Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew Convenes Orthodox Summit to Resolve Jerus ...
Helenic News of America
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew Convenes Orthodox Summit to Resolve
The Pan-Orthodox Synod convened in Istanbul by Ecumenical Patriarch
Bartholomew, spiritual leader of 250 million Orthodox Christians, has
voted to remove the name of Patriarch Eireneos of Jerusalem from the
diptychs, or list of leaders of the Church. Acting quickly to resolve
a crisis that threatens more violence in the Middle East, Bartholomew
asserted the ancient authority of the Patriarchate of Constantinople,
called Ecumenical since the 6th century AD, by gathering the leaders
of the 14 Autocephalous Churches that comprise the Orthodox Church.
The crisis within the Patriarchate of Jerusalem escalated to the
level of world-wide Orthodoxy when Jerusalem Patriarch Eireneos
rejected his dismissal by the leaders of the Jerusalem Church.
Eireneos is implicated in real estate transactions with Jewish
interests in the sacred "Old City" of Jerusalem that have enraged
Palestinian Greek Orthodox Christians and Moslems and which threaten
to spark new Arab-Israeli violence. Calls for his dismissal from the
ranks of the clergy and the people in the region and from Jordanian
and Palestinian officials led the Holy Synod of Bishops of Jerusalem
to dismiss Eireneos
Eireneos' rejection of the actions of the Jerusalem synod led to the
Supreme Synod in Istanbul, which heard from Eireneos himself and
deliberated for more than 8 hours. During his address to the Synod,
Bartholomew argued that, "irrespective of Eireneos' culpability, the
peace of the clerics and lay members of the Church of Sion [the
Patriarchate] has been broken, and cannot be restored without a
sacrifice," meaning Eireneos resignation. When he refused , the Pan-
Orthodox Synod decided to remove his name from the Orthodox diptychs.
The decision of the Supreme Synod enabled the three-member committee
temporarily heading the Synod of the Jerusalem to proceed with
arrangements for Eireneos' successor. On Monday, May 30 they
appointed Metropolitan Cornelios of Petra as vicar to oversee the
administration of the Patriarchate. He will announce a date for the
election of a new Patriarch. The process includes input from the
clergy of the Jerusalem Church, the monks who comprise the ancient
Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre, and the governments of Jordan,
Israel and the Palestinian authority.
Neither the Ecumenical Patriarch nor the Supreme Synod can "defrock"
or remove Patriarch Eireneos, but their powerful concerted action
puts extreme pressure on the Patriarch to resign or face being
forcibly removed from office. The BBC reports that legally, Church
leaders cannot dismiss Eireneos - that can only be done by the above
three governments of the areas where his congregation lives.
The Orthodox model of church governance differs radically from the
structure of the Roman Catholic Church. The Orthodox Church is
composed of autocephalous Churches who choose their own leaders and
have administrative independence, but are in communion with one
another and share common dogma and liturgy. Orthodoxy strives to
preserve both unity and diversity but when action must be taken
within autocephalous Churches or on matters of Pan-Orthodox concern,
the Church relies on the unique and vital role of the Ecumenical
Patriarch, headquartered in Istanbul, Turkey. Ecumenical Patriarch
Bartholomew, who is considered the "First among
Equals" in the Orthodox hierarchy, is thus responsible for the well-
being of the Orthodox Church as a whole. His authority is based on
the Church's canon law established at the
2nd and 4th Ecumenical Councils of 381 and 451 AD. Only the
Ecumenical Patriarch can call Supreme Synods to resolve limited and
interjurisdictional conflicts like the current one, and Great and
Holy Councils to deliberate on matters of theology, canon law and
other general issues.
The Ecumenical Patriarch is the one who gathers. His power is based
on the ancient canons (laws) of the Church and the Patriarchate's
prestige. His primary tool is moral suasion and he benefits from the
institution's longstanding reputation for good judgement, foresight,
and fairness. Metropolitan Maximus of Sardes, in his tome The
Oecumenical Patriarchate in the Orthodox Church, writes: "Always the
presupposition of his power is that in using it he will hold to two
principles: conciliarity and collegiality in the responsibilities of
the Church and nonintervention in the internal affairs of the other
The existence of Autocephalous Churches is sometimes cited as
evidence of "disunity" The Orthodox reject this characterization.
They stress that all the Orthodox Churches share common doctrine and
liturgy that has been preserved from the earliest days of
Christianity despite ancient and recent persecutions, invasions and
the cultural and political upheavals of modernity. The synods are the
principle means for maintaining unity and coordinating actions.
Historical reasons are cited for lingering conflicts and delayed
actioninvasions and conquests in past centuries physically separated
the Orthodox nations and their Churches so that synods and other
vital gatherings were impossible.
The hierarchs of Orthodoxy are to respect one another as brothers and
their respective Churches are sister Churches. Although this is not
always observed in practice, that is the ideal. It seems peculiar to
the modern, perhaps cynical ear to read the texts of letters where
hierarchs involved in bitter disputes refer to each other in polite
terms such as "brother", but the purpose of this seemingly quaint
practice is to remind the disputants of their absolute obligation to
the founder of the Church, Jesus Christ, to maintain the brotherly
and sisterly love among the different churches.
Current events and preparations for a Pan-Orthodox Council serve to
illustrate the international role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Although the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew does not have the
universal administrative power the Pope of Rome, his spiritual
authority extends to all the Orthodox Churches and is therefore
international. The Ecumenical Patriarchate also oversees Churches
outside the traditional Orthodox states that have not achieved
autocephalous status. There are eparchies or jurisdictions throughout
Western Europe, North and South America, Australia and Asia.
The numerous visits of heads of state, religions and international
organizations to the Patriarchate in Istanbul is testament to the
fact Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is not merely the spiritual
leader of the Greeks or of the dwindling Orthodox population in
Turkey. Presiding over conferences and summits pertaining to the
global environment, relations among the world's religions and social
and ethical matters, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is witness to
the responsibilities and contributions of the Orthodox Church
regarding matters of concern to all humanity.
The exclusive ability of the Ecumenical Patriarch to summon an
Ecumenical Council, a Great and Holy Council of the entire Church, is
the mark of the Patriarchate's international status par excellence.
The Orthodox Church has been preparing for such a council for many
years through the necessary meetings and conferences under the
initiative and supervision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The fall
of communism in Europe and the liberation of the Churches there has
removed perhaps the last major obstacle. The liberation of those
nations and modern technology now enables the principle of
autocephaly to properly express the unity and diversity of the
Orthodox Church. Each Orthodox Church's culture brings spiritual,
artistic and intellectual richness to the Orthodox Church and the
Constantine Sirigos serves as consultant to the Order of St. Andrew,
Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America. He holds a masters
degree in International Relations from Georgetown University and has
written extensively on the Orthodox Church and religion in