.
It is sad to acknowledge that even in the Greek Churches we have seen the rising of this heresy. There was some opposition in the Alexandria Patriarchate in the mid twentieth century, but then it ended. Although it would be hard to call Patriarch Bartholomew a popular figure, and in the Greek language one can find quite a lot of criticism against him. He is accused of canonical crimes, and of various heresies; but in the Greek language we don’t find anything accusing him of neopapsim.
Papism in the documents of the ill-famed Council of Crete
Let’s take also the ill-famed Council of Crete, which was the cause of so many temptations and divisions. How much criticism extremely intelligent people have aimed at it! There have even been accusations voiced of dogmatic mistakes in it documents; but at the same time, no one noticed the multiple metastases of the heresy of Constantinople papism that had crept into various council documents. Although, as we are convinced, that council was called precisely in order to have those self-ascribed privileges of the Constantinople Patriarchate recognized on the pan-Orthodox level. Its documents are of no value for any other Local Orthodox Church, and they did not resolve any relevant pan-Orthodox problems. However, there is much written in the documents in favor of the Constantinople Patriarchate, and we will cite a few examples of this below.
It is worth stipulating here that the Constantinople version of papism does not correspond one hundred percent with the Roman version. There are some differences. For example, if in Roman papism the figure of the pope is exalted but all other bishops are thought to be equal to each other, then in the Constantinople version of papism, special rights and privileges extend to some degree to the bishops of the Constantinople Church. This is written in the document accepted at the Crete Council called, “The Orthodox Diaspora”. In section 2b is outlined the order of procedure of bishops’ councils in non-Orthodox countries of the world, and in part it is determined that “the assembly shall consist of all the bishops of every region and will proceed under the chairmanship of the senior bishop in submission to the Constantinople Church.”
As we can see, not only the Constantinople patriarch, but also all bishops in submission to him possess the right of primacy in relation to all the other bishops of all other Local Churches, inasmuch as they should preside at local assemblies of Orthodox bishops of various jurisdictions.
Even the Latins didn’t think of that.
In many places in the Crete documents, the Constantinople patriarch is given power over all the Orthodox Churches, including judicial. In part:
“In matters of common interests and demanding… pan-Orthodox review, the chairman [of the bishops’ assembly] shall address the Ecumenical Patriarch for further actions” (Orthodox diaspora, 6).
“In the course of the following pan-Orthodox discussion the Ecumenical patriarch shall determine the unanimous consensus of Orthodox Churches” (Relationship of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world, 10).
On the territory of the Orthodox diaspora, autonomous Churches shall not be established except in cases of pan-Orthodox agreement provided by the Ecumenical patriarch” (Autonomy and the method of proclaiming it, 2d).
“In case differences of opinion arise… the participating sides shall jointly or separately address the Ecumenical patriarch, so that the latter would find a canonical solution to the problem” (Autonomy and the method of pronouncing it, 2e).
In the Missive of the Council of Crete, it is proposed that a Holy and Great Council be instituted as a regular institution, the Constantinople patriarch for some reason having the only right to call it, which is something that has no basis in either the history or theology of the Orthodox Church.
However, the right to call a Pan-Orthodox Council should belong not only to the first primate in the diptychs, but to any primate of a Local Church. Limiting this right only to the Constantinople patriarch makes it impossible to call a council in the case of a Local Church’s claim against the Constantinople patriarch, and in fact makes the patriarch of that Church not subject to any judicial proceedings, which contradicts the canonical order of Orthodoxy, according to which any bishop is subject to the judgment of a court of bishops.
Why have Greek authors passed over all of this, as well as other more outrageous expressions of the heresy of Constantinople papism that we have cited above? Could it really be that they share in that heresy? Or are they ready to make peace with it simply for the sake of national solidarity? This is hard to believe; after all, the glory of the Orthodox Greek people always consisted in its dedication to the truth, for the sake of which its best representatives were not afraid to expose the Constantinople patriarchs who fell into heresy. Thus it was for St. Maximos the Confessor at the time of the monothelyte patriarchs, thus it was for St. Mark of Ephesus at the time of the Ferrara-Florentine Unia, thus is was for St. Meletius the Confessor at the time of the Lyon Unia… We could go on. For all of these holy Greeks, faithfulness to the truth always took first place. What has changed?
After all, we are not talking about “taking the side of the Russians” or the “Slavs”, but about standing on the side of the truth. How many confessors and martyrs from among the Greek people have suffered in order not to accept Western papism? Could it really only all have been for their descendants to submissively accept the very same heresy, only this time wrapped in an Eastern, Greek wrapper? May it never be!
We must talk briefly about the claims of the Constantinople patriarch to judicial authority and arbitrage throughout the entire Orthodox Church, inasmuch as these claims are part of that same wrapper. Of course, this article is dedicated to the dogmatic issue, and therefore we are not discussing canonical matters, which have been sufficiently covered in other articles. In view of the systematic violations and infringements of many canons by the Constantinople Patriarchate we are simply taken aback when at the same time we hear the announcement that the “Ecumenical Patriarchate bears responsibility for bringing matters into ecclesiastical an canonical order.” And these statements are being voiced at the same time that this Patriarchate is revoking canons altogether—for example the apostolic canon that forbids clergy from marrying twice.
But does Constantinople have the right of appeal?
Although we can discuss many things in this regard, it would drag this article out longer than necessary. But nevertheless, it is worth discussing one example of specific claims on judicial powers over the whole Church. In his already mentioned recent speeches, Patriarch Bartholomew spoke of the “unique privileges of the Constantinople Church to accept appeals from hierarchs and clergy seeking refuge from all the Local Orthodox Churches.” And these statements are made with reference to the ninth and seventeenth canons of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, as if they bestowed that privilege on the Constantinople Patriarchate. And by this he justifies, in part, his intrusion into Ukrainian affairs and the acceptance into communion of defrocked schismatics.
We can understand just to what extent this interpretation of the canons agrees with Church Tradition by comparing it with the explanation of St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite in his famous “Pedalion” (“Rudder”):
The Constantinople [Patriarchate] does not have the authority to act in dioceses and within the boundaries of other patriarchs, and the given canon does not grant him the right of appellate instance throughout the whole Church… Therefore, Zonara in his explanation of the 17th canon of this Council says that Constantinople is not placed as judge over all metropolitans in general, but only over those in submission to him.
The Constantinople [Patriarchate] is the only first and last judge for metropolitans in submission to him, but not for those in submission to other patriarchs, because the unity of the Ecumenical Council is the final and all-encompassing judge of all patriarchs, and no one else.
As we see, the false teaching on the dogmas is based upon a false interpretation of canons, which, of course unsurprisingly, inasmuch as we are talking about teachings, is alien to the Orthodox Church. Of course, adherents of this teaching, like any other heretics, can seek out various separate citations from old texts that are amenable to them, especially ones coming out of Constantinople; they can recall also the engulfment by Constantinople of the Bulgarian and Serbian Churches during the time of the Ottoman Empire—quite dubious and contentious actions, which Constantinople later had to correct. But all of this cannot change the fact that any papism is alien to Orthodox teaching, be it Western or Eastern. As the holy hieromartyr Gorazd of Czechia wrote, “The Eastern Church accepted only Jesus Christ as the Head of the Church and rejected the very idea of accepting an [ordinary] man as the head… because it saw this idea as the consequence of a lack of faith in the invisible Head—Jesus Christ—and His living rule over the Body of the Universal Church… as well as incompatible with the apostolic principle of conciliar decision of Church matters, which was expressed in its highest form at the Ecumenical Councils.”
The Constantinople Patriarch, and not the “Ecumenical” Patriarch
It is also worth talking about how the Constantinople Patriarchate uses its various titles of honor as the basis for promoting his papism—first of all the title, “Ecumenical (Universal) Patriarch”. If earlier this title was one of his titles of honor, like for example the Alexandria patriarch’s title of “Ecumenical Judge (Judge of the Universe)”, then in recent times it has become in fact the Constantinople primate’s official and main self-name. They have called themselves exclusively by this name for a long time, with their own understanding that their ecclesiastical jurisdiction extends literally over the whole universe.
As an example of this term’s use, we can cite the words of Metropolitan Elipodoros (Lambriniadis):
The primacy of the archbishop of Constantinople has nothing in common with the dyptichs, which only express hierarchical order… If we talk about the source of primacy, then the source is the very person of the archbishop of Constantinople himself, who as a bishop is the “first among equals”, but as the archbishop of Constantinople, and correspondingly, Ecumenical (Universal) patriarch he is the first without equal.
Such an understanding of his “ecumenical (as in “universal”) jurisdiction” was also expressed in that during the twentieth century the hierarchs of the Constantinople Church have divided amongst themselves all countries of the world with the exception of those which they themselves recognize as belonging to other autocephalous Churches. So, even the countries in which there is not a single Orthodox Christian have found themselves written into the canonical territory of one or another bishop of the Constantinople Church. And that bishop can get angry and even furiously protest if some other Church opens its mission in a country wherein he has never even stepped foot and where he doesn’t have a single believer—simply by force of the above-mentioned allocation. That this allocation of the world, which originated only within the twentieth century, again exposes this teaching as new and previously unknown in the Church—because had it been ancient, the Constantinople bishops would have introduced that allocation much earlier.
It is sufficiently well known that even when the title “Ecumenical” began to be used by the Constantinople bishops, the holy Pope Gregory the Dialogist categorically denounced it. He wrote in part to Patriarch John of Constantinople:
As a result of your criminal and pride-filled title, the Church is divided and the hearts of your brothers are led into temptation… If the apostle Paul avoided submitting the members of Christ in their parts to a certain head, as if going around Christ, though these heads were the apostles themselves, then what will you say to Christ, Who is the Head of the Universal Church, when tried at the Last Judgment—you, who with your title of “ecumenical” are trying to subject all His members to yourself?”
And here are his words from a letter to Patriarchs Eulogios of Alexandria and Anastasios of Antioch:
None of my predecessors agreed to use this dishonorable title (ecumenical) because, in fact, if any patriarch will call himself ecumenical, then by this he takes away the patriarchal title from others.
Nevertheless, the Constantinople patriarchs did not heed the words of the Orthodox pope, St. Gregory the Dialogist, who was at that time first in honor. And this title continued to be used. Some try to defend its use by saying that it supposedly is not used in the sense that St. Gregory wrote about, that it was no more than an elegant title, something like “Ecumenical Teacher” and “Ecumenical Librarian”, which they also had in the imperial capital. Perhaps that is how it was at the beginning, but if we look at how this title has finally come to be used, then we can count St. Gregory’s words as prophetic.
St. Gregory was not the only pope who came out against the use of the title “ecumenical”. In the second act of the Seventh Ecumenical Council we read that the epistle that Pope Adrian of Rome wrote to the emperor was read aloud. In the original text of this epistle, besides a condemnation of iconoclasm, were these words:
We were very surprised when we found that in your imperial edicts published about the patriarch of the ruling city, that is, about Tarasius, he is also called ecumenical. We do not know whether this was written was out of ignorance or at the suggestion of impious schismatics and heretics; but we strongly ask your most merciful imperial power that he never, not in a single of his writings sign as “ecumenical”; because it is clear that this is against the establishment of the holy canons and traditions of the holy fathers… Therefore, if anyone should call him ecumenical or give consent to this, then let them know that it is alien to the Orthodox faith.
Although there is a great probability that these places in the epistle were not translated into Greek during its reading at the Council, nevertheless we see for the second time that the first primate of that time directly criticized and forbade the use of the title “ecumenical” by Constantinople patriarchs. These testimonies give us grounds to talk about the unlawfulness of using this title. Therefore, Orthodox writers should not use the name, “Ecumenical Patriarch”, but call him the “Constantinople Patriarch”, in order not to support the very use of this title and the spreading of the heresy of new papism.
The Mother Church?
Another title actively being used by Constantinople as a basis for its ambitions is “Mother Church”, although this title, like those before it, was never given to the Constantinople throne by any Ecumenical Council, but was in fact self-willfully assumed.
It is fully justified only in the historical context and only in relation to Churches that received their autocephaly from the Constantinople Church. However, it is being used in a much broader sense. For example, in the above-mentioned speech, Patriarch Bartholomew talks about his Patriarchate as a “caring Mother and parent of the Church” in his claims on a special place in the pan-Orthodox communion. But this understanding of the Constantinople Church as the Mother of all Churches is obviously absurd, because many ancient Patriarchates historically preceded the appearance of Constantinople. Then how could it be their mother? If any Church could lay claim to this title it would be the Jerusalem Church. All the Churches have always recognized its special historical contribution, but it was never understood as a right to lordship and power.
But Constantinople uses the self-ascribed title of “Mother Church” as grounds for its striving to subject to its authority all the other autocephalous Churches, which are supposed to be submissive and obedient like daughters to their mother. Although as Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov) noted, even if we were to allow that Constantinople
can truly call itself the Mother of all Churches… in any case, extrapolating submission from the fact of historical motherhood would be a departure from Orthodox triadology, according to which Fatherhood or Sonship does not remove the fullness of equality. The One Who is born from a being is equal to the One from Whom He was born. That is how the holy fathers thought.
And the words “caring mother” sound especially cynical from the lips of Patriarch Bartholomew. No caring mother would ever do to her children what Constantinople is doing to the Russian Church, and not much earlier than that to the Greek Church. If we had to apply the word “mother” to the Constantinople Patriarchate, then its actions more closely illustrate the sickening pagan image of a mother who devours her own children. And who can blame the children who decide to leave such a “mother”?
That the Russian Church has broken Eucharistic communion with Constantinople would be justified even if this matter were limited only to its desire to protest this evildoing on the scale of the entire Church, and to protect its children from communion with those who have entered into communion with schismatics. But in fact it is all much more serious than that. The Russian Orthodox Church has become the first to refuse to submit to the heresy of papism that is being imposed on all the Churches by the Constantinople Patriarchate.
And all the other Local Churches will sooner or later have to make the same choice—not between the “Russians” and the “Greeks”, but between Orthodoxy and heresy.