Locality, the Episcopate, and Canonicity: Reflections on the Recent Pre-Conciliar Meeting at Chambesy

By: George Michalopulos

ABSTRACT: In previous essays posted on this forum, the present author analyzed the formation of autocephalous churches, the role of the metropolitan and its role within the episcopate, the canonical claims of existing patriarchates regarding primacy within the so-called Diaspora, and the current jurisdictional crisis within North America. As to the idea of a “diaspora,” certain issues need to be more fully developed. Specifically, which autocephalous church has the authority to evangelize within such an area? How is autocephaly to be proclaimed? Are parallel dioceses and/or multiple episcopal seats in one city evidence of schism? And can fidelity to the Gospel trump the claims of an already existing diocese? Parts 1 through 5 are primarily historical whereas the last two sections contain analysis and commentary based on recent events.

I. Introduction: The Bishop and the Church

One of the problems vexing Orthodoxy in North America has been a basic misunderstanding of the nature of the bishop. In all too many jurisdictions in North America, this ecclesial officer has been viewed as a subordinate to a national primate and/or a foreign holy synod. This same phenomenon is replicated in other lands whose Orthodox churches are the results of immigration. Rarely, if ever have episcopal appointments in these areas followed the authentic Christian practice of election or even popular acclamation. Worse, major ecclesiastical decisions involving dioceses, bishops, and even entire eparchies have been handed down by fiat, with almost no consideration for the subjects at hand or canonical protocols for that matter. Until very recently, diocesan seats themselves have been provisional in most jurisdictions.

What accounts for such arbitrary attitudes? Some would argue that such capriciousness is due to the minuscule number of Orthodox Christians in any given area; certainly financial upheaval in the Old World as well as the lack of qualified candidates play a part as well. Regardless, the net result has been that most of these bishops have been viewed as ecclesiastical bureaucrats with no fixed address and little loyalty to an admittedly fluid, diocesan structure.

Truth be told, the seeds for the bishop-as-bureaucrat were laid in the later stages of the Byzantine Empire. The authentic Christian attitude on the other hand, was the bishop as a locally elected presbyter, accountable to his flock and only his brother bishops in the regional synod. This structure began to attenuate during the so-called Pentarchy (ca. AD 500-1100), a time during which some regional churches began to lose the right of election of their metropolitans. In the West, the augmentation of the papacy of Rome was due in part to the ability of that city’s bishops to exercise the authority to consecrate the suburbicarians, bishops who presided over dioceses adjacent to Rome.

In the East, the metropolitans of three regions adjacent to Constantinople (Pontus, Thrace, and Asia) became subject to Constantinopolitan consecration thanks to the 28th canon of Chalcedon (AD 451). In neither case however, was the right of election taken from the people for their bishops. Still, this was a gradual process, so gradual in fact that during the latter part of the Middle Ages, Russian bishops could demand greater autonomy for their eparchy from Constantinople by hearkening back to the primitive practice of popular election and episcopal consecration of the metropolitans,2 which were still “on the books” canonically speaking. Indeed, the Russian bishops successfully petitioned the ecumenical patriarchate for greater autonomy in the selection of the Kievan metropolitans.

When all was said and done, the popular election of the bishop, the regional election of the metropolitan, and the institution of new dioceses and independent churches was clearly the ideal. That these processes exist today only in attenuated circumstances, does not mitigate against their authenticity but instead points to practices that the Orthodox Church today should willingly embrace. Moreover, in doing so, the Church would avoid needless controversies and more effectively spread the Gospel.

II. Eucharist and Catholicity: The Bishop and His Role Within the Church

The present scenario (that of bishop as assigned bureaucrat or administrator) was not envisioned when this office was created in the sub-apostolic age. In The Didache, an ancient Christian manual of discipline from the first century, we are told that one of the functions of the office of bishop is to manifest unity within a particular locality, unity of course being a hallmark of love (John 15:9).3 This is epitomized in its essence by the consecration of the gifts of the people into the Eucharist by the bishop of the locality.

This understanding of the episcopal office has been termed (understandably) “eucharistic ecclesiology.” The revival of this concept has been widespread. In addition to Orthodox eminences such as Georges Florovsky, Alexander Schmemann and John Zizioulis, who championed this concept in the latter half of the twentieth century, Roman Catholic and Evangelical theologians of great repute have come to similar conclusions as well.4 Indeed, in the Roman church, one of its prime advocates is Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, presently Pope Benedict XVI.5 Benedict in fact has made it a prime focus of his pontificate, especially in his dialogues with the Orthodox Church. He has chosen to view the papal office as the primary teaching office of the Christian Church, one that presides in love as opposed to that of a supreme hierarch who enjoys a special archiepiscopal charism that allows him to serve as the administrative head of a vast bureaucracy. (This in fact can be considered to be the Orthodox view of the papacy as described by Bishop Kallistos Ware in his book, The Orthodox Church.6) As to the equality of the episcopate, this is in fact the normative view of the Orthodox Church. That it has been largely forgotten by many of the laity does it not negate its reality.

The eucharistic understanding of the role of the bishop has tremendous implications for the Church today, up-ending centuries of a strict top-down hierarchy, not only in the West, but in the East as well.7 The emphasis on the Eucharist has even more bearing on the present reality. Among other things, it solidifies the liturgical participation of the laity in the life of the Church. It is no coincidence that laymen who partake frequently of the mysteries of the Church tend also to be involved in the life of the parish. This includes not only frequent confession, but in leadership roles as well. It is not too much to say that such laymen feel an organic connection to the universal Church as well as their own particular congregation.

But what does it mean to say, that the bishop’s primary role is “eucharistic”? Does this imply merely a liturgical role? What about his evangelistic mission? Is that secondary? The peremptory answer would be an emphatic negative. The ritual acts of the bishop and his deputies (the presbyters) were in fact kerygmatic. The kerygma was in its essence, the proclamation of the Gospel, which was not only a recitation of historical events or merely a code of ethics, but the proclamation that the Kingdom of Heaven was “at hand” (Matt 3:2, 4:17, 10:7). Part of this proclamation was that the Church’s worship was eschatological, and in the Eucharist, we find that the eschatological notions of the Church were already realized to a very great extent. When Christians gather together to worship, they are entering into a mode of existence that is beyond time and space; indeed, partaking of a heavenly worship that is ongoing within the heavenly realm (Rev 14).8 In other words, the corporate worship of the Church in its locality, under the presidency of its bishop, “is the Church in all its fullness, not just a part of the Church…it is the basic unit on which all subsequent speculation must be based, the primary experience underlying all effort at definition.”9

When we consider the sub-apostolic age, we see that none of the above is controversial. According to Ignatius, we find that the bishop personified the unity of the local church.10 To stress this point, Ignatius said that the bishop “stood in the place of God.”11 According to modern commentators such as Zizioulis, this is to be understood to mean that the catholicity of the Church is manifested in its entirety within the diocese. This phenomenon is best explained in this way:

One church may be established by Peter, another by Paul, another by a missionary hundreds of years later. Yet all are equally and fully apostolic, just as they are one, holy and catholic. For the structure of the local church –the bishop surrounded by the college of presbyters, the deacons, and all the faithful—has a direct iconic relationship to the kingdom of where Christ stands surrounded by the apostles.12

This icon of the local Church as the “Catholic Church” leads inexorably to the conclusion that all bishops are equal. According to another Church Father, St Cyprian of Carthage, each bishop occupies the cathedra Petri or the seat of Peter, not just those bishops whose specific churches (such as Rome or Antioch) that were founded by this Apostle. Though Cyprian’s view of the episcopate was less theocentric than Ignatius’, the essential equality of all bishops was upheld. It was for this reason that a plurality of bishops was required to consecrate a new bishop. This was historically manifested in the concatenation of dioceses into a local, or regional synod, which operated under the principle of collegiality as explicated in the 34th Apostolic canon.13

Having said that, how did these bishops differentiate themselves? Was there a hierarchy among them? How could there be if all the bishops were equal? After all, we do know that there existed the office of metropolitan, usually the bishop of the largest or most important of the diocese within a regional church. Again, we need to turn to Ignatius who wrote in the “Prologue” to his Epistle to the Romans, that some bishops may “preside in love.” Erickson, takes this to mean that the presidency of the regional church was predicated on the belief that these bishops “more completely and perfectly share all that they are with the others.”14 The charisms were the same in each diocese, but the ability and willingness to share the Gospel were the deciding factor as to which bishop would preside within a given episcopal college. And quite apropos of the present discussion, these regional councils were autocephalous churches.15 The metropolitan was the president of the diocesan bishops when it met in council, nothing more. As stated in canon 34, he was to be informed of all major decisions by the bishops, and he in turn was required to inform all the bishops of any significant actions on his part.

The concept of episcopal independence transferred rather easily to the patriarchal level as well. As late as the ninth century, Patriarch Photius of Constantinople reacted vehemently to the activities of German missionaries in Bulgaria. Although his concern was specifically related to their insertion of the Filioque clause into the Nicene Creed (which at this time was still rejected by Rome itself), we can tell that Photius considered Bulgaria to be within the ecclesiastical purview of Constantinople.16 What gives this opposition special urgency was that Photius himself recognized the primacy of Rome within the Church and in other contexts submitted to Roman approval. Nor was this a prerogative of venerable patriarchates alone: the first patriarch of Bulgaria, Theophylact, prevented incursion from the Church of Constantinople into the new Bulgarian church, even though he himself was a Byzantine and owed his elevation to the Bulgarian throne because of the Byzantine mother church. The principle of diocesan autonomy legitimized Theophylact’s abruptness.

III. The Bishop and His Missionary Role: How Did He Go About It?

In reading the writings of several Church Fathers, one gets the decided impression that teaching was paramount. The vast canon from the ante-Nicene Fathers overwhelmingly concerns doctrine, not liturgy or even the Church calendar for that matter. Why is this so? After all, the written Gospels certainly existed by this time and the New Testament was well on its way to being closed. But what did the Gospel mean? What does it mean (for example) when Jesus says that the eucharistic elements were really His “body and blood,” or that the Kingdom of Heaven “suffereth violence”? Could any man exposit on it?

This is reflected in the many doctrinal controversies that rocked the Church from its inception. For example, in Acts 15, we find that an apostolic council was convened in order to resolve the issue of gentiles within the Church and to what degree they had to accept the Mosaic Law. Also in Acts, we find the curious career of Simon Magus, a sorcerer who sought to purchase the gifts of the Holy Spirit from the Apostles (Acts 8:18-24). These were profound doctrinal controversies, of the kind that would later consume the careers of Ss Irenaeus, Ignatius, Cyprian, Polycarp, and a host of others.

The celebration of the Eucharist is merely accepted as a given in comparison. Even the great gnostic heresiarchs such as Marcion and Basilides celebrated this central rite of the Church, the only difference being the principle underlying the meaning of the rite, whether it was really the body and blood of Christ or merely a “remembrance” In other words, the great polemicists of the Church were dealing with doctrinal differences rather than liturgical ones. We can see therefore the paramount importance of doctrine; adjustments to it could lead to liturgical differences (or at least differences in interpretation of liturgical practices), but it was the teaching behind any given liturgical rite that concerned the Apostles and their successors. It is for this reason that throughout the history of the Church, there existed a very real fear that even subtle differences in doctrine can result in dire implications, including the breaking of Communion –that is to say, schism.

How then does a bishop fulfill his role as a teacher? Is he the sole preacher within his church as well as the sole celebrant of the divine mysteries? The answer is an emphatic negative. Again, in turning to the Acts of the Apostles, we find how the Apostles were already stretched thin when the problem of almsgiving reached a breaking point. For this reason, they decided to delegate this authority to a new class of ordinands, men whom they called diakonoi (“servers,” also “ministers”). These men were charged with serving the needs of the impoverished Hellenistic Jews living in Jerusalem. In Timothy, we find another class of ordinands, men called presbyteroi or “elders,” who were tasked with authority over individual congregations. It is unclear whether these men constituted a separate class from the episkopoi (“overseers”) but we can surmise that as heads of congregations, it was they who presided over the Eucharist.

By the end of the first century, it is clear that there are men called “overseers” (such as Ignatius) who was most definitely a special kind of elder. What made men like Ignatius stand out? No doubt their evangelistic fervor and theological acumen played a significant role. At any rate, sometime in the later second century, the final cleavage between the office of presbyter and bishop seems to have occurred, no doubt probably because of the proliferation of house-churches within a given city. Therefore the concept of one bishop per church had to be relaxed. In time, other orders came into being, including lectors (readers) and deaconesses.

There was precedence for this. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he describes several of the offices then in existence. Among them are “prophets, evangelists, exorcists, those who speak in tongues,” etc. All of these existed within the first generation of the Church. Careful boundaries existed between them as we can tell by Paul’s exhortation that not “all were called” to be such. Perhaps it would be too hasty to say that a type of licensure existed in order to proclaim to the Church their respective competence, but the implication that they were ordained by the Apostles based on spiritual discernment cannot be denied. For our purposes, it is clear that boundaries existed between these offices.

The above foray into the inner life of the early Church is based on the consideration at hand; that is whether the bishop is the lone initiate into the mysteries of the Church. Clearly he is not. The above-mentioned charisms of the Holy Spirit were open to all believers but Paul’s emphasis was on “order” and how it proceeded within strictly defined parameters. Their existence leads us to more questions: who possessed these gifts and how were they transmitted? Could there be more than one evangelist within a congregation? Could one be both a prophet and a healer? These questions vexed the early Church as we can tell by Paul’s admonitory words. At present, answers to these questions remain unknown (at least to this writer). For our purposes it is merely enough to know that the ultimate enforcer of order within the local congregation was clearly the bishop. It was he who was its presiding officer and he alone who could ordain other officers within it. As for his own office, as already noted above, he received it from a multiplicity of other bishops, who in turn received it from earlier bishops in a chain going back all the way to the Apostles. (It goes without saying that all charisms come from the Holy Spirit.)

Therefore, in order to go about his duties, no bishop was handicapped. The concept of delegation of authority was well established. No doubt, the environs of his church kept him busy. In addition to presiding over the Eucharist, he was responsible for adjudicating torts, disbursing alms, maintaining order, and of course preaching the Gospel. (In some cities, the rectitude of Christian bishops was so pronounced that they were often called to act as judges in civil actions between non-Christian parties!) This presents us with a dilemma: if the bishop was responsible only for his locality, then how was the Gospel spread? For clearly the Church did not remain confined to its birthplace in Jerusalem. Even during the time of the persecutions of the Church, it is clear that it grew exponentially throughout the Greco-Roman world.

For the Christian, the growth of the Church is nothing less than a miracle. The number of the original Apostles was relatively small –Scripture tells us of the original eleven disciples and another seventy, men who are also confusingly called disciples and apostles. The names are familiar to even the most casual observers –Timothy, Silas, Barnabas, Luke, and Mark, for example. Most of these men (and a few women such as Thekla) traveled in small groups for mutual support and protection. In some cities, they found that the message of Jesus had already preceded them. In others, they founded local churches where there was already a sizable Jewish population; in fact, it was often from factions within these local synagogues that they drew their first converts. This of course explains the foundation of churches such as those in Rome, Corinth, Antioch and Ephesus, and appears to have been the template while the Apostles were still alive. Even Paul, a notorious “Hellenizer,” made much of the fact that he “went to the Jews first, then the Greeks” (Acts 14:1). After the death of the last Apostle (John ca AD 105), church planting did not stop. Thanks to the Council of Javneh (ca AD 85), which legitimized anti-Hellenistic attitudes among the Rabbinate, dialogue between Church and Synagogue came to an abrupt halt. It would be hard therefore to imagine that Christian evangelists could rely on the continued hospitality of the local Jewish congregations for either material support or converts.

And yet, the Church grew. This time, its acceleration within the non-Jewish world became more apparent, to the point where it became almost completely a non-Jewish phenomenon with only a few Jewish remnants. The fact that the Roman government recognized the claims of Judaism over and above those of Christianity certainly did not help matters any. Despite the destruction of the Second Temple, Judaism was allowed to spread and receive converts. This was denied to the Church, which remained a superstitio illicito; where it was allowed to exist, it remained largely conditionally and underground. Yet evangelism was taking place. The question is how? How were bishops who were consigned to one city able to take the message of the Gospel to a neighboring city? After all, there were perhaps less than a dozen cities whose churches could reasonably point to an apostolic founder, yet there were thousands of cities throughout the Roman –and even outside it—that had vibrant local churches.

Because of the scarcity of documents from this period, the question must remain rhetorical. What we do know is that it became a given that bishops of towns that were adjacent to unevangelized areas were responsible for all missionary activity throughout the immediate area. Such missionary activity took place even during the period of persecutions. It seems to have accelerated after the Edict of Toleration in AD 313. Once Christianity became a licit religion, the question of diocesan formation became acute. By the time of the Council of Carthage (AD 419), a canon was promulgated which stated that it was the duty of the nearest bishop to spread the Gospel to that area nearest him.17 From what we can tell, this was consistent with the prevailing attitude of episcopal autonomy. This was also in keeping with the Council of Sardica (AD 341), which circumscribed the Roman pope’s universal appellate authority to the calling of ad hoc regional councils for purposes of final adjudication. This cannot be stressed enough: within the local church, one bishop presided. He was responsible to only those bishops who were adjacent to him and the regional metropolitan. Within his diocese, he had a college of ecclesiastics over which he presided and who assisted him with his tasks, but ultimately it was his diocese and no other bishop, including the regional metropolitan, could exercise authority over it.

IV. The Gospel and Its Relationship to Episcopal Canonicity

In a previous essay, this writer explicated on the present supremacist claims of the ecumenical patriarchate regarding its supposed jurisdiction over lands not presently belonging to any of the Orthodox churches.18 This claim is supposedly mandated by canon 28 of Chalcedon, which surreptitiously gave the archbishops of Constantinople the right to consecrate the metropolitans of Thrace, Pontus, and Asia. This fabulous claim has been dealt with elsewhere and shown to be utterly without merit.19

As such, some in Constantinople’s camp have brought forth another, equally fantastic claim to buttress its supremacist claims, namely, that the Byzantine church’s founder was none other than St Andrew, the elder brother of Peter. This legendary founding has no historical foundation and was first promulgated centuries after Byzantium’s founding.20 Ironically, no recourse is made to the actual legitimate claims of Constantinople which were propagated by that church’s proponents during its heyday. In their eyes, a church’s legitimacy did not rest on its apostolic foundation (or lack thereof) but on its fidelity to the Gospel.21

That Andrew engaged in an evangelistic mission is not in dispute. His execution in Patras ca. AD 65 is based on a firm oral tradition. His legend and cultus among the Scythians in and around the Black Sea region is also well attested. It was so pronounced and ancient in fact, that the Scottish nobility –- who fancied themselves as descendents of these same Scythians — made an unambiguous appeal to his authority as the founder of their nation’s church to the pope in Rome. In their Declaration of Arbroath, Andrew is stated to be the preeminent member of the Apostolic college,22 second only to Peter. They also made the claim that the Scots were among the first nations to be evangelized; hence, their demand for independence from England was for them a matter of theological necessity.

In any event, the bishops of Constantinople never claimed him as that city’s first bishop or founder even during Byzantium’s agogee. Indeed, there was no need for such a special pleading. Constantinople’s preeminence was political and statutory. This was not controversial. Because of its cultural importance, it became the hub of Christianity and an intellectual beacon for Christians everywhere. Although its elevation to patriarchal status was not met with Alexandria’s approval, the statutory principle was well ingrained by then. After all, Alexandria’s precedence over Antioch was based on its own cultural superiority, not because of the merits of their respective apostolic founders –- after all, Antioch was founded by St Peter, whereas Alexandria’s first bishop was St Mark, a disciple of Peter. And of course Jerusalem’s elevation to patriarchal status came centuries after its own founding. (In fact previous to the Second Ecumenical Council, Jerusalem’s bishops were suffragans of the metropolitan of Caeserea.)

It is here that we get to the crux of the argument: Despite its past flirtation with Arianism (of which more below), Constantinople’s partisans claimed that its prominence now rested upon its doctrinal orthodoxy. One Byzantine proponent disdained the very idea of apostolic foundation as the sole, or best criterion for a church’s primacy. In this, he was correct. As already noted, it was the Gospel which trumped foundational claims of antiquity.23 After all, all bishops were equal, the charisms were the same in each diocese, but the ability and willingness to share the Gospel was the deciding factor as to which bishop would preside within a given episcopal college. In this respect, material resources and location certainly played a role, in addition to a church’s apostolic foundation, martyriology, and antiquity. Yet all of the above were secondary considerations. Of utmost importance was whether its presiding bishop “more fully” shared the Gospel; it was this characteristic which allowed him to “preside in love” over other bishops as Ignatius stated in his Epistle to the Romans. Kerygma and the willingness to uphold it was the trump, not the number of relics.

To be sure, such a strict adherence to doctrinal principles as opposed to apostolic foundation was a two-edged sword. One of Alexandria’s briefs against the elevation of Constantinople’s archbishop to patriarchal status was that for the better part of a century, that city’s bishops remained firm in their adherence to the doctrines of Arius. In this, the bishops of Constantinople were unfortunately following the lead of the Flavian descendants of Constantine, who were likewise committed to Arianism, this despite the fact that the First Ecumenical Council had anathematized Arius and his teachings. No matter, for the partisans of Alexandria, the line of Arian bishops of Constantinople had cast a decided pall over that see and no matter how prominent that city had become, it was not enough to purge it of its Arian past.24 Constantinople of course saw things differently. It could not reasonably be held to account for past transgressions; after all, Alexandria’s hands were not exactly clean either in this matter: Arius was a bishop from that city and St Athanasius, who was the champion of Nicaea, suffered exile at the hands of the Alexandrians on several occasions.

V. Territory and Ethnicity: The Historical Reality and Its Resolution in Canon Law

The Church of course grew in spite of the various heresies that roiled it. Its diocesan structure came to be ordered within the confines of the so-called Pentarchy, an arrangement of five venerable patriarchal sees that took on the presidencies of some of the independent metropolitan regions by consecrating their metropolitans. It should be remembered however that this phenomenon occurred within the boundaries of one nation –- the Roman Empire. The Orthodox concept of the national church was not yet in evidence. The first such church was that of Bulgaria which in a relatively short time, acquired autocephaly and its own patriarchate in AD 918. Serbia would follow this pattern some three centuries later. In both cases however, the idea that membership in the local church was only open to the members of a certain ethnicity was not in evidence. Both of the Bulgarian empires and the Serbian kingdom were multi-ethnic states and its patriarchs were the spiritual overlords of all Christian peoples residing within them.

Nevertheless, as the Middle Ages waned, the rise of the nation-state began to subvert the concept of Christian unity. Even in the West, where by this time the universal jurisdiction of the popes was a given and the concept of autonomous patriarchates was unknown, the French kingdom began to view its church as a semi-autonomous “Gallican” church sometime in the fourteenth century. The concept of the national church came to its full fruition in England during the reign of Henry VIII (d. 1547), who fancied himself the “supreme governor” of the “Anglican” church, that is to say, the Roman Catholic Church in England. When the full effects of the Protestant Reformation had subsided, all of the German and Scandinavian states had state churches whose territories were rigidly defined by the borders of their respective nations. Unfortunately, their independence was lost and their churches became wholly dependent bureaucracies. It was this regrettable model that Peter the Great of Russia found so appealing in his travels to the West and which he mandated for the Russian Empire. In Obolensky’s opinion, the subjugation of the Church to the state –wherever this occurred (in the West as well as in the East)—planted the seeds of totalitarianism in most all modern state, not merely in the former Soviet Union.25

With the ascendancy of the Ottoman Empire, both the Bulgarian and Serbian churches lost their autocephaly to Constantinople (1763). Regrettably, this was done by the armies of the Turkish sultan acting at the behest of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. It was thus understandable that with the decay of Turkey and the subsequent independence of their Christian subjects in the Balkans, the newly independent Christian kingdoms would look to the past as one of comparative glory. This made inevitable the quest of these nations for autocephaly from the Church of Constantinople, which was increasingly controlled by a chauvinistic faction of wealthy Greeks called Phanariotes. Ironically enough, it was the newly liberated Greeks who first demanded emancipation from the ecumenical patriarchate in 1830. In short order the Serbs and Bulgars would reclaim their autocephaly.

These new Balkan states however were not multi-ethnic empires but decidedly mono-cultural states with miniscule populations of Jews, Muslims, and Catholics. For all intents and purposes, they came to identify membership in the national church as the sole criterion for citizenship. The Church became the guarantor of the nation’s boundaries so to speak. Or put another way, it was membership in the local church that decided whether one was a “true” Greek (or Serb, or Bulgar). The Church and state became one and the former became decidedly dependent upon the latter for material support, not unlike the Lutheran churches of the Germanic lands.

As regrettable as this came to be, the idea of the local church being defined by the boundaries of the polity is not a novel one. Indeed, it was the accepted practice in the first millennium as Apostolic canon 34 makes this clear. The difference of course is that in the Roman Empire, the various political regions were not mono-cultural (for the most part). Rome as noted many before, was a multi-ethnic, multi-racial empire. Even in its diocesan subdivisions, the menagerie of races and ethnicities was apparent. That the Church understood this can be gleaned from Canon 28 of Chalcedon, which makes mention on several occasions of “barbarians” living in and near the three provinces in question. Thus, it would be wrong to view the modern Orthodox phenomenon of intensely nationalistic churches as inevitable.

Regardless, the question of nationalism came to a head in the city of Constantinople when Bulgarians living there demanded a bishop of their ethnicity in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The ecumenical patriarchate convened a council in 1872 which ruled against the concept of “phyletism,” calling it an abject heresy.26 Some of course would state that the Phanar was being self-serving, that by doing so, it was solidifying its power over Orthodox immigrants. Appearances to the contrary, this was not the case as Patriarch Joachim III readily granted a tomos of autocephaly to the church of the newly independent Serbian kingdom in 1873. Indeed, Joachim’s own words to this effect bear scrutiny. In an earlier essay, this writer quoted Alexander Bogolepov, one of the first proponents of American autocephaly. This particular passage bears repeating. According to Bogolopev, Joachim III granted autocephaly to Serbia when he came to the realization that local churches may be established:

…not in conformity with the historical importance of the cities and countries in Christianity, but also according to political conditions of the life of the people and nations.” Referring then to Canon 28 of Chalcedon and other canons…he reaffirmed: “The ecclesiastical rights, especially those of parishes, usually conform to the structure of the state authority and its provinces.27

Clearly, the idea of territoriality was not lost. Nations could order their churches according to “political conditions,” a principle which reinforces ancient canons, especially those canons which mandated that diocesan boundaries should follow “the municipal model.” Does Joachim’s assessment however leave open the possibilities of migratory incursions of different ethnic groups being granted a special waver? For example, a displaced population of refugees, should its needs not be met vis-à-vis a bishop of their own nation? After all, these things happen in the ordinary course of the lives of nations. Even in a situation such as this, where pastoral concerns must be taken into consideration, the danger of phyletism is so pronounced that an exception would ultimately be hurtful. Regardless, Joachim’s tomos was granted just one year after this particular issue came to a head in the city of Constantinople itself, when Bulgarian émigrés demanded a bishop of their own nation. What Constantinople found objectionable was the concept of tribal churches that catered to ethnic dispersions; not to churches of nations.

VI. Chambesy: Blueprint for the Future or More of the Same?

The present dilemma of course has to do with the lands of the “diaspora.” To their credit, the primates of the autocephalous churches which met in Istanbul in October, 2008, qualified this term by calling it the “so-called Diaspora.”28 Perhaps they realized how theologically untenable such a term is for a universal religion like Christianity, or at the very least how abrasive this term sounds to those Orthodox who are natives of the lands in question.

The primates at Constantinople appeared to understand the tenuousness of Orthodoxy in traditionally non-Orthodox lands; the issue of the creation of new autocephalous churches was to be the primary agenda items of the much anticipated “Great and Holy Council.” Nevertheless, they told the various bishops from these lands that they would not be welcomed during the pre-conciliar deliberations to be held the following June in Cyprus. The irony was astonishing: even though it was agreed that the issue of the normalization of the churches of the “diaspora” was going to be settled once and for all at this upcoming council, the concerns of native bishops could not be vocalized by the very bishops in question. Rumors abounded that the patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow were engaging in behind-the-scenes gamesmanship related to autonomous churches that the primates of these churches found problematic.29

Be that as it may, the conference was relocated to Chambesy, Switzerland and was presided over by Metropolitan John Zizioulis of Pergamum. Interestingly enough, this is the same Zizioulis — who as a recognized theologian of the first order — had a profound appreciation for the eucharistic role of the bishop and his equality among his brother bishops. Further ironies abounded: Zizioulis was now the titular bishop of a defunct diocese himself, despite the fact that he had earlier written about the absurdity of such a concept.30 As noted, none of the bishops from the so-called diaspora were invited to this conference, thereby casting a cloud over its very legitimacy in the eyes of many. Bickering in fact preceded it and in its aftermath, the Russian church threw cold water over some of it findings,31 thus raising the question as to whether anything of substance transpired.

This of course is unfortunate, because even with the above disqualifiers, the signatories at Chambesy stressed the correct nature of the episcopal office as it was understood in ancient times. Zizioulis for his part remained true to his earlier principles of episcopal equality and autonomy. Given its moribund nature in many non-Orthodox lands, some could reasonably say that the original meaning of the episcopate had in fact been revived. Moreover, the previous fantastic claims of the canon 28 enthusiasts were not even entertained. Instead, a process for convening episcopal assemblies in the disputed lands was formulated which objectively speaking, was non-controversial. It was decided that in any given area where there were bishops representing different ethnic migrations, the presidency of such a council was to follow a precedence based on the diptychs. In other words, the representative of the patriarchate of Constantinople was to preside as its interim chairman. Should no Constantinopolitan exarch exist, then a bishop from the see of Antioch would preside. Absent an Antiochian bishop, then chairmanship would devolve to a bishop from the Russian Orthodox Church, and so on (at present, there are no exarchates of the sees of Alexandria or Jerusalem in the lands in question, hence, no provision is made for any émigré bishops from these churches).

Equally important, it was decided that these erstwhile episcopal councils were to meet regularly and “normalize” church life within these lands as expeditiously as possible. The purpose (and hope) of such councils was to create a framework from which an autocephalous church could be created. This hoped for result seemingly put to rest claims of critics of Istanbul, most of whom castigated that see as wanting to aggrandize its own power over these lands in perpetuity.32 As such, Chambesy was viewed as a remarkable come-down from the supremacist claims of the Phanar that had been propagated some three months earlier by its Chief Secretary in a ill-received speech delivered at Holy Cross in Brookline, Massachusetts.33 Despite the fact that no local churches of the “Diaspora” were invited, the framework of Chambesy could be viewed as providing something for everybody; after all, although it was agreed that the chairmanship of these councils were dependent upon the order of the diptychs, there was no guarantee that once a local church achieved autocephaly, that this same bishop would necessarily be its metropolitan.

Others however, were not as sanguine about the workability of the Chambesy formula. For one thing, the Orthodox Church had been down this road before. In a recently republished essay on the subject of Orthodox unity, it was pointed out that our collective memory was very short indeed. According to the author, the recent meeting in Chambesy — in almost all its particulars — was a mere repetition of earlier meetings that had transpired there almost twenty years ago. Then, as now, the ecumenical patriarchate had been the driving force in another pre-conciliar conference. Just as in 2009,

…as part of the preparation for the great and holy synod, convened an inter-Orthodox preparatory commission to take up the last and most difficult question on the synod’s agenda: the “diaspora.” Two meetings were held at the ecumenical patriarchate’s center at Chambesy, Switzerland, in 1990 and then in 1993. At those meeting, a plan was developed for organizing the “diaspora” very much like the present SCOBA, with the addition of an assembly of bishops that would meet regularly and for practical purposes function like a single holy synod. There was a timeline intimated for establishes the “diaspora” churches as first autonomous and then autocephalous.34

To quote Yogi Berra, the recently concluded pre-conciliar meeting at Chambesy was “déjà vu all over again.” This of courses raises several questions, the most significant of which is, why should this most recent meeting be taken any more seriously than the two previous “inter-Orthodox preparatory commissions”? Nor should it be forgotten that the Ligonier confreres took their cues for setting up such an American episcopal assembly not only from these two meetings in Chambesy, but from Patriarch Bartholomew himself, who was “the architect of these commission meetings.” Bartholomew’s intentions in this regard require special attention:

…the real reason for optimism was…Metropolitan Bartholomew of Chalcedon, now the newly elected Patriarch of Constantinople. Metropolitan Bartholomew was largely responsible for the very successful visit of Patriarch Demetrios to the United States in 1990, including the visit to the Washington Cathedral of the Orthodox Church in America, where [Demetrios] spoke of the scandal of Orthodox disunity in the “diaspora.” In July 1994, just months before the Ligonier meeting, Patriarch Bartholomew sent Metropolitan Spyridon of Italy as his personal representative to the clergy-laity congress of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese [Chicago]. In his address to the Congress, he spoke to the “diaspora” question by saying that the Patriarch has focused his attention on bringing some resolution to the problem.”35

In fact, Spyridon received thunderous applause from the assembled delegates (most of whom were Greek-American) when he condemned the existence of “ethnic ghettos” in the United States. It was in this context of optimism that the overwhelming majority of American bishops convened in Ligonier, just three months after Spyridon’s speech in Chicago. Unfortunately — and inexplicably — Bartholomew vehemently rescinded his earlier sentiments. The new patriarch condemned the meeting in no uncertain terms and summoned the GOA bishops to Istanbul, where in a “rather medieval fashion” they were “forced to ‘repudiate’ their signatures to the Ligonier documents.”36 In light of the above, honest critics cannot be faulted for looking askance at the protocols derived in Switzerland earlier this year; whether the Ecumenical Patriarchate is in fact serious about the problem of church formation and autocephaly in the first place.

Other problems loomed over the horizon: the present Chambesy protocols allowed the various ethnic jurisdictions to continue in existence and to “rely” upon their mother churches. It was feared that the various eparchies could continue to vote en bloc. Russia for its part made explicit claims regarding existing jurisdictions (presumably its own) not becoming subject to Istanbul. North America presented its own unique set of problems. For example, no mention was made as to how to eradicate parallel dioceses or the scandalous multiplicity of episcopal seats in certain American cities (such as in Chicago, Detroit, New York City, or Los Angeles). More importantly, North America presented another problem which none of the other regions have; namely that it already possesses a local church, whose independence is recognized by five other autocephalous churches (including the largest Orthodox church in the world.) The encroachment of yet another layer of bishops onto its territory is thus problematic to say the least. Indeed, according to one well-respected monastic in the Patriarchate of Antioch, Fr Touma Bitar, the OCA is “the only canonical church in North America.”37

In any event, it is not at all clear that any of the ethnic jurisdictions presently want to meet in a continental assembly — the bishops of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese included. According to Fr Mark Arey, the general secretary of the Standing Council of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America (SCOBA), there are roughly “55 to 60 bishops in North America,” a relatively large number, that would make such a continental assembly one that is fraught with peril — at least for those exarchates who have no intention of breaking with their mother churches. More to the point, though Chambesy created a formula which ratified the primacy of the Greek archbishop in America (at least as its interim chairman), there is no guarantee that once situated, the overwhelming numbers of other bishops would accede to this jurisdiction’s perpetual presidency. The reason is because unlike other areas of the world, the bishops of the Greek-American jurisdiction would be outnumbered by at least five-to-one.

Moreover, this fear is justified in North America because of the experience of SCOBA. This organization, which began in the mid-1960s, was intended to draw together the primates of the existing ethnic jurisdictions, with the goal of eventual administrative unity. Instead, SCOBA has proven to be an inept organization with no canonical standing and precious little moral authority. Its fecklessness became apparent soon after its founding. According to one critic within the GOA, “frustrations with SCOBA [were] legendary,” the fault lying in the primates themselves, who “have consistently refused to take those decisions that would the church here closer, making themselves accountable to one another and to the whole.”38 Part of this problem was structural: its chairmen were to serve on a rotating basis based on jurisdiction. Although this rotating chairmanship mitigated against Greek triumphalism, it anticipated Chambesy (even going back to the first meeting in 1991) in many particulars. Especially in the insistence that the respective jurisdictions could still operate independently of one another and that the broader episcopal body could not impose its authority over them.

In any event, SCOBA’s official structure became ossified with the GOA archbishop serving as its de facto permanent chairman. As long as Archbishop Iakovos Coucouzis was alive, there was no problem with this as he had generated much goodwill towards him personally. Things started to deteriorate however with his forced resignation. At present, there is talk behind the scenes of SCOBA disbanding as its meetings are often desultory in nature. Though its ministries continue to gain in number and scope, the fact remains that they are by and large the ideas of laymen from the various jurisdictions. It is they who staff them, finance them, and provide most of the manpower needed for their operation.

The belief that the best days of SCOBA are behind it was on full display recently in Crestwood, where a historic symposium on American autocephaly took place. Two of the major speakers there — one an archbishop, the other a layman— were quite dismissive about its continued relevance, and said so on more than one occasion to Fr. Arey, who gamely tried to put the best face forward. What made such criticism stand out is that the layman in question (Charles Ajalat) has been one of the stalwarts of SCOBA for at least twenty years and is in fact the driving force behind the most recent SCOBA ministry (FOCUS).39

Other considerations mitigate against the longevity of SCOBA or the inception of a true continental episcopal assembly. For one, the widespread belief that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has absolutely no intention of emancipating its American exarchate (whether true or not) has deflated the hopes of many who seek administrative unity. To prevent the occurrence of such an event, Metropolitan Jonah welcomed the selection of Archbishop Demetrios of the GOA as its interim chairman — provided of course that once the episcopal assembly was convened, the election of a president should proceed forthwith.40 The implication is that should a free and open election not be held, then the worst fears of many will have been realized: the new episcopal council for North America would be nothing more than an expanded SCOBA, and like it would be nothing more than another bureaucracy created for the express purpose of permanently frustrating American autocephaly, appearances to the contrary. It would in fact be a continuous repeat of the previous episcopal assembly which convened in 2006 in which any talk of administrative unity was blocked by SCOBA itself. (Among other things, the purpose of the earlier assembly was to “coordinate” the creation of new missions so that they would not be placed near existing ethnic parishes.)

Be that as it may, even propagandists for SCOBA cannot gainsay when the first such episcopal assembly will take place or more importantly, when the putative Great and Holy Council which will supposedly recognize the autocephaly of the various episcopal councils throughout the “Diaspora” will transpire.41 In a recent interview, Arey himself admitted that he did not even know if “assistant” or auxiliary bishops will be invited to participate in such an assembly. The best he could say was that he was led to understand that only bishops with “pastoral authority” would be invited to join. Thus to put the eggs of administrative unity and American autocephaly in the basket of an “interim” episcopal council would be foolhardy indeed.

Perhaps this assessment is unfair, especially since Jonah spoke glowingly about Demetrios and his apparent goodwill, yet such a perception among almost everybody else has resulted in the retrenchment into the ethnic cores of many of the jurisdictions. Examples include the healing of the schism between the two Serbian jurisdictions and talk of union between the two Romanian exarchates into a “maximally autonomous” Romanian metropolitanate. Another indicator of growing ethnic chauvinism was the recent debacle in the Antiochian jurisdiction, a series of missteps and scandals that culminated in a contentious national church convention where the fissures between the native and convert contingents became exposed. At this event, Metropolitan Philip made it plain that he would come down on the side of unity at all costs rather than entertain a union with the OCA, which many in the Arab contingent refused to countenance. And rounding out this picture is the Ecumenical Patriarchate itself, which exacerbated this entire morass when it sent a high-level functionary to pour salt into the open wounds of American Orthodoxy in the aforementioned speech at Holy Cross.42

VII. Conclusion: Is a Great and Holy Council Necessary?

The question therefore remains. Despite the absence of bishops from the “diaspora,” the ability of foreign patriarchates to order church life in traditionally non-Orthodox lands remains an open question. Some hold out hope that the upcoming “Great and Holy Council” will resolve this issue once and for all, especially since that is its stated agenda. A few of these critics have even gone so far as to say that the bishops of North America should make all haste to accept the Chambesy formula for unity lest a more onerous one be imposed on this continent by this council whenever it meets.43

However, this strategy quite possibly presupposes more than is warranted. For one thing, the Christian Church has had in place a method of evangelizing non-Christian lands from its inception. This method became codified in the Council of Carthage, when it was decided that this by rights belonged to the bishop nearest the city or region in question. In no way can it be understood that Canon 28 — which was confined to three metropolitan sees contiguous to Byzantium — trumped this protocol. At any rate, there is no yet firm date for a meeting for this council. Nor for that matter has a venue has been chosen. This is not an idle point: the pre-conciliar meeting that took place at Chambesy was originally scheduled for the island of Cyprus. No reason was given as to why it was changed almost at the last minute. Some may ask what guarantees are there that such a sudden shift will not happen again? Left unsaid is whether it can be considered Christian to “impose” a settlement in the first place.

Equally as important, the question of who can convene this council has not been resolved. In previous ages, it was the secular power which called the ecumenical councils. With the loss of the Roman imperium, all subsequent councils have been local ones; though guided by the Holy Spirit, they do not have universal application. Other churches may cite their proceedings for consideration but they are not beholden to them, unlike the seven ecumenical councils. Finally, it cannot be forgotten that in the ancient Church, all metropolitan regions were autocephalous and that it was the right of the constituent dioceses to elect and consecrate their metropolitan (and it was the right of the people to elect their local bishops). It was only through a gradual piecemeal process that this procedure fell into abeyance. In retrospect, it is hard to vouchsafe the present system of rigidly centralized national churches that incessantly interfere into the territories of other churches. Or churches that consider the Gospel secondary to national identity for that matter.

Most problematic of all is the concept of national churches. This phenomenon did not exist during the time of the ancient councils. This presents another unanticipated problem: during the first Christian millennium, there was only one nation whose churches for all intents and purposes were represented — Rome. The bishops who attended these conclaves were citizens of that nation and they represented the hundreds of dioceses throughout this vast unified state. Though it was a multi-racial, multi-ethnic empire, the concept of the emperor as the vice-regent of God and the only legitimate secular authority was fully ingrained in the consciousness of the people.

Indeed, as late as the fourteenth century, Patriarch Antony IV of Constantinople admonished Grand Duke Basil I of Moscow for removing the name of the Byzantine emperor from the litanies of the Russian church. “My son,” Antony gently rebuked him, “it is not possible for Christians to have the Church and not to have the Empire. For Church and Empire have a great unity and community; nor is it possible to be separated one from the another.” Although Antony did not believe that Byzantium enjoyed political sovereignty over the Russian lands, he justified this fantastic claim in theological terms: “The holy emperor is not as other rulers and governors of other regions are…he is anointed with the great chrism, and is elected baslieus and autokrator of the Romans — to wit, of all Christians.”44 With the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, such lofty sentiments were transferred to the Grand Duke of Moscow by Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople, who lauded this potentate with these words: “thou alone under heaven art now called Christian Emperor for all Christians in the whole world.”45

Admittedly, Byzantine bureaucrats were known for their excessive flattery. Yet even so, the sentiments behind these excessive words betrayed a theological reality in the collective mind of the Orthodox Church. Specifically, that only Orthodox emperors could “rule” over the Oecumene, that is, the Christian world. As such, only these emperors had the legitimate authority to convene ecumenical councils. It stands to reason that the 1200-year absence of an ecumenical council is therefore not as deleterious as some would have us believe. (In fact, given the monarchical mindset of the Orthodox Church, it may not even be possible to convoke such an assembly.) At any rate, no burning doctrinal heresies loom on the horizon either. This is no small consolation as there is a great dread among some Orthodox pietists that the erstwhile “Great and Holy Council” runs the very real risk descending into apostasy.46

Be that as it may, the new “local churches” are now national churches, each embodying the hopes and dreams of their respective nations (one could almost say races). Some of these nations — such as Serbia — are in peril. Like most Western European nations, the traditionally Orthodox nations are themselves in demographic collapse. Any recourse by the Ecumenical Patriarchate to mitigate this reality by invoking the 1872 council of Constantinople’s declaration against the heresy of tribalism could very possibly be met with skepticism if not outright scorn. After all, Constantinople ignored its own protocols when it set up Greek jurisdictions in the various lands of the “diaspora,” most famously in North America, which already possessed a local church. Such an action, coming as it did on the heels of the grant of Serbian autonomy, raised more than a few eyebrows. Perhaps the Ecumenical Patriarchate when faced with a fait accompli vis-à-vis the Serbs decided to put the best face on the situation, but when it came to émigré communities it decided to dig in its heels? This admittedly is speculative but it does comport with the reality at least on a superficial basis. Moreover, the Ecumenical Patriarchate continues to segregate Greeks, Ukrainians, Carpatho-Russians, and now Palestinian Arabs into separate ethnic eparchies on this continent.

Old habits indeed die hard: In Great Britain, Istanbul has set up another ethnic eparchy among Russian immigrants who are in schism from Moscow and even welcomed Bishop Basil Osborne (who was previously under Moscow) into its fold. Both actions were vehemently protested by Alexeii II, the previous Russian patriarch.47 In both England and Hungary, fights over church property between Constantinople and Moscow have been turned over to secular courts and in both instances, the Constantinopolitan exarchate lost.

Indeed, in his controversial speech at Holy Cross, Istanbul’s Chief Secretary continued to promulgate the view that the ethnic eparchies could continue to exist in North America provided that they “first submit to the first throne of Orthodoxy.” This was taken to mean that only a Greek metropolitan who was subordinate to the ecumenical patriarchate would be allowed as the national primate. Furthermore, any talk of granting this erstwhile “united” American church independence was quashed by this same speaker. This stunning declaration of bad faith only roiled the waters further and marshaled the forces of those already hostile to Istanbul in preparation of Chambesy. As already noted, it only added to the suspicion that whatever else it may do in Western Europe or Oceania, the Ecumenical Patriarchate had no intention of giving up its eparchies in the Western Hemisphere but instead was actively seeking to aggrandize its power even more. To be fair, Istanbul is not the only transgressor in this regard as most of the other Old World patriarchates have absolutely no intention of giving up their North American eparchies. Be that as it may, it is in fact most ironic that all of the Old World patriarchates now exercise a near-papalist “universal authority,” in that they feel it is their right to set up dioceses and exarchates wherever their émigrés choose to settle.

The future of course is unknowable. The Great and Holy Council may in fact take place. It may operate unimpeded and its deliberations may be robust, open, and in good faith. It may invite all canonical bishops to its assemblies and deliberations, including those from the lands of the so-called diaspora. Therefore any fears of a Chambesy-like embargo of these same bishops may be overblown. If on the other hand Chambesy proves to be the model, or — worse yet — only certain national primates are invited, then it will be difficult to see how it can be termed a “Great and Holy Council” let alone an “ecumenical” one. More importantly, it will be impossible to see how any such council would have the statutory authority to order the lives of local churches without their representation. In the final analysis, the temptation to adhere to a slightly augmented Chambesy model may prove to be too strong, since some of the patriarchates have problems with certain autonomous churches (as already mentioned).

What then is to be done? Given all of the above, the need to order the life of the North American church should proceed on its own merits and in conjunction with the direction of the already established Orthodox Church in America (albeit without its present ethnic exarchates which present the same canonical problems that the major ethnic exarchates represent). To give heed to those who counsel caution, that acceptance of the protocols established at Chambesy as the lesser of two evils, would therefore be unwise. In this writer’s opinion, such timorousness would only continue the present problems, one of which is an adherence to the heresy of phyletism; the other being the creation of episcopal assemblies which will never be allowed to congeal into true holy synods –all protestations to the contrary.


  1. John Meyendorff, Rome, Constantinople, Moscow: Historical and Theological Studies (Crestwood: SVS Press, 1996), p 16. These ten bishops coincided with the civil prefecture of the city of Rome itself. It was only these ten bishops that the popes had specific authority to consecrate as metropolitans. This right was granted by imperial authority as was the papal right to appoint special vicars to dioceses in Gaul and Thessalonica. Incidentally, the bishops in question were not appointed by the pope but could only be elected locally.
  2. Dmitri Obolensky, “Byzantium, Kiev, and Moscow: A Study in Ecclesiastical Relations,” Byzantium & the Slavs (Crestwood: SVS Press, 1994), pp 109-55; see especially p 133: “Canon law stipulated that a metropolitan was normally to be ‘appointed’ (i.e. both elected and consecrated) by the bishops of his ecclesiastical province, with the assistance of bishops from neighboring districts.” Even though this right was gradually lost in the East to the resident synod of Constantinople, “…the old canonical prescriptions, which gainsaid the current policy of ecclesiastical centralization, were never abrogated.”
  3. John Erickson, “Collegiality and Primacy in Orthodox Ecclesiology, The Challenge of Our Past: Studies in Orthodox Canon Law and Church History (Crestwood: SVS Press, 1991), p 75.
  4. Ibid., pp 73-89. See especially, pp 76-77.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (London: Penguin Books, 1993 ed.), p 28. “…on the whole, during the first eight centuries…the Roman see was noted for the purity of its faith: other Patriarchates wavered during the great doctrinal disputes, but Rome for the most part stood firm. When hard-pressed in the struggle against heretics, people felt that they could turn with confidence to the Pope.”
  7. Metropolitan Maximus of Sardis, The Oecumenical Patriarchate in the Orthodox Church (Thessalonica, 1976),.
  8. Erickson, Op cit., p 78.
  9. Ibid., p 75.
  10. St Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Ephesians 1.
  11. Ignatius, Epistle to the Magnesians 6.
  12. Erickson, Op cit., p 78
  13. Apostolic canon 34: “The bishops of every nation must acknowledge him who is first among them and count him as their head and do nothing of consequence without his consent; but each may do those things only which concern his own parish and the country places which belong to it. but neither let him who is first do anything without the consent of all…”
  14. Erickson, Op cit., p 75
  15. Erickson, “Autocephaly and How It is Proclaimed,” The Challenge of Our Past: Studies in Orthodox Canon Law and Church History, (Crestwood: SVS Press, 1991), pp 91-113; see especially pp 93-94.
  16. St Photius the Great, The Mystagogy of the Holy Spirit (Brookline, Mass: Holy Cross Press, 1987, Transl. by Joseph Farrell).
  17. Council of Carthage, canon 13: “If a bishop takes no pains to win over to Catholic unity those places which belong to his jurisdiction, he shall be exhorted to do so by the neighboring bishops. If he does not do so within six months from this warning, they shall belong to the bishop who wins them to the Church…”
  18. George C Michalopulos, “Canon 28 and Eastern Papalism: Cause or Effect?” www.aoiusa.org/2009/09/canon-28-and-eastern-papalism-cause-or-effect/.
  19. St John Maximovitch, Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco, “The Decline of the Patriarchate of Constantinople,” delivered at the Second All-Diaspora Sobor of the Russian Church Abroad, Yugoslavia, 1938. www.aoiusa.org/2009/09/the-decline-of-the-patriarchate-of-constantinople/.
  20. Milton V Anastos, Speros Vryonis Jr, Nicholas Goodhue, Aspects of the Mind of Byzantium: Political Theory, Theology and Ecclesiastical Relations With the See of Rome (Variorum Collected Studies Series, 717m 2001). “Byzantium itself at first seemed not to be interested in the full exploitation of the traditions about Andrew. But by the seventh century, Constantinople was frequently described in Byzantine texts as an ‘apostolic city,’ without specific reference to Andrew, who was not named as the founder of the Church of Constantinople until the latter part of the seventh century, or the beginning of the eighth…”
  21. John Erickson, “Collegiality and Primacy in Orthodox Ecclesiology”, The Challenge of Our Past: Studies in Orthodox Canon Law and Church History (Crestwood, SVS Press, 1991), p 80-81: “Yet it was not completely forgotten that precedence and honor in the Church exist only in view of ministry and service.”
  22. Declaration of Arboath (1320). “They journeyed from Greater Scythia by way of the Tyrrhenian ea and the Pillars of Hercules, and dwelt for a long course of time in Spain among the most savage trives, but nowhere could they be subdued by any race, however barbarous…The high qualities of these people were they not otherwise manifest, gain glory enough from this: that the King of kings and Lord of lords, our Lord Jesus Christ, after His Passion and Resurrection, called them, even though settled in the uttermost parts of the earth, almost the first to His most holy faith. Nor would He have them confirmed in that faith by merely anyone but by the first of His Apostles — by calling, though second or third in rank — the most gentle Saint Andrew, the Blessed Peter’s brother, and desired him to keep them under his protection as their patron forever.”
  23. Erickson, Op cit., pp 75-80.
  24. Gregory Afonsky, “The Canonical Status of the Patriarch of Constantinople in the Orthodox Church, March 24, 2009, www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles-2009/Alfonsky-The-Canonical-Status-Of-The-Patriarch-Of-Constantinople-In-The-Orthodox-Church.php.
  25. Obolensky, “Russia’s Byzantine Heritage” Byzantium & the Slavs (Crestwood: SVS Press, 1994), pp 75-103, see especially, pp 97-100.
  26. Council of Constantinople (1872): “We have concluded that when the principle of phyletism is juxtaposed with the teaching of the Gospel and the constant practice of the Church, it is not only foreign to it, but also completely opposed, to it. We decree the following in the Holy Spirit: 1. We reject and condemn racial division, that is, racial differences, national quarrels and disagreements in the Church of Christ, as being contrary to the teaching of the Gospel and the holy canons of our blessed fathers, on which the holy Church is established and which adorn human society and lead it to Divine piety. 2. In accordance with the holy canons, we proclaim that those who accept such division according to races and who dare to base on it hitherto unheard-of racial assemblies are foreign to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church are real schismatics.” (Emphasis added.)
  27. Alexander Bogolepov, Toward an American Orthodox Church: The Establishment of an Autocephalous Church (Crestwood: SVS Press, 1963), pp 14-15.
  28. “Statement of the primates of the autocephalous Orthodox Churches,” Istanbul, Oct. 2008.
  29. The ecumenical patriarchate has yet to recognize the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church in America while the Russian Orthodox Church refuses to countenance the claims of the Estonian and Ukrainian churches.
  30. John D Zizioulis, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (Contemporary Greek Theologians Series, No 4) (Crestwood: SVS Press, 1991 ed), p 153, footnote no. 52.
  31. John Couretas, “Moscow Patriarchate Report of Chambesy Meeting,” June 30, 2009, www.aoiusa.org/blog/2009/06/moscow-patriarchate-reports-on-chambesy-meeting/
  32. To be sure, these criticisms have never gone away. Many critics still feel that Istanbul is acting in bad faith, that is that while it may allow autocephalous churches to form in Scandinavia, the Low Countries, and France, it will never relinquish its hold over the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
  33. Elpidophorous Lambrianides, “Challenges of Orthodoxy in America and the Role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate,” (an address given at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, March 16, 2009). www.aoiusa.org/blog/2009/03/ecumenical-patriarchate-american-diaspora-must-submit-to-mother-church/.
  34. Nicholas K Apostola, “How Much Unity? How Much Diversity,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review Vol 50:1-4, 2005 (Brookline: Holy Cross Press, 2005), pp 119-140.
  35. Ibid. p 123.
  36. Ibid. p 124.
  37. www.ocl.org
  38. Apostola, Op cit., p 133.
  39. Metropolitan Jonah Paffhausen, Archbishop Nathanial Popp, Charles Ajalat, et. Al., The Tomos and the Council: 20th Century Landmarks Towards a 21st Century Church, Jun 18-20 (St Vladimir’s Seminary, Crestwood, NY.)
  40. “Interview with Metropolitan Jonah,” (Ancient Faith Radio), Aug 16, 2009.
  41. “SCOBA’s Fr Arey on Chambesy,” Aug 28, 2009. www.aoiusa.org/blog/2009/08/scobas-fr-arey-on-chambesy/.
  42. In The Orthodox Observer for example, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America was stated to be “the canonical jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America.” (Feb xx, 2008). Such a clumsy locution implies that neither the Ukrainian nor Carpatho-Russian eparchies of this see are canonical.
  43. Nick Katich, “A Call to Gather Together as a Church: Reflections on IV Chambesy,” www.ocl.org.
  44. Obolensky, Op cit., pp 175-76.
  45. Sir Stephen Runciman, The Great Church in Captivity (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ Press, 2004 ed.), p 331.
  46. Daniel Rogich, “The Life of our Father Justin, Abbott of Chelije,” St Pachomius Library (may be accessed at www.voskrese.info).
  47. The Declaration of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church relating to the decision of the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople concerning the reception into its jurisdiction of Bishop Basil (Osborne),” (www.sourozh.org).

Unraveling Chambesy — Administrative Unity In Our Time

Presented by Ancient Faith Radio

Presented by Ancient Faith Radio

Our canons call for there to be one bishop in one place but here in America as well as other countries of the so called “diaspora” immigration and pastoral concerns have served to violate those canons. To address this issue, the leaders and representatives of all of the autocephalous Mother Churches were convened by HIs All Holiness the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew first in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) and later in Chambesy, Geneva, Switzerland to commission certain Episcopal Assemblies who will in turn develop regional plans to correct this anomaly.

To help you sort through this complicated process, Ancient Faith Radio has produced a 2-part documentary featuring Fr. Mark Arey, General Secretary of SCOBA (The Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America), Charles Ajalat, former chancellor of the Antiochian Archdiocese and long time champion of Administrative Unity, Metropolitan Jonah, primate of the Orthodox Church in America, and Nick Katich, an attorney who helped orchestrate the healing of the Serbian schism in the United States several years ago. We would encourage you to read the documents referenced on the SCOBA website.


In this first installment, John Maddex talks with Fr. Mark Arey, General Secretary of the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in America (SCOBA) about past efforts at bringing about Administrative Unity, including the so called Ligonier conference in 1994. We will also hear from Charles Ajalat, Metropolitan Jonah, and Nick Katich.

Listen to Part 1:

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In this second part, we learn more about the actual process and related complications of unifying all of the Orthodox churches administratively. In this episode we hear from all of our guests in the first part plus Matthew Namee of the American Orthodox History podcast.

Listen to Part 2:

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The Idea of Primacy in Orthodox Ecclesiology

By: Fr. Alexander Schmemann

Fr. Alexander Schmemann

By primacy we mean here an ecclesiastical power, superior to that of a Bishop whose jurisdiction is limited to his diocese. In Church history and canonical tradition we find the following forms of primacy:

a) regional primacy — within an ecclesiastical province or metropolitan district, i. e. in a group of dioceses (as defined, for example, in Apostolic Canon 33).
b) primacy within the so-called autocephalous churches: the power of a Patriarch or Archbishop (e. g. the Patriarch of Moscow), and
c) universal primacy: that of Rome or Constantinople.1)

But if facts are known, their ecclesiological interpretation is virtually absent from Orthodox theology. We badly need a clarification of the nature and functions of all these primacies and, first of all, of the very concept of primacy. For both in theory and in practice there is a great deal of confusion concerning the definition of the "supreme power" in the church, of its scope and the modes of its expression. Of the three types of primacy mentioned above, only the second — the primacy within the autocephalous church, is defined more or less precisely in each particular "autocephaly." But even here the ecclesiological dimension is obviously lacking and the great variety of existing patterns — from the almost absolute "monarchy" of the Russian Patriarch to the more or less nominal primacy of the Archbishop of Athens — reveals the absence of a common understanding of primacy, or of a consistent canonical theory of it. For two hundred years Russian bishops and canonists denounced the synodal government instituted by Peter the Great as non-canonical, yet it was recognized as canonical by the other Eastern churches.2 Why is the actual patriarchal monarchy in Russia (the bishops even call the Patriarch their "father") more canonical than the collective government or the Holy Synod?

What are, in other terms, the criteria of canonicity? Obviously no existing administrative system can be simply equated with canonical tradition. In the empirical life of the Church one administrative system is replaced by another, and each of them is the result of a "canonical adjustment," i. e., the application of the canonical tradition to a particular situation. Yet, only a clear understanding of the canonical tradition itself with all of its theological and ecclesiological implications can supply us with solid criteria for a canonical evaluation of any of such "adjustments" and for measuring their canonicity.3

As to the regional and universal types of primacy, there does not exist even a de facto consensus of Orthodox opinion. Regional primacy, although it is clearly sanctioned by our canonical tradition,4 has practically disappeared from the structure and the life of the Orthodox Churches in the triumph of centralized autocephalies. And the idea of universal primacy is either rejected as alien to the very spirit of Orthodoxy or formulated in terms so vague and ambiguous that, instead of solving, they only obscure the whole problem of primacy.5

And yet the solution of this problem is certainly on the agenda for our time. It would not be difficult to prove that the canonical and jurisdictional troubles and divisions, of which we have had too many in the last decades, have their roots in some way or other in this question of primacy, or, to be more exact, in the absence of a clearly defined doctrine of the nature and functions of primacy. And the same unsolved problem constitutes a major handicap for the unity and, therefore, the progress of Orthodoxy in countries like America where, paradoxically enough, the loyalty to a certain concept of "canonicity" leads to the most uncanonical situation that can be imagined: the coexistence on the same territory of a number of parallel "jurisdictions, and dioceses…6 Finally, there can be little doubt that Ecclesiology, the doctrine of the Church, is today at the very center of our relations with the non-Orthodox. Among Roman Catholic theologians, there is a growing interest, and not only a "polemical" one, in Orthodox views on Primacy;7 as to the Protestants, it is of vital importance that they understand our concept of the Church’s universality. There are thus reasons for a genuinely theological reconsideration of the whole question. And even if no final answer can be given immediately, it will not be reached without a sustained theological effort.


We have defined primacy as a form of power. This definition, however, must be qualified at once. For there is a preliminary question: does the Orthodox Church possess a power superior to that of a bishop, i.e., a power over the Bishop, and hence, the Church of which he is the head? This question is essential for the whole problem of primacy.8 But the answers given it by ecclesiology on the one hand and the various ecclesiastical administrative systems on the other hand are contradictory. Theologically and ecclesiologically the answer should be "no": there can be no power over the bishop and his Church (i. e. dioceses) for, "if power belongs to the Church as one its constituent elements, it must correspond to the nature of the Church and not be heterogeneous to it."9 The ministry of power and government, as all other ministries within the Church, is a charism, a gift of grace. It is bestowed through the sacrament of order, for only sacramentally received power is possible in the Church whose very nature is grace and whose very institution is based on grace. And the Church has only three charismatic orders with no gift of power superior to that of a bishop. No sacramental order of primacy, no charism of primacy exists, therefore, in the Orthodox Church; if it existed, it would have a nature different from grace and, consequently, its source would not be the Church.

But in the present canonical structure of the Church such supreme power not only exists, but is commonly conceived as the foundation of the Church, and the basis of its canonical system.10 Theoretically, it is true, a personal power of one bishop over another bishop is rejected; the "supreme power" is exercised usually by the Primate together with a governing body: synod, council, etc… For us, however, the important fact is that such supreme ecclesiastical government is always characterized as power over bishops, who are therefore subordinated to it. "Supreme power" is thus introduced into the very structure of the Church as its essential element. The divorce between canonical tradition and the canonical facts is nowhere more obvious than in this universal triumph of the notion of supreme power. Having rejected and still rejecting it in its Roman form, i. e., as universal power, the Orthodox conscience has easily accepted it in the so-called "autocephalies."

In this situation the question we have formulated above cannot be answered simply by references to historical precedent or canonical texts, isolated from their context, as it is too often done in contemporary canonical controversies. We must go deeper into the very sources of Orthodox doctrine of the Church, to the essential laws of her organization and life.


Orthodox tradition is unanimous in its affirmation of the Church as organic unity. This organism is the Body of Christ and the definition is not merely symbolical but expresses the very nature of the Church.11 It means that the visible organizational structure of the Church is the manifestation and actualization of the Body of Christ, or, in other terms, that this structure is rooted in the Church as the Body of Christ. But one must stress immediately that if the doctrine of the Church-Body of Christ is both scriptural and traditional, it has never really been elaborated and interpreted theologically. For reasons which cannot be discussed here (we shall mention some of them later) this doctrine disappeared rather early from canonical (i. e. ecclesiological) thinking both in the West and East, and its neglect by canonists constitutes, no doubt, a tragedy the results of which mark all domains of ecclesiastical life and thought. In the early Church the canonical tradition was an integral part of ecclesiology — of the living experience of the Church. But little by little it became an autonomous sphere in which the visible ecclesiastical structures, the functions of power and authority, and the relations between Churches, ceased to be explained in terms of the Church-Body of Christ. Loosing its ties with ecclesiology, the canonical tradition became "canon law." But in Canon Law there was no room for the notion of the Body of Christ because this notion has nothing to do with "law." The life of the Church came to be expressed in juridical terms, and the canons which originally were (and essentially still are) an ecclesiological testimony were transformed into, and used as juridical norms.12 The "mystery of the Church" was neither denied nor forgotten. It simply ceased to be understood as the only law of the whole life of the Church.13

Today, however, an ecclesiological revival is taking place. And it is moved primarily by the desire to express the Church — her life, her structures, her visible unity — in adequate theological terms, and first of all in terms of the Body of Christ. It is within this revival and in connection with this "rediscovery" of the traditional concept of the Body that new attempts are made to clarify the basic ecclesiological notions of organism and organic unity. And these, in turn, shape and condition the whole understanding of primacy.

The Church is an organism. The Church is organic unity. In a series of articles the contemporary Russian theologian and canonist Fr. N. Afanassieff shows that there existed (and still exist) two ecclesiological "elaborations" or interpretations of this organic unity: the universal and the eucharistic.14 This distinction, we shall see, is of capital importance for the understanding of the Orthodox idea of primacy.15

The universal ecclesiology finds its fullest expression in Roman Catholic theology, crowned by the Vatican dogma of 1870. Here the only adequate expression of the Church as organism is the universal structure of the Church, its universal unity. The Church is the sum of all local churches, which all together constitute the Body of Christ. The Church is thus conceived in terms of whole and parts. Each community, each local church is but a part, a member of this universal organism; and it participates in the Church only through its belonging to the "whole." In the words of one of its best exponents, Roman theology seeks a definition of the Church in which "parts would receive within the whole, conceived really as a whole, the status of genuine parts."16

We do not need to go here into all details of this ecclesiology. The important point here is for us to see that in the light of this doctrine the need for and the reality of a universal head, i. e. the Bishop of Rome, can no longer be termed an exaggeration. It becomes not only acceptable but necessary. If the Church is an universal organism, she must have at her head a universal bishop as the focus of her unity and the organ of supreme power. The idea, popular in Orthodox apologetics, that the Church can have no visible head, because Christ is her invisible head, is theological nonsense.17 If applied consistently, it should also eliminate the necessity for the visible head of each local church, i.e. the bishop. Yet it is the basic assumption of a "catholic" ecclesiology that the visible structure of the Church manifests and communicates its invisible nature. The invisible Christ is made present through and in the visible unity of the Bishop and the People: the Head and the Body.18 To oppose the visible structure to the invisible Christ leads inescapably to the Protestant divorce between a visible and human Church which is contingent, relative, and changing, and an invisible Church in heaven. We must simply admit that if the categories of organism and organic unity are to be applied primarily to the Church universal as the sum of all its component parts (i. e. local churches), then the one, supreme, and universal power as well as its bearer become a self-evident necessity because this unique visible organism must have a unique visible head. Thus the efforts of Roman Catholic theologians to justify Roman primacy not by mere historical contingencies but by divine institution appear as logical. Within universal ecclesiology primacy is of necessity power, and, by the same necessity, a Divinely instituted power; we have all this in a consistent form in the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Church.


Is this ecclesiology acceptable from the Orthodox point of view? The question may seem naive. The Orthodox Church has rejected as heretical the Roman claims and thus has implicitly condemned the ecclesiology which supports them. This answer, however, while correct in theory, is not the one which we find in facts, in the reality of life. We must remember that the rejection of Roman claims at the time of the Western Schism was due to an Orthodox "instinct" more than to a positive ecclesiological doctrine. It was helped by violent anti-Roman feelings among the Easterners, and by the whole alienation and estrangement of the West from the East. It is well known today what atmosphere of hatred, mutual suspicion, and bitterness accompanied the doctrinal controversies, adding an emotional dimension,19 to the dogmatical rupture. The rejection of Roman errors did not result in a positive elaboration of the Orthodox doctrine as was the case after the condemnation of Arianism, Nestorianism, etc. Our ecclesiology is still lacking an "oros," similar to the Nicean Creed in Triadology or the Chalcedon definition in Christology. But at the time of the Schism, the Church conscience both in the West and in the East was deeply affected by ideas alien to Orthodox ecclesiology. We shall deal with some of them later. Here we must stress that all of them were a denial de facto of the living sources of the eucharistic ecclesiology which constitutes, in our opinion the basis of the true canonical tradition. I say de facto because the Orthodox Church, different in this respect from Rome, has never transformed this denial into a doctrine, into an ecclesiological system. Various types of "canon law" have neither poisoned the prime sources of Church life, nor abolished or replaced the canonical tradition. Thus there is the possibility of a return to them.

What then, from the point of view which interests us in this essay, is the essence of this Orthodox ecclesiology? It is, above all, that it applies the categories of organism and organic unity to "the Church of God abiding…" in every place: to the local church, to the community led by a bishop and having, in communion with him, the fullness of the Church. Fr. Afanassieff terms it "eucharistic ecclesiology." And, indeed, it is rooted in the Eucharist as the Sacrament of the Church, an Act, which ever actualizes the Church as the Body of Christ.20 A similar view is expressed by Fr. George Florovsky. "The Sacraments," he writes, "constitute the Church…Only in them the Christian community transcends its human dimensions and becomes the Church."21 Through the Eucharist we have the whole Christ and not a "part" of Him; and therefore the Church which is "actualized" in the Eucharist is not a "part" or "member" of a whole, but the Church of God in her wholeness. For it is precisely the function of the Eucharist to manifest the whole Church, her "catholicity." Where there is the Eucharist, there is the Church; and conversely, only where the whole Church is, (i.e., the people of God united in the Bishop, the Head, the Shepherd), there is the Eucharist. Such is the primitive ecclesiology, expressed in the tradition of the early Church and still recognizable in our canons and in the liturgical "rubrics," which to so many seem obscure and non-essential.22 There is no room here for the categories of the "parts" and of the "whole," because it is the very essence of the sacramental-hierarchical structure that in it a "part" not only "agrees" with but is identical to the whole, reveals it adequately in itself, and in one word is the whole. The local Church as a sacramental organism, as the Gift of God in Christ, is not part or member of a wider universal organism. She is the Church. Objectively, as the Body of Christ, the Church is always identical to herself in space and time. In time, because she is always the people of God gathered to proclaim the death of the Lord and to confess His resurrection.  In space, because in each local Church the fullness of gifts is given, the whole Truth is announced, the whole Christ is present, who is "yesterday and today and forever the same." In her sacramental and hierarchical order the Church reveals and conveys to men the fullness of Christ into which they must grow (cf. Eph. 4:13).

The essential corollary of this "eucharistic" ecclesiology is that it excludes the idea of a supreme power, understood as power over the local Church and her Bishop. The ministry of power, as all ministries and charisms, has its source in and is performed within the organic unity of the Church. It is rooted in the sacraments whose aim is to fulfill the Church as the Body of Christ. This ministry of power belongs to the Bishop and there is no ministry of any higher power. A supreme power would mean power over the Church, over the Body of Christ, over Christ Himself. The Bishop is vested with power, yet the root of this power is in the Church, in the eucharistic gathering, at which he presides as Priest, Pastor and Teacher. "Power" in the Church can be defined and understood only within the indivisible unity of the Church, the Eucharist, and the Bishop. It cannot have a source different from that of the Church herself: the presence of Christ in the sacrament of the "new eon," of the life in the Spirit. And for the early Church all this was a living reality such that it would not be difficult to show that this reality shaped the foundations of the canonical tradition.23 When, for example, our present and highly "juridical" canon law affirms that all Bishops are equal in grace, does this not mean what has been affirmed above? For what is the grace of episcopate if not the "charism" of power? And since the Church knows of no other charism of power, there can exist no power higher than that of the Bishop.24


Does all this mean that Orthodox ecclesiology simply rejects the very notion of primacy? No. But it rejects the fatal error of universal ecclesiology which identifies primacy with power, transforming the latter from a ministry in the Church into power over the Church. To explain the Orthodox conception of primacy we must now consider the approach of eucharistic ecclesiology towards the Church universal. It must be stated emphatically that this type of ecclesiology does not transform the local Church into a self sufficient monad, without any "organic" link with other similar monads. There is no "Congregationalism" here.25 The organic unity of the Church universal is not less real than the organic unity of the local Church. But if universal ecclesiology interprets it in terms of "parts" and "whole," for eucharistic ecclesiology the adequate term is that of identity: "the Church of God abiding in…" The Church of God is the one and indivisible Body of Christ, wholly and indivisibly present in each Church, i. e. in the visible unity of the people of God, the Bishop and the Eucharist. And if universal unity is indeed unity of the Church and not merely unity of Churches, its essence is not that all churches together constitute one vast, unique organism, but that each Church — in the identity of order, faith and the gifts of the Holy Spirit — is the same Church, the same Body of Christ, indivisibly present wherever is the "ecclesia." It is thus the same organic unity of the church herself, the "Churches" being not complementary to each other, as parts or members, but each one and all of them together being nothing else, but the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

It is this ontological identity of all Churches with the Church of God that establish the connecting link between Churches, making them the Church universal. For the fullness (pleroma) of each local Church not only does not contradict her need for other Churches, and, indeed, her dependence on them, but implies them as her won conditio sine qua non. On the one hand the fullness of each local Church is the same that is given to every other Church; it is a fullness possessed in common as the gift of God. And on the other hand, she has it only in agreement with all other churches, and only in as much as she does not separate herself from this agreement, does not make the one and indivisible gift her own, "private" gift…

"A new bishop shall be installed by all bishops of the province…" In this Canon 4 of the Council of Nicea (which simply sanctions an already existing practice — (cf. Hippolytus’ Apostolic Tradition) we find the first and the most comprehensive form of the inter-dependence of several churches. The local Church receives the condition and the "note" of her fullness — the episcopate — through the Bishops of other Churches. What is the meaning of this dependence? The universal — "whole-and-parts·" — ecclesiology uses this canon as its main justification and proof: the plurality of the consecrators signifies the "whole" to which the local church — the "part" — is therefore subordinated.26 Such interpretation could appear only at a time when the real link between the Bishop and his Church was forgotten and the charism of episcopacy had come to be thought of as a personal gift which any "two or three" bishops could bestow on anyone, and when "valid consecration" became the only content of the notion of apostolic succession. The meaning of this canon appears quite different if we look into the early practice of the Church as described, for example, in the "Apostolic Tradition" of Hippolytus. The consecration of a bishop is followed by the Eucharist which is offered by the newly consecrated bishop and not by any of the consecrators.27

This seemingly minor "liturgical" detail expresses in fact an important norm of the primitive ecclesiology. From the moment he is elected and consecrated, the Bishop is the president of the eucharistic assembly, i. e. the head of the Church, and his consecration finds its fulfillment when for the first time he offers to God the Eucharist of the Church. Thus the consecration of a Bishop is first of all the testimony that this man, elected by his own Church, is elected and appointed by God, and that through his election and consecration his Church is identical with the Church of God which abides in all Churches…28 It is not the transfer of a gift by those who possess it, but the manifestation of the fact that the same gift, which they have received in the Church from God, has now been given to this Bishop in this Church. Episcopate is not a "collective gift" Which any "two or three" Bishops can convey to another man, but a ministry in the Church, a gift given to the Church; therefore the "cheirotonia" of a Bishop bears testimony that the Church has received it. The unbroken Episcopal succession, which was the decisive argument in the polemics against gnosticism, was understood primarily as the succession of bishops within every Church and not in terms of "consecrators."29

Today, however, the emphasis in the doctrine of Apostolic succession has shifted to the question of consecrators. But such was not the meaning given this doctrine by St. Irenaeus;30 for in spite of the fact that no bishop could be consecrated by his predecessor in the same chair, it is precisely this succession in the chair which is all important to St, Irenaeus and is to him the proof of the "identity" of the Church in time and space with the Church of God, with the fullness of Christ’s gift — for "the Church is in the Bishop and the Bishop is in the Church." The consecration of a bishop by other bishops is thus the acknowledgment of the will of God as being fulfilled in this particular Church. This fulfillment includes, to be sure, the bestowing of the charism of the Holy Spirit upon the candidate, and from this point of view the consecrators are the ministers of the sacrament of Order. But this they are because of their function and ministry in the Church and not in virtue of a power over grace, inherent to their "rank."

Sacramental theology has dealt almost exclusively with the right of the bishops to consecrate other bishops but has badly neglected the ecclesiological content and meaning of this right, which come precisely from the bishop’s function as witness of God’s will in the Church, his "charism" being to keep the Church in the will of God and guide her towards its fulfillment. The Church whose bishop has died has also lost the power to express this testimony. The testimony, therefore, must of necessity come from other Churches and through their ministers who have the charism of proclaiming the will of God. In other terms, this aspect of testimony (the absence of which may lead eventually to an almost magical understanding of the sacrament of order) is essential to the consecration; while the gift of the Spirit comes not from the bishops, yet their presence, unity, and testimony are the signs of its having been given to this particular Church by God Himself; they are indeed the "form" of the sacrament.31

The dependence of each Church on other Churches is thus a dependence not of submission but of testimony: each Church testifying about all others and all together testifying about each that they are one in faith and life and that separately and all together they are the Church of God — the indivisible gift of the new life in Christ. Each Church has fullness in herself, acknowledged and fulfilled in the unity of the Bishop and the people; and it is the identity of this fullness with the fullness of the Church of God (and, therefore, with the "pleroma" of every other Church) that is both expressed and maintained in the consecration of a new Bishop by other Bishops. Thus the organic unity of the Church as Body of Christ does not divide her into "parts" nor make the life of any local Church "partial"; it prevents the isolation of the local Church into a self-sufficient organism with no need for other Churches. And we should add that the conscience of the universal unity of the Church, of living koinonia and mutual responsibility and the joy of belonging to the one household of God, has never been stronger than during the short triumph of precisely this type of ecclesiology.32


The sacrament of episcopal consecration reveals the first and the essential form of primacy, or rather the basis of primacy: the synod of bishops. In Orthodoxy the synod is usually given an exceptional importance. The Church is often described as the Church of the Councils and her government as "conciliary" ("sobornyi" in Russian). But very little has been done to define the nature and function of synods in theological terms. Canonically the synod is interpreted as the "supreme authority" in the Church. Such, we have seen, is the inescapable logic of canon law once it has ceased to be governed internally by the doctrine of the Church as Body of Christ. In fact, to the Roman doctrine of a personal supreme power one opposed, on the Orthodox side, the theory of a collective supreme power; and in contemporary controversies the only question debated is that of the limits of such a "college" — whether it should consist of bishops only or include "representatives" from clergy and laity. This theory acquired a new vitality after it was combined — in a rather inconsistent way — with the Slavophile teaching about the "sobornost," and this combination made it possible to accuse Roman Catholicism with a clear conscience for being over juridical in its ecclesiology.

However, the idea of Synod as "the visible supreme constitutive and governing organ of Church power"33 does not correspond either to the Slavophile doctrine of "Sobornost"34 or to the original function of the synod in the Church. The Synod is not "power" in the juridical sense of this word, for there can exist no power over the Church Body of Christ. The Synod is, rather, a witness to the identity of all Churches as the Church of God in faith, life and "agape." If in his own Church the Bishop is priest, teacher and pastor, the divinely appointed witness and keeper of the catholic faith, it is through the agreement of all Bishops, as revealed in the Synod, that all Churches both manifest and maintain the ontological unity of Tradition, "for languages differ in the world, but the force of Tradition is the same" (St. Irenaeus). The Synod of Bishops is not an organ of power over the Church, nor is it "greater" or "fuller" than the fullness of any local Church, but in and through it all Churches acknowledge and realize their ontological unity as the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Ecclesiologically and dogmatically the Synod is necessary for the consecration of a bishop. The sacrament of order is its ecclesiological foundation35 because, as we have seen, the synod is the essential condition of the fullness of each local Church, of her "pleroma" as Body of Christ. But it also has another equally important function. The Church which by her very nature belongs to the new eon, to the Kingdom of the age to come, yet abides in history, in time, in "this world." She is in statu patriae, but also in statu viae. She is Fullness, but she is also Mission: the Divine love, the Divine will of salvation addressed to the world. And it is by being Mission, by loving those for whom Christ died, that the Church realizes herself as the Fullness. A Church that would isolate herself from the world and live by her eschatological fullness, that would cease to "evangelize," to bear witness to Christ in the world, would simply cease to be the Church — because the fullness by which she lives is precisely the agape of God as revealed and communicated in Christ. "Mission" cannot, therefore, be a static relationship with the world. It means fight with, and for, the world; it means a constant effort to understand and to challenge, to question and to answer. And this means finally that within the Church herself there must constantly arise doubts and problems and the need for a fresh renewal of the living testimony. The "world" both outside and inside the Church, tempts and challenges her with all its powers of destruction and doubt, idolatry and sin. This challenge calls for a common effort of all churches, for a faithful and living "koinonia" and agreement. It is this mission of the Church in the world, her "working" in time and history, that give the Synod its second function: to be the common voice, the common testimony of several (or all) Churches in their ontological unity. Thus the Apostolic synod meets not as a regular and necessary "organ" of the Church, but in connection with a problem arising out of the missionary situation in the Church. There is no evidence for any synod of this type till the end of the second century when Montanism provoked a common resistance of the ecclesiastical body.36 In the third century the African synod appears as a regular institution, but again its regularity is not that of an organ of power, but that of orderly consultations on common problems. Finally the council of Nicea and all subsequent Ecumenical Councils always convened to confront a problem which was vital to all Churches and which required their common testimony. It is the truth of its decision and not any "constitutional right or guarantee" that makes it the highest authority in the Church.


It is in the Synod that primacy finds its first and most general expression. The Synod, since its basic purpose is the consecration of a bishop, is primarily a regional Synod, i. e. the council of a definite geographical area. The boundaries of such an area can be fixed in various ways: they can be geographical or coincide with a political administrative unit or be the limits of Christian expansion from an ecclesiastical center: in Church history there is ample evidence for all of these systems. But ecclesiastically the essential feature of a district is the participation of all its bishops in the consecration of a new bishop (cf. Canon 4 of Nicea). And its second constitutive element is the existence among these bishops of a clearly defined primacy of the first bishop. This primacy is defined in the famous Apostolic Canon 34: "The bishops of every nation must acknowledge him who is first among them and account him as- their head, and do nothing of consequence without his consent; …but neither let him (Who is the first) do anything without the consent of all; for so there will be unanimity…"

Here the essence of the regional primacy is stated quite clearly: it is not "power" or "jurisdiction" (for the primate can do nothing without the assent of all), but the expression of the unity and unanimity of all bishops and, consequently, of all Churches of the area.

There is no need to go into all the details of the rather complicated history of the metropolitan district in the ancient Church,37 There can be little doubt that it was the most common, the most natural and basic from of relationship between local Churches, the basic link of their unity, rooted in the sacrament of order. There can also be little doubt that for a long time the local primacy was universally understood and accepted as the basic expression of the very function of primacy. To use modern terminology each "metropolitan district" was "autocephalous" (this is confirmed by Balsamon), since the main principle of "autocephaly" is precisely the right to elect and consecrate new bishops.

But local primacy is not the only form of primacy to be found in our canonical tradition. Almost from the very beginning there existed also wider groupings of Churches with a corresponding "center of agreement" or primacy within them. One can argue which form of primacy appeared first. For, as it is well known, Christianity was settled first in the major cities of the Roman Empire and from there spread into the suburban areas. And since a metropolitan district implies the existence of a number of Churches in a given area, it is only natural to think that at first the function of primacy belonged exclusively to the Churches of the great metropolitan centers. Even after the growth in number of local churches and the consequent shaping of metropolitan districts, the original "centers" or "mother-churches" did not lose their special status, their particular primacy. One could call this later stage "second degree primacy." In the second and third centuries such was the position of Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, Lyons, Carthage etc. What then were the nature and the functions of this form of primacy? The well known canon 6 of Nicaea applies to it the term power (exousia). But Bishop N. Milash in his commentary of this canon shows quite clearly that "power" here must be understood as "priority" or "privilege."38 The canon defines the relationship between the Bishop of Alexandria and the four metropolitans of the Diocese of Egypt. In Egypt the metropolitan system appeared later than elsewhere and the Bishop of Alexandria, who was from the beginning the "head* of the whole Egyptian Church (i. e. the Primate of all bishop), had, therefore, the privilege of primacy everywhere (i. e. the right to convene the Synods for the consecration of new bishops). The Council of Nicaea, which sanctioned the metropolitan system, had to establish for Egypt a kind of synthesis between the universal norm and the local particularities. On the one hand, it emphasized that no bishop could be consecrated without the assent of the metropolitan (thereby affirming the "local primacy") but, on the other hand, it left with the Bishop of Alexandria the ultimate approval of all elections. But, as a general rule, this latter form of primacy was defined in Nicaea as priority, and history shows clearly enough the nature of that priority: one can describe it as primacy of authority. Let us stress that we have here not so much the primacy of a bishop (as in the case of the metropolitan district) but the primacy of a particular church, her special spiritual and doctrinal authority among other Churches. The great majority of local Christian communities was born from the missionary activity of some important urban Church. From the latter they received the rule of faith, the rule of prayer and the "apostolic succession." Many of these great Churches had, in addition, Apostles or their first disciples for founders. Furthermore they were usually better equipped theologically and intellectually. It is natural, then, that in difficult or controversial cases, these Churches took upon themselves the initiative of appeasement or, in other terms, of reaching and expressing the "agreement" of all churches. The local Churches looked to them for guidance and counsel and recognized in their voice a special authority. We have early examples of such authority in the activity of St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Polycarp of Smyrna, St. Irinaeus of Lyons, and later, in the councils of Antioch and Carthage… Yet primacy of authority here cannot be defined in juridical norms, because it has nothing to do with "jus" as such; yet it was quite real in the life of the early Church and the seeds of the future patriarchates are to be found in it. Once again we must stress that its essence and purpose is not "power," but the manifestation of the existent unity of the Churches in faith and life.

Finally we come to the highest and ultimate form of primacy: the universal primacy. An age-long anti-Roman prejudice has led some Orthodox canonists simply to deny the existence of such primacy in the past or the need for it in the present. But an objective study of the canonical tradition cannot fail to establish beyond any doubt that, along with local "centers of agreement" or primacies, the Church had also known an universal primacy. The ecclesiological error of Rome lies not in the affirmation of her universal primacy. Rather, the eror lies in the identification of this primacy with "supreme power" which transforms Rome into the "principium radix et origo"39 of the unity of the Church and of the Church herself. This ecclesiological distortion, however, must not force us into a simple rejection of universal primacy. On the contrary it ought to encourage its genuinely Orthodox interpretation.

It is impossible to deny that even before the appearance of local primacies the Church from the first days of the existence possessed an ecumenical center of her unity and agreement. In the Apostolic and the Judeo-Christian period it was the Church of Jerusalem, and later the Church of Rome — "presiding in agape" according to St. Ignatius of Antioch. This formula and the definition of the universal primacy contained in it have been aptly analyzed by Fr. Afanassieff and we need not repeat here his argument.40 Neither can we quote here all the testimonies of the Fathers and Councils unanimously acknowledging Rome as the senior Church and the center of ecumenical agreement.41 It is only for the sake of biased polemics that one can ignore these testimonies, their consensus and significance. It has happened, however, that if Roman historians and theologians have always interpreted this evidence in juridical terms, thus falsifying its real meaning, their Orthodox opponents have systematically belittled the evidence itself. Orthodox theology is still awaiting a truly Orthodox evaluation of universal primacy in the first millennium of Church history — an evaluation free from polemical or apologetic exaggerations. Such study will certainly reveal that the essence and purpose of this primacy is to express and preserve the unity of the Church in faith and life; to express and preserve the unanimity of all Churches; to keep them from isolating themselves into ecclesiastical provincialism, loosing the Catholic ties, separating themselves from the unity of life. It means ultimately to assume the care, the sollicitudo42 of the Churches so that each one of them can abide in that fullness which is always the whole catholic tradition and not any "part" of it.

From this brief analysis of the concept of primacy we can draw the following general conclusion: primacy in the Church is not "supreme power," this notion being incompatible with the nature of the Church as Body of Christ. But neither is primacy a mere "chairmanship" if one understands this term in its modern, parliamentary and democratic connotations. It has its roots, as all other functions, in the Church — Body of Christ. In each Church there fully abides and is always "actualized" the Church of God; yet all together the Churches are still the same one and indivisible Church of God, the Body of Christ. The Church of God is manifested in the plurality of the Churches; but because ontologically they are the same Church, this ontological identity is expressed in a visible, living, and constantly renewed link: the unity of faith, the unity of action and mission, the common care for everything that constitutes the task of Church in "statu viae." A local Church cannot isolate herself, become a center in herself, live "by herself" and by her own local and private interests, because the fullness which constitutes her very being is precisely the fullness of the catholic faith and catholic mission, the fullness of Christ who fills all things in all. The Church cannot actualize this fullness, make it her own, and, therefore, be the Church, without ipso facto living in all and by all; and this means living in the universal conscience of the Church "scattered in the whole world and yet abiding as if it were in one home." A local Church cut from this universal "koinonia" is indeed a contradictio in adjecto, for this koinonia is the very essence of the Church. And it, has, therefore, its form and expression: primacy. Primacy is the necessary expression of the unity in faith and life of all local Churches, of their living and efficient koinonia.

Now we can return to our first definition of primacy. Primacy is power, but as power it is not different from the power of a Bishop in each church. It is not a higher power but indeed the same power only expressed, manifested, actualized by one. The primate can speak for all because the Church is one and because the power he exercises is the power of each bishop and of all bishops. And he must speak for all because this very unity and agreement require, in order to be efficient, a special organ of expression, a mouth, a voice… Primacy is thus a necessity because therein is the expression and manifestation of the unity of Churches as being the unity of the Church. And it is important to remember that the Primate, as we know him from our canonical tradition, is always the Bishop of a local Church and not a "bishop at large," and that primacy belongs to him precisely because of his status in his own Church.43 It is not a personal charism, but rather a function of the whole Church, carried and fulfilled by its Bishop. The early tradition clearly indicates the primacy of the Church of Rome, yet we know next to nothing about the first Bishops of Rome who, evidently, served as ministers of this primacy. The idea of primacy thus excludes the idea of jurisdictional power but implies that of an "order" of Churches which does not subordinate one Church to another, but which makes is possible for all Churches to live together this life of all in each and of each in all thus by fulfilling the mystery of the Body of Christ, the fullness "filling all in all."


This concept of primacy, as has been said already, is rooted in the "eucharistic ecclesiology" which we believe to be the source of Orthodox canonical and liturgical tradition. As result of its distortion or, at least, "metamorphosis" there appeared another type of ecclesiology which we have termed "universal." It leads necessarily to the understanding and practice of primacy as "supreme power" and therefore, to an universal bishop as source and foundation of jurisdiction in the whole ecclesiastical structure. The Orthodox Church has condemned this distortion in its pure and explicit Roman Catholic form. This does not mean, however, that our church life is free from its poison. The universal ecclesiology is a permanent temptation because in the last analysis it is a natural one, being the product of "naturalization" of Christianity, its adaptation to the life "after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ". Only the historical sources of this temptation in the East are different from those in the West. And inasmuch as all the controversies within Orthodoxy are obviously centered on this basic question of the nature of the Church, we must conclude this article with a short analysis of our own deficiencies.

At a relatively recent date there arose among the Orthodox the opinion that the Church is based in her life on the principle of autocephaly, the term "autocephalous" here being applied exclusively to the Eastern Patriarchates or the great national churches. According to this opinion, the principle of autocephaly is not only one of the historical "expressions" by the Church of her universal structure, but precisely the ecclesiological foundation of the Church and her life. In other words, the unique universal organism of Roman ecclesiology is opposed here to "autocephalous" organisms, each one constituted by several "dioceses" under one center or "supreme power." All these "autocephalies" are absolutely equal among themselves and this equality excludes any universal center or primacy.44

The appearance of this theory and its almost unanimous acceptance by contemporary Orthodox canonists is very significant. In the first place, the principle of autocephaly has indeed been for the last few centuries the unique principle of organization in Orthodoxy and, therefore, its "acting" canonical rule. The reason is clear: the "autocephaly" with this particular meaning is fully adequate to the specifically Eastern form of Christian "naturalization" or reduction of the Church to the "natural world." This explains in turn why of all possible forms it was precisely "autocephaly" which became for centuries the "acting canon law" in the Eastern Church and today is accepted by so many as an eternal and unchangeable principle of her canonical tradition.

All the deficiencies in the ecclesiology conscience in the East can be ascribed to two major sources: the close "identification" of the Church with the state (Byzantine "symphony" and its varieties) and religious nationalism. Both explain the unchallenged triumph of the theory of "Autocephaly."

The identification of the Church with the state (cf. the confused and often tragic history of Byzantine theocracy) deeply changed the very notion of power in the Church. It was shaped more and more after the "juridical" pattern of the State, and its understanding as a charismatic ministry within the Body of Christ was consequently weakened. More precisely there occurred a rupture between the sacramental and the jurisdictional power. A bishop, to receive hist power was, of course, still to be consecrated. Yet in fact the source of his "jurisdictional power" rested now with a "supreme power" before which he was to become "responsible." The bishop’s "report" to the Synod offers the best example of this change as it indicates first the quick transformation of the function of Synod in Byzantium, and second the equally rapid growth of a real "mystique" of the Supreme Power in the person of the Patriarch.

We know that in the early Church the synod was by its very nature a gathering of bishops (i.e. a more or less regular convention and not a permanent institution). There were regular or extraordinary synods, but in all of them the essential condition of their very "function" was the living identity of each bishop and his Church — for it was only as "head" of his Church, its "proistamenos" in the deepest sense of this word, that he took part in the synod which thus became the expression of the unity and unanimity of the Churches as the Churches of God. Beginning with the fourth century, although not everywhere at the same time, this idea of the synod was progressively replaced by another one: as the supreme and central power over the Churches. The best example here is the famous "synodos endemousa" in Constantinople which became the pattern for the future "synod." Brought into existence at first as a synod "ad hoc" — an occasional meeting of bishops who happened to be in Constantinople — this synod became little by little a permanent organ of power assisting the Patriarch45 with the result that the condition for participation in it was reversed a bishop left his church in order to become a member of this governing body. The bishops became, so to speak, "power in themselves" and their Synod became the supreme or central power. One step more, and the bishops from the jurisdictional point of view have become representatives or delegates of this high power even in their own Churches. This is, of course, only a scheme, but it would not be difficult to substantiate it with facts.46 The road from the "synodos endemousa" to the "Governing Synod" of the Russian Church is a straight one, complicated, it is true, by influences of the Western and Protestant "synodal" law. Yet the source of both is in the State, in its notion of "supreme power" as source of any "local power."

Not less characteristic is the development of what may be termed "patriarchal mystique" which finds its first expression in the development of the power of the Patriarch of Constantinople. In its essence this mystique is radically different from that of Papism. The latter has its roots in the experience of the Church as an universal organism, called to dominate the world; the former in the parallelism of the Church and Empire which required an ecclesiastical "counterpart" of the Basileus. Although one must stress again and again, that the origin of the Byzantine Patriarch’s unique power is not "lust of power" but the "Byzantine analogy" between the two supreme powers,47 yet here also it is the State and not the Church that shapes this new idea of power.

The metamorphosis of the very concept of "power," its disconnection, even if a partial one, from the ecclesiology of the Body of Christ and, as the natural result, the emergence of a "supreme power" — all this constitutes the first and yet most tragic crisis in the history of Orthodox ecclesiology. The time has come ie seems to us to admit openly that the Byzantine period of our history, which in many respects is still for us the golden age of Orthodoxy, saw, nevertheless, the beginning of an ecclesiological disease. The mystique of the "symphonia" (with its only alternative being the monastic "desert" and the individual work for "salvation") obscured the reality of the Church as People of God, as the Church of God and the Body of Christ manifested and edified in every place. It was the triumph of universal ecclesiology in the Byzantine form.

The state and its idea of power are, however, but the first of the two major causes of that disease. The second, not less important in its consequences, was the growth of religious nationalism. No one, I think, will deny that one of the fruits of Byzantine Theocracy, which for a long time obscured the life of the Orthodox East, was the growth of those religious nationalisms which little by little identified the Church, her structure, and organization with the nation, making her the religious expression of national existence. This national existence, however natural and therefore legitimate it may be, is by its very essence a "partial" existence — the existence as a "part" of humanity which though not necessarily inimical to its other "parts" is nonetheless opposed to them as "one’s own" to the "alien." The Early Church knew herself to be the tertium genus in which there is neither Greek nor Jew. This means that it proclaimed and conveyed a Life which without rejecting the "partial" and natural life could transform it into "wholeness" or catholicity. Hence it must be clear that religious nationalism is essentially a heresy about the Church, for it reduces grace and the new life to "nature" and makes the latter a formal principle of the Church’s structure. This does not mean that there can be no Christian people or a Christian vocation of a nation; it means only that a Christian nation (i.e. a nation which has acknowledged its Christian vocation) does not become the Church. Because the nature of the Church is the Body of Christ, she belongs to the Kingdom of the age to come and cannot identify herself with anything in "this world…".

Yet it is precisely this religious nationalism in combination with the new "state-like" concept of power which supplied the basis for the new theory of autocephaly and made it for centuries the "acting canon law" in the Orthodox East. Elsewhere I have tried to show the weak points in contemporary attempts to justify this theory and to erect it into an ecclesiological absolute. From the point of view which interests us here, however, the negative significance of this theory (defended, on the one hand, as a justification of the national divisions of Orthodoxy and, on the other, as sanction for the prevalent administrative centralism) introduces into the Orthodox doctrine of the Church the very elements of "universal ecclesiology" which she rejects and condemns as it is. It obscures the sacramental structure of the Church rooted in its life as Body of Christ, by a "national" structure, thus making a natural organism.

On the essential falsehood of this theory and on its fateful consequences in the life of the Church much has been written. One can affirm that the ecclesiastical consciousness has never "received" it as Tradition — as witness about the nature of the Church. Neither the doctrine of the "five senses" which was the first reaction of Byzantine canonists to Roman claims, nor the absolute "autocephalism" of national theocraties born as it was out of the fight against the theocracy of Byzantium, nor the synodal regime of the Russian Church — none of these succeeded in being accepted as an organic expression of Church consciousness or in obscuring to the end the genuine and living sources of ecclesiastical life. This source is still in the true canonical tradition and in the sacraments by which the Church lives and actualizes herself.

Is it necessary to mention all the harm done to the Church by this acting "canon law," disconnected as it is from the living sources of Orthodox ecclesiology? Such as, on the one hand, the bureaucratic spirit pervading the Church, making her the "religious department"; the absence of a living "sobornost"; the transformation of dioceses into mere administrative units living under the control of abstract "centers;" the abyss between the "power" and the body of the Church and, as the result of this, the "revolt of the masses;" the introduction into the Church of the ideas of "representation of the interests" of this or that category be it of the "lay control" or of the division between clergy and laity, etc. Or on the other hand, the deep and tragic division of Orthodoxy into national Churches each indifferent to the other, living in and by themselves, the crisis of the universal consciousness, and the weakening of the catholic links.

We must hope, however, that this crisis is not a mortal one. The strength of Christ is fulfilled in weakness and the gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church. In sufferings and sorrows there appears today a new thirst for the truth about the Church, a new interest in discovering the genuine sources of her life. The question which we raised and attempted to answer, however partially and schematically, in this article, that of "primacy," cannot be separated from a deep and consistent return to Orthodox ecclesiology.



  1. For the description and canonical analyses of various forms of primacy cf. .. Zaozersky, The Ecclesiastical Power (Sergiev Posad, 1894, in Russian) pp. 218 ff.
  2. Much pertaining material has been gathered in the Opinions of Russian bishops, presented for the Pre-Sobor Convocation of 1906-1912.
  3. cf. .. Afanassieff, "The Permanent and the Changing Elements in Ecdlesjastical Canons*," in The Living Tradition, Paris 1934, pp. 82-96 (in Russian) and also his article "The Canons and The Canonical Consciousness" in Put 1933, (in Russian).
  4. F. Zaozersky, op. cit., p. 228 ff. — P. V. Gidoulianoff, The Metropolitan in the First Three Centuries (Moscow, 1905, in Russian) — N. Milasfo, The Canons of the Orthodox Church with Commentaries (St. Petersburg, 1911, in Russian) Vol. 1, pp. 70 ff. — F. Balsamon, "Coram in Canon 2, Second Ecum. Council" in Athen. Syntagma, 2, 171 — V. Bolotov, Lectures in the History of Ancient Church (St. Petersburg, 1913, in Russian) vol. 3, p. 210 ff. — V. Myshtzin, The Organization of the Church in the First Two Centuries (St. Petersburg, 1909).
  5. Cf. for example, the controversy aroused by the Encyclical Letter of the Ecumenical Patriarch for the Sunday of Orthodoxy án 1950; details and bibliography in my article "The Ecumenical Patriarch and the Orthodox Church" in The Church Messenger of the Exarchate in W. Europe, 1951.
  6. Thus it is obvious, for example, that the fateful "jurisdictional" divisions in the Russian Church outside Russia are ultimately rooted in the question of ecclesiastical submission to the various "supreme authorities" i. e. to the problem of primacy. Cf. my essays The Church and the Ecclesiastical Structure (Paris, 1949, in Russian) — "A Controversy on the Church" in Church Messenger, 1950, 2 — "On the Neo-Papism" ibid, 1951 (all in Russian). The development of Church life in America, on the other hand, is deeply handicapped by the absence of any connections between the ten Orthodox national jurisdictions, which for the lack of a center of communion are practically isolated from each other. Here also the problem of primacy, and consequently, of an initiative of a "rapprochement" is quite central.
  7. F. Stanislas Jaki, OSB, Les tendances nouvelles de l’ecclésiologie (Rome 1957).
  8. …Afanassieff, The Lord’s Table (Paris, 1955 in Russian) — The Office of Laity in the Church — (Paris, 1955, in Russian).
  9. N. Afanassieff "The Power of Love" in Church Messenger, 1950, 1 (22) p. 4 (in Russian).
  10. cf. for example, the Statutes of the Russian Church as adopted by the Council of 1917-18 — "in the Orthodox Church of Russia the Supreme Power belongs to the Local Council…," "The Diocese is a part of the Russian Church…".
  11. Among Russian theologians F. E. Aquilonoff, The Church: The Doctrinal definitions of the Church and the Apostolic Doctrine of the Church as the Body of Christ (St. Petersburg, 1894, in Russian) — V. Troitsky, Essays in the History of the Doctrine of the Church (Sergiev Posad, 1912, in Russian) — G. Florovsky, "L’Eglise, isa nature et sa tache" in L’Eglise Universelle dans lo dessein de Dieu (Paris 1948). On the biblical and patristic ecclesiology Cf. P. Mersch, Le Corps Mystique du Christ, Etudes de Theologie Historique (2 vol. Paris 1933-36) — G. Bardy, La Theologie de l’Eglise suivant St. Paul (Pari«; 1943) — La Theologie de TEglise de St. Clement do Rome a St. Irenee flParis 1945) ·— La Theologie de l’Eglise de St. Irenee au Concile de Nicee (Paris 1947) — L. Bouyer, L’Incarnation et l’Eglise Corps du Christ dans la théologie de St. Athianase (Paris 1943) — H. du Manoir, "L’Eglise, Corps du Christ, chez Cyrille d’Alexandrie" in Dogme et Spritualite chez St. Cyrille d’A. (Paris 1944), pp. 287-366 cf. also S. Jaki, op. cit. pp. 154-203.
  12. We find in Suvorov, The Canon Law (Jaroslavl, 1889; in Russian) vol. 1. . 5, a classical expression of this juridical understanding of the Church — "The Church being a visible society cannot be outside law… As a society, it consists of several members, linked to each other by certain relations that grow out of their life in the Church, and it also has an organization with a particular sphere of activity for each organ… The regulation of relations, spheres of activities, and all the means and ways leading to the fulfillment of Church’s purpose require the order of law. And since "the means and ways’* imply practically all aspects of Church life, this means that the whole life of the Church requires the order of law. Outside this order there remains only the Church as "object of faith." (ibid p. 6).
  13. This lack of ecclesiology in theological development has been recently stressed by G. Florovsky, op. cit. and M. J. Congar in his Vraie et Fausse Re-forme dans l’Eglise.
  14. .. Afanassieff, "Two Ideas of the Church Universal" in Put. 1933, p. 16.
  15. N. Afanassieff, "The Catholic Church" in Orthodox Thought, 11.
  16. M. J. Congar, Chretiens Desunis (Partis 1937) p. 241. Cf. also my essay "Unity, Division, Reunion in the Light of Orthodox Ecclesiology" in Theology (Athens 1951).
  17. Here is an example from an article, directed against the very idea of an universal center in the Church: "Not only the Orthodox Church has never had such a center, but this idea completely destroys the mystery of Orthodox ecclesiology, where the Risen Christ, invisibly present, is the center of the Church." (E. Kovalevsky," "Ecclesiological Problem — On the articles of Fr. Sophrony and Fr. A. Schmemann," in The Church Messenger of the Moscow Exarchate in W. Europe (Paris 1950) 2-3, p. 14. This argument is far from being a new one…
  18. F. Ignatiuts of Antioch, Smyrn. 8, 2
  19. Many details in my unpublished essay The Unionistic Problem in the Byzantine Church.
  20. N. Afanassieff, "The Catholic Church" p. 21 ff.
  21. G. Florovsky, op. cit. p. 65. F. Zaozersky, op. cit. p. 21 ff.
  22. Limitations of space prevent me from dealing adequately with the connection between ecclesiology and liturgical theology. Cf. my article "Liturgical Theology: It’s Task and Method" in St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, (October 1957) pp. 16-27. There can be little doubt that all rubrics and rules concerning the unity of the eucharistic gathering (one Eucharist a day on the same altar by the same celebrant etc.) have an ecclesiological significance, i. e. preserve the meaning of Eucharist as expression of the unity and fullness of the Church. Outside this ecclesiological significance they become meaningless, and, as a matter of fact, are more and more frequently ignored or "by-passed" (second altar, "special liturgies" etc.).
  23. The basic fact for any theological interpretation of the power of the bishop (or priest) is the absolute connection between ordination and Eucharist. This connection is usually viewed as self-evident, yet it constitutes the starting point for a "theology of power" as power of grace.
  24. I cannot deal here with the difficult problem of the parish in its relation to the diocese. Evidently, the Early Church knew only the community headed by the Bishop who was the normal celebrant of the Eucharist, the teacher and the pastor of his church. The presbyters constituted his council — the presbyterium — F. J. Oolson, L’Eveque dans les communautés primitives (Paris 1951) — H. Chirat, L’Assemblee Chrétienne a Tage apostolique (Paris 1®49) and symposion Etudes sur le Sacrement de l’Ordre (Paris 1957). The division of the diocese into parishes and the corresponding transformation of the presbyter into the parish rector came later, and this change has never been seriously studied and interpreted theologically. In any case it cannot contradict the basic principles of eucharistic ecclesiology, for it would then contradict the nature of the Church.
  25. Cf. the already mentioned articles of E. Kovalevsky and also Hierom. Sophrony, "The Unity of the Church in the Image of Trinity" in The Church Mess. of Moscow Exarchate in W. Europe (Paris 1950) 2-3, pp. 8-33.
  26. N. Milash, op. cit. pp. 46-47 cf. Dom .. Botte, "Lordre d’après les prières d’ordination" in Le Sacrement de l’ordre, P. 31.
  27. Hippolytus of Rome, Apost. Tradition (éd. Sources Chrétiennes) pp. 26-33
  28. On the notion of witness in sacrements cf. N Afanassieff, "Sacramenta et Sacramentalia" in Orthodox Thought, 10.
  29. J. Meyendorff, in Maison Dieu, 26, 1954.
  30. Cf. Iren, of Lyons, Adv. Haer. IV, III, 3, and G. Bardy, La Theologie de l’Eglise de St. Clement de Borne a St. Irenee, p. 183 ff. On diadoche in Irinaeus cf. E. Caspar, Die älteste Römische Bishof liste (Berlin 1926) p. 444.
  31. For this reason both election and ordination are essential and necessary elements in the Orthodox rite of the appointment of Bishops.
  32. Iren, of Lyons, Adv. Haer — .., XXIV, 1.
  33. N. Zaozersky, op. cit. p. 223.
  34. Cf. A. Khomiakoff, "Letter to the Editor of L’Union Chrétienne" in Complete Works, 1860, t. 2, p. 30 ff.
  35. G. Florovsky, "The Sacrement of Pentecost" (A Russian View on Apostolic Succession) in The Journal of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, March 1934. . 23, pp. 29-34.
  36. A. Pokrovsky, The Synods of the Early Church (Sergiev Posad 1914 in Russian).
  37. Y. Bolotov, op. cit., t. 3.
  38. .. Milash, op. cit. v. I, pp. 194-204 — To E. R. Hardy this canon indicates that the Bishop of Alexandria was de facto Metropolitan of the whole Egypt eft Christian Egypt Church and People (New York, 1952) pp. S4-59.
  39. "Encyel. S. Offie. Ad Episcopos Angliae, 16 Sept. 1864" in Denzinger Banwart, ed 10, .. 16186.
  40. "The Catholic Church" in Orthodox Thought, 11.
  41. Much evidence, although analysed from a Roman Catholic point of view has been gathered by P. Batiffol, L’Eglise Naissante et le Catholicisme (Paris 1927) — La Paix Constantinienne (Paris 1929) — Le Siege Apostolique (Paris 1924) — Cathedra Petri (Paris 1938).
  42. It is noteworthy that after having analyzed all early Christian evidence on the primacy of Rome, Batiffol reaches an almost identical conclusion — "The papacy of the first centuries is the authority exercised ‘by the Church of Rome among other Churches, authority which consists in caring after their conformity with the authentic tradition of faith… and which is claimed by no other church but the Church of Rome" — Cathedra Petri, p. 28.
  43. cf. G. Florovsky, "The Sacrament of Pentecost" p. 31.
  44. The most "theological" expression of this theory is to be found in the articles, mentioned above, of the Hieromonk Sophrony and E. Kovalevsky. In a more juridical way it is defended by S. V. Troitsky; cf. J. Meyendorff, "Constantinople and Moscow" in Church Messenger, 16, pp. 5-9. Finally its justification in terms of ecclesiastical nationalism is given by M. Polsiky, The Canonical Status of the Supreme Ecclesiastical Government (Jordanville 1948) cf. my essay "The Church and Ecclesiastical Structure" (Paris 1949).
  45. M. SkaJballanovich, The Byzantine State and the Church in XI Century. Petersburg 1884 in Russian) ; E. Gerland, "Die Vorgeschichte des Patriarchats des ..G in Byz. Neues Jahrb, IX, 218.
  46. I. Sokolov, "The Election of Bishops in Byzantium" in Vizantisky Vremennik, 22, 1915-16 (in Russian).
  47. cf. my essays "The Destiny of Byzantine Theocracy" in Orthodox Thought 6, (in Russian) and "Byzantine Theocracy and the Orthodox Church" in St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, 1953.

This article article was originally published in "St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly" in 1960 and was reprinted in a collection of essays titled, "The Primacy of Peter" (The Faith Press Ltd., 1963).

E Pluribus Unum: One Church From Many?

By: George C. Michalopulos

In a recent essay1 for the American Orthodox Institute, I showed that in the Byzantine Church between the Council of Nicaea (325 AD) and the fall of Constantinople (1451 AD), the title of "metropolitan" was originally reserved for autonomous archbishops presiding over large ecclesiastical districts, especially missionary territories called eparchies. Their exercise of authority included both the administrative duties appropriate to pasturing such large regions and the Orthodox promulgation of the Good News of Jesus Christ, that crucial duty defined in the Divine Liturgy as "rightly dividing the Word of [God's] Truth." In this essay, I consider some major internal and external obstacles to American Orthodox ecclesiastical unity, reflect on how a consensus might be achieved, and offer a sketch of how an American Orthodox Church might be structured along traditional lines.

Ecclesiological Obstacles To Unity

During the post-Byzantine era, the improper use of the office of metropolitan has enabled the expansion and consolidation throughout North America of Old-World ecclesiastical authority. This has happened precisely during a time of great growth and flowering of North American Orthodox Christianity, as expressed in increasing numbers of converts across the country, the expansion of institutions such as seminaries, university graduate programs, and independent study programs, and increasing calls for unification into one self-directing North American Church.

Although an already established archdiocese existed in North America, several Old-World patriarchates took it upon themselves to set up their own eparchies, the better able to minister to their dispersed and growing flocks. Though irregular, there was some justification for this considering the upheavals that befell the Russian Orthodox Church because of the Bolshevik revolution. In addition, America was not an “Orthodox” land; there was no Orthodox imperium, but a secular republic, one that was religiously neutral. If hundreds of mainline Protestant denominations could coexist, then why couldn’t several ethnic Orthodox jurisdictions? Thus, for the first time in Orthodox Church history, the new phenomenon of ethnic –and parallel—jurisdictions arose in one land.

Those who believe in the continuing viability of American Orthodox independence find much encouragement in the recent elevation of +Jonah Paffhausen as Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church in America. Although the debilitating, scandal-plagued tenures of the previous two OCA Metropolitans had sunk the Church into bitterness and anxiety, the election of newcomer +Jonah was accomplished by an overwhelming majority of the assembled delegates, with immediate confirmation of their choice by the Holy Synod of Bishops. The dark cloud that had hung over the opening of the All-American Council was dispersed rapidly by widespread rejoicing that such a major decision could be reached peacefully and nearly unanimously. The OCA’s renewed sense of hope and purpose is heightened all the more because Metropolitan Jonah and the OCA are under no obligation to subject their vision for the future of their Church to a foreign, perhaps unsympathetic, higher church authority.

The reception by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of fifteen American parishes that formerly belonged to the Patriarch of Jerusalem appears to mitigate the ecclesiastical chaos by reducing the number of old-world jurisdictions in America by one. But because the oldest of the parishes in question was first established during a schism within a parish of the Antiochian Archdiocese, its reception by the GOAA has been seen as a deliberate rebuff to Antioch. As well, the Church of Romania may soon unify its American parishes with those of the Romanian episcopate of the OCA into a new, "maximally autonomous" ethnic jurisdiction headed by yet another American metropolitan. Furthermore, representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarch continue to insist that any unified American Orthodox Church would have to submit to the authority of Constantinople.2

Clearly, Orthodox jurisdictional disunity on this continent is more than mere competition between differing "styles" of Orthodox life and worship. It goes beyond the problem that most Orthodox churches in this country were originally built to be not outward-looking missionary enterprises, but inward-looking preservers of cultural and linguistic identities among Orthodox immigrants and their families. It clearly involves questions of motive among the old-world Churches for refusing-even obstructing-unity or rapprochement among the American Orthodox faithful. All this flies against earlier American efforts at achieving unity, such as the establishment of SCOBA (the Standing Council of Orthodox Bishops in America) and the gathering in 1994 in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, of twenty-nine Orthodox bishops to discuss steps towards unity. It may have been in reaction to the Ligonier gathering that the impoverished Ecumenical Patriarchate moved to consolidate its control over the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in America.

Yet a ray of hope shines through – perhaps even from within? – the midst of this disorder. The misuse of the office of metropolitan illuminates its true value all the more. The restoration and implementation of the ancient role of missionary archbishops could prove a powerful tool for bringing America to the light of Orthodoxy. American metropolitans could simultaneously advance the cause of unification under one central and native authority and confirm the united Church as a truly missionary one. As in the past, each metropolitan could preside over a missionary region, honing the message of Orthodoxy and bringing the American people to understand its timeless relevance. Such an arrangement would be sensitive to each region’s culture and needs and would honor existing Orthodox cultural legacies while maintaining a unified doctrinal vision. It would allow the faithful to move beyond current divisions and confusions into true unity of faith, worship, and witness.

The Endangered Health Of American Christianity

Orthodox Christianity is founded on the Word of God as understood and interpreted through the apostolic witness to Christ, which in turn is the basis of Holy Tradition. Every authentic Orthodox Church builds on this foundation according to the unique characteristics and needs of the culture around it. A true American Church must therefore take into consideration that the United States was established as a Christian nation on Christian principles,3 and that these principles still inform much of American culture, despite their dilution and distortion by competing philosophies such as individualism, atheism, or secular humanism, among others. Effective preaching of the Gospel engages any culture on its own terms. American Orthodox preachers and teachers must take into account the preconceived notions and previous experience with other Christian confessions of many of the people to whom they reach out.

Although American culture is leaning dangerously towards becoming a post-Christian culture, by comparison to Western Europe, America is still rightly called the most religious industrialized nation in the world. Church attendance outstrips anything found in most European countries. But America still presents special challenges to the modern missionary. American Christianity, though robust and mostly free from government intervention, bears only a modicum of resemblance to the Christian praxis of the first millennium (to say nothing of the Church of the catacombs). Liturgical worship and solemnity are mostly non-existent. The preferred worship tends to be exuberant and not demanding of interior reflection and ascesis. Perhaps most troubling of all, the moral consensus that animated Christendom through its first nineteen hundred years lies in ruins. Anarchy reigns in the moral realm. Ironically, abortion laws in the United States are far less restrictive than in most European countries. Many denominations now openly champion immorality as a fundamental Christian virtue, and others seem unable to stand up for more than vague principles of "tolerance" and "inclusiveness."

Perhaps because of this moral weakening among the mainline denominations, confessions4 with a more rigorous moral compass have seen considerable growth in North America as well as in other parts of the world. Despite recent liberalizing tendencies, the Southern Baptist Conference remains the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. The Mormon Church is probably the fastest-growing American religion in many parts of Latin America and the Third World. Pentecostal Christianity is the fastest-growing religion in sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia,5 far outstripping Islam in gaining converts. The largest Methodist and Presbyterian congregations are in South Korea; the largest Anglican provinces are in Nigeria and Kenya. All of these growing movements insist on traditional morality and rebuke their older American and European counterparts on that basis. Some, like the Anglican provinces of Africa, have even excommunicated the ultra-liberal Episcopal Church of the United States (ECUSA) and threatened schism from the Anglican Communion itself.

Other, more problematic faiths have seen explosive growth as well. The Nation of Islam has been making remarkable headway among African-Americans in the United States since the time of Malcolm X in the 1950s. The more traditional Wahhabi form of Islam is likewise making significant inroads in America as well. Interestingly, both recruit heavily among the black men who constitute about 50 percent of the prison population. Unfortunately, they are also attracting disaffected Americans of all ethnic backgrounds, sometimes turning them into jihadis.

The current religious and moral landscape in American Christianity is thus anything but serene. Traditional Christians who are concerned with modern distortions of the Gospel may see no recourse but to retreat inwardly, as the Amish and Mennonites did in centuries past. This is an understandable impulse and has a long history, as attested by the Christian monastic movement. But as viable a Christian witness as monasticism is, it cannot sustain a culture in and of itself. Unless Christian faith and practice are available and open to all who desire them, then traditional Christianity will lose contact with the modern world and slide slowly downward into moral and social irrelevance.

Orthodoxy’s Unique Promise For America

One might be tempted to laugh at the thought that contemporary American Orthodoxy-mired as it is in obscurantism, nationalism, and xenophobia-could lead the culture around it into Christian dedication and moral clarity. But Orthodoxy may yet be the best candidate among the confessions to do so. The Orthodox Church has never lost its fidelity to the Gospel or the undiluted Christian Tradition as it existed throughout history. While a telling indictment of Orthodoxy in the past five hundred years has been its loss of evangelistic fervor, this is an unfair indictment when set in historical context. It is true that those churches that fell under Ottoman rule were forbidden from evangelizing, but the same cannot be said of the Church of Russia, which undertook a massive missionary program across the vast Siberian expanse that finally alighted on Alaskan shores in 1794.

Seen from the perspective of the Orthodox Church’s long historical memory, American society and culture closely resembles the Hellenistic world in the century before Christ’s birth. Then, as now, many competing faiths flourished. Then, Christianity arose as a rejection of Judaic militarism against the Pax Romana, and as a viable-and universalist-alternative to the Temple cult in Jerusalem.6 Now, Christianity offers an equally promising and necessary alternative to the violent monotheistic religion-Islam-that is wreaking havoc throughout the world. Now, as then, the surrounding culture is mired in neo-paganism and is experiencing demographic collapse. Immorality, abortion, and euthanasia are on the ironic ascendant in the more "civilized" West.

A greater awareness of Orthodoxy seems to permeate the greater Christian atmosphere. Academic symposia involving prominent Orthodox theologians occur regularly, as do productive interfaith dialogues with more serious confessions such as the Lutherans and Catholics. Less productive efforts include continued involvement with confessions which have compromised themselves in both faith and practice, including many that belong to the National Council of Churches. Sadly, Orthodox participation in this body is used by other members to provide cover for their own theological innovations against criticism from their more conservative flocks.7 The time will come when the Orthodox Church will have to stand up for its principles in the broader ecumenical milieu. Continued ecumenical participation under current conditions only dilutes the integrity of the Gospel and darkens the light of Orthodox faith.

North America is crying out for an authentic Christian witness. As we have seen, mainline and eclectic Protestant confessions alike are irrevocably compromised, either morally, theologically, or both. Just as irrevocably, the Catholic Church, despite its roots in the Early Church and its admirable moral witness in the midst of Western decrepitude, is committed to the supreme authority of a single worldwide leader rather than a national leader. Only Orthodoxy, despite its comparatively miniscule numbers, can offer North America what even the Catholic Church cannot, an indigenous confession that is not necessarily beholden to foreign bishops.

Steps Towards Unity

Just as in the first millennium, Orthodoxy seeks to enlighten nations by baptizing their native cultures and preaching in the vernacular. And in order to make such missionary efforts permanent, it consecrates native priests as bishops and eventually makes their churches autonomous.8 How to do so in America? Before anything else, a conceptual consensus must be reached among the hierarchy, clergy, and laity. First, Orthodox Christians in America in no way form an Orthodox "diaspora." Christianity, unlike first-century Judaism, is not tied in any way to a particular land or locale, and those who use this term are theologically in error. Second, most Orthodox Christians in America are not immigrants, and that the use of parishes and jurisdictions alike solely to preserve ethnic identities has now become a hindrance to true Orthodox mission and identity in the New World. Third, American Orthodox Christians must realize that the only reliable method of church financing is the tithe. Fundraisers such as food festivals are ineffective and debilitating and send the wrong message about Orthodoxy to the American people. Fourth, tithing is difficult to accomplish in jurisdictions that are obligated financially to foreign authorities. Only when American Orthodoxy is free from the grip of overseas entanglements will tithing be able to provide funding necessary for Orthodox hospitals, universities, and other cultural and social institutions arise. Finally, only when clergy and laity alike arrive at the understanding that Orthodoxy possesses the fullness of the Christian faith can its undiluted glory shine fully across the land.

Once this consensus is reached, bishops, priests, theologians, and laymen must request an independent unity that is free of foreign constraints. This first phase of unity may proceed on several different fronts. The bishops who make up SCOBA can certainly meet more regularly and request the convocation of an all-American synod. Priests on the local level can meet with their counterparts regularly and receive from their parish councils the resources necessary to consolidate operations. Cities that have bishops can request that the resident bishop serve as the president of the local Orthodox ministerial association. Laypeople must likewise apply their talents and experience to the cause of unity. Lawyers will be needed to help draw up diocesan incorporations. Accountants and financiers will be needed to assemble strong, enduring, transparent financial structures. Medical doctors and bioethicists can be appointed as permanent advisors to and members of episcopal councils, advising bishops about the ethical implications of current and developing medical technologies. The demand must be from the "bottom up" as much as from the "top down." The universal call for unity cannot abate.

The particulars of unity would have to be worked out in anticipation of an all-American convocation on unity, which might run for several months or even years. Once the new dioceses and metropolitan districts are formed, then the existing bishops, archbishops, and metropolitans could decide among themselves who would administer each see, with final decisions open to lay review and approval. The consolidation of the new jurisdictions and the new patriarchal administration could then proceed apace.

The Structure Of Unity

We cannot forget that the canonical model for Orthodoxy is socio-cultural, not colonial. Americans must realize that Canada and Mexico must also have their native churches and their own indigenous metropolitans. In the case of Mexico, the metropolitan of that nation would have to assume responsibility for the entire Central American region and financial assistance from the United States would have to be forthcoming for the immediate future. As for South America, that continent is developed enough that its ethnic churches would have to come to the realization of unity on their own. Having said this, a successful North American experiment may serve as a model and a goad to pursuing jurisdictional unity on their own.

With that in mind, the structure of an autocephalous American church could look like this:


The Archbishop of Washington, D.C. would be the primate of the American Orthodox Church. "Archbishop of Washington" would be his primary title, although to distinguish him as the primary ecclesiarch of North America, he should be granted another title like "Patriarch of the United States and the Western Hemisphere."His diocese would include the states of Virginia, Delaware, and Maryland.

Metropolitan Archbishops

The existing metropolitans could be enthroned as archbishops of regional centers like Atlanta (Southeast), Boston (New England), Chicago (Upper Midwest), Dallas (South Central), Denver (Mountain West), Los Angeles (Pacific Coast), Seattle (Pacific Northwest), New York City (Middle Atlantic), Kansas City (Plains) and Pittsburgh (Midwest). Eventually, it might be best to create fifty metropolitan sees, one in every state capital, and comprising its own state synod. Each of these archbishops would be given metropolitan rank and their archdioceses would constitute ecclesiastical provinces or eparchies of the Orthodox Church of the United States. Upon recommendation of the bishops within his eparchy, a metropolitan could reassign, transfer, and discipline clergy. This last duty would include convening ecclesiastical courts of the first resort, or the courts that initiate disciplinary actions against clergymen and monastics (short of revocation of clerical orders and expulsion from monasteries). Extreme sanctions could only be enacted by ecclesiastical courts of the second resort, which would be convened only by the Holy Synod of Bishops.


Other major American cities, especially those with a population in excess of 250,000 people or at least five Orthodox parishes, could be given diocesan status, and their bishops granted full canonical authority. Each bishop would ordain priests within his diocese, tonsure monks and nuns, consecrate new parishes, create diocesan institutions, and convene regular episcopal councils made up of laypeople nominated by their pastors and elected by the parish as a whole9 (the episcopal council of the metropolitan eparchy would be known as its metropolitan council). Bishops would serve on the metropolitan synod with the local metropolitan as its president, in addition to serving on the Holy Synod of the United States. These bishops would be known as bishops or archbishops, but not as metropolitans.

Episcopal Elections

The bishops of the dioceses should be nominated and elected by the faithful parishioners residing therein. Metropolitans would be selected from the pool of bishops, priests, or monks residing within the metropolitan districts and subjected to a vote of the people in a special election held within the metropolitan see. No vacancies for any diocese should last for longer than forty days. Diocesan bishops may appoint exarchs and other auxiliaries, who may be bishops. Each diocese and archdiocese would have its own crest, which would include the date of its founding.


Episcopal and metropolitan councils would be held on alternating years. The Holy Synod, presided over by the Patriarch, would meet annually and would include a Lesser Synod, comprised of bishops, abbots, and abbesses from each ecclesiastical province. Every three years, the All-American Council would meet, comprising both the Holy Synod (including the entire episcopate) and the Patriarchal Council, composed of laypeople, theologians, and clergy with a lay president. The Patriarchal Synod would be responsible for setting the budget for the next triennium.

Lay Leadership

Great care would be taken to choose laymen with sufficient qualifications if they are to serve on parish, episcopal, metropolitan, or patriarchal councils. Only Orthodox Christians in good sacramental standing would be allowed to vote for bishops and metropolitans.

The undertaking I propose above would require enormous, selfless work on the part of all American Orthodox Christians. Even more necessary, however, would be fervent, continuing prayer for God’s blessing on the establishment of an American Orthodox Church; for peaceful, loving agreement with the traditional Patriarchates that such a Church is not only necessary, but potentially a tremendous boon to them; and for a successful planting of the Lord’s Vineyard in this splendid nation which has fed and nurtured Orthodox Christians and non-Orthodox alike. We must also invoke the prayers of Orthodox missionaries who suffered the yokes of martyrdom and privation, so that we may endure the suffering this great work will bring, and so that in the end, our sacrifices will bear fruit as theirs did.



  1. "The Role of Metropolitan and Its Relationship within the Episcopate: A Reappraisal." See www.aoiusa.org. See also Sir Stephen Runciman, The Great Church in Captivity, pp. 35-36.
  2. Mrs. Elenie Huszagh, former president of the National Council of Churches and a member of the GOAA, recently (2008) told a gathering of priests in California that unification could only come about under the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. (As related to this author by several priests who were in attendance.)
  3. Though this sounds controversial in light of current and tortuous debates over the First Amendment, any sincere reading of American history from Plymouth Rock to the writings of the Founding Fathers, as well as the statutes of the various states and general piety of the American people, shows this to be true. Nowhere does the anti-religion interpretation, so favored by modern secularists, of Thomas Jefferson’s famous "wall of separation" appear in any of the foundational texts of the American republic. The First Amendment merely prohibits the federal legislature from establishing a national church.
  4. I choose to use this word rather than "denominations" since it is not the scope of this essay to comment on their fidelity to Trinitarian theology.
  5. Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming Global Christianity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 15-38.
  6. Gentiles were allowed to worship in the Temple and to make offerings for sacrifice. It was the rejection of gentile sacrifices in AD 66 by the retrograde head of the Temple guard, Eleazar, which led the high priest to complain to the Roman authorities, thereby setting in motion the tragic events that followed. See Thomas F Madden, Empires of Trust: How Rome Built-and America is Building-A New World (Penguin: USA, 2008), p 272.
  7. In this essay, the words "autonomous" and "autocephalous" are interchangeable.
  8. Per canonical norms, he would have to inform the regional metropolitan of any decisions and/or disciplinary actions he has undertaken.


George Michalopulos is a layman in the Orthodox Church in America. He is married to the former Margaret Verges of Houston, Texas, and the father of two boys, Constantine and Michael. Together with Deacon Ezra Ham, he is the author of The American Orthodox Church: A History of Its Beginnings (Salisbury: Regina Orthodox Press, 2003), as well as several articles and essays published on the Orthodox Christian Laity website. He has served as parish council president of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Tulsa, OK, and twice was a lay delegate to the Clergy-Laity Congress of 1998 and 2002. He helped found Holy Apostles Orthodox Christian Mission, a parish of the OCA in 2003 and continues to be active in pan-Orthodox events in the greater Tulsa area.

The Role of Metropolitan and Its Relationship within the Episcopate: A Reappraisal

By: George C. Michalopulos

ABSTRACT: Starting in the closing days of the Byzantine Empire, the office of the Metropolitan underwent significant changes that affect the Church even today. Metropolitans traditionally wielded great influence and authority, especially during the first Christian millennium. They were elected by other bishops and presided in a conciliar model of governance. They were primates of ecclesiastical provinces that corresponded to political provinces and/or capitals. In our day, almost all the Orthodox churches around the world roughly follow this model except for the churches of the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Church of Greece. It is the contention of this writer that much of the administrative disunity in North America can be traced to the corruption of the early model by the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Church of Greece, and that the continuing misuse of the office and title derails further attempts at unity in the United States.


The Orthodox Church in the United States is in considerable disarray. Unlike other Orthodox nations, disunity in America is the normal order of things as evidenced by the existence of at least twenty different Orthodox jurisdictions, most of them based on ethnicity and foreign immigration patterns.

Why the disunity continues to exist can be reduced to three main causes: 1) extreme parochialism; 2) nationalism and attendant xenophobia; and 3) willful ignorance of proper ecclesiastical order.1 This essay is primarily concerned with the third point, especially how the title of Metropolitan has been shorn from its traditional understanding and led to considerable confusion in the American Orthodox experience.

The confusion is most apparent in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA). In the late 1990s, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew elevated all of the bishops of the former Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America to the status of metropolitan. At the time, the explanation was offered that the GOA had matured to the point where the Church was ready to elevate bishops to metropolitans. What was unclear to all but a few observers at the time was that the elevations did in fact establish the bishops as archbishops, that is, accountable no longer to the Archbishop in New York but to the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople.

Along with the elevation, Canada, Central America, and South America were established as separate metropolises and no longer under the purview of the Archbishop of the United States. Elevating the former bishops of these areas to metropolitans follows sound logic: the bishops were now archbishops of newly minted episcopal sees. Less clear however, is why the bishops of American cities such as Chicago, Boston, etc., should enjoy this same privilege, especially since they were not different political entities or ecclesiastical provinces.

This result is almost comical. The new metropolitans, who were previous known by the cities that they served ("the Bishop of Boston," The Bishop of Chicago," etc.), were now titled the Metropolitan of this or that defunct episcopal see. For good measure, the curious phrase "presiding hierarch"2 was added, perhaps to address the puzzled looks that resulted.

How did we get to this impasse? Why are the GOA Metropolitans named for non-existent sees when in fact serving metropolises in America? To answer this question, we must examine the history of the title and the nature of the episcopacy of earlier times.

The Title of Metropolitan: Etymology, Origins, and its Role in the Early Church
Historical Background of the Episcopal Office

We can tell from the earliest Church documents,3 that by the time the sub-apostolic age commenced (ca AD 66), all of the churches that had been founded by Apostles were led by "overseers" (Greek: episkopos). By process of transliteration, this word became vescovo (Latin), bischoff (German), busceop (Saxon), and then finally bishop in our own language.

In the early days of Christianity, each church had its own bishop who functioned as the presiding officer. They performed many of the same tasks we attribute to presbyters (priests) today as well as the responsibilities and authority bishops held today. Thus, in addition to presiding at the Eucharist, they had the authority (charism) to ordain other ecclesiastical officers and bore the final responsibility to teach, preach, administer alms, and resolve disputes. They received their office by consecration from other bishops,4 who in turn received it from earlier bishops, and so on going back to the Apostles.

In the late first and second centuries, most cities had only one church, hence the axiomatic formula of "one church, one bishop." Even churches that had more than one apostolic tradition (such as Rome) strictly followed this principle. As the Church grew however, it became apparent that more than one house of worship was necessary especially in the larger cities. Not wanting to introduce more than one bishop in any one city, the formula was modified to "one city, one bishop."

In most lands the ancient Christian practice of "one city, one bishop," still applies. There is only one bishop of Corinth, one archbishop of Milan, and one patriarch of Venice, and so forth. The breakdown occurs in pluralistic countries that have more than one Christian confession. Take the title "Archbishop of Boston," for example. Does it mean the Roman Catholic cardinal, the Orthodox metropolitan, or the Episcopal bishop?

Sometimes efforts are made to make the distinctions more comprehensible. Take London, for example. The Anglican Archbishop is the "Archbishop of Canterbury," the Roman Catholic Archbishop is the "Archbishop of Westminster," and the head of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese is the "Archbishop of Thyateria." In this way the canonical boundaries are at least nominally honored. The letter of the law is followed if not the actual spirit.5

Rise of Metropolises

During the first Christian millennium, the need for distinct diocesan boundaries necessarily fostered collegiality between bishops. More than one bishop was required to consecrate new ones. Certainly the rite itself was an occasion for discussion and confraternity. If nothing else, they simply had to know each other in order to have valid diptychs.6

These meetings could have been called together for any number of reasons, including settling property and boundary disputes, trying moral transgressions, and resolving doctrinal questions. Although the consecration of a bishop required other bishops to travel and meet, it made no sense for normal episcopal councils to take place in small, out-of-the-way burgs. It made more sense for regional bishops to travel to a more centrally located, larger city. In Greek, these regional hubs were known as metropolises.

The term metropolis comes from two Greek words meter and polis, or "mother-city." The bishop of the mother city became known as a metropolites arkhiepiskopos or "metropolitan [arch]bishop." Because he ruled over an established, populous, and no doubt more materially viable church, his status was enhanced in relation to the other bishops, many of whom represented rural areas.

In time, as the right of direct, popular election became attenuated, it became normal in many regions of the empire for the metropolitans to be chosen from the ranks of regional bishops who were part of the greater metropolitan area. In due course the definition of metropolitan also came to mean an archbishop who was elected by suffragan7 bishops.

In almost all cases the term "metropolitan" refers to "the primate of an ecclesiastical province."8 Since the Great Schism of 1054, the different Christian traditions have stuck to this definition consistently. In England during the early Middle Ages, both the Archbishops of Westminster and York were metropolitans; between them they had jurisdiction over at least twenty-five bishops. Upon unification under William the Conqueror, both retained their status as archbishops (albeit with the Archbishop of Canterbury enjoying primatial status). With the expansion of Anglicanism outside the border of England, the primates of the various provinces were each given metropolitan rank.

In the Roman Catholic tradition this tradition has been somewhat relaxed; a metropolitan is simply an archbishop who has authority over one or more suffragan sees. The practice in the Orthodox Church is roughly parallel to what is found in Anglicanism, that is, the metropolitan is the primate of an ecclesiastical province (at least in the ideal). In all of the cases above, the distinctions are rather too fine to make any significant difference.

Once Constantine legalized Christianity in AD 313, the administrative functions of the metropolitan archbishops became more established. For example, the Bishop of Jerusalem, arguably the most senior of all bishops (at least chronologically speaking) answered administratively to the metropolitan of Caeserea. The reasons for this were apparent to anybody living in the Roman world at that time: Caeserea was a bustling port on the Mediterranean whereas Jerusalem was little more than an out-of-the-way hamlet that had been devastated by the Roman legions as a result of the first and second Jewish wars (AD 66/135).

Likewise the Bishop of Byzantium in its earliest days was a suffragan of the Metropolitan of Heraclea, which was a much more substantial city in Thrace9 and so on. Socio-political considerations were central in deciding which diocese would become the metropolis of any given ecclesiastical province, and usually the largest city in any given area was the logical choice.

Other factors came into play as well. The more settled Mediterranean littoral had many larger cities while in the largely pagan non-Roman world, the newly established metropolitans sees, such as Kiev, Canterbury, Paris, York, were not necessarily the largest cities but the capitals of kings and/or tribal chieftains who had converted to Christianity. Paradoxically, because of their pagan surroundings, the metropolitans of these archdioceses enjoyed a prestige that was not available to the plentiful metropolitans of the Roman world.10

Even after the unification of England in 1066 for instance, the title and functions of the metropolitans of York and Canterbury remained meaning that there were only two archbishops in that one country. Likewise with the rise of Moscow as the center of pre-Romanov Russia: the metropolitan of Kiev remained the premier ecclesiarch of the Russian lands even when he was removed to the city of Vladimir in 1316 (and later to Moscow). During the conquest of the New World by Spain, the bishops of Lima and Mexico City were given metropolitan status, with all subsequently formed dioceses reporting to them.

Bishops as Court Functionaries: Titular Bishops and Ecclesiastical Bureaucrats

Why then in the Byzantine Empire do we find the opposite? Why do seventy-seven metropolitans exist in modern Greece, for example?

Many reasons can be offered but geographical considerations top the list. The Balkan Peninsula possesses some of the roughest terrain in the world making communication difficult. The hundreds of islands of the Aegean archipelago are isolated from their nearest neighbors. An island such as Crete, which has dozens of cities and many bishops, could easily accommodate a senior archbishop. Travel to Athens or Rome11 could be difficult and dangerous.

Political considerations also come into play. Athens and Thessalonica were capitals of separate Roman and later, Byzantine provinces. In addition, the despots of Trebizond, Epirus, and Nicaea, who ruled the remnants of Byzantium following the sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204, viewed themselves as autonomous emperors-in-exile and believed the churches in their territories should be autonomous as well. It made no sense for the churches within their mini-empires to be headed by archbishops who answered to the Latin patriarchs of Constantinople (who were neither Greek nor Orthodox).

We must remember that in the Christian world of the first millennium there was one united Roman Empire. Although its capital was now in the East, its people considered themselves as Romans whether they spoke Latin or not. Hence, the idea of a "pentarchy" – rule by five patriarchs – must be reconsidered without the biases of the intense nationalism we find in some quarters of modern Orthodoxy today.

A better analogy would be if the United States today had five different patriarchs within its contiguous borders. That is to say a patriarch in Washington, New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Boston. To modern ears this sounds incongruous but this was exactly the situation in the fifth and sixth centuries. Even after the loss of the West in the seventh century, the fiction that Rome was still part of the empire remained. (When Charlemagne was crowned Emperor of the Romans in AD 800 by the pope, great care was taken to assure the Byzantines that Charlemagne was only claiming sovereignty of the empire in the West and not over the entire empire.)

Regardless, if there had been any reticence about the idea of more than one patriarch in one nation, the issue became moot with the loss of Jerusalem and then Antioch to the Muslim caliphate. Alexandria fell in due time as well. The precedent had been set, at least in the abstract: one nation (Rome) at one time had had five patriarchs.12

In this light, it is easy to see how the Byzantines at least could countenance the existence of numerous metropolitan archbishops within their midst. The experience of the Greek-speaking peoples in this regard was significantly different than that of the newly baptized non-Romans who lived outside of the frontiers of the old empire.

Resident Synods

Moreover, Constantinople had its obvious attractions for well-educated bishops and as early as the fourth century many felt its pull. Many were employed in a "resident synod" (endemousa synodos) presided by the Ecumenical Patriarch with membership open to any and all bishops visiting the city. Its purview was the ecclesiastical affairs of the city itself but given its ecumenical makeup, it necessarily took up the affairs of dioceses outside of Constantinople. Its members even had say over the election and deposition of patriarchs.

The administration of the home dioceses of the resident bishops was often left in charge of deputies (called exarches). This enabled the bishops to both justify their absence their flock while representing them in the imperial court. If there was need, they would return to their sees to take up weightier matters that deserved their immediate attention.

Resident synods became common. The sees of Rome, Alexandria and Antioch held them as well and travel took place frequently between them. The same bishop could sit in more than one synod; the only qualification was that he must at least have a deputy in attendance. One of the benefits of the synods was that it allowed problems to be addressed in a pro-active manner. Much of the preliminary groundwork for subsequent ecumenical councils took place in these synods.

The Rise of Titular Bishops

Titular bishops (a bishop who possesses the title but no real diocese) arose with the gradual dissolution of the Byzantine Empire particularly after the Great Schism of 1054. In earlier resident synods, the bishops took their diocesan duties seriously (albeit through a deputy) but the gradual disintegration of the empire often meant the permanent loss of a diocese. Thus, the preoccupation of the bishop-in-residence at the imperial court was redirected towards the court itself rather than the diocese. This happened for example in North Africa, which was lost to the Roman Empire and Christendom after the rise of Islam.

Before passing too hasty of a judgment on this phenomenon, it must be remembered that the time in question (roughly the 8th through the 11th centuries) was one of unremitting warfare. Norman conquests in the West, Bulgar and Russian invasions from the North, and Islamic incursions from the East and South took their toll on the Byzantine state. Bishops often went into exile. The removal of a bishop under such circumstances as well as the loss of the entire diocesan structure could be catastrophic in the life of a diocese and sometimes stop it altogether. Without pastors and other functionaries, Christian life and worship oftentimes atrophied.

The emergence of titular bishops, although understandable, proved to be disastrous to the ecclesiology of the Church. John Zizioulis, one of the harshest critics of the system of titular bishops argued that the bishop’s very "…existence, makes no sense apart from his role as the one through whom all divisions…are transcended. His primary function is to make the catholicity of the Church reveal itself in a certain place. For this, he must be existentially related to the community. There is no ministry in the catholic Church that can exist in absoluto13" (emphasis in original). One cannot be a priest without a parish, or a bishop without a diocese.

To the Christian world at the time, the division between Rome and Constantinople was a gradual process not readily discerned. Even when serious doctrinal questions such as the filioque occupied the Church, the idea of a formal and irrevocable schism was never realistically considered. Numerous controversies had happened in the past and the Church had managed to heal. Thus, the accession of Charlemagne did not occasion the mass exodus of Orthodox bishops to Constantinople even though his reforms were viewed with a suspicious eye.14 Even the loss of England to the Latinizing Normans was not viewed in catastrophic terms because most Christians did not forsee a lasting schism taking place.

On the other hand, the loss of Antioch and Jerusalem to the Moslems was considered a stinging defeat, especially when it became obvious that the Romans would not return. The loss was keenly felt throughout the Christian world, not just in Constantinople.15

The growing and permanent presence of foreign bishops residing in Constantinople brought out the worst in the Byzantines. Always a haughty people, the diminishing the Byzantine Empire intensified these regrettable traits. The exaggerated self-importance of the emperors have been catalogued elsewhere,16 and the patriarchs were not far behind.

Ironically, while the empire was losing land, the same could not be said for the Orthodox Church. The loss of the Anatolian plain to the Seljuk Turks in the late thirteenth century, though devastating to the Byzantine state, did not adversely affect the Church. This was because the Muslim Seljuks respected the prerogatives of their Christian subjects. Christians and Jews were subject to higher taxation (the jizzya,), so it was in the Muslim interest to leave the "peoples of the Book" unmolested (at least in the ideal).17

While the Christian prerogatives were respected however, secular power waned to where the Byzantine emperors became outright vassals to the sultans. At one time the situation became so dire that the emperor had to pawn the crown jewels to the Venetians in order to pay tribute.

Metropolitans as Bureaucrats

Although the Byzantine Empire did not fully expire until the Fall of Constantinople, the patriarchs began to fill the political vacuum that resulted from the diminution of the emperor’s prestige. In order to run such a vast church, the normal administrative duties that had been the purview of the imperial court (and usually performed by archdeacons), were brought under patriarchal control.

Beginning with the reign of Patriarch Michael Cerullarius (ca. 1054), five offices – the Grand Economus, Grand Sacellarius, Grand Skevophylax, Grand Chartophylax, and Prefect of the Sacellion – were filled by patriarchal nomination. By the 13thcentury, when the loss of imperial prestige was more acute, the holders of these offices were accorded honors higher than even metropolitans.18 Despite the honorifics however, the officials function as titular bishops, that is, bureaucrats possessing little more than an empty title.

During this period of imperial decline (and perhaps because of it), the sense of an imperial patriarchate grew among the Patriarchs of Constantinople. Although there was nothing controversial about the efforts to maintain the properties, treasures, and monasteries of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, using archbishops for these for tasks that were ordinarily performed by deacons and laymen set an unfortunate precedent.

For the first time in the history of the Eastern Church, metropolitans were reduced to bureaucrats. And unlike the bishops of the earlier resident synods, who were truly independent and could come and go as they pleased, patriarchal metropolitans could be promoted and demoted upon the whim of the patriarch.

Canonical Irregularities and Chaos:The Model Inherited Today
The Rise of the Imperial Patriarchate

After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the conqueror Mehmed II found himself in an interesting quandary. The 21-year-old ruler fancied himself a new Alexander the Great. Although his reputation as the "Terrible Turk" had spread throughout Europe, he was no savage in the model of Attila. He saw himself as a worthy successor to the Caesars and intended to make the city of Constantine his resplendent capital.19

He thus made an accommodation with the Orthodox Church, even going so far as to view consider himself as her protector. So serious was he about maintaining the Roman trappings of power, that he struck a gold coin with his image and the legend imperator mundi on it (in Latin script no less!). There were even rumors that he considered converting to Christianity.

In the end Mehmed did not convert. The Church however, was handsomely rewarded. The new patriarch, the renowned scholar George Scholarius, was given much of the imperial regalia. As Patriarch Gennadius II, he was made ruler of the Rum millet (Roman nation), that is, the Christian subjects of the Ottoman Empire.

Patriarch Gennadius took decisive, although in many cases inconclusive, action. Independent churches that had broken away from Constantinople such as Wallachia and Georgia, were forcibly returned to Byzantine control. Bulgaria and Serbia retained their autonomy even though the patriarchate refused to recognize this fact. Russia, because of its distance from the Sublime Porte became autonomous in both deed and in law.20 Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem, never had their autocephaly officially rescinded and became dependencies of Constantinople. (To this day, Jerusalem and Alexandria remain so.)

Despite the great catastrophe that had befallen the Christian world with the loss of the legendary city, these were heady days for the Orthodox hierarchy. Not only were its bishops and clergy now part of a much-expanded patriarchate, they were temporal potentates as well, something which had rarely (if ever) happened in the first Christian millennium.21

Further, unlike the Byzantine emperors of old, the Turkish sultans never concerned themselves with the finer points of Christian theology. As long as the hierarchy kept the native Christians under control, they could count on long and lucrative careers. This new milieu led the formalization of top-down rankings of patriarch – metropolitan – bishop. Bishops and metropolitans were no longer viewed as independent diocesan supervisors in their own right, but part of a strict chain of command that fostered bribery and other malfeasance.

Thus, if a priest wanted to become a bishop, he had to raise money from his parishioners; if a bishop wanted to refurbish a church, he had to pressure his priests for fund, and so forth. Sometimes the corruption ran so deep that the sacraments themselves were sold, one of the most egregious of ecclesiastical crimes.22

Today the former collaborations are repudiated. Even modern Orthodox bishops within the Patriarchate of Constantinople admit the accommodation between state and ecclesiastical authority corrupted the Church.23 At the time however, many bishops justified their collaboration as a necessary evil.

First, for all the brutality of the Turks, they did not force conversion to Islam. Second, as subjects of the Sublime Porte, Christians of the Balkans were protected from missionary activity from the West,24 something that was not afforded to Orthodox Christians in Russia who suffered under the depredations of the Teutonic Knights during the Baltic Crusades.

These benefits however, were but a thin, silver lining to an exceedingly dark cloud. From the standpoint of resolute Christianity – one that had stood up to the Caesars even when it meant certain death – the Patriarchal decline represented severe internal weakness. Much of the activity, particularly simony and other malfeasance, is hard to justify even if their situation was dire.

The Rise of the Phanariotes

The Patriarchal Court, possessing no real power other than what the Turks gave them and completely disinterested in evangelism, quickly fell into petty internal intrigues and squabbling. Adding the to the confusion was the stranglehold the phanariotes, the elite Constantinopolitan families, had over the Patriarchate.

These families resided in the Phanar ("lighthouse") district of Constantinople and argued the patriarchate’s interests before the sultan, paid off many of the patriarchate’s incessant debts, and more than once ransomed a clergyman from prison (or worse). Over time however, the relationship between the Patriarch and the Phanariotes soured and they began to view themselves as the patriarch’s puppeteers rather than his loyal servants.

It was an unsavory turn of events made all the more apparent when, despite their solicitude to the Church, the Phanariotes never encouraged their own sons to enter the ranks of the priesthood. As far as they were concerned, these offices were to be filled by the sons of peasants. Hopefully the lower orders could produce enough intelligent boys to fill these positions.25

The patriarchs and bishops were not stupid men and understood perfectly how the game was played. As a sop to their bruised egos and perhaps as a check on the untrammeled power of their elite patrons, they retreated into obscurantism – often the last refuge of theological scoundrels. Arcane debates about the finer points of canon law and liturgical minutia became an all-consuming pastime. Evangelism was a dead letter. To be sure, the Ottomans forbade evangelism among Muslims, but as far as heterodox Christians were concerned, the sultans cared not a whit.

This was the period when the West was rediscovering the theological wealth of the East and often sincere overtures from the West went unheeded. Two well known attempt concerned the Lutheran Reformers of Germany and the Non-Jurors in England in the 18th century. In stunning displays of bad faith, the patriarchal court did everything they could to downplay requests for dialogue.

They even played childish games such as pretending not to have received a letter from prominent Lutherans such as Philip Melanchthon, who requested clarification on the finer points of Eastern theology. Sadly, this particular ruse lasted for many years.26

Implications for Today

A patriarchal court has always been necessary, even today. The earlier model of resident sees filled a useful role in administering ecclesiastical affairs since the bishops were still responsible for geographically concrete sees. When the office was elevated to a titular level and the bishops were no longer responsible for actual sees however, corruptions set in that made the Church insular and subject to petty intrigues that darkened its salvific mission in the world.

Historical circumstances certainly played a huge role in this decline. As historical circumstances changes however, it appears that the corrupted models of church governance did not change with them. Nowhere is this more evident than in North America where the Orthodox Church is held hostage to the outdated and non-canonical administrative infrastructures of the Old World patriarchates and the political intrigues they fostered.

This is especially apparent in the Greek Orthodox Church of America. Eight dioceses have been renamed as metropolises each with a ruling metropolitan.27 When Patriarch Bartholomew elevated the Bishops to the status of metropolitans (widely believed to buy the silence of the Bishops during the tumultuous tenure of Archbishop Spyridon Papageorge from 1996 to 1999), he effectively "balkanized" the GOA by establishing each metropolis as a separate eparchy accountable only to Constantinople, rather than as dioceses accountable to an American Archbishop.

The creation of eight metropolises in the United States (and one archdiocesan district) would be reasonable if America were a largely Orthodox nation and if each of these metropolitans had suffragan bishops presiding over their dioceses. Unfortunately they do not. Further, the elevations removed the metropolitan’s accountability to his flock (the Patriarch is the only court of appeal) and fosters increasingly arbitrary decisions, including the mistreatment of priests. The result is greater instability in the Church.

Finally, their elevation could be viewed as a broadside to the other ethnic churches, each of which is supervised by one metropolitan according the canonical norm, the primate of an ecclesiastical province (overlooking the overlapping Orthodox jurisdictions in one nation for the moment). This may well be part of the ancient intrigue to dominate American Orthodoxy altogether. In any event, The Ecumenical Patriarchate’s dependence on old models has certainly complicated the chances of an administratively unified American Orthodox Church.

What Can the Orthodox Do?

The question Orthodox Christians in America must ask is what can be done to rectify our non-canonical situation?

Orthodoxy in America has promising beginnings. A native missionary church was established in North America over two hundred years ago in what was once a Russian colony. When Alaska was made a territory of the United States in 1867, foreign patriarchs recognized the mission as legitimate. Certainly none of the other Old World churches had the means to evangelize North America, yet the canonical norms were upheld and a precedent set. By the time Metropolitan Platon was appointed in the early days of the twentieth century, all Orthodox Americans belonged to a semi-autonomous ecclesiastical province known at that time as North America headed by one metropolitan archbishop just as the canons prescribe.

What happened subsequently has been chronicled elsewhere and lies beyond the scope of this discussion. The road back to canonical restoration however, has been arduous. Only fifteen years ago, twenty-nine American bishops meeting at Ligonier, Pennsylvania surveyed the chaos and were appalled at what they saw. It wasn’t the first time. In his first and only visit to the United States in 1990, Patriarch Demetrios of Constantinople also concluded that the American situation needed to be rectified.

So how do we go about unifying the American Church? What do we do with the excessive number of metropolitans in the United States? Does our present situation allow for a restoration of the canonical norms?

Yes. One idea is that the eight metropolitan districts set up by the Ecumenical Patriarch in 1998 could serve as ecclesiastical provinces of the American Orthodox Church (the archdiocese of Washington, DC could be a ninth ecclesiastical province). The districts could be subdivided into dioceses, where an existing bishop elected by diocesan clergy and laity heads each diocese. An archdiocesan council of clergy and laity would elect the metropolitans. We already have enough active bishops in the United States to make this happen.

For example the southern United States has three bishops: the Archbishop of Dallas, the Metropolitan of Atlanta, and the Bishop of Miami (OCA, GOAA, and AOAA respectively). Between them distinct geopolitical boundaries can be drawn:

  1. Southern states west of the Mississippi River (Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico) would fall under the Archdiocese of Texas;
  2. Florida would be part of the Diocese of Miami;
  3. North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia would fall under the Archdiocese of Atlanta;
  4. An extra bishop could be elected in Nashville who would have purview over Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky.

Under this scenario, the metropolitan of Atlanta would be considered the metropolitan of the South. This model could be duplicated throughout the other regions of the United States.

No doubt other models could be offered. Nevertheless, unification of Orthodox Christianity in America will not occur until the good and faithful Orthodox Christians demand it from our leaders. Gone are the days of the diaspora. We are Americans. We have to learn how to live our Orthodox Christians lives in a country that is increasingly hostile to Christian faith, and longings for days long gone or trying to impose ecclesiastical structures that are either corrupt or irrelevant, does not meet the challenges what we face.

The process will be difficult. Egos will be bruised. Old World bishops will be alarmed and attempt to undermine the efforts. Schism may even result for a time. But Orthodoxy will not grow in America until concrete steps are taken to eradicate our tribalism and ensure that a church will exist for our children and grandchildren.



  1. Once not too long ago, Bishop Basil Essey of Wichita was asked why there were multiple Orthodox jurisdictions in America. His responded with one word: "pride."
  2. The ridiculousness of this is apparent to those who translated the Greek title — ho proedros tou Boston — literally: "The President of Boston."
  3. Ignatius of Antioch (d. AD 115) for example wrote that "Where the bishop is, there is the Church" (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 8).
  4. Bishops themselves were usually chosen by the people, either by direct election or by popular acclamation. Once a bishop was chosen, it was the duty of neighboring bishops to consecrate him, which was done by cheirotoneia or the laying on of hands.
  5. In light of this, how much more regrettable is the situation in the United States when such competition exists between Orthodox bishops? (For example, the five Orthodox bishops of Chicago, or the two of Pittsburgh, three in Detroit, four in New York, and so forth?)
  6. Diptychs were small, hinged tablets usually made of wood but sometimes of metal, containing two leaves. On one leaf were the names of the living and on the other the names of the dead. They were used by bishops in liturgies for intercessory prayer given on behalf of brother bishops.
  7. A suffragan bishop is a diocesan bishop subordinate to a metropolitan. The word comes from the Latin suffragium, which means "support or prayer" and is the root for suffrage which is political support and in our day, voting.
  8. Merriam’s New World Collegiate Dictionary (1980 ed.), p. 719.
  9. According to Demetrius Kymenas, Thriskeftiki kai Ethiki Enkyklopaeidia (Athens 1962-8). Byzantium in its earliest days was ruled by a violent pagan named Xeuxikus who violently tormented Christians. The first bishops had to reside in a nearby town called Argyroupolis where they established the Byzantine church in exile. According to one source, Eugenius I (237-42) was known as the "second bishop of Byzantium," meaning he was the second bishop after his predecessor St Castinus (d. 237), to actually live in the city itself (www.fordham.edu/halsall/byantium/texts/byzpatc.html.
  10. Russians and other former pagans often regarded it as a mark of great pride that their lands had never been evangelized by an actual Apostle, thereby making their own Christianization all the more remarkable.
  11. In the first millennium, most of what is now modern Greece was under the see of Rome.
  12. Sir Stephen Runciman, The Great Church in Captivity, p 23.
  13. John D Ziziioulis, Being as Communion, pp 165-66
  14. The accession of Charlemagne to the imperial throne in AD 800 was viewed with horror by the Byzantines who considered it a great sacrilege, "…just as there was only one God in heaven, so there could be but one supreme ruler on earth." John Julius Norwich, A Short History of Byzantium (London: Penguin, 1997), p 120
  15. Ultimately, the loss of the Christian Near East to the Muslims instigated the Crusades.
  16. One of the titles of the Byzantine emperor during this time was kosmokrator (ruler of the world).
  17. The Seljuks had learned their lesson from their earlier misadventure when they conquered Palestine, and persecuted the Christians, thereby precipitating the First Crusade. Thomas F Madden, The New Concise History of the Crusades (Rowan Littlefield: Lanham, 2008), p 5.
  18. Runciman, Op cit,, p 30.
  19. This idea is not as outlandish as it sounds. The Turkish state that had been established in the Anatolian heartland was known as the "Sultanate of Rum." It was a separate Islamic state distinct from the Fatimid Caliphate (which ruled Egypt) and the Abbassid Caliphate (which was based in Baghdad).
  20. Runciman, Op cit., pp 24-25.
  21. In the ante-Nicene period, bishops were often called upon to adjudicate court cases, even those involving non-Christian litigants. The reason being that many of these men were of such exemplary character that they were viewed as honest brokers by all the concerned parties.
  22. The term simony comes from a sorcerer named Simon Magus, who tried to bribe the Apostles into selling him their power (Acts 8:18-20).
  23. Isaiah Chronopoulos, "The concept of ethnarch, which was an Ottoman invention, provided physical and material security, to a limited extend, in the lives of the Christians. However, from a theological and ecclesiological perspective, it went contrary to the Scriptural teaching that the Church is in the world, but She is not of [it]….the leader of the Church appeared to have allowed himself to be identified with the world, a theocracy on earth, if you will. This, of course, is untenable…[and]…unthinkable from any pure, Christian point of view. For the Church believes that only Christ…will establish the eternal theocracy." (Writings of His Eminence Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver, The Influence of Islam on Orthodox Christianity, 2005; may be accessed at www.denver.goarch.org).
  24. This was not the first time that an Islamic state had unwittingly safeguarded the interests of Orthodoxy. During the council of Ferrara-Florence (1449), all of the Constantinopolitan bishops had been coerced into signing the Act of Union with the West. The only holdout was St Mark Eugenicus, the metropolitan of Ephesus, who because his diocese was under Turkish control, was free of imperial coercion.
  25. Runciman, Op cit. p 362.
  26. In Runciman’s elegant words, "The Patriarch and his advisers took refuge in the favorite device of oriental diplomacy. They behaved as if they had never received the communication, which they carefully mislaid." In the interim, Melanchthon, who was well-disposed towards the Greek East and had initiated the first contact, had died. See also H W Langford, The Non-Jurors and the Eastern Orthodox, a paper read at the Fellowship of St Alban and Sergius, Durham, England (Jun 226.1965).
  27. The Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver for example, has perhaps 5,000 congregants spread out over 14 states, whereas the Archdiocesan District (New York) has over 100,000 members. All other ethnic jurisdictions have only one metropolitan.



George Michalopulos is a layman in the Orthodox Church in America. He is married to the former Margaret Verges of Houston, Texas, and the father of two boys, Constantine and Michael. Together with Deacon Ezra Ham, he is the author of The American Orthodox Church: A History of Its Beginnings (Salisbury: Regina Orthodox Press, 2003), as well as several articles and essays published on the Orthodox Christian Laity website. He has served as parish council president of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Tulsa, OK, and twice was a lay delegate to the Clergy-Laity Congress of 1998 and 2002. He helped found Holy Apostles Orthodox Christian Mission, a parish of the OCA in 2003 and continues to be active in pan-Orthodox events in the greater Tulsa area.

A Letter To The Ecumenical Patriarch Concerning The Situation Of The Diaspora

By: Patriarch Alexis of Moscow and All Russia

2005.02.01 Sourozh

In our first issue of August 1980, Sourozh published a lengthy article by Archbishop Paul of Finland entitled ‘Suggestions for Solutions to the Problem of the Orthodox Diaspora’ (reprinted in Sourozh, No. 91, February 2003, pp. 3-19). In it the primate of the Orthodox Church of Finland reviewed the various submissions made by four regional autocephalous Churches to the Preparatory Commission for the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church which has been in the planning stage for some forty years. In his conclusions Archbishop Paul strongly urged the Patriarchate of Constantinople to relinquish the theory of the supremacy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate over the whole diaspora and to reject any talk of ‘barbarian areas’ as an anachronism.

The fact that in the intervening twenty-five years nothing has changed emerges clearly from the text we print below. On 18 March 2002 Patriarch Alexis wrote to Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople outlining the position of the Russian Church regarding the claims to the Ecumenical Patriarchate to jurisdiction over the worldwide Orthodox “diaspora,” coming to the same conclusions as did Archbishop Paul. More recently there has been a further exchange of letters, but none has gone over the ground as thoroughly as does the present text. The English version given below is translated from a French version of the Russian original.

Patriarch Alexios of Russia

Patriarch Alexis of Moscow and All Russia


To His Holiness Bartholomew, Ecumenical Patriarch and Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome

Your Holiness, Beloved Brother and fellow celebrant in God,

We greet you fraternally and wish you grace and mercy from God our Saviour.

We have received the message of Your Holiness, No. 129 of 11 April 2002, concerning the situation of the Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox Parishes in Western Europe. Reading this letter, we were very troubled by the great number of bitter reproaches and unjust accusations that you formulate therein. In any case, however, we wish to follow the precept of wise Solomon (Proverbs 17:9): “He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends.” Not wishing to put to the test for no good reason the feeling of brotherly love between our two Churches, we shall not consider in detail these awkward expressions, for we think that it is more a case of unfortunate misunderstandings deriving, in our opinion, from an erroneous understanding of the problems that you have raised. This is why we think that it is better to move on immediately to the interpretation of Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council advanced by Your Holiness, an interpretation with which we disagree completely.(1)

This canon in fact defines the area of responsibility of the Patriarchal See of the Church of Constantinople by limiting it to the ancient provinces [called “dioceses” by the Roman government of the time, Ed.] of [Proconsular] Asia, Thrace and of Pontus, that is, to the provinces that correspond to modern-day Turkey, Bulgaria and Greece. It does not at all follow from this canon that ‘every province not belonging to another patriarchal see’ should be subject to the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Constantinople’s Misapplication of the Term "Among the Barbarians"

It seems obvious that this inaccurate interpretation derives from an erroneous understanding of the term “among the barbarians” (en tois barbarikois) and of the context of this expression. It is erroneous in that it assumes that the issue here does not concern “barbarian” peoples living either in the Roman Empire or beyond its limits, but administrative entities (defined by the State) and inhabited primarily by “barbarians.” Yet there is no doubt but that this expression refers not to provinces but to peoples; it is not used in an administrative, but in an ethnic sense. This follows clearly from the considerations that we shall develop below.

…there is no doubt but that this expression [“among the barbarians”]refers not to provinces but to peoples; it is not used in an administrative, but in an ethnic sense.

As you know, during the Hellenistic and Byzantine periods the term barbaros referred to individuals belonging to peoples whose language, culture and customs were not Greek. Thus St Gregory of Nyssa, in the third of his works Against Eunomius, can speak of a “barbarian philosophy” (barbariki philosophia), while Eusebius of Caesarea speaks of “barbarisms in the Greek language” (idiomata barbarika), St Epiphanius of Cyprus of “barbarian names” (barbarika onomata) and Libanius, the teacher of St John Chrysostom, of “barbarian customs” (barbarika ithi). Similarly the Apostle Paul thinks of anyone who speaks neither Greek nor Latin, the official languages of the Empire, as a “barbarian” (barbaros): “Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian (barbaros), and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian (barbaros) unto me” (1 Cor 14:11). Such “barbarians” could equally well live outside as within the Empire. The Apostle preached to the “barbarians” without ever leaving the Roman Empire (cf. Rom 1:14) and the Acts of the Apostles call the inhabitants of Malta “barbarians,” even though the island was part of the Empire, simply because the local language was Punic.

As regards the expression to barbarikon, it is certainly the case that this expression can be used to refer to territories outside the limits of the Empire, and it is in this sense that the term is used, for example, in the Canon 63 (52) of the Council of Carthage. There it is said that in Mauritania there were no councils because that country was located at the very edge of the Empire and borders on barbarian land (to barbariko parakeitai). Nevertheless, it can also refer to anything that is barbarian, and therefore to territories which, while inhabited by barbarians, form part of the Empire.

How the Term "Among the Barbarians" is Used in Canon 28

It is precisely in this sense that the term is used in Canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon. Reference is not being made to the barbarian peoples in general, but to certain well-defined peoples ‘belonging to the above-mentioned provinces’ (ton proeirimenon dioikeseon), i.e. the barbarians living in the provinces of Pontus, Asia and Thrace, which were an integral part of the Eastern Roman Empire. Thus the canon subordinates to the see of Constantinople the bishops of the barbarians living within the ecclesiastical boundaries of these three dioceses.

All the Byzantine commentators on the canons — Alexios Aristenus, John Zonaras and Theodore Balsamon, as well as Matthew Blastaris, author of the Syntagma — understand by the expression en tois barbarikois precisely and only those barbarian peoples within those three provinces, thereby underlining that the barbarian peoples in neighbouring provinces were not subjected to Constantinople by this canon, but remained under the jurisdiction of other Orthodox Churches. Thus Aristenus writes that only the metropolitans of Pontus, Asia and Thrace are under the bishop of Constantinople and are consecrated by him; the same applies to the bishops of the barbarians in these provinces, since the provinces of Macedonia, Illyria, Thessaly, the Peloponese and Epirus were at that time subject to the authority of Rome (Syntagma 2.286; Kormchaia kniga [1816], P. 73). According to Zonaras, it is the bishop of Constantinople who is responsible for the consecration of bishops for the barbarians living in the provinces mentioned, while the remaining provinces, viz. Macedonia, Thessaly, Hellas, the Peloponese, Epirus and Illyria were subject to Rome (Syntagma 2.283, 284).

In the Syntagma of Blastaris we read that the bishop of Constantinople also has the right to consecrate the bishops of barbarian peoples living on the edges of these provinces, such as the Alans and the Rousoi, since the former live next to the diocese of Pontus and the latter next to the diocese of Thrace (6.257). In the latter case it is a question of a late ecclesiastical practice (Blastaris’ comments concern the fourteenth century) according to which the barbarian lands next to the three provinces mentioned were included in the jurisdiction of the bishop of Constantinople. Moreover, it is stressed that the jurisdiction of the bishop of Constantinople was extended to these territories precisely because of their nearness to the areas assigned to him by Canon 28 of Chalcedon, though in the canons themselves the possibility of such an enlargement is not foreseen.

Thus these ancient and authoritative commentators confirm that the Council of Chalcedon did not give to the bishop of Constantinople rights over “barbarian” territories except within the limits of the three provinces mentioned, of which only the province of Thrace is situated in Europe.

Thus these ancient and authoritative commentators confirm that the Council of Chalcedon did not give to the bishop of Constantinople rights over “barbarian” territories except within the limits of the three provinces mentioned, of which only the province of Thrace is situated in Europe. Aristenus and Zonaras, for example, indicate clearly that in Europe the right of the bishop of Constantinople to send bishops for the barbarians extends only to Thrace, since the other provinces are subject to the bishop of Rome. As regards the frontiers of the Church of Constantinople in Asia, Balsamon makes this comment in his interpretation of Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council:

Note that the metropolitans along the Black Sea up to Trebizond are called “Pontic,” while the metropolitans near Ephesus, and in Lycia and Pamphylia are called “Asiatic,” though not, as some say, those in Anatolia, since in Anatolia it is [the bishop of] Antioch who has the right to consecrate (Syntagma, 2.284).

Constantinople’s Claims about “Diaspora” are not Historically Tenable

It is also appropriate to note that in this canon it is not a question of a “diaspora,” but of autochthonous “barbarians” living in their own lands. They became Christian largely as the result of missionary activity and Christianity did not reach them through a foreign homeland, as is the case with a “diaspora.” This is why one is distancing oneself from historical reality and mixing up differing concepts if one extends the field of application of a canon that concerned autochthonous peoples who became Christian as the result of missionary activity with the phenomenon of a diaspora made up of people who have departed for a foreign land, but who were brought up in the Orthodox tradition in their homeland.

…the statement by Your Holiness [Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew] that as a result of Canon 28 of Chalcedon “Western Europe and all the lands recently discovered in America and Australia belong to the area of responsibility of the Ecumenical Patriarch” seems completely fictitious and is without canonical foundation.

Thus the statement by Your Holiness that as a result of Canon 28 of Chalcedon “Western Europe and all the lands recently discovered in America and Australia belong to the area of responsibility of the Ecumenical Patriarch” seems completely fictitious and is without canonical foundation. These distant lands actually have no connection with the three provinces mentioned in Canon 28 and are nowhere near them. Moreover, the majority of the Orthodox faithful of the Churches in these territories are not native-born; they represent peoples that are traditionally Orthodox and have religious traditions that they wish to preserve. As regards Orthodox jurisdiction in the canonical territories that belonged to the Church of Rome before the schism of 1054, no authoritative pan-Orthodox decision has ever been taken.

All of this is supported by historical facts that indicate that until the 20s of the twentieth century the Patriarch of Constantinople did not in fact exercise authority over the whole of the Orthodox diaspora throughout the world, and made no claim to such authority. For example, in Australia the Orthodox diaspora was initially served by Jerusalem, and the Patriarch of Jerusalem sent priests there. In Western Europe, from the beginning, the parishes and Orthodox communities were dependent canonically on their Mother Churches and not on Constantinople. Similarly, in other parts of the world, in order to follow the commandment of Christ (Mt 28:19f.), zealous missionaries from local Orthodox Churches, including Constantinople, preached the Gospel and baptised the native peoples, who then became the children of the Church that had illumined them by Baptism.

The Roots of Jurisdictional Division in North America

As regards America, from 1794 Orthodoxy on that continent was represented exclusively by the Church of Russia, which by 1918 had brought together some 300,000 Orthodox of different nationalities (Russian, Ukrainians, Serbs, Albanians, Arabs, Aleuts, Indians, Africans, English). The Greek Orthodox were among them, receiving antimensia for their parishes from the Russian bishops. This situation was recognised by all the local Churches, who released clergy for the American parishes into the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Patriarchate of Constantinople followed the same practice. For example, when in 1912 the Greek Orthodox in America asked His Holiness the Patriarch of Constantinople Joachim III to send a Greek bishop, the Patriarch did not send a bishop himself, nor did he refer the request to the Church of Greece, but recommended that it be referred to Archbishop Platon of the Aleutian Islands and North America so that the question could be settled by the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Jurisdictional pluralism in North America began in 1921, when an “Archdiocese of North and South America” was created without the agreement of the Russian Church, which was not informed of the matter.

Jurisdictional pluralism in North America began in 1921, when an “Archdiocese of North and South America” was created without the agreement of the Russian Church, which was not informed of the matter. It is at this point that the situation you describe arose, i.e. “In spite of the Holy Canons, the Orthodox, in particular those who live in Western countries, are divided into ethnic groups. Their Churches have at their head bishops chosen on ethnic grounds. Often they are not the only bishops of their cities, and sometimes they are not on good terms with one another and fight among themselves,” something that is “a source of shame for all Orthodoxy and the cause of unfavourable reactions that have negative results for the Orthodox Church.” As we have seen, the blame for this sad situation cannot be attached to the Russian Church. On the contrary, seeking to bring American Orthodoxy into line with the rest of the Orthodox world, as Mother Church she granted autocephaly to her daughter Church. In doing this the Russian Church acted only within the limits of its own canonical jurisdiction and with a view to a future pan-Orthodox decision concerning the establishment of a single local Orthodox Church in America. We might note that, already in 1905, a proposal for the creation of such a Church had been presented to the Holy Synod by Saint Tikhon of Moscow, who was then Archbishop of the Aleutian Islands and North America.

It is sad to observe that the Most Holy Church of Constantinople did not support the action taken in 1970 and has not contributed to the union that was so desired. Until now this remains a source of discord and discontent on the part of many Orthodox in America.

Canon 28 Does Not Dimish the Rights of Autocephalous Churches

In spite of Your Holiness’ affirmation that “no other Patriarchal see has received the privilege or canonical right” to extend its jurisdiction beyond the provinces that belong to the canonical territories of the autocephalous Churches, history demonstrates that Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council that subjected the three provinces mentioned to Constantinople did not in any way diminish the rights of the other autocephalous Churches, in particular as concerns ecclesiastical jurisdiction over foreign lands. Thus the Church of Rome appointed bishops throughout most of Europe (excepting Thrace), while the Church of Alexandria assigned bishops to the countries south of Egypt (and subsequently throughout most of Africa), and the Church of Antioch did so in the East, in Georgia, Persia, Armenia and Mesopotamia. The jurisdiction of the Church of Constantinople, however, for its part, for a long time remained confined within what had been the boundaries of the provinces of Asia, Pontus and Thrace before that Council.

We should also note that historically both the primacy of honour established by Canon 3 of the Second Ecumenical Council and its jurisdiction over the three provinces mentioned above were given to the Church of Constantinople solely for political reasons, i.e. because the city in which the see of Constantinople was located had acquired the status of a political capital and had become “the city of the Emperor and the Senate.” Thus Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council stipulates that:

In taking this decision as to the precedence of the Very Holy Church of Constantinople, the New Rome, we note that the Fathers [of the Second Ecumenical Council] have in fact rightly granted precedence to the see of Old Rome because that city was the Imperial City. Moved by the same considerations the 150 bishops beloved of God [of this Council] have granted the same precedence to the Very Holy See of New Rome, justifiably thinking that the city honoured by the presence of the Emperor and the Senate and enjoying the same civil privileges as Rome, the ancient Imperial City, should also have the same high rank as she has, in the affairs of the Church, while still remaining second after her.

We do not intend to enter into discussion on this question now, but one should nonetheless not forget an obvious fact: the present situation of Constantinople after the collapse of the Byzantine Empire does not justify constant recourse to this canon, and still less to an excessively broad interpretation of its meaning.

Constantinople’s Unilateral Policy of Expansionism

The inclusion within the jurisdiction of the Very Holy Church of Constantinople of new provinces other than those bordering on the original three dioceses, which has taken place in the course of history, is not, in our opinion, linked with Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council. The reasons were entirely other. Thus the provinces mentioned by Your Holiness — Illyria, Southern Italy and Sicily — did not belong ‘always’ to the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, but were taken by force from the Roman Church and given to the Church of Constantinople by the iconoclast Emperor Leo the Isaurian, without reference to Canon 28. One of the most important reasons for this action on the part of Leo the Isaurian was that the Church of Rome was opposed to the iconoclastic policies of the Byzantine Emperor, whose political power extended to those territories at that time.

The inclusion within the jurisdiction of the Very Holy Church of Constantinople of new provinces other than those bordering on the original three dioceses, which has taken place in the course of history, is not, in our opinion, linked with Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council. The reasons were entirely other.

As regards the Russian Church, she was initially subject to the Church of Constantinople not because of Canon 28 of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, but because of the general principle according to which converted peoples are subject to the Mother Church that had Christianised them, until they have acquired the conditions necessary for autocephaly. By becoming an autocephalous Church, the Russian Church received the same rights of mission beyond its canonical boundaries as the other local Orthodox Churches, since, as has been shown, the Holy Canons do not give precedence to any particular Church in the realisation of this right.

Such is the authentic pan-Orthodox tradition in this matter, and the Very Holy Church of Constantinople always respected it until the moment when Patriarch Meletios IV developed the theory of the subordination of the whole Orthodox diaspora to Constantinople. It is precisely this theory, which is clearly non-canonical, that is quite obviously “hostile to the spirit of the Orthodox Church, to Orthodoxy unity, and to canonical order.” It is itself, in fact, the expression of “an expansionist tendency that is without canonical foundation and is unacceptable on an ecciesiological level.” By claiming a universal spiritual power, it does not correspond to the Orthodox canonical tradition or to the teaching of the Holy Fathers of the Church, and represents a direct challenge to Orthodox unity. In fact, there is no reason to agree with Your contention that the whole of the Orthodox diaspora does not finds itself under the spiritual jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople solely because Constantinople “tolerates this situation temporarily and for reasons of ‘economy’.”

…Patriarch Meletios IV developed the theory of the subordination of the whole Orthodox diaspora to Constantinople…which is clearly non-canonical, that is quite obviously “hostile to the spirit of the Orthodox Church, to Orthodoxy unity, and to canonical order.”

This last expression has particularly roused our incomprehension and disquiet, since it seems to point to an intention on the part of the Church of Constantinople to continue in the future to pursue a unilateral policy of expansion that is foreign to a spirit of brotherly love and conciliarity. In this respect, it is worthwhile recalling a judicious remark of Patriarch Diodoros of Jerusalem of blessed memory that is contained in his letter to Your Holiness (No. 480, dated 25 July 1993) to the effect that only a pan-Orthodox Council has the right to resolve the complex question of the diaspora. Neither the Orthodox Church of Romania nor the Orthodox Church of Poland shares the view put forward by Your Holiness of the problem of the diaspora. This is clear from the reports submitted by these Churches in 1990 to the Preparatory Commission for the Holy and Great Council.

Moscow Resists Constantinople’s Interference in the Russian Church

Bearing in mind what has been said, we are completely justified in contesting the statement of Your Holiness to the effect that the Exarchate of Russian Parishes in Western Europe is “one of the forms of pastoral care that is incumbent” upon the Church of Constantinople. The theory that this Exarchate is obliged to be subject to the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople is refuted by the very history of this ecclesiastical entity. We must remember that in the official documents of the Church of Constantinople concerning the status of the Russian parishes in Western Europe it is accepted that their Mother Church is the Russian Orthodox Church, and that the system of administration established for these parishes has a provisional character. There is no ambiguity concerning this in the Tomos of Patriarch Photios of 17 February 1931. Commenting on this document, Patriarch Photios himself wrote in a letter (No. 1428, 25 June 1931) to Metropolitan Sergii, Deputy Locum Tenens of the Patriarchal Throne, that “the situation should remain in this provisional state until, with God’s help, unity can be re-established with our Sister Church of Russia.”

Similarly, His Holiness Patriarch Athenagoras, in a letter (No. 671, 22 November 1965) to Archbishop Georges of Eudokiada, mentioning the fact that “the Church of Russia has freed itself of divisions, acquired an internal organisation and freedom of action in its affairs outside Russia,” announces the suppression of the Exarchate of Russian Parishes in Western Europe, “which had a provisional character,” and recommends that it join itself to the Patriarchate of Moscow, “which can and should always demonstrate and manifest its fatherly love for these parishes.” The fact that the Patriarchate of Constantinople received back into its jurisdiction this diocese of Russian parishes in 1971 does not change in any way the provisional character of the current situation of the Russian Archdiocese, since in its first paragraph the relevant Tomos refers back to the Tomos of Patriarch Photios. Thus the Church of Constantinople, in these official documents, has recognised unambiguously the right of the Archdiocese of Russian Parishes in Western Europe to reunite itself with the Mother Church — the Russian Orthodox Church — without this being the manifestation of “an extremely secularised and erroneous spiritual state” or of “an erroneous ethnic understanding.”

As regards the proposals of His Eminence Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad made during his stay in Paris from 10-12 February 2001, this subject has already been touched upon in negotiations between delegations of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and Moscow in Zurich on 19 April 2001 and in a letter of Metropolitan Kirill to Metropolitan Meliton of Philadelphia (No. 2062, 17 July 2001). While travelling through Paris, His Eminence Metropolitan Kirill was invited by Archbishop Sergii of Eukarpia to a meeting of the Council of the Archdiocese. At this meeting, the hierarch of our Church made no specific proposals, and when he was asked how he saw the future of the Archdiocese, he presented the position of our Church, which has never been concealed and to which we are irrevocably attached.

This position is the following: the existence of an isolated group of Russian parishes in Europe is the result of the tragedy of the Russian people provoked by the Revolution. At the present, when the consequences of the Revolution have been overcome, the return of the parishes of the emigration to the bosom of the Patriarchate of Moscow would be completely normal. This desire for the restoration of the spiritual unity of our people is reflected in the declaration you have mentioned, which was made by the Holy Synod on 8 November 2000, where it is question of those children “who live beyond the limits of the Russian State” (not “outside the limits of the Russian Church,” as is incorrectly stated in Your letter). We continue to be saddened to see that the legitimate and natural desire to bring together again our own people, who live dispersed for historical and political reasons, is the object of such harsh and unjust attacks on the part of the primate of a Church that has experienced a similar tragedy.

Question of “Diaspora” Must be Resolved

The question of the Orthodox diaspora is one of most important problems in inter-Orthodox relations. Given its complexity and the fact that it has not been sufficiently regularised, it has introduced serious complications in the relations between Churches and has without a doubt diminished the strength of Orthodox witness throughout the contemporary world. Nevertheless, we hope very much that the sustained efforts of the local Orthodox Churches will enable us in the end to find a pan-Orthodox solution to the problem at the Holy and Great Council of the Eastern Orthodox Church. The historical responsibility is all the greater for any actions directed against the achievement of an agreement pleasing to God on this key question.

[W]e call upon Your Holiness to follow the precepts of the Holy Fathers, expressed in Canon 8 of the Third Ecumenical council, to wit, “that the canons of the Fathers not be infringed upon, and that worldly pride and power not slip in under the pretext of holy actions…

This is why, for the true good both of Orthodoxy and the Church of Constantinople, which is dear to us for reasons stretching back over centuries, we call upon Your Holiness to follow the precepts of the Holy Fathers, expressed in Canon 8 of the Third Ecumenical council, to wit, “that the canons of the Fathers not be infringed upon, and that worldly pride and power not slip in under the pretext of holy actions, and that we do not lose, bit by bit and without noticing it, the freedom that Jesus Christ our Lord, the Liberator of all men, has given us by his Blood.” Faithful to the tradition of the Holy Fathers, we ask earnestly and sincerely that Your Holiness renounce an attitude of mind that is an obstacle to the accord so ardently desired, and work hard for the speedy convocation of the Holy and Great Council.

We ask of God peace, health and length of life for Your Holiness, we salute You once again in brotherly fashion, and we continue to respect You and to love Your Holiness in Christ.

+ Alexis, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia

(1) Canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451) is discussed at length by Archbishop Peter L’Huillier in his book, The Church of the Ancient Councils: The Disciplinary Work of the First Four Ecumenical Councils (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1996), pp. 267-296, where he reaches the same conclusions as the Patriarch (Ed.).

Sourozh, No. 99, February 2005, pp. 1-11

The Decline of the Patriarchate of Constantinople

By: St. John Maximovitch, Archbishop of Shanghai and San Francisco

An excerpt from a report on all the Autocephalous Churches made by Archbishop John of Shanghai to the Second All-Diaspora Sobor of the Russian Church Abroad held in Yugoslavia in 1938. It explains how the Ecumenical Patriarchate has expanded its jurisdiction beyond its canonical boundaries to cover the whole inhabited world.

St. John Maximovitch

St. John Maximovitch

Historical Background

The primacy among Orthodox Churches is possessed by the Church of the New Rome, Constantinople, which is headed by a Patriarch who has the title of Ecumenical, and therefore is itself called the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which territorially reached the culmination of its development at the end of the 18th century. At that time there was included in it the whole of Asia Minor, the whole Balkan Peninsula (except for Montenegro), together with the adjoining islands, since the other independent Churches in the Balkan Peninsula had been abolished and had become part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Ecumenical Patriarch had received from the Turkish Sultan, even before the taking of Constantinople by the Turks, the title of Millet Bash, that is, the head of the people, and he was considered the head of the whole Orthodox population of the Turkish Empire. This, however, did not prevent the Turkish government from removing patriarchs for any reason whatever and calling for new elections, at the same time collecting a large tax from the newly elected patriarch. Apparently the latter circumstance had a great significance in the changing of patriarchs by the Turks, and therefore it often happened that they again allowed on the Patriarchal Throne a patriarch whom they had removed, after the death of one or several of his successors. Thus, many patriarchs occupied their see several times, and each accession was accompanied by the collection of a special tax from them by the Turks.

In order to make up the sum which he paid on his accession to the Patriarchal Throne, a patriarch made a collection from the metropolitans subordinate to him, and they, in their turn, collected from the clergy subordinate to them. This manner of making up its finances left an imprint on the whole order of the Patriarchate’s life. In the Patriarchate there was likewise evident the Greek “Great Idea,” that is, the attempt to restore Byzantium, at first in a cultural, but later also in a political sense. For this reason in all important; posts there were assigned people loyal to this idea, and for the most part Greeks from the part of Constantinople called the Phanar, where also the Patriarchate was located. Almost always the episcopal sees were filled by Greeks, even though in the Balkan Peninsula the population was primarily Slavic.

In the Patriarchate there was likewise evident the Greek “Great Idea,” that is, the attempt to restore Byzantium, at first in a cultural, but later also in a political sense.

At the beginning of the 19th century there began a movement of liberation among the Balkan peoples, who were striving to liberate themselves from the authority of the Turks. There arose the states of Serbia, Greece, Rumania, and Bulgaria, at first semi-independent, and then completely independent from Turkey. Parallel with this there proceeded also the formation of new Local Churches which were separate from the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Even though it was unwillingly, under the influence of circumstances, the Ecumenical Patriarchs permitted the autonomy of the Churches in the vassal princedoms, and later they recognized the full independence of the Churches in Serbia, Greece, and Rumania. Only the Bulgarian question was complicated in view on the one hand of the impatience of the Bulgarians, who had not yet attained political independence, and, on the other hand, thanks to the unyieldingness of the Greeks. The self-willed declaration of Bulgarian autocephaly on the foundation of a firman of the Sultan was not recognized by the Patriarchate, and in a number of dioceses there was established a parallel hierarchy.

The boundaries of the newly-formed Churches coincided with the boundaries of the new states, which were growing all the time at the expense of Turkey, at the same time acquiring new dioceses from the Patriarchate. Nonetheless, in 1912, when the Balkan War began, the Ecumenical Patriarchate had about 70 metropolias and several bishoprics. The war of 1912-13 tore away from Turkey a significant part of the Balkan Peninsula with such great spiritual centers as Salonica and Athos. The Great War of 1914-18 for a time deprived Turkey of the whole of Thrace and the Asia Minor coast with the city of Smyrna, which were subsequently lost by Greece in 1922 after the unsuccessful march of the Greeks on Constantinople.

Here the Ecumenical Patriarch could not so easily allow out of his authority the dioceses which had been torn away from Turkey, as had been done previously. There was already talk concerning certain places which from of old had been under the spiritual authority of Constantinople. Nonetheless, the Ecumenical Patriarch in 1922 recognized the annexation to the Serbian Church of all areas within the boundaries of Yugoslavia; he agreed to the inclusion within the Church of Greece of a number of dioceses in the Greek State, preserving, however, his jurisdiction over Athos; and in 1937 he recognized even the autocephaly of the small Albanian Church, which originally he had not recognized.

The Patriarch is extremely hindered in the manifestation even of his indisputable rights in church government within the boundaries of Turkey, where he is viewed as an ordinary Turkish subject-official, being furthermore under the supervision of the government.

The boundaries of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the number of its dioceses had significantly decreased. At the same time the Ecumenical Patriarchate in fact lost Asia Minor also, although it remained within its jurisdiction. In accordance with the peace treaty between Greece and Turkey in 1923, there occurred an exchange of population between these powers, so that the whole Greek population of Asia Minor had to resettle in Greece. Ancient cities, having at one time a great significance in ecclesiastical matters and glorious in their church history, remained without a single inhabitant of the Orthodox faith. At the same time, the Ecumenical Patriarch lost his political significance in Turkey, since Kemal Pasha deprived him of his title of head of the people. Factually, at the present time under the Ecumenical Patriarch there are five dioceses within the boundaries of Turkey in addition to Athos with the surrounding places in Greece. The Patriarch is extremely hindered in the manifestation even of his indisputable rights in church government within the boundaries of Turkey, where he is viewed as an ordinary Turkish subject-official, being furthermore under the supervision of the government. The Turkish government, which interferes in all aspects of the life of its citizens, only as a special privilege has permitted him, as also the Armenian Patriarch, to wear long hair and clerical garb, forbidding this to the rest of the clergy. The Patriarch has no right of free exit from Turkey, and lately the government is ever more insistently pursuing his removal to the new capital of Ankara (the ancient Ancyra), where there are now no Orthodox Christians, but where the administration with all the branches of governmental life is concentrated.

The "Self-Aggrandizement of Constantinople"

Such an outward abasement of the hierarch of the city of St. Constantine, which was once the capital of the ecumene, has not caused reverence toward him to be shaken among Orthodox Christians, who revere the See of Sts. Chrysostom and Gregory the Theologian. From the height of this See the successor of Sts. John and Gregory could spiritually guide the whole Orthodox world, if only he possessed their firmness in the defense of righteousness and truth and the breadth of views of the recent Patriarch Joachim III. However, to the general decline of the Ecumenical Patriarchate there has been joined the direction of its activity after the Great War. The Ecumenical Patriarchate has desired to make up for the loss of dioceses which have left its jurisdiction, and likewise the loss of its political significance within the boundaries of Turkey, by submitting to itself areas where up to now there has been no Orthodox hierarchy, and likewise the Churches of those states where the government is not Orthodox. Thus, on April 5, 1922, Patriarch Meletius designated an Exarch of Western and Central Europe with the title of Metropolitan of Thyateira with residency in London; on March 4, 1923, the same Patriarch consecrated the Czech Archimandrite Sabbatius Archbishop of Prague and All Czechoslovakia; on April 15, 1924, a Metropolia of Hungary and All Central Europe was founded with a See in Budapest, even though there was already a Serbian bishop there. In America an Archbishopric was established under the Ecumenical Throne, then in 1924 a Diocese was established in Australia with a See in Sydney. In 1938 India was made subordinate to the Archbishop of Australia.

At the same time there has proceeded the subjection of separate parts of the Russian Orthodox Church which have been torn away from Russia. Thus, on June 9, 1923, the Ecumenical Patriarch accepted into his jurisdiction the Diocese of Finland as an autonomous Finnish Church; on August 23, 1923, the Estonian Church was made subject in the same way, on November 13, 1924, Patriarch Gregory VII recognized the autocephaly of the Polish Church under the supervision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate—that is, rather autonomy. In March, 1936, the Ecumenical Patriarch accepted Latvia into his jurisdiction. Not limiting himself to the acceptance into his jurisdiction of Churches in regions which had fallen away from the borders of Russia, Patriarch Photius accepted into his jurisdiction Metropolitan Eulogius in Western Europe together with the parishes subordinate to him, and on February 28, 1937, an Archbishop of the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarch in America consecrated Bishop Theodore-Bogdan Shpilko for a Ukrainian Church in North America.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate has desired to make up for the loss of dioceses which have left its jurisdiction, and likewise the loss of its political significance within the boundaries of Turkey, by submitting to itself areas where up to now there has been no Orthodox hierarchy, and likewise the Churches of those states where the government is not Orthodox.

Thus, the Ecumenical Patriarch has become actually “ecumenical” [universal] in the breadth of the territory which is theoretically subject to him. Almost the whole earthly globe, apart from the small territories of the three Patriarchates and the territory of Soviet Russia, according to the idea of the Patriarchate’s leaders, enters into the composition of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Increasing without limit their desires to submit to themselves parts of Russia, the Patriarchs of Constantinople have even begun to declare the uncanonicity of the annexation of Kiev to the Moscow Patriarchate, and to declare that the previously existing southern Russian Metropolia of Kiev should be subject to the Throne of Constantinople. Such a point of view is not only clearly expressed in the Tomos of November 13, 1924, in connection with the separation of the Polish Church, but is also quite thoroughly promoted by the Patriarchs. Thus, the Vicar of Metropolitan Eulogius in Paris, who was consecrated with the permission of the Ecumenical Patriarch, has assumed the title of Chersonese; that is to say, Chersonese, which is now in the territory of Russia, is subject to the Ecumenical Patriarch. The next logical step for the Ecumenical Patriarchate would be to declare the whole of Russia as being under the jurisdiction of Constantinople.

However, the actual spiritual might and even the actual boundaries of authority by far do not correspond to such a self-aggrandizement of Constantinople. Not to mention the fact that almost everywhere the authority of the Patriarch is quite illusory and consists for the most part in the confirmation of bishops who have been elected to various places or the sending of such from Constantinople, many lands which Constantinople considers subject to itself do not have any flock at all under its jurisdiction.

The Decline of Moral Authority

The moral authority of the Patriarchs of Constantinople has likewise fallen very low in view of their extreme instability in ecclesiastical matters. Thus, Patriarch Meletius IV arranged a “Pan-Orthodox Congress,” with representatives of various churches, which decreed the introduction of the New Calendar. This decree, recognized only by a part of the Church, introduced a frightful schism among Orthodox Christians. Patriarch Gregory VII recognized the decree of the council of the Living Church concerning the deposing of Patriarch Tikhon, whom not long before this the Synod of Constantinople had declared a “confessor,” and then he entered into communion with the “Renovationists” in Russia, which continues up to now.

In sum, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in theory embracing almost the whole universe and in fact extending its authority only over several dioceses, and in other places having only a higher superficial supervision and receiving certain revenues for this, persecuted by the government at home and not supported by any governmental authority abroad: having lost its significance as a pillar of truth and having itself become a source of division, and at the same time being possessed by an exorbitant love of power—represents a pitiful spectacle which recalls the worst periods in the history of the See of Constantinople.

From "Orthodox Word", vol. 8, no. 4 (45), July-August 1972, pp. 166-168, 174-175.

The Orthodox Church of Tomorrow

By: Fr. John A. Peck

Fr. John Peck

Fr. John Peck

There is an interesting phenomenon occurring in Orthodox Christianity in America today, and reflected powerfully in our seminaries. Seminaries are loaded almost exclusively with converts, reverts (cradle Orthodox who left the faith, and were re-converted to it again), and the sons and grandsons of clergy.

I believe we are looking at the future of the American Orthodox Church — today.

The notion that traditionally Orthodox ethnic groups (the group of ‘our people’ we hear so much about from our primates and hierarchs) are going to populate the ranks of the clergy, and therefore, the Church in the future is, frankly, a pipe dream. Orthodoxy, despite the failings of its leadership, has actually lived up to its own press. The truth of the Orthodox faith, as presented on paper, is actually being believed – by those who have no familial or historical connection with the Orthodox. These poor deluded souls (of which I count myself) actually believe what they are reading about the Orthodox faith, and expect the Church to act like, well, the Church. They refuse to accept the Church as a club of any kind, or closed circle kaffeeklatsch. No old world embassies will be tolerated for much longer – they will go the way of the dodo. No one will have to work against them; they will simply die from atrophy and neglect. The passing away of the Orthodox Church as ethnic club is already taking place. It will come to fruition in a short 10 years, 15 years in larger parishes.

This is a well known problem. Statistical studies taken a mere seven years ago predicted that within 10 years the Orthodox Church in the United States would for all practical purposes, no longer be viable. If nothing was done within five years (that’s two years ago) the decline would be irreversible. Demographics determine destiny, as they say. As you may have imagined, not only was "nothing done," such reports were surreptitiously filed away, while the calls for a solution from clergy and laity alike only increased. Larger jurisdictions will, of course, have a little more time, but not a different result.

What we are looking at, of course, is of the highest concern to the hierarchy. They know, in their heart of hearts, that they cannot reverse this trend. Yet they fight a rearguard action, hoping against hope to forestall the historically inevitable movement toward an American Orthodox Church.

Statistical studies taken a mere seven years ago predicted that within 10 years the Orthodox Church in the United States would for all practical purposes, no longer be viable.

The laity has already moved on. Americans, generally, don’t fall for very much strong arm intimidation or brow beating, don’t go for bullying by insecure leaders, and certainly don’t see the value of taking on and promoting someone else’s ethnic culture. They care about the Gospel, and the Gospel does not require Slavonic or Koine Greek, or even English for that matter. The Gospel requires context, which is why it cannot be transmitted in any language unknown to the listener.

When we look at our seminaries, we are looking at the Church of Tomorrow, the Church twenty years from now. Indeed, this is the Church we are building today.

Twenty years from now, I anticipate we will see the following:

  • Vastly diminished parishes, both in size and number. There will be a few exceptions, (and they will be exceptional!) but for the most part, most current Orthodox parishioners will age and die, and have no one to replace them. Why? Because as they have taught the context of their culture, instead teaching the context of their faith. Some parishes will simply be merged with others. Many will close outright. A few will change how they do ministry, with a new vision of parochial ecclesiology. These newer parishes will be lighthouses of genuine Orthodox piety and experience. Some parishes, I believe, will actually be formed specifically, in the old fashion, by purchasing land, building a chapel or Temple in the midst of it, and parishioners building or buying homes around it. The Church will be the center of their lives, and many will come from far and wide to experience their way of life.
  • Publicly renowned Orthodox media and apologetic ministries. These ministries are the ones providing a living and powerful apologetic for the Orthodox faith in our culture (that is, our 21st Century life in the United States), and actually providing the Gospel in its proper context – engaged in society and the public arena. These will succeed in visibility and public awareness more than all the speeches before the U.N. and odd newspaper stories about Orthodox Easter or Folk Dance Festivals could ever do. In other words, the Orthodox Christian faith will become that most dangerous of all things – relevant to the lives of Americans, and known to all Americans as a genuinely American Christian entity.
  • More (and younger) bishops. If our current slate of bishops has been mostly a disappointment, reducing their number will only tighten this closed circle, making the hierarchy less and less accessible, and more and more immune to things like, oh, the needs and concerns of their flock. The process of selection for the episcopacy will contain a far more thorough investigation, and men with active homosexual tendencies, psychological problems, insecurities, or addictions will simply not make the cut. We aren’t far from open persecution of Christians by secularists in this country, and we need bishops who know the score. With better bishops, no one will be able to ‘buy’ a priest out of a parish with a gift of cash. Conversely, parish councils will no longer be able to bully priests into staying out of their affairs, and will be required to get out of the restaurant/festival business and get into the soul saving business.
  • A very different demographic of clergy. Our priests will be composed of converts, reverts, and the sons and grandsons of venerable, long-suffering clergy. These men all know the score. They won’t tolerate nonsense like homosexual clergy (especially bishops), women’s ordination, or financial corruption. They will not tolerate the Church being regularly and unapologetically dishonored by her own clergy. Twenty years from now, these convert and revert priests will be sending life-long Orthodox men, a new cradle generation, en masse to our seminaries. They will be white, black, Asian, Polynesian, Hispanic, and everything in between. Fewer will be Russian, Greek, or any other traditionally Orthodox background.
  • Orthodox Biblical Studies. Orthodox Biblical scholarship will flourish, and will actually advance Biblical Studies, rather than tag along for the latest trends, staying a minimum safe distance back in case the latest theory tanks unexpectedly. Septuagint studies are already on the rise and Orthodox scholars will usurp the lead in this arena, establishing a powerful and lasting influence in Biblical Studies for decades to come. Orthodox higher education — specifically in Biblical Studies in the Orthodox tradition — will finally have a place at the doctoral level in the Western hemisphere, and it will become a thriving academic entity. The whole Church will feed on the gleanings of this new scholarship and Scriptural knowledge, preaching, and Biblical morality will invigorate the Church for generations.
  • A much higher moral standard from all clergy. The next twenty years will see a revival of practical ethics. Instead of trailing military or business ethics, the Church will, once again, require the highest standard of ethical and professional behavior from her clergy — and they will respond! The clergy will not tolerate lying, cheating, or stealing and hold to account those who practice these vices. They will vigorously defend the honor of Christ’s priesthood, and Christ’s Church. I dare say, even the clergy will finally respect their own priesthood.
  • Vocations will explode. As a result of the elevated ethical standard publicly expected from the clergy, candidates in far greater numbers will flock to the priesthood. There will be very full classes, distance education, self-study and continuing education going on in every location. Education at a basal level will disappear, except in introductory parish classes. Clergy will powerfully articulate Orthodoxy to the faithful and to the culture around them. Personal opinion will no longer be the standard for clergy when articulating Orthodox ethics and morality. Our seminaries must become beacons for this teaching, and give up "training culture" once and for all. We will finally begin to penetrate our society, rather than go along for the ride like a tick on a dog’s back.
  • Philanthropy will flow like the floodgates of heaven. Finally, the many Orthodox Christian philanthropists who annually give millions of dollars to secular institutions will finally find their own Church completely transparent, completely accountable, and worthy of their faith-building support. Let’s face it, there is more than enough money in Orthodoxy right now to build hospitals, clinics, schools, colleges, universities, and a new Hagia Sophia right here in the United States. The reason this is not being done is because these philanthropists are intelligent men and women who do not trust the hierarchy to do the right thing with their millions. This will change in short order once it is shown that transparency doesn’t destroy the Church, but strengthens it immeasurably. Frankly, I don’t anticipate every jurisdiction to do this in the next twenty years, but those that are practicing transparency will emerge as the leaders in every arena of Church existence.


This all may seem unlikely today, but it is coming.

How do I know this? For one thing, the last holdouts of corruption, Byzantine intrigue and phyletism (a fancy theological term for ethnic preference) are clinging desperately to a vision of the Church that is, quite frankly, dying fast. Oh, they are doing everything to shore up their power and influence, and busy serving their own needs, but their vision is dying. And where there is no vision, the people perish (Proverbs 29:18).

As frightening and disconcerting as it may seem to our leaders, they will learn that emerging from a cocoon, even a Byzantine cocoon, is not a bad thing. Orthodoxy is about to take flight on new beautiful wings. These are the birth pangs of a new era for Orthodoxy. God is giving us a time of freedom and light.

This new Orthodox Church will have a different face, will be ready for contemporary challenges, and will have begun to penetrate American society at every stage and on every level. This Church is the one that will be ready for the challenges of open persecution, fighting for the soul of every American, regardless of their genetic affiliation. This Church will be the one our grandchildren and great grandchildren will grow up in, looking back on the late 20th-early 21st century as a time of sentimental darkness from which burst forth the light of the Gospel. Let it begin.

Fr. John A. Peck is pastor of Prescott Orthodox Church in Prescott, Ariz.

Published: September 16, 2008