We often hear claims that the Ecumenical Patriarch has the exclusive prerogative to call a council or hear appeals. This has little textual basis in the Holy Canons (at least, without substantial historical and hermeneutical gymnastics) and it also runs into the practical problem of what to do when a Patriarch of Constantinople promotes heresy. This has been, of course, the case on many occasions throughout history, including when Constantinople, backed by imperial authority, enforced Monotheletism and Iconoclasm.
Orthodox believers were also confronted with this problem after the Council of Florence, when the emperor and almost all bishops of the Church of Constantinople agreed to a false union with Rome. Due to the difficult circumstances of Mamluk rule for the Christians of the Middle East, the Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem did not send delegates, so instead bishops already attending the council were named as their representatives. As providence would have it, one of the representatives for these patriarchs was St Mark of Ephesus, the only bishop in attendance who refused to sign the act of union in 1439.
In early 1443, Arsenios, the Metropolitan of Caesarea of Cappadocia, which was in Constantinople’s jurisdiction but in territory long under Muslim control, visited Jerusalem ostensibly to venerate the holy places. It seems, however, that his real motivation was the trouble he was having with his suffragan bishops who had been appointed by the unionist Patriarch of Constantinople, Metrophanes II. Once in the holy city, Arsenios appealed to Patriarch Joachim of Jerusalem against his patriarch and bishops, so Joachim called a council to address the issue, which was attended by Patriarchs Philotheos of Alexandria and Dorotheos II of Antioch. This council ruled in Arsenios’ favor, not only provisionally excommunicating and suspending all unionist clergy from holy orders until an ecumenical council could be held, but authorizing Arsenios to act under their authority to preach Orthodoxy and impose penalties on such clergy anywhere without territorial restriction.
The text below is translated from the History of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem by the Archbishop of Athens Chrysostomos Papadopoulos, pp. 439-442:
At that time (1439), the Robber’s Council of Florence was convened. Fortunately, however, the designated representative of the Church of Jerusalem was Mark Eugenikos (d. 1443), who did not sign its decision. Already in 1443, in order to officially condemn it, [Patriarch] Joachim called a Council in Jerusalem, which was attended by Patriarchs Philotheos of Alexandria (r. 1435-1459) and Dorotheos of Antioch (r. 1435-1452), as well as Metropolitan Arsenios of Caesarea [in Cappadocia]. It is noteworthy that the decision of this Council of Jerusalem has as its most accurate text the following:
Since the most reverend metropolitan of the most holy Metropolis of Caesarea of Cappadocia, the first-throned and exarch of all the East, has come here both to venerate the all-venerable and divine Sepulcher of our Lord Christ and examine the holy places in Jerusalem, where the incredible mysteries of Christ’s dispensation were accomplished, and to partake with us of the great mystery of Christian orthodoxy and piety and explain all the scandals in Constantinople on account of the mob that gathered– that is, the unclean Council in Florence in Italy, which held the opinions of the Latins with Pope Eugene, things that are not proper: indeed, the addition in the Symbol of Faith, that the Holy Spirit also proceeds from the Son; permitting azymes in our sacrifice and, on account of these things, to commemorate the pope, and also deciding and prescribing still other illicit things contrary to the canons. [He explained] how Metrophanes of Cyzicus theivingly usurped the throne of Constantinople, joining with the heretics, the aforementioned pope and the Latin-minded Emperor of the Romans, John Palaiologos. Driving away, persecuting, oppressing and penalizing those who are faithful and Orthodox, he encourages and honors the faithless and disreputable as ones like-minded to his heresy, overwhelmingly urges them to enmity for Orthodoxy and piety. In the same way, he sent impure metropolitans and unclean bishops everywhere to the divine and holy sees of the Great and Holy Church of Constantinople as ones submitted to his jurisdiction.
The aforementioned most reverend Metropolitan Arsenios explained how Patriarch Metrophanes not only sent along men with an illicit, Latin-minded ordination to the other Churches, but this unordained man also ordained four metropolitans and bishops for the eparchy of all the East, for Amaseia, Neocaesarea, Tyanna and Mokissos, who thought and did everything like the Latins, which they not only have their own corruption and destruction within themselves, but after so much audacity, they deceive and corrupt all the Christians there, the flock of Christ, and produce many scandals in the Orthodox Church.
Therefore, this pious, most faithful, zealot and champion of all Orthodoxy, the aforementioned most reverend metropolitan of Caesarea of Cappadocia, unable to bear seeing innovation in the Church of Christ and the defilement of our most Orthodox and healing faith by the heterodox, found it fitting to receive conciliar opinion from us, the three Orthodox hierarchs in Syria– that is, Philotheos of Alexandria, Joachim of Jerusalem and Dorotheos of Antioch– in order to ward off all those who do not think in an Orthodox manner throughout his eparchy, as he himself is most senior [among them] and Orthodox.
Wherefore, together we synodally declare in the name of the consubstantial, life-creating, undivided and Holy Trinity that metropolitans and bishops everywhere who were not ordained on account of virtue and piety, as well as hegumens and father confessors and likewise priests, deacons and every ecclesiastical rank in general, but rather being impure and unworthy, having practiced heresy, persecuted Orthodoxy and only spent their time unworthily, in the manner of vainglory and heresy, although they were meant so be savers of souls, so that the entire Orthodox flock of Christ our true God may perish with them, in no wise acquiring for themselves the fear of God or the fruit of righteousness and piety, but rather are shameless despisers of all piety. We declare them from today to be idle and unconsecrated of any priestly activity and ecclesiastical state until [their] piety is generally and ecumenically investigated. Therefore, let them be idle and unconsecrated. Thievishly and lawlessly rebellious and contrary, let them also be cast out, separated and estranged from the holy, super-substantial and consubstantial Trinity as ones who are disobedient and contradictory and likewise also those who honor, defend, and agree with them in these matters. We likewise reinstate the herald of piety and Orthodoxy, the aforementioned most reverend metropolitan and most honorable exarch of all the East to proclaim piety everywhere, not being ashamed of the truth before the person of an emperor or patriarch who does not believe or act in an Orthodox manner, nor before the wealthy and powerful or any human, but rather outspokenly holding fast to the faith and Orthodoxy, not fearing or doubting, according to the commandment, that he from now on may have license to question the piety, penalize and correct those who do not think in an Orthodox manner in every place he is able to travel, receiving permission for these things from us through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit that is given to us. He should also incorruptibly and uprightly guard the piety on account of which our written opinion was freely given to him synodally and recorded by our own hands in the month of April, 6951 [i.e., 1443], year six of the indiction.