The Russian Veto Against Francis and Bartholomew
The embrace between Rome and Constantinople is renewed. But a document from the patriarchate of Moscow freezes the discussion between Catholics and Orthodox on the powers of the pope over the universal Church

by Sandro Magister

ROME, January 8, 2014 – Exactly half a century since the embrace in Jerusalem between Paul VI and the patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras, Pope Francis has announced that he too will go to the Holy Land, next May 24-26, to repeat that ecumenical gesture with the successor of Athenagoras, Bartholomew.

On Saturday, January 4, the eve of the anniversary, “L’Osservatore Romano” republished the complete text of the conversation between Paul VI and Athenagoras, intended to remain confidential but recorded by Italian television, which “through a glitch” kept the microphones open.

Paul VI did not remain silent about the crucial point that divides Rome from the East: “the constitution of the Church” and the role of the pope in it.

He promised Athenagoras:

“I will tell you that which I believe to be exact, derived from the Gospel, from the will of God and from the authentic tradition. I will express it. And in it there will be points that do not coincide with your thought about the constitution of the Church. . . .”

“I will do the same,” Athenagoras said.

And Paul VI: “We will discuss, we will seek to find the truth. . . No question of prestige, of primacy, that may not be that established by Christ. Absolutely nothing that has to do with honors, with privileges. Let us see what Christ is asking of us and each take his position; but without any human ambition to prevail, to have glory, advantages. But to serve.”


Since that January 5 of 1964 until today, the ecumenical dialogue between Rome and the Churches of the East has made substantial progress. And it has not been afraid to bring into discussion even the burning question of papal primacy.

The foundational document for the exchange on the universal role of the bishop of Rome was finalized in Ravenna in 2007 by a joint team of bishops and theologians called the “joint international commission for the theological dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church”:

> Ecclesial Communion, Conciliarity and Authorithy

This document was unanimously approved by those present. But the Russian Orthodox Church was absent from the meeting in Ravenna because of a dispute with the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople. An important absence, because the Russian Church represents by far the largest part of the entire Orthodox world.

That intra-Orthodox dispute was later smoothed over, and the Russian Church also agreed to take part in the dialogue, on the basis of the Ravenna document and of a subsequent working text on the role of the papacy in the first millennium, drafted in Crete in 2008 by a subcommission.

But at two meetings held in Cyprus in 2009 and in Vienna in 2010, the objections of the Russian Church were so many and of such a nature as to block any reconciliation between the two sides. The Russian delegation asked and obtained that the working text of Crete should be downgraded and rewritten from top to bottom by a new subcommission. And it also expressed substantial criticisms about the document of Ravenna, which in paragraph 41 describes as follows the points of agreement and disagreement between Rome and the East:

“Both sides agree that […] Rome, as the Church that ‘presides in love’ according to the phrase of St Ignatius of Antioch, occupied the first place in the ‘taxis’, and that the bishop of Rome was therefore the ‘protos’ among the patriarchs. They disagree, however, on the interpretation of the historical evidence from this era regarding the prerogatives of the bishop of Rome as ‘protos’, a matter that was already understood in different ways in the first millennium.”

“Protos” is the Greek word that means “first.” And “taxis” is the organization of the universal Church.

The rigidity of the Russian Church on papal primacy is all the more striking in that it was accompanied during the pontificate of Benedict XVI by a growing unity of action between Moscow and Rome in the defense of unborn life, the family, religious freedom.

The Russian Church was certainly not pleased by the decision of Joseph Ratzinger, at the beginning of his pontificate, to remove from among the attributes of the pope presented in the Annuario Pontificio that of “patriarch of the West.” The Russians in fact saw that move as the latest evidence of the claim of the bishop of Rome to a primacy over the universal Church, without geographical limitations of any kind.

While on the other hand there is a favorable interpretation today, not only by the Russians but by the whole of the Orthodox world, of the insistence of the current pope, Francis, on calling himself simply “bishop of Rome.”

For this reason as well, when in the middle of last December Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the pontifical council for Christian unity, went on an official visit to Moscow and Saint Petersburg to meet with Patriarch Kirill and Metropolitan Hilarion, there were those who prognosticated rapid progress in the dialogue between Rome and Moscow, encouraged by the new pope.

But this is not what happened. Cardinal Koch indeed encountered the “great expectations” placed on Pope Francis. But he reaped only a renewed willingness for a common effort between the two Churches “concerning the defense of the family and the protection of life.”

An encounter between the pope and the patriarch of Moscow, the first of history, still seems far from becoming a reality.

As for the primacy of the pope, the patriarchate of Moscow has seen to chilling every illusion of a softening of its opposition.

A few days after Koch returned to the Vatican and at the height of the Christmas celebrations of the Catholic Church, the patriarchy of Moscow made public a document of its own in which it reiterates its disagreement with the Ravenna document and reconfirmes its complete refusal to attribute to the bishop of Rome any sort of power – other than a simply “honorific” one – over the universal Church.

The document – reproduced further below in its salient passages – has been published in Russian and English on the official website of the patriarchate of Moscow:

> Position of the Moscow Patriarchate on the problem of primacy in the Universal Church

The importance of the document is all the greater in that it was approved by the Holy Synod of the patriarchate of Moscow, which met on December 25 and 26, and adopted as “guidance in Orthodox-Catholic dialogue.” The delegates of the patriarchate will therefore not be able to depart from it in the future.

And as if to exorcise the fear that the leaders of other Churches could capitulate and submit to the primacy of Rome, the document presents in a footnote a declaration – also intransigent in nature – of the patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, taken from a press conference with him in Bulgaria in November of 2007:

“We all, the Orthodox are convinced that in the first millennium of the existence of the Church, in the times of the undivided Church, the primacy of the bishop of Rome, the pope, was recognized. However, it was honorary primacy, in love, without being legal dominion over the whole Christian Church. In other words, according to our theology, this primacy is of human order; it was established because of the need for the Church to have a head and a coordinating center.”

In Jerusalem, in May, Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew will embrace.

From Moscow they have cautioned both of them. With a forceful veto against a papal primacy that is anything more than simply honorific.


From Istanbul, in any case, has come an immediate reaction to the step taken by the patriarchate of Moscow.

Patriarch Bartholomew has invited the patriarchs and archbishops of all the Orthodox Churches to a meeting in Constantinople next March, to accelerate the preparation of the synod of all Orthodoxy set to take place in 2015. And in presenting this news, Nat da Polis, the reliable correspondent from Istanbul for the agency Asia News, has reported declarations by the metropolitan of Pergamon, Joannis Zizioulas – the most eminent living Orthodox theologian, a great admirer of Joseph Ratzinger and just as appreciated by him – according to which the risk of “self-marginalization” that is run by Orthodox Christianity today is linked to that “narcissist self-satisfaction that only leads to sterile confrontations,” when what is needed instead is an ecumenical dialogue with the culture of the day, similar to the one carried out in the first centuries by the Fathers of the Church:

> Bartholomew convokes the Primates of the Orthodox Churches  (SEE TEXT BELOW)

The second and more direct reaction is an extensive and detailed reply to the document of the patriarch of Moscow on primacy in the universal Church, written by the metropolitan of Bursa and exarch of Bithynia, Elpidophoros Lambriniadis, reproduced in its entirety in its English version here:

> A Response to the Text on Primacy of the Moscow Patriarchate (SEE TEXT BELOW)

The author of this reply is not only a worthy theologian himself, but he has a top-level role in the patriarchate of Constantinople, in the capacity of first secretary of Patriarch Bartholomew.

Metropolitan Elpidophoros has also acted as secretary of all the previous pan-Orthodox meetings held between 1998 and 2008 in preparation for the synod of all Orthodoxy. And his episcopal ordination in Istanbul in 2011 was attended by the second-in-command of the patriarchate of Moscow, Metropolitan Hilarion.

His reply to the document from Moscow therefore represents much more than a personal position. It can be attributed with confidence to the ecumenical patriarchate of Constantinople.



Patriarchate of Moscow, December 26, 2013

1. In the Holy Church of Christ, primacy belongs to her Head – our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Man. […] Various forms of primacy in the Church in her historical journey in this world are secondary versus the eternal primacy of Christ. […]

2. In the life of the Church of Christ, which lives in this age, primacy, along with synodality, is one of the fundamental principles of her order. On various levels of church life, the historically established primacy has a different nature and different sources. These levels are: 1) the diocese or eparchy, 2) the autocephalous Local Church, and 3) Universal Church.

1) On the level of diocese, primacy belongs to the bishop. […] The source of the bishop’s primacy in his diocese is the apostolic succession handed down through episcopal consecration. […] In his church domain, the bishop has full power, sacramental, administrative and magisterial. […]

2) On the level of the autocephalous Local Church, primacy belongs to the bishop elected as Primate of the Local Church by a Council of her bishops. Accordingly, the source of primacy on the level of the autocephalous Church is the election of the pre-eminent bishop by a Council (or a Synod) that enjoys the fullness of ecclesiastical power. […]

The Primate of an autocephalous Local Church acts as chairman of her Council (or Synod). Thus, the Primate does not have one-man power in an autocephalous Local Church but governs her in council, that is, in cooperation with other bishops.

3) On the level of the Universal Church as a community of autocephalous Local Churches united in one family by a common confession of faith and living in sacramental communion with one another, primacy is determined in conformity with the tradition of sacred diptychs and represents primacy in honour.

This tradition can be traced back to the canons of Ecumenical Councils […] and has been reconfirmed throughout church history in the actions of Councils of individual Local Churches and in the practice of liturgical commemoration whereby the Primate of each Autocephalous Church mentions the names of those of other Local Churches in the order prescribed by the sacred diptychs.

The order in diptychs has been changing in history. In the first millennium of church history, the primacy of honour used to belong to the chair of Rome. After the Eucharistic community between Rome and Constantinople was broken in the mid-11th century, primacy in the Orthodox Church went to the next chair in the diptych order, namely, to that of Constantinople. Since that time up to the present, the primacy of honour in the Orthodox Church on the universal level has belonged to the Patriarch of Constantinople as the first among equal Primates of Local Orthodox Churches.

The canons on which the sacred diptychs are based do not vest the “primus” (such as the bishop of Rome used to be at the time of Ecumenical Councils) with any powers on the church-wide scale.

The ecclesiological distortions ascribing to the “primus” on the universal level the functions of governance inherent in primates on other levels of church order are named in the polemical literature of the second millennium as “papism”.

3. Due to the fact that the nature of primacy which exists at various levels of church order (diocesan, local and universal) varies, the functions of the “primus” on various levels are not identical and cannot be transferred from one level to another.

To transfer the functions of the ministry of primacy from the level of an eparchy to the universal level means to recognize a special form of ministry, notably, that of a “universal hierarch” possessing the magisterial and administrative power in the whole Universal Church. By eliminating the sacramental equality of bishops, such recognition leads to the emergence of a jurisdiction of a universal first hierarch never mentioned either in holy canons or patristic tradition and resulting in the derogation or even elimination of the autocephaly of Local Churches. […]

4. […] The bishops of Rome, who enjoy the primacy of honour in the Universal Church, from the point of view of Eastern Churches, have always been patriarchs of the West, that is, primates of the Western Local Church. However, already in the first millennium of church history, a doctrine on a special divinely-originated magisterial and administrative power of the bishop of Roman as extending to the whole Universal Church began to be formed in the West.

The Orthodox Church rejected the doctrine of the Roman Church on papal primacy and the divine origin of the power of the first bishop in the Universal Church. Orthodox theologians have always insisted that the Church of Rome is one of the autocephalous Local Churches with no right to extend her jurisdiction to the territory of other Local Churches. They also believed that primacy in honour accorded to the bishops of Rome is instituted not by God but men.

Throughout the second millennium up to today, the Orthodox Church has preserved the administrative structure characteristic of the Eastern Church of the first millennium. Within this structure, each autocephalous Local Church, being in dogmatic, canonical and Eucharistic unity with other Local Churches, is independent in governance. In the Orthodox Church, there was no and has never been a single administrative center on the universal level.

In the West, on the contrary, the development of a doctrine on the special power of the bishop of Rome, whereby the supreme power in the Universal Church belongs to the bishop of Rome as successor to St. Peter and vicar of Christ on the earth, has led to the formation of a completely different administrative model of church order with a single universal center in Rome. […]

5. […] The patriarchal chair of Constantinople enjoys the primacy of honour on the basis of the sacred diptychs recognized by all the Local Orthodox Churches. The content of this primacy is defined by a consensus of Local Orthodox Churches expressed in particular at pan-Orthodox conferences for preparation of a Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church. […]


The background of the dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox on the primacy of the pope:

> Papal Primacy. Russia Heads the Resistance Against Rome (6.10.2010)

> “The Pope Is the First Among the Patriarchs.” Just How Remains to Be Seen (25.1.2010)

And the complete text of the working document produced in Crete in 2008:

> The Role of the Bishop of Rome in the Communion of the Church in the First Millennium


English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.

» 01/07/2014 13:01
Bartholomew convokes the Primates of the Orthodox Churches
by NAT da Polis
Meeting to set guidelines and timeframe for Preparatory Commission of the Pan-Orthodox Synod . But also to highlight the need to go beyond “localisms” and undertake joint initiatives . Zizioulas: self-marginalization the greatest danger of the Christian world today .

Istanbul (AsiaNews ) – The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has convoked the patriarchs and archbishops of all the Orthodox Churches to a meeting in Istanbul, next March, for an exchange of views on the guidelines and timeframe for the Preparatory Commission of the Pan-Orthodox Synod, scheduled for 2015. Thus far, most meetings have been dealt exclusively with procedural matters.

The last meeting of the Primates of the Orthodox Churches was held in 2008, also in Constantinople

In addition to talk of the Preparatory Commission, next March’s encounter is also motivated by Constantinople’s desire to remind sister churches that they cannot face the challenges of a economically globalized but spiritually fractured world – with all the negative consequences that follow for human existence – without joint initiatives. Orthodox circles see this as an attempt to move beyond a self-marginalization born of a localist mentality that has characterized the Orthodox Churches in the modern era, partly because of a certain post- Ottoman filettism (nationalism).

Constantinople, also thanks to its historical supra-national mentality, is attempting to prevent the introversion of the Orthodox world . This because there are many in the Orthodox world who see an Orthodox Church fearful of the social challenges of the new era, a church that is content to perform simple acts of charity and obsess itself in discussions on individual social issues, thus avoiding having to deal with the whole crisis that afflicts the human existence in modern society. Individual churches that, with the approval from their synod, undertake “local” initiatives, without keeping in mind the universal needs and challenges.

In this regard, the Metropolitan of Pergamon, Ioannis Zizioulas , co-chairman of ecumenical dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox and eminent theologian has told us that ” the greatest danger to Orthodoxy , but also for the whole Christian world, is not atheism, secular power in general or its various enemies. Nobody in history has been able to dispel the truth. The greatest danger comes from its self-marginalization . And this happens every time a movement, a spiritual force refuses to confront and come to dialogue with all social and intellectual movements of its era. Why must always remember that history is not monolithic”.

“The story – Zizioulas continues – is the space in which you exercise the freedom of the human being . And freedom in the ‘arc of human life is characterized by the expression of diverse opinions and consequently the dialectic of “you “and” no. “Only at the end ( in the eschatological sense ) human freedom will be expressed as a” yes ” , that turned to God and to the truth.

The Church has established itself over time on this consideration. From the beginning, the first Christian communities dedicated themselves to constructive dialogue with Judaism and the Greek world. It reached its highest point in the so-called patristic period, in which the Church dared to tackle a constructive dialogue with the culture of the time, sealing it with his own truth . Only in the modern world has the so-called division between sacred and profane taken place in the world of culture, which has pushed the Church out of the cultural and civil sphere, with damaging consequences not only for the Church, but for civilization itself”.

“Therefore – continues Zizioulas – any escape from the historical reality and the continuing search for identity exclusively in the past, without taking into account the historical, social and cultural context in which the tradition of identity developed, is equivalent to first Orthodoxy and then to marginalizing romanticizing”.

“It ‘s very important then – said the Metropolitan of Pergamon – that we men of the Church, we give up our narcissist self-satisfaction that only leads to sterile confrontations.  Instead we must learn how to offer creation the essence of the true witness, that of Our Lord”.



A Response to the Text on Primacy of the Moscow Patriarchate

by Elpidophoros Lambriniadis, Metropolitan of Bursa

In a recent synodal decision, [1] the Church of Russia seems once again [2] to choose its isolation both from theological dialogue with the Catholic Church and from the communion of the Orthodox Churches. Two points are worth noting from the outset, which are indicative of the intent of the Church of Russia’s Synod:

First, its desire to thwart the text of Ravenna, [3] claiming seemingly theological reasons to justify the absence of its delegation from the specific plenary meeting of the bilateral commission (an absence dictated, as everyone knows, by other reasons [4]); and

Second, to challenge in the most open and formal manner (namely, by synodal decree) the primacy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate within the Orthodox world, observing that the text of Ravenna, on which all the Orthodox Churches agreed (with the exception, of course, of the Church of Russia), determines the primacy of the bishop on the three levels of ecclesiological structure in the Church (local, provincial, universal) in a way that supports and ensures the primacy and first-throne Orthodox Church.

The text of the position of the Moscow Patriarchate on the “problem” (as they call it) of Primacy in the universal Church does not deny either the sense or the significance of primacy; and up to this point, it is correct. In addition, however, it endeavors to achieve (indeed, as we shall see, in an indirect way) the introduction of two distinctions related to the concept of primacy.

1. Separation between ecclesiological and theological primacy

The first differentiation contrasts primacy as it applies to the life of the Church (ecclesiology) and as understood in theology. Thus the text of the Moscow Patriarchate is forced to adopt the novel distinction between on the one hand the ‘primary’ primacy of the Lord and on the other hand the ‘secondary’ primacies [“various forms of primacy… are secondary”] of bishops, although later in the same text it will be suggested that the bishop is the image of Christ [cf 2:1], which seems to imply that the two primacies identical or at least comparable, if not simply identified. Even the scholastic formulation of such distinctions between ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ primacies demonstrates the stealthy contradiction.

Moreover, the desired separation of ecclesiology from theology (or Christology) would have destructive consequences for both. If the Church is indeed the Body of Christ and the revelation of the Trinitarian life, then we cannot talk about differences and artificial distinctions that shatter the unity of the mystery of the Church, which encapsulates the theological (in the narrow sense of the word) and Christological formulations alike. Otherwise, church life is severed from theology and is reduced to a dry administrative institution, while on the other hand a theology without repercussions in the life and structure of the Church becomes a sterile academic preoccupation. According to Metropolitan John of Pergamon: “The separation of the administrative institutions of the Church from dogma is not simply unfortunate; it is even dangerous.” [5]

2. The separation of the different ecclesiological levels

The second differentiation which in our opinion is attempted by the text of the Moscow Patriarchate pertains to the three ecclesiological levels in the structure of the Church. It is here, it seems, that the entire weight of that text hangs. The text states that the primacy of the local diocese is understood and institutionalized in one way, while on the provincial level of an autocephalous archdiocese it is understood in another, and on the level of the universal church in yet another way (cf. 3: “Due to the fact that the nature of primacy, which exists at various levels of church order (diocesan, local and universal) vary, the functions of the primus on various levels are not identical and cannot be transferred from one level to another”).

As the Synodal decision claims, not only do these three primacies differ, but even their sources are different: the primacy of the local bishop stems from the apostolic succession (2:1), the primacy of the head of an autocephalous Church from his election by the synod (2:2), and the primacy of the head of the universal church from the rank attributed to him by the diptychs (3:3). Thus, as the text of the Moscow Patriarchate concludes, these three levels and their corresponding primacies cannot be compared among themselves, as done by the text of Ravenna on the basis of the 34th Apostolic canon.

What is clearly apparent here is the agonizing effort in the present Synodal decision to render primacy as something external and therefore foreign to the person of the first-hierarch. This is what we consider to be the reason why the position of the Moscow Patriarchate insists so greatly on determining the sources of primacy, which always differ from the person of the first-hierarch, in such a way that the first-hierarch is the recipient, rather than the source of his primacy. Does perhaps this dependence also imply independence for the primacy? For the Church, an institution is always hypostasized in a person. We can never encounter an impersonal institution, as the primacy might be perceived without a first-hierarch. It should be clarified here that the primacy of the first-hierarch is also hypostasized by the specific place, the local Church, the geographical region over which as first-hierarch he presides. [6] It is important at this point to observe the following logical and theological contradictions:

(i) If the First-Hierarch is a recipient of (his) primacy, then primacy exists without and regardless of the First, which is impossible. This appears very clearly in the reasons proffered for the primacy on the provincial and ecumenical levels. For the provincial level, the source of the primacy is considered to be the provincial synod; but can there be a synod without a First-Hierarch? The dialectical relationship between the First-Hierarch and the synod, as formulated by the 34th canon of the Apostles (as well as the 9th and 16th canons of Antioch, according to which a synod without a first-hierarch is considered incomplete), is abrogated for the sake of a unilateral relationship where the many comprise the First, contradicting all reason that recognizes the First both as the constitutive factor and guarantor of the unity of the many. [7] A second example of logical contradiction is presented by the Diptychs. Here the symptom is perceived as the cause and the signified mistaken as the sign. The Diptychs are not the source of primacy on the interprovincial level but rather its expression – indeed, only one of its expressions. Of themselves, the Diptychs are an expression of the order and hierarchy of the autocephalous churches, but such a hierarchy requires the First-Hierarch (and then a second, a third, and so on); they cannot in some retrospective way institutionalize the primacy on which they are based.

In order to understand these innovations more clearly, let us look for a moment at what all this would mean if we related and applied them to the life of the Holy Trinity, the true source of all primacy (“Thus says God, the king of Israel, the God of Sabaoth who delivered him; I am the first” Is. 44:6). [8]

The Church has always and systematically understood the person of the Father as the First (“the monarchy of the Father”) [9] in the communion of persons of the Holy Trinity. If we were to follow the logic of the text of the Russian Synod, we would also have to claim that God the Father is not Himself the cause without beginning of the divinity and fatherhood (“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.” Eph. 3.14-15), but becomes a recipient of his own “primacy.” Whence? From the other Persons of the Holy Trinity? Yet how can we suppose this without invalidating the order of theology, as St. Gregory the Theologian writes, or, even worse, without overturning – perhaps we should say “confusing” – the relations of the Persons of the Holy Trinity? Is it possible for the Son or the Holy Spirit to “precede” the Father?

ii) When the text of the Synod in Russia refuses to accept an “ecumenical prelate” (“universal hierarch”) under the pretext that the universality of such a hierarch “eliminates the sacramental equality of bishops” (3:3) it is merely formulating a sophistry. As to their priesthood, of course, all bishops are equal, but they neither are nor can be equal as bishops of specific cities. The sacred canons (like the 3rd canon of the Second Ecumenical Council, the 24th of the Fourth Ecumenical Council, and the 36th of the Quinisext Council) rank the cities, attributing to some the status of a Metropolitanate and to others the status of a Patriarchate. Among the latter, the further attribute to one primatial responsibility, to another secondary responsibility, and so on. Not all local Churches are equal, whether in order or in rank. Moreover, to the extent that a bishop is never a bishop without specific assignment but rather the presiding bishop of a local Church – that is to say, he is always the bishop of a specific city (which is an inseparable feature and condition of the episcopal ordination) – then bishops too are accordingly ranked (that is to say, there is a particular rank attributed to a Metropolitanate and another to a Patriarchate; a particular rank is attributed to the ancient Patriarchates, as endorsed by the Ecumenical Councils, and another attributed to the modern Patriarchates). Thus, within such an order of rank, it is inconceivable for there not to be a first-hierarch.[10] On the contrary, in recent times, we observe the application of a novel primacy, namely a primacy of numbers, which those who today invoke the canonical universal primacy of the Mother Church dogmatize about a rank that is untestified in Church tradition, but rather based on the principle ubi russicus ibi ecclesia russicae, that is to say “wherever there is a Russian, there too the jurisdiction of the Russian Church extends.”

In the long history of the Church, the first-hierarch was the bishop of Rome. After Eucharistic communion with Rome was broken, canonically the first-hierarch of the Orthodox Church is the archbishop of Constantinople. In the case of the archbishop of Constantinople, we observe the unique coincidence of all three levels of primacy, namely the local (as Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome), the regional (as Patriarch), and the universal or worldwide (as Ecumenical Patriarch). This threefold primacy translates into specific privileges, such as the right of appeal and the right to grant or remove autocephaly (for example, the Archdioceses-Patriarchates of Ochrid, Pec and Turnavo, etc.), a privilege that the Ecumenical Patriarch exercised even in decisions not validated by decisions of the Ecumenical Councils, as in the case of modern Patriarchates, the first of which is that of Moscow.

The primacy of the archbishop of Constantinople has nothing to do with the diptychs, which, as we have already said, merely express this hierarchical ranking (which, again in contradictory terms the text of the Moscow Patriarchate concedes implicitly but denies explicitly). If we are going to talk about the source of a primacy, then the source of primacy is the very person of the Archbishop of Constantinople, who precisely as bishop is one “among equals,” but as Archbishop of Constantinople is the first-hierarch without equals (primus sine paribus).


[1] Reading and citing from the English text. “Position of the Moscow Patriarchate on the problem of primacy in the Universal Church,” as published on the official website of the Patriarchate of Moscow:

[2] Characteristic examples of other instances of such isolation include the absence of the Patriarchate of Moscow from the Conference of European Churches, as well as the now established strategy of the representatives of this Church to celebrate the Divine Liturgy separately from the other representatives of Orthodox Churches by closing themselves within the local Embassies of the Russian Federation whenever there is an opportunity for a Panorthodox Liturgy in various contexts.

[3] His Eminence Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Messinia has dealt with this matter in a recent article published on December 30, 2013, on the website:

[4] As for what exactly occurred in Ravenna in 2007, and the painful impressions recorded by Roman Catholic observers, see the analysis of Fr. Aidan Nichols in his book Rome and the Eastern Churches, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2nd edition, 2010, pp. 368-9: In October 2006 [sic], the commission resumed its discussions at Ravenna, though the event was marred by a ‘walkout’ on the part of the Moscow patriarchate’s representative. Bishop Hilarion’s protest was caused not for once by the wrongdoings, real or imagined, of the Catholic Church but by the presence of a delegation from the Estonian Orthodox church, whose autocephaly, underwritten by Constantinople, is still denied in Russia. His action demonstrated, of course, the need precisely for a strong universal primacy so as to balance synodality in the Church.” Elsewhere the author writes: “[t]he decision of the Moscow patriarchate in October 2007 to withdraw its representatives from the Ravenna meeting… was not only an irritating impediment to that dialogue; it was precisely the sort of happening that makes Catholics think the orthodox need the pope as much as the pope needs them.” (p. 369)

[5] “The Synodal Institution: Historical, Ecclesiological and Canonical Issues,” in Theologia 80 (2009), pp. 5-6. [In Greek]

[6] Thus, while the Patriarch of Antioch has for a long time resided in Damascus, he remains the Patriarch of Antioch since Damascus lies within the geographical jurisdiction of that church.

[7] Metropolitan John of Pergamon, “Recent Discussions on Primacy in Orthodox Theology,” in the volume edited by Walter Cardinal Kasper, The Petrine Ministry: Catholics and Orthodox in Dialogue, New York: The Newman Press, 2006, pp. 231-248. Also see Metropolitan John of Pergamon, “Eucharistic Ecclesiology in the Orthodox Tradition,” Theologia 80 (2009), p. 23. [In Greek]

[8] I have personally dealt with this subject during a lecture at the Holy Cross School of Theology in Boston: “Indeed, in the level of the Holy Trinity the principle of unity is not the divine essence but the Person of the Father (‘Monarchy’ of the Father), at the ecclesiological level of the local Church the principle of unity is not the presbyterium or the common worship of the Christians but the person of the Bishop, so to in the Pan-Orthodox level the principle of unity cannot be an idea nor an institution but it needs to be, if we are to be consistent with our theology, a person.” (

[9] In his 3rd Theological Oration, St. Gregory the Theologian writes: “As for us, we honor Him as the monarchy” (ΒΕΠΕΣ, 59, p. 239). The concept of monarchy corresponds to “the order of theology“ (5th Theological Oration, p. 279). The All-Holy Trinity does not comprise a federation of persons; So we should not be scandalized when the Theologian himself of the Fathers speaks of the monarchy and primacy of the divine Father.

[10] This argument has been clearly articulated in the article by John Manoussakis, entitled “Primacy and Ecclesiology: The State of the Question,” in the collective work entitled Orthodox Constructions of the West, edited by Aristotle Papanikolaou and George Demacopoulos, New York: Fordham University Press, 2013, p. 233.


About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas


  1. anselmusjmj says:

    Our Lord emphasized universality and collegiality in the four gospels (cf. John ch.6). It is a shame that these eastern patriarchs are so enamored with isolationism, which prevents true unity and collegiality.

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