By Hieromonk Nikitas of Pantokratoros Monastery
The meeting of Amman showed that there was a stain on the Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church. The aim of the mains actors of this fraternal gathering in Amman has now become apparent. The purpose will always be to downgrade the role of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Orthodoxy. Specifically, they want to abolish prerogatives such as the right to be the regulator, to grant autocephaly, to hear appeals from other local Churches and many others. They want to recognize only the primacy of honor, without the existence of all the prerogatives granted to the Ecumenical Patriarchate by the Church through the ecumenical councils.
We hear many opinions that have nothing to do with Church tradition. Even “if in Amman everyone was equal, seated at a round table, and this is the right and this is how the Pan-Orthodox congregations should be. Without a head, for Christ is the head.” No one has denied that Christ is the head of the Church. However, these things are foreign to the Orthodox tradition and dangerous. The Church has never acted this way. There was always someone who was recognized as the first in Jesus’ type and place. We see, for example, that there is always one that presides over and performs the Divine Liturgy. They may all be equal in rank, but one must be first, in the type of Christ. Even at the Council of Jerusalem, there was one president. It was Saint James, brother of Jesus. They were all apostles, but somebody presided over and co-ordinated both the discussion and the synod. So, one synod cannot have a head.
In the history of the Orthodox Church we see what the role of Pope of Rome was (before the Schism of 1054). He intervened vigorously in the affairs of other local Churches, including those of the Church of Constantinople. One typical example can be found the life of Saint Ioannis Chrysostomos, when the Pope of Rome, Saint Innocent, forbade the emperor and any clergyman from administering the Holy Communion to him. Specifically, he forbade clergymen of Constantinople and clergymen of all the other Patriarchates from doing so. Studying the lives of many other saints, we see how much the Pope of Rome intervened in the affairs of other local Churches when asked for. He was always involved in the decisions of all important matters and regulated all matters of the Church because he had the primacy of honor. These are a few examples drawn from the early Christianity era showing that there was always somebody acting as the highest authority. There was always someone above all and regulated church matters. He acted the first among equals.
It is well known that the Ecumenical Patriarch’s primacy of honor has been established by the ecumenical synods. The Councils of Chalcedon and of Constantinople decided that the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Pope of Rome shared the same primacy of honor. So, after the Schism of 1054, the Ecumenical Patriarch remained the only one with the primacy of honor. The history and canons of the ecumenical councils show us the primary role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate as well as the content of this role. The primacy of honor is not only an advantage, but they also confer canonical responsibilities, including the granting of autocephaly. The autocephaly and the patriarchal values of the junior local Churches were given by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The decisions are not taken alone by the Patriarch, but by the Holy Synod, because the Orthodox Church is governed by the synod. There is no such thing as Papal infallibility. Many decisions have been changed or delayed by further consideration of the issues requested by synodical archpriests. And the healthy thing is that all the synodical archpriests were regularly rotated, and that ensured the objectivity and credibility of the decisions.
According to the tradition and history of the Church, the Ecumenical Patriarchate has the right to hear appeals in cases of dispute between bishops. It does not intervene in other local Churches, but has the right to hear their appeals when it is asked to do so. It acts as a supreme court. This prerogative has existed from time immemorial, when the Pope of Rome was trying the cases involving other Patriarchates. It was so entrenched that, when the Russian clergy asked the Patriarchs in 1663 whether the Ecumenical Patriarchate had the right to try the cases involving other local Churches, all the Patriarchs unanimously answered YES and that only the Ecumenical Patriarchate had this right. These are old-centuries well-established traditions of the Orthodox Church. Going down the path the Church has given us, we are safe. Everything else is just dangerous innovations and opinions expressed by those who are disturbed by the Ecumenical Patriarch’s prerogative granted by the Church. Most importantly, he did not take them on his own, nor did he ask for them, but the ecumenical councils decided to grant those prerogatives to the Ecumenical Patriarch. Unfortunately, anyone who questions those prerogatives questions the very decisions made by many divinely inspired fathers. They are all the fruits of the Holy Spirit who is a perfect God, and everything God created is perfect and cannot be corrected. It cannot get any better. If we intervene, we can only make it worse.
It is now clear that some cannot or do not want to follow the well-trodden and secure path outlined by the Church’s tradition and history, and are looking for new “platforms” to convoke synods.
The meeting in Amman showed us its true purpose, which is the degradation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, on the pretext of discussing the problems plaguing Orthodoxy. If there were indeed concerns about the problems of Orthodoxy, the issue regarding the jurisdiction over Qatar would certainly be discussed. For six years now two ancient Patriarchates have severed the communion ties, something which has led to a schism within the Church. This problem is similar when the Russian Orthodox Church decided to sever communion ties.
It is noteworthy that Metropolitan Onufriy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate was part of the delegation of the Russian Orthodox Church, who stated that their Church in Ukraine did not differ substantially from the status of the autocephalous Church. While being a member of the entourage of the Patriarch of Moscow and being a permanent member of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, how can one claim that this Church is acting as an autocephalous one?
The Ukrainian autocephaly issue has indeed moved into the background somewhat. During this meeting, nothing concrete about the solution of the “problem” in Ukraine was decided. Even Metropolitan Onufriy expressed his dissatisfaction. He wanted more specific things to be decided. What was decided was that there should be a Pan-Orthodox dialogue on the subject. This shows the main purpose of this gathering, namely the downgrading of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. But which autocephaly was granted with a pan-Orthodox synod? None. This is an exclusive prerogative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
The church has always had this kind of upheaval, because where there are people, there are problems. The Church is always moving forward, based on its traditions, and on those that the Holy Fathers well established.