The 10th meeting of the Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches recently ended its plenary assembly held in Ravenna, Italy. The delegation of the Moscow Patriarchate withdrew from the meeting in protest against the participation in the event of members of the so-called Estonian Apostolic Church, a Church set up by the Constantinople Patriarchate in 1996 in Estonia, which the Moscow church considers part of its territory. This drew strong criticism from Constantinople.
One critical issue of the meeting was a discussion of primacy in the Universal Church and final study of the document entitled The Ecclesiological and Canonical Consequences of the Sacramental Nature of the Church - Conciliarity and Sinodality in the Church which was addressed by the participants of the dialogue at the meeting held in Belgrade in September 2006. The meeting raised a controversy over the wording contained in one paragraph of the document relative to the authority of Ecumenical Councils, in particular, parallelism of “communication with Rome” for the Local Churches in the West and “communication with Constantinople” for the Orthodox Churches which was strongly opposed by the Russian party.
In his with the Interfax, the Russian Orthodox Church representative to European international organizations Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria discussed the issues of who was responsible for the derailed meeting in Ravenna and why Constantinople was interested to address the primacy in the Orthodox world.
- Your Eminence, Metropolitan John of Pergamon [of the Constantinople Patriarchate] accused the Russian Orthodox Church of authoritarianism after its decision to walk out of the meeting in Ravenna. What was your reaction to his words?
- Metropolitan John of Pergamon [of the Constantinople Patriarchate] as co-president of the joint commission for Orthodox-Catholic dialogue is responsible for derailing the dialogue. His comments and the final text of the document work on which has finished in Ravenna without the participation of the Moscow Patriarchate may produce the impression that the Constantinople Patriarchate deliberately pushed the Moscow Patriarchate to withdraw from the dialogue so that decisions should be passed that would have been impossible with the participation of the Moscow Patriarchate.
- What do you mean in particular?
- As an example I may give Paragraph 39 of the document which states that convening Ecumenical Council in the strict sense of this word became impossible after the schism between the East and the West in the 11th century, however, “both Churches continued to convene Councils in critical crisis situations. Such councils were held with participation of bishops of Local Churches communicating with the Apostolic See and bishops of Local Churches in communication with the See of Constantinople, accordingly, though it was interpreted in a different way. Back at the Belgrade meeting of the Joint International Commission in 2006, I raised several critical objections to this issue. According to the Orthodox tradition, communication with the See of Constantinople is not considered a prerequisite of unity to the same extend as “communication with the See of Rome” is considered a prerequisite for Western Churches. The model of the Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic ecclesiastical model are essentially different, and the Patriarch of Constantinople has never played the same role as the bishop of Rome plays in the Catholic Church. One criterion of collegiality in the Orthodox Church has always been Eucharistic and canonical communication between Local Churches, and not just communication with the See of Constantinople. Besides, in certain historic periods one or another Local Church had no communication with the See of Constantinople, and that did not affect its full collegiality. Specifically, the Russian Church suspended de facto its communication with Constantinople after the Council of Florence and Ferrara in the 15th century when the Patriarch of Constantinople signed the union with Rome, however, it continued to communicate with other Local Churches.
In Belgrade, the update of the document was entrusted to the editorial committee of the Joint International Commission. In February 2007, the Committee proposed the wording which could satisfy the Moscow Patriarchate. However, the Constantinople Patriarchy objected to this wording, since it did not mention “communication with the See of Constantinople”. In the absence of the Moscow Patriarchy representatives the version of the editorial committee was rejected, and the text objected by the Russian Church was included back into the final document.
- Why is Constantinople so interested in discussing the primacy in the Church which actually turns into imposing the Patriarchy of Constantinople as the “Eastern Pope”?
- The Patriarchy of Constantinople is extremely interested to discuss the issue of primacy in the Universal Church, because in this Orthodox-Catholic dialogue, it hopes to force Local Churches to interpret the primacy in a way that could extend its historical rights. Until now, Orthodox Churches have acknowledged only priority of honour of the Patriarchy of Constantinople. However, Metropolitan John expresses in his interviews the view point which is inconsistent with the notion of “priority of honour” in the Orthodox canons.
"Constantinople wants to force on us a model of church organization that has never existed in Orthodox tradition and that is closer to the centralized model existing in the Roman Catholic Church. In that model, the patriarch of Constantinople would have the role of the 'Eastern pope.'"
- But will other Local Churches agree to that?
- The next round of talks, to start in 2009, would show whether other Orthodox Churches would accept the alleged model. However, it is already clear that the absence of the Moscow Patriarchate will make the work to develop such a model much easier.