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Thursday, 27 February 2014

Response of Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus to the Moscow Statement on Primacy in the Universal Church

We are most grateful to a friend of the Society's for translating this important and closely reasoned answer to the Moscow Statement in favour of the present efforts of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches

For the Moscow Statement and other responses - visit here first and follow the links.



Primacy in the Orthodox Church
To His Beatitude the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, the Lord Kyrill

In all godliness and with the deepest sentiments of gratitude on behalf of the benevolent clergy and the Christ-loving people of our most holy Metropolis of the naval city of Piraeus, the first port of Greece, I am prompted to offer warm congratulatory greetings and sincere thanks for the text adopted by you at the session of 25-26 December 2013 (minutes section 157), as elaborated by the Synodal Theological Commission concerning the ‘Primacy within the Church at universal level’; to which I also present in this letter a substantial objection at the end.

Your position expresses absolutely the historical-canonical authentication of the constitution of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, and crushes the erroneous belief and heresy of modernised Origenism and ‘subordinationism’ which reek of monarchism and introduce gradation of the Persons of the Trinity; a diminishing, in all probability unconscious, of their co-essentiality and a distortion of the divine properties in order to satisfy the worldly idol of a supposed global ‘hieratic authority’ corresponding to the ‘monarchy and primacy of authority of God the Father’.

Such an erroneous belief and heresy of Origen has been condemned in the condemnation, by the 5th Ecumenical Synod, of Origen and his stance, termed ‘tragic’, by which ‘the Word is a second God’ (On John Vol 5.39) and ‘the Father Himself is two Gods, one power’ (Dial. with Heraclides BEP 16.367); ‘cannot be compared to the Father because He is an image, but an image of the goodness of the Father and not goodness itself’ (De Princip. 4.4.1)

The undivided Orthodox Catholic Church, emphasising the divine, spiritual, mystical and invisible element, has not given its organisation any worldly, legal and external character, but a spiritual and mystical one, nevertheless as a sensible and visible communion of living persons it was fashioned by Her Divine Builder hierarchically but not hierocratically.

In the beginning the ecclesiastical hierarchy was composed of the Apostles who received the highest ecclesiastical authority. For this purpose, the Lord ‘appointed twelve to be with Him and to send them out to preach and with the power to heal diseases’ (MK 3.14), and subsequently He ‘appointed seventy others and sent them out two by two’ (Lk 10.1)

Addressing them in His first appearance after the Resurrection, He said ‘As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. And when He had said this He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn 20.21), and providing them with spiritual power, He said ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’ (Mt 28.19), confirming that ‘He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me’ (Lk 10.16). In this way the Lord Himself established in the Church the Apostles and through them passed on her teaching and her mysteries and spiritual authority. But this authority was not the personal [possession] of the Apostles but transmissible to their successors.

In the same way the Apostles and the Church in general received from the Lord the authority to ‘ordain rulers (bishops) on all the earth’ (St Basil PG 29.413; St Jn Chrys. PG 52.777), receiving ‘through the laying on of hands the grace of the Holy Spirit’ (Basil PG 32.669) and thereafter through them, Presbyters and Deacons.

The Church consequently was composed of the two orders of the hierarchy and the laity as a spiritual communion composed of shepherds and the flocks of the faithful, inasmuch as ‘the order in the Churches is the existence of a flock and the appointment of shepherds’ (St Greg. Naz. PG 36.185). Both of these orders are absolutely necessary and indispensably united and inseparable constituent elements of the Church.

Wherefore with good reason the Holy Fathers deplore both rule by the clergy and rule by the laity, as well as the separation of the two orders of the Church, and they teach the unity, equality and love as of members of the one and same body, so that they are ‘one in the Lord, the former leading towards the good, the latter following in concord’ (Basil PG 32.820). All the faithful as members of the body of the Church are equal to each other because ‘all have been made worthy of the same honour’ and ‘the most fundamental things of all are common to all - baptism, salvation through faith, having God as Father, all participating in the same Spirit.’ (Jn Chrys. PG 59.75; 62.81). The distribution of various charisms does not remove the equality of honour of the members of the body of the Church, but on the contrary it contributes to the formation and the completion of the one body. According to the great Gregory the Theologian ‘We are all one body in Christ or else individually members of Christ and of each other; for the one rules and presides, the other is led and directed, and neither do both have the same activity, unless to rule is made the same as being ruled, and both become one assembled and composed into one Christ by the same Spirit’ (PG 36.185).

Through the Synodical resolution of the Apostles, Matthias was brought into their number and the first deacons were chosen, in the same way that Paul and Barnabas were brought into apostolic service (Acts 1.15-26; 6.1-7; 13.1-4); so too the disagreement concerning the manner of receiving converts from the Gentiles into the Church was settled by an Apostolic Synod (Acts13.1-4), and in this way the hierarchical synodical system was introduced in to the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, by which no bishop is the unique bearer of the entire episcopal authority, but rather the Synod of all the bishops of the Church coming together. Above this external and temporal government, the Theanthropic Lord s recognised as the true Authority and Head of the Church, because He is the ‘head of the body of the Church; He is the Beginning, the First-Born from the dead, that in everything He might be pre-eminent’ (Coloss.1.18).

Beneath Christ the most-high Head, as visible head of the Church, stands the Ecumenical Synod, not constituting any monarchical primacy of authority or monarchical system of administration, and not founded on the despotic primacy of authority of any of the presidents of the local holy Synods of the Autocephalous Churches. Otherwise, as is proven historically. it would be impossible to depose heresiarch first-hierarchs like Macedonius, Nestorius, Dioscorus, Severus, Honorius etc.

Hence particular emphasis is laid in the text on the 34th canon of the Holy Apostles, as rule and charter of the synodical constitution of the Church, through which the unity of the faith and the accuracy of doctrine are preserved.

Otherwise the tragic historical course of the once senior patriarchate of Old Rome and the West, now fallen away and stained by heretical drivel, manifold crimes, most shameful falsifications such as the “Petrine” dogma, the pseudo-Constantinian endowment, pseudo-Isidorian ordinances, pseudo-Clementine and pseudo-Pepinous endowment - all these constitute a glaring example of the distortion of the polity of the Church as handed down by the Apostles and enacted by the Holy and Ecumenical Synods.

As far as concerns the attempt to establish a primacy of universal competence and authority in the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, corresponding to the Roman Catholic deviation, I am bound to point out that for the organisation of ecclesiastical affairs there prevailed from the beginning a system related to the political administration for the creation of ecclesiastical provinces.

Large regions were organised according to the 34th Apostolic canon as extensive eccclesiastical departments, having at their head the ‘primate’ for the dioceses of the East (Antioch), Egypt (Alexandria), Cappadocia-Pontus (Caesarea) and Asia (Ephesus); the primates being called ‘Exarchs’. Mention is made of the primates in canons 9 and 17 of the Fourth Ecumenical Synod in Chalcedon. The Exarchs of Alexandria and Antioch were later called Patriarchs, and the title was extended also to those of Constantinople and Jerusalem. In the 126th Novel of Justinian, they are called ‘their Beatitudes the Archbishops and Patriarchs of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Theoupolis (Antioch) and Jerusalem’. From the sixth century, the Patriarchate of Constantinople is called Ecumenical, and in the Synod of Constantinople of 587, St John the Faster was named as ‘Ecumenical Patriarch’. The epithet ‘ecumenical’ was not unknown previously in ecclesiastical usage. The word ‘oecumene’ was endearing and expressive, and the title was not pretentious or egotistical, and on occasions it was used as a decorative epithet given to various bishops, popes and even monks. It is included in Justinian’s Novels and in Synodical documents. It never connoted at any time the exercise in any manner whatsoever of universal catholic authority, and in the case of the Patriarch of Constantinople it corresponded to the political power of the Byzantine state and the belief, founded on the passage of time, that the throne of Constantinople comprises the safe guarantee of the comfortable and healthy prevalence of the teaching of Christ in its orthodox form. In this spirit, moreover, the hymnography of the Church calls the great Fathers of the Church ‘enlighteners of the oecumene’ and ‘ecumenical teachers [universal doctors]’.

In substantiation of the above are the points put forward by the late Archbishop of Athens Chrysostomos Papadopoulos, professor at Athens University, in his scholarly work ‘Ecclesiastical History’ pp.96ff., in which he says ‘Pope Gregory the First, in opposing the use by the Patriarch of Constantinople, John the Faster, of the title ‘Ecumenical’ (although the use of the title was made long before by Patriarchs of Constaninople), sent letters of protest in the first of which, around the beginning of 595 he says, amongst other things the following: that ‘Johnwill find himself without defence at the Second Coming before the Lord, the Head of the Church, because through the title ‘Ecumenical’ he is trying to subject all its members. For with this corrupt word he imitates Lucifer, since what else does he say thereby if not ‘I shall ascend into heaven and place my throne above the stars’? The stars are the bishops of the ecumenical Church, all of whom John seeks to surpass. When with affliction I reflect on all this (he wrote), and with fear I bear in mind the inscrutable counsels of God, I am choked with tears, the beating of my heart is checked at the thought that such a holy man has allowed flattering tongues to seduce him into such conceit that, having appropriated a corrupt title, he is striving to imitate Lucifer, who in wishing to be on a par with God lost even the glory of likeness. For truly the Apostle Peter is the first member of the holy and ecumenical Church, whereas Paul, Andrew, John - what are they but heads over a part of the peoples? And nonetheless, all the members of the Church are under one Head, both the saints before the Law, the saints after the Law, and the saints under grace - all these, fulfilling in themselves the body of the Lord, are numbered together with the members of the Church, and not one of them ever wished to be called ‘ecumenical’.

In like wise, he wrote in 597 amongst other things, to the Emperor Maurice and the Patriarchs Eulogius of Alexandria and Anastasius of Antioch that he ‘regards as a forerunner of the antichrist, or rather as beyond the antichrist one who dares to call himself ‘ecumenical’. Since not only he himself but all the Church was scandalized by the arrogant title which opposes the canons of the Synods and the very commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ. For is it possible for him who appropriates the novel title, contrary to the commandments of the Gospel and the ordinances of the Synods, to be first without humiliating the rest? If anyone in the Church of Constantinople assumes such a name as this, through which he would become the judge of all, the ecumenical Church would be shaken to its foundations. For anyone who calls himself Ecumenical Patriarch annuls the Patriarchal rank of the other Patriarchs. In particular he [Gregory] begged the Patriarchs to pray to God that the living members of the body of Christ should not be poisoned with the venom of this word and that the diabolical invention of this title should not insult the other patriarchs who should neither grant nor receive the title, but take care to ensure that the bishops under them guard themselves against the pollution of this word. If the opposite happens, we who remain ought with all our soul to resist unto death, so that in condemning ecumenicity we are not seduced by any self-seeking.’

From these letters of Pope Gregory, it is clearly demonstrated, as the distinguished Archbishop Chrysostomos Papadopoulos correctly observes in his work (pp.105-8, 320), that Pope Gregory condemned disinterestedly the title ‘Ecumenical’, fearing lest the Patriarch of Constantinople should wish to wield power over the entire Church and disturb the equality prevailing among the Patriarchs. Rejecting any primacy whatsoever in the administration of the Church, he splendidly expounds this equality and struggles on its behalf. He opposes the title ‘ecumenical’ not because he regards himself as Ecumenical Patriarch, but because none of the Patriarchs can claim to rule over the rest. He clearly rejects every form of administrative ‘primacy’ and monarchic authority in the Church. He regards the Patriarchs of Alexandria and Antioch as his own equals as successors of the Apostle Peter without rejecting also the Patriarchal rank of Constantinople. In a private letter of his to Eulogius of Alexandria, who had written to him that in accordance with his command he no longer used the word ‘ecumenical’ for the Patriarch of Constantinople, and who had called him ‘ecumenical Pope’, that truly holy hierarch observed, ‘I beg you not to speak of ‘command’, since I know who I am and who you are - my brother in rank and my father in holiness. I did not command, but simply indicated what should be done. I say that one should not bestow on me the title ‘Ecumenical Pope’ because I do not want rank to be conferred upon me at the expense of my brothers....If you call me ‘Ecumenical pope’ you remove from yourself the status of bishop, since you suggest that I am ‘ecumenical’. God forbid! Far be from us words which pander to vanity and offend love.

In conclusion may I be permitted to suggest a substantial objection to the reference in part 3 of your text, which reads ‘at the level of the universal Church as a community of the local autocephalous Churches... the primacy is defined in accordance with the tradition of the holy Diptychs’, because the primacy of honour of the five senior thrones of the Church does not constitute the tradition of the holy Diptychs, but a canon-law declaration and decree of the Holy Ecumenical Synods, which by the 3rd Canon of the Second Ecumenical Synod in Constantinople of 381, decree that ‘the bishop of Constantinople has seniority of honour after the bishop of Rome, on account of its being New Rome’, and by the 28th canon of the Fourth Ecumenical Synod, ratify the previous canon: ‘Everywhere following the decrees of the Holy Fathers, and aware of the recently recognized Canon of the one hundred and fifty most God-beloved Bishops who convened during the reign of Theodosius the Great of pious memory, who became emperor in the imperial city of Constantinople otherwise known as New Rome; we too decree and vote the same things in regard to the privileges and priorities of the most holy Church of that same Constantinople and New Rome. And this is in keeping with the fact that the Fathers naturally enough granted the priorities to the throne of Old Rome on account of her being the imperial capital. And motivated by the same object and aim the one hundred and fifty most God-beloved Bishops have accorded the like priorities to the most holy throne of New Rome, with good reason deeming that the city which is the seat of an empire, and of a senate, and is equal to old imperial Rome in respect of other privileges and priorities, should be magnified also as she is in respect of ecclesiastical affairs, as coming next after her, or as being second to her. And it is arranged so that only the Metropolitans of the Pontic, Asian, and Thracian dioceses shall be ordained by the most holy throne of the most holy Church of Constantinople aforesaid, and likewise the Bishops of the aforesaid dioceses which are situated in barbarian lands; that is to say, that each Metropolitan of the aforesaid dioceses, together with the Bishops of the province, shall ordain the Bishops of the province, just as is prescribed by the divine Canons. But the Metropolitans of the aforesaid dioceses, as has been said, are to be ordained by the Archbishop of Constantinople, after the elections have first been conducted in accordance with custom, and have been reported to him.’, and in the 36th canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Synod they decree: ‘Renewing the laws made by the one hundred and fifty Holy Fathers who assembled in this God-guarded imperial capital city, and by the six hundred and thirty of those who assembled in Chalcedon, we decree that the throne of Constantinople shall enjoy equal seniorities (or priorities) with the throne of older Rome, and in ecclesiastical matters shall be magnified like the latter, coming second after the latter; after which the throne of the great city of the Alexandrians shall come next, then that of Antioch, and after this the throne of the city of the Jerusalemites.’

Consequently, as far as concerns the senior thrones, the primacy of honour is not defined ‘in accordance with the tradition of the holy Diptychs’ but through the force of the divinely inspired decree of the Holy and Ecumenical Synods, and for that reason it is unalterable, eternal, imperishable and unshakeable.


Seraphim of the Piraeus
9 January 2014
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