Carol Saba on the Current Ecclesiological Crisis

A Brief analysis, not yet rising to the level of a canonical study, which awaits a more complete picture

Beyond the Ukrainian crisis, the crisis of universal Orthodoxy today is two crises: a crisis of the universal Orthodox understanding of conciliarity and a crisis of the concept and content of Constantinople’s primacy within this universal Orthodox conciliarity. Day after day, correspondences between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the patriarchs and heads of the local autocephalous churches about the Ukrainian crisis are released. The latest of them, between Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Archbishop of Albania Anastasios is about the fundamental crisis of divergence in the understanding of the concept of universal Orthodox conciliarity and the concept and content of Constantinople’s primacy. That is, is it an absolute conciliarity that is not limited by a certain primacy belonging to the Patriarch of Constantinople, which is nothing more than a primacy of honor subject to a general council (as all the Orthodox churches say today, including the Greek-origin churches)? Or is it, as Constantinople claims, a relative conciliarity limited by the primacy of Constantinople, which is not only a primacy of honor, but a primacy with canonical significant that is not subject to a general Orthodox council, but rather the council submits to it? Through such a primacy, the the Ecumenical Patriarchate can impose the unilateral decisions that it makes on the other Orthodox churches. The Ecumenical Patriarchate itself makes the decisions and itself imposes them, according to its own implementation and its own reasoning, without reference to the autocephalous Orthodox churches, which only have to “affirm” and “endorse” them without discussing them. This is what Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew literally says in his response to the Archbishop of Albania (which in principle is numbered among the churches of the Greek axis), Anastasios. The Ecumenical Patriarch says, “it is the responsibility of all others to assimilate these disclosed truths – not, of course, in order to validate them, inasmuch as they are already authentically validated by ecclesiastical practice.”

And so we stand before a great ecclesiological crisis, which confirms the content of the study that I presented to the Holy Synod of Antioch during the preparation for the “Council of Crete” about “Orthodox Conciliarity Historically and in Actuality”, that the Great Orthodox Council would become an instrument for the Ecumenical Patriarchate to practice a canonical primacy of a different sort and not the traditional Orthodox conciliarity in which and through which the autocephalous churches decide with one voice– that is, unanimously– what the Holy Spirit tells them to decide.

The crisis is complicated, fundamental and becoming even more complicated. It is not, as some analyses say, (only) a crisis of positioning and competition between the Greek axis (and the churches dependent on it) and the Russian-Slavic axis (and the churches dependent on it). Day after day, we are seeing that many of the Greek-origin churches now disagree with how things have developed and the direction in which the Ecumenical Patriarchate is currently going. The moral: “Do not fear, little flock…” and do not fear crises, because they are the time when the moment of truth approaches.

March 14, 2019

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