The Pentarchy of the Ancients, or the Trial of the Russian Church

16 February 2022 19:46
The Phanar wants to convene the The Phanar wants to convene the "ancient" Churches for the trial of the ROC. Photo: UOJ

The Greek world is threatening the ROC with a pentarchy court: a revoke of autocephaly for 5 years or even deprivation of grace. How to treat it?

​On January 12, 2022, Patriarch Theodore of Alexandria sent a letter to the head of the Phanar with a request to convene a meeting of the primates of the five Churches or the so-called Pentarchy. The reason is the establishment of the Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church in Africa. Later it became known that the Pentarchy will take place before Holy Week in Phanar. The hierarchs of the Greek Churches speak of the temporary revoke of the autocephalous status for the Russian Church, or even the deprivation of the ROC of grace. What to expect from this meeting?

What is pentarchy?

Pentarchy or "the rule of five" is a theological concept developed in the Byzantine Empire. According to it, the most important decisions for world Orthodoxy should be made by the Primates (Patriarchs) of the five Churches: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem.

Later, due to the Roman episcopate falling away from Orthodoxy, the Patriarch of Moscow, who received equal status with the four ancient Eastern patriarchs, became the fifth patriarch of the Pentarchy.  However, the rights of the members of the Pentarchy have not yet been clearly defined. None of the Council canons or the Holy Fathers’ canons recognized by the whole Orthodox Church speaks of the existence of a body of ecclesiastical authority consisting of five patriarchs.

It is worth noting that the phenomenon known as "neo-pentarchy" also emerged in 2011, with a claim to special rights to ensure the governance of the Church and the resolution of issues it faces.

The idea of "neo-pentarchy" was first voiced by Patriarch Bartholomew, who announced the convening in September 2011 of the Council of Primates of the "ancient Churches". (the four Eastern Patriarchates and the Church of Cyprus). Notifying the four eastern patriarchs of the convening of the aforementioned September Council, the head of the Phanar stated literally the following: "The oldest Patriarchates of the Orthodox Church, together with the Holy Church of Cyprus ... are like the core of the entire building and composition of the Orthodox Church.”

It is these primates who, according to the head of the Phanar, were to determine the position of the Church on a number of issues.

On 1–3 September 2011, the leaders of the Churches, gathered under the wing of Patriarch Bartholomew, issued a statement clearly saying that they had gathered in Phanar "in order to revive the ancient custom" of pentarchy.

Why does the Phanar need the Pentarchy?

Here it should be noted that in the diptychs of the Orthodox Churches, the Archbishop of Cyprus usually occupies the 10th place, that is, he is quite far from claims to the circle of the elect.

But due to “special” ties with the Eastern patriarchs (first of all, we are talking about common Greek roots and adherence to the idea of Hellenism), the head of the Church of Cyprus was placed by the Phanariots on a par with the Primates of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. In July 2016, the representative of the Phanar, Archbishop Job of Telmessos (Getcha), noted that the members of the Pentarchy are “the Churches that were approved at the Ecumenical Councils”, and other Churches are “a new wave of autocephalies that were not confirmed by the Ecumenical Council”.

Interestingly, all the attempts of the Phanariots to launch the idea of “neo-pentarchy” (without the Moscow Patriarch, but with the Archbishop of Cyprus), as it turned out, were needed only in order to later justify the legalization of Ukrainian schismatics and the “autocephaly” of the OCU.

The same Job (Getcha), speaking about the special status of the Eastern Patriarchs and the Church of Cyprus, noted that the territory of Ukraine is under the jurisdiction of the Phanar, and “the Mother Church of Constantinople can grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Church”.

As a result, the OCU received the Tomos, the Greek, Alexandrian and Cypriot Primates recognized it, the Russian Church in response to this created the Exarchate in Africa, and Patriarch Theodore demanded the convening of the Pentarchy.

It is clear that in this situation any "meeting" of the Greeks will have only one goal – to condemn the Russian Church. For example, some representatives of the Greek and Alexandrian Churches stated that the Russian Church could lose its independence for a period of five years as a result of the meeting of the five Primates of the "ancient Apostolic Churches". Moreover, it could be deprived of the grace of the sacraments. The threats look impressive but what is behind them?

Who will go or not go to Phanar?

On February 12, 2022, the representative of the Phanar, Metropolitan Emmanuel of Chalcedon, invited Patriarch John of Antioch to the Council of… four primates. That is, instead of a pentarchy, a “tetrarchy” may await us, since one of the possible participants in this Council has already refused to come to the Phanar This is supposed to be about the Primate of the Cypriot Orthodox Church, Archbishop Chrysostomos.
In general, Archbishop Chrysostomos's unwillingness to participate in the trial of the ROC is understandable. Due to the recognition of the OCU, the Church of Cyprus actually split, and Archbishop Chrysostom received strong opposition among the Cypriot hierarchs who disagreed with the legalization of the Ukrainian schismatics. Under such circumstances, Archbishop Chrysostomos himself understands that the Synod of the Cypriot Church will hardly approve of his trip to the Phanariot Council. If, contrary to the opinion of the synodals, he still decides to participate in it, then this will definitely have the most serious consequences both for him personally and for the Church of Cyprus as a whole.

The participation of the Patriarch of Antioch in the Council is also in question. Immediately after the visit of Metropolitan Emmanuel of Chalcedon, the media reported that Patriarch John accepted the invitation of the head of the Phanar and will attend the Council. However, this is far from being the case.

On February 14, a delegation from the Patriarchate of Alexandria arrived at the Church of Antioch. The purpose of this visit is clear without further ado – to convince Patriarch John of the need to participate in the Phanariot Council. The Primate of the Church of Antioch replied that his trip to the Phanar is possible only if it is approved by the Synod. This means that, at least for now, he has gently declined the Phanar's invitation. What allows us to make this assumption?

Let us remember that the Patriarchate of Antioch, just like the Russian Church, did not participate in the Crete Council of 2016, which was the life work of Patriarch Bartholomew. This means that the Primate of Antioch was not afraid to seriously spoil relations with the Phanar. Just as he was not afraid of the "wrath of the Phanariots" in the "Ukrainian issue", openly supporting the Russian Church. Therefore, even if Patriarch John agrees to participate in the "Council of Four", his vote is unlikely to add to Bartholomew's box. It is more likely the other way round.

In addition, Patriarch Theophilus of Jerusalem will hardly attend the Council. There are more than enough reasons for this.

First, he has repeatedly made it clear, albeit in cautious words and expressions, that he opposes the legalization of the Ukrainian schism.

Secondly, it was Patriarch Theophilos who initiated the Amman Meeting of Primates of the Local Churches, and recently he has announced the need for Amman-2.

Thirdly, the Jerusalem Patriarchate at this moment (as it has always been) needs the help of the Russian Church, as its existence in the Holy Land is now under threat.

Therefore, it is unlikely that Patriarch Theophilus will put the absurd “autocephaly” of the OCU on one side of the scale, and his own principles on the other. But if the “Council of Four” does take place, then what should the ROC expect from it?

The “Council of Four": what can the Russian Church expect?

The Greek media believe that the general position of the Phanar on the issue of establishing the Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church in Africa will depend on the attitude of the Patriarchates of Antioch and Jerusalem. However, there has been no response to date. Its absence can be easily explained: both Antioch and Jerusalem, most likely, believe that the root cause of the crisis is not the ROC, but the “autocephaly” of the OCU. This means that if they come to the Phanar, it will be only to decide what to do next.

It is unlikely that we will witness the "revoke of the autocephaly" of the ROC, as demanded by the Alexandrians. Both because such an action has no historical precedents and is canonically unfounded and because it is not clear which document on the autocephaly of the ROC the "Council of Four" will declare invalid.

The fact is that there are at least three acts signed by the Patriarchate of Constantinople regarding the independence of the Russian Church. These are:

  1. The Proclamation of Archbishop Job of Moscow as Patriarch in 1589 by the then Patriarch Jeremiah II of Constantinople, his consecration as Patriarch.
  2. The Synodal Letter of 1590 or the Tomos on the elevation of the Metropolitan of Moscow to the Patriarch of the East, which ratified the agreements concluded in Moscow in 1589, with the addition of recognizing the right of the Synod of the Russian Church to elect the Patriarch of Moscow. 
  3. The Patriarchal and Synodal Tomos of 1593, which ratified the previous acts.

So, which of these documents is to be repealed? The Phanar can hardly answer this question. And what can the “revoke” of the autocephalous status of the ROC lead to? Will the Phanar declare its authority over the Russian Church? Its looks like a script for a low-budget church-themed fantasy. Therefore, the most likely outcome of all this talk about a possible "Council of Four", in our opinion, will be its absence "for non-appearance of the participants ". Most likely, neither the Patriarchs of Antioch nor the Jerusalem Patriarchs will come to it, which means that this idea will fade into oblivion.

Of course, it is possible that the Phanariots will try, in the words of Metropolitan Seraphim of Piraeus, to persist further and go against the canons and logic. But where can this lead the Church? Only to the final schism of Orthodoxy. Will they decide on this, given the fact that only three Churches supported them on the issue of the OCU? Unlikely.

Can the word of the people who the Church of Russia itself has already called schismatic have any weight at all?

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