Without Orthodox but with Catholics: what unity does Phanar seek?

05 December 2020 13:29
Are Phanar and Vatican heading towards Eucharistic unity? Photo: UOJ Are Phanar and Vatican heading towards Eucharistic unity? Photo: UOJ

Almost none of the Orthodox Churches attended the Phanar Feast Day. The OCU was absent too. But the delegation of the RCC was present. What does this mean?

On November 30, 2020, the Patriarchate of Constantinople celebrated its main holiday of the Apostle Andrew the First-Called. The celebrations were traditionally held at Phanar.

The service was officiated by Patriarch Bartholomew, concelebrated by two Phanar hierarchs – Metropolitan Theoleptos of Iconium and Metropolitan Maximus of Silivri.

According to the press release of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, several hierarchs were present at the service: Metropolitan Apostle of Derk, Metropolitan Meliton of Philadelphia, Metropolitan Irenaeus of Myriophyte, Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Myra, Metropolitan Stephen of Gallipoli, Metropolitan Athenagoros of Cydonia, patriarch’s vicar bishop Adrian of Calicarnassus, patriarch’s vicar bishop Veniamin of Tralles, vicar bishop Smaragd of Dafnusia.

All these bishops belong to the Phanar. The overwhelming majority of them are either titular (like Theoleptos, Meliton, Chrysostomos and Stephen) or vicarious (Adrian, Veniamin, Smaragd). It should be noted here that a titular bishop is a bishop who bears the historical title of a non-existent city or a city located on a non-Orthodox territory, to which an Orthodox bishop is not able to access.

Therefore, out of the hierarchs present at the holiday of the Patriarch of Constantinople, only Met. Maximus of Silivri, Met. Apostle of Derk and Met. Athenagoras of Cydonia can be called the ruling bishops. Of these, only Metropolitan Apostle has 5 Orthodox communities in the diocese. All the other hierarchs listed above have almost no functioning churches or actual parishes.

There is no real number of communities behind the majority of hierarchs of the Constantinople Patriarchy. Many of its bishops, at best, represent several dozen parishioners. They cannot, either in the literal or figurative sense of the word, dictate their will to the Orthodox world.

We need such a detailed description of the bishops present at the main holiday of Phanar in order to understand that there is no real number of communities behind the hierarchs of the Patriarch of Constantinople. All of these bishops represent, at best, several dozen parishioners. They cannot, either in the literal or in the figurative sense of the word, dictate their will to the Orthodox world or resolve issues of great doctrinal and canonical importance.

In addition, at the feast in honor of the Apostle Andrew in 2020, unlike in previous years, not a single Primate of the Local Orthodox Churches was present. With the exception of Archbishop Nektarios of Anphidon (Jerusalem Church), there were not even representatives of the Local Churches.

Of course, such a scarcity of fraternal communication could be attributed to the pandemic like "they all were eager to come but couldn’t." Except for one thing – representatives of the autonomous Finnish Church and a fairly large delegation of the Roman Catholic Church were able to come to the holiday despite the pandemic.

Phanar and Vatican: moving towards the same goal 

The presence of the Finns is understandable. First, they are totally and completely dependent on Phanar. Secondly, the Finnish Church is now facing serious internal problems, and its leadership simply needs a demonstration of loyalty to Phanar.

But the presence of Catholics at the service is explained by completely different motives. In the past few years, Phanar has been moving at an accelerated pace towards unity with Rome. This is expressed not only in the exchange of gifts and delegations, but also through specific statements, the meaning of which boils down to the inevitable and imminent Eucharistic unity between these structures.

Thus, in a letter addressed to Patriarch Bartholomew, Pope Francis noted that "the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Ecumenical Patriarchate has grown significantly over the past century." He stressed that "we continue to strive towards the goal of restoring full communion which is manifested through participation in one Eucharistic meal" and "although obstacles remain, I am confident that by walking together in mutual love and maintaining theological dialogue, we will achieve this goal."

We continue to strive towards the goal of restoring full communion which is manifested through participation in one Eucharistic meal ... I am confident that by walking together in mutual love and maintaining theological dialogue, we will achieve this goal.

Pope Francis

This statement was fully and completely supported by Patriarch Bartholomew in his response. Moreover, he outlined the path along which, apparently, this goal will be achieved: "We are going beyond the framework of theological minimalism and ecumenical utopianism, showing realism and faith in the providence of God."

It is not difficult to guess what exactly the head of Phanar means by making such a statement. Earlier in his speech to the Pope through Cardinal Kurt Koch, he said that in theological dialogue with Catholics there are "difficulties that arise once in a while".

These "difficulties", according to Patriarch Bartholomew, are associated "with the complexity of the issues under discussion, which have occupied and divided both the Church and theology for many centuries". Let us recall that among these "issues under discussion" there is such as the Roman Catholic dogma of the filioque, the dogma of the "Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary", the "infallibility of the Pope's ex-cathedra". Without resolving these issues, any theological dialogue with Catholics is impossible. After all, it was these discrepancies that tore the RCC away from Orthodoxy. However, Phanar has apparently come to the conclusion that these issues fall within the scope of the so-called "theological minimalism", and so they are not a big deal at all.

Something similar has already been spoken by the Phanariot primate. And, although these words were spoken 100 years ago, Pope Francis reminded Patriarch Bartholomew of them to substantiate his position, as well as to give an example of how "theological differences" should be resolved:

“The Patriarchate of Constantinople showed its willingness for even greater closeness and mutual understanding between Christians even before the Catholic Church and other churches entered into dialogue. This is clearly seen in the encyclical of the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, addressed to churches around the world exactly one hundred years ago. Indeed, its words remain relevant today: "When several Churches are inspired by love and place it beyond everything else in their judgments about others and in relation to each other, instead of increasing and widening existing differences, they will be able to reduce them."

This is how disagreements, including theological ones, are reduced not by means of resolving but by eliminating them with the help of “love”, which is “beyond everything else”.

"We are going beyond theological minimalism and ecumenical utopianism by showing realism and faith in God's providence."

Patriarch Bartholomew to Pope Francis

On the other hand, in his speech, Patriarch Bartholomew rejected "ecumenical utopianism". What is it? Apparently, it is about striving for unity through theological dialogue, participation in conferences, meetings, and so on. Instead of this “utopian” path, the head of Phanar proposes to show “realism”. Does this mean the need to start a joint Eucharistic ministry with Catholics? Judging by the recent rhetoric, both from the Phanar and the Vatican, everything is heading towards this.

Making a case for his position shortly after the call for "realism", Patriarch Bartholomew said that according to the "Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church (Council of Crete 2016 - Ed.), the shared goal of theological dialogues is the final restoration of true faith and love for unity," upon that "the goal of all dialogues is the same."

However, given the number of hierarchs of other Local Churches present at the main holiday of Phanar, World Orthodoxy does not support this “goal”. At least for the time being.

Where is the OCU?

It is interesting that this year none of the representatives of the OCU was present at the holiday in honor of the Apostle Andrew the First-Called. It is impossible to explain their absence by the pandemic. Firstly, because a delegation from Ukraine headed by Denis Shmygal had visited Phanar earlier, and secondly, a couple of weeks ago, the “hierarchs” and “priests” of the OCU, headed by Drabinko, took part in the consecration of the exarch for Ukraine Mikhail Anishchenko.

The absence of domestic schismatics looks even stranger when you consider that during the liturgy on November 30, Shmygal read in Ukrainian "The Symbol of Faith" and "Our Father". In addition, the Phanariotes uttered several exclamations in the Church Slavonic language (apparently, not having Ukrainian-language service books at hand, which indicates their ultimate "concern" about Ukraine as a "mother church").

Shmygal's religious affiliation is unknown, but the religious vector is known – towards the UGCC and the OCU. Why did none of the representatives of the newly created organization accompany him to Phanar? Moreover, last year, during the same holiday, Eustratiy Zoria took part in the Phanariot liturgy , while “metropolitan” of the OCU Mikhail Zinkevich was just present there.

It seems to us that there are at least two reasons for this state of affairs.

The first one is that concelebrating exclusively with Ukrainian schismatics and their titular bishops during the main holiday of the Patriarchate of Constantinople would too clearly indicate the position in which Patriarch Bartholomew finds himself today because of the Tomos. In other words, if the representatives of the OCU did arrive, the head of Phanar would have to serve with them and only with them. That is, the picture would be unassuming – there are no Orthodox Christians, but there are schismatics from the OCU and Catholics. He really didn’t want to get into this situation, so he decided to do without his “children”, “filling in” their absence with several exclamations in Church Slavonic and reading “Our Father” prayer in Ukrainian.

Secondly, let's recall an awkward situation that arose last year on Patriarch Bartholomew’s  patron saint day. Then the Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church, Archbishop Ieronymos, came to congratulate the head of Phanar. However, Epiphany Dumenko turned up during the Vespers unexpectedly for everyone. As a result, Archbishop Ieronymos hastily left Istanbul, while in the morning none of the hierarchs served the Divine Liturgy, including Patriarch Bartholomew himself. His position is clear: either we serve with Dumenko or we do not serve at all. The bishops opted for the latter. Most likely, in order to avoid such embarrassing situations, the Local Churches decided not to send their representatives to Istanbul.

In addition, let us not forget that representatives of the Autonomous Church of Finland were on Phanar that day. This means that if the Ukrainian schismatics were also present there, this could be a clear sign of the full dependence of the OCU on Istanbul.


As a result, we can see that even on the main holiday of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, Patriarch Bartholomew concelebrates with two (in fact vicarious) bishops. We can see that not only none of the Primates came for the feast, but there were no representatives of the Local Churches either (with the exception of the Jerusalem Patriarchate, and that's because Archbishop Nektarios is a representative of the Holy Sepulcher Brotherhood in Istanbul).

The papist policy of the Phanar in recent years has led to this picture. By asserting his "privileges", Patriarch Bartholomew does not take into account the opinion of other Primates. Pan-Orthodox unity is viewed by him solely as the subordination of all Churches to the "first throne" (as the Phanar is called by the Phanariots). This is neither a unity of faith based on the Tradition of the Church nor a unity of mutual respect based on the canons of the Church, but a “unity” of obedience “in the image and likeness of the Vatican”.

Pan-Orthodox unity is viewed by Phanar solely as the subordination of all Churches to the "first throne". This is neither a unity of faith based on the Tradition of the Church nor a unity of mutual respect based on the canons of the Church, but a “unity” of obedience “in the image and likeness of the Vatican”.

On the other hand, affirming his ambitions among the Orthodox Churches and literally forcing them to make decisions that contradict the teachings of the Church and the hierarchical conscience, Patriarch Bartholomew strives for unity with Catholics. In this case, as both he and Pope Francis say, the understanding of unity is based on "love", which implies the elimination of all "obstacles" (theological, in the first place) for the realization of one goal - serving the Eucharist with the Pope.

There is simply no one to stop Patriarch Bartholomew from rapidly falling into the abyss of apostasy and communion with Catholics and schismatics. Indeed, according to the Epistle of the Eastern Patriarchs, “the guardian of piety (faith) in our country is the very body of the Church, that is, the people themselves, who always want to keep their faith unchanged and in accordance with the faith of its fathers." The reality is the Phanariotes do not have their own flock, but at the same time they are deaf and indifferent to the flock of other Churches, being guided in this case by the words of the Pharisees, who said that “this crows which does not know the Law is accursed” (John 7:49).

Likewise, the Ukrainian schismatics don’t mind unity with Catholics. They no longer hesitate to "serve" joint lity services and molebens and also make statements about creating a "single Kyiv church" with a common (for the UGCC and OCU) "patriarch" at the head. Therefore, the aspirations of Phanar are close and understandable to them.

But in the end, because of its own pride and arrogance, because of theological and spiritual blindness, Phanar will only have to "liturgize" with schismatics and Catholics. If Patriarch Barthlomew dares have joint Eucharist with the RCC, the Orthodox hierarchs will no longer concelebrate with him – just because it runs counter to the canons of the Church. 

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