Ecclesiastical Models of the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church are Essentially Different
- Europaica 131 24 November 2007
Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: The Ecclesiastical Models of the Orthodox
Church and the Roman Catholic Church are Essentially Different
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
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 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 "communion with Rome" for the Local
Churches in the West and "communion with Constantinople" for the
Orthodox Churches. This parallelism was strongly opposed by the
delegation of the Moscow Patriarchate.
In his interview with the Interfax, the Russian Orthodox Church
representative to the 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 Patriarchate of
Constantinople] 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 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 Patriarchate of
Constantinople 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 hold councils
whenever serious crises arose. These councils gathered together the
bishops of local Churches in communion with the See of Rome or,
although understood in a different way, with the See of
Constantinople, respectively". 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,
communion with the See of Constantinople is not considered a
prerequisite of unity to the same extend as "communion with the See
of Rome" is considered a prerequisite for Western Churches.
The ecclesiastical models of the Orthodox Church and the Roman
Catholic Church 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 communion
between Local Churches, and not just communion with the See of
Constantinople. Besides, in certain historic periods one or another
Local Church had no communion with the See of Constantinople, and
that did not affect its full collegiality. In particular, the Russian
Church suspended de facto its communion with Constantinople after the
Council of Florence in the 15th century when the Patriarch of
Constantinople signed the union with Rome. However, it continued to
be in communion 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 Patriarchate of Constantinople
objected to this wording, since it did not mention "communion with
the See of Constantinople". In the absence of the Moscow Patriarchate
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 Patriarchate of
Constantinople as the "Eastern Pope"?
The Patriarchate of Constantinople is extremely interested in
discussing the issue of primacy in the Universal Church, because
within the framework of the 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 the primacy of honour of the Patriarch of
Constantinople. However, Metropolitan John Zizioulas expresses in his
interviews the point of view according to which the notion of
"primacy of honour" is inconsistent with the Orthodox canon law.
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
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.