On the discussion blog for the American Orthodox Institute, there has recently been a flurry of activity related to Orthodox jurisdictional unity and disunity in America. This morning, someone posted a letter from the faculty of the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology concerning the proper role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the relations among the Orthodox Churches. You may read the letter and the site’s commentary—“Holy Cross Faculty Weighs in on ‘Distinctive Prerogatives’ of Ecumenical Patriarch.” I weighed in myself with the following comment:
It is heartening to see movement to address some problems, though I wonder if the proposed solutions will be worse than the current mess.
The practical arguments for an Ecumenical Patriarchate active beyond its own sphere are good ones. They are the same arguments for papal primacy, and it is easy to see how administratively such a system makes sense. Of course, we must ensure that enhanced administrative power does not mutate into the sacrilege in the Vatican. Just as importantly, though, we should recognize that only a healthy, steadfast Church can be trusted with such powers and responsibilities. Indeed, the ancient Roman Church earned that trust. Does Constantinople of today look like it merits the same faith?
For me, the elephantine issue is the sorry state of the Ecumenical Patriarchate itself, robbed of its local population and in captivity to secular Turks. On another post, one of you mentioned Patriarch Meletios Metaksakes “of sorrowful memory” (which is, by the way, very funny). From him until today, it seems as though the Ecumenical Patriarchate has been filled by modernists more concerned with secular matters than with safeguarding the Church and proclaiming the faith. For instance, the calendar issue created disorder, schism, and a host of ills in the Churches, thanks to the short-sighted actions of the E.P. It still has not been resolved. I do not wish to argue about the calendar, but it is clear that such a change should have involved the whole Church in consensus. Greek Christian life still has not recovered from it. You might expect the global leader of the Orthodox to handle this particular anomaly in our liturgical and communal life, especially since said leader caused it. But no . . . Global warming, prying open a back door to Italy for the Turks, and sending warm fuzzies to the W.C.C. are the Ecumenical Patriarch’s priorities. These are not fitting for a successor to John Chrysostom. Furthermore, with the political situation and the circumstances of the Christian flock in Turkey as they are now, what hope can we have in the future for sober leadership in the exercise of the “distinctive ministry of the Ecumenical Patriarchate”?
I am rather ignorant about all the political obstacles, but it would be great to see the Athonites elect the patriarch’s successor in addition to the synod. They should just ignore Turkey’s desires. If the Kemalist state refuses to allow the new patriarch to enter Turkey to ascend the throne in the Phanar, then Turkey will have quite a P.R. nightmare on its hands. I am not one that says that the Ecumenical Patriarchate should be moved. Yet, we should be willing to play diplomatic hardball with the secularists and infidels . . . they should elect a successor who may have to govern from the Turkish border. How long would any government be able to tolerate such an embarrassment? I say that we stop whining about Halki and force the Turks to make the uncomfortable decisions.
Until then—until Constantinople is a functioning Church again instead of a bureaucracy in a military compound—then it cannot be trusted to wield the sort of administrative authority that it may have had in the days of the empire. Whether this occurs because we drive the Mohammedans back across Anatolia (personal fantasy), the E.P. reabsorbs the Church of Greece (much easier to do), or the monks of Athos provide the candidates and the electors for the patriarchal throne (easiest solution) doesn’t matter for the topic under consideration.
Several Orthodox Americans on the site and elsewhere resent “foreign leadership” in the Church. I, myself, could care less if the primatial bishop of my Church is Greek, Russian, Australian, American, or Japanese. I just want episcopal leadership to be faithful and competent. Therefore, my objections to the Ecumenical Patriarchate have nothing to do with its overseas status but with its unseemly contemporary track record.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Church in Constantinople, the last century was not a good time for it or for any Orthodox Church. The Ottomans were oppressive, but they generally tolerated Greeks, Armenians, and other Christians. Persecution, genocide, and the like only rarely occurred, which makes the Ottomans beacons of benevolence and of tolerance in the annals of Mohammedan history. When the secularists took over the country after the fall of the Ottoman empire, nationalist and religious tensions rose, in part due to Turkish racism and in part due to political realities. It is difficult (and, I would add, eventually impossible) to maintain a multiethnic state without a ruling royal family or aristocracy to unite the disparate tribes. During the Ottoman period, Anatolia was full of Greek Christians, whose Greek speaking ancestors had populated Asia Minor for thousands of years. During the twentieth century, however, the Turks claimed their “Turkey” for themselves, ethnically cleansing the country to the extent that they were (and still are) able to do so. Now, the Ecumenical Patriarchate consists of only a few thousand Christians in Constantinople itself. This bitter reality has tempted the Ecumenical Patriarchs to rethink their episcopacy in terms of an Eastern papacy as consolation for their lost flock.
The Western powers should have allowed Russia to push the Ottomans into the sea in the nineteenth century. The descendants of the peoples who won at Poitiers, Lepanto, and Vienna now face their own crescent menace—but this time, it is one of their own choosing. May they awake from their slumber!
Regardless, the Church will survive. Yet, I prefer Christendom to dhimmitude.