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The Debate over the Declaration of Autocephaly in a Church

by His Eminence, +Hierotheos, Metropolitan of Naupaktos

Translated from the Greek by Fr Patrick B. O'Grady

Ναυπάκτου κ. Ἱεροθέου: ''Ἡ συζήτηση γιά τήν ἀνακήρυξη Αὐτοκεφαλίας σέ μιά Ἐκκλησία''
Appeared on 24 October 2018 here, in the original Greek,

In a previous article entitled, “The institution of Autocephaly in the Orthodox Church” I presented the basic elements of what autocephaly is and how it functions within the synodical and hierarchical government of the Church, so as to not end up either in papal primacy or in Protestant confederations.

In my present article, which is a sequel to the previous one, I will take up the debate that has been going on over the last few years about how autocephaly is granted, under what conditions it is given, and certainly I shall present the ineffectiveness of these debates and how it is that we have arrived at the current state of affairs in the Ukraine, concerning which the Church of Russia has interrupted ecclesiastical communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

1. The text on “Autocephaly and the manner of its declaration”

One of the subjects which were determined to be discussed and approved by the Holy and Great Synod, at the 1st Pre-synodical Pan-Orthodox Conference in Geneva in November 1976, was the subject: “Autocephaly and the manner of its declaration,” and indeed this was the second subject in order after the subject of “Orthodox Diaspora.”

In the Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission of the Holy and Great Synod which took place between 7th and 13th November 1993, a text on this serious matter was adopted. As written in this text, the Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission “examined the ecclesiological, canonical, pastoral and practical dimensions of the subject of autocephaly in the Orthodox Church” and appended its conclusions.

This text consists of four articles which I set forth here:

“1. The institution of autocephaly expresses in an authentic manner one of the essential views of the Orthodox ecclesiological tradition concerning the relation of the local church to the Ecumenical Church of God. This profound relation of the canonical institution of ecclesiastical autocephaly to the Orthodox ecclesiological teaching about the local church explains both the keen sensitivity of the local autocephalous Orthodox churches for confronting existing problems concerning the proper functioning of this institution, as well as also their readiness to contribute to full advantage, through extensive recommendations, regarding the unity of the Orthodox Church.

2. The consistent, mutual co-inherence within Orthodox ecclesiology of locality and universality (ecumenicity) determines the functional relationship between the administrative organization and the unity of the Church; therefore, complete agreement on the status of the institution of autocephaly in the life of the Orthodox Church has been confirmed.

3. Complete agreement has been confirmed regarding the necessary canonical conditions for the declaration of autocephaly of a given local church; namely, as to the consent and the operations of the mother-church, as to the ascertaining of pan-Orthodox consensus and as to the role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and of the other autocephalous Orthodox churches at the time of the declaration of autocephaly. According to this agreement:

(a) The mother-church, when she receives the request of the ecclesiastical region which is under submission to her, assesses the existing ecclesiological, canonical and pastoral conditions for the granting of autocephaly. In the event that the local synod (of the mother-church), as the highest ecclesiastical agent, grants its consent, it submits a relevant proposal to the Ecumenical Patriarchate for a search for pan-Orthodox consensus and it also informs the other local autocephalous churches.

b) The Ecumenical Patriarchate, according to norms established in a pan-Orthodox manner, communicates by a Patriarchal Letter everything relevant to the particular request and seeks the expression of pan-Orthodox consensus. Pan-Orthodox consensus is expressed through the unanimity of the synods of the respective autocephalous churches.

c) The Ecumenical Patriarch expresses the consent of the mother-church and the pan-Orthodox consensus and then officially declares the autocephaly of the church requesting it through the issue of a patriarchal tomos. This tomos is signed by the Ecumenical Patriarch. It is desirable for it to be endorsed also by the primates of the autocephalous churches; but if not, in any case, at least also by the primate of the mother-church.

4. The newly declared autocephalous local church is placed in order as equal in honor within the communion of autocephalous Orthodox churches and enjoys all the canonical privileges (diptychs, commemoration, inter-Orthodox relations, etc.) established in pan-Orthodox manner.”

This text shows what autocephaly is, how there is a mutual co-inherence in Orthodox ecclesiology between locality and universality (ecumenicity), and what the relationship is between the administrative organization of each local church and the unity of the entire Orthodox Church.

It also appears that paragraph 3 of Article 3 was the most basic, because it shows the manner of declaring autocephaly in a local church. That is to say, the local church makes the request to receive autocephaly, the mother-church in whose ecclesiastical jurisdiction the local church belongs expresses her consent, all the Orthodox Churches provide consensus and afterwards the Ecumenical Patriarch officially declares autocephaly to the church that requested it. This means that, once the earlier stages have been passed through, the Ecumenical Patriarch issues the synodical tomos.

Furthermore, the desire was expressed for the tomos to be endorsed by the primates of all the autocephalous churches, but in any case at least by the primate of the church—characterized as the mother-church—to which, until then, the church to which autocephaly has been granted belonged.

We are dealing with a balanced ecclesiastical decision which shows how the synodical and hierarchical constitution of the Orthodox Church functions, so that autocephaly does not become “kakocephaly” [bad-headed -trans.].

But at the end of the text a note is written: “the contents of paragraph 3(c) has been referred for more complete elaboration in the next Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission. This commission will research this single subject through the various local Orthodox churches, so as thereby to complete its work on this subject.”

This text was the work of the representatives of all the Orthodox churches and would have to be approved by the Holy and Great Synod when that meeting would take place.

2. The Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission of December 2009

During the synodical period, 2009-2010, I was a member of the Permanent Holy Synod, and in this capacity I followed the progress of this issue.

In particular, during the period from the 9th to the 17th of December 2009, at the Patriarchal Center at Chambésy in Geneva, the Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission convened, to study the issues which were going to be discussed at the Holy and Great Synod; namely, “autocephaly,” “autonomy” and the “diptychs.” We are dealing with serious ecclesiological questions that refer to the unity of the Orthodox Church.

The ever-memorable Protopresbyter Stefanos Avramidis, secretary of the Synodical Commission on Inter-Orthodox and Inter-Christian Relations of the Church of Greece, who participated on behalf of the Church of Greece in this Commission as a consultant (while Metropolitan Meletios of Nikopolis and Preveza was a member), submitted a report on the proceedings of this Inter-Orthodox Pre-synodical Commission to the Permanent Holy Synod. This report is quite interesting because it shows the problems that exist in the Orthodox Church.

We shall see two points from this report which illustrate the problem that has arisen with the Ukraine.

a) Discussion on the subject

As I have already noted above, paragraph 3(c) was referred by the 1993 Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Conference to be discussed at a subsequent Preparatory Conference.

An interesting and revealing discussion was held on this subject at the Preparatory Conference in December 2009. I do not have at my disposal the minutes of this session, but I have the report of the secretary, Fr Stefanos Avramidis, which he put in his official text in the Permanent Holy Synod, and I think that he put forth the truth of the matter.

The most reverend President (Metropolitan John of Pergamon), representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, “developed the position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate; namely, that, seeing as the Ecumenical Patriarch ensures the consensus of the local Orthodox churches, by means of accepting their written consensus, he can sign the Patriarchal tomos on his own.”

That is to say, the tomos of autocephaly would be signed by the Ecumenical Patriarch, since the consensus of all the autocephalous churches would have taken place beforehand.

Then there followed a discussion among the representatives of all the Orthodox churches.

First, H.E., Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk (Church of Russia) “developed at length the position of the Patriarchate of Moscow: that all the primates have to sign the tomos of autocephaly or at least ‘also’ the mother-church.”

This shows that a second proposal was immediately put forward, contrary to the proposal of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Essentially, he put forward the question of a reduction of the privileges of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (as provided by the canons of the Church, above all those of the Fourth Ecumenical Synod, which followed the whole ecclesiastical tradition).

H.G., Bishop Cyprian of Cabineanul (Church of Romania) “expressed the same position as the Metropolitan of Volokolamsk, as he emphasized that in this way unanimity and synodality is expressed. He also proposed adding a special paragraph providing for the possibility of a church to appeal to a pan-Orthodox organization in the case of an “unjustified refusal” of the mother-church to consent to the granting of autocephaly. Behind this proposal, perhaps, the Romanian claim on jurisdiction over the Church of Moldova may be hidden.”

Subsequently, the president, H.E. Metropolitan John of Pergamon, replied that there are many ways of expressing synodality, unanimity, and unity; and he gave voice to the fear that many express concerning the conscientious efforts of certain churches to reduce the privileges of the First-throne Church. He also stressed that, although only the Ecumenical Patriarch would sign the tomos of autocephaly, pan-Orthodox consensus would in no way be degraded, since over the course of the matters already decided, consensus of all the primates, and naturally the mother-church, would have to be given beforehand.

H.E., Metropolitan Meletios of Nikopolis (Church of Greece), “when he spoke, in the icy atmosphere which prevailed in the meeting-hall of the sessions, with many arguments he demonstrated that ‘those who are settled on a love for controversy’ (Ecumenical Synod of Nicaea, Canon 6) cannot disturb unanimity. The Ecumenical Synods stated that everything was decided unanimously, despite the fact that there never was absolute unanimity, and that the vote of the majority always prevailed. The Holy and Great Synod is not bound by any preparatory process—though this process seeks reception of unanimous proposals—and the Synod can overturn them.”

H.E., Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk “reminded us that the Patriarch of Moscow received the tomos of autocephaly after the decision of the Permanent (endemousa) Synod in Constantinople! With this argument, he wanted to reinforce the position of the Patriarchate of Moscow that autocephaly must be granted by a pan-Orthodox body.”

Then Professor Pheidas, who was an advisor to the Secretariat, “At the Preparatory Conference of the Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church, ‘intervening at this point, he stressed that the Patriarchal dignity was given to Moscow by the Ecumenical Patriarch Jeremias alone. The Metropolitan of Moscow then was declared autocephalous. That is, the position of the Patriarch of Moscow was clarified in relation to the Patriarch of Constantinople, as well as his position in the system of Orthodox churches.”

In fact, as the same professor maintains in his book, the patriarchal honor and dignity came about by Patriarch Jeremias II on 26 January 1589, in the Divine Liturgy celebrated in the Holy Church of the Theotokos, which was named “Patriarchate.” Patriarch Jeremias, after his return to Constantinople, convened the Permanent Synod (1590), in which Patriarch Joachim V of Antioch and Patriarch Sophronios IV of Jerusalem participated, for the expression of their consensus toward the declaration of the patriarchal honor and dignity of the Church of Russia. However, since at that time the throne of Alexandria was in its widowhood, after three years a great Permanent Synod was convened (1593), in order for the consensus also of the elected and ordained Patriarch of Alexandria, Meletios I (Pigas), to be expressed. Thus, with this Permanent Synod, the acceptance of the Church of Russia as a patriarchate took place. This had been granted in 1589 by the Ecumenical Patriarch Jeremias II by means of a patriarchal chrysobull or tomos issued to Moscow (see Vlassios Pheidas, The Institution of the Pentarchy of the Patriarchs, Athens 2012, p. 343 ff).

The most reverend Metropolitan of Volokolamsk “as if to reply to Mr. Pheidas, said: ‘Our Patriarch would never authorize the Ecumenical Patriarch to speak as his representative!”

Doubt over the Ecumenical Patriarch as protos in the system of the Orthodox churches was most clearly manifested. Immediately, the most reverend President replied:

“Here it is noted that an ecclesiological issue is set before us. That which you said strengthens our suspicions that there is an attempt to demote the status of the Ecumenical Patriarch. The Ecumenical Patriarch possesses the task of coordination and has the power to express the opinion of all Orthodoxy. And he does this after he has consulted with the other primates. This has no relationship with papal primacy. The Pope expresses his opinion; he does not ask others. The Ecumenical Patriarch seeks to ensure the opinion of the others and he expresses it.”

At this point the Session of that day was adjourned.

Fr Stefanos Avramidis continues in his report:

“Throughout the following day, despite the appeal of the most reverend President that love among the representatives of the delegates be not diminished, the discussions on the subject of who signs the tomos of autocephaly were carried out in a climate of tension.”

The most reverend President “stressed that the issue of signing the tomos of autocephaly by the Ecumenical Patriarch is a basic ecclesiological issue over which no retreat on the part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate could take place.”

Consequently, two proposals were put forward. The first proposal was from the Ecumenical Patriarchate: that the tomos of autocephaly be signed by the Ecumenical Patriarch only after the petition came from the church which wants autocephaly, the consent of the mother-church to which the petitioning church previously had belonged, and the consensus of all the churches had previously been given. The second proposal was from the Church of Russia: that with everything which precedes the declaration of autocephaly coming first, the tomos is signed by all the Orthodox churches.

The report reads:

“On this proposal (i.e., that of the Ecumenical Patriarchate), the Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem and the Churches of Greece and of Albania all take the same side”; that is, six churches with the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

“On the proposal of the Church of Russia, the Churches of Serbia, Romania (for its own reasons), as well as the Churches of Bulgaria, Georgia, Poland, and the Czech-lands & Slovakia”; that is, seven Churches with the Patriarch of Russia.

“The Church of Cyprus also sided with the position that the tomos be signed by all the churches.”

In the end, six churches took the side of the proposal of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and eight churches took the side of the proposal of the Patriarchate of Russia.

Then H.E., Hilarion, Metropolitan of Volokolamsk “proposed a compromise solution: that the tomos be signed by the Ecumenical Patriarch with larger letters and the mother-church sign as a co-proclaimer or co-witness.

But this proposition was not accepted: the churches which confirmed the proposal of the Ecumenical Patriarchate insisted that the patriarchal tomos be signed only by the Ecumenical Patriarch, while the other churches insisted that the tomos be signed by all the primates of the local churches and not only by the Ecumenical Patriarch and the primate of the mother-church.”

At this point, Metropolitan Meletios of Nicopolis (Church of Greece) intervened. He emphasized “that the obstinacy and persistence of those that want all the primates, or just the primate of the mother-church, to sign does not demonstrate humility. He referred to the privileges of the Pope of Old Rome, as well as to the equal privileges and seniority of the Patriarch of New Rome. He reminded us that in the tomos of autocephaly of Moscow it expressly mentions that the Patriarch of Moscow ought to recognize the Ecumenical Patriarch as First (protos). So then Moscow is going back on the basic stipulation on the grounds of which autocephaly and the patriarchal dignity were bestowed.”

Metropolitan Meletios of Nicopolis was right, because in the patriarchal chrysobull which was given to Moscow by Patriarch Jeremias II, by which the Patriarch is recognized, as well as in the Synodical Letter of 1590 with the consensus of the Patriarchs of Antioch and Jerusalem, emphasis was laid in this point “that (Moscow) might have as head and ruler the self-same apostolic throne of the City of Constantine, as do the other Patriarchs” (Vlasios Pheidas, op. cit., p. 363).

In answer to what H.E., Metropolitan Meletios of Nicopolis said, H.E., Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk insisted,

“The signature by the mother-church on the tomos of autocephaly is conditio sine qua non (= a condition without which there is no agreement) for the Patriarchate of Moscow. We have accepted to change the decision for the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in America (O.C.A.), but in no case do we accept to lose the signature of the mother-church from the tomos of autocephaly.”

The text concerning the declaration of autocephaly was completely suppressed, even though they aimed at having the petition of the church which was seeking autocephaly come first, then the consent of the mother-church, and finally the consensus of all the autocephalous churches. The variance that emerged appears in the verbs, “subscribes,” “co-signs” and “signs.” Of course we are not dealing with simple verbs, but in reality we are dealing with a lessening of the privileges of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and in practice that there is no protos in the Church.

On the following day, the 12th of December, the commemoration of St Spyridon, following the Divine Liturgy in the church at the Patriarchal Center, the debate continued on who signs the patriarchal tomos of autocephaly. It is written in the report:

“The proposal was put forward that paragraph 3(c), instead of saying, ‘It is desirable that (the tomos) be subscribed (by the Ecumenical Patriarch) and by the primates of the autocephalous churches but in any case (at least) by the primate of the mother-church’; be amended and that it say, ‘but especially by the primate of the mother-church,’ so that that which is desirable be expressed and not that which is obligatory, in order to reserve the existing privilege of the Ecumenical Patriarch. On this subject the Church of Russia insisted that it was indispensable that the tomos be co-signed by the mother-church (as a last retreat). The Churches of Romania and Poland reported that the proposal that the tomos be signed by all the primates was an irrevocable decision for them.

Since this compromise proposal was not accepted, the most reverend President “observed that, given that from this point onward no condition for agreement exists on this issue, we have no right to spend any more time on it. The matter is concluded and referred to the next Preparatory Commission.”

Afterwards, a discussion was held about the proposal of the Church of Romania which went as follows:

“With regard to the issue of autocephaly and the manner of its declaration, with a goal toward the formulation of the official position of our Church, we desire that the following points of view be taken under consideration:

1. In the case of an unjustified refusal on the part of a mother-church to grant her consent for a certain part of a local church to acquire autocephaly, this matter must be referred for resolution to an ad hoc Pan-Orthodox Synaxis (the primates or their representatives), and

2. the Act (Praxis) through which autocephaly is granted to a local church be simply called ‘Tomos’ and be signed by the Ecumenical Patriarch and all the primates of the Orthodox autocephalous churches.”

This proposal of the Church of Romania required that an insertion be made into paragraph 3(a) of the text adopted by the 1993 Preparatory Commission, a matter which was not intended for the present Preparatory Commission, which was competent only to discuss paragraph 3(c).

In his report, Father Stefanos Avramidis writes:

“There followed a debate about whether or not the Preparatory Commission could discuss such a matter. Some in particular, representatives of the Patriarchate of Moscow, believed that the issue was outside the day’s agenda and that the debate over paragraph 3(a) of the 1993 text had now been concluded, the wording of which at that time had been unanimously acceptable. But others were in agreement that the matter could be discussed as relevant and expressing Pan-Orthodox concern for a Pan-Orthodox solution. But once again, disagreement was noted. Had a vote been taken, if the matter could be debated, nine churches would have voted yes, and five, no!”

In the debate which followed, the Russian representation categorically took a position opposite to the proposal of the Church of Romania, because it appeared to refute that which was agreed upon as acceptable; namely, that autocephaly is not bestowed, if the mother-church does not consent.

Against this argument of the Russians, the Romanian Church objected that this proposal did not aim at revoking the process of the declaration of autocephaly, which in any case must begin with the initiative of the mother-church, but rather that (this proposal points out) only the manner in which the other churches can stimulate concern for another church, which will desire to receive autocephaly. In this spirit, two proposals were put forward: the issue of referral either to the Ecumenical Patriarchate or to a Pan-Orthodox body convened by the Ecumenical Patriarch. At this point, it was emphatically established that certain national churches, seeking autocephaly and not finding understanding, were thinking about departing from the Orthodox Church and becoming uniates.

At this observation, the representative of the Church of the Czech-lands and Slovakia, wanting to support the position of the Patriarchate of Moscow, said, ‘I am afraid of compulsion! Whoever puts his identity over the faith, sooner or later will leave! If you are not satisfied where you are free, then leave and go where you will!’”

Then, H.E., Meletios, Metropolitan of Nicopolis said:

“The Orthodox Church is not fourteen bodies, but one body. Our conversations here are like those of Christofias with Talat.[1] The Church is one and exists for the salvation of the world. Christ tells us that He is the Good Shepherd. When one sheep wanders astray from the hundred-fold, He leaves the ninety-nine and goes out into the hills to seek for the one that wandered off. We are shepherds—except if we be hirelings! And we have a duty to take care of the sheep of Christ. I protest against the one who said, ‘if they want, let them leave”! The sheep are Christ’s. Christ was crucified for us. And we must crucify our own desires. When a church spends forty years in schism, we have an obligation to intervene, and not to follow the “controversy” opinion of the one. Orthodoxy is not a United Nations. The churches do not have a veto. The Church calls for conciliation and this imposes the solution for the salvation of the spiritual (logikōn) sheep. Reprimands, as well. The matter is spiritual, not legalistic! We are brothers! We do not behave and carry on as enemies.”

Metropolitan Meletios of Nikopolis placed his finger upon the marks of the nails, expressing the truth that the Orthodox Church is one body and not fourteen independent bodies in the Protestant way!

“The proposal of Romania as given above was subsequently put to a vote. But the Russian Church put forth a veto! So the proposal was not put to a vote!”

The matter has a consequence.

At the Synaxis of the Primates of the Orthodox Churches (at the Phanar, March 6th through 9th, 2014), among the decisions which were taken for the coming Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church to be convened, were the following:

“It is desirable that two issues debated in the preparatory stage; namely, “Autocephaly in the Church and its manner of declaration” and “the Diptychs,” be debated further by the Preparatory Commission. If unanimity on these two issues is reached, they will be referred to the Pre-Synodical Pan-Orthodox Conference in 2015 and through this to the Holy and Great Synod.”

But unanimity was not reached, so these issues were not referred to the Synod of Crete. Thus, an opportunity has been lost for the attainment of the unity of the Orthodox churches.

I observe that a theological dialogue with heterodox Christians has been taking place for the purpose of finding a way for their return to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. But unity among the Orthodox churches cannot even exist. This causes the heterodox to laugh in mockery as they say, “Find unity among yourselves and then you can argue for the unity of all other Christians.”

Thus, the papal system of administration is a problem, because of the primacy and infallibility of the Pope. The synodical system as a problem when it does not recognize a Protos in the Orthodox Church who will not exercise its duties with a papal mentality, but who as Protos will communicate with the other churches and will ensure their consensus. Quite clearly, there is a difference between papal primacy and the Protos in the synodical system of administration. If there is not a Protos, then we end up in a Protestant confederation.

b) Remarks - Conclusions

Protopresbyter Fr Stefanos Avramidis, at the end of the Report sets down also his remarks and conclusions. We have before us six conclusions which demonstrate the problems that exist in the Orthodox churches, which are vexed by an incomprehensible form of autonomy and an anti-Orthodox mindset of ethnophyletism, according to which the nation is set above the unity of the Church.

I quote the conclusions of Father Stefanos which are revealing, because the staff of the Church must recognize this situation in order to make a distinction between the inner spirit of the Church as presented by the Apostles and Fathers, and the nationalistic, impassioned mindset of some members of the Church.

It is written in the Report as Remarks-Conclusions:

“1. If anyone wants to assess and evaluate affairs in Geneva at the Preparatory Conference of the 9th through the 17th of December 2009 for the preparation of the Holy and Great Synod, he will have to confess that it began, continued and concluded in a spirit of not just coolness, but literally in frost and ice. In 1993, i.e., 16 years ago, it had been interrupted by grievous circumstances leaving the Conference at that time without any hope. Following the extreme long-suffering of His All-Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch, it was accepted to continue in the year already passed, 2009.

2. Nothing in this Conference called to mind the spirit of Christ, love, Church, Pentecost. The representatives of the Church, reverend hierarchs, fought and quarreled; they either divided into two blocs like political parties (of those fighting for the privileges of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and their opponents), or they struggled to overcome this soul-corrupting spirit destructive to the concept of the Church. This spirit has entered into Her higher ranks and little by little it changes into an ideological identity of the local churches. These cries of agony went in vain.

3. A cause of evil exists, either by laying traps or in some other way, which was introduced into the manner of preparation, a method of taking decisions with complete and absolute unanimity. This principle seems absolutely correct. But it is not, given the fact that no decision has ever been taken at any synod, either to formulate dogma, or to solve a canonical problem, with absolute unanimity. Already the First Ecumenical Synod warns and lays down with the 6th Canon, that in the case of a vote of some, two or three who are “lovers of controversy”; that is, in that they think and act contrary to the orders of the Orthodox faith and evangelical love, they provoke trouble and cause wounds in the Orthodox Church. Not only ought the Church to disdain them but also to reprimand them. It has been observed that with an impertinent and trifling heart principles that have prevailed quite indisputably in the life of the Church more than 1500 years are underestimated!

4. As we mentioned above, it has become quite clear that there are two “blocs” among the Orthodox churches: The “bloc” in favor of the just privileges of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the “bloc” which wants to diminish them and, if possible, to abolish the privileges of the Ecumenical Patriarch, despite the fact that the opposite is claimed. To the first “bloc” belong all the elder Patriarchates, along with the Church of Greece, the Church of Albania and the Church of Cyprus, although this last differs in respect to the issue of the signature of the tomos of autocephaly. To the second “bloc” belong the Church of Russia as leader, assisted by the Churches of Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Poland and the Czech-lands. This impoverishment makes difficult and will make difficult, not only the course towards the convening of the Holy and Great Synod, but also every pan-Orthodox co-operation and effort.

5. Particularly sensitive was the opposition of the representative of the Patriarchate of Moscow, H.E. Archbishop Hilarion of Volokolamsk, as to the privilege of the Ecumenical Patriarch. In any case this was expected, as he has never ceased, in season and out of season, as in Belgrade so also in the dialogue with the Roman Catholics, to seize on any opportunity to stress that the Ecumenical Patriarch is not “Pope of the East” and possesses no authority within the body of the Orthodox Church. And that the Patriarch of Moscow authorizes him to express his opinion! The position of the representative of the Church of Romania, H.G. Cyprian, Bishop of Cabineanul, was similar, although not so extreme.

The position of the representative of the Church of Serbia, H.E. Metropolitan Amphilochios of Montenegro, caused a sensation. His position, despite his projecting a supposed “philhellenism” of the Serbian Church, in almost all respects was in alignment with the positions of Moscow.

6. Finally, there is the fact that among the representatives of the Orthodox autocephalous churches there were several former scholars from the Church of Greece, such as H.E. Amphilochios, Metropolitan of Montenegro, H.E. John, Metropolitan of Ochrid, H.G. Cyprian, Bishop of Cabineanul, H.G. Bishop Melchisedek (of Georgia), and H.G. George, Bishop of Szczecin (of Poland). In no respect did they render their due to the claims of Ecumenical Patriarchate. These did not maintain any philhellenic position. The only thing they managed to do was to speak against the positions of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and of the Church of Greece in faultless Greek.”

These remarks by Father Stephanos Avramidis are indicative of the atmosphere which prevailed at this Preparatory Conference and also of the climate that prevails in the relations among the Orthodox Churches.

When one reads carefully the remarks given above, word by word, then one will understand the entire contemporary problem that has arisen in the process of the declaration of autocephaly of the Church in the Ukraine. When the role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is cast in doubt, a role sanctioned by the Ecumenical Synods and the tradition of all the centuries has made venerable, then no problem in the Church can be solved.

This is the main reason for diplomatic language to be employed in the arrangement of the texts, with a view toward arriving at unanimity. But church unity cannot be achieved with diplomatic words and hidden meanings.

It must be pointed out that the Ecumenical Patriarch does not act as “Pope of the East.” Beside this, he himself has proclaimed many times that in the Orthodox Church we do not have a Pope. But the synodical and hierarchical constitution of the Church functions on the basis of sacred canons, which means that there is a First-throne Church, which has a coordinating and determining role.

3. Final conclusion

After that which is given above, it appears that in the end it was not agreed to refer the text on autocephaly and its manner of declaration on to the Holy and Great Synod.

The Ecumencial Patriarch and all the autocephalous Orthodox churches had accepted for an autocephalous church to be declared after its petition, the consent of the mother-church from which it is separated and the consensus all the Orthodox churches, so that all the churches accepted it. Likewise, some churches refused compromise proposals apart from affronting the privileges of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Clearly, it appears that these tactics undermine the canonical privilege of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, as determined by the Ecumenical Synods, since the theory of a “Third Rome” has crept in.

If all the Churches agree to refer the text of the declaration of autocephaly to the Holy and Great Synod for approval, as it had been approved since 1993, we would not find ourselves in this situation today. Obviously, since the text on the declaration of autocephaly was not approved, the Ecumenical Patriarch has put into effect the practice by which the churches in recent years acquired Patriarchal dignity and honor; that is, by Patriarchal tomoi, with the proviso that this process be brought to completion in the Upcoming Pan-Orthodox Synod .

In conclusion, it must be underscored that despite the problems which exist in the external world, the Church is the Body of Christ and a community of theosis, as is recorded in the Decrees of the Ecumenical Synods, with the definitions and canons. If we observe the dogmas and the canons, then unity in the Church will prevail.

In any case, in the debates that took place at the Inter-Orthodox Preparatory Commission in December 2009 in Chambésy, Geneva, it is quite clear why we have arrived at the current disputes and who is responsible for this.

Eternal be the memory of Meletios, Metropolitan of Nicopolis, who by his knowledge and his ecclesiastical frame of mind represented the Church of Greece in the best possible manner at this Preparatory Pan-Orthodox Conference. He demonstrated that the Church of Greece reveres the canonical statutes.

Likewise, eternal be the memory of the Protopresbyter Fr Stefanos Avramidis, who recorded in an appropriate manner what had happened at this Conference. His text constitutes an historical document that interprets the issue that has arisen in our days.


[1] This refers to the negotiations, back and forth over minutiae, in the year 2010, between Cyprus (Demetris Christofias) and Turkey (Mehmet Ali Talat).

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