A few hours ago (14th September 2018), the Synod of the Moscow Patriarchy declared its decision to cease mentioning the name of the Ecumenical Patriarch during the Divine Liturgy, and consequently, the co-serving with the clergy of the Ecumenical Throne. It is not the first time that the daughter – the Russian Church, does something like this to its Mother – the Constantinople Church. Actually the key issue is not what is yet to come. It’s rather what would the Orthodox Church be without the Ecumenical Patriarch. Some other kind of Protestantism, but a more dangerous one, because it would only be covered with the cloak of truth.
In the Greek language the adverbs completely change the meaning of the verb. Thus, the meaning of «αποδέχομαι» (ανέχομαι – I agree, tolerate) is totally different from the meaning of «παραδέχομαι» (I accept, recognize). In every temptation and crises of its centuries old history the great Church of Christ, had demonstrated a prolonged maternal patience for the canonical mischiefs of its children, and this attitude slowly resulted with a feeling of imprudence on their part. The fact that the Ecumenical Patriarchate exercises enduring patience regarding the uncanonical behavior, in order to preserve the unity, doesn’t mean that this patience should be considered as a weakness, which some might abuse to build on it their extraterritorial and uncanonical claims.
For centuries now the Church has an established and determined way of understanding and accepting the unity and the communing within the ecclesiastic frames. The Eucharistic mentioning of the name of the Bishop on local level and the mentioning of the names of the Patriarchs and Heads of the autocephalous Churches on higher level, during the Holy Liturgy, are a sign that each Local Church moves in the right direction and is not affected by its own willfulness in the inter- orthodox unity.
This usual mentioning, which is better known as a “Diptych”, in the Divine Liturgy is not just a formal and undetermined part of the service, but a rather essential element of it which determines the balance and the unchangeable consistency of the Body of our Lord, i.e. the Church. Out of this “detail” we know that a certain Local Church is in Eucharistic and general communion with the other Orthodox Churches. Such great is the importance of this continuous and unwritten custom, that without it the undividedness in the ecclesiastical life looses sense. Glory to God, in these last years everyone became aware that our faith could not exist without the ecclesiology. Ecclesiology on the other hand makes no sense without the Eucharist. This inseparate coexistence of theory and life with all its details in the Church is what makes it so attractive, because the interaction of the small and the big keeps the balance of the theandric nature and its perspective. When the ecclesiastical life departs from the healthy and generally accepted way ahead, problems arise. Usually the ecclesiastical issues are created on “canonical” base, when Bishops act upon a whim and disturb the harmony, without the maturity so necessary in the Church
There should be no possibility of overstepping that which is generally accepted, with some neologisms and personal interpretations, which are so foreign to the conciliar experience of the ecclesiastic reality.
It’s crystal clear that the decision of the Moscow Synod was made in order to discourage the canonical determination of the Ecumenical Patriarch to solve a prolonged schism, after the appeal of the concerned “schismatic” Bishops.
This aspect of events is really interesting because it undoubtedly reveals the side which chose to make such a step, a step that has no background in the Orthodox practice, since the Church in Moscow accepted the faith, the education, all the civilizational benefits, the autocephaly and the patriarchal dignity from Constantinople, having in mind, of course, that in future an Ecumenical Council should be organized. How is it possible, I wonder, for the daughter to cease communing with the Mother? Does it have the canonical right to do so? I would like to remind all the well-intentioned readers that the Ecumenical Patriarchate is not just one of the existing Local Autocephalous Churches, because according to the Divine and Sacred Canons of the Ecumenical Councils, as well as according to the centuries old established ecclesiastic practice, it has the right/ responsibility/ duty of transboundary jurisdiction (see appeals, proclaiming autocephalies, stavropegia etc.).
The natural and constant gratitude of the Moscow Patriarchy to the Mother Constantinople Church and its institutional duty to refer to him (the Constantinople Patriarch) to recognize him as its “canonical” head, was probably easily overstepped. In spite of this, even the making of this radical step in no way undermines, canonically and historically, the appellation duty of the Ecumenical Patriarch. According to this very duty, the Moscow Patriarch is given the dignity to be the first after the old Patriarchs in the Diptych and life of the Orthodox Church. It’s insanely unreasonable for some ecclesiastic persons to deny the duty of the Ecumenical Patriarch, because all that they have today is due to him, and was given to them with some very concrete and precise conditions. Maybe the panic and the feeling of no other alternative often prevent us from correct reasoning on the matter. But we are all responsible to retain the sacred issues in their usual and generally accepted frames, without the stunts and excessive behavior which could complicate the inter-Orthodox communication. No one could, nor does he have a theoretical and practical power of attorney to forbid the Ecumenical Patriarch to be involved in the healing of wounds of the Orthodox body caused by wrong choices, especially when this activity of his is within the clearly defined and unchangeable frames of his ecclesiastic responsibilities. Who could deny the authority and the permanent power of the exhausting activity of the Ecumenical Patriarch in the healing of every inter-Orthodox wound? Who would be the one, for the sake of some insignificant and non-ecclesiastic attitudes, to wish to destroy the Orthodox building, without personally suffering the consequences as well?
I will repeat once again: It’s unreasonable for a Local Church, the very Church which attained its identity due to the initiative and engagement of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, to cease communing with it, since it is the real source of the canonical status of its existence. The Fathers of the Ecumenical Councils entrusted the Constantinople Patriarch with the central role in the Church and these decisions cannot be altered just because some Local Churches today feel self-sufficient in the wealth and the mundane power they have.
The truth is that in this historical moment all of us, whether small or big, are obliged to consider the responsibilities we have been given and rise up to the level this situation requires. We should all get deep into the issue of the specific choice the Moscow Patriarch and his Synod have made, and straighten things denoting that everyone who dares to take out the cornerstone of the Orthodox Building, with reference to the Ecumenical Patriarch, he himself would personally commit a suicide and dishonor our faith with immense and irreversible consequences.
“Let us stand well, let us stand with fear!”