The Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Statements on Primacy over Time


1970: Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras

“This same stamp of validity by an Ecumenical Synod is needed also, for their definitive and continuing autocephalous existence, by the newer autocephalous Churches because of the unfavorable circumstances in which they may at times find themselves. These include the Churches to which the Holy Apostolic and Patriarchal Ecumenical Throne gave the stamp of autocephaly with the approval of the other Orthodox Churches.

“The Ecumenical Patriarchate could do this because of its attribute as the Mother Church and its status as the ‘First Among Equals’ in reference to the other autocephalous Orthodox Churches, and because it is at the center of the internal unity of the entire Orthodox Church, helping the other Churches in their needs — a duty that derives from its presiding and excelling position within the family of the Orthodox Churches.”


1976: Metropolitan Maxmios of Sardis

“The Patriarch of Constantinople rejects any plenitudo potestatis ecclesiae and holds his supreme ecclesiastical power not as episcopus ecclesiae universalis, but as Oecumenical Patriarch, the senior and most important bishop in the East. He does not wield unrestricted administrative power. He is not an infallible judge of matters of faith. Always the presupposition of his power is that in using it he will hold to two principles: conciliarity and collegiality in the responsibilities of the Church and non-intervention in the internal affairs of the other churches…”

(Source: Metropolitan Maximos of Sardis, The Oecumenical Patriarchate in the Orthodox Church: A Study in the History and Canons of the Church, page 326.)

Pre-1993: Official Position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

“The organization of every local autocephalous Church requires the recognition of the ecumenical Church so that its autocephalous existence may be definitive and indissoluble. Thus, for example, the Ecumenical Patriarchate granted autocephaly to the Church of Romania on the condition that this conferment be definitively endorsed by all the Orthodox Churches gathered in an Ecumenical Council or Great Council, as was otherwise done, with the agreement of the other Orthodox Churches, for the Churches which, on account of circumstances, it proclaimed autocephalous since the mid-19th century and thereafter: this was the case by virtue of its quality as first of the Orthodox Churches, at the same time as the center of their internal unity and the protector of the local Churches in their needs.”


2008: Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

“The Ecumenical Patriarchate is regarded as the highest See and holiest center of the Orthodox Christian Church throughout the world. It is an institution with a history spanning seventeen centuries, during which it retained its administrative offices in Constantinople. It constitutes the spiritual center of all local or independent Orthodox churches, exercising its leadership among these not by administration but rather by virtue of its primacy in the ministry of Pan-Orthodox unity and the coordination of the activities within Orthodoxy as a whole. Raised in this atmosphere of openness and dialogue, particularly during the tenure of Patriarch Athenagoras, I learned from a tender age to breathe the air of oikoumene, to recognize the breadth of theological discourse, and to embrace the universe of ecclesiastical reconciliation.”

(Source: Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Encountering the Mystery, page 14.)

2009: Archbishop Job of Telmessos

“As for the privileges of the Ecumenical Patriarch on the all-Orthodox level, they are also interpreted from the viewpoint of the Ecumenical Patriarch in the spirit of Apostolic Rule 34. That is the patriarchs and heads of autocephalous Orthodox Churches should know who is first among them, recognize him as their head, and should not do anything special without his consent nor should the head do anything without their consent. The ecumenical patriarch has a right to accept letters of appeal and care for the unity of the church by convening all-Orthodox meetings attended by heads of each patriarchate and autocephalous church (or their representatives) but he cannot decide anything himself, without them, unilaterally. We see this practice was used in the latest meeting of heads in Fanara in October of last year. And one cannot see here any ‘eastern papism.'”


2010: Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

“It is on the teaching about the Holy Trinity, and not on any worldly concept of authority and power, that the entire conciliar and hierarchical structure of the Orthodox Church rests. For the Orthodox Church does not have a centralized authority or leadership, instead comprising a constellation of independent and equal sister churches, among which the Ecumenical Patriarchate possesses historically and traditionally the first rank.

“In this regard, the Ecumenical Patriarchate bears a primacy of honor and service within Orthodox Christianity throughout the world. Its authority does not lie in administration, but rather in coordination. This is not a sign of weakness, but precisely of conciliarity. For the Church of Constantinople serves as primary focal point of unity, fostering consensus among the various Orthodox Churches.”


2016: Archdeacon John Chryssavgis

“The role of the ecumenical patriarch is highly significant and sensitive, and by no means merely symbolical or ceremonial, yet the ecumenical patriarch neither compels nor commands. The notion of interdependence or conciliarity is vital in Orthodox ecclesiology. The aim of Bartholomew is constantly to walk a tightrope, achieving what Leo the Great in a fifth-century letter called ‘a confirmation by the incontestable agreement of the entire college of brothers.’ Yet there is no doubt that, while the Orthodox Church is allergic to any sense of universal primacy as this has developed in the West, it recognizes the need for a universal leadership, coordination, and spokesmanship by its ‘first among equals,’ without which conciliarity is impossible.”


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